Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.
The diet that's right for us, according to many experts, is what our Stone Age ancestors ate. But is that realistic?
Modern meat is not even close to what our ancestors ate. Wild game is lower in saturated fats and higher in the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated type (omega-3) fats. Large animals didn't become part of the Stone Age diet until humans invented efficient hunting tools and methods. Before that heir meat came from carrion and small animals.
Back in the Stone Age they could choose from hundreds of different kinds of birds whose meat and eggs provided plenty of nourishment, especially protein. Instead, we settle for only two kinds of fowl: chicken and turkey. Duck, goose and Cornish game hen are available at most major supermarkets but they eat a monotonous grain-based diet, not the diverse one that exists in nature. Our eggs come in only two colors except at Easter and they're not even fertilized. How boring!
The high content of omega-3 fatty acids in fish and other seafood may have helped our species to dominate the planet. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the proper development of the brain and eyes, just what slow-moving humans with no claws or fangs needed eons ago in order to survive.
Until humans became skilled hunters, which took them a couple of million years, they were mostly vegetarians. It's important to recognize that both leafy and root types of vegetables, with their abundance of vitamins, folate, flavonoids and thousands of other nutrients that are essential for optimum health are what our body chemistry was designed for.
Back in the Stone Age fruit and berries were smaller and less sweet than our highly domesticated varieties but we should include these in our diet every day. They are packed with antioxidants and other nutrients.
Modern hunter-gatherers eat a variety of nuts and they probably did in the Stone Age, too. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and pistachios contain healthy amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well as substances that have heart-protective (saponins) and cancer-preventing (squalene) properties. So do peanuts, although strictly speaking they are not nuts, but legumes. The FDA recommends that we eat about 1.5 ounces of nuts a day, which is about 30 almonds, or the equivalent volume (one-third cup) of the other nuts. Depending on the type of nut, that's about 240 to 300 calories, comprising one-tenth or more of the calories we take in every day, so don't overdo it.
Grains are latecomers to the human diet because the kernels must be heated and ground in order for us to be able to digest them. Our ingenuity and skill eventually overcame these problems and grains (including rice and corn) now constitute more than half the calorie intake of most people throughout the world. Some advocates of a Stone Age diet insist that we eliminate all grains but that's difficult for individuals and economically impossible in our culture. A sensible compromise is to eat only whole grain products and to replace potatoes, pasta and rice with vegetables several days a week.
Our ancestors got along just fine without soft drinks, processed meats and pastries and we could too. Let's keep them as occasional treats and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at email@example.com.