In January 2007 the BBC reported on a very interesting diet experiment whereby a group of volunteers adopted a strict ape-like diet. A group of volunteers stopped eating all processed foods and saturated fats and instead ate a diet of mostly raw fruits and vegetables.
The rules of the diet were simple. The diet was plant based, like the diet eaten by apes, who genetically are our closest relatives. Their digestive systems are not very different from our own, and therefore a healthy diet for an ape is also a healthy diet for humans.
The diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, nuts and honey, and all items during the first week were eaten raw. The diet provided the daily nutritional requirements for both sexes taking part. Many of the volunteers struggled at first with the new diet, mostly problems being caused by a sudden increase in the amount of fibre consumed.
Also, the only liquid drunk during the first week was water. In the second week the volunteers also ate mackerel, which provide essential nutrients such as omega 3, which is believed to have helped our brains to evolve at a greater rate.
The group’s average blood pressure fell from a level of 140/83 – almost hypertensive – to 122/76. Though it was not intended to be a weight loss diet, they dropped 4.4kg (9.7lbs), on average.
All the volunteers lost weight during the experiment. There was also a dramatic reduction in risk of coronary heart disease and stroke due to noticeable reductions in cholesterol, blood fats and blood pressure in all volunteers.
Overall, the cholesterol levels dropped 23%, an amount usually achieved only through anti-cholesterol drugs statins.
For many people this was no real revelation. Many vegetarians and vegans eat a diet like this already. But for the average person, this experiment provided solid proof that today’s fast food, high fat, high salt diet culture is the cause of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, plus many other ailments and disorders.
Eating healthily does not need to be as extreme as this experiment, but the “ape-like diet” provides a good foundation for a healthy diet.
The main criticism for the diet that the volunteers followed was that it was not a “bush diet”. It is very likely that our ancestors ate a diet that consisted of lots of protein from grubs and insects. Many societies still consume a lot of insects today, including ants, grubs, silk worms, spiders and even scorpions. As well as eating raw insects people also used to eat shellfish, especially those found in fresh water and on beaches.
So a real stone age diet would have consisted of a lot of foods which the volunteers did not eat at all. For obvious reasons our ancient ancestors would not have eaten mackerel. Although we cannot know when humans first started fishing. It is logical to assume that it was not until after our brains have evolved from generations of eating foods rich is omega 3 fatty acids which would have been derived mostly from shell fish.
In recent years this form of dieting has become more popular. Many fitness instructors are now promoting an caveman / stone age diet to their clients who want to lose fat and build muscle. Typically a diet will consist of a low GI diet with lean proteins, but also include beef and chicken in addition to seafood and fish.
However, what is most important, is what we take from these studies and not whether or not the study was an accurate portrayal of a prehistoric diet. We know that saturated fat leads to cholesterol building up in the blood and that processed junk food causes obesity. These are the types of foods we need to reduce or eliminate completely to live a healthier and fitter life.
Also, modern nutrition is obviously much better than in ancient times. We are now able to ensure that we maintain a healthy diet all year round as food is plentiful, both in terms of volume and variety. Whereas our ancestors may have become malnourished and weakened in winter months we can maintain a diet rich in vitamins and minerals all year. This goes a long way to making us much healthier and able to fight off disease and infection.
So, to live a healthy life we should stop eating processed foods which are high in added sugar and saturated fat and eat a healthier diet that is closer to how stone-age man would have eaten, but not as restrictive.