100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le [Book Summary – Review]

Our food habits certainly need to change. The Western world is now ravaged by illnesses connected to nutrition. More individuals than ever are affected by type 2 diabetes, obesity, food allergies, and several cancer types.

What specifically is wrong with the way we’re eating, and what ought we to be doing in its place? A few solutions can be found in the diets of our ancestors. It’s hardly surprising that the popularity of paleo or caveman diets has significantly increased over the past ten years because they are typically healthier than modern humans.

However, to fully understand the situation, we must look even further back in time, beginning with our oldest, tree-dwelling ancestors 100 million years ago and investigating how they adjusted to shifting habitats and diets. Our chapters explore whether our modern diets would benefit from the nutritional habits of these ancient ancestors.

You will discover more about human evolution on this tour.

  • why occasionally eating bugs is a good idea;
  • a peculiar sickness that mostly afflicted the wealthy; and
  • why milk is not as nutritious as you would believe.

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Chapter 1 – The insect- and fruit-based meals of our earliest ancestors wouldn’t suit us today.

One of our earliest ancestors would be astounded by the selection if he entered one of today’s stores. After all, there isn’t much of a comparison between the dinnertime alternatives accessible to our ancient ancestors and the crowded shelves of modern grocery shops.

Around 100 million years ago, when our earliest relatives first appeared, they mainly subsisted on insects and lived in the trees of tropical woods. Even though it might seem disgusting to us now, insects are a calorie-dense source of vitamins and iron.

In reality, insects would still be a wonderful supplement to the diet of contemporary humans. However, it isn’t wise for us to try to survive only on insects. The exoskeletons of insects are constructed of chitin, a material that humans can no longer digest, yet our predecessors possessed the enzymes to do so. Eating bugs has the additional drawback of causing allergies and producing toxic substances.

However, eating insects in moderation would greatly benefit contemporary food production. For instance, crickets convert feed into calories 12 times more effectively than cows do, creating roughly 50% less carbon dioxide per pound than cows do.

Nevertheless, some 60 million years ago, our ancestors made the switch away from creepy crawlies. The environment started to cool about this time, and as the air became more humid, the first fruit-bearing trees started to appear.

Our ancestors also lost the capacity to manufacture vitamin C, which is necessary to stop cell damage, at this time. They were only able to endure this shift because fruit provided an abundance of vitamin C.

So, some 30 million years ago, our ancestors switched from eating meat to only eating fruit. Fruit includes fructose, which our body can only digest in certain amounts; excessive fruit consumption can result in insulin resistance and pancreatic cancer.

Ashton Kutcher, an actor, had to learn this the hard way. Kutcher spent a month adhering to Steve Jobs’ fruitarian diet to prepare for the role. Kutcher was hospitalized for pancreatic problems after just 30 days.

Chapter 2 – The history of the human race has been significantly influenced by meat, with both its advantages and disadvantages.

Our ancestors started leaving the trees and moving to the land some two million years ago. They became to resemble humans more, and their appetites also altered.

These early people started hunting and foraging at about the same time, eating more meat than ever. Their brains began expanding fast as a result.

In fact, during the span of just one million years, the size of our ancestors’ brains quadrupled a development that may have been brought on by their shift to a carnivorous diet. Meat is the ideal food for a developing brain since it is full of essential fatty acids. 

Additionally, having large brains helped our ancestors evolve. Smarter, better-organized hunting parties could bring in more prey, which increased the likelihood that their families would live and procreate.

Although eating too much meat is unhealthy, it has for us, it does have several advantages. We can only endure a certain amount of the high protein content of meat.

The nitrogen molecules that are produced during protein digestion by the human body have the potential to be hazardous. The levels of these substances become excessively high if a person consumes more protein than 40% of their daily calories.

Meat includes a lot of cholesterol, which may mix with other chemicals to cause health problems such as clogged arteries when consumed in excess. But not all cholesterol is harmful. It boosts the amount of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, which is excellent for our emotions, and it is a precursor to important sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

The majority of the body’s cholesterol is naturally produced by our livers and intestines, but animal items like meat and dairy also provide extra factors that have an impact on our hormone levels. Girls that consume a diet high in cholesterol mature sexually early as a result. They may thus reproduce more quickly, possibly leading to the birth of more children, but they also have shorter life expectancies. 

Chapter 3 – Not all meat replacements were healthy, although some civilizations did accept them.

Today, with so many options at our disposal, eating a healthy vegetarian diet is simple. Alternatives to red meat, however, are not new. Even so, our carnivorous ancestors diversified. For instance, fish was a common food in many civilizations, even if not everyone acquired a liking for it.

This is what happened:

Locals adopted fish as an affordable and healthy cuisine in many places where it was difficult to find beef. This was a wise decision given that fatty fish is loaded with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, both of which are essential for bone health.

However, not all cultures who had access to fish decided to eat it. There were cultural factors at play as well as the challenges of eating fish (all those bothersome bones!). In several societies, fish were revered as sacred creatures that dwelt in holy elements. Some people, like the Apache Indians, believed that fish was dirty.

Animal milk became a significant meat alternative some 8,000 years ago. Animal milk is not that beneficial for human consumption, although it is still frequently considered a type of elixir.

Animal milk offers several advantages and was initially consumed by humans in Northern European countries. While an animal may only be eaten once, it can be milked several times. It is also nutritive and high in calcium.

According to statistics, drinking milk causes youngsters to grow taller, but the health of their bones may suffer as a result. The countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of hip fractures worldwide due to the population of these countries being taller than normal.

People from areas with minimal history of dairy usage absorb calcium more effectively, which is another problem with milk. This implies that a man from, let’s say, Africa who drinks a lot of milk might have dangerously high calcium levels. Given that studies have connected high blood calcium levels to prostate cancer, this is particularly worrisome.

The history of vegetables and their function in modern nutrition will be discussed next.

Chapter 4 – It was only out of necessity that humans started consuming vegetables.

Every parent has occasionally demanded that their child eat her vegetables. After all, vegetables are wholesome and nutrient-rich. The majority of plants are, in fact, unhealthy, and many are even harmful.


Because they cannot escape, plants are encircled by other species that want to consume them. They must protect themselves since they are unable to flee. To accomplish this, they engage in chemical warfare, creating compounds that deter, hurt, and occasionally even kill the creatures that attempt to consume them.

For example, cucurbitacin, a bitter compound that can be found in some crops like squash and cucumbers, can be bred out of domesticated varieties to reduce the amount of bitterness. Or consider lectin-containing foods such as beans, lentils, and soybeans. You’ll become ill and your liver might get damaged if you consume too many of them.

In actuality, a certain kind of lectin is one of the deadliest toxins known to man. Its name is ricin, and the seeds of the castor oil plant contain it. Racine is capable of inflicting a torturous death even in minute doses.

Why, therefore, did people start consuming plants in the first place?

The fact is that when other food sources became limited, mankind shifted to growing and consuming plants. Around 12,000 years ago, this shift toward agriculture happened concurrently in various regions of the planet.

Several ideas are explaining why this occurred, but the loss of huge, appetizing species like the mammoth was the main factor. These animals most likely perished as a result of human overhunting and the invasion of trees into the grasslands they called home.

As soon as this important supply of food disappeared, people started hunting for substitutes. They decided on plants since they could be easily cultivated and were widely available. From that point on, plant-based meals predominated in locations with a high population density and where animals were difficult to come by.

Chapter 5 – Accelerated dietary and lifestyle changes have given rise to new illnesses.

Unexpectedly adaptive for a living thing, the human body can acclimate to significant nutritional changes. However, doing so could take several generations. When food processing started to become commonplace, the lengthy duration of this procedure presented a challenge.

With little time to adjust, humans were suddenly presented with a wide range of new diseases. For instance, among the wealthier inhabitants of East and Southeast Asia, beriberi, a terrifying disease, first appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century. Heart difficulties, mobility concerns, and mental bewilderment were among the symptoms the affected individuals displayed.

In the end, it was determined that a severe B1 deficiency was to blame for the disease. Wealthier individuals were impacted as a result of their ability to purchase the “better” highly polished rice, which had lost much of its B1 content.

Pellagra then spread like wildfire among the impoverished communities of the American South around 1900. These groups had been consuming industrially milled corn products, which are significantly deficient in vitamin B3 as compared to fresh corn. Embarrassing signs of the illness included red sores, weakness, and even dementia.

Processed food is a concern, but it’s not the only one. Our health might also be negatively impacted by other lifestyle changes. Just consider the rising rates of food allergies and asthma. Although there is considerable disagreement as to why lifestyle choices are probably at a fault.

Remember, the majority of people spend a lot of time indoors. We don’t get as much sun exposure as we should, which results in reduced amounts of vitamin D, sometimes known as the “sunshine vitamin.” Human allergies, therefore, increase because pregnant women with low vitamin D levels are more likely to have allergic offspring.

Think about the hygiene hypothesis if you don’t agree with that theory. It suggests that modern children’s allergies and asthma are brought on by their too-clean upbringing. The theory is that a child’s immune system requires exposure to some germs to teach itself how to distinguish between benign proteins and dangerous bacteria and fight diseases effectively.

Chapter 6 – Your weight isn’t explained by your calorie consumption, and a few more pounds may not be such a terrible thing after all.

Did you know that Americans consume 300 more calories per person on average than Japanese people? That seems good, but is it worthwhile to follow their lead?

There are benefits and drawbacks to calorie restriction. For instance, just because Japanese people live longer than Americans does not imply that they have a superior lifestyle.

You can lose attention if you consume too few calories since your brain won’t have enough energy to function. Additionally, eating too little protein over time may weaken your muscles.

Consequently, trade-offs must be made. For instance, many animals may restrict unnecessary biological activities, such as reproduction, at a time of food scarcity. Similarly, women who consume fewer calories than males will live longer but will also be less fertile and more irritable.

It’s not a good idea to watch every calorie, even if you’re overweight. To begin with, being a little overweight is beneficial.

For instance, those who are a few pounds larger than usual and those whose body mass index ranges from 25 to 30 live longer than individuals who are of ordinary weight. This could be a result of the fact that those who are bigger have more fat to shield them from toxins and more energy to make up for the weight lost when suffering from severe disease.

However, even if a few additional pounds were unhealthy, there is less of a correlation between weight and calorie intake than you might think. In actuality, studies have shown that lean modern hunter-gatherers consume roughly the same number of calories as the typical modern American and participate in similar levels of physical activity. The main distinction is that their seasonal variations in calorie consumption are bigger.

Simply said, not all variations in body weight may be attributed to calorie intake and physical activity.

Finally, it is futile to focus on your overall calorie intake without taking into account the sort of food they are derived from. It doesn’t matter how few calories you consume if they are all from junk food and soda. 

Chapter 7 – While everyone has different nutritional demands, eating can and should be a social activity.

Consider a scenario where your friend invites you to a buffet lunch but you’re trying to eat well. Are meatballs, a bowl of oats, or just a glass of Prosecco better options? It depends, is the response.

After all, the majority of meals and drinks aren’t either good or bad. Because each person is unique, it’s important to take into account factors like age, ethnicity, and how much of a specific item you’ll consume when deciding which foods are healthy for you.

Take alcohol only. Your gut and brain will suffer if you consume too much alcohol. However, research has shown that moderate alcohol use in those over forty years of age aids in the prevention of coronary heart disease.

However, many Asian Americans should exercise caution when drinking. That’s because they naturally create less alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme required by your body to metabolize alcohol in your stomach. As a result, Asians consume more alcohol per drink than their Caucasian counterparts do, which results in them becoming drunker.

Similar to how females who consume a lot of meat mature sexually earlier and are thus more susceptible to certain malignancies, as you discovered in the last chapter. Early puberty is unimportant for senior women, and consuming more meat will probably help them get stronger.

Therefore, nutritional requirements differ greatly from person to person, but this does not imply that eating should be a private matter. Nowadays, eating may be a solitary activity. But keep in mind that in the past, our ancestors would go on collective hunts and share their food. This benefited the local economy and made sure that everyone received a fair share.

We should make meals more social to enjoy these advantages. It might be as simple as encouraging pay-what-you-can restaurants or eating out more with friends. By implementing these steps, we may restore dining as a social activity where people care about one another.

100 Million Years of Food by Stephen Le Book Review

Over the past several million years, human food has undergone a significant evolution. We may comprehend the elements that influence our current meals by following this evolutionary path. There isn’t a universal diet that works for everyone, but there are certain recommendations that might lead to better health and enjoyment.

To save your health, sell your automobile.

Everyone is aware that leading an active lifestyle is healthful. But when given the option, we frequently choose to stay with what is familiar. Therefore, think about parting with your automobile and requiring yourself to adopt active transportation.

If you’re not sure if it’s a good idea for your health, simply think about the people who live on certain hilly islands where it was difficult to construct roads. They never had roads, therefore it was never possible to travel by automobile. These island residents commute by foot and bicycle and, as a result, have longer, healthier lives than their counterparts on the mainland.

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Savaş Ateş

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