Did cavemen have “Special K”?

Paleo is a buzz word in nutrition. I first heard a concept of “eating like cavemen” a few years ago. I vividly remember a picture in my mind: scruffy lean Neanderthal (or is it Cromanian???) ripping apart an animal carcass with his teeth, digging in the dirt for edible plants and shivering in his cave. Why would i want THAT? (You can tell I know nothing about anthropology!)
If you punch the words “Paleo diet” into Google, you will be introduced to a whole community. You will see words like “hunter-gatherer”, “primal”, “animalistic”.
 
The basic idea is humans evolved for millions of years to eat a certain diet. The advent of agriculture and consequent introduction of grains and dairy approximately 10 thousand years ago is a very recent event in evolutionary terms. Our genes have not adapted to this radical change in our food supply. Humans had been eating a diet high in animal protein and meat for almost 2 million years prior to that.
 
As in every other nutritional community, confusion reigns. Some followers eschew grains only, some don’t consume dairy, others attempt to re-enact their own romantic idea of hunter-gatherer lifestyle. One concept that unites them all is the desire to return to natural nutritious food, free of additives, modifications, fads, chemicals, preservatives, enhancers and fortified ingredients.
 
I am not strictly Paleo. I enjoy full-fat dairy, like delicious thick cream in my coffee or aged cheddar in my omelette. I sometimes (gasp!) give in to a piece of sourdough bread. But I do believe that we lost our way with nutrition. Somehow our food turned into “stuff with stuff in it”. How many calories are in an average muffin? How much fat is in your favorite yoghurt? How much protein is added to your cereal? I bet you know the answers to these questions. If your highly processed chocolate-flavoured skim milk happens to lack vitamin D, never fear! The good manufacturer is going to improve their deficient product by adding extra vitamin D. Regardless of the fact that you need fat for vitamin D absorption. Oops! Looks like Mother Nature knew what she was doing after all!
 
I have a challenge for you today. Open your pantry. Don’t worry, I am not going to pick on you for a box of Tim Tams (in case of unexpected guests, of course) or a packet of crisps. You and I know that it’s junk. Instead, pick up a box of your cereal. The one with a Heart Foundation tick on it. Go down to ingredients. How many of these do you recognize? How many can you pronounce?  Do you know what they are for? Finally, are any of these FOOD in their own right???
I didn’t think so.
 
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12 thoughts on “Did cavemen have “Special K”?

  1. I havn’t eaten bread, cereal, pasta rice of flour now since January , I no longer feel bloated or get that Sugar high. Had a bit of trouble with brekky, but its just training your brain not to think I cant eat that for brekky. I have mushrooms, tomatoes, berries & nuts, or “Whole egg omelettes” yes the yolk too. Ham, with berries & nuts, Smoothie, Almond milk more ideas would be great. I have energy for my day and my exercise as well. Well done Anastasia, you are a gutsy lady!!!! lets start a revolution…….

  2. Regarding the high-protein, high-fat diet, I think there’s evidence that there was considerable variation in prehistoric human diets — in general tropical diets were more plant-based, while polar ones were more animal-based. There is a wonderful anecdote in Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel describing his time with a pre-agricultural Papua New Guinean tribe. One day, an enormous commotion broke out, by far the biggest event he’d witnessed during his time with the tribe. The reason? Someone had caught a pigeon. For the entire time he was with the tribe (about a month), this pigeon — shared between 20 people — was the only meat they ate! So while many prehistoric human cultures probably had a diet high in animal protein, this isn’t the only thing we’re adapted for — we are true omnivores, and can live on virtually anything from a pure-plant to a pure-animal diet.

    As for your challenge, Karina and I have exactly one box of cereal in the pantry — Carmen’s Muesli: “Rolled oats, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, honey, canola oil, cinnamon.” Mmm. 🙂

    • I agree, Cliff, that humans have the ability to survive in all environments. After all, we are surviving in the 21st century, and this has to be the most dangerous of all. I would also argue that surviving does not necessary mean thriving. That’s why i am not just talking about emulating a hunter-gather diet, but actually using our current knowledge of human physiology to optimize our diet. And “Carmen’s muesli” is definitely a head above “Special K”.

  3. How refreshing to read your thoughts Ana. My mother often sermoned on the importance of getting back to basics with our nutrition. She too would pour through the ingredients list on packages and express horror at some of the so called additives that “improved” the products. What impresses me the most regarding your article/s is that you have the courage to step up and question what has been the norm for years. Doctors too could also be catgorised as sheep following what has gone before them. Its refreshing to see you do not fall into this category. Bravo!

    • Thanks Beth. I used to be arrogant enough to teach my mother about healthy food: recommend skim milk, margarine and vegetable oils. Looks like our parents had it right all along!

  4. I guess I don’t feel a ruined person or mother for the fact that companies are trying to make money. We have the choice to put what we want in our mouths at the end of the day. Those who choose to try and cheat or complicate the matter of eating are just fooling themselves. And usually their health and or appearance is obvious of that. I too have thought long and hard about nutrition and food and choices which was easy with two thriving adults but became different to consider with two little kids. My basics for feeding myself and my family come back basically to what I’m attracted to eating. My husband has certain dos and don’t likes so sometimes that makes selections easier. The children eat exactly what we do. Even the baby at 8 months basically eats tid bits of our meal and has only done so since starting solids combined with his breast milk. When you are dealing with two little persons in and outs of their bodies on a daily basis you really can’t cheat the system. Maybe we have the luxury of keeping it simple, healthy and a mixed diet with variety because I am a stay at home mum. But shouldn’t everyone who has some diet related health problem perhaps make it their business to closely think about the fuel for their body rather than their next doctors appointment and medication????????

    • I agree, Julia, when you have children your attitude to food and health changes drastically. You start questioning your own diet choices because now these choices are not just yours, they set an example for your children. Sometimes it is tempting to cut corners, go for convenient processed food. Good on you for keeping it “simple, healthy and mixed”.

  5. Great article, I am going to use it quite often to explain paleo to people from now on instead of trying to explain it in my own words.

    But I am somewhat unhappy with the sentence “Looks like Mother Nature knew what she was doing after all!”. Of course, it was a nice quip and that’s it, but it feels misleading, as it turns the whole paleo idea upside down:
    “Mother nature” didn’t put vitamin D and fat together into milk so we could digest it. We evolved towards this specific setup. You already explained that in the second paragraph. But I am afraid that snappy little sentence will stay in memory longer than the proper explanation^^

    Note: I am pretty sure in some hundred thousand years, we’ll have evolved to absorb the vitamin D without the help of fat if we keep drinking low fat milk. It is just that waiting for that to happen is going to be little fun.

  6. Pingback: CrossFit and Nutrition: Eating Like A Caveman | CrossFit Locus

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