If you watch television, you’re a modern homo sapiens,
with at least one sedentary habit. Despite its unhealthy
drawbacks, T.V. can be very informative, especially when
keeping abreast of pop-culture. The phrase, “It’s
so simple a caveman can do it,” is one such example.
If you pay attention to this advertisement, you’ll
also know how the caveman feels about being labeled a
simpleton. Now, in the first controlled study of a Paleolithic
(stone age) diet in humans, Lund University, Sweden, heralds
the simple diet of the caveman as the “best choice
to control diabetes 2”.
This caveman or hunter-gather diet, as it is often called,
is nothing new. One of the first suggestions that following
a diet similar to that of the late Paleolithic period
would improve a person's health was made in the New England
Journal of Medicine in 1985 by S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin
Our ancestor, the caveman was consuming fruits, vegetables,
nuts, lean meats and fish over a span of 2.5 million years
of human evolution, before the emergence of agriculture.
The modern staples: cereals, dairy products, refined fat
and sugar, have made up the bulk of our population’s
calories for only 10,000 years at the most. The switch
from the Paleolithic diet to our modern agrarian foods
took place over a mere 2000 years, a relatively brief
period of time in the history of our species.
Hunter-gatherers flourished over a 100,000 plus generation
span. Agriculture was invented 500 generations ago. 10
generations have lived since the start of the industrial
age. Only two generations have grown up with highly processed
fast foods. In a subsequent article in 1988, Eaton puts
this timeline into prospective, “The problem is
that our genes don't know it, they are programming us
today in much the same way they have been programming
humans for at least 40,000 years. Genetically, our bodies
now are virtually the same as they were then."
There are modern human populations today which never made
the switch. Dr. Staffan Lindeberg, of the Department of
Medicine, Lund University notes from earlier studies by
his research group, “A remarkable absence of cardiovascular
disease and diabetes among the traditional population
of Kitava, Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, where
modern agrarian-based food is unavailable.”
In their recent clinical study, the researchers have now
compared 14 patients who were advised to consume a Paleolithic
diet for three months with 15 patients who were recommended
to follow a Mediterranean diet (considered to be the healthiest
modern food choice) with whole-grain cereals, low-fat
dairy products, fruits, vegetables and refined fats generally
considered healthy. All participants “had increased
blood sugar after carbohydrate intake (glucose intolerance),
and most of them had overt diabetes type 2. In addition,
all had been diagnosed with coronary heart disease.”
Those in the Paleolithic group were recommended to eat
lean fruits, vegetables, root vegetables and nuts, meats,
fish, and to avoid grains, dairy foods and salt.
The following results are verbatim from Science
Daily, which adapted them directly from a press release
issued by Lund University. “The blood sugar rise
in response to carbohydrate intake was markedly lower
after 12 weeks in the Paleolithic group (–26%),
while it barely changed in the Mediterranean group (–7%).
At the end of the study, all patients in the Paleolithic
group had normal blood glucose.
The improved glucose tolerance in the Paleolithic group
was unrelated to changes in weight or waist circumference,
although waist decreased slightly more in that group.
Hence, the research group concludes that something more
than caloric intake and weight loss was responsible for
the improved handling of dietary carbohydrate. The main
difference between the groups was a much lower intake
of grains and dairy products and a higher fruit intake
in the Paleolithic group. Substances in grains and dairy
products have been shown to interfere with the metabolism
of carbohydrates and fat in various studies.”
"If you want to prevent or treat diabetes type 2, it may
be more efficient to avoid some of our modern foods than
to count calories or carbohydrate," says Staffan Lindeberg.
I enjoy the Science Channel and the National Geographics
Channel, especially those programs on early man. Now,
I’ll look for them on the Food Network, but until
then you can read more about the Paleolithic Diet at wikipedia.org.
Think about this study the next time you see that commercial.