Navigation bar--use text links at bottom of page.

(Humanity's Evolutionary Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets--continued, Part B)

Setting the scientific record straight
on humanity's evolutionary prehistoric diet
and ape diets.

Part 1 of our Visit with Ward Nicholson
Copyright © 1998 by Ward Nicholson. All rights reserved.
Contact author for permission to republish.

First published in the printed version of Chet Day's HEALTH & BEYOND newsletter,
October 1996. Chet's website is located at:

See clickable TABLE OF CONTENTS for Part 1.
(HIGHLY RECOMMENDED in order to find what you want
quickly, as interview is lengthy.)

Note: Be sure to check the [Updates to Part 1] before prematurely attributing
specific views to the author based only on the original section of this interview,
which was first published in 1996. In the original article, asterisks have been
inserted to mark points about which the author's views may have changed somewhat.
A quick outline of the updates can be found in the Table of Contents.

I N T R O D U C T O R Y   R E M A R K S

The text of the interview is republished here much as it originally appeared in Chet Day's Health & Beyond newsletter, with a few small modifications necessary for the present web version. See the introductory remarks on the front page of the interview series for specifics.

For those unfamiliar, the term "Natural Hygiene," which appears periodically in these interviews, is a health philosophy emphasizing a diet of mostly raw-food vegetarianism, primarily fruits, vegetables, and nuts, although for revisionists eating some cooked food, it can also include significant supplementary amounts of grains, legumes, and tubers.

Ward transferred coordinatorship of the Natural Hygiene M2M to long-time member Bob Avery in 1997, and is no longer associated with the Natural Hygiene movement. To learn more about the N.H. M2M (now called the Natural Health M2M), or for information about getting a sample copy, you can find out more here.


Our guest this issue is Ward Nicholson, [former] Coordinator of The Natural Hygiene M2M--a unique "many-to-many" letter group forum created for correspondence between Natural Hygienists in a published format, which has been operating since 1992. [Note: Long-time M2M participant Bob Avery took over the Coordinatorship in December 1996 after Ward resigned and left the Natural Hygiene movement.] Participants in the M2M write letters about their Hygienic experiences, debate viewpoints, and offer support to each other. Each issue, Ward collates the letters together (exactly as-is with nothing edited out) into a 160- to 180-page bimonthly installment of the M2M, a copy of which is sent out to everyone in the group for ongoing response.

Two primary issues to be covered. What we'll be discussing with Mr. Nicholson in H&B are two things:

Given the recent death of T.C. Fry, I consider Ward's analysis of special importance to those who continue to adhere strictly to the fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds diet.

We'll tackle this month the question of humanity's primitive diet. In two subsequent issues, we'll wrap that topic up and delve into what Ward has learned from coordinating the Natural Hygiene M2M about Hygienists' experiences in real life.

You'll find that will be a recurring theme throughout our discussions with Mr. Nicholson: what really goes on in real life when you are able to hear a full spectrum of stories from a range of Hygienists, as well as what science says about areas of Hygiene that you will find have in some cases been poorly researched or not at all by previous Hygienic writers.

Not everyone will agree with or appreciate what Mr. Nicholson has to say. But, as I've written more than once, I publish material in H&B that you won't find anywhere else, material and sound thinking that interests me and calls into question my ideas and my assumptions about building health naturally. In this series of three interviews, I guarantee Ward will challenge many of our mind sets. Mr. Nicholson has a lot of ground to cover, so without further ado, I happily present our controversial and articulate guest for this issue of H&B.

Personal experiences with fasting,
Natural Hygiene, and veganism

Health & Beyond: Ward, why don't we start out with my traditional question: How was it that you became involved with Natural Hygiene?

Ward Nicholson: I got my introduction to Natural Hygiene through distance running, which eventually got me interested in the role of diet in athletic performance. During high school and college--throughout most of the 1970s--I was a competitive distance runner. Runners are very concerned with anything that will improve their energy, endurance, and rate of recovery, and are usually open to experimenting with different regimens in the interest of getting ever-better results. Since I've always been a bookworm, that's usually the first route I take for teaching myself about subjects I get interested in. In 1974 or '75, I read the book Yoga and the Athlete, by Ian Jackson, when it was published by Runner's World magazine. In it, he talked about his forays into hatha yoga (the stretching postures) as a way of rehabilitating himself from running injuries he had sustained. He eventually got into yoga full-time, and from there, began investigating diet's effect on the body, writing about that too.

At first I was more interested in Are Waerland (a European Hygienist health advocate with a differing slant than Shelton), who was mentioned in the book, so I wrote Jackson for more information. But instead of giving me information about Waerland, he steered me in the direction of American Natural Hygiene, saying in his experience it was far superior.

I was also fascinated with Jackson's experiences with fasting. He credited fasting with helping his distance running, and had a somewhat mind-blowing "peak experience" while running on his first long fast. He kept training at long distances during his fasts, so I decided that would be the first aspect of the Hygienic program I would try myself. Then in the meantime, I started frequenting health-food stores and ran across Herbert Shelton's Fasting Can Save Your Life on the bookracks, which as we all know, has been a very persuasive book for beginning Natural Hygienists.

Initial experiences with fasting. So to ease into things gradually, I started out with a few 3-day "juice" fasts (I know some Hygienists will object to this language, but bear with me), then later two 8-day juice-diet fasts while I kept on running and working at my warehouse job (during college). These were done--in fact, all the fasts I've experienced have been done--at home on my own.

Needless to say, I found these "fasts" on juices difficult since I was both working, and working out, at the same time. Had they been true "water" fasts, I doubt I would have been able to do it. I had been enticed by the promises of more robust health and greater eventual energy from fasting, and kept wondering why I didn't feel as great while fasting as the books said I would, with their stories of past supermen lifting heavy weights or walking or running long distances as they fasted.

Little did I realize in my naivete that this was normal for most fasters. At the time I assumed, as Hygienists have probably been assuming since time immemorial when they don't get the hoped-for results, that it was just because I "wasn't cleaned-out enough." So in order to get more cleaned-out, I kept doing longer fasts, working up to a 13-day true water fast, and finally a 25-day water fast over Christmas break my senior year in college. (I had smartened up just a little bit by this time and didn't try running during these longer fasts on water alone.)

I also tried the Hygienic vegetarian diet around this time. But as the mostly raw-food diet negatively affected my energy levels and consequently my distance running performance, I lost enthusiasm for it, and my Hygienic interests receded to the back burner. I was also weary of fasting at this point, never having reached what I supposed was the Hygienic promised land of a total clean-out, so that held no further allure for me at the time.

Health crash. After college, I drifted away from running and got into doing hatha yoga for a couple of years, taught a couple of local classes in it, then began working as a typesetter and graphic designer in the advertising business, which can be very demanding. During the mid to late 1980s, I worked 60 to 80 hours a week, often on just 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night, under extreme and unrelenting deadline pressures working at the computer setting type, and periodically late into the night. I dropped all pretense of Hygienic living, with the exception of maintaining a nominally "vegetarian" regime. This did not preclude me, however, guzzling large amounts of caffeine and sugar in the form of a half-gallon or more of soft drinks per day to keep going.

Eventually all this took its toll and by 1990 my nervous system--and I assume (in the absence of having gone to a doctor like most Hygienists don't!) probably my adrenals--were essentially just about shot from all the mainlining of sugar and caffeine, the lack of sleep, and the constant deadlines and accompanying emotional pressures. I started having severe panic or adrenaline attacks that would sometimes last several hours during which time I literally thought I might die from a heart attack or asphyxiation. The attacks were so debilitating it would take at least a full day afterwards to recover every time I had one.

Post-crash fasts and recommitment to Natural Hygiene. Finally, in late 1990/early 1991, after I had begun having one or two of these attacks a week, I decided it was "change my ways or else" and did a 42-day fast at home by myself (mostly on water with occasional juices when I was feeling low), after which I went on a 95%-100% raw-food Hygienic diet. The panic attacks finally subsided after the 5th day of fasting, and have not returned since, although I did come close to having a few the first year or two after the fast.

Soon after I made the recommitment to Hygienic living, when I had about completed my 42-day fast, I called a couple of Hygienic doctors and had a few phone consultations. But while the information I received was useful to a degree with my immediate symptoms, it did not really answer my Hygienic questions like I'd hoped, nor did it turn out to be of significant help overcoming my health problems over the longer-term. So in 1992 I decided to start the Natural Hygiene M2M to get directly in touch with Hygienists who had had real experience with their own problems, not just book knowledge, and not just the party line I could already get from mainstream Hygiene. With this new source of information and experience to draw on, among others, my health has continued to improve from the low it had reached, but it has been a gradual, trial-and-error process, and not without the occasional setback to learn from.

Improvements on fasts alternating with gradual downhill trend on vegan Natural Hygiene diet. One of the motivating factors here was that although fasting had been helpful (and continues to be), unfortunately during the time in between fasts (I have done three subsequent fasts on water of 11 days, 20 days, and 14 days in the past five years), I just was not getting the results we are led to expect with the Hygienic diet itself. In fact, at best, I was stagnating, and at worst I was developing new symptoms that while mild were in a disconcerting downhill direction. Over time, the disparity between the Hygienic philosophy and the results I was (not) getting started eating at me. I slowly began to consider through reading the experiences of others in the M2M that it was not something I was "doing wrong," or that I wasn't adhering to the details sufficiently, but that there were others who were also not doing so well following the Hygienic diet, try as they might. The "blame the victim for not following all the itty bitty details just right" mentality began to seem more and more suspect to me.

This leads us up to the next phase of your Hygienic journey, where you eventually decided to remodel your diet based on your exploration of the evolutionary picture of early human diets as now known by science. Coming from your Hygienic background, what was it that got you so interested in evolution?

Well, I have always taken very seriously as one of my first principles the axiom in Hygiene that we should be eating "food of our biological adaptation." What is offered in Hygiene to tell us what that is, is the "comparative anatomy" line of reasoning we are all familiar with: You look at the anatomical and digestive structures of various animals, classify them, and note the types of food that animals with certain digestive structures eat. By that criterion of course, humans are said to be either frugivores or vegetarians like the apes are said to be, depending on how the language is used.

Shortcomings of the "comparative anatomy" rationale for determining our "natural" diet. Now at first (like any good upstanding Hygienist!) I did not question this argument because as far as it goes it is certainly logical. But nonetheless, it came to seem to me that was an indirect route for finding the truth, because as similar as we may be to the apes and especially the chimpanzee (our closest relative), we are still a different species. We aren't looking directly at ourselves via this route, we are looking at a different animal and basically just assuming that our diet will be pretty much just like theirs based on certain digestive similarities. And in that difference between them and us could reside errors of fact.

So I figured that one day, probably from outside Hygiene itself, someone would come along with a book on diet or natural foods that would pull together the evidence directly from paleontology and evolutionary science and nail it down once and for all. Of course, I felt confident at that time it would basically vindicate the Hygienic argument from comparative anatomy, so it remained merely an academic concern to me at the time.

Exposure to the evolutionary picture and subsequent disillusionment with Natural Hygiene. And then one day several years ago, there I was at the bookstore when out popped the words The Paleolithic Prescription[1] (by Boyd Eaton, M.D. and anthropologists Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner) on the spine of a book just within the range of my peripheral vision. Let me tell you I tackled that book in nothing flat! But when I opened it up and began reading, I was very dismayed to find there was much talk about the kind of lean game animals our ancestors in Paleolithic times (40,000 years ago) ate as an aspect of their otherwise high-plant-food diet,* but nowhere was there a word anywhere about pure vegetarianism in our past except one measly paragraph to say it had never existed and simply wasn't supported by the evidence.[2]

I have to tell you that while I bought the book, red lights were flashing as I argued vociferously in my head with the authors on almost every other page, exploiting every tiny little loophole I could find to save my belief in humanity's original vegetarian and perhaps even fruitarian ways. "Perhaps you haven't looked far enough back in time," I told them inside myself. "You are just biased because of the modern meat-eating culture that surrounds us," I silently screamed, "so you can't see the vegetarianism that was really there because you aren't even looking for it!"

So in order to prove them wrong, I decided I'd have to unearth all the scientific sources at the local university library myself and look at the published evidence directly. But I didn't do this at first--I stalled for about a year, basically being an ostrich for that time, sort of forgetting about the subject to bury the cognitive dissonance I was feeling.

News of long-time vegetarians abandoning the diet due to failure to thrive. In the meantime, though, I happened to hear from a hatha yoga teacher I was acquainted with who taught internationally and was well-known in the yoga community both in the U.S. and abroad in the '70s and early '80s, who, along with his significant other, had been vegetarian for about 17 years. To my amazement, he told me in response to my bragging about my raw-food diet that he and his partner had re-introduced some flesh foods to their diet a few years previously after some years of going downhill on their vegetarian diets, and it had resulted in a significant upswing in their health. He also noted that a number of their vegetarian friends in the yoga community had run the same gamut of deteriorating health after 10-15 years as vegetarians since the '70s era.

Once again, of course, I pooh-poohed all this to myself because they obviously weren't "Hygienist" vegetarians and none of their friends probably were either. You know the line of thinking: If it ain't Hygienic vegetarianism, by golly, we'll just discount the results as completely irrelevant! If there's even one iota of difference between their brand of vegetarianism and ours, well then, out the window with all the results!

But it did get me thinking, because this was a man of considerable intellect as well as a person of integrity whom I respected more than perhaps anyone else I knew.

Gradual personal health decline on vegan diet. And then a few months after that, I began noticing I was having almost continual semi-diarrhea on my raw-food diet and could not seem to make well-formed stools. I was not sleeping well, my stamina was sub-par both during daily tasks and exercise, which was of concern to me after having gotten back into distance running again, and so real doubts began creeping in. It was around this time I finally made that trip to the university library.

And so what did you find?

Enough evidence for the existence of animal flesh consumption from early in human prehistory (approx. 2-3 million years ago) that I knew I could no longer ignore the obvious. For awhile I simply could not believe that Hygienists had never looked into this. But while it was disillusioning, that disillusionment gradually turned into something exciting because I knew I was looking directly at what scientists knew based on the evidence. It gave me a feeling of more power and control, and awareness of further dietary factors I had previously ruled out that I could experiment with to improve my health, because now I was dealing with something much closer to "the actual" (based on scientific findings and evidence) as opposed to dietary "idealism."

Paleontological evidence shows
humans have always been omnivores

What kind of "evidence" are we talking about here?

At its most basic, an accumulation of archaeological excavations by paleontologists, ranging all the way from the recent past of 10,000-20,000 years ago back to approximately 2 million years ago, where ancient "hominid" (meaning human and/or proto-human) skeletal remains are found in conjunction with stone tools and animal bones that have cut marks on them. These cut marks indicate the flesh was scraped away from the bone with human-made tools, and could not have been made in any other way. You also find distinctively smashed bones occurring in conjunction with hammerstones that clearly show they were used to get at the marrow for its fatty material.[3]

Prior to the evidence from these earliest stone tools, going back even further (2-3 million years) is chemical evidence showing from strontium/calcium ratios in fossilized bone that some of the diet from earlier hominids was also coming from animal flesh.[4] (Strontium/calcium ratios in bone indicate relative amounts of plant vs. animal foods in the diet.[5]) Scanning electron microscope studies of the microwear of fossil teeth from various periods well back into human prehistory show wear patterns indicating the use of flesh in the diet too.[6]

The consistency of these findings across vast eons of time show that these were not isolated incidents but characteristic behavior of hominids in many times and many places.

Evidence well-known in scientific community; controversial only for vegetarians. The evidence--if it is even known to them--is controversial only to Hygienists and other vegetarian groups, few to none of whom, so far as I can discern, seem to have acquainted themselves sufficiently with the evolutionary picture other than to make a few armchair remarks. To anyone who really looks at the published evidence in the scientific books and peer-reviewed journals and has a basic understanding of the mechanisms for how evolution works, there is really not a whole lot to be controversial about with regard to the very strong evidence indicating flesh has been a part of the human diet for vast eons of evolutionary time. The real controversy in paleontology right now is whether the earliest forms of hominids were truly "hunters," or more opportunistic "scavengers" making off with pieces of kills brought down by other predators, not whether we ate flesh food itself as a portion of our diet or not.[7]


(Timeline of Dietary Shifts in the Human Line of Evolution)

Return to beginning of interviews



GO TO PART 1 - Setting the Record Straight on Humanity's Prehistoric Diet and Ape Diets

GO TO PART 2 - Fire and Cooking in Human Evolution

GO TO PART 3 - The Psychology of Idealistic Diets / Successes & Failures of Vegetarian Diets

Back to Frank Talk by Long-Time Insiders

   Beyond Veg home   |   Feedback   |   Links