What’s on the menu for people in the Amazon? Not the paleo diet

December 6, 2018
You’re a human and you need food. What do you do?

Well, if you’re a modern city-dweller, you’re likely to drive yourself to the nearest restaurant or grocery store — a process that takes just minutes. But that diet of convenience is a relatively new addition to our menu.

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“If you condense human evolution into a single year, we were hunter-gatherers starting on Jan. 1 and didn’t move into the first major cities until 11:40 p.m. on Dec. 31,” said Benjamin Trumble, an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

However, some modern groups, like the Tsimane of Bolivia, still maintain a way a life similar to our pre-urban ancestors.

“The average Tsimane hunt lasts over eight hours and covers more than 11 miles. Even then, only around two-thirds of Tsimane hunts are successful,” said Trumble, who studies this group. “That would be like walking 11 miles to the grocery store, only to find they had no food.”

Though cities and industrialization have profoundly transformed the way we live and eat, our bodies are still engineered for that former way of life — a disparity that causes many of the health issues we face today, like obesity and heart disease.

To better understand the diet of traditional, subsistence populations, and thus gain insight into our own health needs, Trumble and a group of multi-institutional researchers are working to collect Tsimane dietary data.

“By working with populations that still have to hunt or grow the calories they eat,” he said, “we can get a better understanding of what diet was like before pizza delivery.”

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