September 5

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Evolution of Diet: from the Stone Age to Today

Eating and reproducing are central themes for everything living.

Firstly, in order to appear in this world at all, we have to reproduce, and secondly, in order to continue to exist, nutrition is a prerequisite, along with breathing and drinking water. It plays a central role in our lives and also influences our mental, psychological and social well-being.

What we eat, how we eat, who we eat with..., they all play a big role in our digestion and how we benefit from our diet. The sensations we experience while eating will either balance or unbalance us.

Hunger is signalled by the body so that our entire organism receives a sufficient supply of nutrients and energy to survive. All food components are transformed by the body and either stored or immediately expelled.

"We are what we eat, without exception"

Evolution of the human diet

Over 2.5 million years ago, our ancestors lived in what is now called the Stone Age. They were hunters and gatherers. Their diet consisted of everything nature provided, as is still the case with our cousins, the chimpanzees. Wild fruits, nuts, leaves, plants, mushrooms, roots, flowers, as well as insects and all kinds of meat, were on their menu for a long time, everything raw.

About 100,000 years ago, Homo erectus began to prepare his food using fire. A new era began, where meat and other food was no longer eaten raw! Man’s digestion had to adapt to a new situation.

About 10,000 years ago, with the Neolithic (agricultural) revolution, agriculture, plant cultivation and animal husbandry began. With the storage of food, mankind entered a new era. Man also acquired new habits  and other daily routines due to a more sedentary lifestyle.

Man’s diet changed from very varied and omnivorous to much less varied and one-sided, becoming at the same time dependent on working the land and on circumstances beyond his control (rain, drought, diseases or insect plagues). As long as the harvest was good, there was enough to eat, civilisations flourished and people multiplied rapidly. However, a couple of consecutive bad years would make it extremely hard to feed all mouths, often resulting in famine.

Man rapidly became a slave of the land and the weather, and his diet consisted mainly of wheat and other cereal crops. With the cultivation of cereals and the development of dairy products, the diet of the first farmers was much less varied than that of their hunting and gathering ancestors. The staple food was bread, baked from different types of grain. It was used in almost all dishes and was the staple diet of the poor.

“There are people in the world who are so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Human adaptation

Our organism has been in constant adaptation to changing diets for millions of years, depending on the changes in the earth's climate (ecosystems), seasons and climate zones. Our ancestors always had to adapt to the whims of nature.

We have inherited our genes from all previous generations that have existed on this earth. In actual fact, our genes contain all parts of our entire evolution, including the psychological part. Recent findings prove that genetically traumatic experiences influence our everyday life.

Fears from primeval times (i.e. lightning and thunder, darkness, wild animals or too little food) still accompany us unconsciously. And if we consider that since the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, if one assumes an average of about 25 years per generation, it’s only been about 400 generations since then. No wonder we instinctively still fear to go hungry!

We know that our ancestors were actually omnivores. Over the course of time, all kinds of eating cultures have developed, depending on region and beliefs, customs and resources. There are omnivores (who eat everything), carnivores (predominantly meat as basic food) and herbivores. Whereby there was and still is a great variety of herbivores: vegetarians, vegans, frutarians but also other mixed forms like pescetarians, flexitarians...etc.

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” 

Anthony Bourdain

Whether something is considered edible or not depends on where you are in the world. But it has often been observed that in extreme situations (plane crashes in remote areas, war or environmental catastrophes) people will eat anything in order to survive.

Today's opportunities through knowledge

We are fortunate to live in a time where we know what is good for our organism through an incredible amount of information from research and studies. Centuries ago (the oldest known records of Ayurveda are about 3,000 years old), there was already a lot of research and investigation into what is good or bad for our organism. These findings are still valid today and have often been confirmed in modern science.

There are few foods that Ayurveda considers bad for everyone, because Ayurveda considers the individual, and we are all unique. Sugar and margarine are examples of foods that are considered bad for all, and red meat should be avoided, or eaten only in very small amounts and not on a regular basis. Plant based foods are almost always the main part of people's diets (with a few exceptions such as Eskimos or people living on tundras).

There is no generally valid "formula" for a healthy diet. We should strive to be mindful and, as far as possible, eat a varied diet and give our body a bit of everything, but with moderation. It is a fact that people generally eat too much nowadays. Fresh and local foods are preferable and are best transformed and absorbed by our organism.

“Your diet is a bank account. Good food choices are good investments.”

Bethenny Frankel

If you want to know more about Ayurveda and the nutritional recommendations depending on your constitution, look here...

This article was inspired by reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

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Chris

About the author

Chris has been a mainframe programmer for almost 30 years. His interest in health, the body and meditation made him enrol in 2014 in a 2-year yoga teacher training course. His love for yoga began over 20 years ago. He has been starting his days with a series of yoga exercises, breathing and meditation ever since and his passion is to help others on a healthy journey. Since meeting his partner Karen, he has learnt to create websites and reach more audience. Life offers so many possibilities to study new areas, both geographically as well as intellectually, that he’s interested in just about everything. In 2018 he became a digital nomad to discover the world.


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