Long ago, as we know, the grass was greener, and the girls were younger. The Golden Age is long over, and now homo sapiens, taken out of its natural habitat, lives in concrete boxes, breathes a mixture of harmful gases and eats something with an undefined contents.
To neutralize at least one of the harmful factors, many techniques and nutrition systems were developed recently, which have two goals:
- health improvement,
- health maintenance until the advanced years.
For example, the Paleo diet supporters believe that the achievements of civilization (from the wheel to the computer) that make our life easier, more intense and more interesting, are to blame for many problems of modern people, as they drastically changed the character of his nutrition, forcing him to switch to products that are unusual for him.
The supporters of the Paleo diet consider the evidence that the average age of a man in the Paleolithic era was about 30 years only in the light of a life full of dangers, like predators, vagaries of nature, and other troubles. With a successful outcome, hunters and gatherers, who lived to the advanced age, were full of strength and health precisely because of the perfect products combination.
To support the truth of this theory, its supporters use as example the surviving tribes of hunters and gatherers, who eat exactly what they used to eat 10,000 years ago. These tribes do not know the “diseases of civilization”, like:
The Paleo dietists believe that endurance and health of these tribes are due to a balanced nutrition, perfect for humans and all other primates. What is the “ideal” nutrition of the Paleolithic times? Everything is simple. It is all that you can get with your hands and primitive tools and cook as little as possible.
The main foods of hunters and gatherers are:
- meat of wild animals and birds,
- fish, seafood, eggs,
- vegetables, fruits, berries,
- nuts, herbs and tubers.
These foods provide the body with all the necessary substances, including proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and a minimum amount of animal fats.
The supporters of the Paleo diet consider dairy products, cereals, legumes, potatoes and animal fats to be “enemies of mankind”. Everything is clear with the animal fats. No food system approves fatty foods in large quantities.
Milk is a controversial product. However, many dairy products are considered useful for both children and adults. The most interesting are the cereals, potatoes and legumes. Given what we know about their nutritional properties, calls to exclude them from the menu of a modern man sound more than strange.
Paleo diet explains the harm of these products through the fact that they entered the human diet in the Neolithic age – only about 10,000 years ago – too little time by evolutionary standards (about 500 generations) for the species to get fully adapted to the new diet.
In their raw form, these products are not only inedible, but also toxic. It takes hard work and a fairly long cooking period to prepare porridge, chips or bread. This became possible only with the transition to sowing agriculture and livestock. Instead of hunting and collecting wild plants, the human being started to:
- fatten up animals,
- grow cereals, potatoes, corn and beans.
New, hard-earned food consisted mainly of carbohydrates. It was much more caloric than the gifts of nature were. However, it was considerably inferior to vegetables and fruits in the content of:
- vitamins (A, B, C),
- minerals (iron, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus).
In addition, complex carbohydrates, especially starches and sugars, which are found in abundance in potatoes, beans and many cereals, have the ability to sharply raise blood sugar levels, which over time leads to:
- excess weight,
- high blood pressure,
- a bunch of typical diseases of civilization.
Carbohydrates that are found in vegetables and fruits do not possess this property. Another interesting feature – fruits and vegetables can saturate you quickly, yet you can’t have too much of them, as the stomach volume will not allow you to fit in too much fiber. Carbohydrates and fats take up less space in the stomach. Therefore, the sense of physical saturation can come when it’s too late.
Another, still little studied feature of cereals and legumes is the content of toxins. From the point of view of evolution, the meaning of the existence of all animals and plants is to multiply as much as possible. Therefore, cereals and legumes contain toxins (inhibitors of enzymes), which make them inedible and even poisonous for many animals, including humans.
Indeed, if it is “profitable” for the apple to be eaten, since the seeds will fall into another place and will germinate there, the cereals and legumes “have no interest” in supplying people with food. But people are intelligent animals, capable of turning inedible seeds into delicious cereals and other products using fire and simple culinary techniques.
Growing cereals and legumes was an important step on the road to the society development, because there were enough products to feed a large number of offspring. Thanks to agriculture, surpluses of food appeared, and division of labor became possible, as well as the division of society into classes, but this is another story…
The Paleo diet supporters are convinced that agriculture was the first deviation from a healthy nutrition that was the best for a human being. However, according to modern scientists, one can not categorically assert that cereals, legumes and potatoes are harmful to human health.
They are simply inferior to vegetables and fruits in the content of nutrients. You can talk about their harm only when the person’s diet consists entirely of carbohydrates – cereals, legumes, potatoes – and contains too few proteins and vitamins.
A similar problem has formed in the Neolithic era with animal products. Meat of wild animals contains very little fat, except during the autumn. (Though, even the autumn fat reserves were not fully used for food. Fat was required for lamps and other purposes.) After the transition to livestock, the meat became fatter, as the animals were getting enough food all year round.
There was a custom of fattening up the cattle with surplus grain, which was good for its growth and fat content, yet the content of nutrients in meat was steadily declining. (For example, caribou meat contains only 0.5% fat for 7 months of the year, while the meat of modern domestic animals contains about 30% of fat.)
In addition, ancient hunters used not only meat, but also the internal organs of animals, like:
- bone marrow.
They were rich in polyunsaturated fats that are useful for the brain. And, of course, during the Paleolithic era, it was not used to smoke or deep-fry meat. Its preparation include frying on an open fire or drying for long-term storage. There were also no sausages, margarine, mayonnaise, deodorized butter and other gastronomic delicacies with a high fat content.
After domestication of cows and other animals, human being could get milk almost all year round, whereas during the Paleolithic times milk was the privilege of infants. (Incidentally, during that “Golden Age”, infants were breastfed by their mothers for 2-3 years, with a gradual introduction of chewed vegetables, fruits and meat. Thus, children were receiving already semi-processed food and quickly got used to the adult eating model.)
Switching to cow milk and the early rejection of mother’s milk:
- significantly increased the calorie content of food,
- reduced the amount of nutrients that children received.
*Cow’s milk contains few omega-3 fatty acids and other substances that are needed for the development of the brain, because this is not the main thing for the calf.
Agriculture and livestock breeding, especially in those remote times, required great efforts and left little room for gathering and hunting, so the human diet was gradually impoverished, which led to the deplorable state of health that we are now witnessing.
Today, the massive come back to the paleo diet is impossible, because cereals, beans and livestock have already become an integral part of our nutrition. Refusal of wheat, rice, soy, lentils, beef and pork would mean famine for most of the world’s population.
Nevertheless, if you want to lose weight, cure chronic diseases or just feel close to nature, there is no better way than Paleo diet, at least because it is rich in fresh natural products and excludes:
- animal fats,
- semi-finished products,
- foods that contain preservatives and dyes.