Eat like a caveman to live longer? The caveman diet and longevity
Mother Nature is fascinating and baffling in equal measure. She will often offer us a few clues before wrong-footing us with the punchline. She teases us with riddles but withholds some answers. After all the generations that preceded us, we’re still none the wiser in all nature’s ways and will never get the better of her.
So if we’re really good and eat well, exercise, take life easy, alleviate stresses and strains – how long can we expect to live for? Life expectancy has increased rapidly over the generations and societies such as the Abkhasians in Georgia and the Hunzas in Kashmir hold the best records for the longest life span.
Attaining the age of 100 is not unusual (and certainly no cause for Royal acknowledgement) and the only clues we have to this great life span is that they live in hilly high altitudes, walk a lot and have a diet high in vegetables, grains and low in meat.
However it was a French lady, Jeanne Louise Calment, who holds the longevity record by making it to 120. And although she was born in the late 1800s and lived through the two biggest conflicts mankind has ever known, it is likely that this lady’s lifestyle was quite different from the above mentioned mountain societies. So what is the link?
Looking at mankind’s diet over the centuries is fascinating. Consider the caveman’s diet during the Paleolithic era – an epoch that began 2.6 million years ago and accounts for 99% of human history so far. The breakdown is thought to have been:
Interestingly this combination is quite a popular and successful balance amongst bodybuilders trying to lean up. It works by increasing anabolic (muscle building) hormones in the body and naturally maximizes the body’s production of Testosterone, Growth Hormone & Insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1).
The diet lasts about 7 days, is quite manipulative and probably mimics quite realistically the timing of supplies and meat hunted and gathered by the caveman.
The diet starts with a few days of eating high levels of fat and protein and low levels of carbs. The understanding is that this balance sparks the increase in blood serum levels of the above mentioned hormones and the body undergoes a metabolic shift and will primarily be burning fat for fuel. Sounds good doesn’t it?
The latter two days are spent loading up on carbohydrates to fill out the muscle, giving good volume and sheen to the condition. An aesthetic bonus that was possibly overlooked by the hunter gatherer himself!
Some believe that the caveman diet is the optimum one, covering all the dietary components and is coded for our genes. Medieval times (from 400AD) brought a different balance of nutritional intake. Due to an increase in farming, grains were more available and their percentages are believed to have been:
Today’s suggested ideal dietary balance (according to the Institute for Optimum Nutrition after a 24 year research programme) is pretty close to the Medieval farmer’s choices (despite our larger fat allowance). We are recommended:
Carbohydrate: 60 %
Protein: 15 %
Fat: 25 %
No mention of sugar then? Sugar has a big role in our eating today and is blamed for weight gain, diabetes and heart disease not to mention robbing our appetite of more nutritious substances. It has no place in our biological make up of 64% water, 22% protein and the rest as fat, minerals and vitamins – yet we still find a way of welcoming it into our daily intake.
Take a look at modern man’s dietary balance. It makes no excuses for a high dose of sugar and three times as much fat as medieval man: These figures average at:
Can it really be the case that mankind 2.6 million years ago right the way through to the end of the Middle Ages (1500AD) had worked out a better system of food consumption than we have today? In some respects it certainly appears that way.The more you examine dietary changes and life expectancy over the centuries, the more baffling it becomes.
The introduction of grains in Medieval times provided more available carbohydrates but is this a good thing? Its vulnerability in being close to the ground means nature wants to ward off its predators with toxic proteins.
I believe in raw foods packed with live enzymes but it isn’t as clear cut as that. According to nutritionists many grains, especially if uncooked, are full of enzyme blockers and Lectins. Lectins are thought to be able to crack our biological code and be fundamental in disease and changing DNA.
This means that flour, rice, potatoes, lentils and beans aren’t as innocuous as we perhaps thought. So much as the Medieval times were closer than our current society to the ‘ideal diet’, disease was rampant, medical knowledge poor and treatment hit-and-miss.
As a result average life expectancy was significantly shorter than we enjoy. During the Bronze and Iron ages it was just 26.
PROTEIN is derived from the word protos, which means first and protein is considered the base to all living cells. No one ate more protein than the caveman (or the bodybuilder!) and his life expectancy was an immature 16 years – though fending off 400kg Smilodons with sticks and stones might have had something to do with that!
The conclusion trips up a little. We may well ponder benefits of indigenous and ancient cuisine but despite all our dietary pitfalls we are living much longer. In 400 AD life expectancy was 35 years. By 1900 it has risen to 47 years. The biggest leap started in 1930 when it was 59 years.
By 1975 it had advanced to about 71 years, and in 1989 it had increased to 74 years for men and 78 years for women. Speculatively by the year 2020 it might be near 100 years. Jeanne Louise Calment managed it and hinted at a maximum potential age to be 120. Let’s hope so as, with every passing year, 78 seems a little too soon to me!
So still no definite answers. It just illustrates what we believe to be best for a long healthy life may not always hold the key. Sanitation, medical attention and improved living conditions are hugely responsible, as are our genetics.
Yet even if weakness or disease is encoded in our genes, it still need never be the death of you unless it is triggered by poor self-care…. And if you’re not sure what that is, you can be certain Mother Nature knows!