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Caveman Diets

Several popular books claim that you should eat meat, and stop eating grains and beans, because our ancient ancestors ate mostly meat.

If you believe in the teaching of Charles Darwin, you should be interested in what the caveman ate because our genes have changed very little in the last 30 thousand years, even though our methods of acquiring food have changed greatly. So our enzyme systems that process the food that we eat are more likely adapted to what cavemen ate, rather than to food and eating habits that have been developed with modern agriculture in the last few thousands of years.

A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 20, 2000) showed that analysis of bones from two Neanderthals from Croatia for isotopes of nitrogen prove that the cavemen hunted for meat and killed his prey. Since plants and animals accumulate different amounts of nitrogen with different atomic mass, it is relatively easy to determine what these people ate. The data suggest that virtually all of their protein came from meat. Neanderthals lived about 30,000 years ago, before agriculture was established, so they may not have had much choice in their diets. This study does not contribute to the debate about why Neanderthals disappeared but does tell us that meat was an important part of the diet.

But the analysis of the caveman's diet does not prove that eating meat is healthful. Remember, cavemen rarely lived more than 20 years. You would be very disappointed to die that young, since a person born today can expect to live to age 90. Virtually every study on the subject in the last 60 years shows that the people who live the longest and have the fewest cancers and heart attacks are the ones who eat the most fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Prehistoric people in more temperate or tropical climates were able to gather a wide variety of plants along with hunted animals, and current thinking is that you should eat a diet that includes lots of plants.

If you want your diet to be like a caveman's, you will not be able to buy any meat in the supermarket. Beef cattle, pigs, lamb and poultry are raised and fattened on corn, wheat and soybeans -- the very foods the authors of these diets say you must avoid. Sorry, your cave ancestors never saw bacon or hamburgers.
For another point of view, read why Neanderthals could eat meat and you probably shouldn't

Checked 9/10/11

June 2nd, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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