Have you ever imagined life as it was many years back? A thatch hut, the smell of an open fire and plant-based porridge being cooked for suppertime. Awaiting the arrival of your husband and his hunting dog with the hopes that they caught something to be served as dinner. Humans obtained their foods by hunting, gathering or fishing, commonly known today as the Caveman diet, Palaeolithic diet or Stone Age diet. This is very different than the modern world, where we have unlimited access to food using many different channels. Let’s take a closer look at humans’ diets then and now.
FOOD FROM THE PALAEOLITHIC PERIOD
Nearly 2.5 million years ago the Palaeolithic period existed1. During this time humans first started using stone tools to hunt and gather foods. Approximately 10,000 years ago the agricultural period started and that saw the end of the Palaeolithic period.
The Caveman Diet
Although it is almost impossible to know precisely what our human ancestors ate in various parts of the world, researchers believe their diets consisted mostly of whole-foods3. A typical paleo diet consists of meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. A paleo diet is typically high in healthy fats and fibre, and lower in carbohydrates4. Foods such as cereal grains, legumes, potatoes, dairy and highly refined and processed foods are out. Sweeteners and refined sugars were not part of their diet except for honey when they could find it1. By following a whole food-based diet and leading physically active lives, hunter-gatherers presumably had much lower rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
The Modernised Diet
Research has shown that on average an American diet consists of 31% calories from cereals, 8% calories from beverages, 14% calories from dairy, 4% calories from oils, fats and dressings and 4%calories from sweets and biscuits. Added together and we are on 61% calories, indicating that nowadays we get 61% of our calories, nearly two-thirds, from foods that were largely unknown before the adoption of agriculture where food processing became the norm1. The 39% of remaining calories accounts for animal products also a lot different from our caveman ancestors.
A Westernized diet is one that is characterized by a high intake of the following: protein (derived from fatty processed meats), saturated fats, refined grains, sugar, alcohol, salt, and corn-derived fructose syrup, with a lower intake of fruits and vegetables1,2,6. Research has shown that the shift from diets high in fibre and low in fat to diets high in fats and lower in fibre has contributed to individuals developing metabolic syndrome, obesity and higher rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers.
WHAT ARE WE TO DO?
Both of the above diets have certainly got pro’s and con’s, but instead of following a specific diet we should instead be focusing on healthy choices every single day. Ever heard the saying that all foods can fit when eaten in the correct portions? For a change in lifestyle and options that will be long-term, read the article ‘No Diet Day’ on www.futurelife.co.za.
Change is inevitable. Life has become more dynamic, with everything around us changing including our diet. Instead of focussing on how our modern diet is negatively impacting health, with the right healthful choices we should embrace the cards we are dealt with. We have information at the click of a button, fresh foods readily available, we have convenience with numerous food options and technology to prepare our foods in the best ways possible. Its often about how we see things, I think change is good.
- Docs Opinion. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Paleo Diet: https://www.docsopinion.com/health-and-nutrition/diets/the-paleo-diet/
- Dolson, L. (2018, September 16). Very Well Fit. Retrieved from How the Paleo Diet Differs From What We Eat Now: https://www.verywellfit.com/paleo-vs-modern-diets-key-differences-2242240 Mahan, L., Escott-Stump, S., & Raymond, J. (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process 13th Edition. Elsivier.
- Mandal, A. (2018, August 23). News Medical Life Sciences. Retrieved from Caveman or Palaeolithic Diet: https://www.news-medical.net/health/Caveman-or-Palaeolithic-Diet.aspx Senekal, P. (2018, June 21). International Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR). Retrieved from https://www.nutritionsociety.co.za/2018/06/21/fact-sheet-dietary-recommendations-for-health/
- Gunnars, K. (2018, August 1). Health Line . Retrieved from The Paleo Diet — A Beginner’s Guide Plus Meal Plan: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/paleo-diet-meal-plan-and-menu
- Spencer, Z. (2017, April 13). Immpress Magazine. Retrieved from The Evolution to Diet: http://www.immpressmagazine.com/the-evolution-of-diet/
- Statovci, D., Aguilera, M., MacSharr, J., & Melgar, S. (2017). The Impact of Western Diet and Nutrients on the Microbiota and Immune Response at Mucosal Interfaces. Front Immunol.