T Nation

The Evolution Discussion


#1

If you've missed it, the discussion in yesterday's article has been pretty interesting...

Many people have asked my thoughts on so-called evolutionary diets. I finally got around to typing up a less-than-complete but cursory list. Here it is. If there's any interest, I'd pair up with an archaeologist to flesh this out and write it up with references, etc.

THOUGHT #1
I agree that higher meat diets rich in good fats and diets rich in veggies, fruits, etc are best in the long run (of course, training affects our ability to handle carbs and therefore they're not bad if taking in when they are best handled). I have no contention with what many "evolutionary nutritionists" recommend.

It's their logic for recommending it that becomes a problem.

THOUGHT #2
One of my archaeology buddies often says "just because they were forced to eat that way for survival doesn't mean it's best!"

THOUGHT #3
As humans we're damn adaptable. Want evidence? Well, the "eat that way" in the quote above isn't universal for ancient man (as many folks would make you think to sell you their paleo-type diet)!

There are populations of ancient man that were more active than others, some that ate meat predominantly, others that ate veggies and fruits predominantly. The diets in different regions were diverse indeed. And they all had the same genes. And had different physiques. And all had a lower incidence of "modern disease."

THOUGHT #4
This really calls into question the touchstone of many paleo-type arguments - we've got the same genes. So what? The same genes as whom?

I think they want us to believe that we have the same genes as these hypermuscular, lean, hunter-gatherer types who ate lots of meat and fat and low carbs. So, logically (huh), we should do the same.

But what if we've got the same genes as the more sedentary, low meat-eating, higher carb eating ancients?

Couldn't we argue that we have the same genes as them and should eat as they did?

Since you don't know exactly where your lineage came from, do you have to trace your family tree back to your ancient ancestors to find out what to eat?

Or maybe it doesn't matter so much and this "same genes" argument is contrived.

THOUGHT #5
Perhaps, as humans, our genes don't force "one way" of optimal eating. Let's give homo sapens a little credit here! We're the victor species! Perhaps, we've survived the struggle of evolution because our genes allow for survival with many different types of intakes!

THOUGHT #6
You might come back and argue that it only make sense that since the ancients ate the way they did, exercised as they did, had less disease and produced...us...(i.e had evolutionary fitness), our current diets must be the blame for our epidemic of "modern disease."

But that kind of "common sense" gets folks into trouble. Common folks don't have enough info to make trustworthy correlational analyses.

If you don't have a stats background (like I fortunately do), try out the book Freakanomics to learn just how faulty our "common sense" just is - Levitt makes arguments based on data, not "common sense."

Here are a few things to consider before closing the door on evolutionary fitness:

Perhaps ancient man missed out on modern diseases because he didn't live long enough to get them?

Perhaps ancient man was much more active (even the more sedentary ones) than we are?

Perhaps stress and lifestyle changes contribute more to physiology, metabolism, etc than we give credit to?

Perhaps ancient man didn't experience a lifetime of positive energy balance and we do?

Perhaps ancient man's diet was better suited for our genotype?

Perhaps there are a hundred other factors we don't know about?

Perhaps making a cut and dry - our ancestors ate like this and were lean, so should we - is the conclusion of a simple mind based on limited facts?

THOUGHT #7
Although it's popular to say we don't, our society has evolutionary fitness and may be, gasp, just as fit as our ancestors in evolutionary terms.

Remember, the average ancient lived to their 30s. If that was our mean lifespan, we'd do just fine in terms of evolution - even with all of our processed foods and grains!

Even without modern medicine, we'd still live through our reproductive years. There's no evolutionary advantage to living longer.

THOUGHT #8
What about fat people? Were there any fat ancients? To suggest not is more than absurd.

Ever seen the Venus sculptures? Ancients CLEARLY had and knew what fat people looked like!

PARTING THOUGHT
With this post, Im making no claims to the truth. I just don't know enough to do so.

But I do want to bring up a few things that archaeologists do know and give you guys some things to think about based on what experts in this area do know and what we have no idea about.


#2

30 was the average. Meaning there were probably plenty of people who lived way beyond 30 and plenty who died as babies.
And for men, since reproductive years last pretty much as long as they're alive, living longer is an advantage.

I think this whole evolutionary discussion is talking about life WAY long before the Romans.


#3

I think there are too many factors that differ between modern and ancient life to attribute physical differences solely to diet, nutrient timing, or activity level in a singular sense.


#4

Good post, John! I think one thing that we can all agree on is that Malamars and oreo cookies and other highly processed food divorced from nature is not how our bodies are meant to eat regardless of exact evolutionary tract, no?

Doesn't mean that some people can't have these things in their diet without suffering in terms of health or body composition. But generally, it's not good. That's the main thing I take from the so-called paleo diet and evolutionary angles.


#5

I would agree that while the paleolithic type diets are probably very healthy and would contribute to improved body composition, the logic behind them is based more on clever marketing then any true evolutionary science.


#6

I agree. I don't know about anyone else, but people seem much taller today than they did just 20 years ago. When I was a kid, 5'8" was supposed to be "average". That's short now.

Kids are bigger as far as lean body mass (at least in the inner city schools I have been to), and while much of that may depend on nutrition, the shift over the last two decades has been pretty drastic. Society as a whole seems to play a role in this that seems to be overlooked so that the idea can be simplified to diet.


#7

This is my idea of an evolutionary diet:

Meat (all kinds)
Eggs
Vegetables (all kinds)
Fruits (all kinds)
Dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, butter)
Nuts and seeds
Beans, legumes, etc.
Grains (limited)

You can make it a high protein, high fat, low carb diet, or a moderate protein, carb and fat diet depending on your goals. Seems logical and healthy.

Probably more along the lines of what JB recommends to most of his clients too.

Amazing. If you just leave out the man-made and processed foods, you have a healthy diet that can accomplish all your goals. Who would have thought?


#8

JB, before some resident genius suggests analysing ratios of different nitrogen and carbon isotopes of Sandow, lets hope someone who has actually STUDIED the fucking subject comes along and all these National Geographic channel watching-while-ab-crunching maroons hit the nail on the head and suggest we eat raw meat exlcusively. Hec, the T-rex did it and Ill bet a fortune we shared a genome or two.

Amir


#9

Yes. I think people are taller and often bigger today. But I don't think the types of foods we eat will affect our bodies any differently than 20 years ago. What was healthy then is healthy now. There are more unhealthy, overfat people because many people's eating habits and activity level is poorer. As you know as well or better than anyone, if you are bigger and want to gain mass you'll just have to eat more than if you were smaller and wanted to gain mass.

I agree that looking back to prehistoric times is not necessarily the best approach to determining good diet. We have enough modern evidence to know that the body does very well on ample protein, some good healthy fat (a large amount of it unsaturated) and natural, unprocessed carbs. The exact ratios and amounts will vary from person to person depending on metabolism, training and activity levels, and goals.


#10

No kidding! I'm a midget these days! I've seen 9-year-old kids bigger than me.

And have you seen 11 and 12-year-old girls lately? DAYUM! Big breasts and looking legal.

If I wasn't bald, I could fit right in with them. "Hey baby! If there's grass on the field, play ball!"


#11

Might have EVERYTHING to do with that nasty little bitch estrogen circulating itself around. Remember, that estrogen prevents optimum test levels and growth plates don't close together when there supposed to.


#12

Look no further to the girls in high school now. They were not built like that when I was in highschool 15 years ago thats for damn sure. They develop at a much earlier age. One of my professors touched on this during one of her lectures. She thinks it has to do with the way food is manufactured (drugged, preserved, etc.) which leads people to develop at a much earlier time than they have in the past.


#13

Now THERES an interesting point. Though Ive noticed the farther south I travel the fatter people get, especially those mexican-american girls. Jesus effin christ man!

I was blaming the obesity I saw in Arizona on the fact that the hot weather is making these people very thirsty and theyre relying on regular sodas to hydrate and the subsequent sugar intake leads to of course...

But higher estrogen, eh? Interesting.

Amir


#14

Dr Mr Berardi,

my problem is that I agree with you on 80% of what you say, but 20% makes me bite into my keyboard.

Some examples:

One of my archaeology buddies often says "just because they were forced to eat that way for survival doesn't mean it's best

Well actually that is exactly what it means. If you are, as a species, forced to eat a certain way for a long time you will adapt to it, sometimes to the exclusion of other alternatives.

This really calls into question the touchstone of many paleo-type arguments - we've got the same genes. So what? The same genes as whom?

I don?t even know what that means. On the one hand we have the same genes.Yes. Mostly. But in different combinations. Some of those genes are not the same anymore, like the neoteny of being able to digest milk. Minor change (therefore observable after a mere 5000 years or so).

Perhaps, as humans, our genes don't force "one way" of optimal eating. Let's give homo sapens a little credit here! We're the victor species! Perhaps, we've survived the struggle of evolution because our genes allow for survival with many different types of intakes

Oh yes our genes force a way of eating. Cows eat grass, lions meat, we are somewhere in between. Our metabolisms may slightly differ due to different ancestors but that can have a dramatic impact (inuit, diabetes rates).

Oh, and we have won? What exactly? The race? Have we crossed a finish line? Is evolution over? Is evolution teleologic? If 99% of all species that ever existed are extinct now, are our chances 1 in a 100? Will we make it as long as the dinosaurs? Your view on evolution is a tad anthropocentric and that might mislead you sometimes.

Finally:

Perhaps making a cut and dry - our ancestors ate like this and were lean, so should we - is the conclusion of a simple mind based on limited facts?

The conclusion of a simple mind based on limited facts. We should rename science. Because in essence, that is all that it is.


#15

There are Venus sculptures from paleolithic times...about 25,000 years before the Roman empire thrived.

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/artifacts/venusfigurines.html

And these paleolithic ancestors knew corpulence!

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/artifacts/venusfigurines.html


#16

hmmm...I'm 5'7. Maybe I didn't have enough estrogen as a kid.


#17

Don't worry, the expert is coming. Dr Williams and I will be writing a two part article on this topic and part one will likely be published as early as next week.


#18

You're right, JB, part 1 will be posted next week. :wink:


#19

I think high school and middle school girls are more built today than when I was in high school, and I graduated 5 years ago. One could really get himself in trouble! Aruba over winter break is a huge family destination. My family often goes. You should see these girls! Some of them not older then 14. They look fully grown. Curves head to toe, boobs like Jessica Simpson, full hair and makeup, dressed like grown women. I don't where the hell their parents are or what they're doing. But if you're single you've really got to watch yourself. Of course even if they look 25, as soon as they open their mouths you know they're babies, but damn!


#20

Don't leave underage daughters around Nate Dogg. Check.