About 10,000 years ago – not long at all in comparison to the 2 million years of the Paleolithic period – the human being learnt how to cultivate crops. In so doing, the nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle was abandoned in exchange for a settled life on the land. This seems to be when all our heath problems started. Archaeologists claim that the differences between hunter-gatherers and neo-agriculturists of the same period is significant. The hunter-gatherers, for example, are thick boned, tall and strong, whilst the neo-agriculturists are short, brittle-boned and exhibit dental decay.
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Agriculture and the Neolithic Period: Why Our Health Has Taken a Down Turn
Agriculture, whilst providing a stable foundation for emerging civilisations, introduced into the daily diet substances that, up until that point, had only been consumed in very small doses. Grains of all sorts, for example, rice, wheat and corn. All of a sudden (in evolutionary terms) the human body was having to metabolise large quantities of carbohydrate for its energetic needs. The animal proteins, seeds, nuts, healthy fats,fruits and vegetables – all of which it had evolved to metabolise so efficiently that it was strong enough to outsmart a tiger – took a back seat. The agricultural based carbohydrates were easy and cheap to produce, which means more people regularly had food in their bellies. With more food, the population grew, and mortality rates dropped. Economics emerged: agriculture had value, money was earned and traded, and empires were established. New discoveries resulted in more crops, more variety. Potatoes. Refined sugar. Beans. When populations became settled, fresh milk became available every day. Of course, feeding the increasing masses was the result of hard and stressful labour, but the production of alcohol meant everybody could relax instantly with a beer or glass of wine when the day was done.
But the benefits of agriculture and a settled life didn’t come without a huge price. Lets take a quick look:
- The new agricultural carbohydrates – grains, legumes, sugar, alcohol and dairy – when consumed, are quickly broken down into simple sugars, which is great if you need an instant source of energy – like if you need to escape a tiger – but not so great if you are not active enough to burn it off immediately. As well as causing insulin levels to spike and fall way too quickly – disastrous in the long-term – all that unused energy is converted into fat which has to be stored somewhere in the body. Goodbye gorgeous slim hunter-gatherer body.
- The simple sugars are addictive. They trigger the pleasure-and-reward centres of the brain. Once those pathways have been activated, they start lighting up like a slot machine at the mere thought of the substance. We’re not talking cocaine here. Or are we?
- The new easy-energy-source carbohydrates are not nearly so nutritious as the old animal protein, seeds, nuts, fats, fruits and vegetables. Jump onto Google and do a quick comparison between, say, a cup of white rice and a cup of cauliflour. 100 grams of beans and 100grams of beef. You’ll get the picture straight away. I was vegetarian for years, and didn’t really believe it. I should have listened to my mother.
- Not only are the agricultural grain and legume crops lacking in significant nutrition, but our human bodies are not designed to digest them. You already know this. Bloating. Farting. Cramps. Not-so-satisfying excretory stools. The fact is – and this is becoming increasingly recognised in the scientific, medical and nutritional scenes – grains contain problematic proteins, of which gluten is just one. They irritate the digestive tract, leading to both short term digestive issues – such as those cited previously – and long term complications – such as increased gut permeability. Leaky Gut means that the stuff which should be kept out, gets in. When invaders attack, the immune system switches into action, as it should. But when the immune system is overworking all the time, it is not only weakened, but becomes downright confused. Hello Autoimmunity Issues, Allergies, and Inflammation.
- Not only are the agricultural legume crops lacking in significant nutrition, but they contain anti-nutrients, which actually block the absorbtion and assimilation of real nutrients. Strange, yes, but true.
- The seed oils produced by agriculture – sunflower, peanut, canola, corn, soybean etc – go rancid when exposed to air, heat and light, including artificial light. Rancid stuff inside the body is not good. These polyunsaturated fats are overburdened with Omega 6 and contain way too little Omega 3. Omega 6 is inflammatory. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory. You get the picture.
- Milk is for new born and growing little ones. It’s always been that way. Which means it is full of hormones which promote fast growth, health and strength in the little ones, who have the right enzymes to metabolise the nutrients. Dairy, it must be said, is a grey area in the Paleo scene. There are adults who simply don’t have the enzymes, and therefore have a real intolerance. There are others, however, who have no problem with dairy and are able to assimilate all the cited benefits: protein, calcium, etc. But intolerant or not, it seems that the casein in dairy products triggers the insulin response, and also the histamine response of the immune system which causes and/or contributes to, excess mucous, allergies, and digestive issues. Best to be treated with intelligent awareness.
- Alcohol. It’s a sugar. See above.
- As mentioned earlier, historically, the new agricultural foods provided easy energy and a stable base. Easy energy meant that, even if they weren’t so strong and healthy as their hunter-gatherer forebears, there was a higher likelihood of surviving long enough to reproduce. And so it happened. The natural selection of the Paleolithic period that guaranteed a constant improvement to the genetic line was stopped short in its tracks. And the world population started to grow. And grow. And grow. Lots and lots of very, very unhealthy people. Addicted to sugar, and drugs.
The Paleo Diet advocates avoiding all foods which cause, directly or indirectly, irritation of the intestine, a flare up of the immune systeme, and sky rocketing insulin leves. Ditch the new foodstuffs. Feast on the old.
The Paleo Diet and Lifestyle in a Nutshell
In a nutshell, the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle suggests:
Eliminate (or Significantly Reduce) Sugar, Alcohol, Grains, Legumes and Dairy.
Eat Mostly Animal Proteins, Seeds, Nuts, Healthy Fats, Fruits and Leaves
Relax. Sleep more.
Sprint like you gotta out-run a tiger every now and again.
Sit under a tree. Relax, close your eyes, smell the flowers.
Don’t be Obsessive about anything. Not even Paleo.
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This is it in a nutshell, but if I’ve missed anything, please add your piece in the comments below.
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Best Wishes, Good Health and Happiness.