It Depends on Whether You Are You A Carnivore, Herbivore or Omnivore.

The hot debate these days about what diet to follow hinges in part on the argument of whether genetically our ancestors were carnivores, herbivores or omnivores. If one believes our ancestors were primarily hunters and genetically carnivorous, then a diet predominantly incorporating meat may arguably be beneficial and suitable. On the other hand, if one believes our ancestors were genetically selected to survive as gatherers eating fruits and vegetables, then it would make sense to adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Perhaps our understanding of the anatomy of the teeth and the function of the jaws will give us some clue. Dr. Richard Leakey, a renowned anthropologist, stated, “You can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t [tear] hide by hand. Our anterior teeth are not suited for tearing flesh or hide. We don’t have large canine teeth and would not have been able to deal with food sources that require those large canines.”

Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down. This facilitates carnivores to tear chunks of flesh from their prey and swallow them whole. On the other hand, humans and herbivores can move their jaws both up and down as well as sideways. This side-to-side movement allows them to grind up starch, fruit, and vegetables with their back teeth. For this reason, molars in human beings are basically flat endowed tiny ridges made for pulverizing plant foods.

Thus, it can be argued humans are basically herbivores. However, humans do have sharp front teeth called incisors and prominent “eye teeth,” or canines, that allows them to tear into smaller sizes of meat from the smaller game. Homo Sapiens eventually invented tools and knives made first from stones and then crude metals that allowed them to hunt and cut larger pieces of game.

So, this leaves us, from the dental anthropological point of view, with the observation that perhaps human beings are omnivores, i.e., both carnivorous and herbivorous at the same time. Being herbivorous does not argue for or against a Paleo diet, a vegetarian/vegan diet, ketogenic diet, Atkin’s, etc. It may be that one diet may be suitable for a particular genetic makeup while another may be beneficial for another genetic makeup.

Perhaps our genetic adaptability, such as being herbivorous, allows the human race to survive in different types of environments, climates and ecological niches, depending what types of food and game are available. Hence, being carnivorous in the jungles or Africa, homo sapiens can thrive. But in the mountainous regions of China, where starch from crops is more available, being more herbivorous has allowed the native population to thrive and prosper over the last 10,000 years.

In conclusion, it’s always wise to check with your physician as to what diet is most suitable for you.

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