SAD, but true: introducing the Stone Age Diet

Scientists say that for good health we should adopt the eating habits of cavemen. It could become a mammoth craze...

By Roger Dobson
Sunday 30 November 2003 01:00

Forget Atkins, abandon the other modern fads, and get stuck into the Stone Age diet.

It may be more than a million years old, but a regime of organic meat, or a leg of game bird, accompanied by fresh leaves, nuts and fruit, washed down with water, is just about perfect for the human body.

Researchers in evolutionary medicine have come up with the healthiest diet for humans, and while it does include lean meat and fresh fish, there is no milk, cheese, or any other dairy products, and the fat count is low.

Scientists from Liverpool and other universities in Europe and America have investigated the idea that the Palaeolithic diet eaten by pre- agricultural humans is best because the human body evolved around it. They say today's chronic health problems could well be the result of dietary changes, and that a modern diet may do as much harm to man as putting diesel in a petrol engine.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Stone Age man did not suffer from heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases. He was not obese, and had no allergies or high blood pressure. As the researchers say in the Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine: "Available evidence suggests that obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are rare or unknown in populations preserving traditional subsistence and lifestyle patterns."

The scientists reviewed dietary data from archaeological sites and from bone examinations, and also looked at the health and diet of remote peoples who still are hunter-gatherers. They found that meat, fish, shellfish, leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts, insects and larvae were the main ingredients of the human diet during the Palaeolithic period. In the later period roots were added to the diet.

A typical diet would have included available game meat like deer with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other beneficial compounds found at greater levels in muscle meats compared to modern grain-fed beef. There would have been plenty of uncooked fruit, vegetables and nuts rich in minerals, vitamins and soluble fibre. Calcium content is high in the diet, largely because of the high calcium density in vegetables.

The researchers say that a Palaeolithic diet may prevent stroke because of its low salt content, and large amounts of vegetables and fruit, and because of its generous content of protein, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C. Total fat intake was low, and fibre intake was high.

"Lean meat, fish, leafy and green vegetables and fruits are advisable as health-promoting because of our long pre-agricultural ancestral experience during which such foods fuelled human evolution."

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