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this is a couple of days late…first published may3 2010
via Ancient ‘Lucy’ Species Ate A Different Diet Than Previously Thought

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An example of Killkenny dentitions (Queen’s University Belfast/PA)

Belfast Telegraph.com.uk

The mid-19th century famine wiped out around a million people after the potato crop failed in successive years.

Teeth analysed from the 1840s have shed new light on what people ate before and during the Irish Famine.

Scientific analysis of dental calculus – plaque build-up – of the Famine’s victims found evidence of corn, oats, potato, wheat and milk foodstuffs.

Researchers also discovered egg protein in the calculus of three people, which they said is more associated with diets of non-labouring or better off social classes at the time.

The mid-19th century famine wiped out around a million people after the potato crop failed in successive years.

It shows how the notoriously monotonous potato diet of the poor was opportunistically supplemented by other foodstuffs, such as eggs and wheat, when made available to them Dr Jonny Geber

Researchers analysed teeth from the human remains of 42 people, aged around 13 years and older, who died in the Kilkenny Union Workhouse and were buried in mass burial pits on its grounds.

The workhouse pits were discovered in 2005 and were found to contain the remains of nearly 1,000 people.

Potato and milk was virtually the only source of food for a vast proportion of the population in Ireland.

Many people were forced to seek refuge in the workhouses during the Famine, where they received meagre rations of food and shelter in return for work.

Researchers examined samples of calculus for microparticles and protein content linked to foodstuffs.

The microparticles showed a dominance of corn, as well as evidence of oats, potato and wheat.

The corn came from so-called Indian meal, which was imported in vast amounts to Ireland from the United States as relief food for the starving populace.

Analysis of the protein content identified milk, as well as the occasional presence of egg.

One of the lead researchers, Dr Jonny Geber of the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology, said: “The results of this study is consistent with the historical accounts of the Irish labourer’s diet before and during the Famine.

“It also shows how the notoriously monotonous potato diet of the poor was opportunistically supplemented by other foodstuffs, such as eggs and wheat, when made available to them.

“The Great Irish Famine was one of the worst subsistence crises in history but it was foremost a social disaster induced by the lack of access to food and not the lack of food availability.”

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The study is a collaboration between researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Harvard, Otago in New Zealand, York, Zurich, and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.

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British-led study finds that all inhabitants of the town of Portus had a similar diet rich in meat and North African wine

Roman port of Portus

 

Ancient Rome may have not have had much to offer its subjects by way of equality but when it came to the diet of its dockers at least it seems they dined something like emperors.

A British-led archaeological study of remains found in Portus, the maritime port which served Rome, has found that its labouring inhabitants benefited from the flow of goods through the town by having a diet entirely similar to that of its wealthy ruling citizens – at least until the “barbarians” arrived.

Exotic goods

The study, based on an analysis of food and human remains at locations around the manmade port to the west of Rome, found that dockers or “saccarii” benefited from their work unloading the flow of exotic goods – including bears and crocodiles – to the heart of the ancient empire with a diet rich in animal protein, imported wheat, olive oil and wine from North Africa.

Comparison with remains found at locations where rich and middle class inhabitants lived during the second to the fifth centuries AD found the same sort of diet, suggesting that Portus was unusual in the Roman world in that rich and poor ate similarly well.

Dr Tamsin O’Connell, the archaeologist at Cambridge University who led the study, said: “It is interesting that although there are differences in social status between these burial populations, they both have access to similar food resources. This contradicts what we see elsewhere in the Roman world at this time. But, later on, something changes.”

Vandals

The researchers compared diet samples with those dated after 455AD, when Rome was attacked by the Vandals, the Germanic tribe who expanded south into modern Italy, and subsequent conflicts with invaders which signalled the fall of the Roman empire.

The results suggested that the aftereffects of the disruption by the Vandals coincided with a marked drop in the standard of the dockers’ diets with meat replaced by bean stew.

Dr O’Connell said: “We see a shift to something more akin to a ‘peasant diet’, made up of mainly plant proteins in something like potages and stews. They’re doing the same kind of manual labour and hard work , but were sustained by beans and lentils.”

Silt

The researchers suggest this thinner gruel may have arisen from political shifts in Rome following the arrival of the Vandals and the subsequent breakdown of the empire. They also appear to coincide with physical changes in Portus itself, including the silting up of part of the harbour as trade begins to diminish.

Dr O’Connell said: “In the case of Portus, we see that when Rome was rich, everybody – from the local elite to the dockworkers – was doing fine nutritionally. Then this political rupture happens and wheat and other foodstuffs have to come from elsewhere. When Rome is on the decline, the manual labourers at least are not doing as well as previously.”

 

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University of Bristol

Phys.org

Scientists from the University of Bristol have uncovered, for the first time, definitive evidence that determines what types of food medieval peasants ate and how they managed their animals.

Using chemical analysis of pottery fragments and animal bones found at one of England’s earliest medieval villages, combined with detailed examination of a range of historical documents and accounts, the research has revealed the daily of peasants in the Middle Ages. The researchers were also able to look at butchery techniques, methods of food preparation and rubbish disposal at the settlement Dr. Julie Dunne and Professor Richard Evershed from the University of Bristol’s Organic Geochemistry Unit, based within the School of Chemistry, led the research, published today in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Julie said: “All too often in history the detail, for example food and clothing, of the everyday life of ordinary people is unknown.

“Traditionally, we focus on the important historical figures as these are the people discussed in .

“Much is known of the medieval dietary practices of the nobility and ecclesiastical institutions, but less about what foods the medieval peasantry consumed.”

The scarce historical documents that exist that tell us that medieval peasant ate meat, fish, , fruit and vegetables but there is little direct evidence for this.

The OGU team used the technique of organic residue analysis to chemically extract residues from the remains of cooking pots used by peasants in the small medieval village of West Cotton in Northamptonshire.

Organic residue analysis is a scientific technique commonly used in archaeology. It is mainly used on ancient pottery, which is the most common artefact found on worldwide.

Researchers used chemical and isotopic techniques to identify lipids, the fats, oils and natural waxes of the natural world, from the ceramics.

These can survive over thousands of years and the compounds found are one of the best ways scientists and archaeologists can determine what our ancestors ate.

The findings demonstrated that stews (or pottages) of meat (beef and mutton) and vegetables such as cabbage and leek, were the mainstay of the medieval peasant diet.

The research also showed that dairy products, likely the ‘green cheeses’ known to be eaten by the peasantry, also played an important role in their diet.

Dr. Dunne added: “Food and diet are central to understanding daily life in the medieval period, particularly for the medieval peasant.

“This study has provided valuable information on diet and animal husbandry by medieval peasants and helped illustrate agricultural production, consumption and economic life in one of England’s early medieval villages.”

Professor Evershed said “West Cotton was one of the first archaeological sites we worked on when we began developing the organic residue approach – it is extraordinary how, by applying the suite of the latest methods, we can provide information missing from historical documents.”


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Participants at the Slav and Viking Festival in Wolin, Poland tend to be sticklers for authenticity. Many adorn their bodies with tattoos, and some adopt a Viking diet, slaughtering and roasting game.  PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Participants at the Slav and Viking Festival in Wolin, Poland tend to be sticklers for authenticity. Many adorn their bodies with tattoos, and some adopt a Viking diet, slaughtering and roasting game.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Nationalgeographic.com

Historical interpreters bring a reconstructed longhouse to life at the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark. Meals were cooked over an open fire on a hearth, and Viking fare included salted herring, barley porridge, and boiled sheep heads.  PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Historical interpreters bring a reconstructed longhouse to life at the Ribe Viking Center in Denmark. Meals were cooked over an open fire on a hearth, and Viking fare included salted herring, barley porridge, and boiled sheep heads.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID GUTTENFELDER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

By Catherine Zuckerman

All that marauding must have left the Vikings famished. It’s easy to envision a group of them around a table, ravenous after a long day of ransacking, devouring giant hunks of meat and hoisting horns-full of ale.
But that wouldn’t quite be fair, or accurate.
As tempting as it is to assume that Viking meals were crude and carnivorous, the truth is that everyday Viking fare included a range of foods that a health-minded modern person would applaud.
Picture, for example, that burly, bearded warrior throwing down his sword to enjoy a tart treat similar to yogurt, or refuel with a tangle of fresh greens.
“The Vikings had a wide range of food and wild herbs available to make tasty and nutritious dishes,” says Diana Bertelsen, who helped research and develop recipes for Denmark’s Ribe Viking Center—a reconstructed Viking settlement where visitors can immerse themselves in just about every aspect of Viking culture, including what and how they ate.
“There are no original recipes from the Viking age available,” says Bertelsen, but “we know for certain what crops and animals were available a thousand years ago. Excavations reveal what the Vikings ate and what they imported, for instance peaches and cinnamon.”

Of course a specific Viking’s diet was heavily influenced by his or her location, says medieval scholar Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough. In cold, dry, coastal Scandinavia, for example, fish such as herring and salmon provided a key source of protein and were typically dried and preserved in salt.
This “stockfish,” as it’s called, “is a bit like beef jerky, only fishy,” says Barraclough. “It would have been a valuable food source on long sea journeys.”
Wealth also played a part in determining one’s diet, says Barraclough. “In Greenland, Vikings ate more seals, particularly on the poorer farms, while on the richer farms they ate more caribou.”
Seasons, too, dictated a Viking’s daily provisions. Depending on the time of year, meals might include a wide variety of berries, turnips, cabbage and other greens—including seaweed—barley-based porridge, and flat bread made from rye. Dishes were typically simple, but “we have no reason to believe that the food was bland and tasteless,” says Bertelsen.
Indeed, archaeological evidence suggests that Viking cooks were fond of flavor-enhancing ingredients like onions, garlic, coriander, and dill.
Vikings also prepared special food to celebrate seasonal events. “Boars were said to be sacrificed during the winter Yule celebration, and solemn oaths taken on their bristles,” says Barraclough.
Dairy would have made a frequent appearance in many a Viking diet. The seafaring warriors were farmers, after all, and skilled at animal husbandry. Cows and sheep did provide meat, but they also gave the Vikings a reliable supply of buttermilk, cheese, butter, and other products.
In Iceland, especially, Vikings enjoyed their dairy, and often ate it in the form of skyr, a fermented, yogurt-like cheese that today is sometimes marketed as a dairy “superfood.” Viking lore mentions the creamy substance, says Barraclough, who recalls a “saga where a man hides from his enemies in a vat of skyr—which comes very specifically up to his nipples.”
Like much about the Vikings, their eating habits remain a source of fascination—and inspiration—for many people. In fact, given the Vikings’ physical strength and surprisingly healthy diet, it makes sense to wonder: Could the “Viking Diet” be the next “Paleo?”

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Stone Tools

Stone Tools

 

Original Article:

eurekaert.org

Harved University

Processing food before eating likely played key role in human evolution, study finds

 

How much time and effort do you spend chewing?

Although you probably enjoy a few leisurely meals every day, chances are that you spend very little time and muscular effort chewing your food. That kind of easy eating is very unusual. For perspective, our closest relatives, chimpanzees, spend almost half their day chewing, and with much greater force.

When and how did eating become so easy? And what were its consequences?

According to a new Harvard study, our ancestors between 2 and 3 million years ago started to spend far less time and effort chewing by adding meat to their diet and by using stone tools to process their food. The researchers estimate that such a diet would have saved early humans as many as 2.5 million chews per year, and made possible further changes that helped make us human. The study is described in a March 9 paper published in Nature.

One of the biggest puzzles in human evolution is how species such as Homo erectus evolved smaller teeth, smaller faces, and smaller guts, and yet managed to get more energy from food to pay for their bigger brains and bodies before cooking was invented. “What we showed is that…by processing food, especially meat, before eating it, humans not only decrease the effort needed to chew it, but also chew it much more effectively” said Katie Zink, the first author of the study, and a lecturer working in the lab of Daniel Lieberman, the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences.

By changing their diets to include just 33 percent meat, and processing their food – slicing meat and pounding vegetables – before eating, Zink and Lieberman found that the muscular effort required per chew and the number of chews required per day was reduced by almost 20 percent. They also found that by simply slicing meat with the sorts of simple tools available more than 2 million years ago, humans were able to swallow smaller, more easily digestible pieces than would have been possible without using tools.

“Eating meat and using stone tools to process food apparently made possible key reductions in the jaws, teeth and chewing muscles that occurred during human evolution,” Zink said.

But testing a process as basic as chewing isn’t as easy – or as attractive – as it might sound.

“What Katie did was creative but sometimes, frankly, a little stomach-churning,” Lieberman said. “Not only did she have people come into the lab, chew raw meat and other foods, and spit them out, but then she had to analyze the stuff.”

It wasn’t just any food – or any meat – that subjects noshed on.

To approximate the toughness and texture of the game that early humans ate, Zink and Lieberman (after much experimentation) settled on using goat – which subjects chewed raw while Zink used instruments attached to their jaw to measure the effort involved.

In each trial, volunteers were given, in random order, a selection of foods prepared in several ways – raw, sliced, pounded and cooked goat, as well as several vegetables, including carrots, beets and yams. After chewing each morsel until they would normally swallow, subjects spit out the food. Zink then spread the individual food particles out onto a tray, photographed them, and digitally measured their sizes.

“What we found was that humans cannot eat raw meat effectively with their low-crested teeth. When you give people raw goat, they chew and chew and chew, and most of the goat is still one big clump – it’s like chewing gum,” Lieberman said. “But once you start processing it mechanically, even just slicing it, the effects on chewing performance are dramatic.”

But why study chewing at all?

“Chewing is one of the key characteristics of being a mammal,” Lieberman explained. “Most other animals, like reptiles, barely chew their food — they just swallow it whole. The evolution of the ability to chew food into smaller particles gave mammals a big boost of extra energy because smaller particles have a higher surface area to volume ratio, allowing digestive enzymes to then break food down more efficiently.”

Most mammals, however, eat a relatively low-quality diet- think of cows eating grass and hay – that they need to spend most of the day chewing. Even humans’ closest ape relatives, with a diet that consists mainly of fruit, must spend nearly half their day chewing to extract enough energy from their food, Lieberman said.

“But we humans have done something really remarkable,” he said. “We eat even higher-quality foods than chimpanzees, and spend an order of magnitude less time chewing them.”

Making that change, however, presented early humans with a new challenge.

One of the critical components of that higher-quality diet is meat, which – despite being calorically dense – is very difficult for humans to chew effectively.

“Meat has a lot of nutrients, but it is also very elastic. You can think of it as being like a rubber band,” Zink said. “So the problem is that we can’t break it down with our flat, low-cusped teeth. But if you slice it up, then you do not need to use your teeth to break it down as much, and you swallow much smaller particles. Cooking makes chewing even easier.”

That pre-processing, and the reductions in chewing effort that came with it, Zink and Lieberman said, may have opened the door to one of the most important lifestyle changes in human evolution – the emergence of hunting and gathering.

“With the origin of the genus Homo…we went from having snouts and big teeth and large chewing muscles to having smaller teeth, smaller chewing muscles, and snoutless faces” Lieberman said. “Those changes, and others, allowed for selection for speech and other shifts in the head, like bigger brains. Underlying that, to some extent, is the simplest technology of all: slicing meat into smaller pieces, and pounding vegetables before you chew them.”

The impact that higher-quality diets and easier chewing could have on early humans is clear if you imagine what day-to-day life might have been like millions of years ago.

“Suppose you go out hunting for antelopes like impala or kudu, but at the end of the day you come back empty-handed, which happened fairly often for early humans,” Lieberman said. “Chimps couldn’t survive that way – they would then have to spend all night eating.

“Following the invention of hunting and gathering, though, humans can benefit from a division of labor,” he continued. “Someone else may have come back with an impala, or some tubers you could eat. And instead of spending all night eating it, you’d spend a lot less time, energy and effort to chew it by pounding it or cutting it with just a few stone stone tools. What a dramatic shift!”

Though many aspects of our biology changed when the genus Homo evolved, Zink and Lieberman said that processing food before eating almost surely played a significant role.

“One of the innovations that helped make us human is cutting up and pounding our food,” Lieberman said. “Extra-oral processing first by using stone tools and then by cooking played a very important role in human evolution because it released selection for big faces and big teeth, which then enabled selection for shorter faces which were important for speech, and enabled us to grow big brains and have large bodies. We are partly who we are because we chew less.”

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Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

 

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The Batwa hunter-gatherers collect and roast wild yams in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

The difference between humans and their closest relatives is partly a matter of taste. Yams, pumpkins, and squash are as bland as potatoes to our tongues today, but to a chimp and our ancestors, wild varieties were bitter and yucky. Now scientists have pinpointed some of the genetic changes that allowed our ancestors to diversify their palates, potentially allowing them to take better advantage of a wide range of foods—and conquer the world.

As humans adapted to new habitats, they had to become open to new culinary experiences. They ate more starchy tuberous roots, learned to cook their meat and bitter root vegetables, and eventually domesticated plants and animals. Those dietary revolutions helped make us human, giving our bodies the extra calories that enlarged our brains, while allowing our guts, jaws, and teeth to shrink as we ate softer, more easily digestible food.

To figure out how these changes evolved, anthropological geneticist George Perry of Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and his colleagues compared the genomes of modern humans and chimpanzees to the newly published genomes of a Neandertal and one of its close relatives, a mysterious human ancestor known as a Denisovan, known only from a few bones found in a Russian cave. All three groups of humans had lost two bitter taste genes, TAS2R62 and TAS2R64, that are still present in chimpanzees, the team reports this month in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Two million years ago, our early ancestors such as Australopithecus or early members of Homo likely found wild yams and other tubers bitter. But as humans began to cook, they could roast tuberous root vegetables long enough that they weren’t as bitter. (Today, hunter-gatherers still rely on roasted tubers as a major source of calories.) At the same time, hominins—members of the human family—lost those two particular bitter taste genes, so they were presumably able to eat a wider range of tuberous plants. Modern humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all lost the ability to detect the bitter flavor in some wild plants and eventually modern humans bred varieties of squashes, gourds, and yams that are less bitter than the wild types.

The team also found some intriguing differences between modern humans, who arose in Africa in the past 200,000 years or so, and our archaic human relatives, such as Neandertals and Denisovans. Our lineage, for example, carries an average of six copies, and as many as 20 copies, of the salivary amylase gene, AMY1. The gene produces the enzyme amylase in our saliva, which has been thought to help digest sugars in starchy foods, although its role in human digestion is still unproven. By contrast, chimps, Neandertals, and Denisovans carry only one to two copies of the salivary amylase gene, which suggests they got fewer calories from starchy veggies than modern humans. This confirms an earlier finding that Neandertals didn’t have extra copies of the amylase gene and is “definitely a surprise,” says biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, who was not a co-author on this paper.

Wrangham has proposed that a key human ancestor, H. erectus, relied on cooking starchy tuberous roots to get enough calories to expand its brain. But if so, that distant ancestor wasn’t using extra copies of the amylase gene to extract more calories from these plant foods. He and Harvard postdoctoral researcher Rachel Carmody suggest the amylase copies may have had other functions, such as helping prevent cavities.

And although researchers have proposed earlier that this adaptation took place with the invention of agriculture, Perry and his colleagues have found that hunter-gatherers also carry the extra copies of the salivary amylase gene. This suggests that this adaptation took place in modern humans, after the split with the ancestor they shared with Neandertals about 600,000 years ago but before plants were domesticated 10,000 years ago. “This doesn’t mean that earlier hominins weren’t eating more starch, but perhaps they weren’t getting all of the same benefits as modern humans,” Perry says.

One sign that cooking shaped our ancestors’ genomes as well as our guts is that humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans all have lost a masticatory myosin gene, MYH16, that helps build strong chewing muscles in the jaws of chimps. This may be one result of learning to cook, which softens food, Perry says. This fits with evidence that some early hominins were chefs—Neandertals in the Middle East cooked barley porridge, for example.

Now, Perry and his colleagues are trying to figure out when this gene was lost in the human lineage. The loss of the gene for muscular jaws in Neandertals, Denisovans, and moderns suggests that cooking arose in their common ancestor, H. erectus, he says.

Original article:

By Ann Gibbons 

News.sciencemag.org

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health care system? Politicians and others continue to debate this issue. They always conclude that more money is the answer. But this approach is doomed to failure. How can it work when it’s taken 40,000 years for humans to get into such horrible shape?

How did it happen? And is there a solution?

Dr. Barry Bogin is a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He says we all envision our Paleolithic ancestors as being short, bent-over people with small brains, but actually, they were a tad taller and with brains as large as ours. And if alive today, they would not require hospitalization for so much degenerative disease.

Admittedly, most stone-age people did not live as long as today’s North Americans. Large numbers died while hunting animals or from infection due to lack of antibiotics. Others suffered terrible deaths from childbirth.

But the ones that escaped these problems did not face cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, or obesity—all of today’s big killers—later in life.

What protected them? Ironically, it was the things they lacked that saved them. Three meals a day were never guaranteed, so they had to continually exert themselves to find food.

Dr. Bogin reports that today most people expend only 400 calories to complete the day’s chores. Cars, television sets, and computers don’t burn up calories.

Stone-age people lost 1,600 calories by hunting and gathering food. This, along with the absence of fast-food outlets and supermarkets, kept them thin, a major factor in preventing degenerative disease.

Nutritional anthropologists can pinpoint what stone-age people ate—and how their nutrition safeguarded them from certain diseases—by analyzing their bones and fossilized human waste.

Sugar and Salt

Possibly, their major protection was the lack of sugar. The only source of pure sugar was honey, which was not easy to get and only available in certain areas a few months of the year.

Today, we consume 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, which translates into 146,000 calories a year and 42 pounds of body fat if it’s not burned up by exercise.

What’s beyond belief is that Americans now eat more refined sugar in a single day than stone-age people ate in a lifetime! This is one reason why stone-age people were free of cavities.

Stone-age people also lacked excessive sodium. They consumed about 1,000 milligrams of sodium daily. Today, we use from 4,000 to 6,000 milligrams every day, mostly from supermarket foods. This is one reason why hypertension is a leading cause of death.

Fiber vs. Saturated Fat

Paleolithic men had phenomenal good luck. They consumed up to 150 grams of fiber daily due to a diet rich in plant food. This triggered large soft stools and prevented constipation, diverticulitis, and possibly colon cancer. North Americans consume a mere 15 grams of fiber daily.

Dr. Bogin says they were also not exposed to saturated fats, the type linked to coronary disease. It’s estimated that the American public devours 200 hamburgers every second.

Paleolithic people didn’t eat significant amounts of saturated fat even in areas where game was abundant. The bison, which roamed the prairies, were thin, and what fat they contained was largely unsaturated fat. In fact, Dr. Bogin claims some of their fat consisted of omega-3 fatty acids, the kind found in fish.

Nor could thirsty stone-age people run to the corner store for a 10-ounce can of soda loaded with 8 teaspoons of sugar. Neither had they learned to ferment grains and grapes. Without alcohol, they escaped some cancers. All they had was calorie-free water, no doubt cleaner than today’s drinking water.

Paleolithic people also escaped osteoporosis. This, in spite of the fact that cows and goats were not herded for dairy products. But their plant foods were so high in calcium that they averaged 1,900 milligrams of calcium a day.

We can learn from our ancient ancestors by eating whole-wheat bread and bran cereals, adding more fruit and vegetables to our diet, drinking milk, and above all, saying no to drinks laden with sugar. And if we rise out of our chairs more often, maybe then we could control the escalating costs in health care.

By Gifford-Jones, M.D., He is a medical journalist based in Toronto. His website is DocGiff.com. He may be contacted at Info@docgiff.com.

*Illustration of a man from the Stone Age via Shutterstock

theepochtimes

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20140103-135501.jpg

streets of Pompeii

Topic: Dining in ancient Pompeii !

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—In Pompeii, a team led by University of Cincinnati archaeologist Steven Ellis has discovered evidence that challenges the traditional perception of Roman dining, which holds that the rich feasted on exotic animals while the poor were reduced to eating simple fare. In a two block area near the city's Porta Stabia gate, the team excavated some 20 shop fronts that would have served food and drink to the general public. Scraps of food recovered from latrines and cesspits show that these businesses weren't just serving gruel, but a wide variety of foods, including cuts of expensive meat and salted fish imported from Spain. In one drain the archaeologists found shellfish and a leg joint of a giraffe, the first giraffe bone to be reported at a site in Italy. "The traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings—scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel—needs to be replaced by a higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii," said Ellis.
archaeology.org
Jan 2, 2014

More information on this topic:
No scrounging for scraps: Research uncovers the diets of the middle and lower class in Pompeii

University of Cincinnati archaeologists are turning up discoveries in the famed Roman city of Pompeii that are wiping out the historic perceptions of how the Romans dined, with the rich enjoying delicacies such as flamingos and the poor scrounging for soup or gruel. Steven Ellis, a University of Cincinnati associate professor of classics, will present these discoveries on Jan. 4, at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and American Philological Association (APA) in Chicago.

UC teams of archaeologists have spent more than a decade at two city blocks within a non-elite district in the Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried under a volcano in 79 AD. The excavations are uncovering the earlier use of buildings that would have dated back to the 6th century.

Ellis says the excavation is producing a complete archaeological analysis of homes, shops and businesses at a forgotten area inside one of the busiest gates of Pompeii, the Porta Stabia.

The area covers 10 separate building plots and a total of 20 shop fronts, most of which served food and drink. The waste that was examined included collections from drains as well as 10 latrines and cesspits, which yielded mineralized and charred food waste coming from kitchens and excrement. Ellis says among the discoveries in the drains was an abundance of the remains of fully-processed foods, especially grains.
“The material from the drains revealed a range and quantity of materials to suggest a rather clear socio-economic distinction between the activities and consumption habits of each property, which were otherwise indistinguishable hospitality businesses,” says Ellis. Findings revealed foods that would have been inexpensive and widely available, such as grains, fruits, nuts, olives, lentils, local fish and chicken eggs, as well as minimal cuts of more expensive meat and salted fish from Spain. Waste from neighboring drains would also turn up less of a variety of foods, revealing a socioeconomic distinction between neighbors.

A drain from a central property revealed a richer variety of foods as well as imports from outside Italy, such as shellfish, sea urchin and even delicacies including the butchered leg joint of a giraffe. “That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy,” says Ellis. “How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet.”

Deposits also included exotic and imported spices, some from as far away as Indonesia.

Ellis adds that one of the deposits dates as far back as the 4th century, which he says is a particularly valuable discovery, since few other ritual deposits survived from that early stage in the development of Pompeii.

“The ultimate aim of our research is to reveal the structural and social relationships over time between working-class Pompeian households, as well as to determine the role that sub-elites played in the shaping of the city, and to register their response to city-and Mediterranean-wide historical, political and economic developments. However, one of the larger datasets and themes of our research has been diet and the infrastructure of food consumption and food ways,” says Ellis.

He adds that as a result of the discoveries, “The traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings – scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel – needs to be replaced by a higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii.”

Contributing team leaders on the project who have focused on diet and food ways are Michael MacKinnon, a professor the University of Winnipeg; Mark Robinson, professor at Oxford University; Jennifer Robinson, also of Oxford University; Emily Holt, professor at Oberlin College and Professor Andrew Fairbairn of the University of Queensland.

Original article:
Phys.org

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Topic: Paleo Diet

We are not biologically identical to our Paleolithic predecessors, nor do we have access to the foods they ate. And deducing dietary guidelines from modern foraging societies is difficult because they vary so much by geography, season and opportunity

Meet Grok. According to his online profile, he is a tall, lean, ripped and agile 30-year-old. By every measure, Grok is in superb health: low blood pressure; no inflammation; ideal levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. He and his family eat really healthy, too. They gather wild seeds, grasses, and nuts; seasonal vegetables; roots and berries. They hunt and fish their own meat. Between foraging, building sturdy shelters from natural materials, collecting firewood and fending off dangerous predators far larger than himself, Grok’s life is strenuous, perilous and physically demanding. Yet, somehow, he is a stress-free dude who always manages to get enough sleep and finds the time to enjoy moments of tranquility beside gurgling creeks. He is perfectly suited to his environment in every way. He is totally Zen.

Ostensibly, Grok is “a rather typical hunter–gatherer” living before the dawn of agriculture—an “official primal prototype.” He is the poster-persona for fitness author and blogger Mark Sisson’s “Primal Blueprint”—a set of guidelines that “allows you to control how your genes express themselves in order to build the strongest, leanest, healthiest body possible, taking clues from evolutionary biology (that’s the primal part).” These guidelines incorporate many principles of what is more commonly known as the Paleolithic, or caveman, diet, which started to whet people’s appetites as early as the 1960s and is available in many different flavors today.

Proponents of the Paleo diet follow a nutritional plan based on the eating habits of our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. Before agriculture and industry, humans presumably lived as hunter–gatherers: picking berry after berry off of bushes; digging up tumescent tubers; chasing mammals to the point of exhaustion; scavenging meat, fat and organs from animals that larger predators had killed; and eventually learning to fish with lines and hooks and hunt with spears, nets, bows and arrows.

Most Paleo dieters of today do none of this, with the exception of occasional hunting trips or a little urban foraging. Instead, their diet is largely defined by what they do not do: most do not eat dairy or processed grains of any kind, because humans did not invent such foods until after the Paleolithic; peanuts, lentils, beans, peas and other legumes are off the menu, but nuts are okay; meat is consumed in large quantities, often cooked in animal fat of some kind; Paleo dieters sometimes eat fruit and often devour vegetables; and processed sugars are prohibited, but a little honey now and then is fine.

Almost equal numbers of advocates and critics seem to have gathered at the Paleo diet dinner table and both tribes have a few particularly vociferous members. Critiques of the Paleo diet range from the mild—Eh, it’s certainly not the worst way to eat—to the acerbic: It is nonsensical and sometimes dangerously restrictive. Most recently, in her book Paleofantasy, evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of California, Riverside, debunks what she identifies as myths central to the Paleo diet and the larger Paleo lifestyle movement.

Most nutritionists consent that the Paleo diet gets at least one thing right—cutting down on processed foods that have been highly modified from their raw state through various methods of preservation. Examples include white bread and other refined flour products, artificial cheese, certain cold cuts and packaged meats, potato chips, and sugary cereals. Such processed foods often offer less protein, fiber and iron than their unprocessed equivalents, and some are packed with sodium and preservatives that may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

But the Paleo diet bans more than just highly processed junk foods—in its most traditional form, it prohibits any kind of food unavailable to stone age hunter–gatherers, including dairy rich in calcium, grains replete with fiber, and vitamins and legumes packed with protein. The rationale for such constraint—in fact the entire premise of the Paleo diet—is, at best, only half correct. Because the human body adapted to life in the stone age, Paleo dieters argue—and because our genetics and anatomy have changed very little since then, they say—we should emulate the diets of our Paleo predecessors as closely as possible in order to be healthy. Obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and many other “modern” diseases, the reasoning goes, result primarily from the incompatibility of our stone age anatomy with our contemporary way of eating.

Diet has been an important part of our evolution—as it is for every species—and we have inherited many adaptations from our Paleo predecessors. Understanding how we evolved could, in principle, help us make smarter dietary choices today. But the logic behind the Paleo diet fails in several ways: by making apotheosis of one particular slice of our evolutionary history; by insisting that we are biologically identical to stone age humans; and by denying the benefits of some of our more modern methods of eating.

“‘Paleofantasies’ call to mind a time when everything about us—body, mind, and behavior—was in sync with the environment…but no such time existed,” Zuk wrote in her book. “We and every other living thing have always lurched along in evolutionary time, with the inevitable trade-offs that are a hallmark of life.”

On his website, Sisson writes that “while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions.” This is simply not true. In fact, this reasoning misconstrues how evolution works. If humans and other organisms could only thrive in circumstances similar to the ones their predecessors lived in, life would not have lasted very long.

Several examples of recent and relatively speedy human evolution underscore that our anatomy and genetics have not been set in stone since the stone age. Within a span of 7,000 years, for instance, people adapted to eating dairy by developing lactose tolerance. Usually, the gene encoding an enzyme named lactase—which breaks down lactose sugars in milk—shuts down after infancy; when dairy became prevalent, many people evolved a mutation that kept the gene turned on throughout life. Likewise, the genetic mutation responsible for blue eyes likely arose between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. And in regions where malaria is common, natural selection has modified people’s immune systems and red blood cells in ways that help them resist the mosquito-borne disease; some of these genetic mutations appeared within the last 10,000 or even 5,000 years. The organisms with which we share our bodies have evolved even faster, particularly the billions of bacteria living in our intestines. Our gut bacteria interact with our food in many ways, helping us break down tough plant fibers, but also competing for calories. We do not have direct evidence of which bacterial species thrived in Paleolithic intestines, but we can be sure that their microbial communities do not exactly match our own.

Even if eating only foods available to hunter–gatherers in the Paleolithic made sense, it would be impossible. As Christina Warinner of the University of Zurich emphasizes in her 2012 TED talk, just about every single species commonly consumed today—whether a fruit, vegetable or animal—is drastically different from its Paleolithic predecessor. In most cases, we have transformed the species we eat through artificial selection: we have bred cows, chickens and goats to provide as much meat, milk and eggs as possible and have sown seeds only from plants with the most desirable traits—with the biggest fruits, plumpest kernels, sweetest flesh and fewest natural toxins. Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and kale are all different cultivars of a single species, Brassica oleracea; generation by generation, we reshaped this one plant’s leaves, stems and flowers into wildly different arrangements, the same way we bred Welsh corgis, pugs, dachshunds, Saint Bernards and greyhounds out of a single wolf species. Corn was once a straggly grass known as teosinte and tomatoes were once much smaller berries. And the wild ancestors of bananas were rife with seeds.

The Paleo diet not only misunderstands how our own species, the organisms inside our bodies and the animals and plants we eat have evolved over the last 10,000 years, it also ignores much of the evidence about our ancestors’ health during their—often brief—individual life spans (even if a minority of our Paleo ancestors made it into their 40s or beyond, many children likely died before age 15). In contrast to Grok, neither Paleo hunter–gatherers nor our more recent predecessors were sculpted Adonises immune to all disease. A recent study in The Lancet looked for signs of atherosclerosis—arteries clogged with cholesterol and fats—in more than one hundred ancient mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter–gatherers around the world, including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern U.S and the Aleutian Islands. “A common assumption is that atherosclerosis is predominately lifestyle-related, and that if modern human beings could emulate preindustrial or even preagricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided,” the researchers wrote. But they found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions. And even if heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes were not as common among our predecessors, they still faced numerous threats to their health that modern sanitation and medicine have rendered negligible for people in industrialized nations, such as infestations of parasites and certain lethal bacterial and viral infections.

Some Paleo dieters emphasize that they never believed in one true caveman lifestyle or diet and that—in the fashion of Sisson’s Blueprint—they use our evolutionary past to form guidelines, not scripture. That strategy seems reasonably solid at first, but quickly disintegrates. Even though researchers know enough to make some generalizations about human diets in the Paleolithic with reasonable certainty, the details remain murky. Exactly what proportions of meat and vegetables did different hominid species eat in the Paleolithic? It’s not clear. Just how far back were our ancestors eating grains and dairy? Perhaps far earlier than we initially thought. What we can say for certain is that in the Paleolithic, the human diet varied immensely by geography, season and opportunity. “We now know that humans have evolved not to subsist on a single, Paleolithic diet but to be flexible eaters, an insight that has important implications for the current debate over what people today should eat in order to be healthy,” anthropologist William Leonard of Northwestern University wrote in Scientific American in 2002.
We cannot time travel and join our Paleo ancestors by the campfire as they prepare to eat; likewise, shards of ancient pottery and fossilized teeth can tell us only so much. If we compare the diets of so-called modern hunter-gatherers, however, we see just how difficult it is to find meaningful commonalities and extract useful dietary guidelines from their disparate lives (see infographic). Which hunter–gatherer tribe are we supposed to mimic, exactly? How do we reconcile the Inuit diet—mostly the flesh of sea mammals—with the more varied plant and land animal diet of the Hadza or !Kung? Chucking the many different hunter–gather diets into a blender to come up with some kind of quintessential smoothie is a little ridiculous. “Too often modern health problems are portrayed as the result of eating ‘bad’ foods that are departures from the natural human diet…This is a fundamentally flawed approach to assessing human nutritional needs,” Leonard wrote. “Our species was not designed to subsist on a single, optimal diet. What is remarkable about human beings is the extraordinary variety of what we eat. We have been able to thrive in almost every ecosystem on the Earth, consuming diets ranging from almost all animal foods among populations of the Arctic to primarily tubers and cereal grains among populations in the high Andes.”

Closely examining one group of modern hunter–gatherers—the Hiwi—reveals how much variation exists within the diet of a single small foraging society and deflates the notion that hunter–gatherers have impeccable health. Such examination also makes obvious the immense gap between a genuine community of foragers and Paleo dieters living in modern cities, selectively shopping at farmers’ markets and making sure the dressing on their house salad is gluten, sugar and dairy free.

By latest count, about 800 Hiwi live in palm thatched huts in Colombia and Venezuela. In 1990 Ana Magdalena Hurtado and Kim Hill—now both at Arizona State University in Tempe—published a thorough study (pdf) of the Hiwi diet in the neotropical savannas of the Orinoco River basin in Southwestern Venezuela. Vast grasslands with belts of forest, these savannas receive plenty of rain between May and November. From January through March, however, precipitation is rare: the grasses shrivel, while lakes and lagoons evaporate. Fish trapped in shrinking pools of water are easy targets for caiman, capybaras and turtles. In turn, the desiccating lakes become prime hunting territory for the Hiwi. During the wet season, however, the Hiwi mainly hunt for animals in the forest, using bows and arrows.

The Hiwi gather and hunt a diverse group of plants and animals from the savannas, forests, rivers and swamps. Their main sources of meat are capybara, collared peccary, deer, anteater, armadillo, and feral cattle, numerous species of fish, and at least some turtle species. Less commonly consumed animals include iguanas and savanna lizards, wild rabbits, and many birds. Not exactly the kind of meat Paleo dieters and others in urban areas can easily obtain.

Five roots, both bitter and sweet, are staples in the Hiwi diet, as are palm nuts and palm hearts, several different fruits, a wild legume named Campsiandra comosa, and honey produced by several bee species and sometimes by wasps. A few Hiwi families tend small, scattered and largely unproductive fields of plantains, corn and squash. At neighboring cattle ranches in a town about 30 kilometers away, some Hiwi buy rice, noodles, corn flour and sugar. Anthropologists and tourists have also given the Hiwi similar processed foods as gifts (see illustration at top).

Hill and Hurtado calculated that foods hunted and collected in the wild account for 95 percent of the Hiwi’s total caloric intake; the remaining 5 percent comes from store-bought goods as well as from fruits and squash gathered from the Hiwi’s small fields. They rely more on purchased goods during the peak of the dry season.

The Hiwi are not particularly healthy. Compared to the Ache, a hunter–gatherer tribe in Paraguay, the Hiwi are shorter, thinner, more lethargic and less well nourished. Hiwi men and women of all ages constantly complain of hunger. Many Hiwi are heavily infected with parasitic hookworms, which burrow into the small intestine and feed on blood. And only 50 percent of Hiwi children survive beyond the age of 15.

Drop Grok into the Hiwi’s midst—or indeed among any modern or ancient hunter–gather society—and he would be a complete aberration. Grok cannot teach us how to live or eat; he never existed. Living off the land or restricting oneself to foods available before agriculture and industry does not guarantee good health. The human body is not simply a collection of adaptations to life in the Paleolithic—its legacy is far greater. Each of us is a dynamic assemblage of inherited traits that have been tweaked, transformed, lost and regained since the beginning of life itself. Such changes have not ceased in the past 10,000 years.

Ultimately—regardless of one’s intentions—the Paleo diet is founded more on privilege than on logic. Hunter–gatherers in the Paleolithic hunted and gathered because they had to. Paleo dieters attempt to eat like hunter–gatherers because they want to.

Original article:

scientific american
by Ferris Jabr, June 28, 2013

20130729-111506.jpg
By Jen Christiansen

The Hiwi Diet

What a group of hunter-gatherers in Colombia and Venezuela eat

Palm nuts and heart (Mauritia flexuosa)Brazilian Teal (Amazonetta brasiliensis)Wild root “Yatsiro” (Canna edulis)Red Brocket deer (Mazama americana)Wild root “No’o” (Dioscorea)Wild root “Oyo” (Banisteriopsis)Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus)Guava (Psidium guava)Yellow-spotted river turtle (Podocnemis unifilis)Wild root “Hewyna” (Calathea allouia)Mata Mata turtle (Chelus fimbriatus)Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris)Silver Mylosomma (Mylossoma duriventre)Iguana (Iguana iguana)Iguana (Iguana iguana)Orange (Citrus x sinensis)Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja)Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaja ajaja)Collared peccary (Pecari tajacu)Wild rabbit (Sylvilagus varynaensis)Piranha (Serrasalmus)Trahira (Hoplias malabaricus)Collared anteater (Tamandua tetradactyla)Gold Tegu (Tupinambis teguixin)Mangoes (Mangifera)Wild legume “Chiga” (Campsiandra comosa)South American catfish (Pseudoplatystoma)Charichuelo (Garcinia madruno)Yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata)Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

by Marissa Fessenden

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