Neolithic Diets

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The Neolithic era ended when metal tools become commonplace.
The Neolithic era ended when metal tools become commonplace. (Image: ConstantinosZ/iStock/Getty Images)

"New stone" is the literal translation of the word "Neolithic," which describes a period of technological advance beginning around the year 9,000 B.C. It was during this time in history that previously nomadic people settled into communities and began to domesticate plants and animals. Unlike the paleolithic, or "old stone" diet, which was that of a hunter-gather and protein-based, the Neolithic diet had a much higher vegetable and cereal content.

Natufians and Nuts

Around 9,000 B.C., the climate in the Middle East, where the Neolithic culture was centered, transitioned from cold and dry to an agriculture-friendly warm, humid and mild. As a result, a new abundance of wild cereals, including wheat and barley, nut trees and wild game became available to the pre-Neolithic hunter-gathers referred to by archaeologists as Natufians. The Natufians began to set up permanent camps as produce became readily available and with good reason. Barley, for instance, is a complex carbohydrate that offers essential nutrients, including folate, fiber and potassium. A nut available to the Natufians -- pistachios -- is a rich source of heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats and vitamin A. Let your meals be inspired by the Natufians: Enjoy a hot bowl of cream of wheat for breakfast, a salad with pistachios for lunch and beef and barley stew for dinner.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic A

The Natufians became dependent on wheat and barley, so when environmental conditions declined, some began the process of domesticating crops. In the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period from 8,300 to 7,500 B.C., the ancients planted crops of wheat and barley and adopted other vegetation, including chickpeas, lentils and peas. Lentils are both protein and carbohydrate-dense, offering the perfect combination of nutrients. During this time period, people still relied heavily on wild game and plant life to supplement domesticated crops. Cook lentils with plenty of spices and spoon the stew into a whole-wheat pita for a filling lunch. Or blend chickpeas with olive oil and garlic to make a hummus dip for vegetables.

Pre-Pottery Neolithic B

The highlight of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B, which continued up until 6,000 B.C., was the domestication of animals. With an increasingly stable village system, the ancients were able to breed herds of goats, pigs, sheep and cattle -- animals that offered milk, cheese and other dairy products along with meat protein. The ancients in this time period continued to enjoy grains, legumes and wild vegetation. Calcium, a mineral found in dairy products, would have been very beneficial to the Neoliths as it promotes healthy bone and tooth formation. Mix goat or cow's milk yogurt with fresh berries. Opt for plain yogurt since the Neoliths did not have granulated sugar.

Modern Application

What is known about the Neolithic diet is basically compatible with the modern tenets of good nutrition. They ate unrefined whole grains, meat, dairy, legumes, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit. Similarly the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises a diet consisting of whole foods with little to no added sugar and salt. But the modern person has much easier access to an array of produce and a range of proteins including fish, eggs and poultry. Take advantage of the grocery store and vary your proteins, fruits and vegetables.

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