The central tenet of the Paleolithic diet (also known as the Primal diet, as popularized by Mark Sisson) is that, for a very long time, humans ate a high-meat diet, and through the process of Biological Evolution, we became adapted to it. So, we have to keep doing it because it’s, well, our thing.
But, are we really well-adapted to it? I think there are good reasons to think that humans are not very well-adapted to a high-meat diet, that we are, in fact, mal-adapted to it.
Consider first: appendicitis. It is amazing that even today, there is little information disclosed about the causes of appendicitis. Supposedly, a person can be perfectly healthy- normal in every way- and then suddenly come down with life-threatening, acute appendicitis. “What a tough break, what a piece of bad luck that he should come down with appendicitis. He was the picture of health!” But, doesn’t it stand to reason that, regardless of how he looked on the outside, and regardless of how he felt, that there must have been something very morbid and abnormal on the inside for such a thing to happen?
Appendicitis is thought to be caused by an obstruction of the lumen of the appendix by hard, compacted stool. Sometimes, we hear that tomato seeds or other seeds are to blame, but that’s ridiculous. My goodness, if tomato seeds could cause appendicitis, we’d all be afflicted. The fact is that appendicitis is very much a meat-eater’s disease. Multiple studies have shown it- one being the Oxford Vegetarian Study as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1999. Plant fiber protects against appendicitis, and the more plant fiber you eat, the more protected you are. Another reference is: Emergency Appendectomy and Meat Consumption in the UK, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, December 1995. The incidence of appendicitis has actually declined, and that’s because eating plant foods, such as green salad, has become more commonplace. What I have observed is that eating an inordinately large portion of meat all at once can trigger appendicitis- especially in someone who is not used to it. Many times, for instance, I have heard about people going to a barbecue and pigging out and then coming down with appendicitis.
Some mammals have true appendices just like ours, while others have ends to their cecums that are different but still appendix-like. So, why is it that humans are the only ones inclined to develop appendicitis? And why is it that cats, and other pure carnivores, can eat 100% meat diets without developing appendicitis, or anything like it that is comparable to their anatomy and physiology, while humans succumb? I would argue that it’s because cats are adapted to a high-meat diet, while humans are not adapted to it.
Likewise, gallstones and gall bladder disease happen much less often among vegetarians. There is an attitude in Medicine that it’s time to get your gall bladder out when you’ve reached a certain age. That, of course, is nonsense. You should be able to go your whole life without having gall bladder problems. You shouldn’t hear a peep out of your gall bladder your whole life. You shouldn’t even know that your gall bladder exists- except for reading about it in a book.
Gallstones are made of cholesterol, and they form when the bile becomes super-saturated with cholesterol. And that comes from a high-meat diet. Many studies have confirmed it. Here’s one: Risk Factors for Gallstones in a Thai population, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology, April 2009. There are many like it. And likewise, true carnivores can eat a 100% meat diet without corrupting their gallbladders. Polar bears live on seal, particularly seal fat, yet, they don’t get gall bladder disease from it. They, unlike us, are truly adapted to it.
Ditto for kidney stones. Again, lots of studies. Here’s a quote from “Kidney Calculi: Is diet a trigger?” from the German Medical Journal, March 2000: “Epidemiological studies confirm that a diet rich in meat protein carries an increased risk for forming urinary tract stones.” And again, do lions and tigers get kidney stones? Of course not. They’re not like us. Or, I should say: we’re not like them.
Gouty arthritis arises from the high purine content of meat which elevates uric acid in the blood. I’m not even going to give you a citation because it’s been known for centuries that heavy meat-eating triggers gout. That’s why they called gout the “disease of kings” because they were the only ones rich enough to afford to be able to eat the amounts of meat necessary to cause gout. Yet, in contrast, natural carnivores can clear uric acid from their blood no matter how much meat they eat. They’re adapted to it; we’re not.
Of course, I could also bring up cancer and heart disease and their correlations with meat-eating, but I will not because most people have heard about that; paleos are aware of it, and they do try to address it. And also please know that my purpose in addressing this whole issue is to not argue for radical vegetarianism. My purpose is to argue for a plant-based diet, which means, regardless of how you feel about hunting animals for food or raising them for food, that, in pure self-interest, you should eat primarily plant foods simply because it is in your best health interest to do so.
So, let’s frame this into a question for next year’s Ancestral Health Conference:
Heart disease and cancer have been correlated with a high-meat diet, and paleos have, at least, tried to address those issues. But what about other diseases, such as appendicitis, gall bladder disease, kidney stones, kidney failure, gout, inflammatory bowel disease, and others which have been strongly linked to meat consumption? Does it not challenge the assumption that humans are, through Biological Evolution, well-adapted to a high-meat diet?
This question for the paleos may sound rather similar to the last one, but I believe it is important enough to warrant its own spot on the ledger. It concerns the composition of human breast milk. Let’s recall that every mammal, from the tiny pygmy shrew to the giant blue whale, which is the largest creature alive and that ever lived, produces milk for its young, and these milks vary widely in composition. And, the balance of nutrients in the milk reflects the balance of nutrients in the future diet of the infant because there needs to be continuity. For instance, cats, are pure carnivores; they eat 100% meat, which is a very high-protein diet. So, correspondingly, their milk is very high in protein- about 11% by weight. Cows, in contrast, live on grass, which is lower in protein, and their milk has only 3.4% protein by weight.
Judging by the protein content of our milk, humans must be very low-protein feeders, but the early protein researchers didn’t look at it that way. They looked at other things- which misled them. For instance, Chittendon, a turn-of-the-century protein researcher, declared that humans need 132 mgs of protein a day. That’s because he based his conclusions on nitrogen excretion, and he found that vigorous young males who were fed less than 132 mgs of protein daily went into “negative nitrogen balance.” That means that they were excreting more nitrogen than they were taking in. But, what Chittendon did not realize is that when protein consumption is reduced, the body- over time- slows down its protein turnover such that nitrogen balance is regained at the lower level of consumption. So, the negative nitrogen balance is only temporary- it goes away. Today, we know that people can adjust to amazingly low levels of protein consumption. For instance, I have known individuals who avoided high-protein foods completely- including plant proteins. They were vegetarians who ate no beans or nuts or grains, and they ate no animal foods. They ate only fruits and vegetables- including avocadoes- and nothing else. And, as expected, they got rather thin, but perhaps not as thin as you might think. They still had some muscle shape and tone, and they were fully active. And, they lived that way for years. It’s extreme, I admit, and I’m not recommending it. However, it goes to show how little protein the human body can get by on- if it has to. And the point is that the amount of protein that you eat sets the pace of your protein metabolism, and that pace starts with the amount of protein you get from your mother’s milk. And, I think it’s safe to say that the transition from nursing to weaning is supposed to be smooth- not jolting. So, mammals who eat high-protein diets get high-protein milks, and animals who eat low-protein diets, get low-protein milks.
How much protein is there in human milk? I used to say 1% by weight, making it the lowest protein milk on the planet. However, for a long time, some analyses have come in at .9%, and now I’m finding some analyses coming in at .8%. Compare that to the milk of a cat. It’s a 14-fold difference! It’s funny that Dr. Loren Cordain, a prominent paleo writer, has suggested that humans are “evolving” towards becoming increasingly cat-like, but apparently, nobody told the human mammary glands.
A paleo might respond by saying that humans take so long to mature (on average, boys continue to grow until the age of 18) that it’s the long, protracted growth period that accounts for the low-protein content of breast milk. After all, 18 years of growth is longer than the whole lifespan of some mammals. However, that doesn’t change the fact that humans grow very fast as infants. Typically, babies double their birth weight in 6 months. It is the most rapidly growing period in human life. And, they do all that growing on a diet of low-protein mother’s milk.
Another way to look at it is as protein as a percentage of calories, and on that basis, human breast milk derives 7% of its calories from protein. And, as foods go, 7% of calories from protein is low. Among plant foods, all provide a higher percentage of calories from protein- except for some fruits. In contrast, green vegetables, on that basis, are extremely high in protein (33% of calories), and even grains provide about 13% of their calories as protein-which is almost twice as high as human milk. Beans, of course, are very high in protein, as are most oil-seeds and nuts. So, unless you are eating too much fruit at the expense of other foods, you can’t fail to obtain enough protein from a plant-based diet- so long as you are getting enough food.
Human milk is not only low in protein, it is also very high in carbohydrate. It is, by far, the sweetest of the milks with over 7% lactose by weight. No other milk comes close. That not only conditions the infant’s body to receiving a steady supply of sugar, it also conditions the baby’s tongue to a sweet taste. That’s why the foods that babies are most accepting of in weaning are sweet foods, such as blended cantaloupe and mashed banana.
The bottom line is that the composition of breast milk shows that humans are not high-protein feeders- not even when we are undergoing our most rapid period of growth. But, as a 60 year old man, I am not growing at all. I am just maintaining. So, how much protein do I need?
So, our question for the paleos is: Since human breast milk is the lowest protein milk on the planet, containing as low as .8% protein by weight, and yet babies grow just fine on it, doubling their birth weight in only six months, why should a high-protein diet be needed later in life, especially after growth has stopped?
The Paleolithic diet enthusiasts held their annual symposium at UCLA this summer. These are the folks who believe we should eat a hunter/gatherer diet- with an emphasis on the hunting. So, they extol meat, fish, and eggs. Dairy is a question mark. Many paleos acknowledge that non-human milks did not enter the human diet until after animals were domesticated. One speaker stated that animal milks did not become a factor in human life until about 7500 years ago, and that until rather recently it involved no more than 35% of the human-populated globe. So, milk products usually aren’t considered good paleo foods. However, it seems that a lot of paleos do consume some milk products, and at this symposium, there were even vendors selling milk products. Another questionable item for paleos is fruit. Some paleos eat tons of fruit, but others conceptually combine the paleo diet with the low-carb diet, and consequently, they avoid fruits or just eat them minimally, or they restrict themselves just to sour fruits, such as berries. Of course, non-starchy vegetables are widely accepted by paleos, while starchy vegetables are shunned. Nuts and oil-seeds are generally seen as OK, whereas grains and legumes are condemned in the harshest terms.
Of course, a big problem for paleos is to determine the right proportion between hunting and gathering. Obviously, there is a big difference between a paleo diet that is 90% animal food versus one that is only 10%. But, it’s accurate to say that paleos generally lean towards higher consumption of animal foods. They’re not talking about living on wild celery like gorillas. No, their model is definitely the Caveman- who left images of his giant prey in the caves of Northern Europe. That’s who they are trying to emulate. And they even depicted it graphically. They showed an image of a couple who looked very modern- not at all like cave people. The man was tall and slender and athletic, and the woman was young and svelte and petite. They didn't look like cave people at all- but more like a guy from GQ magazine and a woman from Cosmopolitan. However, they were unclothed, and the man held a spear, and the women held a basket with some leafy stuff in it. So, I guess that made them hunter/gatherers.
The event was called the Ancestral Health Symposium. They seem to think that “ancestral” is a good word, very sellable, and more appealing than paleo. I am not a paleo, but I am sure I would have found the conference interesting. I assure you that I would have attended every lecture, listened carefully, and even taken notes. And maybe someday I will go.
But for now, I just want to post some questions for them that hopefully they can address next year at their next gathering. And these are honest questions; I am not being cynical. These are things that I think about, and I think that they need to think about them. So, here we go:
Question 1: Throughout the conference, there were many references to Evolution. And even in their printed materials, there were frequent references to Evolution. For instance, Professor Loren Cordain called it “the Woodstock of Evolutionary Medicine.” And the subtitle of the symposium was “The Human Evolutionary Niche and Modern Health.” They also talked about “Studying health from an Evolutionary perspective.” So, the Theory of Evolution is something they lean upon very heavily to justify what they espouse. But what I noticed is that at no place and at no point did they acknowledge the existence of any controversy about the Theory of Evolution.
First, I need to explain that there is evolution, and there is Evolution. Small e and big E.
A person may believe in evolution, meaning that he or she believes that life on Earth underwent transitions and that all life forms are connected, and that vast changes took place gradually over eons of time. But when you believe in Evolution, it means that you think you know how those changes took place, what the motor of it all was. And, what the Theory of Evolution contends is that the changes took place- life evolved- because there were random, accidental, haphazard genetic mutations, and that some of those mindless accidental mutations conferred survival advantages (lucky break) that were capitalized on by the affected individuals, who stuck around longer, reproduced more, and passed the trait or traits on to their offspring. In that manner, the trait was said to undergo natural selection. So, random mutations acted on by natural selection was the motor of Evolution- according to the theory.
Let me assure you that these paleos are definitely talking about Evolution with a capital E. They are definitely Darwinists, or you could say Neo-Darwinists, since modern genetic theory did not exist during Darwin’s time. Neo-Darwinism refers to the way in which Darwinism is taught today. And their whole basis for advocating the Caveman diet derives from the Neo-Darwinist Theory of Evolution.
But some people, including myself, do not accept Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism. We do not think that random mutations, even with the help of natural selection, could account for all the changes that life has undergone on Earth. No way. No how. Not possible. And what bothers me about this first Ancestral Health Conference is that they didn’t even acknowledge the existence of any controversy concerning Evolution. But, the Theory of Evolution is the greatest scientific hoax of all time, and I am not the only one who thinks so. Over 600 scientists and mathematicians have signed a “Scientific Dissent from Darwinism” statement, which reads:
"The Scientific Dissent From Darwinism is a short public statement by scientists expressing their skepticism of Neo-Darwinism’s key claim that natural selection acting on random mutations is the primary mechanism for the development of the complexity of life. The full statement reads: "We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged." Prominent scientists who have signed the statement include evolutionary biologist and textbook author Dr. Stanley Salthe; quantum chemist Henry Schaefer at the University of Georgia; U.S. National Academy of Sciences member Philip Skell; American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow Lyle Jensen; Russian Academy of Natural Sciences embryologist Lev Beloussov; and geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti, Editor Emeritus of Rivista di Biologia / Biology Forum and discoverer of genetic recombination in antibiotic-producing Penicillium and Streptomyces."
So, how could a conference devoted to “Evolutionary Medicine” never even tackle the fundamental question of whether the Theory of Evolution is valid? If you want to believe in it you can, but you cannot be presumptuous about it. There is nothing scientific about that.
So, that’s my first question to the Ancestral Health Society. Why didn’t you address the validity of Evolutionary theory? And are you going to do so next year? And if not, why not?
That is the obvious first question, but I have many more questions for them. Heck, I have enough questions that they could plan their whole next symposium around them, and it would make it very fresh and interesting. So, I hope they get wind of this because I’m really doing them a favor.
This concludes Part 1, but stay with me. We’re going to take this as far as it needs to go.
Before leaving the subject of Evolution, I want to emphasize the significance of it. Humans were hunter/gatherers for a long time - for their entire existence up until 12,000 years ago. And, according to Evolutionary theory, 12,000 years is not long enough to bring about genetic adaptations. Therefore, we are still adapted to our original diet, the hunter/gatherer diet. Perhaps I should call it the HUNTER/gatherer diet because that’s how devotees really mean the term. But, what really is a hunter/gatherer diet? It simply means that people ate anything and everything they could get their hands on that was remotely edible, and it was determined mainly by what was growing and living and available in their range of travel. And that’s why hunter/gatherer diets vary so much in composition and proportion. The hunter/gatherer diet really isn’t a diet at all. It doesn't specify anything. We can speak of the natural diet of lions as antelope and zebras. And we can speak of the natural diet of zebras as grass. And we can speak of the natural diet of koalas as eucalyptus leaves. But, the hunter/gatherer diet was just humans being opportunistic about food wherever they were. It had less to do with genetics and more to do with circumstances. Why did the early humans of northern Europe eat so much meat? It wasn’t because of genes or Evolution; it was because of an ice age. There are many theories as to what causes ice ages: variations in the sun’s output and reduced sunspot activity, wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, continental drift, etc. But, it was very unlucky for humans that an ice age had to come along during our early development. There we were losing our body hair, becoming relatively hairless, during an ice age. And why did that trend continue? Why didn’t it reverse? Was it because we started covering ourselves with animal skins? But, we weren’t able to cover ourselves all that well. It seems like Evolution would have “selected” more body hair, but it didn’t. The trend towards less body hair continued despite the ice age. We need to admit that we do not know how and why life developed the way it did on Earth, including human life.
But, let’s move on to our next question for the paleos, and it concerns human protein needs. It is widely agreed among biochemists that most of the calories in food are used as fuel. We use proteins to build and maintain structures and to make various functional compounds, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. But our total need for protein isn’t that great. The US government, which is no enemy of the beef and dairy trusts, says that adults need about 60 grams of protein a day, which is about 2 ounces- a little more for men and a little less for women. 60 grams of protein comes to 240 calories, and if a man gets 2400 calories total, that comes to 10% of calories. The government admits that there is a significant “safety factor” (excess) built in to that figure, and other organizations, such as the World Health Organization, cite a much lower requirement.
This issue of how much protein we need has been studied in great technical detail, including rates of enzyme turnover, rates of muscle tissue breakdown from exertion, rates of hormone, and immunoglobulin production, etc. One researcher who has studied it a lot is Dr. Mark Hegsted of Harvard University, and he concluded from his vast work that, based on all the considerations for protein utilization in the body, that humans need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So I, for instance, weighing 61 kilos, would need 48.8 grams of protein a day.
We know for certain that any amount of protein consumed above the basal requirement gets broken down, deaminized, and burned- either like a carbohydrate (as with glucogenic amino acids) or like a fat (as with ketogenic amino acids). And for now, let’s put aside the whole issue of muscling-up and bodybuilding. Let’s just talk about people like myself: an adult who wants to stay fit and maintain his muscles but not grow them larger. The amount of protein that I need to do that is not very much. And any protein I eat in excess of that is going to be dismantled and burned.
So, we can use protein as a fuel. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that 15% of the amino acid is nitrogenous, and nitrogen doesn’t burn. When that amino group (NH2) gets split off, it immediately tends to pick up another hydrogen (since nitrogen has three hands) forming NH3 which is ammonia. You know how caustic and irritating ammonia is. Burns the nose, right? Well, it burns inside of you as well. The body has to get rid of ammonia pronto, so it combines two amino groups with one molecule of carbon dioxide to form a different substance: urea. Urea is essentially non-irritating. It is a waste product, but it doesn’t burn like ammonia. So, it’s easier to handle. The more protein you eat, the more urea you form. And the more urea you form, the greater the burden on your liver and particularly your kidneys.
If you don’t die of anything else sooner, you will eventually die of kidney failure. That’s because the kidneys are gradually breaking down throughout life. You’re losing nephrons, which are the functional units of the kidneys, and they aren’t being replaced. And when you don’t have enough working nephrons any more, you either go on dialysis, or you get a kidney transplant, or you die. There’s not much you can do for your kidneys, except not to abuse them. You abuse them by taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and by smoking. Excess salt also abuses the kidneys. And excess protein abuses the kidneys as well, since the kidneys have to do the work of eliminating the excess urea.
Carbohydrates burn clean: all the way down to carbon dioxide and water. Imagine if there were cars whose exhaust was nothing but carbon dioxide and water vapor. There would be no air pollution! And even fats burn pretty cleanly. They too, eventually, get down to carbon dioxide and water- but along the way they form keto-acids which can cause trouble- but only if you’re diabetic. But, proteins never burn clean. You could say that proteins make black smoke.
People who eat high-protein diets tend to have higher levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Ideally, BUN should be in the teens. I have even seen it in the single digits in people who scrimp on protein. But people who eat high-protein diets are usually in the 20s, and sometimes in the 30s, and I don’t consider it a good thing or a harmless thing. Why should turning the blood more urinous be considered OK?
So, my question for the paleos at next year’s Ancestral Health Conference is:
Since research, such as that of Dr. Mark Hegsted, has demonstrated a human need for protein along the order of .8 grams per kilo of body weight, what is the advantage in consuming vastly more than that, as people commonly do when eating paleo diets? And even if you think it is harmless, what good reason is there to do it? Why doesn’t it make sense to eat only as much protein as is needed to maintain bodily structure and function, and not use protein as a fuel?
And I’ll close by saying that if they try to argue that vastly greater amounts of protein are needed to maintain structure and function, I will have to hit the penalty button. I am 5’6” and I weigh 136 pounds. And frankly, I am more solid and muscular than most men my age, which is 60. And I eat a plant-based diet that is practically vegan. I eat no meat, no fish, and no dairy. Occasionally, I eat a free-range, organic egg, but that’s it for animal food- and not every day. Mainly I eat plants, including lots of fruits, vegetables, starches, and raw nuts. I AM maintaining my structure and function, and they can't tell me otherwise. I don't claim to be the strongest man in the world, but if there is heavy furniture to move, don't worry, I can handle my end. If you can lift it, I can lift it.
The finding of arteriosclerosis in the mummified bodies of ancient Egyptians has stirred up a lot of controversy among diet gurus- with everyone claiming victory. These well-preserved individuals were mostly in their 30s and 40s- not very old by our standards. Therefore, to discover advanced hardening of the arteries was quite unexpected- especially since heart disease has long been considered a modern disease.
Adding to the mystery is the fact that tobacco played no role in the disease process. Tobacco was native to the Americas and was not introduced to the rest of the world until after Columbus. So, the Egyptians didn’t have tobacco, which is considered to be a major progenitor of heart disease.
However, the Egyptians did have alcohol, which they consumed copiously, and that included red wine. So, why didn’t it protect them from heart disease, as claimed? That’s an important question in itself, and I wish the pundits would start debating that one.
But, let’s look at the claims. Dr. Michael Eades, who advocates a low-carbohydrate diet high in meat and other animal foods, claims that the Egyptians lived on a diet of fruits, vegetables and stone-ground whole wheat bread. And he states, categorically, that this low-fat, high-carbohydrate, unrefined diet is what clogged their arteries and caused numerous other health problems, including obesity. I find it amazing, considering what people eat today- and I mean all the junk. It seems inconceivable that eating largely of fresh fruits and vegetables could lead to obesity and heart disease- even with the addition of stone-ground whole wheat.
Then, Dr. John McDougall weighed in. Dr. McDougall advocates a starch-based diet. He thinks that starches should comprise most of the calories eaten. Potatoes, yams, corn, other grains, legumes, then rounding out the plate with non-starchy vegetables and a smattering of fruit- that is his ideal diet. Note that Dr. McDougall and Dr. Eades are as polar-opposite, as reverse, as antithetical, as any two diet doctors can possibly be. Dr. McDougall claims that the mummies were of the rich and royalty of Egypt and that they ate a rich diet loaded with animal foods- the very foods that Dr. Eades espouses.
So, what is the truth? To find out, I think we should tap into an unbiased source, someone knowledgeable of the ways of antiquity but with no particular ax to grind. And I can think of no one better than Soledad de Montalvo.
Soledad de Montalvo was a French chef who, some decades ago, was considered the “Julia Childs of Europe.” She appeared on television cooking shows, and she authored many books on French cooking and Continental cuisine. She died in 1987, but she spent the last 10 years of her life in relative obscurity, glued to her typewriter in Switzerland, churning out articles and books of a different kind. She wrote about history- the real history of humanity- with no respect for any of the legacies and institutions that most historical writers hold near and dear. And it culminated in her magnum opus: Women, Food, and Sex in History, a 4 volume set, published in 1988, after her death.
I am fortunate to possess a set of these books, which I have read, and more than once. These books are very well referenced and documented, which is amazing when you consider the primitive conditions under which she worked (without a computer). Soledad was bombastic, irreverent, feminist, iconoclastic, but also highly educated, cultured, and eloquent. These volumes are long out of print, but if you can find a set online, buy it! You won’t regret it. She starts with two chapters about pre-civilized humanity, then goes from there into the great dynasties of the past, starting with Sumer, then Babylon, and then Egypt, and so on.
This is unlike any other history book you’ve read. Most history books are written by vassals of the State. And so, they deal with State issues, such as, who was the leader, who were his opponents, what wars were fought, who won which battle, etc. But, Soledad was more interested in the daily lives of people. What did people eat? How did they live? How were the relations between the sexes? How were children raised and treated? What was the status of women? Hence, the title: Women, Food, and Sex in History.
So, here is what she said about the diet of ancient Egypt. And again, it was well documented.
The staples of the working class were bread and beer. In fact, they were paid for their labors in bread and beer. Bread was made in all kinds of ways, including the refining of wheat into white flour. Yes, defiling grain goes back that far. Not all the grain was refined- far from it. But they did use white flour to make decadent desserts. Honey was used extravagantly. Egypt was the leading honey producer in the world at the time, yet they still had to import more from other countries, mainly Syria and Greece, to meet the local demand. They also made a sweetener from carob and dates. Butter was highly regarded, as was lard from ducks and geese. Their butter was often clarified, as is done in India. Egyptians also used a lot of heavy cream, which they called smy. They added eggs to their bread, but not chicken eggs because they had no chickens. It was either duck or goose eggs. But, even the poor had access to fruits and vegetables. The annual flooding of the Nile replenished the soils, and they were able to harvest a wide variety of fresh produce- most of the time. Leeks, garlic, onions, cucumbers, cabbage, and celery were staples, and lettuce was considered an aphrodisiac, so it was very popular. Fish and meat were highly prized by all classes, but the poor, more often than not, had to settle for fish. Fish were vastly abundant and easy to catch in the marshes alongside the Nile and also in the irrigation canals that were established for farming. Favorite fish species were the Bou and the Chep, the taste of which most people today would find repugnant, according to Soledad. But, also plentiful were eel, tigerfish, perch, and mullet, including mullet caviar. Turtles were also popular for food and were raised in immense, sprawling concentration camps. There was an annual sacrifice of pigs to the God Osiris, and for two weeks, everyone would gorge on pork daily. These were big public pork roastings where everyone got to feast, and of course, get soused. But the national dish was roast goose, which was seasoned with dill. The Egyptians originated the use of many of the culinary herbs we use today, including anise, dill, coriander, marjoram, and oregano. They were real gourmands. Hippos were eaten, and numerous kinds of cows from all over Africa were brought to Egypt to be eaten.
The slaves and the poor of Egypt had to work hard, and the building of the Pyramids was plenty arduous. The rich, however, were truly indolent. In contrast, there are plenty of rich people today, but most of them work. They’re not digging ditches or driving trucks, but they’re running companies they own, managing real estate they own, overseeing foundations they started, practicing their professions, or what-have-you: they are doing something to stay busy and productive. And, they expect their children to lead useful, productive lives as well, regardless of the family wealth. But, in ancient Egypt, it was a decadent, indulgent, Dionysian culture of the rich, and over-indulging in food was a big part of it. As in later Rome, they had food orgies in Egypt, complete with vomitoriums.
The bottom line is that Egyptians, of all classes, ate a varied and omnivorous diet. They had at least as many choices and variations in their food supply as we have today, and perhaps more. By ancient standards, they were a wealthy people, and even the poor ate well, meaning broadly. The wealthy, who could look forward to being mummified after death, were most certainly not living on fruits, vegetables and whole wheat, as Dr. Eades glibly asserts. And the fact is, neither were the poor- they weren’t McDougalites either. Dr. McDougall likes to claim the peasantry of the world- both past and present- as starch devotees like himself, but I dare say, it’s a bit of a stretch. No native, indigenous population of human beings, past or present, has ever lived exclusively on starches, vegetables, and fruits- none! Before the advent of Vitamin B12 supplements- which were an invention of the latter half of the 20th century- it wasn’t even remotely possible.
So, why was there so much arteriosclerosis among the Egyptian elite? Too much rich food and too much food, period (calorically speaking); were no doubt factors, worsened by physical inactivity. Also, it was a hot climate without refrigeration, and salt was used liberally as a preservative. Also, playing a role was too much alcohol. In so-called “moderate” amounts, alcohol supposedly deters heart disease, but in copious amounts, alcohol clearly and indisputably worsens heart disease, and the Egyptians were big drinkers. They were also heavily into hallucinogens, including mandrake, belladonna, lotus, and henbane. But, there was also the factor of their bad teeth. Sand got into, or was put into, their flour, and the resulting bread wore down their teeth severely- to nubs. That led to serious dental infections and abscesses, and of course there was no modern dentistry. And presumably, their gums also got infected, and we now know that the toxins from gingivitis can trigger arterial inflammation throughout the body. All of these factors combined to produce early arteriosclerosis.
In conclusion, I think it’s fascinating to study the ways of life of various peoples, both ancient and modern. However, the decision about what to eat should not be reduced to just imitating a particular group of people- past or present- certainly not the Egyptians, and not the Cavemen either. It's not as simple as that. Human nutrition is a vast complex subject, and I know I will never be through studying it, and hopefully with an inquisitive and open mind, which is the only way to study it.