Technological progress has many benefits. Yet some aspects of older styles of life, including sleeping, eating, and moving patterns, and even aspects of food production, may have been healthier for person and environment alike than typical modern versions. If we can rediscover and re-engage these, health and well-being could improve within the modern context with all its actual benefits.

Biology was revolutionized with the single principle of evolution by natural selection. Evolutionary theory can also help sort out the field of nutrition, though not alone. A combination of evolutionary reasoning, rising biochemical understanding, and careful scientific study have revealed a great deal, far more than most people’s impressions of random and oscillating results from the latest headlines.

There are several lines of evidence: understanding biochemical pathways and interactions, controlled nutrition experiments (not associational epidemiological studies, which are both commonly performed and mostly useless in this field), and archaeological and anthropological investigations of hunter-gatherer groups.

The illusion in hunter/gatherer mortality statistics

Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, by Edward S. Curtis.

Inupiat Family from Noatak, Alaska, 1929, by Edward S. Curtis.

One of these lines of evidence is research on hunter/gatherer populations conducted prior to their taking up modern practices such as eating sugar and grain and sitting around a lot and snacking, some of which was conducted by Weston Price. These groups exhibited much lower or even non-existent incidences of the “diseases of civilization” (cancer, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, cognitive degeneration, and tooth decay).

Yet a popular image of hunter/gatherer groups is that their lives were necessarily "nasty, brutish, and short." Statistics showing low average life expectancy among such groups are a favorite of casual critics.

But such numbers conceal more than they reveal because non-dietary factors impacting pre-modern life collapse the averages. These include infant and childhood mortality, death of mothers in childbirth, predators, prey fighting back, fights and battles among rival individuals and bands, accidents and resulting infections, and infectious diseases. None of those elements, however, tell us anything about what we are investigating, primarily: What is the effect of nutrition on long-term degenerative disease?

Evidence suggests that hunter-gatherers who managed to survive such events tended to live long, with high awareness, robustness, and capability—and with little to no sign of the many and varied degenerative diseases afflicting moderns. The idea that they didn’t develop these diseases only because they died young does not hold up. The ones who lived long also did not develop them.

To The Primal Blueprint and beyond

The book that got me started on this path of research and personal experimentation in October 2010 was The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. This is a nice blend of open attitude, systematically presented information, and a balanced and principled approach that goes beyond nutrition to exercise and other habits viewed using these fundamental principles.

Other works subsequently informed my perspectives through many stages as I transformed my approach to nutrition and exercise step by step based on new information and experiences. I have passed through primal and paleo approaches and LCHF, then an emphasis on fasting, spending plenty of time at each phase, and then moving on to a largely zerocarb approach with occasional fasting.

Beyond these many food and training changes over these years, I also installed f.lux to alter computer screen color temperature according to the time of day, switched to a standing desk for some types of work, bought a sunrise-simulation alarm clock, stopped smartphone reading in the sleeping area (audiobooks allowed), and removed social media apps from mobile devices. These measures have improved sleep quality and reduced eye strain.

Finally, I have discovered extremely important insights into agriculture and environmental issues that connect back to such food choices, which results in an integrated picture.

One of the more exciting recent additions to my understanding of nutrition comes in a surprising form: the importance of also not eating sometimes, or fasting, to which we turn...