This article might surpise some people… because most people don't view nutrition in this way that I'm about to explain. Instead most people get thoroughly confused about nutrition and calories, protein, carbs, fat, diet foods, low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-carb, healthy label claims, vegetarian, raw foods, etc, etc.
However, if you view nutrition in this way that I'll explain below, it solves every single confusion about nutrition that you could ever have. I will warn you though, this is very BIG PICTURE thinking, and it helps explain a lot about the human body when you think about things this way.
Ok, the #1 MOST important aspect about nutrition involves the study of ARCHAEOLOGY (and anthropology)!
What the heck am I talking about? Well, let's dig in…
Yes, everything about the human body that is either healthy or bad for us currently, all stems from hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years of evolution and how the human body adapted to everything around us, including food, exercise, our environment (city vs nature), and lots more.
We know from archaeological records that our current human species (homo sapiens) originated approximately 200,000 years ago… however, our close cousins (ancestors prior to homo sapiens), such as homo erectus, date as far back as several million years.
If you study evidence about what our ancestors ate, it gives obvious clues about how the human digestive system evolved and what are the healthiest foods for us to eat in today's world.
This obviously explains why relatively new chemicals and food types (that humans were NEVER meant to ingest) cause so many health problems, such as artificial sweeteners, HFCS and other corn derivatives, white bread and other refined grain products, refined oils such as soybean and unhealthy canola oils, and so on.
Now this discussion could get pretty involved and encompass an entire book, so let me give some important statements to best summarize this:
1. Despite what you'll hear from extreme vegans, extreme raw foodists, and other believers in "extreme" types of diets that eliminate entire portions of the historical human diet, the human digestive system evolved to eat a mixture of plants and animal foods (yes, we evolved as omnivores), as well as a mixture of raw food AND cooked food.
I know, I know… You'll get heated debate about both of these topics…meat eating vs veganism, and raw foodism… however, it's historical FACT that our current species (and historical ancestors back over a million years ago) in almost every culture around the world, ate at least some % of plant-animal food combination and raw food / cooked food combination (even if it was at different times of the day, or even different times of the year).
Some cultures, such as the Inuit of the arctic and several tribes in Africa, thrived in stellar health on almost an entirely animal-based diet, and other cultures around the world thrived on almost an entirely plant-based diet… But all cultures generally had some mixture of plant and animal foods, even if the amount of animal food was small in some cultures, or the amount of plant food was small in other cultures.
Similarly, virtually every culture around the world has also historically consumed BOTH raw foods and cooked foods in differing amounts of each… but there's no real evidence of societies thriving on 100% raw food diets.
But what about the argument that raw foodists make claiming that all animals in nature eat 100% raw foods, but humans are the only species that eats cooked food…
Well, there's a simple explanation for that… humans were the ONLY species with a well developed enough brain to understand how to control fire and therefore cook our food… And since we've been cooking a portion of our foods for the entire existence of our species (200,000 years) as well as our ancestors back several million years, our digestive systems have adapted to eating a portion of our food cooked.
This also explains why acrylamides are more harmful to animals that eat cooked food compared to humans… since humans have adapted some level of tolerance to acrylamides from eating a partial cooked diet for 100′s of thousands of years, but animals have never historically adapted to a cooked food diet, and therefore, are more sensitive to acrylamides.
If you've never heard of acrylamides, they are formed when the outside of foods are burned during cooking (such as the browning on breads or other baked goods, browning on deep fried foods, or the charring of vegetables cooked over a flame, etc) and these compounds are potentially carcinogenic to both humans and animals. Cooking foods with water, and also using high antioxidant herbs and spices in cooking helps reduce acrylamides and protect you against them.
The bottom line… we were designed through evolution to eat a mixture of both plants and animals as well as cooked and raw foods… But let's clarify an important point in #2 below…
2. Although I say that we were meant through evolution to eat an omnivorous diet of both plants and animals, one thing that we were NEVER meant to eat is factory-farm raised animals, or eggs or milk from factory-farm raised animals.
Factory farming is an entirely new phenomenon that's still only decades old, so essentially, these types of meat products were never meant to be part of the human diet.
Chemically (nutritionally), factory-farm animal products are VASTLY different from animal products that were raised the way they were meant to live and eat. Examples of these differences can be seen glaringly in the nutrition profiles of grass-fed meats vs grain-fed factory farm meat, free range eggs vs factory eggs, wild fish vs farmed fish, and so on.
We're talking about major differences in omega-3′s vs omega-6′s, differences in vitamins and minerals, differences in other healthy fats such as CLA, and lots more.
So although I don't fully agree with veganism at least from a nutritional standpoint (moral arguments aside), I also don't agree with our current state of affairs of the majority of our food supply of factory farm raised animal products (at least here in the US, where the condition of the factory farm animals and nutritional quality of the food is horrendous).
That's why I try to not support the factory farm industry as much as possible (which is most meats and dairy in your supermarket) and instead, I try to eat almost solely grass-fed meats from free ranging animals, wild game, wild fish, eggs from local farmers from free roaming hens, and dairy only from grass-fed cows that are allowed to graze almost entirely on forage.
3. Although I point out that many historical cultures around the world thrived on vastly different percentages of animal products vs plant products in their diet, here is another type of food that we were NEVER meant to eat:
Yes, I know it hurts to hear it, but cakes, cookies, crackers, microwaved meals, chips, sodas, granola bars, sugary sports drinks or energy drinks, and 1000′s of other products that line our supermarket shelves were never meant to be part of the human diet, so it's obvious why it causes so many health problems for us.
This gets back to what I always say about trying to include as many "1-ingredient" foods as you can in your diet if you want to eat like we were meant to eat.
"1-ingredient" foods means healthy meats, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, tubers, fruits, and veggies. It's really that simple.
4. Ok, this one starts to get a little controversial… but, remember that agriculture is also a relatively new phenomenon in the big picture of the human diet when you expand far back in history a couple of million years. And when I'm talking about agriculture, I'm mostly talking about the massive influx of grain-based foods into the human diet that occurred with the invention of agriculture.
The mass production of grains through agriculture is only a few thousand years old… Compare that to our ancestors historical existence as hunter-gatherers as far back as a couple of million years, and our current species (homo sapiens) 200,000-year history as hunter-gatherers.
If you think about it, as hunter-gatherers, we would have had very limited access to grains, and they would have encompassed a very small % of our historical calorie intake, since they weren't mass produced and processed. Instead, we thrived on mostly game meats (including the organ meats, where most of the micro-nutrients are found), wild fish and seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, tubers, fruits, and veggies.
From this perspective, grains probably never accounted for more than 1-3% of our historical calorie intake… and as you know from one of my recent articles, currently our modern processed diet that the average person eats consists of 67% of total calories from grains such as corn, soy, and wheat and their derivatives… now THAT'S a shocking revelation in why our entire food supply is backwards, and how that affects your waistline!
It also makes you think about how ridiculously wrong our "food pyramid" really is, which promotes the bulk of our food to be eaten from grains.
I could go on with more examples, but I think you're seeing the major points here… the most important aspect to eating a healthy diet that promotes a lean, healthy body is to acknowledge what our ancestors ate throughout the millions of years of evolution.
And that certainly wasn't processed "diet foods" with fancy label claims deceiving you into thinking they're healthy… instead, it was the 1-ingredient foods I listed above, eaten in a combination of raw food and cooked food.
A couple final thoughts on how to fit these suggestions into your healthy eating plan:
1. Try to become a "locavore" as much as possible… if you can get local farm-fresh produce, that is the most environmentally and socially responsible, as well as healthy way to get your produce. Research if you have farmers markets and farm stands that might be in your area, or deliver to your area.
2. Try to choose organic foods as much as possible… but local food will many times trump organic food that had to travel thousands of miles to make it to you.
3. When choosing meat and eggs, try to choose grass-fed meats as much as possible, free range chicken, turkey, and pork raised in a humane manner, and eggs from hens that truly roam free outside instead of being confined to "chicken factories". Many times, this means making the effort to seek out local farms or co-ops that deliver to urban areas. This site is a great source of meats that were raised in the healthiest manner, and they deliver right to your doorstep: http://healthygrassfed.2ya.com
Remember that eating healthy and responsibly doesn't mean eating bland boring food… there are tons of ways to eat in a healthy and socially/environmentally responsible manner, and we describe in depth how to do this in our Fat Burning Kitchen Program.