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CNN Today

Should Humans Eat Like Their Hunter-Gatherer Ancestors?

Aired December 29, 2000 - 4:40 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Many of us will enter the millennium with a promise to eat healthfully. To do that, the advice we hear most often is follow a low-fat diet. But our guests say you may want to reach back a few millennia instead and adopt the eating habits of our ancient ancestors.

Doctors Mike and Mary Eades are authors of "The Protein Power Lifeplan." And these medical doctors join us today from our Detroit bureau. Welcome.

What is "The Protein Power Lifeplan"?

DR. MARY DAN EADES, CO-AUTHOR, "THE PROTEIN POWER LIFEPLAN": Well, I think that's the way of eating for this new millennium. It's based really on what we were designed to eat as humans. You know, we have been recognizable as humans on this planet for several million years, and when you look at what humans had available to eat, it was basically meat, roots, fruits, nuts, berries, and not the kind of things that the low-fat diet would have you eat. So we try to get back to that.

WATERS: The low-fat, the diets, we have been promoting those, have we not, for years now? Eat less fat and yet we have more obesity than ever before in our history?

DR. MICHAEL R. EADES, CO-AUTHOR, "THE PROTEIN POWER LIFEPLAN": Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's pretty much been proven that the low- fat diet has been a dismal failure. I mean, for the last 20 or 25 years people in this country have been exhorted to cut the fat in their diets and increase the carbohydrates in their diets. And if it's true that low-fat diets were good for us, then we would have seen obesity improving and diabetes improving and all these other diseases associated with fat in the diet.

But not only have we not seen an improvement, we've seen just the opposite. Diabetes, for example, is up by almost a factor of 12. Obesity has doubled in just the last decade along. So clearly, the low-fat diet has not lived up to its billing. And when you go back to what we were designed to eat by 2.6-7 million years of evolutionary pressure, and you put people in those kinds of dietary programs that contain a little bit more meat, more fresh fruits and vegetables, you find that their blood pressure goes down, they're less prone to heart disease, their diabetes improves or goes away, and they lose weight quickly, and they're not hungry and they feel good. WATERS: I've got one of the people on our staff here, apparently has some personal experience on this about protein being risky for diabetics. What is your experience with that?

MICHAEL R. EADES: Absolutely not true. It's not risky for diabetics at all.

Diabetics sometimes have problems with their kidneys. They have problems with kidney function. That's usually brought on by the elevated sugar in their blood. But the protein doesn't cause the problems. And most people need to eat the right amount of protein. They don't need to eat too little. They don't want to eat too little. They need to eat the right amount, which is exactly what we prescribe.

WATERS: You talk about our ancient ancestors and the way they ate, but they didn't have the processed foods we have today, which we -- many of us rely on, and you're telling us that they're all bad for you.

MARY DAN EADES: Virtually anything that's processed is not good for you. If we could tell people one thing, I think, going into the new millennium, it would be eat more at home: Eat your own food that you fix and try to not eat anything that's processed simply because of the things that are in it: the chemicals, the transfats, the incredible sugar.

WATERS: Well, how do you -- how do you get around that? Even if you cook at home, if you go to the supermarket, you're going to get fruits and vegetables even that have been treated with pesticides.

MARY DAN EADES: Well, you know, you can organic and that's helpful. But by processed what we mean is foods that are treated with chemicals in the processing of the food and that are packaged. They usually have all kinds of chemicals as preservatives added to them, and they also usually have fillers: corn starches and wheat and things like that, that humans never had before the dawn of agriculture.

WATERS: I can hear folks saying now as they peruse the diet book sections of their favorite bookstore, oh, here comes another one. How are we to believe -- how are we to believe this one this time?

MICHAEL R. EADES: Well, it's not so much this one this time. I mean, if you go back to the dawn of man, this is the way people have been eating for 2.6, 2.7 million years. This high carbohydrate diet, low-fat diet is really the fad diet. I mean, it's just been around for the last few decades basically, but even agriculture itself has only been around for 8,000 or 10,000 years, which is not only a blink of an eye in evolutionary time. And we haven't had a chance to adapt to that. We haven't had time physically to adapt to that kind of a diet.

And as all anthropologists know, when you look at the anthropological evidence, what you find is that when man converted from basically a hunting-gathering existence to an agricultural existence that relied primarily on grains, his health cratered. Stature declined when that happened. Infant mortality went up. Bone health decreased. Bone density decreased. All kinds of bad things happened, and that's all clear from the anthropological data.

So if anything is a fad diet, it's the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. And a higher protein, a protein-rich diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is basically what we've cut our teeth on as humans.

WATERS: OK. I'm going to try that tonight. Doctors Mike and Mary Eades, authors of the new "Protein Power Lifeplan" book. Thanks so much. Happy New Year to you both.

MARY DAN EADES: Thank you, and to you.

MICHAEL R. EADES: Same to you.

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