You are what you eat. This proverbial saying is quite right, since your nutritive intake dictates your health to such a significant extent that focusing on your diet is something humans have been doing since the beginning of time. It is quite natural then to assume that if you are suffering from any illness, it can be the result of an improper diet.
The evolutionary mismatch theory
Recent studies, however, indicate that there may be more to this link between diet and health than we generally perceive. Humans are the product of a long evolutionary process, which has taught us to adapt to and survive in a vast variety of changing circumstances. According to something known as the evolutionary mismatch theory, humans are now unfortunately living in environments that diverge vastly from the ones they evolved in.
This leads to emotional, cognitive and behavioural inconsistencies or an evolutionary mismatch, which has profound implications on physiological and psychological health. As per the nutrition health aspect of this theory, our bodies have evolved to consume and digest the foods our ancestors ate and dramatic divergence from these food habits can cause metabolic health problems.
Evolutionary mismatch in diet
The findings of a new study published in the journal Science Advances support this theory of evolutionary mismatch in our diets and links this issue to the rising prevalence of obesity and other health problems all over the world.
The researchers behind this study argue that there are many types and subtypes of diet across the world, followed by people belonging to different cultures, and none are inherently harmful. It’s only when humans deviate immensely from these traditional and evolutionary diets suddenly or dramatically that the mismatch occurs and causes health issues.
To prove this argument, the researchers studied the health data of 1,226 adults from the pastoralist population of the Turkana in Kenya. The Turkana lead a traditionally nomadic life and their diet is based on livestock, low or no carbohydrates, a complete lack of processed foods and very little access to drinking water.
What a shift from a traditional diet may cause
The scientists found that the Turkana participants who led traditional lives and consumed their traditional diet had very good biomarkers for health. However, the Turkana adults who had moved to urban areas for jobs tended to have poor heart and digestive or metabolic health. They consumed high levels of carbohydrates unlike their traditional counterparts and had much higher levels of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular illness and high blood pressure.
The study also found that the longer the Turkana lived in the city, the less healthy they were likely to be - underlining the fact that these Turkana had a huge evolutionary mismatch and were facing its repercussions. The findings of this study bolster the idea that diverging from your ancestral or traditional diet can have long-term health effects, especially in terms of unnecessary weight gain and obesity.
In the Indian context, this is also completely in line with what many nutritionists have been recommending for years - that instead of adopting new and exotic foods that are supposed to be good for your health, you should eat what your ancestors ate. If weight loss or tackling obesity is your goal, then going local and traditional instead of global and exotic may be the answer you’ve been looking for.
For more information, read our article on Diet chart for weight loss.
Health articles on News18 are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.