I remember the first time I heard that a friend was eating a paleo diet. I scoffed, “I bet she’s not eating cassava root and mealworms.” I was an anthro major and I know these things.
But I’m watching a National Geographic Great Course on what early humans ate.
Cassava and mealworms, of course, but it seems that the human digestive system is different from the systems of other apes in ways that imply that we developed to eat foods that make it easy to get nutrition. We need that because our brains take up way more energy than those of other apes. We had to cut back somewhere.
So we cut back in the gut. We need to eat food that provides lots of nutrition with little effort. Not eucalyptus leaves, for sure. Not grass. We have to eat some meat, grains and other plant foods that provide a lot of calories, fat, and proteins while being easy to digest.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we can’t be messing around with chips and candy, let alone replacing nutritious meals with fast food. We have a variety of teeth so we can live in many different environments with our big brains to help us. We can eat a lot of different things.
But our digestive system needs foods that give us a lot of nutritional bang for the digestive buck. We are designed to eat a variety of high quality, highly nutritious foods.
Agriculture wasn’t always a good thing, from that point of view. Early agriculture and modern factory farming alike reduce the variety of foods. Now, about 25% of all the foods in our grocery stores contain corn. I personally eat chicken, a couple of types of fish, and a couple of cuts of lean beef or pork. Turkey a couple of times a year. I try to get a good variety of fruits and veggies, but many people make do with corn, lettuce, and carrots or tomatoes. This is nothing like the variety of foods foragers had.
Archaeologically, there is evidence that agriculture is bad for health. Earlier foragers had more parasites and animal-vector diseases, but farmers had more problems from poor nutrition.
We can now make the decision to eat a wide variety of foods. But many of us don’t.