Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
9 Apr

One True Paleo Diet Doesn’t Exist, but So What?

kalahariAs a rule, people tend to eat whatever food they can physically access. Transcontinental shipping now allows us to access all sorts of foods – we can eat durian in California, jasmine rice in Alaska, Spam in Hawaii, and Russian caviar in Cape Town – but for most of (pre)history, humans ate only locally available foods. So it’s no surprise to hear that hunter-gatherers, past and present, ate and eat wildly varied diets depending on their environment. The East African Hadza diet is different from the Arctic Inuit diet is different from the Paraguayan Ache diet.

This is usually highlighted by critics as a counterpoint to the tenets of ancestral health. Because apparently we’re all convinced that a single, rigid dietary prescription is the One True Diet. That’s silly, of course.

Today, I’m going to explore the hunter-gatherer diets about which we do have data, including environment, available/utilized plant/animal species, amount of food derived from the various categories (meat, fish, plants, seeds, tubers, etc), and macronutrient ratios whenever possible. Let’s see what we can glean from this data. Are there commonalities? Common differences? What trends do we observe?

I’ve excluded pastoralists like the Masai, agrarians like the Kitavans, and any other groups eating otherwise traditional diets that are not strictly hunter-gatherers. Those are certainly healthy groups, and we can learn a lot from their diets, but they aren’t hunter-gatherers.

Due to the nature of the subject, much of the data is incomplete. Much is qualitative rather than quantitative, but I’ll provide hard numbers whenever possible, usually drawing on this PDF as a source. I’ll speak in both generalities and specifics whenever possible as I try to give an overarching impression of what actual hunter-gatherers were and are eating.

Hiwi

Environment: The neotropical savannahs of western Venezuela and eastern Colombia, which are characterized by extreme seasonal shifts that rendered the area unsuitable for most agriculture (before industrial agriculture reared its head). During the rainy season, it floods up to a meter high, turning the plains into a kind of wetland. The result is a diverse ecosystem rich in edible wildlife, including waterbirds, capybara (massive, delicious rodents that I swore as a kid would make the perfect pet), deer, armadillo, caiman, and turtles.

What they ate: The Hiwi depended primarily on hunted game, fish, and gathered roots. Deer, capybara, armadillo, anteater, peccary, various fish, lizards, and turtles were the main sources of game meat. Some honey was eaten, while fruit played a minor role.

Numbers: 75% of their intake came from animals and 25% came from plants.

Ache

Environment: The tropical forests of eastern Paraguay.

What they ate: The Ache relied primarily on hunted game, honey, palm starch, and insect larvae.

Numbers: Game meat accounted for 78% of their traditional diet, honey 8%, and palm starch, insects, palm hearts, and fruit the remaining 14%. The species which comprised 90% of their hunted food were armadillo, capuchin monkey, peccary, paca, coati, and deer.

Sami

Environment: The Sami’s ancestral lands were called the Sapmi, covering northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia’s Kola peninsula. They were both sub-arctic and arctic, with treeless tundra and coniferous forests alike. By the 17th century, they’d taken up reindeer herding to keep up with the Scandinavian governments’ demands for pelts, but prior to that they were exclusively hunter-gatherers.

What they ate: The Sami were primarily hunters and fishers, with some plant utilization. Animals included reindeer (the most important one), moose, bear, seals, walrus, salmon, and rabbits. Plants included all manner of berry: blueberry, cloudberry, lingonberry, buckthorn.

Numbers: None available.

Inuit

Environment: The Arctic, including Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. Their lands were very inhospitable to most forms of agriculture and populated by large, fatty mammals, both marine and terrestrial.

What they ate: Seals, walrus, caribou, fish, shellfish, and other marine fare made up the animal food. Plant foods included seaweed, berries, roots, and partially digested plant matter (lichens, assorted grasses) found in hunted caribou stomachs.

Numbers: By most accounts, animals (both marine and land) accounted for 96%+ of their food, with plants bringing up the rear.

!Kung

Environment: Kalahari Desert of Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, a “semi-desert” with plentiful grazing after rains. Being just semi-arid, it supports more plants and wildlife than a “true” desert (like the Sahara).

What they ate: Animal foods included antelope, giraffe, rabbit, and guinea fowl. Plant foods included mongongo nuts, baobob pods, berries, citron melons (a wild melon similar to the watermelon, but far less sweet and more fibrous), wild mangos, various roots and tubers, bitter melon (a plant with anti-diabetic properties). PDF here.

Numbers: By weight (not calories, necessarily), 31% animals, 28% mongongo nuts, 41% other plants.

Hadza

Environment: North-central Tanzania, in a section of the very same Rift Valley that hosted the earliest modern humans.

What they ate: According to an anthropologist who lived with them, a “wide variety of birds and mammals” and a “variety of berries,” plus tubers, honey, and baobob. The tubers are so high in fiber that they’re “nothing like the food we eat, even the food highest in fiber.” The meat is lean by our standards, and the Hadza extract every last available bit from the animals.

Numbers: 48% animal food, 52% plant food.

Anbarra

Environment: Tropical Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, on the coast.

What they ate: Primarily shellfish and other marine animals, with some birds and lizards. Roots, fruits, and seeds (PDF) with some honey on the side.

Numbers: 75% animal food (mostly shellfish and fish) and 25% plant food.

Onge

Environment: Located south of India, the Andaman Islands hosted (and continue to host) some of the most isolated, untouched populations of hunter gatherers in the world. Even today, the Sentinelese (one of the tribes) remain essentially disconnected from the rest of the world; all attempts to make contact have ended in bloodshed, or nearly so. The best records exist for one tribe in particular, the Onge.

What they ate: Wild boar, dugongs (relatives of the manatee, a massive marine mammal with hundreds of pounds of mostly saturated and monounsaturated body fat), turtles, fish, crabs, tubers, fruit, and honey.

Numbers: 79% animal food, 21% plant food.

Those are just the groups whose diets have been quantitatively studied. There are also hundreds of qualitative, more anecdotal reports from ethnographers who studied other hunter-gatherer groups’ dietary habits without measuring energy and micronutrients, and the general impression is consistent with the more detailed: a preference for animal foods, with the majority of groups getting more than 50% of calories from animals, fish, insects, and eggs.

What do you notice? Any trends?

Reliance on hunted animal foods is consistent and universal regardless of climate: As Cordain notes, hunted terrestrial animal food – big game, small game, medium game, birds, any land animal – is a consistent feature of hunter-gatherer subsistence. The closer you are to the equator, the more plant food you see utilized. The further you get from the equator, the less plant food and the more seafood you see. But regardless of latitude, between 25-36% of hunter-gatherer subsistence comes from hunted animal food. That appears to be the baseline, with the remainder coming from plants (if closer to the equator) or marine animals (if farther from the equator).

Plant food utilization is universal but dependent on climate: While even the arctic groups consumed plant foods, plant availability – and thus consumption – skyrocketed the closer a group lived to the equator.

No vegetarians (and certainly no vegans): Vegetarianism is a luxury of industrialization. Except for honey, animals are the most energy (and often nutrient) dense foods available. Plants alone simply didn’t cut it, and that was the reality for several million years of hominid evolution. Hunter-gatherer groups help confirm our collective omnivory. And there were certainly no vegans. Does this mean vegetarianism and veganism are unhealthy? No, that can’t be proven with historical records. It does probably suggest that vegetarianism and veganism are less than optimal.

No refined vegetable fats. The !Kung’s high consumption of nutrient-dense mongongo nuts rich in linoleic acid doesn’t resemble the Arizonan’s consumption of french fries cooked in soybean oil rich in linoleic acid. Mongongo nuts are loaded with magnesium, vitamin E (to protect the linoleic acid from oxidation), calcium, protein, copper, and even zinc; soybean oil is just refined fat without nutrients. No offense to Arizona. I just picked a random state’s name out of the hat.

No refined sugar: Honey is not a refined sweetener. It’s a dense source of sugar, yes, but honey contains phytochemicals and prebiotics that alter the metabolic ramifications of consuming it. Same goes for fruit, which also comes with fiber. And truly wild honey, the kind hunter-gatherers utilize, is unfiltered. It’s full of larvae, pollen, wings, stingers, severed bee legs, unlucky drones, and other nutritious bits that distinguish it from most store-bought honey, let alone white sugar. The Ache’s 8% honey (and larvae) diet doesn’t resemble a 2-coke-a-day habit by any stretch of the imagination.

No refined grains: This is an obvious one. Grains are rarely if ever mentioned in the literature.

Lots of whole animals: Lean muscle meat isn’t the only thing they eat off the game they kill.

Insects: Many anthropologists gloss over the importance of insect consumption among modern hunter-gatherers, and some of the dietary ratios ignore their contribution entirely, but hunter-gatherer groups definitely consumed bugs (PDF).

So, are hunter-gatherer diets so different from each other as to be useless for us, as critics claim? Is, say, a !Kung diet closer to the Standard American Diet than it is to other traditional hunter-gatherer diets just because the macronutrient ratios are somewhat similar and both have a lot of linoleic acid? Is “Hadza ate different from Inuit, therefore eat grains” a valid criticism of Primal eating?

No. The trends are obvious and, while they indicate a relatively broad range of potential macronutrient ratios, they support and inform – without proving the validity of – the central themes and strategies of a Primal Blueprint way of eating.

What do you think, folks? Does the fact that different hunter gatherer groups ate/eat different foods imply that we should therefore stop eating the way that makes us feel, look, and perform better than we ever have?

Thanks for reading.

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You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. Lots of whole animals or whole lots of animals?? Both please.

    BFBVince wrote on April 9th, 2014
  2. This all proves a very good point – mimic the behavior not the details. Historically they foraged for the best available food sources and had optimum health. We can forage for the best available food sources and obtain similar optimum health. It just so happens we live in a time when geography is not a limiting factor and abundance is our reality. Let the critics fight over the details and enjoy good health!

    Jason wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • I guess I am the lucky one. Not only do I get to eat primal but I get to eat like my ancestors did. My family moved to Alaska from the polar regions of Finland and Norway. Available food sources are nearly identical in both locations. I eat a lot of meat: moose, dear, caribou, reindeer, bear, porcupine, seal, fish, and shellfish. In spring and summer I harvest fiddleheads, spruce tips, salmon berry shoots, devil’s club, beach asparagus, bull kelp, goose tongue, and lots of berries. Hunting is a lot of work, but so is gathering. I am blessed to live this lifestyle.

      Valerie wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Wow! You are lucky!

        Mike wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Oh dear! I was really saying DEER :)

        Valerie wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Strictly speaking, we can`t be sure that our hunter-gatherer ancestors “had optimum health”; let`s not forget that (reproductive) “fitness” – which is what evolution actually happens to select for – is not necessarily congruent with (healthy) “longevity” – in fact, given the high extrinsic mortality rate “Grok” had to contend with, one could even argue that a certain degree of discordance between the two parameters is plausible (due to antagonistic pleiotropy). Relatedly, the longest-living healthy populations we currently possess data on appear to be, by and large, consuming a plant-based diet containing grains and legumes (I am referring to the “Blue Zones” here), whereas relatively well-studied peoples with diets closer to “hunter-gatherer parameters” that are equally healthy – like the Kitavans – appear to have a life expectancy that is roughly equal to the “average westerner” (provided that one corrects for infant mortality). While it is certainly possible that these observations can be chalked up to (the obviously existing) confounding factors in their entirety, there is thus, at the very least, no conclusive evidence that the “hunter-gatherer template” truly constitutes “the optimal human diet” at this point; only significant breakthroughs in the area of nutritional genomics will enable us to settle this matter conclusively, I think.

      Karl wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • I hope you are removing all medical interventions when considering the data that you’re looking into, as these were not utilized by our ancestors.
        To me, I look beyond the human species to see what works. Are lions in the wild eating an unhealthy diet for them? What about octopus? What about beetles? Doesn’t it seem that it would make sense for our species to have evolved to consume the foods in the environment we lived in as other species have? Nature had to do something right, we are now the dominate species on the planet. I think we would have had to be hardy to get here.
        The industrial revolution is so brand new, there is no way our genetics have been able to catch up to that yet – we’ve barely started to catch up with the invention of agriculture. I promise you, the wheat and dairy we buy at the grocery store is nothing like what it was even 300 years ago, let alone 10,000.
        So, we know that these processed foods do not exist in the wild, therefore, they cannot be a natural part of our human diet. Eat wheat, if you must, but pick it from a non-GMO plant and utilize it. That would be much closer to nature, which logically, would be much closer to what our bodies could be set up to use. Just look to zoos to see what happens when you change a wild animal’s diet. We are no different.
        Not to mention, we have many other environmental factors beyond diet that affect us in untold ways, that again, our species have yet to adapt to.
        Life expectancy is just not the smartest way to measure health. There are so many variables completely unrelated to health in that number that it just can’t be an indicator to how healthy a population is.

        Casey wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • I am not considering “the data” on the life expectancy of our ancestors, because those entail too many educated guesses for my taste; instead, I look at what we know about relatively well-studied contemporary populations eating a diet in line with “hunter-gatherer parameters,” and compare how they stack up with regard to both health and life expectancy. True, all this is riddled with confounding factors (as I mentioned), but that is not the point; the fact that “Grok” had very limited “medical interventions” at his disposal compared to neolithic populations actually argues in favour of the “antagonistic pleiotropy hypothesis”. A certain food need not necessarily be “unhealthy” just because it is evolutionarily novel – dairy products, for example, are apparently considered by many to be an acceptable part of a healthy “Primal diet,” even though they are decidedly neolithic. Yes, we “have evolved to consume” certain “foods in the environment we lived in” – both diet and environmental context are pieces of the puzzle, and seeing as we live in a drastically different environment now (with regard to extrinsic mortality rate, among other things), putting the pieces back together may result in a distorted picture – after all, who can say how many unwitting (epi-)genetic tradeoffs made by “Grok” yield a completely different return of investment in our neolithic environment ( (Heterozygous) familial hypercholesterolemia, for example, is thought to have provided a net fitness gain for our paleolithic ancestors, but is decidedly maladaptive for the average “westerner” today – maybe the same is true for certain foods/dietary patterns?)? Whether or not “we are now the dominate species on the planet” is both debatable and irrelevant in this regard, if you ask me.
          As for “the industrial revolution,” I agree with you: The fact that (at the very least) a significant part of the population is not well-adapted to SAD patterns of eating is painfully obvious; basing one`s diet largely on “processed food” is clearly a bad idea when the “food matrix” is so poorly understood. Concerning the products of agriculture per se and the pace of adaptation in general, I tend to believe that things are less clear-cut, especially considering how prominently the microbiota appears to figure into all of this (as all of us living in this age of widespread resistance to antibiotics know, bacteria adapt and evolve with blinding speed).
          All in all, the observation remains that there appear to be several populations on this planet that enjoy the same “compression of morbidity” as (contemporary) hunter-gatherers while living decidedly longer still – my point being that all things health-related being more or less equal, life expectancy does indeed (at least potentially) matter with regard to dietary concerns (so, no – I am not trying to establish life expectancy as a proxy for health – don`t know how you got that idea).

          Karl wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • PS:

          “I promise you, the wheat and dairy we buy at the grocery store is nothing like what it was even 300 years ago, let alone 10,000.”
          Sure, but the same goes for the vegetables/fruit/tubers/meat/fish we eat.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • I have learned to accept that I need to eat lots of meat since I have observed my dog. She would never eat kibble when a puppy, she would have rather starved. Then when tried to feed her a “healthy” canned food, it would be rejected in a couple of days. She smelled what we were eating, chicken, steak, etc. And THAT is what she would eat. While many other dogs are forced to eat starch and all that garbage, she would not even eat a dog biscuit, unless she thought some-other dog would want it, lol. In know humans are not dogs, but if they seem to prefer meat, and I do better on it, then there it is.

          Iris Berg wrote on April 10th, 2014
      • Karl, read some Weston A. Price “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration”. I’d call the healthy native peoples he studied before they were ruined by western convenience foods, to have ‘extremely optimum health’. Almost no dental caries or mental health issues. Knew exactly what to eat to have strong, healthy babies. They were lean, strong, happy and content peoples. Also, the grains we now get in the west are bastardized beyond recognition.

        Nocona wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • I am actually quite familiar with Price, and tend to think that his observations bolster the point I am trying to make (for example, he found several of the grain- and even wheat-eating groups/populations he evaluated to be healthy, and even used rolls made from freshly ground whole wheat as part of his tooth decay reversal program) – but I concede that the grain products that are typically eaten in the western world these days may be decidedly more problematic for at least part of the population. Still, I have to insist that we don`t know what diet(ary pattern) yields “extremely optimum health” for whom at this point, because there are way too many confounding factors splattered all over the (limited) data at our disposal; I am pretty sure, though, that nobody involved in this discussion is taking a stand for the consumption of more “western convenience foods”.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Karl, I hear what you are saying, but for me the proof is in the pudding. I suffer mood swings when I eat a grain, fruit based diet. When I get a good amount of fat, that is reversed, as is my acid reflux, asthma. Fat does not cause acid for me, it is grains, and the condition cleared up in just one day of low-carb eating. Fat is not the enemy, at least in my real day to day life. I do not no nothing about no studies:)

          Iris Berg wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Iris,
          while I am sceptical about “Paleo” as a universal means to achieve “maximum healthy longevity,” I also recognize that the available data only allow for very limited conclusions in general, and tend to think that there is no universal “best diet” or even dietary pattern (beyond “eating real food”) everyone should follow to a T anyway- (epi)genetic diversity is, after all, a defining element of our survival strategy as a species.
          Ergo: As long as nutritional genomics research is in its infancy, and in the absence of objective medical evidence directly contradicting one`s subjective experience – do what (you feel) works best for you personally.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Love Weston’s work, just reread it recently online. Now I see malformed jaws everywhere, such as on TV (and in the mirror! Mine isn’t too bad, fortunately. Thanks for breastfeeding, Mom!)

          Per dogs and starch, one characteristic of dogs vs. wolves is that dogs can eat a relatively starchy diet…plenty of articles online like this one: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v495/n7441/full/nature11837.html. I’m not saying it’s better for dogs, just an interesting adaptation.

          Energy! wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • I’ll admit that I have not read every comment (who could?), but I’ve noticed that in all the discussion exercise is lacking. It is THE COMMON THREAD, not diet, which is why diet in isolation discussion are worthless. I also see a lot of individual reports of personal experience, which cannot be used as “proof” due to confirmation bias and lack of any control. The placebo effect is real, which is why research tries to root it out. Just feeling better does not equate to being healthier.

          ESP wrote on April 11th, 2014
      • Excellent point. Grok was not designed, necessarily, for longevity. In fact probably there’s a trade off – shorter life span for greater strength. In any case you make an excellent point. It is a false assumption to contend that his diet was designed for longevity since he was most likely to die from something other than old age.

        Dennis wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • There is of course the theory that people have evolved to live on average until their grand children become self – suffient. In line with the idea that the grandparents would take care of the infants, whilst the younger adults would hunt and gather.

          Storm wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • Storm:

          Granted. What this actually means, though, is that our paleolithic ancestors may have evolved to maintain a robust physical constitution into their mid-sixties – or mid-seventies, at best – , judging from the available data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, which indicate that the mean number of expected years of life, conditional on reaching age 45, is about two decades. Seeing as Sardinians/Ikarians/Seventh-day Adventists/etc. live decidedly longer while enjoying a similar health status, emulating dietary habits of hunter-gatherers beyond the “real food paradigm” in order to optimize “healthy longevity” as an aspiring sprightly centenarian in spe seems like a debate-worthy premise to me.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Since most (all?) traditional peoples value their elders for their knowledge and there was no other way to keep information at hand except in people’s brains, I’d argue there was tremendous value in having elders that lived long and well.

          Energy! wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Energy!,

          nice “just-so theorizing,” but the data appear to point in a different direction – at least if you go by the average westerner`s definition of a “long life”.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Something that needs to be taken into account is that the on paper estimates for life expectancy, are skewed downwards by the necessity to factor in much higher rates of infant and early childhood mortality than in modern societies. Those who made it past the age of 10 would have been out of that danger zone, and had a good chance of living well past the nominal average and many did.

          Paul in Australia wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Paul,

          have you read my response to “Storm”? I figured that into my musings by looking exclusively at the life expectancy data on only those
          contemporary hunter-gatherers who have already reached age 45, thus eliminating infant and early childhood mortality as confounding factors.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • Mark,

          the links you post here don`t bring anything new to the table, as far as I can see.
          The first one , which concerns itself with the (certainly questionable) validity of using bone density measurement as a tool to help determine paleolithic life expectancy, ultimately comes down to pure “speculation” (as you yourself aptly summarize it in the second link), and doesn`t offer any substantial conclusions either way; the second link, which attempts to extrapolate ancestral life expectancy from data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, appears to be based on the very same source I looked at, which is why it comes to the exact same conclusion, namely that unacculturated hunter-gatherers who manage to make it through infancy and young adulthood die in their mid-sixties, on average; the third link outlines the “”embodied capital” model of human longevity” in order to explain how living “roughly seven decades” (and thus significantly beyond (prime) reproductive age) might have conferred a net fitness gain for those lucky Groks and Grokettes not prematurely removed from the gene pool by way of trauma and disease – and lucky they were indeed, if we go by the fact that survival to age 45 varies between 26 percent and 43 percent among contemporary unacculturated hunter-gatherers (according to the source you cite in the second link). Seeing as genes tend to have larger impacts on fitness in an organism`s prime than in their old age, this makes antagonistically pleiotropic epigenetic effects exerted by the diet(ary patterns) our ancestors adapted to – at least with regard to age brackets not typically reached by “Grok” – a feasible explanation for the conspicuously “Paleo-deviant” dietary habits among the longest-lived healthy populations in the world, thus calling the intuitively plausible connection between “eating like our paleolithic ancestors” and achieving “maximum healthy longevity” into question.

          Karl wrote on April 11th, 2014
        • …”among the longest-lived healthy populations in the world of today”…

          Karl wrote on April 11th, 2014
      • The article highlights some important trends, but Karl makes the key point, we cannot say that their health was optimal. Was there dietary blueprint better than the contemporary diet most Americans eat? Probably. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it led to optimal health or overcame any specific disease. Moreover, at our current pace, mass consumption of animal based protein is unsustainable. Finally, physical activity also plays a key role in hunter-gather societies; a level of activity we simply cannot and probably would not achieve. Survival was hard and life was dangerous. It’s too easy to cherry pick the data and draw conclusions.

        I still like the overview of different tribes. I’m covering a similar topic on my blog/podcast at http://www.espanswers.com

        ESP wrote on April 10th, 2014
        • What about the “Harem” factor – the fraction of 1% of “Old Paleo Guys” that survived to a ripe old age and fathered a multitude of offspring…. How many kids would they have had compared to a contemporary who only lasted a few decades? There is a natural selection for long life purely in that the longer you live (whilst being reproductively capable), the more of your genes will propagate… The ancient Chiefs/Kings/Emperors (at least in “modern” times in recorded history) would often have many children (sometimes in the 100’s!), and I presume that successful “Chiefs” of a Paleo tribe probably dominated their gene pool also…. As such, we should expect that the longer you live whilst still able to father (or mother) children, and the more successful you are as an individual in general (and thus more likely to survive longer), the more your genes will contribute to the gene pool….

          Lewis L wrote on April 12th, 2014
        • …”among the longest-lived healthy populations in the world of today”…

          Karl, would be interested in your “top 3-4″ – who would you regard/who are you referring to here? Okinawans? Mediterranean cultures?

          Cheers

          L

          Lewis L wrote on April 12th, 2014
        • Lewis,
          if the “”Harem” factor” you propose had exerted significant influence on the gene pool, that should manifest in the life expectancy of contemporary (unacculturated) hunter-gatherers. It doesn`t (see above). Quod erat demonstrandum. (Again, this probably comes down to antagonistic pleiotropy: The idea of a complex biological organism adapting to an environment substantially defined by a high extrinsic mortality risk in such a way as to also minimize intrinsic mortality risk appears somewhat akin to an elite Powerlifter trying to maintain his maximal strength while duplicating the running regimen of a world record marathoner.)
          As to the populations I am referring to – that would be the “Blue Zoners”:
          Loma Linda-Adventists, Nicoyans, Sardinians, Icarians, and -yes- Okinawans.

          Karl wrote on April 12th, 2014
      • Some of it might be true because most parasitic infections come from eating animals.

        Plants, especially fruits with a thick skin that needs to be peeled, don’t carry parasites that would infect a large population (half a village) with meningitis.

        Even as a child I was taught to wash the wild herbs and lettuce type plants because snails leave a goo behind that contains parasites.

        Also, warmer climates offered a variety of plants (from coconut to lemons) that would enable you to eat more days without any meat and thus reducing the risk for infection from animals (drinking blood, eating undercooked catfish [Sushi in Africa], etc)

        People learned to protect themselves through clothing (wearing leather on the bottom of your feet outside your village, hitting the clothes with a duster before bringing them inside from a clothes line [flies that lay eggs in fabric] or draping cloth over your entire body to keep the sand fly parasite from eating your body and face)

        In Europe they learned eating a ton of garlic or onions would cleanse the blood of parasite or at least minimize the breakouts if already infected.

        Al wrote on April 14th, 2014
    • Let’s not remiss the fact that the Butkhikataw tribe consumed a diet consisting of 80% of meat. Know for their cannibalism rituals they thrived on a lean meat diet. Let the Paleo naysayers chew on that tidbit for awhile.

      Reddog wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Erm, when you type Butkhikataw into google all you get is links back to marksdailyapple and you posting this same comment numerous times since 2007. Either this is an in-joke I’m not getting or you need to check your spelling…….

        Pip wrote on April 10th, 2014
      • Karl, how can you/we tell if the “Harem” factor has contributed or not??? As you refer to via “antagonistic pleiotropy” the human genetic pool is in a constant state of “flux”, within certain limiting boundaries set by the physical limits of our “ancestral genome” (ie. as determined by the multitude of various selection pressures during evolution – obviously we couldn’t develop gills and breathe underwater in just a few generations of even the toughest selection….). Our genetics will be pulled in one direction by certain “selection pressures”, but in other directions by different pressures, and often/usually at the same time…. Depending on the environmental situation the mix of selection pressures will vary as will the effect on the genome. I can certainly see a case in our HG evolution whereby there are (1) certain selection pressures that would favour a shorter life (go hard in your prime, maximise offspring whilst young, then die to leave room for the progeny) as is the case with many other, shorter lived species on the planet, but also (2) other selection pressures that may push our genome in completely different directions (including completely opposite). ie. A sort of a “push/pull” effect. It is the “average” of all the various selection pressures over time (& of course their effect on our genome) that determines who we are and what our genetic potential is. I think that part of the problem with analysing such topics is exactly for this reason – that it is such a complex mix of “random” factors that combine to give the average that picking on only a few doesn’t really work. I think that the “Harem factor” must surely have exerted some significant influence on human evolution (but maybe not in all ages, depending on the “environment” at the time). Its a “numbers game” always with genetics. Yes, no doubt many factors push for “a good time but a short time” lifespan, but also there are many other factors acting in the opposite direction, such as the “Harem factor” &/or “Grandmother/Grandparent effect”… The “numbers game” suggests that those factors/pressures that result in the most favourable outcome (ie. the most children being born that in turn themselves produce most progeny….) will dominate in the mix and push our genome in that direction, but no doubt always in some sort of balance/equilibrium… One great consequence of this is “adaptability” and “versatility”, and no doubt has contributed to humans rising to the top of the food chain (at least from our perspective! (:-)). The mix of genes that dominate and give the best results during thousands of years of “Ice Age” are probably not going to be exactly the same as those that will dominate during climatic temperature “maximums”, just as the selection pressures encountered on one part of the planet (eg. the Arctic) will be completely different from those on another (eg. Tropics).

        So our HG ancestors evolved under the pressures of millions of years of environmental change, to give us an “average” genome or “blank canvas” that modern cultures can paint upon. Current societies that have adopted the modern “SAD” diet are obviously incurring a lot of negative environmental pressures that in conjunction with our genome are pushing in the direction of shorter lifespans, (luckily offset by massive improvements in medical technology). “Blue Zone” cultures, and any others that result in high % of long lived people obviously live in an environment that is in much more harmony with the human genome. Apart from a healthy “balanced” diet based on diversity of “whole foods” there seem to be many lifestyle factors contributing there…

        So I guess the whole underlying concept of eating a “Paleo” diet is that it best approximates the “average” diet of our ancestors that should then best match our “average genome” – but averaged over a multitude of different environmental backdrops, both in time (millions of years) and space (the range of human migration from Africa to Alaska to Tasmania….). Depending on an individual’s specific inherited set of genes no doubt this can be optimised by varying the specific mix, but the basic concept of “whole/natural foods” vs. modern processed seems pretty universal. Mark’s “averages” for macronutrients also seem like a pretty good yardstick too – it makes sense to me that going for that ~25 – 36% baseline of “hunted animal” foods, then adjust the mix depending on environment, lifestyle &/or other influences is our best starting point…

        Lewis L wrote on April 12th, 2014
        • Lewis,

          I could probably have framed my answer better: Of course “certain selection pressures” – the “Harem factor”/”Grandparent effect” presumably among them – appear to have exerted an influence that “nudged” our ancestors` gene pool towards longevity, seeing as their life expectancy – when not cut short by way of trauma or disease – appears to have extended beyond “prime reproductive age”; when I say I doubt a “significant influence,” I mean that the results don`t exactly correspond to our modern idea of a “long life”: As Mark describes in the second link he posted (above), even acculturated hunter-gatherers, who one “might even say” are “essentially Primal, eating and moving traditionally while enjoying access to modern medicine,” merely live to about 70, on average (and that is only looking at those who managed to make it to age 45, so extrinsic mortality rate is not exactly a massive confounding factor here) – and considering that “”degenerative deaths are relatively few, confined largely to problems early in infancy””/”Heart attacks and stroke “appear rare,” and the bulk of deaths occur when the person is sleeping and…free of obvious symptoms or pathology,” it seems doubtful that a higher degree of “modern interventionism” would drive that number substantially upwards. When I compare that to the “Blue Zoners,” who live decades longer while appearing similarly healthy, I can`t help but think that approximating “the “average” diet of our ancestors” so as to achieve “maximum healthy longevity” may not be the greatest idea ever hit on – after all, recreating the “Paleo painting” in this day and age involves not only the “blank canvas” that is our “average genome,” but also a markedly different easel – i.e. evolutionary milieu (defined by a substantially lower extrinsic mortality rate, among other things) – , and may thus very well yield distorted results due to a completely different return on investment of the myriad (epi)genetic tradeoffs unwittingly made by “Grok”.
          All in all, I maintain that the “Paleo premise” is decidedly less plausible than it is pellucid – but agree that “real food” is probably the lowest common denominator in all of this, and that multitudinous confounding factors make it impossible to draw definite conclusions.

          Karl wrote on April 13th, 2014
        • “…draw definite conclusions either way (at this point).”
          (Still, one can observe that just like there are “trends” with regard to hunter-gatherer diets – as Mark has outlined in the article we are discussing here – , we find a largely plant-based, semi-vegetarian diet containing ample legumes and, for the most part, not eschewing (all) grains (beyond white rice) as a pretty consistent feature across the “Blue Zones” – and it`s not like we are talking about one distinct microcosm here, these groups are widely scattered geographically.)

          Karl wrote on April 13th, 2014
      • You mean Krippendorf’s tribe?

        hehe

        Al wrote on April 14th, 2014
  3. I’d be interested in reading if there were any specific health problems prominent in these groups, though I’m not sure the data exists. I’ve read that the Inuit had mental health problems that are considered to be, most probably, a result of Vitamin A toxicity. So perhaps the 96% animal diet is a bit too much?

    Jenna H wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • It was not too much meat, but Inuits sometimes ate Polar bear liver which has vitamin A levels that are too high for humans. Omnivore or herbivore livers are fine, but humans cannot eat carnivore livers as the inuits showed us.

      Jessica wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Good point !

      Mothy wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • It is assumed the diet of members of the Butkhikataw tribe contributed greatly to their overall health. The overwhelming stress of defending yourself constantly from becoming the next main course entree affected the mental health of all tribal members.

      Reddog wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Karl, certainly a fascinating line to follow… I note that despite the fact these sites are widely scattered geographically as you point out, it is interesting to see the Latitudinal spread is not so wide. Nicoya is the “tropical outlier” at ~11N, o the others fall into somewhat “temperate – sub tropical” ~34 – 40N.. . Can you pick the “next best” 4-5 candidates for Blue Zoner status? Would be interesting to look at a larger sample…

      Lewis L wrote on April 13th, 2014
      • Lewis,

        several other regions in Japan/Italy, Andorrans, and a smattering of Caucasus-peoples would probably be next in line – it appears that the “Blue Zone magic” may indeed be confined to a rather narrow “latitudinal corridor”…

        Karl wrote on April 15th, 2014
        • Really good Point! Thanks!

          johnny wrote on April 15th, 2014
        • Thanks Karl, certainly interesting to look at.

          Apart from several general lifestyle similarities + consumption of modest amounts of meat/dairy/seafood with plenty of diverse plants etc. that Dan Buettner illustrates, perhaps Vitamin D may be another influence?? There seem to be a lot of references to these cultures spending time outside, “soaking up sunshine”….

          With the prolonged period of low Vit D levels in far Northern (or Southern in my part of the world – OZ) latitudes in winter it might be very difficult for people in such areas to be optimal for Vit D on a long term, consistent basis. Again, going back to basics, if humans evolved under conditions of generally plentiful (with minor variation) levels, it would make sense that extreme differences from those conditions could be “problematic”. But then perhaps it helps in some ways to be a little further away from the “pure tropics” also? Perhaps the Blue Zones have the best of both worlds – not too extreme variation/limitation in Sunlight/Vitamin D levels, but perhaps also other, positive factors involved with being further away from the equator? Cooler conditions in winter might add some “relief” or physiological advantage to extend life?? Perhaps constant high levels of Vit D don’t really add much and may in fact detract somehow? If low Vit D levels trigger slower metabolism and conservation of fat (supposedly helping to survive periods of famine etc.), then perhaps a regular “hit” of this might be better than the minimal variation in the tropics?

          Lewis L wrote on April 15th, 2014
        • Lewis,

          or it might be the “perfect compromise” between infectious disease risk and Vitamin D supply…one can speculate endlessly, and while doing that certainly is a fun pastime, it does not offer any substantial conclusions at the end of the day. If only nutritional genomics research were further along…

          Karl wrote on April 18th, 2014
  4. Just out of intellectual curiosity, why no grains? Do grains not grow there (naturally)? Is farming too labor intensive? Are these all pre-agriculture groups, so they haven’t developed the skills? Or is it a preference for meat and plants (tubers, fruit, etc.)? Teach me.

    Kim wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • The grain “question” can get complex, but h-g’s ate no grains because they considered the seeds of grasses to be a non-food. As I like to say, grains aren’t food, grains are what food eats. Nutrient density of grain is very poor and human digestive systems are not well suited to extract what little there is. We are better off to avoid grains and their associated problems.

      FJP wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Grains also have to be planted and harvested in order to have enough to really supplement the diet. Animals can be hunted and eaten the same day.
        I imagine preference has a lot to do with it too.
        The only real advantage grain has is storage.

        His Dudeness wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Dumb question. So why is grass fed beef considered healthy? Where do the nutrients come from besides sun?

        cate wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • As FJP pointed out – grains aren’t food. Grains are what food eats. Grass-fed beef is preferable because that is their natural diet, as opposed to “fake” diets they get on corporate farms.

          Lizzy C. wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • That’s not a dumb question at all. When cattle eat only grass, their natural diet, their guts and bodies are at their healthiest. When you add grain to their diet their guts and bodies change radically within a few days: fat quality ratios change from omega 3 to omega 9, their gut bacteria change radically as well which is where the problems with e. coli contamination come from. Feeding grain is also why antibiotics are given to cattle in huge quantities, not just because it makes them grow faster and get fatter but because grain makes them sick, too. Butter from spring grass fed cows is really good for you, full of all the fabulous things that make calves so healthy when they’re allowed to drink it. I’m sure there are other folks on this list who can chime in with much more information. This is only the stuff I can think of off the top of my head.

          Felicia wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Really good Point! Thanks!

        johnny wrote on April 15th, 2014
    • Grains also have to be cooked (probably in a pot), whereas everything else on the lists above can be eaten raw

      Anne wrote on April 9th, 2014
  5. Hi Mark,
    I love what you do and this post; but you missed one…

    SISSONS

    Environment: Malibu, a coastal enclave community of Hollywood execs and retired professional athletes. 72 degrees and sunny year-round, but subject to occasional mudslide or brushfire.

    What they eat: Grassfed beef & organs, line caught fish from the sea. Organic greens & produce from local farmers including some berries. Plenty of avocado, coconut & mac nuts. Occasional yam, rice (only with raw fish) and potato (in a pinch).

    Numbers: 50% Fat, 30% protein, 20% carb. The species is generally regarded as the most healthy and fit on the planet, maintains optimal body mass with ease and has achieved balance of heart, soul, body and mind.

    tongue in cheek wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • :-)

      Kelda wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • That’s cute.

      Foraging behavior: frequent walking or bicycling trips to farmer’s markets

      Joe wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • There are pockets of Sissons in other parts of the world too! Like in Ottawa, On. Canada, for example…

      Sarah wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • That excluded Gwen Paltrow, lol

      Iris Berg wrote on April 10th, 2014
    • Well put observation. Are you implying that there is an elite group of people who can afford foods from the freshest organic sources, maintain overall healthy lifestyles and live life at a higher level of consciousness than the great majority of people?

      johnny wrote on April 15th, 2014
  6. It’s a spectrum. We are living in a world full of much more health choices (and other stuff) plus more accessible resources than our ancestors could fathom.

    I like the word theme. Another word for patterns…that work. Great bit of info here. Thanks Mark!

    Abz wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Not sure about this. Native folks ate or used thousands of different species of plants. We have lost an incredible amount of native information as we wiped these groups out. We go to the farmers market now and there are still only about 30-40 different plant foods. I finally saw stinging nettle being sold at my market yesterday. Have never seen cattail though.

      Nocona wrote on April 9th, 2014
  7. As it is with Hunter-Gatherers, so it is with the modern day Driver-Eaters. Some eat 80% Micky D’s 15% PepsiCo 5% bagged salads; some follow the 50% ‘whole grain’ pasta 50% soybean oil-sugar-tomato sauce diet; some are even true to the (here comes the ironic part) “one true diet” accepted by Our authorities. Everybody’s genes are different, and We all have to eat different amounts of sugar and veg oils so We have things to complain about when We’re older. Otherwise, what will We spend all that time doing?

    Nack wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Reading this post, i think about how nature used to be Our moderator. Humans never had to worry about eating too much honey or not enough organ meats. “Everything in moderation” was not a slogan for deliberation: it was just life. The seasons and the weather kept Us in check, and humans never had a reason to develop the volition needed to put down jumbo-sized soft drinks and reject cigarettes and booze.

      i mean, i know it’s said the grass always looks greener on the other side, but there’s something to be said for werking with the thing that makes it green.

      Nack wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • I Often dream about “Simple life”. Modern life is self inflicted. Any time I want to go to 1800 a.d. All I have to do is disconnect my utilities. And 10000 b.c. can be had by relocating to Alaska or Chile.

        Dennis wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • I doubt humanity was ever in such a state when they could be considered human.

        As long as we’ve have brains that can put A and B together or choose Y over X, we’ve had to make decisions (and maybe even worry) about what we eat.

        Jay wrote on April 15th, 2014
  8. Very well researched, as usual! I just read another blog (they’re travel bloggers) about how there is no nutritional benefit to meat, so they’ve become vegetarian. Perhaps I should post a link to this post…

    Thanks, Mark!

    Alyssa James wrote on April 9th, 2014
  9. Vegetarianism is a luxury of industrialization

    So is veganism–neither would survive if you took away the industrialized, processed food “crutches” these folks rely on to get their nutrients. Many LCers would also have a tough time without their fake-food flour and sugar substitutes.

    Wenchypoo wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Oh, and one more thing: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A VEGAN PALEO!! Someone had the guts to write a book about this, and all it does is invite a whole lot of people to abuse their bodies with multiple nutrient deficiencies just to be *part* of a successful lifestyle. Just to be able to say “I’m doing the Paleo thing—only without the meat.”

      No, you AREN’T doing the Paleo thing!

      Wenchypoo wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • And yet, not only the omnivorous, but also the vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists are among the healthiest and longest-lived populations in the world…

      Karl wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • I know a handful of seventh-day Adventists personally, and no, I would not list them as shining examples of health. Grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries, and desserts galore still make up quite a bit of their diet.

        Erin wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • My argument is based on population data (Adventist Mortality/Health Studies). This does not preclude individual counterexamples, of course…

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
      • They think it is because they fast, not their diet.

        Nocona wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • Seventh-Day Adventists are highly variable in their health consciousness, and even though some eat grilled cheese sandwiches (often the only option at restaurants) and desserts, they universally avoid smoking and alcohol. An interesting comparison is between SDAs and Mormons, as the only difference I know of is that Mormons eat meat. And, of course, both groups do better than average healthwise.

          Terry P wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • Nocona:
          While I am not completely sure who you mean by “they,” there are most definitely others who think that factors beyond fasting also play a role. Of course, all musings on causality along these lines are ultimately doomed to confinement within the realm of speculation, considering the myriad potential confounding factors possibly at play here; a largely plant-based, semi-vegetarian diet is a pretty consistent feature across the “Blue Zone”-populations, though.

          Terry:
          I agree that the universal avoidance of smoking and alcohol consumption is likely a key factor regarding Adventist health. With regard to the SDA-Mormon comparison, you are right that the only relevant difference appears to concern meat intake, and that both groups live about seven years longer than ethnically matched control groups –
          but, with regard to Adventists, this refers to the average Adventist male, not vegetarian Adventist men specifically; the latter live about 9.5 years longer than the average Californian white male, whose life expectancy is, in turn, up to a year greater than that of the average US white male that the mormons were compared to (Denise Minger didn`t get that one quite right in her book).
          Make of that what you will.

          Karl wrote on April 10th, 2014
      • Do you have links to the data you’re using, Karl? You’ve made a lot of interesting points here, but I would be interested in seeing the actual data myself.

        Brad wrote on April 15th, 2014
        • Additionally, how much of this is correlation versus causation? The groups you mentioned tend to eschew nicotine, alcohol, etc. What other habits do they have that other populations don’t? Do they walk more? Is their income generally higher? How much of their diet is comprised of grains versus vegetables?

          It seems it’s difficult to make a determination based on observing any group’s diet as you cannot control for other factors.

          Brad wrote on April 15th, 2014
        • Brad,

          whenever I include links in my posts on MDA, they appear to gather dust in the “moderation queue” ad infinitum…what I wrote here is mainly based on the Adventist Mortality/Health Studies (most of the relevant data are available in the JAMA Internal medicine archives; Fraser et al.:”Ten Years of Life – Is It a Matter of Choice?”), a couple of studies by Enstrom et al. on Mormon mortality (easily found via PubMed), a review by Singh et al. on low meat consumption and life expectancy (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition), and CDC data on state-specific (healthy) life expectancy at age 65. Specifically, I tried to take a closer look at the following statement of Denise Minger, which Terry`s post reminded me of: “When compared to ethnically matched folks outside their religious groups, both Adventist and Mormon men – once their bithday-cake candles start numbering in the thirties – can expect to live about seven years longer than the rest of the population.” (Death By Food Pyramid, p.194) It seems to me that this summary of the data – which appears to be based specifically on the Fraser paper I mentioned above and the Enstrom 1978 paper dubbed “Cancer and total mortality among active Mormons” – is true on the surface, but ultimately misleading.
          As to the “correlation versus causation” quandary: I agree. Correcting adequately for the myriad confounding factors entangled with the available data seems like a Sisyphean challenge to me, and seeing as proper RCTs are pretty much out of the question (decades-long interventions?Yeah, that would work out just fine from a cost and compliance standpoint!), we will probably have to wait for significant breakthroughs in the nutritional genomics realm to tell us which “real food” template is best – or, alternatively, that “one dietary template for everyone” is a flawed premise (I suspect the latter).
          (My point, though, is this: If the “Paleo movement” argues that “trends” we can observe with regard to the dietary templates of certain conspicuously disease-free peoples should “inform” our own food choices, regardless of possible confounding factors – why does it “brush off” similarly distinctive dietary leanings observed among a different group of equally healthy, but decidedly longer-lived popualtions with a reference to – wait for it – confounding factors?)

          Karl wrote on April 18th, 2014
  10. Tongue in cheek… you forgot to mention that native Malibuians will forage as far as Tulum, Mexico and New York, US …..

    Piper Kirby wrote on April 9th, 2014
  11. This may be answered in the book (which I have but not yet fully read) or the site, but why is this particular stage in human ancestry the one that should serve as the blueprint for our food consumption? If we go further back, some evidence (http://goo.gl/s4mN9z) suggests that most of our ancestors were vegetarians and if we go further forward, then many grains become dietary staples. What makes the hunter-gatherer period the “right” one?

    Matt wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • The hunter-gatherer period likely had the most healthy humans of any time period you reference, especially compared to today’s grain based diet. It’s all explained well in Mark’s lesson two. The link is http://www.marksdailyapple.com/how-agriculture-ruined-your-health-and-what-to-do-about-it/

      Jessup wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Read the comments to the article you send. You’ll find answers to some of your questions

      Tia wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • As an anthropologist myself, I would like to answer with my “professional” opinion (for what it’s worth).

      First, let me say you are correct. “Further back” in our evolutionary history our ancestors indeed ate more vegetation, although the evidence still indicates that they were more omnivore than true vegetarian. And certainly grains became a staple in recent history. Unfortunately the Agricultural Revolution is the primary problem that Paleo addresses: our systems have simply not had enough time to evolve for such a high volume of grains — particularly processed! — to be a good source of nutrition.

      The reason the hunter-gatherer period, commonly referred to here as “Paleo” is the right one is due to the fact that it was during such a lifestyle that our greatest advancements as a species occurred. It was the high protein diet that contributed to our rapid brain development, particularly the frontal lobe where cognitive thinking occurs.

      I could go on, however Mark and others have already outlined much of this in their work. Read Robb Wolf, Arthur De Vany, and others. Or, for what I believe is the most balanced approach, read absolutely everything Mark has published.

      So, again, as an anthropologist who has studied this topic in great detail and compared it to my university education, it is the only thing that makes sense. Hope this helps.

      James wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • James,

        Isn’t saturated fat intake often considered a key component to brain development from an evolutionary standpoint as well?

        Brad wrote on April 15th, 2014
    • The rightness it that it feels better. The body and mind like it. For me at least!

      Iris Berg wrote on April 10th, 2014
  12. Great post.

    There’s no one Mediterranean Diet, either, but critics never complain about that. ;)

    Roland Denzel wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Not to mention that this supposed metric for healthy eating never mentions the approach to food in Mediterranean cultures versus the American way of eating. In general, we’re known to pile our plates–mostly with starches–and scarf our food as fast as we can while multitasking. In every Mediterranean culture I’ve heard of, food is a social occasion taking time and care to prepare and consume together whenever possible. All that red wine we keep hearing about is sipped, not gulped.

      Additionally, I’ve noticed for some people that “Mediterranean” can conveniently translate to Italian, and Italian = pasta and bread. Therefore, I’m on a Mediterranean diet, hold the fish, fresh vegetables, and olive oil and please pass the platter of heart-healthy whole-grain spaghetti with sugar-laden sauce, cosmic crapton of cheese, and “garlic” bread.

      Kristina wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • I think the Americanized “Mediterranean” diet = fish, olive oil, veggies, etc. but if you actually visit these countries, their diets vary by region. So technically, there is no one true Mediterranean diet either.

        Erin wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • That’s correct. The Mediterranean sea is quite large and I’m sure that the Isreali eat a different diet than the French.

          Also keep in mind, Africa is on the Mediterranean Sea, too.

          Al wrote on April 14th, 2014
        • Are there any other diets like this (where there’s not just one, but people act like there is)?

          Paleo
          Primal
          Mediterranean
          Vegetarian
          Vegan

          Roland Denzel wrote on April 14th, 2014
  13. For me, “Paleo” consists of eating as close to nature as possible. This means the healthier whole foods my grandparents and great-grandparents ate–what some people would call “peasant food”. Everything they ate was homemade because there was far less in the way of processed foods. Even if it had been available, they couldn’t have afforded it. Trying to eat exactly as the Paleolithic people ate is unrealistic, but home gardening and cooking from scratch with the best ingredients I can afford go a long way toward putting together a healthy diet.

    Shary wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • + 1 to that.

      Aloka wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Exactly

      Kelda wrote on April 9th, 2014
  14. Insects being part of the diet needs to make a comeback! I feel like the cricket powder bars are a step in the right direction for not making it so taboo.

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Insects are good for us. Many people do not know that wild blueberries, at least those that grow here in Alaska, have worms. I don’t mind eating blueberries right off of the bush, but most people I know prefer to clean them before eating them. Think of all that protein they are missing out on.

      Valerie wrote on April 9th, 2014
  15. I always tell people I might not know exactly what my ancestors ate, but I got a pretty good idea what they didn’t eat! Snickers, French fries, goldfish crackers, low fat bars and shakes sure weren’t part of it!

    Luke wrote on April 9th, 2014
  16. Terrific post. Farm to table has entered the lexicon of expressions. Yard to table is ideal and clearly a hunter-gatherer existence is sustainable. Our myriad of food options in modern industrialized society have the appearance of sustainability but it can’t last because we have to put the food through factories and then on to 18 wheelers (also known as smoke stacks on wheels) Wise people have known the current system can’t stand up. For a brilliant treatise on the salient points and for intellectual discussion read online the first two pages of Chapter 13 of Steinbeck’s wonderful book East of Eden and you will see that early in the 1950’s people were looking at the explosive growth of our kingdom with a skeptical lense.

    Ryan wrote on April 9th, 2014
  17. Very cool! It would be interesting to see not just a list of what various hunter gatherers ate, but what some daily menus looked like. You could tally up what’s in my fridge and pantry, but that wouldn’t really tell you what my meals are.

    maddieaddie wrote on April 9th, 2014
  18. I think it’s important to remember that the luxury of vegetarianism is one of agriculturalism, not industrialization.

    now, the luxury of avocados every day and frozen blueberries in your morning shake is *definitely* a luxury of industrialization. tofu is, too, but paleo and primal folks participate in similar systems. we all live in glass houses, and I think Mark’s general gist is about living the kind of life that makes us happiest and healthiest. if some folks want to be vegetarian, let ‘em. it’s no skin off our backs, and we can keep on being happy with whatever diet is good for us. cheers to you all!

    Christine wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • I’ve always said that if the Paleo/Primal community and the Vegan/Vegetarian communities could ever come together on the issue of factory farms, we could completely change the farming landscape in this country.

      Brad wrote on April 15th, 2014
  19. I have noticed even my chickens have a great propensity for meats. They least like modern “chicken feed”. Thank you for the excellent and fascinating article. Loren Cordain is really the King of Paleo research, but Mark, you do an excellent job for those of us who need the sifted material. I rely so much on Primal Blueprint and your wonderful cookbook! Even though I have flopped around with fruit, it really throws a wrench in my health. One question: Were these folks COOKING the meats and fish? Thanks!

    Suze wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • They were cooking it. There’s a wonderful book I highly recommend, called “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human” by Richard Wrangham, which advances the theory that cooking was responsible for the second major evolutionary shift in human development. My memory might be getting the specifics wrong, but the gist is, it was meat eating that caused us to become either homo erectus or homo habilis (I forget which, but that was the first shift), and then it was learning how to cook that actually made us the homo sapiens we are today. Because cooking makes food more nutrient dense, thereby freeing up organ resources that would otherwise be used for digestion–hence the dawn of the big human brain. Called the “expensive calorie hypothesis.”

      It has been a while since I read the book so please no one get upset with me if I’m misstating some specifics–that is the general gist as I’ve said. It’s an excellent book.

      tkm wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Homo erectus = “upright man” = fully bipedal (semi-modern posture)
        Homo habilis = “handy man” = first evidence of tool use (rock hammers and rock knives able to butcher elephants)
        So probably H. habilis, because they could quickly access and remove everything useful on a carcass, break bones and skulls for marrow and brain, and compete successfully with predators.

        Bill C wrote on April 11th, 2014
        • Nope, it turns out I was mistakenly referencing evolutionary steps that occurred *after* both meat eating and cooking. It was habilines, the “missing link” that (so the theory goes) came into being as a result of meat eating, and from there, learning to cook produced homo erectus, which in turn created our big brains and spurred the evolution into homo habilis. So it was

          1st evolutionary step – meat eating – habilines
          2nd evolutionary step – cooking – homo erectus

          Then big brains and all the other homos (ha!) up to us homo sapiens.

          This article summarizes the book pretty well:

          http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/7645#.U0hj2ozn_cs

          It really is a great book. I’m surprised I’ve never heard Mark mention it.

          tkm wrote on April 11th, 2014
      • Thank you! Wonderful!

        Suze wrote on April 12th, 2014
    • Talk about chickens liking meat – you do not want to be a mouse in a chicken yard..

      kent wrote on April 9th, 2014
  20. “But regardless of latitude, between 25-36% of hunter-gatherer subsistence comes from hunted animal food.”

    Are those numbers typos? When I peruse the numbers, I see that only the !Kung are at 31% subsistence on animals, with numbers of the other groups much higher. So the average would be higher. Can someone explain what I am missing (or correct the typo if I am right)?

    tkm wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • I think the inconsistency here is that Mark excludes “marine animals” from other hunted animals in this paragraph. That may also exclude shellfish, eggs, ???. The essence of the paragraph still seems consistent.

      Terry wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Ok, yes, I see it now–he’s talking about hunted land animals. I skim-read it–this is why I shouldn’t read blogs while I’m supposed to be working.

        tkm wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • I think the 25-36% is a base number of amount of hunted animal food in any group. From there it goes toward animals or plants, depending on the group, indicating that there were no vegetarians or vegans.

      Maxine wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Thanks, that explanation makes sense, although I still don’t like that sentence. He should have written “at minimum” for those numbers then. Glad you are here to help me.

        tkm wrote on April 9th, 2014
  21. I am sure there is another common factor: they take their time for eating, they don’t have 10 minutes for a quick lunch and then back to work.
    Maybe this has not much to do with macronutrients, animal/vegetal source, etc… but not for this it is less important.

    Primal_Alex wrote on April 9th, 2014
  22. This is a great breakdown of these different tribes and people. The key point in my eyes is that they are clearly eating things in their environment. The issue to me with modern paleo is that a lot of what we are eating just did not exist in paleolithic times. From the modern cow to bananas and other fruits that have been hybridized into these giant, overly sweet creations.
    Not sure If i’m allowed to post a link but here’s an article I did on how we are more on a modern paleo diet than an ancient one, but still how important it is to stick with these real foods
    http://www.regainedwellness.com/paleo-diet/

    jamie wrote on April 9th, 2014
  23. Mark, you must make us Arizona citizens feel better. Come to Arizona and give a free talk. I think that will take care of our hurt feelings.

    Brian wrote on April 9th, 2014
  24. I agree with Shary. When I grew up in the 40’s & 50’s in the UK, we didn’t have a fridge, let alone a freezer. Crisps & fizzy drinks were a treat on holiday. We had a cooked breakfast before going to school, and often had toast & dripping as well – yummy, especialy the jelly bit. We had a big garden & Dad grew lots of veg and fruit. Mum made jam & bottled fruit. We always had to help pick & process the fruit. All food was home cooked from scratch and I still do that. The fat from the the joint was kept to be used for frying and I also do that. I try to follow the paleo diet within what I can afford and do feel better for it. I also lost weight on it and have maintained my weight loss.

    Diana wrote on April 9th, 2014
  25. I suppose it’s because these are all H-G’s and not herders like the Massai, but I noticed that none of the groups listed consumed dairy products

    David wrote on April 9th, 2014
  26. How come the Machiguenga were left out? They are on the pdf link in the article. Could it be they were left out because:

    Sweet manioc and corn are the most important
    staple crops
    – Wild game is scarce, and meat constitutes only a
    small portion of the diet
    – Small birds, fish, and various grubs are major
    sources of protein
    – A variety of wild fruits and palm hearts
    complement the diet
    • Despite the fact that protein is scarce, the
    Machiguenga are generally healthy and well fed

    That’s what I call cherry-picking the data.

    Laurel wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • It said right at the beginning that the article was focused on the hunter-gatherers, which is the prototype usually cited in discussions on paleo diets, and “excluded pastoralists like the Masai, agrarians like the Kitavans, and any other groups eating otherwise traditional diets that are not strictly hunter-gatherers.” If they have a staple crop, they’re agrarians, not hunter-gatherers.

      Kristina wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • But they are also perfectly healthy….

        Laurel wrote on April 9th, 2014
        • I’m not arguing that point. It’s a perfectly valid one, it just wasn’t within the scope of the article.

          Kristina wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • I can’t access the pdf for some reason, but if the Machiguenga were not hunter gatherers, that would explain why they were excluded. You mention “staple crops” and this post looks at HG’s only, not farmers. I can’t say for certain without looking at the pdf you mention though.

      tkm wrote on April 9th, 2014
  27. Very well-done article, Mark. The point is the lifestyle and the principles, not the detail of each meal plan. When I started my Paleo/Primal journey about 8 months ago, I was very pleased to discover, and continuing to discover, the huge variety of awesome-tasting, real food available to me. I cant wait to try the next thing! (I think it might be made with insect flour:)

    Corey wrote on April 9th, 2014
  28. If you look at the estimated lifespan of these primitives, which is not officially recorded, it is likely less than the average Westerner’s on his ‘meat-and-two-veg’ diet, to take the Brits as an example. Men in the UK live to 78; in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to just 49. This suggests a strong genetic element to the equation.

    Trevor wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Yes, and your example also proves how distance from the South Pole is also very important. Thanks for the revelation Taylor!

      Papa Hotel wrote on April 9th, 2014
  29. One thing that is consistent with all of these cultures is that grass derived food is what prey animals feed on. The concept that the Inuit consume polar bear liver really shines the light on the fact that humans have always been the apex predator. However apex predators like bears, do eat their share of roots, berries and wild honey.

    Jack Lea Mason wrote on April 9th, 2014
  30. A good book for anyone interested in this topic is Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price. Price was a dentist who began to notice the deterioration in his clients teeth over time. He spent ten years in the 1930’s traveling to various primitive communities every summer and taking meticulous notes on their health. Practically all of these societies had excellent overall health. Within one generation of the introduction of processed foods they began to succumb to all sorts of degenerative diseases including dental decay. Every society he studied ate lots of animal fats and they found the very idea of vegetarianism totally alien to them. I suppose they hadn’t seen the horrors of modern confined animal farms but they all consumed high levels of animal fats and thrived on their diets.

    patrick wrote on April 9th, 2014
  31. No thanks on the bee parts in honey. I like my honey to be bee-free. Not a fan of insects. More whole animals please :)

    Kathleen wrote on April 9th, 2014
  32. I tend to look more at modern research to confirm my Paleo eating style. It’s nice to know that these cultures have survived on their particular diets, but I’d rather adjust my plan to a more modern Paleo approach.

    Stephen wrote on April 9th, 2014
  33. I haven’t really seen any good data on the pre European diet of South Island Maori. There is very little to palatable vegetation and the kumara brought to NZ doesn’t thrive on the South Island.

    The moa were fully exterminated in the first century and seal populations were decimated. I can only assume that shellfish and some ocean fishing must have provided most of their calories. They were cannibalistic but that was restricted to times of war, I understand, and wouldn’t have been important for nutrition generally.

    Life wouldn’t have been easy and that might be the reason that most of the population lived on the North Island, where Weston Price visited them and concluded they were the people healthiest he had seen.

    kem wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Hi Kem – I live in the South Island of NZ and we know that when we dig up shells, usually in big piles, 30-50cm deep, in our garden or on our farms, that there has been Maori feeding there in the past. So it is safe to assume that they carried shelfish inland for more than a day’s walk to eat later on. Also, to be fair there is a lot of edible (and medicinal) plantlife in a NZ forrest, but there were also HUGE amounts of walking birds that had never learnt to fly. NZ has no natural predators for these birds so eggs were always at ground level in nests. Easy to trap, or gather their eggs, and eat. My assumption is that Maori live in the North Island is because it is WARMER, and having no hides from which to make leather, clothing is an issue. Especially in the snow of the south. Interesting comments.
      Thanks again Mark for your thinking on this!

      Marg in New Zealand wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • make that ‘lived in the North Island’. thanks.

        Marg in New Zealand wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • Those non-flying birds did have predators. Moa were hunted by Haast’s Eagle (the largest eagle to have ever existed) and or course the eggs were predated by kiore. I have spent a lot of time in the bush and I haven’t noticed a lot of native vegetable calories. There are few berries (some poisonous) and a little starch in cabbage trees. I could be enlightened.

        Belich postulates that seals were more important than moa. When you see them in numbers on the beach, makes sense.

        kem wrote on April 9th, 2014
  34. I have a close Inupiat friend who grew up in the old culture on King Island, Alaska, in the Bering Sea. The Island is essentially the steep top of an undersea mountain, surrounded by ice about 9 months of the year. The men hunted and butchered on the ice — seals, walrus, and the occasional polar bear. Women preserved and sewed hides and fished through the ice for King crab, cod, and other small fish. The children climbed to the seabird rookeries and gathered eggs. Summers, when there was no ice and therefore no animals to hunt, everyone went to the mainland to their hunting camps for land mammals and (by boat) sea mammals. Women spent the summers picking wild greens and berries, and preserving them in sealskin pouches of seal oil (which is liquid at room temp) to take back to the Island. My friend said the first thing the hunters would do when they killed a walrus was cut open its stomach and eat the clams the walrus had been feasting on. They’d also eat the liver, raw, on the spot, of seals and walrus. This way of life persisted for the King Islanders until about 1955. Some people in Nunavat (Canada) still live this way.

    Linda wrote on April 9th, 2014
  35. Love this post (and the section in Death by Food Pyramid that is is similar to)! But does it mean that I would be healthier eating such a low variety of plants and animals when sourcing locally (Ohio)? Or would is it a better idea to provide a more well-rounded diet by sourcing from other areas of the country/world (thinking about dark chocolate, olive oil, and coconut, among other specialty items)?

    zach rusk wrote on April 9th, 2014
    • Also, I agree with no refined sugar, but why do you advise putting it in your coffee and dark chocolate?

      zach rusk wrote on April 9th, 2014
      • If you’re going to eat chocolate, some amount of sugar is almost required, otherwise, you have a very bitter food (ever eat a spoonful of baking cocoa?).

        As for the local vs external sourcing – there’s quite a bit of variety to be had, even confining your sourcing to Ohio. Trade the coconut oil for butter from Hartzler’s Dairy or Snowville Creamery, or one of the herd shares. Honeyrun Farms has great raw, unfiltered honey. Strawberries grow like crazy, and you can even grow them yourself and have more than enough for anything you could possibly want to do with them. The same goes for most vegetables. As for meat, there’s not only the usual beef, pork, and chicken, but there are a number of farms that raise bison and lamb/sheep, and bunches of wild game, including deer, rabbit, and squirrel. If you are willing to expand your “local” into surrounding states, you can also get porcupine, beaver, bear, elk, and wild pigs, among other things.

        It’s not necessarily the same as the coconut-based staples, but it’s variety nonetheless.

        Shauna wrote on April 23rd, 2014
        • I days agree that some sugar is required! 100% tastes great! Plus, if you really can’t stand it, why not restrict the sweetener to honey, syrup, molasses, or stevia?
          Also, are you near Columbus? We have a great paleo Meetup group.

          Zach rusk wrote on April 23rd, 2014
  36. I have researched California Indians, possibly the most sucessful hunter/gatherers the planet has ever seen. To sum up their diet and the diets of the peoples in this article, I would say that they ate everything edible in their environment. Fussy eaters wouldn’t pass on their genes. There was a lot of game available but still they knew about and ate a large variety of plants and went through considerable effort to gather and process plant foods.

    ken wrote on April 9th, 2014
  37. It doesn’t make sense as to what the first humans ate as far as it relates to what we have available now. They led an entirely different life and life style. They had limited sources of food and we can get foods from all over the world, in one place – a super market! They surely had different health habits, not much knowledge about modern medicine, put up with different diseases and lived a much shorter life than we do today.

    If you want a good diet today, consider the Mediterranean Diet as used by millions, and even in hospitals such as at the Mayo Clinic. It has a good balance of foods that fill our present needs and aids in reducing and/or preventing chronic diseases. This, along with sleep, exercise, controlled stress all help us lead a lifestyle in health and peace of mind.

    Paul Beck, DDS, CPT wrote on April 9th, 2014
  38. I came to Paleo/Primal eating after my two kids were born (and I developed Celiac Disease), but now word is spreading to new Moms as well – that we’re making our babies fat and sick from their first food, which is often rice cereal.

    New Health Canada guidelines advocate for meat as baby’s first food! See: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/new-health-canada-guidelines-advise-meat-as-baby-first-food/

    Elizabeth wrote on April 9th, 2014
  39. Is there any wonder why I return to this website day after day? Continuously, high quality articles are released that inspire me to Grok on! My life will never be the same after Mark Sisson, a true inspirational role model in my book. Thanks Mark

    Michael B wrote on April 9th, 2014
  40. We should try to understand what it is they do not eat versus what it is they do eat. Their diet lacks high amounts of fructose and processed industrial vegetable oils. They are as close to the natural source they come from as possible.

    Steve M wrote on April 9th, 2014

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