Fact-check suspect information about ancestral eating. On their way out of the world of science and into the public sphere, certain ideas and concepts pertaining to evolutionary nutrition have been misinterpreted and/or distorted, giving people a injurious, false impression of what we’re adapted to eat. Hence, it’s always a good idea to fact-check any questionable advice against the relevant scientific literature.
Prioritize community. Humans are social creatures by nature who evolved in fairly small, tightly knit groups in which members depended on one another for support, survival, and reproduction. Hence, from a Darwinian psychological point of view, one would expect that we’re wired to enjoy the altrusim and social support and interactions inherent to good, nurturing communities.
Choose the highest quality plant foods you can find and afford. Just like animals, plants don’t thrive under conditions that don’t agree with their evolutionarily sculpted biological design. Not only do organic fruits and vegetables frequently contain higher levels of certain nutrients and antioxidants, as well as less pesticide residue, than non-organic varieties, but they also have a different (typically better) microbial profile, something that has immune and microbiome-related consequences.
Move more as part of your everyday routine! Our primal forebears didn’t “exercise”; rather, they just moved a lot as part of their daily life, chiefly in order to locate and exploit nutritional resources. In the context of a modern way of life, it’s not always practical/feasible to move around a lot; however, most people would certainly be able to incorporate some physical activity into their eveyday routine, for example by walking, as opposed to driving, to work, taking the stairs when possible, and breaking up computer time with short strolls.
Stay away from food products with ingredient lists that feature compounds that even the most experienced chemists may have trouble identifying. Many artificial ingredients that are commonly believed to be safe may in truth be pernicious due to their evolutionary novelty. One such compound is the commonly used food additive titanium dioxide (E171), which has recently been found to disrupt gut homeostasis.
Don’t bombard your gut with probiotics. Instead of taking a particular probiotic supplement day in and day out or striving to get as many probiotics into one’s gut as possible, it’s generally better for people who are on a quest to enhance and diversify their gut microbial communities to implement a variety of other, more natural microbiome restoration techniques into their way of life.
Adopt an evolutionary approach to psychology. Evolutionary science is integral to psychology and psychiatry, as it’s required to make sense of why organisms function and behave the way they do, as well as what’s going on in instances of mental illness and aberrant behavior.
Regularly perform exercises that target the upper back. The standing high row, the seated cable row, and other similar exercises can help counteract some of the muscular and postural issues that accompany a modern, sedentary lifestyle involving prolonged sitting in front of a computer.
Base your fitness program on organic fitness principles. Both too little and too much exercise relative to the activity level we evolved to require in order to achieve and sustain good physical functioning is detrimental. Evolutionary insights can help you find the sweet spot, as well as deduce what types of physical activities that suit your physiology.
Think twice before your buy and consume farmed fish. When compared with wild-caught fish, farmed fish (e.g., farmed salmon) generally contains a lot more total fat, has an imbalanced fatty acid configuration, and harbors greater quantities of certain pollutants and antimicrobial compounds, among other things.
Exercise before you eat! By going for a brisk walk, lifting weights, or otherwise being physically active prior to eating, you’ll help your body deal with the meal in a healthy and effective manner by improving its glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and adjusting its immune profile, among other things. This practice is rooted in our evolutionary past, in the sense that our primal ancestors had to move in order to get a hold of something to eat.
Push against the outside of your heels/feet when you perform exercises such as the squat and deadlift. This will bring your knees out to the side, help you distribute the load correctly, and reduce the likelihood that your back is going to round as you drop your hips.
Make healthy fats a cornerstone of your diet! Many evolutionary dieters take in too much fat for their own good; however, there are also some out there who take in too little. In particular people who’ve just recently entered the world of evolutionary nutrition and haven’t yet let go of nutritional dogma concerning the dangers of fat are liable to make that mistake. They ditch grains and other carbohydrate-rich foods, but fail to adequately compensate by increasing their intake of healthy high-fat foods such as salmon and coconuts.
Avoid harmful personal care and beauty products. Many cosmetics, skin lotions, soaps, etc. contain ingredients of questionable safety and could cause acne, damage the skin and accelerate ageing, and/or have other harmful effects. This makes sense from a Darwinian point of view, seeing as our biology has little to no evolutionary experience in dealing with the cocktails of chemicals that are found in modern, industrially produced consumer products.
Minimize your exposure to artificial light at night. Artificial light exposure disrupts the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, adversely affects sleep quality, and has been linked with a variety of health disorders, including cancer. You can protect yourself from these issues by replacing sources of artificial light with sources of natural light, such as candle lights. If you “have” to use your devices late at night, you should strongly consider installing light-regulating software such as f.lux on them and/or using blue-light-blocking glasses.
Protect your microbiota from drug-induced damage! It’s not just antibiotics that are problematic in the context of gut microbiota diversity and stability; many other drugs are as well. Keep your use of pharmaceutical agents to a minimum, both for your own sake and for the sake of your gut bacteria.
Seek out fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Our intake of fiber has decreased significantly since the time when we lived as hunter-gatherers. Part of the reason is that wild fruits and vegetables typically contain more fiber than their domesticated counterparts, which have been modified via artificial selection, often with the purpose of making them softer and increasing their sugar content and size. In other words, in order to approximate ancestral standards with respects to fiber consumption, modern dieters need to deliberately seek out foods that are fairly rich in fiber, such as onions, Jerusalem artichoke, and broccoli.
Eat more seafood! Many evolutionary eaters consume ample amounts of meat (e.g., beef), but fairly little seafood. This is arguably a mistake, in part because a considerable body of evidence suggests that marine foods rich in omega-3 were an important part of many of the ancestral diets that supported the evolution of the large, complex human brain and contributed to shaping our genetic make-up and nutritional needs. Moreover, high-quality, wild caught seafood is often less expensive and easier to get a hold of than high-quality meats from terrestrial animals.
Take the results of observational studies with a grain of salt. The mainstream press frequently highlights the results of studies that are observational in nature. Journalists are typically not trained in the scientific method and sometimes make flawed inferences based on the findings of such studies, something that contributes to causing confusion among the public. It’s important to remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation.
Think twice before you use vitamin and mineral supplements. A lot of people take multivitamins and/or use other similar types of supplements “just to be on the safe side”, not because they know they are deficient in on or more micronutrients. This is concerning, considering that most vitamin and mineral supplements provide no benefits. Some actually do quite a bit of harm.)
Eat seasonally! Many modern humans consume the same diet year-round. This is an evolutionarily novel behavior! The dietary habits of hunter-gatherers, as well as that of wild gorillas, chimpanzees, and many other animals, fluctuate seasonally. This has obvious microbiome-related implications and is something we would be wise to keep in mind when we plan our modern diets.
Restrict the number of ‘cheat meals’ you eat. It’s commonly assumed that it takes many weeks for diet-induced health effects to accumulate to such a level that they become significant, and that eating a single unhealthy meal will have little to no adverse physiological impact. This assumption is erroneous. Even a single unhealthy meal can actually have a fairly profound negative effect on the body.
Don’t use health-damaging sunscreens! Most people appear to be unaware of the fact that many of the chemicals that are found in common sunscreens can do them harm. If the choice is between getting severely sunburned and using a “toxic” sunscreen, it’s probably best to use the sunscreen. That said, ideally, one would steer clear of both those choices and instead opt for covering up (e.g., with clothes and a hat) when necessary, seeking shade when the sun is at its most intense, and gradually adapting one’s skin to sunlight exposure. You may also consider using a non-toxic sunscreen.
Limit your intake of foods that have antimicrobial properties. Raw onions, garlic, chili pepper, and the like contain compounds that are toxic to certain types of microorganisms, including some of those that are commonly found in the human gut. There’s a reason why we find the taste of these foods to be very pungent, and that is that they are tough on the microbial communities we harbor and our general physiology. Antimicrobial compounds such as allicin, an organosulfur substance found in garlic, are heat-sensitive and can be destroyed by cooking.
Stay away from artificial sweeteners. The consumption of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose has been implicated in the development of several health problems related to gastrointestinal health, inflammation, and glucose tolerance. Recent research suggests that sweeteners exert their detrimental effects partly by altering our gut microbial communities.
Choose whole foods over dietary supplements whenever possible. The cons of supplementation typically (but not always) outweigh the pros. It’s important to acknowledge that we humans don’t know everything there is to know about the food we eat. We’re constantly discovering new things. For example, over the past couple of years it has become increasingly clear that dietary plant hormones impact on a variety of human physiological processes. The bottom line is that the plants and animals we eat are, just like us, complex biological structures. When we break these structures down into their smaller constituents, we lose the natural nutritional balance that contributed to shaping the evolution of the human genome.
Skip breakfast! Our primal ancestors didn’t have constant access to food. They had to put in quite a bit of work to get a hold of something to eat. Hence, it’s not surprising that a lot of studies, including a recent study showing that intermittent fasting modulates gut microbiota composition in mice, indicate that periodic fasting, as well as fasted exercise, is healthful.
Don’t feel like you have to get 8 hours of sleep every night. It’s a myth that 8 hours of sleep a night is the ideal sleep duration for humans. Many people, in particular healthy individuals, don’t require as much as 8 hours of sleep every night. This statement is supported by a substantial amount of scientific research, including research showing that contemporary hunter-gatherers sleep less than 8 hours a night. As long as you have a good pre-bed routine, sleep in a cool, dark room, and pay attention to the signals your body is sending you, then you don’t have to worry that much about exactly how many hours of sleep you get every night.
When you’re confronted with new information about a subject such as nutrition or medicine, always ask yourself whether the information is evolutionarily sound. If it has no basis in evolutionary science or doesn’t conform to established Darwinian principles, then you would probably be wise to discard it and move on to something else.
Exercise when you feel stressed. In our primal past, as opposed to today, stress was typically followed by muscle contraction and physical activity. For example, when our distant ancestors encountered dangerous animals, they either tried to escape or took up arms in order to defend themselves. Seeing as movement is a primal response to threatening and stressful situations, it’s not surprising that a large body of evidence suggests that exercise can help combat psychological tension.
Consume wild-caught, fatty seafood on a regular basis! The vast majority of contemporary humans take in much less omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D than ancient humans did. This is worrying for a number of reasons, one of which is that these nutrients play an essential role in various immune-related processes of the human body. Among other things, they help protect against chronic inflammation – a driving force behind many chronic ills. Fatty fish such as mackerel not only contain plenty of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but it’s also quite high in vitamin D, as well as high-quality protein.
Squeeze the glutes when you perform standing press exercises such as the barbell press! By keeping the glutes contracted, you stabilize the spine and avoid overextending your lower back. Not only that, but you’ll increase the tension on, and thereby strengthen, the glutes and abs, which are very high on the list of the most underdeveloped parts of the body of the typical modern man and woman.
Limit your intake of salt. Over the most recent millennia, massive quantities of salt have been infused into the human diet. In some parts of the world, the average intake of sodium has increased by more than 1000% since the Paleolithic. A large body of evidence suggests that this is one of the primary reasons why so many contemporary humans are chronically inflamed and hypertensive and why several types of cardiovascular diseases are today highly prevalent in many countries.
Limit your intake of foods that contain very high concentrations of saturated fat, such as butter, cheese, ghee, sausages, and bacon. It’s strange that many evolutionary dieters think it’s unproblematic to consume a lot of saturated fat, seeing as the preagricultural human diets that supported the evolution of the complex human brain and body only contained modest quantities of this type of fat. Our primal ancestors got most of their fats from game meat, nuts, and wild-caught seafood (including fatty tissues and organs), which are fairly rich in unsaturated fatty acids, but low in saturated ones, when compared fatty milk products and meat derived from domesticated animals. This helps explain why a large body of evidence, including a recent systematic review and meta-analysis, shows that diets high in saturated fat don’t agree well with the human body.
Breastfeed your children! Infant formula is a bleak imitation of real breast milk. It doesn’t contain the unique mix of bacteria, immune factors, hormones, prebiotics, and so forth that are found in breast milk. Hence, it’s not surprising that children who are breast fed tend to be healthier and harbor more resilient microbial communities than children who are fed infant formula. Nature knows best!
Perform exercises that strengthen the glutes, such as the squat and the standing glute squeeze, on a regular basis. As a result of daily, prolonged sitting and physical inactivity, many contemporary humans have weak and small glute muscles. This is worrying, seeing as glute atrophy and weakness set the stage for back pain and bad posture. By regularly performing exercises that stress your glutes, you will not only reduce your risk of developing these problems, but you will likely also find that your butt becomes rounder, firmer, and better-looking.
Limit your use of harsh soaps and antimicrobial lotions. A lot people think that these products enhance their protection against germs. The reality, however, is that they in most instances do the opposite. They strip away the natural defenses of the skin by altering its pH and the skin microbiota. Hence, it’s not surprising that research has found that hospital workers and other people who tend to frequently wash their hands with soap and/or use hand sanitizers typically have an abnormal skin microbiota, rich in pathogens.
Consume moderate amounts of protein at every meal! Modern diets are generally very low in protein compared to the preagricultural diets that supported the evolution of the human body and the large, complex human brain. This is worrying, seeing as protein has some unique properties that clearly separate it from the other macronutrients. Among other things, it increases thermogenesis to a greater extent than fat and carbohydrate, plays a uniquely important role in body tissue maintenance and repair processes, and promotes satiety and a feeling of fullness. Hence, it’s not surprising that studies have shown that people who take in little protein are more likely to take in more total calories than they need to sustain body weight than people who take in moderate-high quantities of this macronutrient.
Walk more! The human body is designed to be physically active. Hunter-gatherers and semi-nomadic pastoralists such as the Maasai cover many kilometers every day (typically >10 km/day) as they gather plant foods, hunt, and otherwise move around in their local environment. This helps explain why they are lean and metabolically healthy and have strong, dense bones. It also helps explain why heart disease, osteoporosis, and many other chronic diseases and health problems are very rare among these peoples.
Pic: CC pic by Jess & Kate. Some rights reserved.