We like to think that our modern knowledge about health and nutrition has made us more healthy than generations past, but this is not always the case. While it is true that modern medicine has greatly increased the human life expectancy, we have also become more unhealthy in others ways, as the modern obesity epidemic shows. There are many causes for these poor health trends, but most experts agree that our modern health problems can largely be attributed to two main factors: 1) poor exercise, and 2) poor dietary habits.
The first issue is simple to solve. All it takes is getting out and moving around. Unfortunately, this is not always as easy as it sounds, but at least we know the solution is right in front of us. When it comes to our poor dietary habits, things are a little more complicated.
What’s natural for humans to eat?
Many people would like to eat better, but they do not know where to begin. Meanwhile, most of the food available at the store is low in nutritional value while being packed full of unhealthy carbohydrates, fats, and preservatives. Most of the produce available to us is produced through industrial farming techniques that involve unhealthy chemicals and practices that diminish foods’ nutritional content.
While the organic movement seeks to address these issues by promoting sustainable agricultural practices, many people feel that it does not go far enough in addressing how and what we actually eat. To counter this imbalance, a rash of new dietary movements seeks to bring people back to their nutritional roots and encourage a style of eating that is better for the human animal.
Sometimes called the Paleolithic diet-but also variously known as the hunter-gatherer diet, the Stone Age diet, and the caveman diet-this movement encourages people to completely avoid processed foods and to stick with simple, fresh foods that are similar to what our ancestors would have eaten with a hunter-gatherer way of life.
The idea behind this movement is simple: humans evolved eating certain foods, and we are healthiest when we eat those things. One might argue that processed, factory-farmed foods go against our nature and are thus unhealthy, and that simple, unprocessed foods are better received by all the body’s systems.
Criticisms of the movement
Of course, as with any diet movement, there are people who take the Paleolithic diet to unnecessary extremes. For example, some adherents to the Paleolithic diet believe that we should not be eating dairy or grains because our ancient ancestors presumably did not eat these things. But the truth is that dairy and grains have been part of our diet for thousands of years, and they are far more natural than, say, a pre-packaged twinkie.
Another argument against the Paleolithic food movement is that humans evolved not to eat certain foods but to be able to eat whatever was available. In other words, we are omnivores who get our nutrition not by specializing (as with, for example, cows, who eat almost nothing but grass) but by branching out as much as possible. As hunter-gatherers, we ate what the land and nature offered us, and our digestive systems developed specifically to be able to handle lots of different kinds of foods.
But with that being said, the basic principles underlying the Paleolithic food movement are unassailable. Most processed foods are clearly less healthy than their non-processed alternatives, and simple, straightforward foods from nature are much more easily digested. If you need evidence, try it for a few weeks. After just a brief time on this diet, you may find yourself feeling cleaner, lighter, and more energetic.
By Marc Courtiol