This week our contributing writer Doctor Gifford-Jones talks about the difference between what we eat nowadays and what our Paleolithic ancestors used to eat.
What can we do to shorten the long waiting lists for surgery? How can we stop the massive increases in the cost of health care? Politicians and health care workers continue to struggle with this dilemma. They always conclude that more money is the answer. But this approach is doomed to failure. How can it work when it’s taken 40,000 years for humans to get into such horrible shape? How did it happen? And is there a solution?
Dr. Barry Bogin is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He says we all envision our Paleolithic ancestors as being short, bent- over people with small brains. Actually they were a tad taller with brains as large as ours. And if alive today they would not require hospitalization for so much degenerative disease.
Admittedly most stone-age people did not live as long as today’s North Americans. Large numbers died hunting animals or from infection due to lack of antibiotics. Others suffered terrible deaths from childbirth But the ones that escaped these problems did not, later in life, face cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension or obesity, today’s big killers.
What protected them? Ironically it was the things they lacked that saved them. No guaranteed three meals a day so they had to continually exert themselves to find food.
Dr. Bogin reports that today most people expend only 400 calories to complete the day’s chores. Cars, television sets and computers don’t burn up calories. Stone age people lost 1,600 calories hunting and gathering food. This, along with the absence of fast-food outlets and supermarkets, kept them thin, a major factor in preventing degenerative disease.
Nutritional anthropologists can pinpoint what stone-age people ate by analyzing their bone and fossilized human waste. And how their nutrition safeguarded them from certain diseases.
Possibly their major protection was a lack of sugar. The only source of pure sugar was honey, not easy to get, and only available in certain areas a few months of the year. Today we consume 20 teaspoons of sugar daily which translates into 146,000 calories a year and 42 pounds of body fat if it’s not burned up by exercise.
What’s beyond belief is that Americans now eat more refined sugar in a single day than stone age people ate in a lifetime! One reason why one in three Canadians lose all their teeth by age 60! And stone-age people were free of cavities.
Stone age people were also lacked excessive sodium. They consumed about 1,000 milligrams of sodium daily. Today we use from 4,000 to 6,000 mg every day mostly from supermarket foods. One reason why hypertension is a leading cause of death.
Paleolithic man had phenomenal good luck to consume up to 150 grams of fiber daily due to a diet rich in plant food. This triggered large soft stools, prevented constipation, diverticulitis and possibly colon cancer. North Americans consume a mere15 grams daily of fiber.
Dr. Bogin says they were also not exposed to saturated fats, the type linked to coronary disease. It’s estimated that Americans devour 200 hamburgers every second!
Paleo’s didn’t eat significant amounts of saturated fat even in areas where game was abundant. The bison who roamed the prairies were thin and what fat they contained was largely unsaturated fat. In fact, Dr. Bogin says some of their fat was omega-3 fatty acids the kind found in fish.
Nor could thirsty stone age people run to the corner store for a 10 ounce can of soda pop loaded with eight teaspoons of sugar. Neither had they learned to ferment grains and grapes. Without alcohol they escaped some cancers. All they had was calorie-free water, no doubt cleaner than today’s drinking water.
Paleolithic people also escaped osteoporosis. This in spite of the fact that cows and goats were not herded for dairy products. But their plant foods were so high in calcium that they averaged 1,900 milligrams of calcium a day. Now people rarely get the minimum required amount of calcium.
We can learn from our ancient ancestors by eating whole wheat bread, bran cereals, adding more fruit and vegetables to our diet, drinking milk and above all saying no to drinks laden with sugar. And if we rise out of our chairs more often, maybe we can then control escalating costs in health care.