Beyond the Paleolithic prescription: incorporating diversity and flexibility in the study of human diet evolution.


"Evolutionary paradigms of human health and nutrition center on the evolutionary discordance or "mismatch" model in which human bodies, reflecting adaptations established in the Paleolithic era, are ill-suited to modern industrialized diets, resulting in rapidly increasing rates of chronic metabolic disease. Though this model remains useful, its utility in explaining the evolution of human dietary tendencies is limited. The assumption that human diets are mismatched to the evolved biology of humans implies that the human diet is instinctual or genetically determined and rooted in the Paleolithic era. This review looks at current research indicating that human eating habits are learned primarily through behavioral, social, and physiological mechanisms that start in utero and extend throughout the life course. Adaptations that appear to be strongly genetic likely reflect Neolithic, rather than Paleolithic, adaptations and are significantly influenced by human niche-constructing behavior. Several examples are used to conclude that incorporating a broader understanding of both the evolved mechanisms by which humans learn and imprint eating habits and the reciprocal effects of those habits on physiology would provide useful tools for structuring more lasting nutrition interventions."

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The questionable role of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in cardiovascular disease.


"A fat diet, rich in saturated fatty acids (SFA) and low in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), is said to be an important cause of atherosclerosis andcardiovascular diseases (CVD). The evidence for this hypothesis was sought by reviewing studies of the direct link between dietary fats and atherosclerotic vascular disease in human beings. The review included ecological, dynamic population, cross-sectional, cohort, and case-controlstudies, as well as controlled, randomized trials of the effect of fat reduction alone. The positive ecological correlations between national intakes of total fat (TF) and SFA and cardiovascular mortality found in earlier studies were absent or negative in the larger, more recent studies. Secular trends of national fat consumption and mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) in 18-35 countries (four studies) during different time periods diverged from each other as often as they coincided. In cross-sectional studies of CHD and atherosclerosis, one group of studies (Bantu people vs. Caucasians) were supportive; six groups of studies (West Indians vs. Americans, Japanese, and Japanese migrants vs. Americans, Yemenite Jews vs. Yemenite migrants; Seminole and Pima Indians vs. Americans, Seven Countries) gave partly supportive, partly contradictive results; in seven groups of studies (Navajo Indians vs. Americans; pure vegetarians vs. lacto-ovo-vegetarians and non-vegetarians, Masai people vs. Americans, Asiatic Indians vs. non-Indians, north vs. south Indians, Indian migrants vs. British residents, Geographic Study of Atherosclerosis) the findings were contradictory. Among 21 cohort studies of CHD including 28 cohorts, CHD patients had eaten significantly more SFA in three cohorts and significantly less in one cohort than had CHD-free individuals; in 22 cohorts no significant difference was noted. In three cohorts, CHD patients had eaten significantly more PUFA, in 24 cohorts no significant difference was noted. In three of four cohort studies of atherosclerosis, the vascular changes were unassociated with SFA or PUFA; in one study they were inversely related to TF. No significant differences in fat intake were noted in six case-control studies of CVD patients and CVD-free controls; and neither total or CHD mortality were lowered in a meta-analysis of nine controlled, randomized dietary trials with substantial reductions of dietary fats, in six trials combined with addition of PUFA. The harmful effect of dietary SFA and the protective effect of dietary PUFA on atherosclerosis and CVD are questioned."


Dietary fats, carbohydrate, and progression of coronary atherosclerosis in postmenopausal women.



The influence of diet on atherosclerotic progression is not well established, particularly in postmenopausal women, in whom risk factors for progression may differ from those for men.


The objective was to investigate associations between dietary macronutrients and progression of coronary atherosclerosis among postmenopausal women.


Quantitative coronary angiography was performed at baseline and after a mean follow-up of 3.1 y in 2243 coronary segments in 235 postmenopausal women with established coronary heart disease. Usual dietary intake was assessed at baseline.


The mean (+/-SD) total fat intake was 25 +/- 6% of energy. In multivariate analyses, a higher saturated fat intake was associated with a smaller decline in mean minimal coronary diameter (P = 0.001) and less progression of coronary stenosis (P = 0.002) during follow-up. Compared with a 0.22-mm decline in the lowest quartile of intake, there was a 0.10-mm decline in the second quartile (P = 0.002), a 0.07-mm decline in the third quartile (P = 0.002), and no decline in the fourth quartile (P < 0.001); P for trend = 0.001. This inverse association was more pronounced among women with lower monounsaturated fat (P for interaction = 0.04) and higher carbohydrate (P for interaction = 0.004) intakes and possibly lower total fat intake (P for interaction = 0.09). Carbohydrate intake was positively associated with atherosclerotic progression (P = 0.001), particularly when the glycemic index was high. Polyunsaturated fat intake was positively associated with progression when replacing other fats (P = 0.04) but not when replacing carbohydrate or protein. Monounsaturated and total fat intakes were not associated with progression.


In postmenopausal women with relatively low total fat intake, a greater saturated fat intake is associated with less progression of coronary atherosclerosis, whereas carbohydrate intake is associated with a greater progression."


The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic



Field studies of twentieth century hunter-gathers (HG) showed them to be generally free of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Consequently, the characterization of HG diets may have important implications in designing therapeutic diets that reduce the risk for CVD in Westernized societies. Based upon limited ethnographic data (n=58 HG societies) and a single quantitative dietary study, it has been commonly inferred that gathered plant foods provided the dominant energy source in HG diets.


In this review we have analyzed the 13 known quantitative dietary studies of HG and demonstrate that animal food actually provided the dominant (65%) energy source, while gathered plant foods comprised the remainder (35%). This data is consistent with a more recent, comprehensive review of the entire ethnographic data (n=229 HG societies) that showed the mean subsistence dependence upon gathered plant foods was 32%, whereas it was 68% for animal foods. Other evidence, including isotopic analyses of Paleolithic hominid collagen tissue, reductions in hominid gut size, low activity levels of certain enzymes, and optimal foraging data all point toward a long history of meat-based diets in our species. Because increasing meat consumption in Western diets is frequently associated with increased risk for CVD mortality, it is seemingly paradoxicalthat HG societies, who consume the majority of their energy from animal food, have been shown to be relatively free of the signs and symptoms of CVD.


The high reliance upon animal-based foods would not have necessarily elicited unfavorable blood lipid profiles because of the hypolipidemic effects of high dietary protein (19-35% energy) and the relatively low level of dietary carbohydrate (22-40% energy). Although fat intake (28-58% energy) would have been similar to or higher than that found in Western diets, it is likely that important qualitative differences in fat intake, including relatively high levels of MUFA and PUFA and a lower omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio, would have served to inhibit the development of CVD. Other dietary characteristics including high intakes of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals along with a low salt intake may have operated synergistically with lifestyle characteristics (more exercise, less stress and no smoking) to further deter the development of CVD."