You only need one diet.

It’s the human diet. One size really does fit all.

Maria Cross MSc
May 29 · 10 min read
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Meet the family

When in 2003 the mapping of the human genome was completed, the heartening discovery was made that we are all related to each other. We modern humans can trace our origins to East Africa, our ancestral homeland. That is where Homo sapiens appeared, 200,000–300,000 years ago. We began to move into Asia something like 50,000–80,000 years ago. Before you knew it, we were everywhere, and doing a remarkable job of adapting and surviving.

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Our first mistake

In 1987, scientist and author Jared Diamond published his now famous article in Discover magazine, entitled The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race. He was talking about the first Agricultural Revolution that began around 10,000 years ago, when sapiens transitioned from a hunter-gathering to a settled, farming lifestyle. In his article he states:

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Healthy hunters

If we assume that our current dietary habits are killing us, it surely makes scientific sense to take a close look at the overall health and diets of modern tribal peoples whose lifestyles remain largely uninfluenced by the western world.

“Uncontacted peoples are supreme conservationists with the lightest footprint on our planet, and they protect some of the world’s last and most biodiverse forests. They have developed extraordinary skills and have unrivalled knowledge of their universe.” (Fiona Watson, Survival International)

We can learn from tribal peoples, but we need to be quick; most today are in transition between their traditional lifestyles and modern living.

“Considerable evidence suggests that many common diseases can be prevented by hunter-gatherer diets.” (Lindeberg 2009)

In 1985, anthropologists S Boyd Eaton and Melvin J Konner proposed their “discordance hypothesis”, which states that the human genome is determined by the conditions of the Paleolithic era, and that changes have occurred too rapidly for us to adapt, resulting in a mismatch that leads to chronic disease.

“The physical activity, sleep, sun exposure, and dietary needs of every living organism (including humans) are genetically determined. This is why it is being increasingly recognized in the scientific literature, especially after Eaton and Konner’s seminal publication in 1985, that the profound changes in diet and lifestyle that occurred after the Neolithic Revolution (and more so after the Industrial Revolution and the Modern Age) are too recent on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to have fully adapted.” (Carrera Bastos et al)

There is no one diet that characterises pre-agricultural humans, who ate from a fabulously broad menu, according to geographical location. However, there were commonalities. These include:

Maria Cross MSc

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I’m a nutrition science writer, specialising in diet and mental health. Subscribe to AllYouCanEat.org.uk for free brain food guide. @MariaXCross