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Were We Born to Eat Meat?

By Jiří Kaloč

Meat is a very controversial food. Some say its consumption is making us ill, while others stand by its nutritional benefits. So who’s right? There are many things to consider; let’s start with a trip to the past. What can our ancestors and our evolution tell us about meat consumption?

A short history of meat

The oldest direct proof of meat consumption, a hominid skull that showed signs of regular meat intake, is dated to 1.5 million years ago. Our genetic cousins, chimpanzees, also had meat in their diet some 7 million years ago. And we can go even further back and say that the first mammals consumed meat about 100 million years ago. Clearly, meat has always been on the menu. We even have some genetic adaptations suggesting the same thing; our intestines shortened, we have smaller and weaker jaws, and bigger brains.

Meat and non-industrialized cultures

Now let’s come back a bit closer to the present day and look at non-industrial cultures and their meat-eating habits. A study focusing on 229 tribes still living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle found that none are vegetarian or vegan. In fact, on average meat made up more than half the calories they consumed daily. This would probably be considered unhealthy by our modern standards. But as it turns out, such tribes are remarkably healthy. Traditionally living agricultural as well as hunter-gatherer tribes are in good cardio-vascular condition, and diseases like obesity, type II diabetes, and cancer are almost non-existent among them, regardless of the amount of meat in their diets.

Meat and modern people

But what about modern people living in cities with all the tasty food options of today? Yes, we all eat meat, and a lot of it; but we are not really that healthy on average… quite the opposite actually. However, there is one thing to consider. Meat is a very common food item among people living in Bluezones; those are places where people live the longest (Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica). So, if people who are living to be 100 years old can make it work, maybe we can too.

It seems that we are born with the ability to eat meat and stay healthy. Still, just this fact alone doesn’t tell us if we should continue eating it in a modern setting. Next time we will take a look at meat quality, because the meat that’s available today is a lot different to what it used to be a long time ago.