Eat like a caveman, live a healthier life
By Mark Luedtke
Forty-thousand years ago, the caveman ancestors of modern humans were bigger, stronger and faster than modern humans. The typical male caveman had more in common with Chad Ochocinco, who’s lightning fast, 6’1” and 192 lbs, than Joe Six-pack. Females would remind observers more of Cindy Crawford than Kate Moss. More importantly, they had brains 20 percent larger than the brains of modern humans. In addition, if these cavemen avoided death from injury, disease or starvation, they lived healthy, active lives into their 70s, but most modern humans suffer from chronic disease most of their lives.
The problem is modern civilization. The genes of modern humans are indistinguishable from the genes of their Cro-Magnon ancestors, but the modern environment is radically different. Humans evolved in an environment of scarce food and predators, turning them into lazy overeaters. But with no predators to escape from, no food to hunt with knives and spears, and no shortages of food, instincts that provided a survival advantage to cavemen produce chronic illness and death today.
The response of the medical-pharmaceutical-processed food establishment to the explosion in chronic illness has been to mask the symptoms and ignore the cause. Lipitor is the most prescribed drug in America. Lisinopril masks high blood pressure. All this does is make people sicker over time. Arthur De Vany, called the grandfather of the paleolithic (paleo) lifestyle, writes in “The New Evolution Diet,” “What we call ‘normal’ aging is in reality the long-term effect of sedentary living combined with carbohydrate abuse.” At 72 years old, De Vany is also called Superman’s fitter grandfather. He’s worth paying attention to.
The paleo lifestyle is based on a few principles learned from cavemen:
- Eat natural, healthy foods with no calorie restrictions. Eat a variety of foods with no set schedule. Avoid processed foods, sugar, grains, potatoes, legumes and dairy.
- Skip a meal once a week or so, when it’s convenient. Every month or two, fast all day.
- Exercise less, but with great intensity.
The greatest cause of chronic illness in modern humans is the modern diet of processed foods, mainly carbohydrates (carbs). De Vany lists high-fructose corn syrup, french fries, cereal and pizza as some of the worst foods to eat. More fundamentally, cavemen would not recognize grains, potatoes or legumes as food, so they are off-limits because the human body has not evolved to digest them.
Grains, potatoes and legumes contain toxins, called anti-nutrients by scientists that attack the digestive system, block the absorption of essential nutrients and cause permanent damage to the digestive tract. In addition, these foods create free radicals, oxygen atoms that break free and damage DNA inside our cells, which cause premature aging and cancer. They create inflammation, which suppresses the immune system and causes chronic illnesses such as asthma and cancer.
These starchy staples of the modern diet also create severe insulin spikes in the body. Insulin tells the body to convert glucose – starch – to fat. This enabled cavemen to store energy in times of bounty so they could survive the coming times of scarcity, but modern humans eat like that every meal. As a result, their cells become resistant to insulin, they must eat more to get the same amount of energy. They get fat and eventually many get diabetes.
Cavemen ate lots of vegetables, meat and fish, plus fruits and nuts in season. The meat they ate was wild game, grass fed; not animals penned in cages and force-fed grain, and can best be simulated by eating organic meat and game today. They also ate the entire animal, organs and bone marrow included. They didn’t limit fish intake because of heavy mercury either. Today, paleo practitioners take common supplements to correct the fat imbalance in modern foods and fulfill their nutritional needs.
The exercise patterns of cavemen are also instructive for modern humans. Like lions, cavemen walked every day. They tracked game then planned hunts. When they got hungry, they walked to the hunting ground to conserve their energy, positioned themselves for the hunt, then they exploded on their prey with intense bursts of speed and strength because their lives depended on success. Paleo practitioners should exercise several times a week with no set schedule in intense sessions of 10-20 minutes. They should also run sprints once a week or so.
But don’t overdo it. In “The Primal Blueprint,” Mark Sisson warns, “Chronic Cardio – a program I followed for nearly 20 years as a marathoner and later as an ironman triathlete – is bad for your health, period.” Sisson developed chronic health problems from carb abuse and long sessions of moderate intensity exercise that he only overcame when he adopted the paleo lifestyle.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine labeled Sisson’s “The Primal Blueprint Cookbook” as one of the five worst cookbooks of the year. The medical-pharmaceutical-processed food establishment stands to lose hundreds of billions of dollars annually if people start eating and exercising in healthy ways, but Americans have nothing to lose and their health to gain by learning from cavemen.
Reach DCP freelance writer Mark Luedtke at MarkLuedtke@daytoncitypaper.com.