There is apparently demand for this discussion, so I will offer it:
“Vegans want us to eat bread full of gluten and phytates, but in reality our paleolithic ancestors evolved as hunter-gatherers who stalked gazelle and ate their raw organs!”
When you see a post titled “the ancestral human diet”, the above story is probably some variety of what you’re expecting to find. And in fact ,that’s roughly what I get in my comments:
Lowish carb is literally the way most healthy tribes ate most of the year for most of human evolutionary existance. Strict low carb is the way some quite healthy tribes loved all year round (inuit/masai for example).
But I want to ask you to think critically for a moment. Why do you American LSWMs all try to figure out what we “evolved” to eat? Because you have this idea in your head that evolution adjusts our bodies to whatever it is our ancestors spent their days eating.
But here’s the thing. Evolution is not able to change the laws of physics. To some degree biological processes are influenced by changes to our genes, but to some degree biological processes are also just an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
If you magically reduced the density of our atmosphere by 20%, birds would evolve to adjust to that change and there would still be birds that can fly a million years from now. But put those birds back in our atmosphere and flying would simply still be easier for them.
The fact that we “evolved” to do something, doesn’t mean it helps us live long. In the Kalahari desert, hunter-gatherers sometimes steal prey from lions and other predators. Did our ancestors evolve to steal prey from lions? Perhaps we did. Do we live longer if we just buy our food from the supermarket? Probably.
Similarly, if you eat animals, you’re just going to deal with certain issues as an animal, evolution or no evolution. Parasites that infect other mammals can probably infect your body too. We have evolved a very acidic gut that helps us kill parasites, but we still get infected by them.
In addition, certain substances that animals produce look very similar to those produced by human cells and thus cause autoimmune issues. In meat you’ll find Neu5Gc, which is similar but not identical to a sialic acid we produce. So the immune system attacks it, resulting in autoimmune issues when your cells incorporate it.
Bacteria in your gut that are good at digesting the meat you eat, will probably be better at digesting your own intestines than bacteria in your gut that digest plants. Millions of years of evolution won’t change this simple principle.
I’m going to pretend for a moment that the “Paleo diet” crowd is right and humans were hypercarnivores for millions of years and adapted metabolically to that diet. But then I would still argue that humans should be eating more plants and less meat.
Why? Because we even see animals that evolved to eat meat live healthier when they eat less meat! Cats fed a plant-based diet live just as long as cats fed meat. Dogs fed a plant based diet live longer than dogs fed meat.
We know these animals evolved to eat meat, the cats get health problems if you don’t add taurine to their diet. But if you add taurine and some other essential nutrients, it just doesn’t seem to hurt them when you only feed them plants. The reason is because the health of a diet also depends on the biophysical properties of the nutrients.
But Americans get fat with the modern diet! There are too many carbs and too many polyunsaturated fatty acids! Well here’s another thing to consider: Getting fat sucks. But dying young and leaving your kids as orphans sucks too. But just look at all those seed oils!
Clearly the seed oils are making everyone fat and we need to go back to eating butter and lard!
Well here’s the thing. Look at what happened to heart attack deaths during that period:
This stuff goes away, at the same time people stop cooking with lard. It’s a huge victory that helps people live into old age. Bring back the saturated animal fats and a bunch of men will just start dying in their 50’s and 60’s again. It’s probably no coincidence that the emergence of the American low carb fetish over the past twenty years also witnesses a return of relatively young adults getting heart attacks again.
Again, all mammals have pretty similar physiology. Certain nutrients just have certain biophysical properties and they have those properties regardless of the animal you study. High fat meals reduce insulin sensitivity. It’s a biophysical property of the fat itself, the particular animal you study doesn’t matter.
Remember how the carnivore/paleo crew love Mongolians so much? Real tough alpha males who conquered the globe, right? Well the life expectancy of a Mongolian man was… 63.8 in 2019! As they start eating less meat it goes up, but the ancestral diet doesn’t help them live very long. You might say 63.8 years is enough for you, but as an average there’s a 50% chance of dying before that age.
If you look at that graph I showed you, the main problem is that in that last ten year period, total added dietary fat just increased dramatically. But if you assume that it shows some lost nutritional golden age, you’re going to be like Dick Cheney, stumbling from one heart attack into another.
This stuff is just perfectly compatible with what we already know: Humans are supposed to eat diets low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates. At least, if they want to stay skinny and live long. The longest living people are the Okinawans, they have the world’s highest number of centenarians.
Their dietary energy intake is 9% protein, 85% carbohydrates and 6% fat. They eat starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes. Their diet is not special, they’re not even vegetarian or vegan either, they eat small amounts of pork and seafood, but they mostly just eat plants. That very high carbohydrate intake is what we see in animal studies to lengthen life expectancy too.
The nice thing about the Okinawan diet is that you don’t just live long, you live long without too much bullshit. If you eat a lot of stuff high in saturated fat like cheese, you’re going to damage the vessels leading to your prostate. This then causes very high local concentrations of testosterone, so parts of your prostate start growing very rapidly. So you might be fine with dying at 70, but then you end up spending the last ten years of your life having to go to the bathroom at 3AM every night.