What is the Optimum Human Diet?

There is a lot of controversy today about what the optimum human diet is. Should we eat meat? Should we all because vegans? How should we approach this question?

The first thing we should always do when considering any question is look at our evolutionary history. Mitochondria of today’s human cells evolved from ancestral prokaryotes that were engulfed by primitive eukaryotes about 1.5 million years ago. In other words, back when all that existed were bacteria and other single cell organisms, one bacteria would come up to another bacteria, engulf it, “eat” it, and incorporate the new bacteria into its own internal structure. If you examine the human genome, remnants of these ingested organisms are still present. It is estimated that anywhere from 8% to 35% of human DNA consists of fragments of viruses (which makes the use of antiviral drugs a questionable practice). The bacterial forms who were our ancestors very definitely were feeding on each other.

By the time we evolved to be a bipedal species, we were eating anything we could get our hands on, depending on what was available. We weren’t eating because of moral considerations, we were eating for survival. In fact, there were no moral considerations. Morality didn’t exist. It didn’t come into existence until complex social groups were formed in which shame was used to try and influence group behavior. As a young bipedal species, we weren’t very good hunters. We couldn’t run as fast as the animals, and we had no tools or weapons at first. So we ate whatever we could gather. Wild growing berries, tender green grasses, any kind of readily available plant. We probably didn’t eat grains as they are eaten today because today we eat the dried seed kernels that have been milled. Those aren’t easy to chew, so we would have eaten the tender wheat grass but not the kernels. At this point we were just gatherers and eaters of raw food.

Then we learned to make simple tools. Up to that time, it probably hadn’t occurred to us to kill and eat an animal. Life in the lush, green savannahs of Africa provided plenty of plant food. Then global climactic changes produced an ice age and there was very little in the way of plant food available with snow and ice covering the ground. With no sources of fresh plant food, our species had to adapt or become extinct.

One day, someone watched a lion kill and eat a gazelle, and realized for the first time that they could do the same. Perhaps they stood in the bushes and watched the lion eat his fill, then they scavenged from the leftovers. At this point, they didn’t have the skill or weapons to kill big game animals, so they concentrated on whatever smaller protein sources they could find.

Researchers excavating a cave off the shore of South Africa found remains of an edible shellfish dinner dated back to 165,000 yeats. Anatomically modern humans emerged sometime between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago in Eastern Africa. Shellfish is a meal easily caught and eaten raw, and probably was eaten that way for years until humans learned to make fire. Excavation at the Wonderwerks cave in South Africa suggest that homo erectus was using fire to cook. Cooking allowed human ancestors to consume more calories and, as a result, to develop larger brains. This hypothesis is based on physical changes in early hominins -for instance, a shift toward smaller teeth and stomachs – that took place around the time Homo erectus evolved. Without the eating of cooked meat, we would not have developed the large, complex brains we now possess.

Humans continued in hunter-gatherer mode until cultivation of wild cereal grasses around 9,000 BCE, the beginning of the Neolithic period (new Stone Age). Surprisingly, this cultivation did not seem to be driven by starvation or need. Humans had settled into social communities and were thriving, not impoverished. It was after the rise of agriculture that human remains began to display signs of chronic degenerative diseases not found in hunter-gatherer societies.

It seems clear that availability of plentiful food combined with regular ingestion of cereal grains has taken it’s toll on human health. For an explanation of substances in wheat that cause degenerative disease, see the following video.

My own experience has been a near miraculous improvement in health after deletion of grains from my diet, and embarking on the Ketogenic Diet.

It seems clear that humans thrive on a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet. As for the moral objections to meat eating, we started out as bacteria eating each other. No morality involved. Morality was invented by society, and serves no purpose other than control of the masses. You are better off to do what is healthier for your body and ignore society.

More about the Ketogenic Diet.

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ca. 2003 — The Four Food Groups — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

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