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  • Our ancestors ate nearly four times the amount of vegetables and fruits as we do today
  • In ancient times fruits were higher in antioxidant content because they were smaller, like blueberries, with more skin, which is where the antioxidants are located
  • The modern American diet has substituted cereal grains for fruits and vegetables, lowering antioxidant intake significantly
 

Why Did Our Ancestors Have Over 500% More Antioxidants than We Do?

September 08, 2011 | 68,301 views

I was introduced to the Paleo Diet concept over 25 years ago in 1985 when I read Dr. Boyd Eaton's seminal New England Journal of Medicine paper Paleolithic Nutrition. This was among the first to suggest that our genome evolved according to the nutrition requirements of ancient man, and modern-day dietary changes have occurred much too rapidly for adequate genetic adaptation.

The result is that the Standard American Diet now in no way resembles that of our ancestors, and this mismatch may be triggering some of the common "diseases of civilization," such as:

Heart disease Type 2 diabetes
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Hypertension
Lung and colon cancers Obesity
Diverticulosis Dental caries

Ancestors' Diet Was Far Richer in Antioxidants

There are many experts who believe that one of the main benefits of following a Paleo-type diet is related to the enormous amount of antioxidants that were consumed. Our ancestors' diet was made up of 50 percent fruits and vegetables, compared with just 13 percent today -- and fruits and veggies are, of course, excellent sources of antioxidants.

As the generations have gone by, modern man has largely replaced fruits and vegetables with cereal grains, to the detriment of our waistlines and our health. According to Dr. Eaton, our antioxidant intake would be 4.5 times higher if we ate as many fruits and vegetables as our ancestors, and nearly 7 times higher if we ate wild fruits.

Why Fruit Used to be Healthier

You probably know that one of the primary ways you can improve your health and weight, and reduce your risk of chronic disease, is to limit your intake of fructose, including that found in fruit.

As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. But for most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you're virtually guaranteed to consume "hidden" sources of fructose in processed foods.

The truth is that even though fruit is obviously much healthier than soda, too much of it can be nearly as detrimental to your health as soda. It is a quantity issue and once you exceed a threshold limit when you have insulin resistance, you are asking for trouble.

This was much less of an issue in ancient times because they were consuming wild fruits. The wild fruits of our ancestors were smaller and resembled most closely what a blueberry is today. Modern cultivated fruits are much larger, which means they have a lot more sweet inside and less skin. The sweet "pulp" or "flesh" of the fruit is where much of the fructose is, whereas the skin holds the antioxidants.

Since wild fruits were much smaller than today's fruits and thus had a much larger proportion of their volume as skin and seeds, they provided a healthy source of antioxidants with limited amounts of fructose.

Since most of the wild type fruits are not commercially available to us today we need to be very careful about making sure we have a full complement of antioxidants that replicate our ancestors' dietary patterns. For most of us this will mean supplementation since we simply do not have access to these types of fruits today.

Why it's So Important to Eat a Wide Variety of Antioxidants

Antioxidants are nature's way of defending your cells against attack by these free radicals, thereby helping you resist aging and disease. If you don't have adequate antioxidants to step in and combat free radicals, then oxidative stress tends to lead to accelerated tissue and organ damage. This is what makes antioxidants so crucial to your health.

It's important to understand, though, that there are different types of antioxidants.

Antioxidants are often lumped together into one category in how they protect your cells from free radicals, but they are actually very different. For instance, certain antioxidants are water-soluble while others are fat-soluble. Why is this important? Because the interior of your cells and the fluid between them are composed mainly of water, whereas your cell membranes are made largely of fat.

Free radicals can strike both the interior of your cells and the cell membrane, so you need to be sure you're consuming both water-soluble and fat-soluble antioxidants to protect you.

If you consume only water-soluble antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, polyphenols or resveratrol, your cell membranes will still be vulnerable to free radical damage. Likewise, if you consume only fat-soluble antioxidants, such as astaxanthin and ubiquinol, the interior of your cells are still vulnerable. Consume them both, and you're giving your cells a far more comprehensive shield against free radical damage.

Consuming plenty of raw, locally harvested, organic vegetables is one of the best ways to get the antioxidants your body needs, in levels that most closely replicate the Paleo Diet. Juicing is a convenient way to increase your intake, especially if you eat the pulp.

Additionally, reducing your sugar and fructose intake will decrease your antioxidant stress so that you will need less, and the ones that you have will work better and last longer. So limit sugars, including fructose, and processed foods, and increase your intake of veggies to optimize your antioxidant intake. You can also wisely select targeted nutrients to supplement your food choices.

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