Before agriculture and industry, humans lived as hunter-gatherers: Let’s dive back into evolution. We jump back to the age which dates back 2.6 million years. This era is known as the “Primal Prototype”. Moving from one place to another in search of food was the protocol. During this period, human beings used to gather seeds, grasses and wild shrubs to survive. They searched for prey, hunted and consumed meat. The usual choice of food was large animals like mammoths and bison, so that large amounts of food could be obtained in less work. In areas closer to water bodies, fishing was also practised.
Food for survival was majorly large animals – cooked or raw. This means they consumed full-fat meat with 1st class protein. Since there was no agriculture, there were no grains for consumption. Even milking of cows was non-prevalent. Thus, the palaeolithic man was only dependent on meat as his main food source. Apart from this, the man used to feed on wild shrubs and berries when available. This means there was only occasional inclusion of carbohydrate sources. The primary macronutrients were high amounts of fat with protein.
Because of the unavailability of carbohydrates, there was no glucose production for energy. Unavailability of carbohydrates causes fat breakdown and generates ketones. Fat breakdown (dietary fat and body fat) provides a constant supply of ketones. It is a concentrated and stable source of energy in the absence of glucose. So basically, the palaeolithic man could survive better because the energy source was ketones. His diet was high fat, he had adequate protein to preserve muscle mass and his diet was extremely low in carbohydrates. This made him primarily burn body-fat for energy and give him access to his massive energy reserves stored in the form of body-fat.
There were also prolonged periods where the forager had to fast because of the unavailability of prey. Fasting leads to increased production of ketones from body fat breakdown, which increased his mental sharpness and provided energy during that period.
Between foraging food, building shelter with natural materials, collecting firewood and fending off dangerous predators that are larger than himself, the palaeolithic man had a strenuous and physically demanding lifestyle. Humans of this period were far more alert and sharp, which explains the way how he killed his prey with precision. He was muscular with optimal fat ratios. This can be attributed to the breakdown of body fat for ketone production at times of prolonged fasting. Most importantly, Palaeolithic man was disease free – there was no existence of any disorder, be it Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases or Cancer.
Each species is designed by nature to derive its nutrition from specific foods. Like a dog’s optimal growth happens when you feed him meat, this is its staple food. However, you cannot feed a horse the same meat, expecting it to get more muscular than it already is. A horse is a herbivore and its food is grass; that cannot be changed. Similarly, humans get all their nutritional needs from a diet that was taken during the hunting era. Humans were never meant to eat grains or milk. All the nutritional needs were fulfilled by meat, shrubs, berries, bone marrow, nuts and oils. Foods that were obtained after grain cultivation and animal raising were invented by man as little as 12,000 years ago, and they were the real cause of a tectonic shift in the food pattern in our species.
We have been following the food pyramid advocated by the USFDA for over 60 years now. In line with these guidelines, 50-60% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates, 20-30% from proteins and the rest from fats. Following this, our diets are rich in cereals/grains.
Cereals are 90% carbohydrates. Cereal/grain rich diets predispose one to DeNovo-Lipogenesis (DNL) – DeNovo means ‘New’, Lipo means ‘Fat’ and Genesis is ‘Creation’. In short, the creation of new fat from non-fat sources. The liver converts stored glucose to triglyceride molecules also called as body fat. Fats made from DNL are saturated, thus consumption of excessive carbs causes accumulation of saturated fat. Higher DNL causes higher storage of fat in the body.
The two main factors that stimulate DNL are
Insulin is the primary fat-storage hormone that is required for the metabolism of carbs and proteins. However, dietary fat (because it does not require liver processing) does not require insulin. There is minimal insulin secretion in response to dietary fat consumed. This is the main reason why DNL slows down when the person consumes diets high in fat and low in carbs.
Ketones also play an important role as signalling molecules that stimulate specific genetic processes related to metabolic health and longevity. For example, our primary ketone body, B-Hydroxy butyrate (BHB), has been found to inhibit some Histone DeAcetylases (HDACs) that may lower glucose and insulin levels, decrease insulin resistance, prevent weight gain, and improve energy efficiency.
Inflammation – Although inflammation is a natural part of our body’s healing process, chronic inflammation can trigger many health complications. Carbohydrate consumption through grain-rich diets can trigger cellular inflammation by
We can safely theorize from the above that man was not meant to digest grains. Because meat, organ foods, nuts and wild vegetables were able to meet all the health goals of the man of a much more difficult era. In fact, such a diet which is rich in Fat and Protein has sustained good health in humans for millions of years. This is today called the KETOGENIC DIET or the KETO DIET.
It is thus clearly evident that only after the inclusion of grains in our diet; there has been a sharp rise in metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes. The primitive man survived on hunting, and the primary goal was survival; there was no focus on illness. The man was naturally healthy.
Looking at the lifestyle and health in the Palaeolithic era, we will not be incorrect to conclude that man in that era lived a life that was much healthier and longer than what we have today. After all the evolution and modernisation, we have actually deprived ourselves of the foods that kept us in the best of health. Yes, we are talking about FAT, nature’s designated energy provider with 9 kcals per gram, as opposed to its inferior cousin carbohydrates at 4 kcal/gram. Food for thought!