Modern agriculture started in the Middle East. Can people here switch to the Paleo Lifestyle and eat like Cave Men?
What should humans eat for optimal health? The key word here is optimal. Our bodies are remarkable machines, and we can manage, more or less, on a wide variety of foods. But what foods work with our natural physiology, rather than against it? While many look to the future and modern food technology for guidance, it may be wise to take a historical approach. Homo sapiens (that’s us humans) have been evolving for a couple million years. Agriculture is believed to have originated just 10,000 years ago – a mere blip in evolutionary terms – in the fertile crescent: present day Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan. So what did people eat before modern agriculture? Let’s take a look.
Cultivating grains, such as wheat, along with the domestication of animals made it possible for humans to settle down in one location for extended periods of time. This assured food supply led to the development of civilization.
However, the change from hunter-gatherer to farmer came at a price. The average height and lifespan in Paleolithic times was actually greater than it was after the transition to a plant-food diet based mostly on grain, according to beyondveg.
This is a clear indication that our bodies were designed for a diet similar to that of Paleolithic man and woman, not that of their Neolithic, wheat-eating cousins. After all, genetically we’re not really different from our Paleo brothers and sisters.
So what does a modern Paleo diet look like?
1. No Industrial Processed Foods: This is a dietary recommendation that almost everyone – vegetarians, conventional eaters, and Paleo eaters alike – can agree on, (if not actually stick to).
2. Eat fresh fish, eggs, meat, and poultry, especially offal: Organ meat packs more nutrients per gram than just about anything else does. Eat the whole animal. Yes, lamb’s testicles too.
3. Eat plenty of vegetables, plus some fruit and nuts: Paleolithic man didn’t cultivate foods, but made use of what was available. Organic, is of course, best. Until recently, all food was organic.
4. No grains: Especially not wheat. Today’s wheat, after years of hybridization, isn’t the wheat that was first cultivated in the Middle East. White flour has very few nutrients, but whole grain flour, and wheat in particular, is loaded with anti-nutrients like phytic acid. It isn’t a coincidence that many people feel better when they ditch the grains.
5. No dairy… well maybe just a little: On dairy, there is less consensus. Many people living the Paleo lifestyle are happy with at least butter, ghee, (or Moroccan smen), and cream.
For Paleo eaters, how food is produced is as important as what you choose to eat. Try to find eggs laid by pastured hens; organic fruit and veggies; meat, fish, and poultry that is humanely raised and not pumped up on chemicals and antibiotics, and so on.
Watch a video on the Paleo Diet:
With our long history of wheat production, North Africa and the Middle East have the world’s highest rates of per capita wheat consumption (links to PDF).
By eating lots of pita, pasta, and bread, and crackers, we may, in fact, be doing significant damage to our digestive systems. It is certainly worth investigating the Paleo lifestyle to see if it can improve your health.