Recreating the caveman diet for ourselves

Heading out for groceries

A team of scientists has begun exploring what can be learned from the diet of cavemen who lived more than two million years ago. Research will focus on how the food eaten by hunter-gatherers could enhance modern day nutrition.

Our ancestors in the palaeolithic period, which covers 2.5 million years ago to 12,000 years ago, are thought to have had a diet based on vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat.

Cereals, potatoes, bread and milk did not feature at all. It was only with the dawn of agriculture (around 10,000 years ago) that our diets evolved to include what we think of as staple foods now…

In contrast to the cereal crops we rely on now for the basis of our food, the pre-farming diet contained fewer carbohydrates, less fat and more vegetables. So was it a healthier diet?

“It seems so,” said Mark Thomas, professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London. “Palaeolithic man may have died earlier than we do now, but he didn’t die of bad nutrition…”

Although we have adapted to a very different diet over thousands of years, Professor Thomas says: “There is a mismatch between the diet we’ve evolved for and the one that we have.”

He cites milk as an example of something humans have adapted to over time.

“Ten thousand years ago, humans had access to milk but couldn’t drink it. We couldn’t digest it. Now we’re 100% adapted to a milk-rich diet.”

I have long been a student of the anthropology of nutrition. One reason anthropology, paleontology, has fascinated me has been learning not only how our ancestors lived; but, what supported that life.

We know they needed more calories because they worked so much harder to provide everything that was required to sustain life and family. Now, we’re learning more about what provided those calories – and the side benefits of those sources.

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