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The Hunter-Gatherer Way of Eating

(As published on TheTownDish.com, August, 2011)

By Julie Funk, MS, RD, CDE, LDN
Director, Community Wellness at The Chester County Hospital

Somehow the current fascination with "eating like a caveman" doesn't at first sound appealing if you think of having to forage through your neighborhood for food everyday and shoot four-legged creatures or winged birds for your survival.

There is much to be gained, however, from taking a second look at this hunter-gatherer way of eating. It is a fact that our ancient ancestors in the Paleolithic era consumed only natural and unprocessed foods.

Over the millennia, our human genome and physiology has become well adapted to this diet. Obviously, with the introduction of highly processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats and other unfortunate additions to our western diet, we have done ourselves no favors. A look at the alarming rates of both adult and childhood obesity will illustrate the consequences of our modern day diet.

Actually, compared to our American diet, our ancient ancestors diet contained two to three times more fiber, one-and-a-half to two times more healthy polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, four times more omega-3 fatty acids, but 60-70% less saturated fat - the fat responsible for plugging up our coronary arteries and causing cardiovascular disease.

Also, protein was two to three times higher, potassium was three to four times higher, but sodium (the high blood pressure menace) was four to five times lower. They also ate no refined grains and sugar with the exception of honey when it was in season. Interestingly, all current science points to the fact that dietary approaches that include a diet high in healthy fats, increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish or plant sources and a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains are the most important actions a person can take to prevent cardiovascular disease.

So, you don't need to dress in animal hide and throw your bow and arrow over your shoulder. Just use good common sense and make for frequent stops at farm stands and local produce markets in your area. Below are some practical steps to use to realign your lifestyle to be more like our very old Paleolithic ancestors:

Eat whole, natural, fresh foods; avoid highly processed foods.

Consume a diet high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries and low in refined grains and sugars. Good choices include berries, plums, citrus, apples, cantaloupe, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and avocado.

Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant sources.

Avoid trans-fats entirely, and limit intake of saturated fats. To do this, eliminate fried foods, hard margarine, commercial baked goods, and most packaged and processed snack foods. Substitute healthy fats such as olive or canola oil for butter, shortening and the like.

Increase consumption of lean protein, such as skinless poultry, fish, and game meats and lean cuts of red meat. Round and loin cuts are usually lean. Avoid high-fat dairy and fatty, salty bacon, sausage and deli meats.

Make olive or canola oil your preferred oil for salads, baking etc.

Drink plenty of water. It is what we are best adapted to drink.

And finally, get moving! Daily exercise that includes cardio, strengthening and flexibility activities is a must. Our ancestors walked and ran 5-10 miles a day in their pursuit for food. We don't need to leap over streams and climb trees, but cross training keeps us in tune with our ancestors.

Last Updated: 9/7/2012