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The Evolution of Diet 281

An anonymous reader writes Here's a story from National Geographic that looks at the historical diets of people from around the world and what that diet might look like in the future. From the article: "So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn't develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease. 'A lot of people believe there is a discordance between what we eat today and what our ancestors evolved to eat,' says paleoanthropologist Peter Ungar of the University of Arkansas. The notion that we're trapped in Stone Age bodies in a fast-food world is driving the current craze for Paleolithic diets. The popularity of these so-called caveman or Stone Age diets is based on the idea that modern humans evolved to eat the way hunter-gatherers did during the Paleolithic—the period from about 2.6 million years ago to the start of the agricultural revolution—and that our genes haven't had enough time to adapt to farmed foods."
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The Evolution of Diet

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  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @06:46PM (#47752279)

    Inuit have lifespan 12 to 15 years shorter than average Canadians. Hazda mean life expectancy is 65 years. Let's cut the bullshit already, live like those people and flop over dead before your time

  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @06:47PM (#47752289)

    I doubt so-called "Paleolithic diets" are anything like people ate during that.

    For example, people ate fruit then, but it was seasonal, and very different from the fruit we eat today. Same with veggies. The stuff we eat is nothing like the stuff that grew in the wild.

    Also, people during that age were not especially healthy. They probably died in their 40s.

    The Arctic Inuit may not have high blood pressure, but what about other diseases? Is there average life span any longer than ours?

    Then there is the question of physical activity. During the stone age, getting too fat and/or being too inactive, were probably the least of your worries.

    Are we really willing to give up coffee, or salt on our foods?

  • by avgjoe62 ( 558860 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:20PM (#47752515)
    Reminds me of the Amish Diet - eat whatever you want, but walk everywhere. One Amish farmer in a study I remember reading of around 15 years ago walked 28 miles per day on average. The average for all the Amish in the study was 16 miles per day.
  • by Holdstrong ( 647528 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:28PM (#47752571)

    This claim: "So far studies of foragers like the Tsimane, Arctic Inuit, and Hadza have found that these peoples traditionally didn't develop high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, or cardiovascular disease."

    Is based on studies that have been called into question recently. One researcher went so far as to call them "deeply flawed" and wondered if anyone had actually read the original studies. []

    "The 2014 study has found that Inuit do have similar rates of heart disease compared to non-Inuit populations, and that death rates due to stroke are "very high." "Most of the researchers never read [the original 1970s] papers. They just took it at face value that what they said is so,"

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:29PM (#47752577) Homepage

    I think there is something to the "Paleolithic Diet" idea, but many people are Doing It Wrong.

    The prehistoric people exercised all the time, every day. They ate meat when they could get it, which wasn't 100% of the time, and the meat they got was lean. They ate fruit when they could get it, which was almost never (e.g. berries in late summer, a few dried berries other parts of the year). They ate a variety of high-fiber roots, leaves, and other gatherable food. They didn't eat any processed carbs (white flour, white sugar, etc.).

    If we lived more like that, we really would be healthier.

    But some people take the idea to places I don't think are good. For example, making a "paleo cake" with no processed sugar sounds good, but if it has large amounts of ground nuts and cooked fruit, and is sweetened with maple syrup... it's really not something that the prehistoric people would have eaten and I'm dubious about the benefit.

    Also, it is possible for people to adapt to changing conditions in a few generations; it's not necessarily true that evolution works so slowly that the diet from 10,000 years ago is still perfect for us. TFA talked about lactose tolerance in adults. In the cave-man days there was no evolutionary advantage to being able to consume dairy as an adult, but once people started keeping livestock and harvesting dairy, that changed. Now many people can digest lactose as adults.

    TL;DR Eat lean protein, complex carbs rather than simple carbs, and get lots of exercise, and you will be healthy.

  • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @07:38PM (#47752633)

    "I doubt" is not helpful here.

    The article mentions "unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables" so your "for example" has holes in it.

    "Probably died in their 40s" sounds like you don't have data, and it's a well known bias in life expectancy that infant deaths bring down the average "lived to be" date. I suspect you fell victim to bad statistics.

    The popular embrace of a Paleo diet, Ungar and others point out, is based on a stew of misconceptions

    Hmm, that sounds like something you would say, but it's right there in the article. H. Erectus ate meat and developed a complicated brain, the article says, and then the advent of agrarian society pushed people towards things they could grow.

    Agriculture is widely seen as the start of civilization, as people had to band together and grow stuff together, and not migrate where gardens weren't being grown and tended. Consider that well, because it means that an agrarian diet is also part of the origin of civilization. Also, the article mentions domesticated cattle as being sources of parasites and disease.

    At this point in time, you can compare farmers and hunter-gatherers and see how they fared.

    Salt and coffee are pretty much irrelevant. If you have high sodium, it might damage you personally and you should not eat things that *will* hurt you, and that's an individual thing, not related to what our ancestors eat. Coffee likewise seems to be irrelevant, since it does not seem to have much effect on our health. Significantly high intake of each are probably bad, but high anything is usually bad.

    So what is left from your post? Just a bunch of ignorance.

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:34PM (#47752987) Homepage

    Inuit in modern Canada eat less walrus and drink more beer than Inuit from three centuries ago.

    Certainly. However, traditional Inuit culture was pretty hard on folks. Although some people did make it into their 70's, many died much earlier - often of starvation (and infectious disease whose morbidity and mortality can be strongly influenced by nutrition). Although they rarely got heart attacks (we suppose, there were rather few autopsies done on these folk) and diabetes was almost unheard of, it's hard to call a traditional Inuit elder as 'healthy'. We also really don't know how long traditional peoples typically lived - birth and death statistics were not typically kept in the hinterlands and people's recollection of events 50 years in the past tends to be hazy.

    So it always amuses me that the paleo folks think that the hunter gatherer existence represented the pinnacle of human evolution.

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @08:50PM (#47753123)

    The article mentions "unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables" so your "for example" has holes in it.

    What does that have to do with anything? The context of that quote is:

    The foods we choose to eat in the coming decades will have dramatic ramifications for the planet. Simply put, a diet that revolves around meat and dairy, a way of eating thatâ(TM)s on the rise throughout the developing world, will take a greater toll on the worldâ(TM)s resources than one that revolves around unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables.

    The article here does NOT imply that paleo diets revolved around MODERN "unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables." It instead merely hints that the environmental consequences of trying to raise more meat for billions of people requires a lot more resources than those MODERN foods.

    The fact is that agriculture has selectively bred many of these things over the millennia to make them tastier, more nutrient dense, higher in sugar, etc. The kind of "unrefined grains, nuts, fruits, and vegetables" that were actually around hundreds of thousands of years ago were vastly different (in most cases) from what we pick off plants in our gardens and fields today -- even the "unrefined" ones.

    So, GP's absolutely correct on this point. Human selective breeding has significantly changed both plant and animal sources of nutrients. Thus, no matter how "unrefined" our food is, very few things at a modern supermarket would have been available to a hunter-gatherer hundreds of thousands of years ago... hence, the "paleo" diet is mostly wishful thinking.

  • Re:The best diet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sillybilly ( 668960 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:27PM (#47753331)

    I think the most important aspect of caveman diet was the periods of thin, unsaturated blood of high dissolving power, called periods of starvation, once in a while, as far as cardiovascular disease goes. So instead of hitting the gym and starving your blood supply from nutrients by exercising too much, and wearing your body down with it, exercise only until you build and tone muscle without dragging the body through the starved mode, and for the starved mode artery cleaning simply starve, like don't eat nothing for 2 days at a time, once every 2 months or so. It's not that difficult or complicated, and it's cheaper than all that cardiovascular medication. In fact it's better if you do it monthly, or weekly, or daily. For instance, for a long time I had a habit of eating once a day, eating a whole lot, then not eating again for a whole day, and that allows for periods of blood thinness, as opposed to the habits of potato chip snackers, where it's not really the trans fat that kills - as even mother's milk has trans fat - but the constant snacking and keeping the blood saturated, to where temporary amorphous fat deposits get a chance to crystallize and become tough biofilm with the bacteria in blood, so they can no longer be redissolved. In fact garlic or heavy antibiotics might, might be able to break up biofilms but then you still have the relatively toughly crystallized cholesterol soap + fat cargo deposits, for which a good chest pounding or muscle pounding boxing match could loosen up. The questions are as simple as solubility in blood, biofilms, and mechanical shaking. Maybe they'll invent an ultrasound catheter they can stick down the arteries into a beating heart, and shake loose the crud, without an open heart surgery. But the issues are large fragments getting loose in the fat aorta, and getting stuck in the hair thin blood vessels of the brain and leg muscles, where the blood plumbing conduits are not so large.
    Also, getting yourself very drunk to near death alcohol levels might help solubilize some of the cholesterol fat deposits easier during periods of starvation, but that has downsides to it too.

  • by Kazoo the Clown ( 644526 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @12:34AM (#47754097)
    The claim that the Inuit have lower incidence of heart disease has not been borne out by the facts. And their incidence of stroke is high: []

  • by hsthompson69 ( 1674722 ) on Tuesday August 26, 2014 @02:18AM (#47754379)

    Infant mortality had more to do with low average lifespans in the past - you can have a vast majority of people who make it to adulthood live into their 80s, and still have an average lifespan of 30 years, if 10 children die before they make a year old for every 1 that makes it past.

    We tend to make the assumption that an average lifespan of 30 means that nobody lives past 35 years old - but that's simply not the case. []

    "Consider this: If we accept as a given that the average life expectancy of the Middle Ages was 25, then life expectancy has tripled, right? Since we know from both historical and archaeological records that some people lived to 80+ years in the Middle Ages, wouldn't that mean that people are living three times as long? Shouldn't there be some 240 year olds running around, grousing that things just aren't the same since Thomas Jefferson died?

    And therein lies the problem. Even if the statistic is accurate, people hear something very different than the statistic is saying. A stat talking about life expectance tripling is about the average tripling, but the way it is popularly perceived is that the length of time people live has tripled. And, of course, it isn't. If you're old enough to read this, a century from now you'll be dead, no matter how much life expectancy rises."

This process can check if this value is zero, and if it is, it does something child-like. -- Forbes Burkowski, CS 454, University of Washington