Our Prehistoric Beginnings.

 Human evolution has been underway for between three and four million years. During that time our bodies and internal organs have developed and changed relatively little. So our digestive system still functions best with the diet consumed in prehistoric times. 

For maximum health and longevity our diet should conform as nearly as possible to that in the Stone Age.

  Most wild animals stay sleek and healthy and do not become obese, even when food is plentiful. This is true even for animals kept in zoos. Domestic animals, particularly dogs and cats, only become obese when they are fed the wrong diet, such as introducing cereals and other carbohydrates to their meat diet.

  Humans are omnivorous. Our dental pattern most closely resembles that of the apes, like chimpanzees and gorillas. Their diet is mainly fruits and leaves, occasional insects and small animals and rarely meat from larger animals.

 Our digestive system points towards a mainly herbivorous diet, not mainly meat. Our saliva contains an enzyme called ptyalin, which is for the pre-digestion of starch, which is lacking in carnivores. The concentration of stomach acid is lower than in carnivores and our intestines are much longer, for the digestion of plant materials. Finally, humans do not possess the ability to convert uric acid, derived from dietary protein, to the more soluble allantoin. High levels of uric acid in humans are associated with the painful arthritic condition gout.

 The anatomy of humans resembles that of the great apes. Stereoscopic vision is better suited for delicate hand eye coordination, for picking fruit off trees, and our colour vision is best in the red /green range which helped find ripe fruit.  Man is unique in eating cooked food and finds uncooked meat and fish unpalatable, however Man would not have had regular access to fire prior to 7,000 BC.

A key aspect of human physiology which points towards a diet heavily reliant on fruit and vegetables, rather than meat, is our lack of ability to synthesis vitamin C. Man, together with one or two mammalian species is unique in not manufacturing vitamin C, one of the most important vitamins. This suggests that we existed on a diet of fruit and vegetables, high in vitamin C, and therefore didn’t need the ability to manufacture it. Now, vitamin C is one of the main supplements taken in Western societies.

 It could be argued that a vegetarian diet is not sufficient to produce a strong and healthy body, that a high meat diet is required for strong muscles. But we shouldn’t forget that the biggest, strongest animals, like elephants and oxen, are herbivorous. Our own growth rate is greatest in the first five months of life; yet human breast milk is only 10% protein.

 Modern man is now accustomed to readily available food, high in fats and protein, mainly processed, which destroys much of the nutrients. The evolutionary necessity to gorge on food when plentiful, to safeguard against times of famine, is still present to the extent that we eat constantly, not for purposes of nutrition, but for entertainment and as a distraction. Consequently, the unsuitable diet contributes directly to the increasing incidence of human diseases, such as cardiovascular (caused by high animal fat diet), cancer (linked to high animal protein diet and deficiencies in antioxidant vitamins), diabetes (high sugar diet) and obesity (too much food and not enough exercise).

 This article is based on the paper ‘The nature and importance of our prehistoric diet’ by Allan Withnell Nutrition and Health 2004; 17:269-273.


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