What Did Cavemen Really Eat and Were They Actually Healthier?

12/20/2011

Caveman carving photoA lot of attention has been given to the Caveman Diet and while today we use it to lose weight, the caveman diet of the Paleolithic Age, was a side effect of availability. With that, our genetic makeup evolved into an incredible vehicle for survival. Our bodies are made to eat certain foods. 

But what did cavemen really eat and how can we learn from their diets? It’s no secret that cavemen wouldn’t have had processed foods on hand. Twinkies, sugary breakfast bars, bagged chips, and canned foods wouldn’t have been a part of their diets. They ate a 100 percent unprocessed diet because that’s what was available. 

What Did They Hunt and Gather?

Hunters and gatherers did just that--they hunted and they gathered. As a result, their diet was made up of mostly plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and meats. 

Mostly all the carbohydrates they ate came from fruits and vegetables. Pesticides didn’t exist and all produce was wild. Their diet consisted of two-thirds plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and the rest came from lean meat and fish.

What About Carbs?

Take into account that farming had not yet been invented so there was no corn or grain. These carbohydrates, which are today a staple of the typical Western diet, were completely nonexistent in a caveman’s diet. 

Also, consider the difference in the animals that cavemen ate. There was no dairy, because there was no livestock. And as you know, game animals, which are typical of the kind of meat that would have been eaten, is very lean and completely free of hormones and antibiotics. 

The Typical Caveman Death

But the typical caveman lived about 18 years versus our 80 today; so how could they have been healthier? Bear in mind the way they died, typically killed by an oversized predator, viruses, and bacteria. But chronic diet-controlled disease was not the cause. And while predators and many of the bacterial and viral diseases have been eradicated, diet-caused chronic diease, is at its worst. While we may live longer, it's important to take into account our quality of life. How well do our bodies work before they shut down?

In fact, according to a New England Journal of Medicine article referenced in The Power of Superfoods by the Sam Graci, the typical Neo-Paleolithic diet supplied between 2 and 5 times as much nutrients through diet when compared to today.

Wild berries photo

Photo: Thinkstock

Cavemen also had the benefit of constant daily activity. Today’s physical inactivity, which is associated with sitting behind a desk, has been studied extensively. A fascinating new study showed that nearly 173,000 cancer cases each year were caused by physical inactivity. 

Breast cancer and colon cancer were the most dependent on physical activity, with 49,000 and 42,000 cases each year caused by excessive sitting, according to Christine Friedenreich, an epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services-Cancer Care in Canada.

Cavemen knew intimately that each bite they took meant their survival. We’ve become so disconnected with the process of growing, preparing, and eating our foods that it's harder to make the connection to food as our daily source of medicine. 

Western medicine is relatively new, especially when compared to cavemen, and even when compared to Chinese medicine. 

It becomes even more important today to take that extra step toward awareness because we’re not forced to. But at the same time, being mindful that every bite you take goes into the makeup of your machine is crucial to knowing optimal health. 

Nuts and seeds photo
Photo: Thinkstock

Photo: Hemera Technology

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More on Cavemen
5 Reasons to Follow a Caveman Diet 
CAVEMEN GROUND FLOUR, PREPPED VEGGIES 
77,000 Year Old Bedding Discovered Within Threatened South African Excavation Site 


Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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