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Did early humans have a better, more nutritious diet than we do? That’s the idea behind popular “ancestral eating” diets like paleo and primal. The pitch appeals to people who believe “caveman” hunter-gatherers were stronger, faster, more robust, and just plain healthier than our modern-day selves. Is that true, though? Should we be eating like our ancient ancestors, avoiding more modern foods like grains, dairy, and other processed foods? Will it help us live longer or shed fat effortlessly? In this podcast, I’ll answer these questions and address the topic of “evolutionarily-consistent” eating and dieting.
I’ve written and recorded a lot of evidence-based content over the years on just about everything you can imagine related to building muscle, losing fat, and getting healthy.
I’ve also worked with thousands of men and women of all ages and circumstances and helped them get into the best shape of their lives.
That doesn’t mean you should blindly swallow everything I say, though, because let’s face it—nobody is always right about everything. And especially in fields like diet and exercise, which are constantly evolving thanks to the efforts of honest and hardworking researchers and thought leaders.
This is why I’m always happy to hear from people who disagree with me, especially when they have good arguments and evidence to back up their assertions.
Sometimes I can’t get on board with their positions, but sometimes I end up learning something, and either way, I always appreciate the discussion.
That gave me the idea for this series of podcast episodes: publicly addressing things people disagree with me on and sharing my perspective.
Think of it like a spicier version of a Q&A.
So, here’s what I’m doing:
Every couple of weeks, I’m asking my Instagram followers what they disagree with me on, and then picking the more common or interesting contentions to address here on the podcast.
And in this episode, I’ll be tackling the following . . .
- What are your thoughts on evolutionarily consistent dieting, including those who claim you can get every nutrient necessary for optimal human health from animals, organ meats, fruit, and honey?
0:00 – My free quiz to answer all your diet questions: www.muscleforlife.show/dietquiz
4:11 What is evolutionary consistent dieting?
6:15 – Were cavemen healthier?
16:41 – What are the benefits of evolutionary dieting?
Mentioned on the show:
Take this free quiz to get science-based answers to all of your diet questions: www.muscleforlife.show/dietquiz
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Hello? Hello, I’m Mike Matthews and this is Muscle For Life. Thanks for joining me today for another says you episode where I address something that somebody disagrees with me on something that I have voiced a position of mine regarding. Diet training supplementation, sometimes even just lifestyle that somebody thinks I’m wrong about.
And this episode is going to be on diet and specifically on the idea of eating in an evolution narrowly consistent way. So the attention here. Eating, according to our evolution makes more sense than let’s say flexible dieting, the fundamentals of flexible dieting that I promote and evolutionarily, consistent dieting.
These days usually means eating nose to tail. It’s mostly an animal. Diet, you’re eating animal meat. You’re eating organs, maybe some fruit and honey, and that’s about it. And there are many people like the carnivore MD guy, for example, who say that is a superior way to eat than how I eat and how I recommend you eat, which would be mostly a plant centric, diet, a lot of fruits, a lot of vegetables, seeds, legumes.
High protein. There’s probably going to be some animal protein in there because generally speaking animal protein is better for supporting muscle growth and muscle repair than plant protein, because it is richer and essential amino acids, more bioavailable. And if you wanna throw in some other animal products, some dairy, that’s totally fine.
For example, some eggs. Totally fine. and you want to have, of course, some healthy fats. You need saturated fat. You don’t want to have too much saturated fat. Most of the fat in your diet should be of the poly unsaturated and mono unsaturated. Variety and so on and so forth. That’s my position. That’s how I eat.
And I believe that is in line with the weight of the modern scientific evidence. And of course, that is what I recommend people who follow me do generally, at least start there. Some people do need to make modifications. Some people do need to actually move. In the direction of a carnivore diet. For example, if they’re having a lot of problems, digestion problems, bloating, they just don’t feel good.
Despite eating a lot of quote, unquote healthy foods, they can have food intolerances or even food allergies that they are not aware of. And. If that is severe enough, then an elimination diet can be warranted. And an elimination diet is where you eliminate basically everything. It’s often just meat, because meat is well tolerated by most people.
So you start with just eating meat until your symptoms, your non optimum Health’s digestive symptoms go away. And then you start reintroducing foods, one by one to learn. What you can and can’t eat, but of course, the idea is you start reintroducing foods. You’re not supposed to live in the elimination phase.
So anyway that’s a pretty long preamble, for today’s episode, but that’s what it’s gonna be about. Before we Wade into it. Have you ever wondered what strength training split you should follow? What rep ranges you should work in? How many sets you should do per workout or per week? I created a free 62nd training quiz that will answer those questions for you and others, including how frequently you should train each major muscle group, which exercises you should do, what supplements you should consider which ones are at least.
Taking and more to take this quiz and to get your free personalized training plan. Go to muscle for life.show muscle F R life.show/training quiz. Answer the questions and learn exactly what to do in the gym to gain more muscle and strength. Okay, so evolutionarily, consistent dieting. What is that? It refers to the idea that we should eat in more or less the same way as early humans did as hunter gatherers eight.
And the thinking goes that modern diets are the cause of many avoidable chronic illnesses, because our bodies did not evolve. Eat a lot of the stuff, at least that us Westerners eat every day. And if we revert to eating as our early ancestors did, we can become healthier and happier and we can live longer and have a better body composition and so on and so forth.
That’s the theory and most diets that are based on that theory, including the paleo diet, carnivore, diet, primal diet, and. Similar types of diets involve eating a lot of meat, including, or at least often, including organ meats, fish, eggs, most fruits and vegetables. There is a debate, whether some vegetables, such as nightshades and high sugar fruits like bananas and watermelon are allowed.
Depends what. Evolutionary diet you are following exactly or who you are following, but nuts are often included. Seeds are often included and that’s about it. So that means you’re avoiding sugar often, except for. Honey, which is considered a natural sugar and acceptable. You are avoiding grains. Legumes, dairy, vegetable oils are often avoided, especially soybean, sunflower and corn oil.
Those are usually off limits, but something like avocado oil is usually allowed olive oil, almost always allowed. Any food with artificial trans fats, not allowed artificial sweeteners, not allowed any highly processed foods like baked goods or sauces or dressings, diet, low fat foods, anything with too many additives, those are all not allowed.
And that approach. Eating appeals to many people who buy into this idea that cavemen were stronger and faster and just more robust than our feeble modern day selves. But that is mostly based on pseudoscience and pseudo history. Early humans were probably not as healthy as you might think. For example, in one, 2016 study conducted by scientists at Georgia Institute of technology researchers studying ancient human genomes found that hereditary disease risks are similar for ancient and modern day humans.
They also found evidence. Ancient pastoralists, which are farmers who mostly ate vegetables and dairy products may have had healthier genomes than hunter gatherers. What’s more researchers found that genomes many genomes from the recent past are more likely to be healthier than genomes from the distant.
Past and that the overall genomic health of, for example, the all Neanderthal and that was an early human from the region of Siberia is worse than 97% of present day humans. And so it’s simply not true that on a genetic level, us modern day, humans are much than ancient. Humans. Now, if you wanna talk about lifestyles.
Sure. There is no argument that many modern day Westerners are living a much unhealthy lifestyle than people did a long time ago, but the genetic effects of that. At least as of right now are not as severe as many people would have. You believe it takes more than for example, just one generation of unhealthy living to deeply change the genetic makeup of the organism.
It takes generations to do that. So if trends continue here in the west within a couple of generations, what I am saying here on the podcast might be. True. Probably not completely wrong just yet, but less correct. Because we will start to see more and more unhealthy genetic expressions, unhealthy genomes in the average population.
Now, another problem with the hunter gather ancient ancestor evolutionary approach to eating is our prehistoric for bears only had one thing in mind. Survival. They ate whatever they could get their hands on, including each other sometimes. And so why isn’t human flesh included in any of these diets?
Maybe it should be, maybe it will be. I’ve actually seen some headlines recently arguing that human flesh is actually good for you. So maybe one day we will be eating the bugs and eating each other. Not impossible. And anyway, my point is cave men and cave. Women were not always able to make the best food choices.
Their diets were not always optimized. And if we woke up in the paleolithic times, we’d probably want to decline a dinner invitation. Now, ironically, a lot of what I just said, actually doesn’t apply to many of these evolutionary diets because they don’t actually have you eat the way that our early ancestors did they claim to, but it doesn’t square with reality.
And this historical angle makes for great market. It’s based on a study by the paleo diets creator, Dr. Lauren Cordain, which proposed that humans during the paleolithic era were primarily hunter gatherers with an emphasis on hunting. Now his source for that position. Is the ethnographic Atlas, which is a database on many cultural aspects of just about 1200 different societies around the world.
And a woman named Catherine Milton, a primate ecologist wrote insightful paper on this. And a few highlights from her paper are the sources of data for the ethnographic. Atlas are mostly from the 20th century and we’ve. Learned a lot more we’ve since learned that some societies that were coded as hunter gatherers were not hunter gatherers, at least at not exclusively hunter gatherers.
Furthermore, some of the authors that helped compile the Atlas were sloppy in their data collection also. Many of them were male. And I hate to play this card, but it’s valid in this point because what happened is a lot of the data collection and the data processing that was done by women was likely misreported or under reported played down or distorted.
There is good evidence that, that occurred. Another point worth mentioning here is the hunter gatherers included in the Atlas were modern. Humans. They were not people living in the primitive conditions of our distant past and the wide variety of dietary behaviors that were seen did not fall into some nice little pattern that we can emulate.
Most of the hunter gatherer societies actually lived off of vegetable foods. Again, plant centric, dieting, and the emphasis on hunting was actually rare. Now one contrary paper to Corine’s work doesn’t necessarily mean that it is mostly or completely wrong, but those critiques that I shared with you have been born out by other studies.
For example, a study conducted by the max plank Institute for evolution anthropology reported that the diet of our early human ancestors dating from about 2 million years ago consisted almost exclusively of leaves, fruit wood. And bark. Yes, we were eating like chimpanzees back then. And probably not something we want to do today in a study that was conducted by the university of Calgary researchers found the diet of ancient Africans.
Going back as far as over a hundred thousand years ago, may have been based on the serial grass sorghum. And remember that grains are almost always a big no-no in these evolutionary eating. Protocols moving on another study that was conducted by researchers at the center for advanced study of hoed, paleo biology found that the European Neanderthals eight starchy grains nearly 44,000 years ago.
And then there are researchers from the Italian Institute of prehistory. Early history who found that grains were regularly eaten by our paleolithic ancestors and specifically their findings suggest that processing and eating various vegetables and starches and possibly even grinding them into flour goes back as far as 30,000 years in Europe.
And lastly, researchers from Oxford university found tuber in the enamel of a 3 million year old Austria Opus tooth. And that suggests that even pre humans. Might have been eating potato like vegetables, which would be considered non evolutionary by many of these diet pushers. Now yet another point to consider in this debate is we don’t need to look at archeological evidence to understand how hunter gathers eight.
If that’s what we want to know, we can get a pretty good idea of that just by looking at the few remaining hunter gatherer tribes whose customs and lifestyles have not changed. Centuries. So for example, you have the Hadza tribe from central Tanzania, and this is the most extensively studied of these tribes.
And this is also the continent that is considered the birthplace of human evolution. And that’s where the majority of hoed prehistoric fossils are found. And since the heads of tribe, Resides in the tropical forest, their diet consists mainly of tubers berries, meat, other types of fruit and honey, if we look at research on the messai tribe, we find that their diet is still based around milk and blood from cows and soups with various herbs, they also eat berries and other wild fruits, and they eat honey and altogether their diet includes almost 500 different species of plants.
And so again, the eat like our ancestors pitch is good marketing people like simple people, like different people like contrarian, eat a bunch of meat, eat a bunch of saturated fat. Don’t eat those nasty vegetables, but it is simply not born out by research on its fundamental claims and then research on what is actually.
Healthy, for example, a large body of evidence shows that dairy is a great source of calcium protein, vitamin D potassium, magnesium zinc, and several other vitamins and research shows that dairy can improve bone health that can improve muscle mass strength. Weight management, but it’s not caveman enough.
So no, no dairy. And what about whole grains, which are often the scapegoat for many modern health problems like obesity and type two diabetes, which are yes, much more a problem now than they were a long time ago. But if you look at the research on. Whole grains. They can reduce inflammation in the body.
They can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, decrease the risk of type two diabetes cancer, even reduce all cause mortality, death from any and all causes. Now, of course, I’m talking more about whole wheat. I’m talking about oatmeal. I’m talking about quinoa. I’m not talking about white bread or croissants or donuts.
If we look at legumes, they can lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. They’re also a great source of protein and carbohydrate and fiber. And I could go on, but I think you get the point. Now, I want to say before I sign off that many of these ancestral diets do have positive aspects to them. They may not mimic early human diets, but they are often better than how many people.
Are eating. These diets tend to be high in protein, which is great. That’s important for building and maintaining muscle and regulating body, weight, and body composition. These diets also tend to emphasize lean rather than fatty meats, which is great for controlling calories. It’s also good for controlling omega six fatty acid intake.
Not because omega six fatty acids are bad for you, but if you have too much of them and you have too little omega, three. Fatty acid in your diet that is bad for you and emphasizing lean cuts of meat also helps you control your intake of saturated fat, which should be no more than about 10% of your total daily calories.
If you are trying to optimize your. Heart health, I guess you could say evolutionary diets also tend to exclude processed meats and that’s good because highly processed meats pose health risks. These diets also include a lot of nutritious vegetables and fruits. Very good that decreases the risk of various diseases like cardiovascular disease, stroke type two diabetes and cancer.
These diets often include a higher than average intake of omega three fatty acids. Which I just mentioned is important. And maintaining omega three sufficiency has many health benefits. It can reduce blood pressure. It can reduce the risk of kidney and cardiovascular disease and stroke and metabolic syndrome and impaired cognitive function and more.
Another thing I like about many of these hunter gather diets are they exclude added sugars, which are empty calories. Not that you can’t have added sugars, but a diet high in added sugars is often deficient in various micronutrients because foods that have a lot of added sugars usually are not very nourishing.
Yet another feather in the cap of many ancestral diets is the exclusion of high glycemic carbs, which are not quote unquote bad, but if you eat too many of them, if you eat those types of foods too regularly, then it can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Because again, most of the time.
It’s junk food. It’s not a high glycemic piece of fruit. It is the donut, right? These diets also exclude artificial trans fats, which is a good thing because those are nasty little molecules. They increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and they create insulin resistance in the body. And so if I were to summarize my position on these evolutionary diets and on everything I’ve shared with you, it’s that.
It uses the story of eating like a caveman to convince people to eat better than they are currently eating. Even though they are not going to be eating like a caveman, they are not going to be eating like a hunter gatherer archetype. They will though. Be eating a lot of nutritious food and they will be limiting their intake or eliminating their intake of foods that can be unhealthy if eaten in excess, but their diet will also be unnecessarily restrictive.
There are going to be a lot of nutritious foods that they probably would like to eat, that they are not going to be allowed to eat because of pseudo, historical and pseudo scientific reasons. Another problem. I see with a lot of people who turn to these diets is they are running away from calories and macros.
They are running away from energy balance and macronutrient balance. They don’t want to have to face how much they’re eating. How many calories they’re eating is that appropriate how those calories are breaking down into protein, carbs and fat, which often again is not an issue with these diets because they often are high protein, moderate carb, and moderate fat.
But the calories is key because many people who turn to these diets want to lose weight. And as I’m sure, if your calories out are not consistently. Higher than your calories in. If you are not consistently burning more calories than you are eating, you are not going to see any meaningful change in your body fat levels.
And my mother-in-law is a perfect example of this. She recently started the paleo diet because she wants to lose weight. I don’t know why she didn’t ask me what to do, but she decided to do the paleo diet and she’s talking to my wife the other day and she tells her that she likes the diet a lot so far, because for breakfast, she had paleo pancakes, a pile of paleo pancakes with what was it nuts on top and banana and some sort of paleo approved syrup.
Spend, it was probably like a 1200 calorie breakfast. This diet is awesome. but is she going to lose any weight eating that way? No, she’s actually going to just get fatter. And so I guess that’s, what’s going to have to happen for her to maybe think again about her approach and maybe ask me what to. I hope you liked this episode.
I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show, because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you have. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email Mike muscle for life.com, muscle F or life.com. And let me know what I could do better or just what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode. And I hope to hear from you.