The New Year brings a revised fitness resolution – and therefore a new baby. 2017 YouGov research has shown that 37% of Americans set new-year resolutions that included "eating[ing] healthier"; The same percentage promised to "practice more". While diet and exercise resolution may remain static, specific diet and exercise trends come and go; In the last two decades, Crossfit, Zumba, Paleo's Child, Vegan, Atkin, Yoga, and Pilates have had their rise and fall in the canon of fitness.
It is difficult to separate signal noise when it comes to determining optimal healthy habits. In the wake of most health research results, a new study of modern and ancient groups of hunter-gatherers suggests that there is no optimal diet for human health. Instead, there are numerous factors that determine how people in an industrialized world can live healthier.
"Our whole species evolved from community hunter-gatherers," explained Salon Herman Pontzer, chief author of the study and associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University. "We hunted and collected before us, and if you want to understand how our physiology works, it's important to understand hunting and collecting and how it affects our body and health."
The study, published in the Obesity Reviews magazine, studied the way of life, nutrition and physical activity of hundreds of modern groups of hunter-gatherers whose societies were comparable to the ancient ones.
The study notes that hunter-gatherer communities are important for public health experts to study because they can provide a better understanding of the roots of "disease of civilization", which is often thought to be explicitly associated with eating. The study states that obesity and metabolic diseases are rare among hunter and collector communities, both modern and old, as well as type 2 diabetes. Causes of death in hunter and collector communities are mainly traumas, including accidents and violence or contagious acute illnesses. The percentage of deaths from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and cancer is very low, but this does not mean that it is better to eat. All the communities analyzed in the study had exceptional health, and yet they relied on a wide range of diets.
So, what makes community hunter-gatherers healthy? Pontzer, who spent time with the autochthonous group of Hadz in Tanzania, says it could be a huge amount of physical activity.
"If you go to live with hunter-gatherers, what's overwhelmed you is how active you are," Salon said. "You've been up all day – you do not have the luxury to be lazy, and that impressed me very much."
The popular fetishization of pre-farming tribes is a source of inspiration for the savage popular diet Paleo, a food-based diet plan similar to what could be consumed during the Paleolithic period. Pontzer said that this diet is not the most natural diet for people.
"Everyone who claims to have a real natural human diet is wrong," he said. "People are healthy through various children. It's incredibly changeable. "
Some common features among the communities tested in the paper are that everyone is eating a mixture of meat, fish and plants. Generally, they consume more fiber than the average American. When it comes to carbohydrates, these communities rely on vegetables and starchy plants, which prevents carbohydrate consumption from increasing blood sugar. It does not mean that they do not eat sugar: honey makes a large part of the diet for many groups of hunter-gatherers, explains researchers.
For example, among the hunter-gatherers of Hadz, the indigenous group in Tanzania who relies on what some call the old million-year-old diet, honey accounts for 15 to 20 percent of their diet, according to the study. The amount of calories Hadza consumes is similar to the average American, but the variety of foods is different because Hadža relies on a small variety of foods that do not include processed meals and engineering sugar.
According to the study, what you eat and how you exercise are related and important to a healthy life, but perhaps not as the industrial society imagines. As the study explains, exercise can act as a way to regulate energy consumed every day – the energy the body can use to inflate if it is not used. This would be contrary to the theory that "industrialized populations are prone to metabolic diseases because they are less active and therefore consume less calories per day," the study states.
"Exercise can also help regulate appetite, improving balance between energy consumption and intake and exercise to maintain weight loss," says the study. "Regulatory effects of exercise require extra attention."
The researchers concluded the study by drawing attention to other life-style hunter-gatherers that could affect human health.
"Close friendships and family ties, low levels of social and economic inequality and a lot of time spent outdoors are typical for hunters and other small societies," says the study. "Their absence in modern societies is associated with chronic social stress and a number of non-communicable diseases, including metabolic diseases and obesity. As we work to understand the evolutionary roots of modern illness, we need to strive for an integrative and holistic understanding of lifestyle and health among hunters today and in our collective past.
The study tries not to suggest that the industrialized world should return food to hunter-gatherers. Pontzer said it was about finding missing elements in our daily lives working for hunter-gatherers.
"One lesson could be left on your feet and move as much as you can each day, watch what you eat and keep away from foods that are made so you never feel much, you eat tons of fiber … they are all good places to the beginning, "he said.
In other words, do not emphasize Atkins score counting or walking exactly 10,000 steps a day. Wide strokes, not obsessive counting of calories, steps and sugars, seem to be key to health.