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Humans: Hunters or Gatherers?

There are those who advocate what is known as a paleolithic approach to the diet, which involves eating what cavemen may have eaten thousands of years ago: meat, nuts and relatively little vegetation or fruits.

The proponents of such a dietary approach argue that from 2.5 million years ago until the start of the Agricultural Revolution, or Neolithic Period, some 10,000 years ago, humans ate a largely animal-based diet. They argue that the human digestive system has not evolved to handle grain products, for example, to which they attribute a variety of modern ailments. We agree. But does this mean we're meant to digest meat?


Let us go back in time before the Paleolithic Era. Before then, we had no stone tools. The sharp canine teeth had been lost to our species by at least three and a half million years ago. So during the million of years up until the invention of weapons, we ate a great deal of uncooked plants. Like cattle, horses and other vegetarians, dating back 3.5 million years and moving up until the present day, we have molars for crushing food rather than knife-like incisors for cutting through flesh. Without the restriction of large canine teeth, our jaws are able to move somewhat side-to-side, making them ideally suited to crushing vegetation.
Canines are used to tear flesh.
Humans lack sharp canine teeth and instead have molars.
Molars are suited to chewing vegetation.
It is true that with the advent of stone tools about 2.5 million years ago, humans did become scavengers. Including animal flesh in the diet was (and is) not without its dangers, however. Humans cannot handle the fat and cholesterol of meat, which is the true cause of the variety of modern ailments and Western diseases on which the “Paleo” followers blame grains and processed sugars. On the other hand, it is impossible to give carnivores (dogs, for example) high cholesterol, even by feeding them great quantities of butter! Why? Because carnivores are suited to animal foods, taking what they need and eliminating the toxins and other harmful chemicals.

Some may imagine that early humans were full-time hunters who ate nothing but meat, but according to paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey, this is simply not the case. In a desperate search for calories, humans ate what they could find, and with tools to tear flesh, this did include animal flesh. But for a million years before the advent of stones, our diet was exclusively plants, and we should learn the lessons of history and understand the design of our digestive anatomy and continue in this ages-old practice. At least if the goal is optimal health.1

Please see: The Power of your Plate; Neal Barnard, M.D.; 1995.

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