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Should we revive ancestral dietary lifestyle for good health?

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Amid all the rush to find a balanced diet that can keep one healthy, prevent from early ageing and kiss lifestyle-induced diseases a goodbye, modern calorie-counters in India have discovered a new fad: adopting ancestral dietary habits.

The Paleolithic, caveman or Stone Age diet — until now a purely Western phenomenon — is fast catching up with the weight-loss crazy young Indians, say health experts, warning that since the time and space are so varied with our ancestors and their food habits, it is actually difficult to suggest a one-size-fits-all formula when it comes to emulating the palaeo diet for super health.

Simply put, the caveman diet consists of what our ancestors who, in order to survive the harsh, brutal forces of nature, ate whatever came their way — from meat to plant-rich food, fruits, nuts and vegetables in raw, boiled or barbecued form.

“No doubt that our ancestral diet was full of fibres and nutrients that definitely compliment super health and slow-ageing. The food consumed today is processed in nature, low on fibre and high on sodium. This is a reason behind the increasing ailments like diabetes, heart diseases, etc.,” says Dr Ritika Samaddar, head (nutrition and dietetics) at Max Super Specialty Hospital in the capital.

“However, we need to keep in mind that our ancestors had a very different lifestyle from us. They were far more physically active; hence the high-fiber content in their food got easily digested,” she told IANS.

But was a balanced diet ever there on our ancestors’ mind? One has to remember the fact that our tree-living ancestors like chimpanzees and orangutans — apart from partying on a rare meat supper once in a while — were largely vegetarians, eating all kinds of fruits, nuts and plant-rich diets.

So what is an ideal palaeo diet? One from 30,000 years ago when the Neanderthals disappeared from the Earth? From 100,000 years ago or 30 million years ago?

If we believe Rob Dunn, biologist at North Carolina State University and an authority on food and its ancestral journey, our ancestors were not at one with nature. “Nature tried to kill them and starve them out; they survived anyway, sometimes with more meat, sometimes with less, thanks in part to the ancient flexibility of our guts,” he wrote in a blog on the Scientific American website.

“As for me, I will choose to eat the fruits and nuts like my early ancestors, not because they are the perfect palaeo diet, but instead because I like these foods, and modern studies suggest that consuming them offers benefits,” he added.

According to Dr Samaddar, it is important to take a note of important elements that were part of our ancestral diet but do not try to ape them. “Include raw veggies and fruits for high-fiber and nutrients but in quantities that match our lifestyle. Have an active lifestyle and consume lots of water to ensure good digestion,” she advises.

Not just meat and fruits, researchers are now looking into the carbohydrate consumption in early humans. According to a team of researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, eating meat may have kick-started the evolution of bigger brains, but carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of cooked starchy foods together with the evolution of genes that increased our ability to digest starch, made modern humans smarter.

“The human brain uses up to 25 percent of the body’s energy budget and up to 60 percent of blood glucose. While synthesis of glucose from other sources is possible, it is not the most efficient way and these high glucose demands are unlikely to have been met on a low carbohydrate diet,” noted the researchers in a paper published in the journal The Quarterly Review of Biology.

For Seema Singh, chief clinical nutritionist at Fortis Flt Lt Rajan Dhall Hospital, key takeaways from the ancestral diet are wholesome fruits and vegetables.

“Fruits and vegetables are full of antioxidants that protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and carotenoids help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Other naturally occurring antioxidants include flavonoids, phenols and lignans,” Singh told IANS.

The paleolithic diet excludes dairy or cereal products and processed food and alcohol or coffee. “This diet is said to improve health as paleolithic nutrition improves lipid profile in people with high cholesterol to a greater extent than traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations,” explains Sunita Roy Chowdhary, chief dietitian at the BLK Super Specialty Hospital.

For Meera Roy, nutritionist and dietitian at tele-health venture Healthenablr, people are stressed out today and tend to have high-calorie foods which are not balanced.

“I agree with the fact that raw, boiled and barbequed are the best food. It keeps us healthy and slows down the ageing process as the quantity of fat is very less and the nutrients are almost intact,” Roy told IANS.

Dunn, meanwhile, supplements his diet chart with much coffee, maybe a glass of wine and some chocolate as “these supplements are not palaeo by any definition,” but he likes them anyway.

So, as researchers the world over try to dissect the best palaeo diet, in a nutshell, the key to good health is a lifestyle that includes balanced food, exercise and proper rest and not any diet per se, experts point out. (Nishant Arora, IANS)

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Next Story

Ebola Outbreaks in Congo

Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge. The city of Mbandaka, which has one confirmed Ebola case, is an hour's flight from the capital, Kinshasa, and is located on the Congo River, a busy travel corridor.

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Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge.
Ebola virus outbreaks again. Pixabay.

Congo’s latest Ebola outbreak does not yet warrant being declared a global health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Friday, as health officials rushed to contain the often deadly virus (Ebola) that has spread to a city of more than 1 million.

The vast, impoverished country now has 14 confirmed Ebola cases, with dozens of others probable or suspected.

WHO officials, speaking after an experts’ meeting on the outbreak, said vaccinations could begin as early as Sunday in a key test of an experimental vaccine.

The health agency called the risk to the public in Congo “very high” and the regional risk high, with the global risk low. The Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are nearby and are among nine neighboring countries alerted. WHO said there should be no international travel or trade restrictions.

Dr. Robert Steffen, who chaired the expert meeting, said there was “strong reason to believe this situation can be brought under control.”

He noted the almost immediate response by WHO and partners after Ebola was announced in Congo last week. Without a vigorous response, “the situation is likely to deteriorate significantly,” he added. If the outbreak spreads internationally, the expert committee would reconvene to reconsider its assessment of the epidemic.

Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge. The city of Mbandaka, which has one confirmed Ebola case, is an hour’s flight from the capital, Kinshasa, and is located on the Congo River, a busy travel corridor.

For a health crisis to constitute a global health emergency it must meet th

Until now, the outbreak had been confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, travels more slowly.
Ebola Virus. Wikimedia.

ree criteria stipulated by WHO: It must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease, it must be a “serious, unusual or unexpected” situation, and it may require immediate international action for containment.

‘Major, major game-changer’

Ebola has twice made it to Congo’s capital in the past and was rapidly stopped. Congo has had the most Ebola outbreaks of any country, and Dr. David Heymann, a former WHO director who has led numerous responses to Ebola, said authorities there have considerable expertise in halting the lethal virus.

To read more on the same topic: How Chikungunya Virus Causes Arthritis Pain Decoded

The Ebola vaccine proved highly effective in the West Africa outbreak a few years ago, although the vaccine was used long after the epidemic had peaked. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week. One challenge will be keeping the vaccine cold in a region with poor infrastructure and patchy electricity.

Just one Ebola death in the current outbreak has been confirmed so far. Congo’s health ministry late Thursday said the total number of cases is 45, including 10 suspected and 21 probable ones.

The health ministry said two new deaths have been tied to the cases, including one in a suburb of Mbandaka. The other was in Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week. It is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Mbandaka.

“This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak,” Dr. Peter Salama, WHO’s emergency response chief, warned Thursday after the first urban case was announced. “Urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do.”

Until now, the outbreak had been confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, travels more slowly.

Health teams

Doctors Without Borders said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people were being monitored. WHO said it was deploying about 30 more experts to Mbandaka.

Read more: Study Shows That Antibacterial in Toothpaste May Combat Severe Lung Diseases

Amid fears of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries, the U.N. migration agency said Friday it would support the deployment of Congolese health teams to 16 entry points along the nearby border with the Republic of Congo for infection control and prevention.

The U.N. children’s agency said it was mobilizing hundreds of community workers to raise awareness on protection against the disease.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain. VOA.