A Bulleted Look at the Evolution of Food

A quick look at our evolutionary history reveals quite a bit about what kinds of food we’ve evolved to eat and thrive on.

Close-up of a smiling woman eating a salad

Pre-Agricultural Foods

Prior to the advent of agriculture, people ate foods that they could hunt and gather. Pre-agricultural (hunter-gatherer) foods are essentially:

1. Vegetables
2. Meat (beef, poultry, fish, and all kinds of meat; both muscle meat and organ meat)
3. Fruit
4. Nuts
5. Seeds

• Agriculture arose around 10,000 years ago.
• If the history of humankind could be represented by a 24-hour clock, the 10,000 years since the rise of agriculture could be represented by the last eight minutes of the day. That’s very little time, about 0.6 percent of the time we’ve been in existence.
• This means that genetically we are highly evolved to eat pre-agricultural (hunter-gatherer) foods and only minimally evolved to eat agricultural foods

Pre-Industrial Foods

Agriculture introduced some new foods and food products to our diets. Pre-industrial (agricultural) foods are essentially:

1. Legumes (black beans, kidney beans, brown lentils, red lentils, etc.)
2. Grains (quinoa, oats, barley, rye, etc.) and grain products (pasta, breads, etc.)
3. Milk (primarily from cows as well as from goats, sheep, and other domesticated animals) and milk products (butter, ghee, cheese, yogurt, etc.)

• The Industrial Revolution took place from about 1700 to 1950.
• If the history of humankind could be represented by a 24-hour clock, the time since Industrial Revolution could be represented by a fraction of the last minute of the day. Effectively, not time at all.
• This means that genetically we are somewhat designed to eat pre-industrial (agricultural) foods and hardly at all designed to eat industrial “foods”.

Industrial “Foods”

This is 99 percent of what you find in the middle aisles and the freezers of most food stores. This is most stuff that is canned, jarred, and frozen. These are processed foods or “food products” as I like to think it. Things that started out as food, but have been altered, from altered a bit to completely mangled so that in many cases it hardly resembles food anymore. Think Cheetos, Pepsi, Twinkies, and even stuff touted as healthy like most granola bars and breakfast cereals. Does any of this look at all like food? There are many drawbacks to industrial “food”. The primary drawback is the low level of nutrients.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, none of this existed at all. Prior to the advent of agriculture, the ingredients for stuff like this was not even around. This stuff (it’s impossible for me to call it food) is brand new. It’s been introduced to the human gastrointestinal system, bloodstream, brain, etc. literally overnight from an evolutionary perspective and we are not adapting well to it at all. It’s part of the reason for the exponential (and currently accelerating) rise in chronic diseases.

For 23 hours and 52 minutes of what is the timeframe of humanity, we’ve only had pre-agricultural (hunter-gatherer) foods. For the last eight minutes, we’ve also had pre-industrial (agricultural) foods. We’ve only had industrial “foods” for seconds. Our bodies, our entire beings, struggle with living off of industrial “food”.

Choosing What to Eat

Deciding what to eat is startlingly simple with this framework:

1. Eat mostly pre-agricultural (hunter-gatherer) foods.
2. Eat some pre-industrial (agricultural) foods if you enjoy them and thrive on them.
3. Minimize your intake of industrial “foods” (a.k.a. processed foods, food products).

Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.

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