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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 21, 2008

High Fat and Healthy: The Maasai Keep on Walking

By Mark Sisson
24 Comments

MaasaiReader Peter emailed this new study today after he saw a discussion in which I was participating on Rusty’s site (fitnessblackbook.com) regarding the Maasai diet. Investigators in this new study suggested that one reason that the Maasai (African nomadic cattle farmers) have lower rates of heart disease, despite a high fat diet, is the amount of low-level aerobic activity they do on a daily basis. Many of you will recognize this as rule #2 of the Primal Blueprint, “Move around a lot at a slow pace.” Seems the Maasai take that to the extreme, burning 2500 calories a day in excess of their basal metabolic rate by walking. The fact that they have a fairly low carbohydrate intake simply reaffirms that most of their energy demands are coming from the high amount of animal fat in their diets – and that at low level aerobic activity carbs are simply not necessary. Don’t think that doesn’t mean they can’t sprint occasionally or lift heavy things though (Blueprint’s 3 and 4), because we know they are able to produce enough glycogen each day from this same high-fat, moderate protein diet to fuel those all-out short bursts.

Finally, while the researchers claim it’s the exercise that prevents the heart disease, they approached it from the typical “high fat diets generally increase CHD risk” POV, which we all know to be an erroneous old Conventional Wisdom assumption. A high fat diet doesn’t actually increase risk of heart disease or death unless it’s also accompanied by relatively high carbohydrates and, hence, insulin.

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Primal Blueprint for Both Men and Women?

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

Chronic Cardio Talk

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24 Comments on "High Fat and Healthy: The Maasai Keep on Walking"

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james
james
8 years 2 months ago

Walking while on a high fat diet is good to know. I have long been a believer of an extended low level or walking workout while coupled with a high fat diet as opposed to carbs.

Helder
8 years 2 months ago

When we look at the Maasai and many other people who still live like we all use to thousands of years ago, we see those are healthy people, usually muscled and with low bodyfat, and what do they eat? Lots of meat or fish depending on where they live and no carbs or almost no carbs. I think we just have to look to our origin to know what’s natural for our bodies and health.

Setä Jarmo
Setä Jarmo
8 years 2 months ago
I know Mark that you got your stuff pretty much balanced diet and exercise wise but I have read from so many low-carb boards how aerobic exercise is bad for us that I want to praise endurance training with a couple of words. As Mark said we have to remember that Maasai people move around all day long. They don’t need extra “moderate” aerobic exercise. What does typical western people do? Sit all day long. Most of us don’t have time to walk around all day long, that’s why I think endurance training should not be eliminated. A lot of… Read more »
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[…] —Here’s more fat fear-mongering. Good thing Mark is around, even if he does get a little fruity sometimes. —How walkable is your […]

erc
erc
7 years 6 months ago

what do the maasai do int there day?

sue
sue
6 years 8 months ago

they have a really short life expectancy, if that’s what you are going for by all means aim for their diet.

Laurel
Laurel
6 years 5 months ago
Yes, I would certainly blame the lower life expectancy of the Masai on the high fat in their diet, rather than the high rates of syphilis, LIONS, unreliable access to clean drinking water, and the fact that the Masai are typically, while not necessarily pro-war, inclined to provoke violence through stealing others cows (highly valued) and other acts. Oh, did I mention they routinely deal with LIONS? And probably jaguars as well. And elephants, hippos, cape buffalo, and miscellaneous reptilian types-you know, poisonous snakes, crocs, the like. You think they’re no big deal, pick up Peter Hathaway Capstick’s book Death… Read more »
Chuckster
Chuckster
1 year 9 months ago

<– this is this violent man wearing a skirt? 😉
<–
What you highlight, albeit accidentally, it very important. This is about all of our life, not just learning to eat with intelligence. So when we eat unhealthy, are lazy and steal and make war and spread sexual diseases, our lives are very short and unhealthy. Good point! As for me, I expect life to just to be getting started at 45, so I do not want to have anything to do with how the Maasai or the dogmaic paleo peeps think and eat and live.

Ibrahim
Ibrahim
6 years 5 months ago
This is completely true, I was born in london, england but my parents are from Somalia and at the age of 22 I went there for 6 months and lived with the nomadic herders, I looked after the camels which walk alot more than cows and it was drought season which meant that I had to cover far distances. I must of covered atleast 20-30km a day, I was about 18-20 kilos less than I weight before I went and I looked like a long distance runner when I came back to the UK, seriously I was like a stick… Read more »
Alma
6 years 4 months ago

Its also worth mentioning that in spite of the maasai’s good heart health, they in fact have the highest instances of osteoporosis in Kenya. I has been theorized that it may be due to the amount of milk they drink! Clearly the fact that we think that we need calcium in milk for our bone health is nonesense because its not that simple.

Peter
Peter
4 years 9 months ago
People in Hong Kong 50 years ago were almost never fat. In 2011, there are more people are fat but still not a lot. This could be due to increasingly sedentary lifestyle as technology becomes more advanced. Unlike the Maasai, people in Hong Kong still eat a lot of carbohydrates mainly from white rice, yet they were not fat and sick. This most likely has to do with the fact that they also walk a lot, and at a much quicker pace too. People there use public transportation most of the time. When I went to Hong Kong for five… Read more »
Bill
Bill
4 years 5 months ago
Yes, it’s amazing what you can eat if you’re walking 20 miles a day or doing heavy manual labor. But a few differences of opinion: 1)Native Americans were wiped out mainly by smallpox, a possible 90% attrition by the 1600-1700’s; 2) The Primal diet is not really ‘meat-based’, but more cutting down on grain-based carbs and substituting greens-based carbs at a significant-but-not-extremely lower level than before, and raising protein and fats to make up some of the difference. Sounds pretty omnivorish to me. 3)I wouldn’t say the (traditional) Masai were meat-based (mostly blood and milk), and Native Americans were a… Read more »
Jeremy Martineau
Jeremy Martineau
3 years 5 months ago

Please read the Vegetarian Myth. You will then find out why that is somewhat true, but how it also led to some very bad things. I found the Vegetarian Myth to be a very interesting read. I think you will too.

Jeremy Martineau
Jeremy Martineau
3 years 5 months ago

By the way, the above post was meant for Peter.

Iggy Dalrymple
Iggy Dalrymple
2 years 4 months ago

Quite a contrast between Hong Kong and the Masai. The longest livers vs the shortest livers. Of course that’s due to lions and tigers.

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[…] this accomplished at the moment, but it’s also no secret that certain cultures, like the Masai, who essentially do a low-carb ketogenic diet, are able to preserve lean muscle and look ripped as […]

Claire
Claire
3 years 4 months ago
I was just doing a reading for my anthropology class, and came across this quote from a Masai woman: “The ilmurran (warriors) of the past didn’t die for no reason. They didn’t get fevers or any sicknesses, but only died during cattle thefts. But these ilmurran of today who eat flour inside the house? Would you ever have seen ilmurran of the past eating flour in a house? They didn’t eat meat that had been seen by married women [and] they drank blood that had been mixed with medicines (ormukuta) so that they had the strength/abilities to steal. But those… Read more »
Laurie Conrad
2 years 11 months ago

This article is not representative of the whole truth: Life expectancy for the Masaai is 45 years for women and 42 years for men. African researchers report that, historically, Maasai rarely lived beyond age 60. Adult mortality figures on the Kenyan Maasai show that they have a 50% chance of dying before the age of 59.2

So perhaps they are not diseased because they are dead. If you follow the diet of the Maasai your chances of watching your grandchildren graduate from High School will be just about nil.

ryan
ryan
2 years 5 months ago

Chris Masterjohn wrote a great article on the Maasai diet, which can be found at wapf website. He points out that before the 1900s the maasai diet was quite varied, and did in fact include a very wide range of vegetables, fruits and other plant materials. The idea the ate like 80% animal products is simply untrue

Rob
Rob
2 years 3 months ago
The numbers are already in, the debate is over. Indigenous people living on a plant-based diet live the longest and have the lowest disease rates. Okinawans vs Maasai: Okinawans win. Forget the tigers and war, they have diseases that result from their diet, such as osteoporosis, as Alma pointed out. The Inuit lose too. Introduce American food to Okinawa, and people start getting fat and dying. And don’t even try to blame it on ‘grain-fed meat’, that’s just a bunch of meat industry funded BS to keep you drinking the koolaid. Wake up and smell the vegetables already. Seriously, it’s… Read more »
zavier
zavier
2 years 2 months ago
It’s interesting so many people point out lions as a high cause of mortality. Lions have actually learned to recognize the color red and avoid it because the Maasai hunt and kill them. Some lions are bucking the trend, but that is a more recent development. Okinawa vs Maasai…an interesting one again. The Okinawans staple was taro (Kalo and poi), sweet potatoes, breadfruit, fish, seaweed, yams, ferns, and pork. The diet was very carb rich. They also lived on an island. They were not by nature nomadic. Nomadic tribes rely primarily upon milks, blood, and meat, and are usually always… Read more »
Anna
Anna
1 year 5 months ago

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmWYEGIscms this Maasai man says that women (especially) have to walk at least 6 miles to get water. In this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjArHyP238A), this same guy says he doesn’t know how old he is. Now, he looks quite young (but that doesn’t mean we can estimate how old he is). I think that the hardships of life also contribute to a lower life expectancy. It’s not just the diet, really 🙂 People in the Western countries live a rather comfortable life (don’t need to go the extra mile for basic things like water). What are your thoughts on that ?

Anna
Anna
1 year 5 months ago

Me again. Found another article about this man http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_27880159/san-bruno-pg-e-faces-record-penalty-punishment?source=infinite . Also, I found him on Facebook, I might ask him about this whole life expectancy thing. He says in the interview that he eats two meals a day ” primarily meat and milk, blood from his cows and sometimes a mixture of both blood and milk.” He looks to be quite a tall guy, lean, long limbs.

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[…] variants on the Eden myth are common in rationalizations of food fads. Adam and Eve get replaced by indigenous tribespeople or traditional Greek islanders, all of whom remain in the proverbial garden, lean and healthy and […]

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