Ancestral diet is an inclusive term for numerous diets that claim to follow the eating patterns of ancient human beings. While these diets go by different names, like the Neanderthin diet, the Caveman diet, the Warrior diet and the Paleolithic diet, they all have one thing in common: they promote a hunter-gatherer way of eating. While you may lose weight on an ancestral diet, you may also develop vitamin or mineral deficiencies, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition.” Talk to your doctor before starting any new diet.
Ancestral Diet Theory
The theory behind the ancestral diet is that you will be the healthiest when you eat the foods for which your body is best adapted. Claims of potential benefits from an ancestral diet include weight loss, increased energy, more muscle tone, increased immunity and a reduced risk of some diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Clinical studies confirming these benefits are lacking.
According to a 2006 report published by the Department of Anthropology and Radiology at Emory University in Atlanta, an ancestral diet gets approximately 35 percent of dietary energy from fats. Another 35 percent comes from carbohydrates and the final 30 percent from protein. Since most of the carbohydrate intake comes from raw vegetables and fruits, fiber content is adequate.
On an ancestral diet, you may eat meat, chicken, lamb, pork, turkey, ostrich and other animals in unlimited amounts, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia.” Look for lean cuts of meat, since animals tens of thousands of years ago may not have had the fat stores present in grain-fed livestock of today. Most vegetables are allowed, but breads, pastries and junk foods are discouraged. Sweets are out, as well as dairy products, legumes, alcohol, pickled foods and processed foods.
Although many ancient humans had no knowledge of fire, today's ancestral diets usually allow dieters to cook their foods. Grilling meats is fine, since it mimics the ancient art of roasting meat on a spit. Stews and soups are on the menu. Baking, microwaving and convection cooking, however, are out.
Further Divisions of an Ancestral Diet
According to Dr. Peter D’Adamo, author of “Eat Right 4 Your Type,” not only will we benefit from eating the foods our ancient ancestors did, we can benefit from eating what our specific genetic ancestors did. Determined by blood type, Dr. D’Adamo asserts that indigenous groups of humans had similar blood types and their bodies adapted to the available foods. By tracing the origin of the four common blood types, O, A, B and AB, dieters can benefit from eating the foods their specific genetic ancestors ate. Clinical studies confirming Dr. D’Adamo’s claims are lacking.
The “Gale Encyclopedia” lists possible health risks, including kidney stress and high cholesterol, from eating too much meat and fat, as potential drawbacks of an ancestral diet. In addition, in order to adhere to an ancestral diet, entire food groups, like dairy and grains, are discouraged, which may increase your risk of developing a nutritional deficiency.
- “The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition”; Jacqueline L. Longe, 2008
- "The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society": The Ancestral Human Diet – What was it and Should it be a Paradigm for Contemporary Nutrition?; SB Eaton; Feb. 2006
- “Eat Right 4 Your Type”; Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo, 2001