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There are any number of modern commercial diets, each promoting very particular approach to the way we should eat. But which diet makes sense?
Consider the merits of a diet that prefers raw fruit over cooked food. Would archaeological evidence support such a diet?
Some wellness experts argue that humans were evolved to live almost entirely on raw fruits and vegetables. One controversial health blogger (with over half a million subscribers) in favour of this diet is Leanne Ratcliffe – otherwise known as Freelee the Banana Girl.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Ratcliffe claims that consuming a high carbohydrate, low-fat vegan diet consisting of ‘mono meals’ is in keeping with how humans were evolved to eat. According to Ratcliffe, such a diet is supposedly optimised for our digestive system:
Most of the body’s energy goes towards digesting food so when we eat meals that contain several different foods the body has to work harder not only to process the complicated combination but to extract the nutrition it needs.
…Just one type of digestive enzyme is needed to process the meal. If you look to nature you will see that animals in the wild always eat mono meals and do not suffer the same digestive problems or weighty issues as we humans commonly do.
…Imagine our ‘tribe’ came to an abundant mango tree in nature, we would have happily filled our bellies with only mangoes and then moved on to the next location. This is what I largely replicate on the raw till four lifestyle.
Take a look at the ‘Raw Till 4’ Food Pyramid:
Photo Credit: Freelee the Banana Girl via the Daily Mail Online
The food pyramid that doesn’t add up
The problem with this food pyramid is that it emphasises the consumption of raw fruit while cooked vegetables make up the smallest meal of the day. The consumption of raw fruits and vegetables in nature is often seen in animals with smaller brain sizes and larger digestive systems, such as cows and gorillas. The importance of cooked vegetables is underestimated in human evolution; indeed, cooked vegetables circumvent the need for complex digestive systems and free up more energy to grow larger brains. This is archaeologically reflected in hominid fossil teeth and jaw shape. The more primitive species of humans possess more robust features, such as large canines and chewing apparatus. Archaeological evidence for cooking and hearth use is indicated as early as the Acheulian period 790,000 years ago at the site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel where the charred remains of several edible plant species were found including olive, wild barley, and wild grape.
Furthermore, physical anthropologist Katherine Milton argues that meat was eaten by hominids as a means of providing essential amino acids and nutrients. This left more stomach space for the selection of higher quality and more easily digested plant foods. Studies on primate metabolism have indicated that there is an upper limit to how much raw food can be eaten over a day and a trade-off between access to calories and ability to digest such foods.
While raw veganism might superficially appear to be a ‘natural’ diet for humans insofar that it is rooted in fruits and vegetables, it is not reflective of the actual hominid diet that allowed our brains to reach the cranial sizes we see today.
Conroy, G.C., 2005. The Debate Over “Man the Hunter”. In: Reconstructing Human Origins: A Modern Synthesis. New York: W.W. Norton