Long before fast-food restaurants became a part of our lives, our ancestors hunted wild animals for meat, gardened, and gathered berries, nuts and plants to provide a healthy and well-rounded diet.
These “hunter-gatherers”, as they were called lived long before the beginning of agriculture and the domestication of animals. Many groups throughout the world continue to live this way today. Perhaps most interesting for today’s health conscious people, these humans did not and do not have anywhere near the amount of the so called “diseases of civilization” such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, and high blood pressure that cause 75% of all deaths in America today.
It is commonly thought that the reason our ancestors did not get these diseases is because they did not live long enough. It is true that these early people often died early in their life because of infections or accidents. But those who survived these early set-backs lived long lives–surpassing in length the longevity of people today.
So why didn’t they get “age-related” diseases like heart disease and high blood pressure? Scientists believe that diet and exercise had a lot to do with it.
You may wonder how we can know how people lived long ago and what they ate. First, the bones of these early people have been found and analyzed by scientists. Bones reveal how much calcium a person consumed in his or her diet, for instance, or how strong this person was. Also, there are people who still live today as hunter-gatherers throughout the world. Though they are mistakenly referred to as “primitive” people, they actually have very sophisticated knowledge about plants, animals and vitamins and minerals in their environment. Modern scientists are now trying to learn as much as they can about the medicinal use of plants from the medicine men and women of these tribes.
It is known that today’s hunter-gatherer tribes live very much the way that our early ancestors lived. Researchers are studying these people to determine what contributes to their health.
In the past men and women got much more exercise than the average person today. Basically, they needed to engage in relatively heavy and consistent physical activity just in order to eat. The men in these early and present tribes were and are hunters. Hunting requires walking or jogging long distances for hours or days to track animals. And the women were no slouches either. It appears that the primary responsibility of women in early tribes was to garden and gather plant foods, berries, nuts and fruits.
In one African tribe existing today, the women routinely walk between two and twelve miles per day to gather food three days per week. If you think a twelve mile walk is impressive you be even more impressed when you consider the 15 – 35 pounds of food they carry on the return trip. In addition, many are also carrying babies on their backs. And, gathering food does not mean lazily picking up fruit off the ground: these women often have to climb the trees to get the fruit. Or, they dig out potato-like tubers or roots buried in the ground.
Today we are told to eat foods from four basic food groups: meat and fish, vegetables and fruits, milk and milk products, and breads and cereals. Our ancestors derived most of their nutrients from two groups: meat and fish, and vegetables and fruits. Even today, most hunter-gatherer groups do not rely on milk or milk products or upon breads or cereals. These products were not available to anyone until the beginning of agriculture. These two food groups supplied our ancestors with a good healthy diet. Much healthier than our diet of cereals, white flour and processed foods. If you compare modern diet with those of our ancestors, present day people are the losers.
Our ancestors consumed far more calcium (for good strong bones) and fiber (prevents colon cancer) than we do today. Our ancestors ate a high-protein, high fiber diet. Their intake of sodium, which causes high blood pressure in some people, was far lower than the intake of the average American today. When they consumed fat they consumed polyunsaturated animal fats instead of the hydrogenated plant fats that are included in today’s processed foods.
Interestingly, their cholesterol intake was higher than modern peoples because they consumed much more meat than most folks in “civilized” societies now. However, our ancestors, and today’s hunter-gatherers, ate wild game which has a much lower fat content than animals raised in confinement today. Furthermore, these fats were of the polyunsaturated type, the opposite of what is contained in our confinement raised beef, pork and poultry.
Additionally, unlike their cooped up counterparts today, wild animals ate a natural diet that did not contain hormones, tranquilizers and antibiotics. These wild animals had as much as 20% less fat than domesticated, confinement raised animals on commercial “factory” farms. These early people also did not have to contend with refined flour and grains which have had the fiber removed, so their food had more bulk and roughage than present day processed products.
Modern peoples wishing to live longer, healthier lives can take lessons from our ancestors: Eat whole un-refined grains, free-range or wild meats, and plenty of high-fiber vegetables. Limit your intake of carbohydrates and eat a high protein diet based on lean meats. Avoid sugars.
You can learn more about the benefits of native-style and high protein – high fiber diets from the following books, most of which are available from Back 40 Books (http://www.back40books.com) web store or by calling 1.866.596.9982.
Traditional Foods are Your Best Medicine, Ronald Schmid, N.D
Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden, Gilbert Wilson
Nutrition and Degeneration, Weston A. Price
Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, Robert C. Atkins, M.D.