Perspective: Stone Me, Not Yet Another Diet Craze; the Latest Diet Fad Involves Looking Back to Our Ancestors. but, as John Von Radowitz Explains, You Have to Take a Long Hard Look Back to the Stone Age

Article excerpt

Byline: John von Radowitz

Diets seem to come and go like A-list celebrities. Just as Atkins has started to seem passe, a new way of eating is being hailed as the key to slim and stay healthy.

Only it's not really new. For this is the stone-age, or palaeolithic, diet that can be traced back two million years to a time when the earliest humans speared mammoths and dug roots up from the ground.

The food eaten back then had to be either hunted or gathered from the wild. Agriculture, and the birth of human civilisation, did not come until more than a million years later.

Advocates of the palaeolithic diet are passionate in their belief that it is what Nature intended us to consume.

The fundamental claim is that humans evolved as an omnivorous species with genes adapted to natural, raw foods.

Stone-age dieters argue that when about 10,000 years ago we discovered fire and learned how to cook, we started going off the rails food-wise, and have continued ever since.

The palaeolithic diet encourages the consumption of lean red meat, chicken, fish and eggs, as well as fruits, nuts and roots such as carrots, turnips and swedes.

But it forbids a lot of what we take for granted in our diets today - including bread and pasta, potatoes, beans, peas, all dairy products, sugar and salt.

To follow the stone-age diet you have to imagine what it was like to have lived before humans learned to till the land.

It was a hand-to-mouth existence, in which our ancestors survived on wild game, edible leaves, roots, fruits and berries.

They stayed away from many sorts of plant foods, such as beans and seeds, because they tasted bad and made them feel ill. Then, about 10,000 years ago after the end of the last Ice Age, early humans discovered that many things they previously considered unpalatable could be made edible by cooking. The breakthrough opened up a whole new dietary world and changed the course of human evolution.

Heat destroyed the toxins in grains such as wheat, corn, barley and rice, as well as beans and potatoes. Our intake of carbohydrates shot up, perhaps doubling the number of calories obtainable from plants. Such foods were easy to keep and transport, enabling surpluses to be stored away for the winter.

Humans stopped wandering and settled down to farm the land and domesticate animals. Communities sprang up and grew into civilisations that built impressive tombs and temples and waged war.

But, despite all this progress, say the stone-age dieters, our genes remained out of tune with the 'civilised' food provided by agriculture.

In particular, they argue, the food of neolithic, as opposed to palaeolithic, man lacks essential omega-3 fatty acids that are vital to brain development.

Research just published by scientists in Liverpool appears to back up some of their claims.

The scientists found that eating nuts ensured a supply of natural fat, rather than clogging he body with saturated fat.

Fish and nuts both contained abundant omega-3. On the other hand, bread and milk were difficult to digest, the researchers reported in the Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.

They pointed out that humans are the only mammals to drink the milk of another species. There are many differences between human milk and cow's milk. The purpose of milk is to help infants grow, and for this reason it contains substances called growth factors. …