The Turkana study can show us several things to further our understanding of our environment, diet, and genetic makeup. Overall, the majority of prehistoric diets did not have processed foods the way we do now. Processed foods are so easily accessible and at any time. The modern-day diet is extremely processed, and in turn, it has a heavy direct impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Processed food does not offer much nutritional value. In fact, some of it provides absolutely none. It tends to be higher in salt, calories, fat and has less fiber and nutrients. The lack of nutritional value can cause problems within our bodies.
Our prehistoric diets did not have access to the processed foods that we do now. Their diets were certainly unprocessed. The theory is there is an evolutionary mismatch. With how quickly technology and food have evolved and transformed, our bodies have not had the time to adapt. The different additives and chemicals that are now common ingredients in our food might not be doing the best things for our bodies. The Turkana research showed us that while things are different, things should work to be shifted more towards our prehistoric diet. You should consume organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed animals, and healthy natural fats.
Without agriculture, our prehistoric ancestors did not grow any grains. They might have come across a few stalks of corn growing in the wild, but there certainly wasn’t any bread or crackers. Sugar was also rare. There was no milk as the animals hadn’t been domesticated yet. Without question, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. They might score on a big animal such as a buffalo or deer now and then, but it was primarily smaller animals such as squirrels. The animals weren’t fat. In fact, they were scrawny because they also had to hunt and gather their own food too.
Modern-day meat is usually fed on grain to make it fat. If you think about it if the grain is used to fatten the cow, how do you think it impacts your body? The meat that our ancestors used to forage and hunt on their own doesn’t exist anymore. Although you can purchase grass-fed meat, it is not as common and can at times cost more than the grain-fed. The fruits also differ. Modern fruit has been bred and fertilized into lumps of fructose that lack fiber. They might get some berries, nuts, or a small apple in the prehistoric days, but nothing like we have now. Instead, they focused on gathering vegetables and roots.
7. How do our bodies differ from that of our ancestors?
Since our prehistoric ancestors had to hunt and gather their own food, they were likely hungry most of the time. A few might have lived in an environment where food was plentiful, but it was the exception and not the normal. The majority of people had to endure long periods of famine. When you have to live and not know when or where your next meal will come from, your body tends to hang on to every calorie. Their bodies would hang on to fat because they did not know how long they would need it. Their bodies naturally would keep as much as possible to protect themselves, although it was rare there was ever too much.
Our prehistoric ancestors also consumed higher amounts of fiber. Many of us nowadays do not get nearly enough fiber. The foods are higher on the glycemic index and are too refined. That has the potential to cause constipation. Our prehistoric ancestors would gather vegetables and roots, including the stems, to avoid constipation. Consuming vegetables like asparagus, beets, and lettuce helps keep you filled up and un-constipated. A bonus is that your glucose levels are more likely to remain regulated. It is vital to make an effort to find rich sources of fiber to maintain optimal health. Be sure to check the food items to make sure it is not too refined which will have an unintended impact.
6. How do monounsaturated fats contribute to a healthier lifestyle?
As part of their diet, monounsaturated fats made up roughly half of the total fat in most hunters and gatherers’ diets. Monounsaturated fats are essential as they work to reduce cardiovascular risk, especially when chosen in place of starches and sugars. Nuts are a great source of monounsaturated fat that you can incorporate into your daily life. When you are looking for a quick snack to grab on the go, nuts are a perfect choice. Similarly, hunters and gatherers relied on nuts because they were easily accessible. They were also calorie-dense and highly nutritious. It didn’t take as much energy or effort to gather them versus hunting an animal for protein.
It is essential to be careful because nuts are high in calories. Therefore, eating too many can impact weight gain. The calories in nuts typically are 80 percent from fat, but most of this is in the form of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. Other studies have shown that nuts can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Consuming nuts provides nutrients such as vitamin E, folate, magnesium, copper, and zinc, which are cardioprotective. Studies suggest that replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat would result in a 30 percent reduction in risk. The next time you are looking to incorporate some healthy monounsaturated fats, try grabbing a handful of nuts.
Our prehistoric ancestors drank water almost exclusively. Some studies suggest that at least five water glasses a day are associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. It might be because water can displace calorie-dense beverages such as sugary sodas when consumed consistently. In addition to washing out some of the sugar, the water provides sufficient hydration that your body needs. When we think of our bodies and adaptation, water is the beverage we were adapted to drink. Evidence would suggest that it should remain the principal drink of choice.
Sugary drinks such as sodas and energy drinks are regularly consumed in today’s society. When we stop at a restaurant or the gas station, many people choose to indulge by grabbing something other than water. However, sodas and energy drinks are calorie-dense and do not contain nutritional value. In fact, they have contributed to the rise in obesity and even insulin resistance. In addition to sodas and energy drinks, many flavored fruit juices are filled with sugar. Instead of consuming a fruit drink, you should try to eat the whole actual fruit rather. At least you will get a little bit of fiber.
Many of our prehistoric ancestors obtain just under half of their food through animals. Many of them lived in temperate climates and were faced with winters that caused their plant-based food to be unavailable. Early humans adapted to these conditions by eating meat, organs, marrow, and fat from animals during the winter months. Prehistoric people were relatively free of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. During those times, wild game flesh was only between two and four percent fat by weight. It also contained high levels of monounsaturated fats. For comparison, fatty grain-produced domestic meats contain 20 to 25 percent fat by weight, and most of it is in the form of saturated fat.
Wild game meat is not widely accessible today, and many people do not prefer its taste. The modern-day alternative is to choose animal protein sources low in saturated fat, such as skinless poultry, fish, eggs, and lean cuts of red meat. It is less about the amount of meat eaten and more so about the composition of the meat. The cooking methods can also help to determine the health effects of this food on the body. Scientific evidence shows that meat consumption is the reason for the risk of cardiovascular disease. Instead, the risk is secondary to high levels of saturated fat typically found in the meat of modern, domesticated animals.
Now that you know the cardiovascular risk comes from the composition and preparation of the domesticated animals, you have to pay close attention to the types of meat you are consuming. Diets that are high in lean protein can work to improve lipid profiles and overall health. When preparing and cooking meat from domesticated animals, you should be sure to take the time to trim any visible fat from the meats and also to allow the fat to drain when cooking. If you cook and consume lean animal protein at regular intervals, it can help improve your ability to feel full for longer periods.
In addition to helping you feel full for more extended periods, the lean animal protein will improve insulin sensitivity and help facilitate weight loss. At the same time that lean meat provides all of those health impacts, it also nourishes your body with many essential nutrients. Highly salted and preserved meats can also contain carcinogens. The lean, fresh meat cooked appropriately is a healthy and beneficial component of a varied diet. That, combined with a high intake of vegetables and fruits, will help ensure a balanced diet to reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Trans-fatty acids are in tiny amounts in the fat tissues of all ruminant animals. However, due to how food has progressed, the intake of trans-fatty acids has increased remarkably. That is because of their presence in commercially prepared foods. They are synthesized when the hydrogen is applied to edible oils under high pressure and temperature in the presence of a catalyst. The hydrogenation of edible oils is typically done in the prepared food industry to prolong shelf life. You often see it in commercial baked goods such as cookies, crackers, donuts, and processed snack foods. It means that trans-fatty acids are in those snacks that we often crave.
You often find trans-fatty acids in other items, including shortenings, most kinds of margarine, and all of those deep-fried foods. Recently trans-fatty acids have been identified in many brands of commercially available canola oils. Trans-fatty acids lower HDL, or good cholesterol levels, increase LDL or harmful cholesterol levels and improve cardiovascular disease and cancer risk. Studies have shown that by replacing trans-fatty acids in our diets with the same amount of natural and unsaturated fatty acids, there is as large as a 50 percent decrease in risk of coronary heart disease. The next time you consider grabbing that deep-fried snack, maybe you should go for some nuts, which can serve much more nutritionally.
Many of us know that providers recommend we eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Perhaps you were even having that one-on-one conversation with your doctor. Those recommendations are the foundation for many of the healthy diets that are often discussed and encouraged. Among them is the prehistoric diet. We know what we should do as individuals, but it is usually not looked at in the bigger picture. It means that by altering our lifestyles and providing education to those around us, we can help lower obesity and decrease the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Consider the Turkana population, for example. Those that remain in rural areas where they are clinging firmly to their traditional ways and diet have shown a decreased likelihood of developing health issues. In comparison, those that moved to industrialized areas where food options were quickly accessible displayed an increase in weight and risk of health issues. We might have longer lifespans compared to our ancestors. However, people can attribute it to the developing medicine that can help when we do develop health issues due to a poor diet. It can be difficult for some to admit that their diet played a role in their medical problems when it can take a while to develop. Be aware of what you are consuming and its impact on your health, both short and long-term.