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Lately, I have been fascinated by the eating habits of the relatively disease-free ancient humans compared to the diet of today’s modern humans. And while the subject of how many proteins versus carbohydrates we should eat is highly debated, many experts believe that we eat about the same amounts of most food groups today as the ancient humans did! (1, 2)
What literally jumped, leapt and flew off the research pages at me, however, was the amount of fats and fiber ancient humans ate in comparison to modern humans! Ancient humans ate 100 grams of fiber per day, compared to a healthy modern human who has to make a special effort to get 20+ grams a day! (1)
And while reports of the fat intake of ancient humans vary from source to source, some experts believe that hunter gatherers ate as much as 75% of their diet in the form of fat. In comparison, modern humans have been told for 30 years that a diet of just 10-20% fat is ideal, and only recently have experts been suggesting a diet of 20-35% good fats. (1, 2)
I truly believe that the lack of healthy fats and fibers in our diet has derailed the health, intelligence and longevity of modern humans. This research is astonishing – and I am so excited to share it with you. Join me in this two-part series as I explain how fat and fiber might just be the missing food link for modern humans!
The Fiber Facts
Why did ancient humans eat five times the amount of fiber as modern humans? Today we are told to eat fiber because, among other reasons, it blocks the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. But while we currently have way too much sugar in our diet, ancient humans did not. The sweetest fruit in ancient times was only about as sweet as a carrot! (1) So there must have been another reason for eating so much fiber. But first, importantly, where did these ancient humans get their sugar fix? Or did they?
Let me be precise. According to the experts, hunter-gatherers ate about 35-40% carbohydrates, while the average American gets about 52%. (1) Hunter-gatherers ate about 2% of those carbohydrates as sugar, while modern humans are getting up to 30%. That’s a problem!
The Fiber and Healthy Fats Connection
While I will go into the question of good fats in greater detail in the second part of this series, let me walk you through the connection between these two oft-neglected food groups in modern cultural trends and in the body.
For the past 30 years, we have been told that fats are bad. The food industry has been feeding us a diet of processed fats and oils that sit on a shelves for months without going bad. Fats that didn’t go bad allowed our food industry to feed millions of people quickly and efficiently. The problem with these processed oils – which includes most cooked oils – is that they are not digestible. What’s worse is that they are found in the majority of organic packaged foods found at your favorite health food stores, such as Whole Foods Market. These cooked and/or processed fats congest the liver, deliver little (if any) energy, and quickly store as fat. Could this be why our culture is exhausted and overweight with blood sugar concerns of epidemic proportions?
The body gets energy primarily from fats (the healthy kind) or carbohydrates (a long chain of sugars). It is pretty logical then that if you take away the good fats that the body has been using for energy for millions of years, it will crave, demand and overeat the only other reliable energy source – carbs and sugars!
As a result, we have seen the intake of carbohydrates soar in the last thirty years in an effort to provide a healthier fuel supply, because fats were deemed public enemy number one for the heart.
More recently, the dangers of excess carbohydrates have been exposed, and carbohydrates are our new “public enemy” as they are linked to excessive weight gain, heart health concerns and a host of other health problems. The Paleo diet and other versions of the low-carb craze would like us to eat a minimal amount of carbs and almost no starches, leaving us with nothing but meat and veggies. It is highly debated as to whether this is an accurate representation of the true hunter-gatherer diet. According to Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman, hunter-gatherers ate between 35-40% of their diet as carbs, (1) not just meat and veggies.
My take on these extreme seesaw diets are a topic for another day, but if you’d like, check out my book The 3-Season Diet for more.
Without adequate amounts of the fats that our bodies have been genetically accustomed to using for energy, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet have soared as our bodies have demanded an alternate energy source. This on its own may have been enough to create a society-wide blood sugar problem. On top of this, we are not meeting the fiber intake that we need to in order to bring the blood sugar back into balance.
The Bottom Line
The body will demand, crave, and somehow attain the energy it needs. If you take away the good fats in the diet, it will crave sugar. If you replace the sugar and carbs with good fats, the body will stop thinking about sugar. Not a bad idea, particularly because the disease-free hunter-gatherers ate as much as 75% of their diet from fats. Of course, they hadn’t discovered dark chocolate yet!
Fiber and fat act as two prongs of one approach to counteracting the blood sugar concern that is sweeping the nation.
Fiber for Just about Everything that Ails You
According to the latest research, disease-free hunter-gatherers ate 5 times the amount of fiber as modern humans. (1) Going back to our previous question, if blood sugar did not pose a big concern for hunter-gatherers, then why so much fiber?
The benefits of a high-fiber diet are no secret – studies support high-fiber diets for just about everything that ails you. But why did ancient humans need 100 grams of it a day, and does that mean we are not getting enough while averaging around 20 grams a day?
Stuff We Know:
- Fiber acts as a bulking agent to improve intestinal function.
- Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into bloodstream.
- Fiber provides a sense of satiety to prevent overeating.
- Fiber feeds the good bacteria of the intestinal tract, where 80% of our immunity is found.
What We Don’t Hear Much About:
Fiber escorts toxic bile out of the intestines into the toilet. (4) Here’s a visual: bile is like an army of Pac-Men in the liver gobbling up old toxic cholesterol and other fatty substances, toxins and chemicals. (3) When you eat fatty food, the bile is ejected into the small intestine where it keeps right on Pac-Manning toxins and scrubbing the intestinal wall.
In a nutshell, the bile’s job is to attach to and eliminate old cholesterol and toxins while delivering good fats to the blood, brains, skin and heart.
1. If you do not have enough fiber in your diet, up to 94% of the body’s toxic bile will be reabsorbed back into the liver, blood, fat and brain! (4)
2. Without adequate (ridiculous amounts of) fiber, up to 94% of the toxic bile will be re-used by the body 17 times before it is eliminated as waste (4)! That is like washing your dishes for 17 days with the same water before finally, on day 18, replacing your water with clean, clear water.
A Word on Bile
Let’s take a look at the functions of bile:
- It emulsifies fat soluble toxins, pesticides, heavy metals and pollutants.
- It breaks down and delivers good fats to the brain, skin and heart.
- It buffers the stomach acid. Without bile, the stomach cannot produce digestive acid.
- It regulates the bowel movements.
- It stimulates pancreatic enzyme flow.
- It is the immune scrub for the intestinal tract (as we now know, most of our immunity is located in the intestinal tract).
- It removes bad cholesterol out of the body.
If the bile gets old it loses its ability to properly scrub the liver, blood and intestines. It also become sluggish, thick and viscous. This thick bile easily gets congested in the gallbladder, which causes a host of digestive, eliminative and detox problems.
When bile is reabsorbed back into the liver as a result of too little fiber in the diet, the liver, which makes the bile, is probably confused at this point. It literally just sent all the toxic bile to the toilet via the intestines and now it is back.
Overwhelmed, the liver now sends these toxins, now old and oxidized, into the heart and arteries, and they are eventually stored in the fat or even the brain.
Having more fiber in the diet will ensure that the toxic bile is carried to the toilet and out of the body. This will force the liver to make brand new bile daily!
Fine-Tuning the Immunity to Boot
No doubt hunter-gatherers needed a very strong immune system. We now know that:
- The trillions of microbes in the gut do most of the heavy lifting for the immune system.
- We also know that fiber is one of the major fuel supplies for the trillions of microbes. The other fuel supply just so happens to be fat. A high fat and fiber diet guaranteed hunter-gatherers an optimally functioning immune system.
How to Get the Right Amount of Fiber
For starters, aim for 50 grams of fiber per day. Getting 100 grams of fiber per day as you will see is an incredible amount of fiber. For example:
- 1 cup of black beans 3x/day = 36 grams of fiber
- 1/2 cup of barley 3x/day = 9 grams of fiber
- 1/2 cup of asparagus 3x/day = 8 grams of fiber
- 1/2 cup kale 3x/day = 7 grams of fiber
- 3 apples a day = 9 grams of fiber
Total grams of fiber = 69 grams of fiber
If you add a fiber supplement or a fiber-rich cereal to the above list, you can get a sense of the hunter gatherer diet. To tally up the fiber in your diet, follow this chart: http://huhs.harvard.edu/assets/File/OurServices/Service_Nutrition_Fiber.pdf from Harvard University Health Services. (6)
To a surprising degree, human health is dependent on the proper amounts of good fats and fiber in the diet. Now, with a thorough understanding of the role of fiber under our belts, join me next week in Part II of this series where I will discuss the magic of fat!
- Lieberman, D. The Story of the Human Body. Pantheon. new York. 2013
- Perlmutter, D. Grain Brain. Little Brown. New York. 2013
- Biliary Excretion of Drugs and Other Xenobiotics. Annual Review of Pharmacology and Toxicology. Vol. 18: 81-96 (Volume publication date April 1978). DOI: 10.1146/annurev.pa.18.040178.000501
- Guyton and Hall. Textbook of Medical Physiology. 12th edition. Saunders Press. 2011. p 783-86
- http://huhs.harvard.edu/assets/File/OurServices/Service_Nutrition_Fiber.pdf Plant Fiber in Foods. 2nd ed. HCF Nutrition Research Foundation Inc, PO Box 22124, Lexington, KY 40522, 1990
* Please Note: We cannot effectively or legally answer personal health questions here, for further assistance please consider a personalized Ayurvedic Consultation.