Tag Archives: milk

Diet Implications of Human Origins and Migration

African Savanna

African Savanna

Until 10,000 to 12,000 or so years ago, humans and our hominin ancestors obtained food through a combination of hunting and foraging. We hunted small or large game and birds. At some point we learned how to catch fish and shellfish. We searched for and gathered up fruits, berries, leafy plants, nuts, seeds, mussels, clams, honey, eggs, and roots.

Young woman sitting at camp fire, holding fried sausage

 

The range of edible items expanded when we harnessed the power of fire for cooking, which was at least 230,000 years ago and may have been as long as a million years ago.Tools and weapons also expanded our possibilities from the very start of the Paleolithic.

 

Prior to 10,000 years ago, we weren’t farming or raising cattle and dairy cows. Available foods depended on local climatic conditions, soil, and water availability. Climate, in turn, is heavily dependent on latitude (how far away from the equator) and altitude. East Africa at the dawn of humanity is described as savanna: grass-filled plains with scattered patches of forest, and relatively dry. Plants and animals available there would be much different than the colder but wetter Europe 200,000 years ago.

Steve Parker MD, paleo diet, paleobetic

Nubian ibex in Israel

 

Humans in Northern Europe tended to eat more animal-based food and relatively less plant matter than savanna-dwellers, perhaps just because there were fewer edible plants growing in the cold climate. Many plants would have been highly seasonal, just as they are now.

Tribes of humans walked or migrated to nearby micro-climates as one plant went out of season and another came into season. Tribes followed prey animals as they also migrated in search of seasonal food.

Due to technological limitations, we wouldn’t have been able to utilize some potential food sources that required much processing, such as cereal grains and legumes. Since we weren’t yet pastoralists (raising sheep, cattle, etc.), we would have access to milk only if we killed a nursing prey animal. Have you ever tried to milk a wild water buffalo? Not advisable. Ability to digest milk beyond infancy was marginal. Even today, two-thirds of humans lose the ability to digest milk after infancy.

The experts debate actively debate how long we’ve been consuming significant amounts of cereal grains and roots. Canadian researchers working in Africa suggest we’ve enjoyed them for over 100,000 years (see Mercader, Julio, et al. Mozambican grass seed consumption during the Middle Stone Age. Science, December 18, 2009.)

Steve Parker, M.D.

Unexpected Caveman Foods

Offal includes tongue, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, trotters, and ?

Offal includes tongue, heart, liver, kidney, intestine, pancreas, trotters, and ?

Tom Schuler’s blog has a guest post by archeologist John Williams, Ph.D. entitled “How to eat like a cavemen (the real kind).” Dr. Williams reviews some evidence that our Paleolithic ancestors ate:

  • chyme
  • human flesh
  • blood (e.g., Plains Indians drinking warm buffalo blood)
  • yogurt (e.g., from the stomachs of suckling buffalo calves)
  • milk
  • bone and organ grease
  • alcohol (from fermented fruit)

Read the rest. It’s a funny and quick read.

Only a Third of the World’s Adults Can Digest Milk

Nature has in interesting article on Neolithic dairying, lactose intolerance, cheese, yogurt, and the spread of genes that allow for lactose digestion. The ability to digest milk in adulthood—called lactase persistence—is less than 40% in Greece and Turky, but higher than 90% in the UK and Scandinavia.

During the most recent ice age, milk was essentially a toxin to adults because — unlike children — they could not produce the lactase enzyme required to break down lactose, the main sugar in milk. But as farming started to replace hunting and gathering in the Middle East around 11,000 years ago, cattle herders learned how to reduce lactose in dairy products to tolerable levels by fermenting milk to make cheese or yogurt. Several thousand years later, a genetic mutation spread through Europe that gave people the ability to produce lactase — and drink milk — throughout their lives. That adaptation opened up a rich new source of nutrition that could have sustained communities when harvests failed.

Read the rest.