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Neanderthal Protein Diet To Extinction

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm almost a vegetarian. When I order a veggie burger, I can feel the defensiveness in people's eyes rise, but I'm humiliated at the thought of telling anyone else what to eat. I don't have a compelling case for my food habits, but to be polite, I do eat meat and fish when invited to dinner. I just get sad when I see infant animals. But I did have a smug moment when I read Paul Pettitt's essay about how the primarily carnivorous diet of Neanderthals may have led to their demise.

They were exceptional hunters, taking down beasts weighing nearly a ton with nothing more than a bayonet spear and resolve. They employed a spear-first, question-later technique. Their diet was so dense in protein that it rivaled that of current wolves. However, their over-reliance on meat was also their undoing.

Is it possible to consume too much protein?

The quick answer is YES!   As with most things in life, there can be too much of a good thing, and eating too much protein may have a cost. People who consume a high protein diet, for example, are more likely to develop kidney stones. A high protein diet rich in red meat and larger amounts of saturated fat may also increase the risk of heart disease and colon cancer, whereas a high protein diet rich in plant-based proteins may not.

So, how much protein is too much protein?

It's difficult to provide a particular response because so much is still unknown, and the specialists themselves disagree. However, for the normal individual (who isn't an excellent athlete or extensively involved in bodybuilding), it's generally advisable to aim for no more than 2 gm/kg; that's roughly 125 grams per day for a 140-pound person. New knowledge may alter our perception of the maximum safe amount, but until we learn more about the safety, dangers, and benefits of high protein diets, this appears to be an acceptable guideline. Protein bars are an excellent source.

Assume you have an unhealthy interest in the lives of your neighbors. You rummage through their garbage cans since you can't ask them directly. You find cooked chicken bones and try to figure out what else they consume.

This is similar to how archaeologists investigate the diets of extinct humans like Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. This is about more than just piqued curiosity. Understanding our forefathers' diets could give crucial information about their evolutionary success or failure.

According to a new study that examined zinc from the tooth of a Neanderthal from Spain, they were primarily carnivores wherever they lived. This research sheds light on why they went extinct.

During the last 200,000 years of the Ice Age, Neanderthals dominated Europe and Western Asia, while Homo sapiens developed in Africa. Their bones and distinctive stone tools can be found throughout Europe and the Near East, and in smaller quantities as far east as Tadjikistan (which shares a border with China).

The Neanderthals lived in the center of the Eurasian steppes (the world's largest grassland, stretching from Hungary to China), an environment devoid of nutritious vegetables. However, surveys of their campsites found that they ate nuts, fruits, mushrooms, shellfish, and other easily acquired foods.

Stone tool cutmarks on the wing bone of a velvet scoter (sea duck) indicate that smaller animals were part of the Neanderthal diet. Neanderthals were a fast-moving species that required a high-calorie diet. The butchered carcasses of horses, reindeer, bison, and mammoths found on Neanderthal campsites show that they hunted the most hazardous animals in their world. However, this does not tell us whether their diets differed from group to group over their vast range.

Low-carbohydrate diet

Advances in molecular biology have increased archaeologists' understanding of early human diets during the last two decades. The cool climates of northern Europe, such as France and Germany, aid in the preservation of collagen in fossil bone. We can extract minute amounts of carbon and nitrogen from the collagen in early human bones using a technique known as stable isotope analysis, and thereby determine where the protein they ate came from. Isotopes are clusters of atoms from the same element with varying masses. 

According to isotopic studies of these bones, Neanderthals in northern Europe obtained 80-90% of their protein from animals. That ranks alongside wolves and hyenas. In warmer climates, collagen in fossil bone easily degrades, revealing information about the diets of southern Neanderthals.

The impact of a spear on the pelvic bone of an adult fallow deer indicates that Neanderthals hunted with bayonet-style spears circa 120,000 years ago. However, scientists have discovered in the last year that levels of zinc in Neanderthal bones also preserve information about the diet of the ancient person to whom they belong.

Zinc isotope studies in recent years have revealed that they offer enormous promise for uncovering clues regarding the evolution of life, such as the rise of eukaryotes, a group of organisms to which humans belong, and the complexity of marine food chains.

Professional hunters

Carnivores' bone zinc levels are lower than those of their prey. The difference is unaffected by age, gender, or time. Zinc ratios can be calculated from bone samples as tiny as 1mg. Even such little levels allow an accurate assessment of an animal's position in the food chain while it was alive.

Neanderthals butchered mammoths in England between 50,000 and 60,000 years ago, using small handaxes. The examination of zinc from the dental enamel of a Neanderthal who lived and died roughly 150,000 years ago in the Spanish Pyrenees provides new insights into prehistoric humans' nutrition. Zinc isotopes were determined in 43 teeth from 12 different animal species living in a meadow near the Los Moros I cave in Catalonia, Spain. Carnivores such as wolf, hyena, and dhole (also known as mountain wolf), omnivorous cave bears, and herbivores such as ibex, red deer, horse, and rabbit were among them. The findings brought to life a Pleistocene steppe food web, a structure of interwoven feeding chains ranging from plants to predatory carnivores. The zinc in Neanderthal teeth had by far the lowest zinc value in the food chain, indicating that they were the world's best carnivore.

The skeletal mounds found at Neanderthal campsites indicate that they hunted enormous animals in vast numbers. These heaps can be found in places where humans would be at a disadvantage, such as along water streams. Consider bayoneting an adult bison or horse. Both are approaching a tonne in weight. According to the latest isotope study, Neanderthals' major survival strategy was to hunt whatever animals they could find wherever they went. Small animals and veggies were probably hardly more than side dishes. Their strategy was to shoot first and then answer questions.

We became more resilient as our diets became more diverse.

Isotopes extracted from the skeletons of Homo sapiens tribes who inherited Pleistocene Eurasia from the Neanderthals suggest that they had a greater nutritional range. Plants, birds, and fish were the primary foods consumed by these early humans.

The Pleistocene was a grassland-steppe ecosystem that dominated Siberia during the Pleistocene and vanished 10,000 years ago. It had a surprisingly variable environment that shifted from dry grasslands and wet tundras to coniferous forests, causing a continual shift in the kind and number of large herbivores that grazed there. An omnivorous diet, on the other hand, would have rendered these individuals far more resilient than those who relied on big game hunting.

We don't know much about what happened to Neanderthals when large game populations went extinct. What could they do if the reindeer did not appear? But, given the rapid advancement of biomolecular science, I doubt we'll have to wait long to find out.

So don't turn into a Neanderthal

Protein is required for life; it is a component of every human cell and participates in the vital metabolic operations of the human body. It is very crucial in the processes of growth, development, and tissue repair. One of the three primary "macronutrients" is protein (along with carbohydrates and fat).

So, eating enough protein is necessary to avoid malnutrition; it may also be necessary to maintain muscular mass and strength as we age. Furthermore, in recent years, some have recommended a higher protein diet to boost metabolism and make it easier to lose excess weight, though effectiveness in this area is highly unpredictable.

How much protein should you consume?

Protein should account for 10% to 35% of your total calories. This number changes depending on your body composition, health, level, type of activity, and goals. It is critical to consume enough protein on a daily basis to meet your body's requirements. Protein assists your body in maintaining adequate fluid balance, building and repairing tissues, transporting nutrients, and performing other essential processes.

The majority of people obtain adequate protein. Are you, however, making the optimal protein choices, or are you stuck in a rut.

Protein is required by your muscles, bones, and the rest of your body. The amount you require changes with age:

  • Babies require approximately 10 grams each day.

  • School-aged children require 19-34 grams each day.

  • Teenage boys require up to 52 grams each day.

  • Teenage girls require 46 grams each day.

  • Adult men require approximately 56 grams per day.

  • Adult women require approximately 46 grams per day (71 grams, if pregnant or breastfeeding)

According to the Institute of Medicine, you should consume at least 10% of your daily calories from protein, but no more than 35%.

What are the best protein sources?

Protein can be found in a variety of foods that you are probably already eating. While this macronutrient can be found in smaller amounts in foods like vegetables and rice, there are other foods that are high in protein and can offer your body with this essential ingredient when incorporated in a healthy diet.

Here are 8 of the top protein-containing foods to help you narrow down your dietary options.

Beef that is lean. A 3-ounce portion of 93% lean ground beef contains 22 grams of protein.

Beef not only supplies your body with highly nutritious, but it also nourishes your body with essential nutrients such as zinc (which aids in immunity), and iron (which shuttles oxygen through your body).

Chicken. A 3-ounce portion of skinless chicken breast contains 27 grams of protein.

Chicken delivers a protein punch as a versatile dinner staple that is in many people's rotation.

Salmon. Per 3-ounce serving, there are 19 grams of protein.

Salmon is well-known for its heart-healthy lipids, but it also includes a substantial amount of protein.

Eggs. 1 big egg contains 6 grams of protein.

Eating eggs is an easy way to get a high amount of protein. You can eat them scrambled or hard-boiled, or use them in dishes such as Spanish Eggs and Egg Salad.

Peanut Butter. 2 tablespoons provide 7 grams of protein.

Natural peanut butter is an excellent plant-based protein source that is popular among many people.

Pasta. 1 cup cooked penne contains 6 grams of protein.

Pasta is commonly thought of as a carbohydrate source, yet a 2-ounce portion of basic semolina pasta has nearly as much protein as one large egg!

Cottage cheese. Protein content per 1/2-cup serving is 12 g.

Cottage cheese is a natural protein-rich food that is simple to incorporate into a healthy diet.

Lentils. 1 cup cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein.

Try to nutritious lentils for the finest plant-based protein. They are high in this essential macronutrient as well as antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Lentils can be a tasty way to get more protein into your diet.

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