Monday, November 30, 2009

Eat like a cave man

What is the perfect diet? If you go by what you read in the media, you might toss up between the Mediterranean diet, the low-carb diet, or the Japanese diet. Now and again you will hear of the hunter-gatherer diet, or cave man diet, touted as the ideal choice as it was the diet for most of human ancestry.

The hunter-gatherer diet should probably be termed the gatherer-hunter diet as our forebears did more gathering than hunting. Either way, from here on I shall call it the Paleolithic diet. This is the diet we enjoyed before humans started to cultivate plants, domesticate animals and consume dairy foods about 10,000 years ago.

No bread, milk or baked beans for most of evolution

So, for two million years humans and their ancestors dined on wild animals, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds (but not legumes). There were no oils, dairy or grain-based foods in this time. This may be the ideal diet as our physiology evolved to make best use of these foods. Ten thousand years is a relatively short time to adapt to the dramatic changes we have experienced in our diet. Certainly, no-one would suggest that the body was designed to eat Krispy Kreme donuts.

Paleolithic diet improves metabolism

A University of California study was designed to see the effect the Paleolithic Diet on human physiology when compared to the modern diet. Due to the time and commitment required only nine healthy people completed the 17 day trial in which the last 10 days was exclusively the Paleolithic diet. During that time their blood cholesterol dropped by 16%, triglycerides by 35% and a significant drop in blood pressure even though none had high blood pressure in the first place. Blood glucose and insulin levels also improved. There was no weight loss or change in exercise patterns in the group, so any metabolic effects observed were due to the change in diet.

As Professor Loren Cordain, a big fan of the Paleolithic Diet said: "Our genome is very well adapted to wild plant and animal foods, and these giant come-latelys (grains, dairy, legumes) have potential effects of being discordant with our genome”. This small study suggests at least a short-term benefit to trying the diet.

“So what are the recommendations? Reduce processed foods, and increase fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats and seafood” Cordain concluded. Makes sense all round. There are many adherents to the diet. For more information on the Paleolithic Diet go to

What does it all mean?

I think the debate on the ideal diet is all a bit theoretical. Even if the Paleolithic Diet is the best diet for humans, I don’t think I could live the rest of my life without camembert cheese, red wine and chocolate. I prefer the Comidas del Mundo Diet, which is one I just made up. It doesn’t have a web page yet, but should it become fashionable, then you will know where it began. Basically, you choose good quality food and dishes that originated from around the world and enjoy them, such as tomatoes (origin South America), tea (China), yogurt (Persia), chocolate (Switzerland via South America), macadamias (Australia), and combine that with activities that exercise the brain and body. I might call the combination La Vida Ecl├ęctica Health and Anti-Aging Program. But, then again, I probably won’t. I don’t really like to be programmed.

Reference: European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009; 90: 269-275


Sweta (My Indian Dietitian) said...

I guess processed foods,lack of exercise and the fact that food is more readily available to us rather than to the cavemen are the reasons for all the health problems.
Coconut and coconut oil has been used for ages among coastal people-the recipes have not changed. What has changed is the fact that people are less active and tend to eat more than their forefather's, thus resulting in more heart/cholesterol problems!

Glenn Cardwell said...

Agree Sweta. Very few people appreciate how their body was designed. For most of human evolution our only drink was water. Only relatively recently have we experienced tea, coffee, alcohol, soft drink. Although small amounts of these drinks may be fine, we still can't get people to enjoy water as their primary drink.