The Role of Evolution on Food and Eating Habits

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Evolution is always happening and will always be as long as there is life to carry it out. We must admit that evolution is happening today all around us. Evolution shapes every human’s day to day life. Our knowledge of how things change, specifically how life changes, as limited as that knowledge may be, is affecting us today, and it is affecting the way we eat. What makes up our human bodies is affected by our knowledge on evolution; this is bringing both positive and negative outcomes as tends to be the effect of new knowledge.

The food we eat today is not the same food our ancestors ate, and because of this we are not the same humans our ancestors were, everything is changing and we have never been the exception. Whether our change has been beneficial to our species or a catastrophic turn for the worst, and where this change is leading us are more formally the topics we wonder. “Modern Western food contains less than twenty per cent of the ingredients on which our paleolithic ancestors lived and other primates like the wild chimpanzees live today (Bengmark, 2013).” This is a problem because we came about in the world eating these foods, we evolved under those conditions so those are the conditions that may just be the optimal ones for our survival. Compared to chimpanzees in the wild, it seems like we are neglected pets eating the same brand of crunchy dry food everyday of our lives, meanwhile on a parallel playing field the chimpanzees are owning their diverse food selection. Chimps eat on average diet around eighty percent ripe and unripe fruits, flowers, leaves, fresh and dry seeds, and roots and tubers only in time of draft. On the other hand our sophisticated population here is eating on average fifty percent refined carbohydrates and twenty five to thirty five percent animal products, so as we earlier saw, we only have a twenty percent compatibility in diet to our ancestors (Bengmark, 2013).

Our changes in eating habits accompanied with our lowered physical activity have made humanity a sicker and weaker population. In our so-called civilized societies it is not uncommon to see widespread chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes, and this is a negative effect on life due to the way that we have evolved in our eating habits. As life would have it, these diseases are less prevalent in previous civilizations and this is something that highlights the value of the paleolithic diet (Chauveau, 2013). Our food choices have evolved in the latest part of our evolutionary history to be bland and lacking of diversity and nutrition. This lack of diversity is making humans around the world weaker, at least the ones that give in to the new diet. “Very little human evolution has occurred in the past 15,000 years. However, diets have changed dramatically and in parallel with a shift in disease patterns from infectious diseases and diseases associated with nutrient deficiencies, to chronic degenerative diseases associated with excessive and unbalanced intake of energy and nutrients (Nestle, 2000).” We should be eating in a different manner, if our diet is making us sick then it is obvious that we are genetically determined to be eating quite differently than what we’ve drifted into.

When new life forms emerge into the world food is the most insistent of environmental pressures, there is always a need to make or consume food, what the organism eats and how it goes about getting that food is what plays a great part in shaping that organism. We know that there are things to change in our diet and that change is key to contributing to our human health, we did not evolve drinking Coca-Cola. Since our food is also evolving much of it has, naturally, evolved with traits that prevent it from being eaten. In turn with our fancy knowledge of this we have grown food with breeding techniques and changed that food with processing to convert overtly toxic and not so nutritious commodities into foods that are safe to eat, which is food that will not immediately kill us on the spot (Hind & German, 2012). Knowing that our food is not healthy is interesting knowledge but knowing what food is healthy is even more interesting.

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“We posit that the Rosetta stone of food and nourishment is mammalian lactation and ‘mother’s milk’. The milk that a mammalian mother produces for her young is a complete and comprehensive diet. Moreover, the capacity of the mammary gland as a remarkable bioreactor to synthesize milk, and the infant to utilize milk, reflects 200 million years of symbiotic co-evolution between producer and consumer.” (Hind & German, 2012)

When we are babies and our mothers are advised to simply breast feed our new bodies, they have been advised so because all the nutrition we could need she can give us, and she can even give us antibodies, this is the most natural way to survive and we do so as infants, just living life one suckle at a time. It is interesting to imagine that as grown adults we could find a diet more perfect than our first, so we take steps and hope for the best, unfortunately we still have a ways to go since our diet is far from perfect now and is merely “safe”.

We need to keep in mind that every organism we consume is different, they have specific organs that perform specific functions and are made of specific “ingredients”. These organisms are not like our momma’s milk that has been specifically tailored to our needs in infant life, these organisms are adapted to survive just as we are and are doing everything to stay alive. This is important to ponder because it explains why we have such a diverse diet. The diversity in our diet loosens the strain on any specific species to adapt against us. This keeps our options wide, poison low, and starvation less likely. “It is a 50-year-old observation that beneficial bacteria like lactobacilli do not grow well when exposed to food ingredients such casein (dairy) and gluten (wheat, rye and barley) (Bengmark, 2013).” Still children weaned off mom’s milk continue to have a monotonous diet of milk and cereal for breakfast, and maybe some toast with butter and sugar. This is not good because for a healthy digestion we need a healthy diversity of bacteria inside of ourselves, eliminating one can lead to growth to another one that can turn harmful when before it was not.

Another effect of our rapidly evolved diet is that there are today many people who are overweight, more than just that there are more people who are very severely obese today than ever there were before. “The prevalence of obesity has doubled since 1980. The increase in the prevalence of obese and overweight individuals has happened too rapidly for it to be due to an alteration in the genome (King, 2013).” We have not changed much in thousands of years, our genome has certainly not been so altered in the last thirty so that now it is just the norm for people to be obese, which is not the body plan we are being born into, and it is mostly our diet that is shaping us now. We did not evolve in a world where food was so readily available, the way that it is today, so yes, we control our diet but it is not always an easy thing to do. Our senses of smell and taste were highly adaptive features two million years ago for our ancestors the hunter-gatherers, these people lived in an environment different from ours in that there was a limited supply of high density foods with high nutrition and they faced periods of food depravation. Today, industrialized “civilized” societies live in a food infested environment, but our genes still think that maybe we may starve. Our nonhomeostatic brain reward system that developed over millions of years and that has worked for millions of years, is what forces us to eat as many nutritionally high density foods as come into our sight is stronger than our will to limit our meal size and weight gain (King, 2013). Widespread obesity is a true pandemic and it is something that is recent, that has never before been seen in the past.

Perhaps the best way to go about our dietary problems is to practice an out of sight out of mind approach and do away with all the food that is not nutritional, make candy and cake more expensive, or put a ban on soda; unfortunately we know this will perhaps never happen. It is important that we keep an evolutionary view in mind when we are developing new foods, that these foods not only be safe but also be beneficial to human health if it is meant for human consumption. When we were babies we had the perfect food for our bodies it will be a beautiful day when we learn to accomplish that same harmony with our diet in later life. In the end we have had our diets evolve because we have more food and it is easier to attain and make, but our feeding mechanisms have remained hunter gatherer in nature. So, it is our evolutionary responsibility to find a way to restore peace between mankind and the carbohydrates, sugars, fats, and proteins we so desperately need for our survival.

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