The idea that humans are built for a hunter-gatherer diet, rich in meat and fish with no grains or pulses, is wrong. Humans continued evolving past the Palaeolithic era and our Neolithic ancestors adapted to the plant-based diet they relied on.
Previous studies have shown that Neolithic farmers of 10,000 years ago relied much more heavily on plant foods than previously thought. A new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, reveals how the shift in European diets after the introduction of farming led to genetic adaptations that favoured the dietary trends of the time – a predominantly plant-based diet.
During the Neolithic period, farming rapidly spread across Europe reaching Britain and Northern Europe around 6,000 years ago. These Neolithic farmers relied on a mostly plant-based diet, compared to the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers that preceded them. Because they ate fewer long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) than their predecessors, they developed enzymes to make them in the body from short chain fats found widely in plant foods (nuts and seeds). LCPUFAs are important for brain development and cognitive function.
This provides further evidence that we have evolved to be flexible eaters and that we continued to evolve well into the Neolithic era. Other modern adaptations include increased production of amylase, an enzyme that helps us digest carbohydrates or starch. The research clearly shows that humans have more characteristics in common with herbivores than carnivores and the idea that we are designed to eat meat is not supported by the evidence.
To find out more see our Wheat-Eaters or Meat-Eaters Interactive Table.
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