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

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March 19, 2014

What Did Our Ancient Ancestors Actually Eat?

By Mark Sisson
145 Comments

ShellfishA few weeks ago, I made the point that even though we may not have access to our paleolithic ancestors’ (yes, all of them) food journals, and even though there were many different paleolithic diets depending on climate, latitude, topography and other environmental contexts, the ancestral eating paradigm remains viable, helpful, and relevant to contemporary interests. That almost goes without saying, right? It’s kind of why we’re all here, reading this and other blogs, and asking the butcher for lamb tongues and goat spleens with straight faces. This stuff works.

But make no mistake: we may not know the day-to-day eating habits of our ancestors, but we know some things. And we can use what we know, drawing on several lines of evidence, to make some educated estimates.

The best place to start is, well, the place where it all started: East Africa, the cradle of human evolution. More specifically, let’s look at the Lake Turkana, Rift Valley, Omo River part of Ethiopia and Tanzania, which is where the oldest known remains of modern homo sapiens – dating back 200,000 years – were found. It’s a beautiful place. I mean just look at it. No wonder we hunkered down there for thousands of years.

So, what’s good to eat there?

A landmark paper examined this very question, using the available data to construct a series of dietary patterns that might have characterized the typical intake ranges of the very first homo sapiens living in East Africa – the ancestors of us all. Their conclusions?

  • Average intakes of moderate-to-high protein (25-29% of calories with a range of 8-35%), moderate-to-high fat (30-39%, range of 20-72%) and moderate carbohydrates (39-40%, range of 19-48%).
  • Regarding fats, SFA was 11.4-12%, MUFA 5.6-18.5%, and PUFA 8.6-15.2% of total calories. Pretty balanced overall.
  • PUFA was far more varied and diverse than the kind of PUFA typically eaten in modern diets, with very little linoleic acid (just 2.3-3.6% of calories) and far more arachidonic acid (2.54-8.84%) and long-chain omega-3s (2.26-17%).

All that looks familiar. The ranges allow for varying levels of carbohydrate, fat, and protein depending on your activity levels and goals, but it sets some “ground rules” like “keep linoleic acid low” and “be sure to get plenty of omega-3s.” So far, so good.

What were the most important foods eaten by these early humans in East Africa, and what can we glean from it?

Fish and Shellfish

The Rift Valley hosts a number of freshwater lakes teeming with fish and shellfish rich in docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acids. These fats are necessary for fetal and early infant brain development. When modern local women eat fish from those same lakes, their breast milk becomes extremely rich in both DHA and AA; this leads to improved pregnancy and early infancy outcomes. The modern pelagic fish from the Rift Valley lakes are high in DHA, EPA, calcium, and other important nutrients. And that’s what matters: the nutrients.

They were also relatively easy to gather, requiring no special tools and very little caloric expenditure. Shellfish are especially easy to pick up.

Takeaway: The density of brain-and-baby-specific nutrients found in fish and shellfish made these foods perhaps the most important to the earliest humans. Don’t skimp on the long-chain PUFAs.

Land Animals

East African hominids have a long and storied history with the resident megafauna. As far back as 2 million years ago, we were hunting (not just scavenging) them. 500,000 years ago, we were wielding formidable thrusting spears. By at least 280,000 years ago, we had developed throwing spears to prey on the crocodiles, hippos, and other large delicious beasts roaming the Rift Valley. Clearly, we’ve always known how to obtain and consume animals (and yes, “always” is correct because we’ve been eating animals as long as we’ve been us), whether through scavenging, persistence hunting, or ambush predation.

Upon making (or stealing) a kill, the homo sapiens in East Africa wasted nothing. Markings on bones indicate expert butchery. Meat was completely removed. Bones were stripped of marrow and smashed to get every last drop. Heads were prized for the “fatty, nutrient-rich, energy-dense within-head food resources.” Adipose tissue and offal – all of it – was eaten. They weren’t just eating eland loin, in other words, but utilizing everything.

Takeaway: Eating the entire animal isn’t just economical, it’s the kind of “meat consumption” we’re strongly adapted to. Diverging from that may be problematic. Eating only muscle meat and eschewing the fat, bones, and offal is likely evolutionary discordant.

Tubers

Important parts of early human diets, tubers likely acted as fallback foods for when the hunt was poor or fish were scarce. It’s crucial to understand that these were wild, fibrous tubers, though – not the creamy, smooth russet potatoes that make the best darn mash you’ve ever tasted. An analysis of wild tubers currently present in this area and utilized by the Hadza (the modern hunter gatherers who live on the same ancestral Tanzanian lands) found that they contain only between 19 and 26 grams of starch per 100 grams of tuber, along with a ton of prebiotic fiber (PDF). Some of that starch was likely resistant as well, boosting the prebiotic count even higher and lowering the amount of digestible starch.

East African wild tubers therefore provide a moderate bolus of digestible starch with a sizable portion of prebiotic substrate, resulting in moderate glucose loads and improved glucose tolerance from the fermentation of prebiotic fiber.

Takeaway: Tubers were important foods for early humans, but not necessarily for the glucose they provided. The primary feature of wild East African tubers that set them apart from modern cultivated tubers was the indigestible portion, the prebiotic fiber and resistant starch that fed, nurtured, and cultivated the hugely crucial microbiome living inside our guts.

What’s the point of all this? Simple. To pay homage to the past. What went down hundreds of thousands of years ago in a far-off region in East Africa isn’t just “the past,” after all. It’s our past. It’s our story. Your story. And even though there were and are many more stories still to come from other places and times, those first humans squinting into the sun as it dipped down below the edge of the known world, turning toward the fire and the dance and the feast, slurping up some freshwater mollusk or sharing a split, roasted femur with a pal or lover – they made us who we are today. Their everyday habits, their dietary choices, their responses to the demands of the day all unwittingly paved our way, for better or for worse.

It’s good to acknowledge that.

Well, that’s it for today, folks. I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Be sure to let me know in the comment section!

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145 Comments on "What Did Our Ancient Ancestors Actually Eat?"

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Wenchypoo
Wenchypoo
2 years 8 months ago

I’m sure they ate whatever they could get their hands on–even if it wasn’t much variety.

paleocrush
2 years 8 months ago
That organ meats link reminded me of how tripe soup was a frequent 1st dinner course when I was growing up. When my mom would buy tripe and wash it before cutting it up, it reminded me of a large terry cloth towel. She cooked chicken heart stew and delighted in every bite – I could never get into it, maybe because it still looked like it had hearts in it. So humans ate their whole game, from skin to marrow, because how much effort hunting involved. Now, because of food abundance in our part of the world, we can… Read more »
Solomon
Solomon
2 years 8 months ago

“they just eat the salmon skin and brains, the most nutritious parts”… exactly what we will discard.

basil cronus
basil cronus
2 years 8 months ago

“those first humans squinting into the sun as it dipped down below the edge of the known world, turning toward the fire and the dance and the feast, slurping up some freshwater mollusk or sharing a split, roasted femur with a pal or lover – they made us who we are today”

Damn… can’t we go back!

Groktimus Primal
2 years 8 months ago

Not quite the same premise as Andrew Zimmern. More like “If it looks repulsive eat it”.

Diane
Diane
2 years 8 months ago

I wish more people understood this. That looking to our ancestral past for a clue to what makes us healthy is where to start when choosing what to eat. But everybody just assumes that in the past we were eeking out a meager existence, barely surviving, eating anything that we could find. That’s how MODERN humans would be if they had to try and survive off the land because we’ve lost all that knowledge we once had.

Colleen
Colleen
2 years 8 months ago
I agree, I think it was a smorgasboard (sp?) with people living in the most productive areas possible. Over the eons, climate changed so different foods and locations would change with what was available. Some geneticists also point to a population bottleneck, potentially occurring as a result of a prolonged drought or other event which lead to modern humans. So maybe they were eaking it out at that point in time, but otherwise I don’t know why that is often assumed. The only reason some of the modern HG populations have meager resources is because they have been pushed to… Read more »
CT
CT
2 years 8 months ago
Saw a documentary years ago about an Indian tribe in the Amazon, untouched by civilization. They were extremely violent towards other tribes, mainly because they needed to do something with their copious free time! Gathering sufficient food for the day took about a half-hour, because food was EVERYWHERE around them, unlimited supply of meat, fish, fruits, and veggies. The mothers and children spent the whole day chatting and swimming. Anthropologist married one of them, brought her to a big city, she later returned to the forest, because life here in the USA was just too dang brutally difficult for her.… Read more »
Sean
Sean
2 years 8 months ago

Bravo! Well said! Looks like the woman who returned to her native home got it all figured out….the clean air, unpolluted nightsky, FRESH food and water, no worrying about bills…all of it is much better than smog and stress saturated “civilized” cities.

NMCynthia
NMCynthia
2 years 8 months ago
She was also lonely. Her tribe all lived together as one huge family in a commons area. Families lived in separate areas within that commons area. Everyone was in on what everyone else was doing. So, being in a house alone, with only her family around, was not enough. She thought that we didn’t like our other family members because we didn’t live all together with them. I read a series of articles about this woman, and it was very interesting. Her son eventually left the U.S. to go find her and get to know her again, but went back… Read more »
Nancy
2 years 8 months ago

I fully respect registered dietitians and nutritional professionals, but when they go on and on about “the Paleo diet is unproven” etc. I get irritated because while I’m not knocking the importance of peer-reviewed studies, I find they are rarely ready to discuss anthropological evidence such as what’s covered in this article. Thanks Mark!

Karl
Karl
2 years 8 months ago
The problem is that – assuming that the educated guesses we can make about “Paleolithic nutrition” are accurate enough – our Paleolithic ancestors did not adapt to the diet(ary pattern(s) ) we can glean from the “anthropological evidence” in a vacuum: These adaptations happened in the context of a high extrinsic mortality rate (high parasite load, high risk of dying from infectious disease and/or trauma, high infant mortality rate), which makes antagonistic pleiotropy – i.e. the optimization of early survival at the expense of (maximum healthy) longevity – feasible or even likely, given that evolution ultimately selects for reproductive success,… Read more »
Karl
Karl
2 years 8 months ago

“…ancestors…”

David Marino
David Marino
2 years 8 months ago

The overloads of this earth have worked long and hard at erasing that fact from memory in industrial society. So the majority would be weak and controllable.

Danny
Danny
2 years 8 months ago

Well said

shirleydancer
shirleydancer
2 years 8 months ago

Not everyone has lost the art of survival off the land,I am fortunate to be related to people with country side skills who still hunt for game and fish and occasionally share their catch with me. It comes in the form of wild deer, hare, rabbit, pheasants, duck, goose, grouse,partridges etc. They also know how to tickle trout from streams and keep livestock, I am one v lucky person, I am also a good cook and can make a mean rabbit stew. Shirley dancer england.

Matt
Matt
1 year 7 months ago

I can attest to this. I took a job doing construction for the summer in a podonk Colorado mountain town. After work it was far more convenient to go fill a stringer with trout. This usually took no more than an hour using simple tackle. I had mackinaw for breakfast, brown trout for lunch, and cuthroat for dinner. Snacked on salmon jerky. As a supervisor, Im actually pretty sedintary, but ill be damned if I didn’t have sixpack abs developing, but they away as soon as I returned home.

Kevin
Kevin
2 years 8 months ago

They ate tons of bugs. Bugs have lots of nutrients and calories per gram and they’re a heck of a lot easier to hint and kill than water buffalo.

Any discussion of so-called paleo eating that doesn’t include insectivores isn’t based on science.

I’ve had tasty wok grilled crickets and they’re just like Asian style popcorn shrimp.

Bugs will make a comeback- mark my words. No feedlots needed. No wasting 2,000 gal of water per pound as occurs with meat. No massive methane output and toxic runoff.

BFBVince
2 years 8 months ago

Should I add some crickets to my smoothie?

Elizabeth
2 years 8 months ago

Kevin, have you heard about Exo bars? (Made with cricket flour; I recently tried one, pretty tasty!) See: exo.co

Kevin
Kevin
2 years 8 months ago
I’m sorry, but I don’t eat processed foods, so no cricket bars. 😉 jusst kiddin’ No, I will. I have only eaten bugs once at a restaurant (knowingly). I had the crickets I mentioned at Typhoon at the Santa Monica Airport. Great stuff! I also had mealworms, which were a bit gross, but certainly something we could get used to. I know they eat tarantulas in Asia, and that’s really beyond me. But crickets were no problem. For a long time, bugs have been used in food processing anyway- such as the food dyes on M&Ms. Think of the economic… Read more »
MR PALEO
2 years 8 months ago

If you eat in America, you are eating bugs… you just can’t see them anymore… they have been processed along with your food…

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

That’s one good thing about processed food: bugs. Maybe not the most nutritious parts though.
And burgers, hotdogs, chicken loaf etc. have gristle and scraps in them. This is horrifying to some but I think it’s a good thing for people eating those foods.

2Rae
2Rae
2 years 8 months ago

Anyone who grows their own veggies usually ends up eating bugs since some of them are tiny living inside here and there…….we would soak our broccoli in salt water to watch them float to the top of the water. Vegans probably eat a lot of bugs if they like to eat home grown food.

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

hahaha.. suckers.

JAL
2 years 8 months ago
Interesting point Kevin! There was someone on the BBCs “The Infinite Monkey Cage” podcast last year talking about the fact that just a few years ago, people in the “developed world” still had worms and how we’ve eradicated them now, but allergies are on the increase. And they looked to the places where the kids still frequently have worms now.. and there’s no allergies. I was very interested in the discussion because our little boy suffers from quite a few allergies.. Although if the choice is “worms or allergies”.. well, not really the sort of choice you’d really want to… Read more »
Stef (Neo Paleo)
2 years 8 months ago

I am also surpised that there is no mention about insects, and I do wonder whether 200.000 years ago, they already had the skills to fish.

It would just be great to have more info of what our ancestors where eating and doing, and even more importantly: more info about how our bodies evolved when new food sources came into our diet.

Because in the end, our bodies have evolved since 200.000 years, just like our eating habits need to evolve during our own life from baby stage to ripe old age.

Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
If they had brains like us, then they would have figured out how to fish. IMO, it’s a given. You eat all kinds of meat and you see the fish there all the time without even having many big teeth or claws, it’s a given you’d be working on getting some of them. There are many ways used including fishing lines, traps, damming parts of rivers, using poison, or just poking them with spears. I can’t imagine we’d be so dumb that we could not have figured out ways. If we were that dumb, we would not have survived.
noodletoy
noodletoy
2 years 8 months ago

mollusks are stationary — they just need scooping. only a few hundred ago, in what became, the us oyster beds were so thick you could walk across them in northeastern bays and the oysters were the size of a baby’s head. you forget too the utter abundance of wild food in ancient times. fish more often than not were teeming so a steady hand and a spear meant dinner.

noodletoy
noodletoy
2 years 8 months ago

badly placed commas and crap spelling here. ugh. more caffeine.

Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago

A few hours drive from here, there are fossilized clam beds where the clams are layered up in small hills 10 feet high with not even an inch between the clams, hardly even any room for sand between them, the clams are so thick and the clams are almost a foot long. And it’s a big wide area too! That area was once an inland sea. Since the land is now BLM land and so collecting is legal, many of us rockhounds here have lots of those clams in your yard! ;-P

Matt
2 years 8 months ago

If humans had thrusting spears 500,000 years ago, they knew how to fish.

Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
2 years 8 months ago
When Lewis and Clark took their legendary trip across the continent, they experienced rivers and streams so teeming with fish they literally jumped into nets and boats. Lewis’ Newfoundland dog would jump into the streams and catch fish in his mouth. The plains Indians had plenty of buffalo, fowl, fish and other animals to eat, and the Indian tribes “on the outs” were relegated to eating nasty tubers that made them sickly and gave Lewis and Clark and company the runs. No mention about any tribes eating insects however. It makes me so sad to think that the land was… Read more »
Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
It probably depends on where you live. Around here, the bugs are smallish and do not often live packed together. Trying to catch and eat them would probably take more energy than they provided in calories. The only swarms you see are bees and wasps. We see a lot of snails but those are nonnative brought over from France. The only other insect to eat might be earthworms near streams but although I see a lot of earthworms in my planting soil, I do not recall seeing any along natural rivers here which are super sandy, so maybe that would… Read more »
Lydia
Lydia
1 year 8 months ago

In the US Little House on the Prairie books on the wilder plains describing around the 1860s – 1880s or thereabouts the country was teaming with game and fish. It was only when large numbers of people moved West that stocks diminished. You put out your fish trap and there was fish next day etc.

Stefanie
Stefanie
2 years 8 months ago

I agree wholeheartedly! Where are the bugs? I know the Paleo community keeps the bug talk to a minimum as to not turn people off, but realistically they would have been a large part of your diet. Bring back the bugs!

Mark Cruden
Mark Cruden
2 years 8 months ago

If anyone has a source for bugs in Canada can you share, please? (I’m north of Toronto). Thanks!

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

You can get crickets at pet stores (along with all sorts animals you won’t find in a grocery store).

Mantonat
Mantonat
2 years 8 months ago

If you’re near an Asian grocery store, look for canned bamboo worms.

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

That reminds me, grocery stores regularly carry cans of escargot (even though it’s easy to hunt your own if you’re willing to take the time). I think they’re overpriced but the ones I’ve had are spiced and salted to be quite tasty. Crayfish are basically bugs and they’re good to eat.

Hallations
Hallations
2 years 8 months ago

Yeah, maggots/grubs especially would have been a great source of fat, and could be found in large numbers in any kind of decaying organic matter. They fry up nice if you have fire, too – like tiny pork rinds. 🙂

jem
jem
2 years 8 months ago
Dr. Anthony Gustin
2 years 8 months ago

I actually thought about this last night when I woke up parched and slammed a glass of water: was thirst even a choice/actionable feeling for our hunter gatherer folks?

Danny
Danny
2 years 8 months ago

They ate so much fat, probably a lot of it raw, that I bet they drank a fraction of the water we did.

Pure Hapa
Pure Hapa
2 years 8 months ago

My dog has been eating raw meat and bones all his life – no “dog food” or kibble or any processed foods. He drinks far less water than dogs that eat kibble. (And his poops are a lot smaller and biodegradable as well – just FYI!)

Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
When I stopped eating processed food and kept carbs down, I stopped being thirsty much. Real food is loaded with water and also carbs are what drive thirst for me (not salt). Once in a while I go over to a friends house and eat some junk (noodles,dessert) and I notice right away I am super thirsty and drink several glasses of water which is way way more than I normally drink. With real food, unless it’s hot, I barely have desire for more than a glass or two of water a day. I no longer have to pee in… Read more »
maddieaddie
maddieaddie
2 years 8 months ago

mmmm… meat and potatoes!

Elizabeth
2 years 8 months ago

Thanks for the walk down memory lane. It’s good to get an occasional shot of “human living, in perspective”, to save me from my (albeit, conscious) NYC existence! 😉

Ryan
Ryan
2 years 8 months ago
I’m knew to all of this information and have been on the diet only a week. It makes sense that people who lived day by day would eat absolutely anything they could get their hands on. I’m sure bugs fit the bill. Our challenge is to find ecologically sound ways to feed ourselves. Farm to table is a growing concept but even better is ‘yard to table’. We need to learn how to grow much of our own foods because trucking it in burns a lot of fossil fuels and is not self reliant at all.
Brad
Brad
2 years 8 months ago

Keep in mind the Hazda also lightly/quickly roast their tubers on an open flame which means they are mostly raw so retaining much of the prebotic resistant starch plus the exterior also has a prebiotic called Indigestible Dextrin which forms from the dry roasting (pyrolysis). This likely parallels what our ancestors did.

Bill Schuler
Bill Schuler
2 years 8 months ago

For anyone interested, these are the “Indigenous to Africa” tubers in the report that Mark references:

Yellow yam (Dioscorea cayenensis)
White yam (Dioscorea rotundata)
Elephant yam (Amorphallus aphyllus)
Hausa potato (Solenostemon rotundifolius)

I’m going to start my google search right away to see if I can grow these in my garden this year!

Laurel
Laurel
2 years 8 months ago
Exactly Bill. And the tubers you list are plenty starchy. They aren’t the ultra-fiberous tough tubers mentioned in the article. Mark said: “these were wild, fibrous tubers, though – not the creamy, smooth russet potatoes that make the best darn mash you’ve ever tasted” Well yams are pretty darn creamy & smooth. Nor do I think they are fallback food like Mark says in the article. I think they were everyday food. Mark said: “tubers likely acted as fallback foods for when the hunt was poor or fish were scarce”. Where’s the evidence for this? It’s just more opinion.
Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
What it seems to me from what I have seen of native groups, and it does depend on what is available, but they mostly eat a balance of some tubers, fruit or honey when they can find it, and of course all kinds of meat and fish. Meat seems to be the favorite, but few cultures eat only meat even if there is plenty of meat as long as there are fruits and tubers also available. THey usually eat a balance if given the choice. Vegetables seem to be used as a garnish or flavor enhancer to add variety and… Read more »
Shawna
Shawna
2 years 8 months ago

Fred Flinstone knew what he was doing.

BodyweightFan
BodyweightFan
2 years 8 months ago
Well, I think once we remove what we know they didn’t eat, we’re left with many of the answers as to what they DID eat. Same can be said about what they drank. I don’t think we have to duplicate what they ate (wouldn’t be possible anyway of course), but the closer, the better. Of course, we can’t forget about their movement either. We’re all guessing that they were very fit. The food they ate played a role, but the amount and type of movement played another for sure. It’s no wonder why little kids are instinctively drawn to jungle… Read more »
Luke
2 years 8 months ago

Alright Mark, this will be the tipping point, going to try to get more organ meats in my diet. I have bone broth going in the crockpot as I type this, but I’m gonna give liver another go!

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
2 years 8 months ago

Check out the cookbooks “Oddbits” or “Offal” for ideas on utilizing not so common cuts.

Sharon
Sharon
2 years 8 months ago

The only way I can eat liver is make it into pate, put it on something crunchy and add hot sauce.

I have a beef heart waiting in the freezer. So far I haven’t even looked at it. Did collect a few recipes though. Baby steps.

Nocona
Nocona
2 years 8 months ago

I have Captain Beefheart in my CD rack…

Wendy
Wendy
2 years 8 months ago

I get my organs by blending liver and heart in my Vitamix until liquid, then making “pills” by putting it in a zip lock, snipping off a corner, and making rows of dots on parchment paper, then freezing. Take a handful of those puppies every morning with a cup of water, and walla. Got my offal on.

Luke
2 years 8 months ago

Wendy, that is a serious strategy you have there!

Wendy
Wendy
2 years 8 months ago

I read about it here, http://www.primallyinspired.com/friday-favorites-frozen-raw-liver-pills/ first, then read Chris Kresser’s suggestion in his new book. For people like me who are unable to eat, as in cook, chew and swallow, organs, this is a great solution. It works! I am feeling the benefits, energy and peace of mind that I’m not wasting as much of the animal as I used to. My revulsion is starting to ebb a little too. Who knows, I may be eating it before long!

Luke
2 years 8 months ago

Chicken heart are great, haven’t had beef.

Hallations
Hallations
2 years 8 months ago

We mix ground beef heart with ground beef & use it for meatloaf. It makes pretty good fajita meat when you cut it into strips & marinate it, too.

His Dudeness
His Dudeness
2 years 8 months ago

I found heart to be the easiest introduction to organ meat. Not as nutritious as liver, but it has a meaty texture you don’t get from liver.
Soaking the liver for a few hours in lemon juice is a good way to tame the flavor too. Then cook it lightly in butter with a metric crap-ton (that’s a technical term) of spices.

MR PALEO
2 years 8 months ago

“CRAP-TON” … I like it !!!

Luke
2 years 8 months ago

Dudeness, thanks for the tip. I see we both have a similar style of measuring and seasonings!

BodyweightFan
BodyweightFan
2 years 8 months ago

Hey Luke, don’t worry if you can’t get yourself to eat liver.
Even Fonzie couldn’t do it!!!!!! lol ;O)

Scott
Scott
2 years 8 months ago

I’ll wager that the tubers were properly fermented BEFORE cooking. Probably buried underground for a few days for total anaerobic fermentation. Anaerobic fermentation is the only proper fermentation method. Please ferment your high starchy foods before cooking.

Alex
Alex
2 years 8 months ago

Im Polish and in Poland we eat chicken livers, at least my family always liked them, cant speak for everybody. Anyway all you do is salt and pepper them dip them in flour; you can skip that or use an alternative to wheat flour, and fry them with some onions untill they’re soft. Pretty tasty.

Giulio
Giulio
2 years 8 months ago
Paying homage to our ancestors is certainly not a good enough reason to eat a certain way. Our ancestors ate what they did for one simple reason. That’s what was available to them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it is what is best for us to eat today. The human body is phenomenal machine, perfectly capable of evolving to every situation. The enzymes our body produces today are nowhere close to the ones produced by our ancestors and that alone is a pretty good indication that we are not meant to eat the same things. The lesson in all this… Read more »
Rob
Rob
2 years 8 months ago

What do you mean “The enzymes our body produces today are nowhere close to the ones produced by our ancestors”???? Give me a reference on that obviously made up statement please. This is biology 101. Enzymes are encoded by genes. The genes for basic metabolic and digestive enzymes are not going to be drastically different between humans now and pre-agricultural humans.

Giulio
Giulio
2 years 8 months ago
I have no time to go search for references. You can do your own searches if you like. Our genes today are not exactly the same as our ancestors. As a matter of fact we don’t look exactly like our ancestors. Anyway search and you will find that our ancestors lacked the enzymes to digest starches and dairies. Probably because they didn’t eat any. Today one of the most prevalent enzymes our body produces is amylase and we begin breaking down starches as soon as they come in contact with our saliva, which is a clear indication that our body… Read more »
Dano
Dano
2 years 8 months ago

“The enzymes our body produces today are nowhere close to the ones produced by our ancestors and that alone is a pretty good indication that we are not meant to eat the same things.”

I’d like to know where you got that information. And the truth is, many humans today are still not capable of having evolved to digest lactose in milk.

What I’m saying is your post is relatively high in preaching but extremely low in facts.

BodyweightFan
BodyweightFan
2 years 8 months ago
@Giulio , I definitely understand what you’re saying and agree to a point. However, I also wouldn’t say that we have evolved to eat anything we can make (not that I think you mean that). We did not consume non-human milk, but I don’t see it as either wonderful or terrible. So, I do drink milk moderately. Ultimately, it is a matter of choice based on what someone believes or whatever else guides their decisions. I think the best thing that people can do is try and stay away from foods and drinks which are obviously not healthy (cookies, soda,… Read more »
Laurel
Laurel
2 years 8 months ago

Giulio – I agree with you. There are plenty of perfectly healthy people who eat WAY more evil starches than Mark recommends. I think this low-carb version of Paleo is going by the wayside. Now let’s sit back and watch all of the Paleo gurus backpedalling their stance on starch.

victor
victor
2 years 8 months ago
The low carb version that is helping so many people out ( including myself) is only growing. The more people educate themselves the more they understand it’s benefits. I do agree though that starches have a place in many people’s diets, especially people with high daily physical demands. The problem many people have is when those physical demands become less demanding( say when they age) the mental desire for carbs continues and the real dilemma we have today is the result. The average Asian consumes 2600 calories compared to our 3800 calories. Tell me how we’re going to reduce our… Read more »
Laurel
Laurel
2 years 8 months ago

Victor – I must be like the average Asian then because that’s my average calories too. I can’t believe most Americans can eat 3800 calories per day.

MR PALEO
2 years 8 months ago

Laurel,

When someone comments as you and Giulio have, it means they either don’t have the educational (science) background, or they haven’t done their homework…

Laurel
Laurel
2 years 8 months ago

Mr. Paleo – Been there, done that, seen the negatives. I was Paleo years ago and bought into all the hype. Just don’t believe it anymore, and I see that “paleo” is evolving and changing until it is unrecognizable. Lately everyone’s talking about “safe” starches. That is a laugh.

victor
victor
2 years 8 months ago

Laurel, fools buy into hype without researching something first. On the face of it I see Mark’s Apple and I see a lot of hype so what do I do? I research it so I know it’s more than hype. The fact that you “can’t believe” what I comment about without researching it first tells me you do a lot on gut instincts. So go on and consume all the starch you want. I know you wouldn’t ” believe” what I say about it anyway.

Hallations
Hallations
2 years 8 months ago

Laurel – I hope you’re right. I think there are not enough cautionary stories about low-carb paleo in the mainstream paleo media. For every glowing success story you see, there’s a fail story you don’t see. People who are having success with low carb – that’s wonderful. I just wish they assume that when someone’s health declines while on the exact same regimen, they must be doing it wrong, or somehow don’t know what they’re talking about. People are different. nothing works for everyone universally, and low carb is no exception.

Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
It kind of sounds like your argument is that although for millions of years since the dawn of our creation, we ate certain types of things and despite genetic pressure to adapt to the natural food that was available all that time, and despite that we developed in concert with the availability of those foods, which would logically mean we ARE adapted to eat what was available, your argument is that despite that, what is ACTUALLY best for us are very new foods that never existed before, that we have had little time to adapt for, nice cheap foods invented… Read more »
Giulio
Giulio
2 years 8 months ago
I agree that we should stay away from cheaply produced foods and I thought I stated pretty clearly in my original reply that we should all aim at eating natural foods that don’t contain cheap chemicals and hormones. As far as dairies goes how can you lump them up with cheap industrial foods? Dairies have been made very naturally for thousands of years in countries like France and Italy. Just because some people have troubles digesting lactose doesn’t mean dairies are evil or bad for you. Some people are allergic to shell fish, other have troubles with red meat. Does… Read more »
victor
victor
2 years 8 months ago

It doesn’t appear that we’re adapting too well the the dwarf wheat we’ve been consuming since the mid 70’s. Perhaps we’ll evolve towards adapting to it but just the same I won’t be participating.

Paul
Paul
2 years 8 months ago

Mark had a post a few weeks back about including full fat dairy in one’s diet….

William
William
2 years 8 months ago

My primal ancestors ate insects so that I wouldn’t have to 😉

Kit
Kit
2 years 8 months ago

I laughed out loud at this. It’s a complex world.

Jim
2 years 8 months ago

Wish I could remember exactly, but Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs, and Steel had a brief note about how many hours/day hunter gatherers work to supply their families with food. I think it was 2-4 hrs/day, and the rest of the time was spent in play, religious rituals, music, etc. There was also a wry comment about how “My friends who are attorneys, accountants, and physicians don’t like this statistic!”

Lyndy Lou from Oz
Lyndy Lou from Oz
2 years 8 months ago
In Australia, evidence of what the the indigenous people ate is often displayed in ancient remains of kitchens known as ‘middens’. These were mounds of the remains of whatever food sources they were cooking in camp fire like settings with groups of people. My mother’s house yard in Tasmania has a midden in it, when digging it reveals a black soil-like structure littered with fragments of old semi-fossilized bones and shells. On the land, usually on slightly higher ground near rivers, salt water and on the edge of freshwater lakes you see them along with very rudimentary tools like little… Read more »
CT
CT
2 years 8 months ago
Thank you, you effectively nullified the position represented by the very first post on this thread, this mystifying idea that our ancestors “ate whatever they could get their hands on, even if there wasn’t much variety.” I don’ t understand where this common idea comes from, they don’t seem to understand the incredible abundance that exists in nature, and was certainly even more so when our own numbers were small, as proven by any number of journals of the early explorers. Given an abundance of available food sources, you don’t have to eat “whatever”, you can eat what makes you… Read more »
Peter Whiting
2 years 8 months ago

Thanks again for a very informative post.

I assume that, way back, our ancestors ate their animal prey fresh and raw (just like other animals do today) but then, at some point, they learnt to store their kills and cook them for consumption at a later time. Do you know when this transition happened?

BodyweightFan
BodyweightFan
2 years 8 months ago

@Peter, it’s up in the air like much of our ancestral history.

Here is one article which looked into this:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cooking-up-bigger-brains/

Danl
2 years 8 months ago

I still like innards. My wife is enjoying my research for recipes to try and satisfy her various wants while remaining primarily clean. Thanks for the information you provide.

Jan
Jan
2 years 8 months ago
How humans ate is how we evolved to this point. That’s what got us to where we are today. The discovery and addition of meat in the diet, the discovery and addition of cooked foods (not just meat) have everything to do with the evolution of humans, particularly brain development. It set us off on a different trajectory than related species. In fact, humans have evolved to the point where we can no longer survive as a species by reverting to a raw food diet (see Wrangham below). I highly recommend two books: Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History… Read more »
Deanine
Deanine
2 years 8 months ago

I have never understood how the concept of “vegan” eating developed. Even vegetarianism is not part of our evolutionary heritage. Yet people continue to view those lifestyle choices as somehow more advanced, ethical or spiritual. I am one with the universe when I consume what was created for me to consume.

BodyweightFan
BodyweightFan
2 years 8 months ago
@Deanine , I can somewhat explain from my point of view as a former vegan. My mom used to make chicken….a lot. I suppose too much, because one day I just didn’t feel like eating chicken and actually got a bit grossed out by the veins. Why? Don’t know, it just happened. Next thing I know, I mention it to a neighbor who happens to be a long-time vegan. He begins to tell me how it would be best to stay away from all animal products because of injected hormones, they chemicals in the feed they eat, etc. etc. etc.… Read more »
Scott UK
Scott UK
2 years 8 months ago

Be sure to check out this other landmark paper too:

Cordain, L., Miller, J. B., Eaton, S. B., Mann, N., Holt, S. H. A., & Speth, J. D. (2000). Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71(3), 682-692.

“The most plausible . . . percentages of total energy would be 19–35% for dietary protein, 22–40% for carbohydrate, and 28–58% for fat.”

Jennifer
Jennifer
2 years 8 months ago
Great article Mark! I just wish you would have added one more section though to make it complete such as “Modern food suggestion” for each food group. Under the shellfish paragraph give me a link to a simple oyster dish, under the land animals paragraph tell me something I can do with pastured pork kidneys (really, I have some sitting in my freezer right now), and under the Tubers paragraph tell me what tubers I can buy today at the grocery store today that will most closely approximate the composition of paleolithic wild tubers (if such a food even still… Read more »
Aloka
2 years 8 months ago

Well they didn’t raise chicken or butcher cows or any farmed animals.
So our food is completely different after all. We’re not eating anything they ate.

His Dudeness
His Dudeness
2 years 8 months ago

Some of us are. Last I checked, you can’t get whitetail deer, quail, or wild duck at a US grocery store. Yet I eat a ton of it every fall and into winter.
Lots of folks still eat wild fish too – some of it they caught themselves.

MR PALEO
2 years 8 months ago

Aloka,

Some of what we eat today has not “changed” all that much, particularly seafood (fish, crustaceans, mollusks, seaweed, etc.). And while you are correct in that they most likely did not “raise” animals as food in the beginning, I am sure they domesticated animals earlier than most people “believe”… for instance, rabbits… and your “argument” is senseless since it denies adaptation. We have LEARNED to domesticate our food source since it is easier than chasing it down every day… had you been born in a different culture, I doubt you would have the same attitude…

Christine
Christine
2 years 8 months ago
I understand the argument for looking back to see what foods humans evolved to eat and using that as a guideline for what foods to pursue in our current time diets. There’s two ways of looking at that: 1 ONLY eat what ancient man ate (this is probably not what most paleo eaters aspire to, but is often what people Hear when they hear us discuss paleo guidelines. I’m not even sure this is possible since the foods themselves have changed over time) or 2. Evaluate current foods to include or exclude based whether or not they approximate the paleo… Read more »
Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

I was expecting vegetables and maybe fruit would be prominent in their diets.

Joe pineapples
Joe pineapples
2 years 8 months ago

When I was a kid liver and bacon was on the family menu at least once a week. The reason it was on the menu was because it was cheap but it tasted fantastic and I loved it.

Great article mark and a serious memory jogger to buy more meat like offal it’s so good for us and as primal as it gets.

Grok and his family and friends would be disgusted at the waste because of the way we eat today.

jamie
2 years 8 months ago

some nice research there. A Paleolithic diet is simply one that can’t be nailed down as it has varied from timeline to geography. Ice age individuals would have had little to no access to fauna and the Dani people of New Guinea had a diet mainly based around starchy carbs in the form of sweet potato.

Basically there is not one main diet to rule them all and it’s more about what these diets do NOT contain such as refined sugars, trans fats, processed carbohydrates etc etc

Stef (Neo Paleo)
2 years 8 months ago

Elaborating on your reaction Jamie,
it would be just great – and fun! – if somebody listed all the fooditems we have today,
and in that list,
delete all the items that surely are not paleolithic.

As such we will have a limited list with all sure paleolithic fooditems, which – because it will be scarce – needs to be supplemented with modern food like daily apples – no pun intended – and all the other modern farmed fresh produce.

Mia
Mia
2 years 8 months ago
I try to avoid processed foods, but I don’t always. I am fit, strong, and rarley get sick. All this back and forth about bugs, tubers, etc. is a bit lost on me. This nit-picking food to death can be very isolating…trust me…I know. It’s great that there’s free info about wellness on this site, but I am weary of how many ads there are for products and books to trick you out of your hard earned money. Eat healthy or don’t. Mostly, get out and enjoy life. In the end you’re not going to care how many bugs you… Read more »
Semerian
Semerian
2 years 8 months ago
Thank you for such an enlightening article. I am from East Africa, kenyan by birth and a Maasai.Now… i digress but..I ate like your article mentioned for 25 yrs ( Thankfully, we had farms close by that supplied even the city people with amazing foods) and also in france lived next to an organic beef and goat farmer then i moved to America and the last 10 years i have not eaten the way i should have. My body is build for running ( especially sprinting.. i love it..) and long distances and the last 2 years i have not… Read more »
Sharon
Sharon
2 years 8 months ago

Wow, Semerian, thank you for your comment.

Eva
Eva
2 years 8 months ago
Thank you for the info! I actually got rid of most of my allergies and asthma just from getting rid of wheat. When I cut that out, it was like a switch was thrown in my body. And although lots of other crap I ate was surely not good for me either, it did not seem to be directly causing allergy like the wheat was and I had to really do a reasonable job of cutting it out, no daily eating of it, although I probably get some molecules in some sauces and whatnot. In fact, my more normal looking… Read more »
Diana
Diana
2 years 8 months ago

The bit about bugs amused me. If you grow raspberries and go and pick them straight off the canes and eat them without washing them, you would find if you opened them that lots of them are full of bugs. So eating berries straight from your garden will ensure you have plenty of bugs. My mum told me this years ago.

Harry Mossman
2 years 8 months ago

Good post but I agree some other foods should have been mentioned. Also, the post makes it seem like they would have liked to eat just fish, shellfish and meat if they could, with tubers being just backup food. No way of knowing. That falls under “Grok prolly . . . .”

Other foods:
1. Insects, for sure.
2. Other small land critters.
3. Fruit and nuts in season.
4. Honey when they got lucky.
5. Non-tuber plants.

Earliest controlled use of fire is controversial but our ancestors were cooking food by the period Mark is discussing.

Zenmooncow
Zenmooncow
2 years 8 months ago

I have this Idea to open up a coffee shop that also serves various dished based on organs. Some of my favourites are beef liver and onions , spicy chicken livers, tripe , beef stomach , beef tendon.

Trying to think of the name.

Henri
Henri
2 years 7 months ago

How about organ-ick-coffee shop? 🙂

Mark.
Mark.
2 years 8 months ago

In parts of Florida there are huge mounds of shells created by pre-Columbian tribes, some far enough from the ocean that the mollusks were freshwater. It seems very plausible that early humans would have similar eating habits if such food were available.

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

I guess The Offal Coffee Shop is bad marketing.
I like Brewer and Butcher but that might not be a big mainstream hit either. I’m going to keep thinking about this. It’s fun. You can use any name I come up with but I’ll be expecting a free espresso if I ever stop by.

victor
victor
2 years 8 months ago

The Organ Grinder?

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

Carnivore Cafe
Cuppa and Supper (kind of a tongue twister, which could be a main course)

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago

Starguts?
another dish: thinly sliced “slivers of liver”

Sharon
Sharon
2 years 8 months ago

Animanarchy, you have cracked me up multiple times today. Thanks. And… I would be attracted to a coffee shop with any of those names. But then, they appeal to my sense of humor.

victor
victor
2 years 8 months ago

Mark, looks like you inadvertently opened a can of worms by not mentioning insects.

jessica
jessica
2 years 8 months ago

Something romantical about that closing paragraph…I’m single, anybody out there down to share a split, roasted femur?

Matthew Zastrow
Matthew Zastrow
2 years 8 months ago
What about the water they were drinking and what was IN the water –> Algae! I know it could be deadly but Grok would have had to trust his instincts and there is a very large amount of protein in algae as well as fats and nutrients….I don’t have any research backing this up (I am hoping someone else can comment with the research!) but it makes sense…. Grok did not have filtered chlorinated water…so there would have been SO many other things besides water whenever Grok had a chance to drink. I know I feel good while consuming Algae… Read more »
Animanarchy
Animanarchy
2 years 8 months ago
I’ve had to drink somewhat swampy water on a bike ride. It was slightly unpleasant. I didn’t get sick but I think Grok would use that kind only if he really needed to. Almost clear water from a pond I know with algae growing all around it and lots of frogs living in it is fine though. It tastes clean enough and healthy. That may be my main water source later this year when camping. It doesn’t seem like it would be polluted and of course has nothing added so I’m guessing it’s better than most tap water. I tried… Read more »
Ryan
Ryan
2 years 8 months ago

Those ratios of protein-fat-carb sound very “Zone Diet” like to me! (30-30-40)

Matthew Zastrow
Matthew Zastrow
2 years 8 months ago

Spirulina is 60% protein by weight…animals can eat it….Im sure Grok had some algae in his diet (be it un-intentional)…and sometimes I eat it (usually if I want to run around town or parks or climb a mountain)

Matthew Zastrow
Matthew Zastrow
2 years 8 months ago

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2764/2

spirulina does not have much fat at all… 🙁

But it does sure have plenty of protein!

George Henderson
2 years 8 months ago

I’ve seen a couple of prehistoric menu recreations that featured pond algae; deliberately harvested by cro-magnons and neanderthals. I reckon spirulina is paleo.

Dave
Dave
2 years 8 months ago

I started having problems with wheat and most starchy carbs at 22 yrs old. Always feel much better with protien and steamed veggies. Dairy is kind of iffy, nuts are not so good either. When I stick with a paleo diet, I lean out, and feel less “fuzz” in my head. One trippy thing is, I do great with carrot juice (homemade). Listen to your body.

Matthew Zastrow
Matthew Zastrow
2 years 8 months ago

“Listen to your body” —> Grok sure did. and I do my best to as well.

…and I don’t even really know what the zone diet is…..I just know that I need a lot of fat and protein to feel good….and Algae in the morning in my huge jar of filtered water allows me to not eat almost all day If I want (but I just love eating…don’t get me wrong…I totally grill and/or skillet up some healthy meats/bones/organs everyday!)

michael
michael
2 years 8 months ago
Interesting data. So, where did they get their carbs besides tubers? If they were getting 40% of calories from carbs on average, then that would be about 250 grams of carbs a day on average if they were eating 2,500 calories a day. Any data on the other carb sources in that region at that time–fruits, nuts, seeds, wild grains, leafy greens? Also, I wonder how much protein came from meat versus plant sources for that matter. 29% of calories from protein would be about 181 grams a day on a 2,500 calorie diet. There’s about 5 grams of protein… Read more »
michael
michael
2 years 8 months ago

I should note, that would be 2.25 lbs of meat, if no plants were eaten and meat was the sole source of protein.

DavidKing
DavidKing
2 years 8 months ago

Accept we now know that the cradle of civilization was not Africa but Australia. That is confirmed.

Mary Fox
Mary Fox
2 years 8 months ago

I saw “takeaway” and thought they had takeout for a moment!

Jack Y
Jack Y
2 years 8 months ago
The shellfish thing reminded me of a 3rd century Chinese work talking about how the ancestors of the agricultural Han Chinese all used to live by the river eating shellfish. It suggested that they were constantly sick, hungry and weak in general. The way I interpreted this at the time was that some hunter gatherer groups relied on more stable sources of food, like the vast amounts of shellfish on the banks of a huge river, and grew sedentary, whereas other groups would be more nomadic, hunting larger game and foraging across wider regions, which would be more dangerous and… Read more »
Christopher Lee Deards
2 years 8 months ago

When I read this article this morning I knew that it would generate lots of comments. I have to say, Mark, that out of the articles I’ve read from you this is one of the best–comprehensive and informative. The information is just what I needed to open the eyes of some of my friends and families who are thinking of giving Paleo a try.

David young
David young
2 years 8 months ago

I was in the Rift Valley in January for a few days. Despite it’s being mid-summer and up to 35 degrees, it was astonishgly green and fertile, and the lakes looked superb. All in all an ideal environment for human growth.

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