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April 09, 2014

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

By Mark Sisson
177 Comments

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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177 Comments on "One True Paleo Diet Doesn’t Exist, but So What?"

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BFBVince
2 years 7 months ago

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

Jason
Jason
2 years 7 months ago

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!

Valerie
Valerie
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Mike
Mike
2 years 7 months ago

Wow! You are lucky!

Valerie
Valerie
2 years 7 months ago

Oh dear! I was really saying DEER 🙂

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Casey
Casey
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Iris Berg
Iris Berg
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Nocona
Nocona
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Iris Berg
Iris Berg
2 years 7 months ago

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:)

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Energy!
Energy!
2 years 7 months ago

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.

ESP
ESP
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Dennis
Dennis
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Storm
Storm
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Energy!
Energy!
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

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”.

Paul in Australia
Paul in Australia
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

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
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

…”among the longest-lived healthy populations in the world of today”…

ESP
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago

…”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

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
jake
jake
1 year 8 months ago
If a species thrives and multiplies then I would call it “Optimal”. look at something like the Pandas…optimal? doubt it. Yes survival was hard but it wasn’t because of diabetes or cancer. it was predators and infections…broken bones and so on,. the point is there are people with type 2 diabetes before they reach 18. now matter how hard i’ve looked i can’t find any cases of diabetes 2 in hunter gatherers at that age. Read Denise Minger’s book about sustainable animal farming,. it is possible. there are calculations made that say around 80 grams of animal protein a day… Read more »
Al
Al
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Josh
Josh
1 year 7 months ago

Karl,

Your perspicacity and clear scientific training are a breath of fresh air. I have read all of your comments on this page and the oft-ill-informed arguments against them (though well-meaning!) and I just wanted you to know that I appreciated what you had to write.

Reddog
Reddog
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Pip
Pip
2 years 7 months ago

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…….

Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago
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….… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

“…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.)

Al
Al
2 years 7 months ago

You mean Krippendorf’s tribe?

hehe

Jenna H
Jenna H
2 years 7 months ago

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?

Jessica
Jessica
2 years 7 months ago

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.

OnTheBayou
OnTheBayou
1 year 8 months ago

Um…………bears are omnivores. Granted, polar bears probably don’t get many berries……

Mothy
Mothy
2 years 7 months ago

Good point !

Reddog
Reddog
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago

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…

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

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”…

johnny
johnny
2 years 7 months ago

Really good Point! Thanks!

Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

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…

Kim
Kim
2 years 7 months ago

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.

FJP
FJP
2 years 7 months ago

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.

His Dudeness
His Dudeness
2 years 7 months ago

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.

cate
cate
2 years 7 months ago

Dumb question. So why is grass fed beef considered healthy? Where do the nutrients come from besides sun?

Lizzy C.
Lizzy C.
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Felicia
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
johnny
johnny
2 years 7 months ago

Really good Point! Thanks!

Anne
Anne
2 years 7 months ago

Grains also have to be cooked (probably in a pot), whereas everything else on the lists above can be eaten raw

tongue in cheek
tongue in cheek
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Kelda
Kelda
2 years 7 months ago

🙂

Joe
Joe
2 years 7 months ago

That’s cute.

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

Sarah
2 years 7 months ago

There are pockets of Sissons in other parts of the world too! Like in Ottawa, On. Canada, for example…

Iris Berg
Iris Berg
2 years 7 months ago

That excluded Gwen Paltrow, lol

johnny
johnny
2 years 7 months ago

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?

Abz
Abz
2 years 7 months ago

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!

Nocona
Nocona
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Nack
Nack
2 years 7 months ago

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
Nack
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Dennis
Dennis
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Jay
Jay
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Alyssa James
2 years 7 months ago

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!

Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
2 years 7 months ago

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
Wenchypoo
2 years 7 months ago

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!

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

And yet, not only the omnivorous, but also the vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists are among the healthiest and longest-lived populations in the world…

Erin
Erin
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago

My argument is based on population data (Adventist Mortality/Health Studies). This does not preclude individual counterexamples, of course…

Nocona
Nocona
2 years 7 months ago

They think it is because they fast, not their diet.

Terry P
Terry P
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Brad
Brad
2 years 7 months ago

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
Brad
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Karl
Karl
2 years 7 months ago
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)… Read more »
Piper Kirby
Piper Kirby
2 years 7 months ago

Tongue in cheek… you forgot to mention that native Malibuians will forage as far as Tulum, Mexico and New York, US …..

Matt
Matt
2 years 7 months ago

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?

Jessup
Jessup
2 years 7 months ago

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/

Tia
Tia
2 years 7 months ago

Read the comments to the article you send. You’ll find answers to some of your questions

James
James
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Brad
Brad
2 years 7 months ago

James,

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

Iris Berg
Iris Berg
2 years 7 months ago

The rightness it that it feels better. The body and mind like it. For me at least!

Roland Denzel
2 years 7 months ago

Great post.

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

Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
Erin
Erin
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Al
Al
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Roland Denzel
2 years 7 months ago

Are there any other diets like this (where there’s not just one, but people act like there is)?

Paleo
Primal
Mediterranean
Vegetarian
Vegan

Shary
Shary
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Aloka
2 years 7 months ago

+ 1 to that.

Kelda
Kelda
2 years 7 months ago

Exactly

Dr. Anthony Gustin
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Valerie
Valerie
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Luke
2 years 7 months ago

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!

Ryan
Ryan
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
maddieaddie
maddieaddie
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Christine
Christine
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Brad
Brad
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Suze
Suze
2 years 7 months ago

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!

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago
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,… Read more »
Bill C
Bill C
2 years 7 months ago

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.

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Suze
Suze
2 years 7 months ago

Thank you! Wonderful!

kent
kent
2 years 7 months ago

Talk about chickens liking meat – you do not want to be a mouse in a chicken yard..

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago

“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)?

Terry
Terry
2 years 7 months ago

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.

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Maxine
Maxine
2 years 7 months ago

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.

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Primal_Alex
2 years 7 months ago

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.

jamie
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Brian
Brian
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Diana
Diana
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
David
David
2 years 7 months ago

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

Laurel
Laurel
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Laurel
Laurel
2 years 7 months ago

But they are also perfectly healthy….

Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago

I’m not arguing that point. It’s a perfectly valid one, it just wasn’t within the scope of the article.

tkm
tkm
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Corey
Corey
2 years 7 months ago

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:)

Trevor
Trevor
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Papa Hotel
Papa Hotel
2 years 7 months ago

Yes, and your example also proves how distance from the South Pole is also very important. Thanks for the revelation Taylor!

Jack Lea Mason
Jack Lea Mason
2 years 7 months ago

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.

patrick
patrick
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Kathleen
Kathleen
2 years 7 months ago

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 🙂

Stephen
2 years 7 months ago

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.

kem
kem
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Marg in New Zealand
Marg in New Zealand
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Marg in New Zealand
Marg in New Zealand
2 years 7 months ago

make that ‘lived in the North Island’. thanks.

kem
kem
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Linda
Linda
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
zach rusk
zach rusk
2 years 7 months ago

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
zach rusk
2 years 7 months ago

Also, I agree with no refined sugar, but why do you advise putting it in your coffee and dark chocolate?

Shauna
Shauna
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Zach rusk
2 years 7 months ago

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.

ken
ken
2 years 7 months ago

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.

Paul Beck, DDS, CPT
2 years 7 months ago
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… Read more »
Elizabeth
2 years 7 months ago

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/

Michael B
Michael B
2 years 7 months ago

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

Steve M
Steve M
2 years 7 months ago

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.

PeterW
PeterW
2 years 7 months ago
Random thoughts…. Hunting is fun. I am quite certain that we have a genetic predisposition to enjoy hunting ( more commonly in the males) so fit that into your evolutionary context if you like. There is some evidence that HGs utilised grains when said grains were freely available, and maybe when others weren’t. We have records of Australian Aboriginals using grass seeds and grinding stones are common, although there are also tree seeds (Kurrajong) and spore cases (Nardoo) in the diet thT require some level of processing. Consider seasonal variation. Seeds are only available at certain times of year, as… Read more »
PeterW
PeterW
2 years 7 months ago

Rather off-topic, but having discussed primal eating, primal exercise and primal sleeping, what is the general thinking on primal clothing?

What would qualify and are there any quantifiable benefits to the wearing of leather, wool and plant fibres rather than synthetics?

Batteries
Batteries
2 years 7 months ago

um you’ll be arrested for indecent exposure where I live. Unless you dress like an Inuit and then you will die of heatstroke.

Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago
Excellent stuff thanks Mark, presented beautifully… Just for the sake of completeness would it be possible to summarize/contrast the numbers of “true HG” societies that ate (1) predominantly meat based foods vs. (2) those that ate mostly plant based foods? ie. no doubt detractors will say that you didn’t include many societies that did eat a lot of plants, of which I believe there are some, but presumably in the minority? + Have you seen this article? More and more solid science research is indicating that the Carbs in the “Western diet” are major contributors to the high incidence of… Read more »
Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago
The “so what?” in the title is what resonated most for me in this article. Seriously. So what? So what if paleolithic diets varied in innumerable ways? So what if some became pastoralists early on and were healthy? So what if some became agrarian early on and were healthy? Primal and paleo are dietary templates, for heaven’s sake. We can all make it ours. Whatever makes you happy and healthy. If it makes you feel good, eat this way. If it makes you feel bad, find something else. If you like cheese, eat cheese. If you want corn, eat corn.… Read more »
Chris
Chris
2 years 7 months ago

I just read an article about the pattern of eating styles, between different hunter-gatherer cultures. Not sure where you’re getting the “arguing on the internet” from?

Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago
Oh. I wasn’t talking about the article being an argument. It’s not. I was talking about how, if you peruse enough forums or discussion boards about Paleo, many times the conversation devolves into the keyboard warriors criticizing and belittling any dietary choice that is not their own, whether its one paleo approach versus another, all organic and wild-caught versus conventional, traditional diets versus every current paleo approach we have now, high carbs versus low carbs, or “some grains” or “no grains” versus “paleo is bunk and you’ll die of constipation without grains because these people eat them and happen to… Read more »
Lewis L
Lewis L
2 years 7 months ago

Well put.

Also I think we often lose sight of the fact that one of the wonderful things about the human “beast” is that we are Omnivores… Basically we can eat just about anything! How liberating should that be??

As you say the specific mix is not so critical, more the philosophy of eating whole foods that agree with the individual’s palate, and avoid refined/processed food wherever possible…

Kristina
Kristina
2 years 7 months ago
Precisely. I also don’t understand why people who read about approaches different from their own become so upset and feel compelled to correct–again, via the internet–anyone who isn’t doing as they do. (I don’t have any friends who do paleo, but I assume this probably happens in real-life interactions as well). I can understand that if you’re on the forums for any kind of strict protocols, like AIP or GAPS or on the Whole30 forums, for example, and someone posted a recipe that has unapproved ingredients in it. You’d want to talk about why it’s not approved, why it’s a… Read more »
kent
kent
2 years 7 months ago

At one time in my checkered past I was the largest producer of round section comb honey in the US. Kinda like saying you were the mayor of some small town in Idaho. Bee parts indeed. With even minimal care and knowledge you could rob hives of honey (in the wild) and have a pretty clean product. If you haven’t tried comb honey, I urge you to do so. Way different than the processed liquid, not that that’s bad either.

Jasu
2 years 7 months ago

This article is really very nice, I appreciate it.

Ally
Ally
2 years 7 months ago

This is a really useful post. As a pescetarian trying to follow Primal, it’s nice to see that at least one hunter-gatherer group have found a large part of their diet in fish and shellfish. If I pretend to be a Grokette-by-the-Sea, then my Primal eating becomes a little bit easier/more manageable.

me
me
2 years 7 months ago

This is a great survey, but I feel incomplete. Yes, you proved people can live on various diets, but what do they die of? How long do they live? Is their life worthy to emulate? etc This part is missing.

I’m not criticising your info, this is very useful – just I feel incomplete.

Doug
Doug
2 years 7 months ago

Great post Mark. It’s laughable how many “experts” are summarily dismissing the entire evolutionary/ancestral approach with this ridiculous comment that the diet is “speculative”.

Lora
Lora
2 years 7 months ago

I had to chuckle at Mark’s capybara comment… when I was a kid I read a library book about a family that had a capybara as a pet… “Capyboppy” was his name… for years I wanted one. I’ll never forget that book… 🙂

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