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Meat Eating More Healthy in Prehistoric Times

Wild meats eaten by ancient hunters contained healthier fats than modern farmed cattle, claims Lauren Cordain of Colorado State University. He and his colleagues have shown that meat from wild elk, deer and antelope contain more beneficial types of fat than meat from today?s grain-fed cattle.

Cordain and his team compared the muscle, brain, bone marrow and fat of wild animals with those of cattle. A wild steak has 2 per cent total fat, as opposed to the 5-7 per cent in lean beef. Wild meat also contains more omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in oily fish and have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. Meat from pasture-grazed cattle resemble wild meat more closely than did meat from cows that were intensively raised on grains such as corn and sorghum. Cordain says, ?We should try and raise our meat so it emulates wild meat.?

Before the advent of agriculture, humans ate whatever meat and fish they could catch, plus seeds and plants that they gathered. Returning to this old way of eating might help to fight the global spread of obesity and associated diseases. Cordain is one of several researchers who recommends the palaeolithic diet that mimics the way hunter-gatherers ate.

This rules out farmed foods such as dairy products, refined cereals, added fats and salt. Instead, we should eat lean meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. The best parts of the meat are the oily brain and bone marrow, since these are rich in healthy fats.

Palaeodiet advocates think that humans evolved to eat and live as hunter-gatherers did, and have not had time to adapt to the modern lifestyle of factory foods. ?We believe there?s a discordance between environmental conditions we were selected for and those we live in now,? says Cordain.

The theory is based on studies of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Staffan Lindeberg of Lund University in Sweden found that islanders in Papua New Guinea who eat yams, fruit, fish and coconut rarely suffer from heart disease. ?The best diet for us now would be something similar to this,? he believes.

But existing hunter-gatherer societies do not always represent past ones, argues anthropologist Stanley Ulijaszek of the University of Oxford in the U.K. Past populations living in different parts of the world had very different diets -- Inuits (eskimos) might have eaten meat exclusively, while others may have lived mainly on vegetables.

But even though the exact proportions cannot be specified, the principle of eliminating agricultural products is nonetheless sound, argues Lindeberg. He is starting to test whether this diet can reduce the incidence of Western killers such as heart disease and diabetes.

However, ?You have to exercise like our ancestors too,? says Barry Bogin, who studies anthoropology and obesity at the University of Michigan in Dearborn. He feels we cannot adapt this diet to feed the world?s population, and says, ?There?s no way you can support six billion people on that kind of diet.?

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