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Caveman Diet for Optimal Health

Comments by Dr. Loren Cordain on an article appearing in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
February 2005;81(2): 341-354

Diet-related chronic diseases represent the single largest cause of death and sickness in the United States and most Western countries. Yet while these diseases are epidemic in contemporary Westernized populations and typically afflict two-thirds of the adult population, they are rare or nonexistent in hunter-gatherers and other less Westernized cultures.

Why? There is an increasing awareness that the profound environmental changes, such as diet and other lifestyle conditions that began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry (the care and breeding of domestic animals), occurred too recently for the human genome to adapt to.

Thus, universal characteristics of pre-agricultural human diets are helpful in understanding how the recent Western diet may subject modern populations to chronic disease: Before the development of farming and the domestication of livestock practices, dietary choices would have been necessarily limited to minimally-processed plant and animal foods.

It is important to understand that over 70 percent of the American diet now consists of foods that were unavailable to pre-agricultural humans, such as:

  • Dairy products
  • Cereals
  • Refined sugars
  • Refined vegetable oils
  • Alcohol

Although these foods dominate the typical American diet, they would have contributed little or none of the energy in the typical pre-agricultural human diet. And while scientists and lay people alike typically target a single dietary element as the cause of chronic disease, evidence has indicated that virtually all so-called diseases of civilization have many contributing dietary elements, as well as other environmental agents and genetic susceptibility that underlie the cause of the disease.

Consequently, these foods negatively affect proximate nutritional factors, which collectively underlie or worsen virtually all chronic diseases of civilization, including: glycemic load, fatty acid consumption, macronutrient composition, micronutrient density, acid-base balance and sodium-potassium ratio. Yet the ultimate factor underlying diseases of civilization is the collision of our ancient genome with new conditions of life in prosperous nations.

Lisa Anne Leslie's Comment:

Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleolithic Diet, is one of the leaders in researching paleolithic nutrition and its impact on health and disease prevention. His commentary on the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition research article provides a pertinent reminder of how poor dietary choices adversely affect our overall health.

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