Returning to the Caveman Diet
In today's age of highly processed food, packaged and shaped to look like animals, filled with ingredients we have never heard of, it is tempting to return to a diet from a much simpler time. A new fad that is catching on, known as the Paleolithic or "paleo" diet, aims to return people to a more "natural" way of eating. Before agriculture, people would eat lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, and they would avoid grains and processed foods. Is this what is really best for human consumption? According to a new book, the so-called caveman diet was abandoned for a reason, and the belief that it is superior is pure hokum.
The book, entitled Ancestral Appetites: Food in Prehistory, was written by Kristen Gremillion, associate professor of anthropology at Ohio State University. It is about how people have changed their diets over time in response to new knowledge and new environments.
"Humans are omnivores and we can eat a wide range of things," Gremillion said. "Rather than try to base a healthy diet on what we think people used to eat thousands of years ago, it would probably make more sense to look at our nutritional requirements today and find the best way to meet them."
According to Gremillion, the obsession with a "natural" diet is a fallacy. Such a diet never existed. Culture has always been a factor in how and what we eat, and there is no single way that people are supposed to eat. While the caveman diet is healthy, it is not any more natural than other diets.
For example, people have been eating grains for hundreds of thousands of years. Agriculture was invented so we could have a steadier supply of them as a stable source of calories. While they are not the sole basis of a diet, it is ok to incorporate them as part of a healthy meal.
Furthermore, the paleo diet emphasizes eating uncooked and unprocessed food to get the most nutrients from them. However, this is no more natural than cooking foods. Gremillion explains that humans began cooking food for a reason. Cooking makes it easier for our bodies to extract certain nutrients, and makes the food easier on our teeth, jaws, and stomachs to digest. After hundreds of thousands of years of cooking, there is no reason for people to give it up.
In essence, Gremillion believes that the idea of a pristine environment separate from the world of people is false. In North America, for example, Native Americans were managing the environment from the moment they walked onto the continent. Their impact was small because their population was relatively small. However, they used fire to clear vast tracts of land for agriculture and other human uses. Everything was related to eating, and culture determined the way they ate. There is no such thing as a singular natural diet that humans have to get back to.
For more information: http://www.cambridge.org/us/knowledge/isbn/item6038437/?site_locale=en_US