Did Stone Age Man Have the Answer to a Healthy Body Shape?

Tue May 14, 2013 4:00pm EDT

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Did Stone Age Man Have the Answer to a Healthy Body Shape?

Unilever scientists have today released the results of a clinical study that suggests meals rich in nutrients and fibre inspired by our Palaeolithic ancestors are better at satisfying the appetite than a regular meal and could also help combat obesity and even type 2 diabetes.

The study compared two meals using readily available ingredients, a healthy modern meal and a Palaeolithic age-inspired meal, so called because its composition mirrors a range of foods our ancestors would have had easy access to. Both contained the same amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates and calories but crucially the second one incorporated a broader range of plant-based foods. These included nuts and spices such as cinnamon in addition to fresh fruit and vegetables.

The metabolism of the volunteers was monitored three hours after eating and those that consumed the modified meal felt much fuller. Furthermore, results showed they had significantly higher levels of PYY, a hormone that tells the brain we have had enough to eat.

Explanatory reasons for the results include that the Palaeolithic-inspired meal had a low energy density resulting in a physically bigger meal for the same amount of calories than the modern meal. This could account for the increased satiety levels. The meal was also designed using plant-based ingredients chosen to be both high in fibre and rich in phytonutrients.

Professor Mark Berry, Senior Scientist at Unilever who is leading the research said: “Initial findings from our study suggest we might do well to get back to basics and eat a diet for which our bodies have evolved. With its mix of lean meat, fresh fish and a very broad variety of plant-based foods, our ancient ancestors’ diet was different from what most of us consume today.

Furthermore, the human genome has not had time to respond to radical recent changes in our diet and therefore human physiology is at odds with the vast majority of modern diets.” Professor Berry added: “The great thing is we didn’t have to invent a time machine to do this study – all the ingredients needed for the Palaeolithic-meal could be readily purchased.” Further potential benefits of the Palaeolithic-inspired meal include a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a report on the findings is expected later this year.

Professor Gary Frost from Imperial College London said the initial findings could have other profound benefits: “Up to now surgery has often been the only viable solution to tackle chronic obesity but this research has exciting future possibilities of opening up a genuine alternative to gastric surgery. The observation that Palaeolithic diet leads to an increase in PYY raises the possibility of designing a diet that would act as a sort of nutritional bypass.”

Dr Frances Bligh, Lead Scientist at Unilever said the team now plan to work with academic colleagues to investigate some of these effects further. “We want to see if the findings could be applied to foods of the future.”

Notes for the editor

  • Unilever scientists compared a healthy modern meal comprising fish, rice, 1 portion of fruit and 1 portion of vegetables with a Palaeolithic-inspired meal comprising fish, no rice, a broad variety of different fruit and vegetables, nuts and mushrooms. Both meals contained the same amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates and calories
  • Phytonutrients are bioactive plant-derived compounds often associated with a range of positive health effects
  • Unilever present their preliminary findings at the 20th European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool this week, May 12th – 15th.

For more information, please contact Adam Fisher, Unilever Corporate Media Relations on +44 (0)207 822 5082 or adam.fisher@unilever.com

About Unilever

Unilever is one of the world’s leading suppliers of Food, Home and Personal Care products with sales in over 190 countries. Our products are present in 7 out of 10 homes globally and are used by over 2 billion people on a daily basis. We work with 173,000 colleagues around the world and generated annual sales of over €50 billion in 2012. Over half of our company’s footprint is in the faster growing developing and emerging markets (55% in 2012). Working to create a better future every day, we help people feel good, look good and get more out of life. Our portfolio includes some of the world’s best known brands such as Knorr, Persil / Omo, Dove, Sunsilk, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Rexona / Sure, Wall’s, Lux, Rama, Ponds and Axe, 14 of which now generate a turnover of €1 billion or more.

Our ambition is to double the size of our business, whilst reducing our overall environmental footprint (including sourcing, consumer use and disposal) and increasing our positive social impact. We are committed to helping more than a billion people take action to improve their health and well-being, sourcing all our agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020, and decoupling our growth from our environmental impact. Supporting our three big goals are more than 50 time-based targets. See more on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan at www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/.

Unilever has been recognised in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Indexes for 14 consecutive years. We are included in the FTSE4Good Index Series and attained a top environmental score of 5, leading to inclusion in the FTSE4Good Environmental Leaders Europe 40 Index. In 2012 Unilever led the Climate Counts Company Scorecard and the list of Global Corporate Sustainability Leaders in the GlobeScan /Sustainability latest annual survey (2012) - both for the second year running. The company is an employer of choice in many of the countries in which it operates and is seen as a symbol for innovation and leadership development.

For more information about Unilever and its brands, please visit www.unilever.com.

About Unilever R&D

Unilever R&D involves over 6,000 professionals, six strategic centres for global R&D and 31 major product development centres. The strategic centres are located in Trumbull, US, Port Sunlight and Colworth in the UK, Vlaardingen in The Netherlands, Bangalore in India and Shanghai in China. In 2011, our investment in R&D was around €1bn.

Unilever Corporate Media Relations
Adam Fisher, +44 (0)207 822 5082
adam.fisher@unilever.com