What we now call the modern Western diet originated about 10,000 years ago.
The Ancestral health movement warns that extremely unhealthy foods found in the Western diet, which actually dominate it, are: cookies, cakes, ice creams, chips, crackers, soft drinks, bagels, snack foods, pizzas, etc.
The worst thing about the Western diet is that it’s convenient, tasty and cheap. And because it’s refined, hybridized and processed, over 70% of people who eat this diet are either heavily overweight or have serious health problems.
Hunter-gatherer vs agriculturalist
As the earliest farmers became dependent on crops, their diets became far less nutritionally diverse than hunter-gatherers’ diets. Eating the same domesticated grain every day gave early farmers dental problems rarely found in hunter-gatherers. When farmers began domesticating animals, they had a constant source of milk and meat, but also of parasites and new infectious diseases. Farmers usually suffered from iron deficiency and archaeologists claim they shrank in stature.
The domestication of grains created a plentiful and predictable food supply, allowing farmers’ wives to bear babies in rapid succession. A population explosion followed and we now live with the consequences.
But, we shouldn’t assume that hunter-gatherers ate mainly meat. Observations of the Bushmen and other modern day hunter-gatherers show that they more often than not return home without meat. This suggests that our ancestors, who did not have weapons available to modern nomads, had even less luck catching prey.
At times when meat was scarce, they had to rely on the food their wives and children found while foraging: roots, tubers, nuts, seeds, fruit,etc.
But, perhaps the main difference between these two groups of people is that the hunter-gatherers were constantly on the move. Their diet was diverse and regardless of how much fat they consumed, they were never overweight.
Is it safe to go paleo?
Ancestral diets varied. Diet of Inuit people (who ate nothing but meat because no other food was available in the polar regions) was certainly very different from that of the Amazonian tribes (where there was plenty of fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, etc).
The point is that ancestral diet focused on local and seasonal foods and according to Ayurveda, that’s exactly how we should eat.
Saturated fats in meats can be beneficial, providing the animals are grass-fed. Besides, when our prehistoric ancestors ate fat, they did not also eat carbohydrates, sugar and salt, and we now know that it is these components, not meat, that is detrimental to the body.
Switching to Ancestral Diet
Experts suggest that the dietary formula of our prehistoric ancestors can be the foundation for a balanced, healthy diet. We can exchange grains for quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat, and include tubers (potato, cassava, yam, carrot, turnip, beet, etc).
We shouldn’t place too much emphasis on meat mainly because the meat available today is full of antibiotics and growth hormones. Besides, unlike us, our nomad ancestors led very active lifestyles that protected them from obesity, heart disease and diabetes. This is not to say you shouldn’t eat meat, rather, balance it out with veggies. This gives the health benefits of both worlds.