In July, Scientific American ran an article, Human Ancestors Were Nearly All Vegetarians, by Rob Dunn of the Department of Biology at North Carolina State University.
I found it to be a well-balanced article on the subject of how our pre-historic ancestors ate. Here are some particularly interesting excerpts:
“…And so if you are serious about eating a really old school paleo diet, if you mean to eat what our bodies evolved to eat in the “old” days, you really need to be eating more insects.
“But, we know our human digestive systems DID evolve to deal with agriculture and the processing (fermenting and cooking) of food.…some human populations evolved extra copies of amylase genes, arguably so as to better be able to deal with starchy foods…several human populations independently evolved gene variants that coded for the persistence of lactase (which breaks down lactose) so as to be able to deal with milk, not just as babies but also as adults.
“So, what should we eat? The past does not reveal a simple answer, ever. …The recent adaptations of our bodies differ from one person to the next, whether because of unique versions of genes or unique microbes, but our bodies are all fully-equipped to deal with meat (which is relatively easy) and natural sugars (also easy, if not always beneficial), and harder to digest plant material, what often gets called fiber.”
Even though I appreciate this article, and think it is useful for people to send to their paleo-eating friends, I don’t agree with the assumption that if we knew exactly what our ancestors ate (and it was consistent throughout time) it could override today’s nutrition science. Not everything our ancestors ate was necessarily optimal and we can only know what was and what wasn’t by examining different eating patterns using modern methods.
That said, I would be elated if paleo-eaters gave up their chicken legs and spare ribs for insects in an attempt to eat more naturally. More power to them!
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