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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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January 01 2019

Dear Mark: How Do the Hadza Eat So Much Honey? and Happy New Year!

By Mark Sisson
31 Comments

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering one eternal question: How do the Hadza tribespeople of Northern Tanzania eat so much honey and maintain their trim figures and pristine metabolic health? Are they eating keto whenever they’re not eating honey? Are they running hill sprints to burn through glycogen stores and improve their insulin sensitivity? Are they trading mongongo nuts for Metformin? Or is there something unique about honey that makes it different than sugar?

But before I get to the question, it’s a brand new year.

This New Year promises to be bigger and better than ever. Change is in the air, and not just in my own life. Everyone I talk to—all my friends, colleagues, family members, and random acquaintances—seems to be entering a period of great change. Their professional lives, their relationships, their health, their mindsets are all shifting. And for the better. The way I see it is that change happens regardless of what you do. It’s a far better idea to take the reins and make the change work in your favor than let yourself be swept away by powers and fate unseen.

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope 2019 is your best yet, and I’d love to hear your visions for it.

Okay, on to the question:

What are your thoughts on honey as the sweetener for the mulled wine? Given how the Hadza draw so many of their carbs from honey (especially given the particular sugars and micronutrients that it contains), I’m surprised it doesn’t appear more often in these recipes that call for sweetening.

In case readers are unaware of the reference, the Hadza are one of the few remaining hunter-gatherer groups on this planet. They inhabit northern Tanzania, and their lives haven’t changed much at all. They’ve resisted ethnic admixture from other groups. They still hunt and gather for the vast majority of their calories. Their hunting and foraging grounds have been condensed due to pressure from the state, and there are probably fewer game animals available, but they’re still in the same general area. According to their oral traditions, there’s even no indication that they came from somewhere else.

One of the more striking features of their diet is their utilization of honey.

Ask the average Hadza tribesperson what their favorite food is and “honey” will be the answer.

Catch the Hadza during the right month and they’ll get half their calories from honey. Averaged out across the year, they get 15% from honey.

They even use a bird called the honey guide to lead them to the choicest hives. After completing the harvest, they’ll burn or bury the remnants to keep their honey guide from getting too full for the next search.

The honey isn’t your store-bought, pristine golden syrup smelling faintly of HFCS. It’s straight up honeycomb, teeming with bees and larvae and pollen and the queenly secretions called royal jelly. In fact, studies tend to emphasize that the Hadza get 15-50% of their calories not from honey, but from “honey and bee larvae.”

Bee larvae, also known as bee brood, is packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals. It’s high in folate, B12, thiamine, pantothenic acid—pretty much all the B vitamins—and biotin, to name a few.

Whole hive eating also means eating the royal jelly, a potent, superconcentrated secretion used to feed larvae and queens. Think of it as colostrum, the potent milk mammals provide for their infants in the first few days of life. Royal jelly has shown potential activity (in humans, no less) against allergic rhinitisreduced the toxicity of cancer drugs in patients, lowered cholesterol in adults with high cholesterol (and women), and improved glycemic control and oxidative stress in diabetics.

How about the honey itself? I’ve written about honey as a sweetener and explored how its metabolic effects differ from plain white sugar. Suffice it to say, the evidence is clear that honey isn’t just sugar. Honey contains sugar—a lot of sugar—but it’s much more than that.

set of studies in humans compared the effects of honey, sham-honey (a mix of fructose and glucose), dextrose (which is just glucose), and sucrose on several health markers. Honey resulted in smaller blood glucose spikes (+14%) than dextrose (+53%). Sham honey increased triglycerides, while real honey lowered them along with boosting HDL and lowering LDL. After fifteen days of honey feeding, CRP and LDL dropped. Overall, honey improved blood lipids, lowered inflammatory markers, and had minimal effect on blood glucose levels, despite being similarly high in fructose in particular and sugar in general.

So, in some respects, the honey the Hadza eat like crazy isn’t the honey that most of us can easily obtain in stores or even farmer’s markets. Yet even standard honey is different from—and better than—white sugar.

This is a roundabout way of saying that a little honey will be just fine in your mulled wine. Extra points if you can throw some bee larvae and royal jelly in there, with maybe even a dash of Hadza fecal bacteria.

Of course, don’t eat 15% honey diets. You are not Hadza. You are not living like the Hadza. You don’t have the precise genetic makeup of the Hadza. It won’t work as well for the average Westerner reading blogs.

Do you eat honey? How do the metabolic effects compare to sugar in your experience?

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for reading, and be sure to tell me your thoughts and New Year intentions down below.

References:

Shaha A, Mizuguchi H, Kitamura Y, et al. Effect of Royal Jelly and Brazilian Green Propolis on the Signaling for Histamine H Receptor and Interleukin-9 Gene Expressions Responsible for the Pathogenesis of the Allergic Rhinitis. Biol Pharm Bull. 2018;41(9):1440-1447.

Osama H, Abdullah A, Gamal B, et al. Effect of Honey and Royal Jelly against Cisplatin-Induced Nephrotoxicity in Patients with Cancer. J Am Coll Nutr. 2017;36(5):342-346.

Chiu HF, Chen BK, Lu YY, et al. Hypocholesterolemic efficacy of royal jelly in healthy mild hypercholesterolemic adults. Pharm Biol. 2017;55(1):497-502.

Lambrinoudaki I, Augoulea A, Rizos D, et al. Greek-origin royal jelly improves the lipid profile of postmenopausal women. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2016;32(10):835-839.

Pourmoradian S, Mahdavi R, Mobasseri M, Faramarzi E, Mobasseri M. Effects of royal jelly supplementation on glycemic control and oxidative stress factors in type 2 diabetic female: a randomized clinical trial. Chin J Integr Med. 2014;20(5):347-52.

Al-waili NS. Natural honey lowers plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, and blood lipids in healthy, diabetic, and hyperlipidemic subjects: comparison with dextrose and sucrose. J Med Food. 2004;7(1):100-7.

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31 thoughts on “Dear Mark: How Do the Hadza Eat So Much Honey? and Happy New Year!”

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  1. I used to have a teaspoon of local raw honey (it came from my Amish neighbors’ hives) every morning to deal with seasonal allergies. Then I started having gout attacks.

    The gout is now under control but when I tried adding that same honey in the same amount back to my diet this fall allergy season I got the gout tingles in my foot pretty immediately. (Sad face)

    I can only conclude that my metabolism is so deranged from 40 years of CW eating (20 of that vegetarian) and 26 years of heavy duty psych meds that are known to affect blood sugar, that I no longer have any room for error.

    Love what I eat and have managed to become less food obsessed, but, dammit, I miss that honey. The seasonal allergies are now drug treated, btw, and that’s not as effective for me.

    1. Missy, have you tried eating just pollen for your seasonal allergies?

  2. My plan for 2019 is to continue to follow the principles set by Mark and associates, read MDA daily, and enjoy the podcasts and videos. You’ve gotten me healthier at 71 than I was at 21! No prescriptions, no expensive health insurance, and feeling great.

  3. I am starting my journey today. I have always loved reading Mark’s stuff but now is time to start “doing”.

    Thanks Mark! And Happy 2019!!!

  4. I’ve heard the Hadza come up a few times. One of the things which is usually overlooked is that their consumption of honey and berries is seasonal. They tend to only eat it during the wet season when it is available.

    During the dry season, they will hunt and eat animals and will effectively be on a ketogenic diet during that part of the year., and burning fat stores built up during the wet season.

    1. There is a lot of evidence, including common-sense, that hunter-gatherer societies ate seasonally.

      Most of the high-starch plants that are available in the wild, are also eaten by other animals and insects, or spoil quickly. You may have a superabundance of fruit, nuts or yams in season, and such harvests are often occasions for tribal gatherings, feasts and marriage ceremonies.

      But when the bounty is all gone, because food is hard to store and carry with you, they again disperse to hunt and gather the less convenient foods.

  5. I’m a beekeeper so yes I eat honey, however I also eat a very low carb diet so I limit my honey intake to 1 teaspoon per day.

  6. They also don’t drive to the store and buy it by the quart. I imagine that helps.

  7. Alcohol was a problem for me in 2018 (and the previous 10 years or so). I broke up with a wonderful woman, got my license revoked for driving under the influence, wasted lots of money, and lost respect from a few close friends, all because of my drinking. It also impedes my efforts to live a paleo lifestyle, which I’ve been a strong advocate for ever since I started reading MDA back in 2010.
    I’m finally breaking up with my addiction to “getting drunk.” (I want to get to the point where I can enjoy a drink or two and then stop, which I have been able to do here and there over the years.)
    I’m starting today with a Whole30. Then after that continuing with 90/10 Primal Blueprint lifestyle. Maybe start the Primal Health Coach program?
    Wish me luck. 2019, here I come!

    (The ex and I are on the right track to getting back together, I just need to prove to her that I’m serious about turning my life around, which I’m so ready to do. Thanks MDA and everyone out there who inspire me to change!)

    1. Good Luck Andrew! Wishing you the best in your mission to make a better you!

    2. An exciting new year ahead for you Andrew, that’s awesome! Let us know how things are going from time-to-time.

      Based on my experience with two loved ones (and a different substance abuse problem I had many years ago) and all the trials and tribulations and so-far-so-good success as of late, it would be best if you have an addictive personality to come to grips with just not drinking any alcohol. Period. For the rest of your life. Just my two cents worth, keeping in mind you get what you pay for. 🙂

    3. Andrew,

      I’m the one who asked the initial question about honey/mulled wine (thank you, Mark, for the response), and I asked that question from a position not too far removed from your own: I drink – pretty heavily – and this is generally incompatible with a healthy, primal lifestyle; I’m trying to find a good balance without relying too much on processed/artificial sweeteners.

      I won’t guess what lies behind your struggles with alcohol but the drinking, itself, is rarely the root/initial issue. Analyzing the underlying problem is a good way to find a path forward. Some suggest total abstinence, and while that works for some (if programs like AA record their success rates, I can’t find them published and I doubt they’re very high) it’s not feasible for many. It’s not a legitimate option for me, so I try to find a balance/symbiosis between booze and productivity.

      It’s very difficult once you’ve forgotten how to kill time or deal with stress in any way other than hitting the pub, but it’s doable. It takes a while to find the right mix between time spent leaning on a bar and time spent under one, but it’s not insurmountable.

    4. Some people just can’t stop. I’ve worked with a very experienced dietician and salicylates trigger my appetite and my depression and it lasts for about 9-10 days. But they are everywhere and difficult to avoid. Like you I’ve been following Mark’s Daily Apple for 10 years and would love to follow the paleo lifestyle but just can’t shake my addictions. The worst bit is that people think you are delusional. At least if I was an alcoholic or a smoker I would get more empathy but people don’t think you can be addicted to food!
      Good luck with your journey but I would advise against the idea that you can still have the occassional drink.

    5. Best wishes to you. My husband celebrates 4 years of sobriety this year and it is remarkable how much better his life is without it. He has become an inventor and is well on his way to doing it for a living. None of that would have been possible before sobriety. It was hard at first for him to live without, but that is such a distant memory now.
      May you find all the joy and more in life that drinking prevented you from seeing.

    6. Andrew –

      I toyed with the “occasional” drink to keep things under control for many years. I would even mark those days obsessively on a calendar. It just doesn’t work. If you are at a place where you think you need to control it, it is actually controlling you. Even a few glasses of wine or a beer would cause me psychological issues as I was trying to control it. I finally told myself that alcohol for me leads to a law of diminishing return.

      I have not drank since September of 2017.

      Every now and then I’ll think about a beer or glass of wine would be OK but then make myself remember how I felt when I was drinking. Actually, how I felt the next week after drinking…….even small amounts. Depressed, irritable, with insomnia……………

      Hang tough and get some help if you can’t stop. You’ll be a much happier and life-fulfilled person without it. It will also help you stick to your health goals which is extremely rewarding. And your gal will appreciate the real you.

      Grok on……………………………and Thank You for your dedication and efforts Mark.

    7. My friend, I’ve never had a sip of alcohol in my life because I know I’m an alcoholic at heart. You do you, but let me urge you to just end it. Don’t endanger those positive relationships in your life for anything. It just isn’t worth it. Good luck and keep us all updated.

  8. Only one new years intention. Keep doing effortlessly what I’ve been doing the last 7.5 years…living as primal as possible. Why mess with success?

  9. I lived in Ethiopia for 5 years, which is famous for its amazing range of honey. You could buy it raw from markets, with honeycomb wax, dead bees and larvae all included. Delicious. And far more rich and less sweet than most honey, so more than a small spread on a piece of fruit or low carb muffin was all you needed anyway.

    1. Any suggestions for how best to enjoy the honeycomb; recipes, food pairings, etc? Conventional methods from back home (i.e. spreading it on toast) generally don’t work with a primal approach.

  10. Happy New Year to you too Mark and all the MDA readers. I’ve been reading your blog since 2013 and enjoy it immensely.
    For the month leading up to Christmas, I followed a fasting regime which proved to be rather successful, and I’d like to continue it into the New Year.
    My goal for 2019 is to reduce my negative thought patterns, thereby being more positive in my mindset, ie, a happy brain.
    🙂

  11. Wishing you strength, discipline and success in getting to the Good Side of Life Andrew. I know you can do it.

    All the best to everyone in hitting their goals for 2019. For me it’s been a real good 3 years on the Primal Lifestyle. In addition to firm Re-Set after the holidays, goals this year include drinking more water, increasing sleep to 7-8 hours, daily deep breathing, consistent intermittent fasting, and big goal of hiking half dome in Yosemite National Park on my 59th birthday. Gonna half to train for that one!

  12. I don’t understand the love affair with the Hadza. In the photos I’ve seen they have terrible tooth decay probably because of how much honey they eat. The mediterranean diet is also lauded but again most of the footage I’ve seen of the old people is that they don’t have any teeth left. Any group of people given access to sugar and chemicals in food (mostly natural) will over consume because these things are addictive. When the whites first landed in Australia they noticed how perfect the Aboriginals teeth were becuase they had almost no access to sugar or chemicals. The sweetest thing they might have eaten was a little bush berry which were not in abundance.

    1. Indeed. According to Wikipedia, “Anthropological studies on the Hadza in the 20th century found them to have an average life expectancy of 33 at birth for both men and women. Life expectancy at age 20 was 39 and the infant mortality rate was 21%.”

      Not exactly a strong endorsement for a honey-rich diet.

      1. Life expectancy is meaningless. The rise in life expectancy in the developed world is entirely related to antibiotics, better sanitation and a whole lot less babies dying.

        If ten people are born and four die before age 5, but six make it to 75, the average life expectancy is 47. But no one died at 47. You either died as a child or lived to old age.

        The truth is the maximum human life expectancy hasn’t changed in a 100,000 years or more.

  13. Very interesting. The Hadza not only eat lots of honey but also get many calories from eating the fruit of the baobab tree, and from collecting berries and fiber reach tubers. . Overall their carb consumption is very high.and they also have one of the most diversified gut-biom and miracleously don’t have ill effects despite all the parasites that inhabit their body. Don’t try this way of eating at home (-: Happy new year ?

  14. Happy New Year to you Mark. This is my first time here and my first comment.

    Coincidentally, I ate a lot of REAL honey this past December than in the past five years combined.

    I’ll read more about the Hadza people and their lifestyle.

    Thank you for sharing.

  15. Your remark about going into a period of change for many people is interesting to me. I, too feel that my growth and positive change in my life is accelerating especially over the past 6 months or so and I have big plans for getting to the bottom of nagging health issues, improving my energy levels, and making a big shift in my professional life.
    Thanks for all the effort you have put in over the years to make these resources available to everyone with an internet connection.

  16. Mark, you are remarkable. I’m a 68 yr. old competitive woman cyclist who is having trouble finding a dietician to help me find my way in the diet/weight loss world. I’ve read your books, followed the plan and still my body doesn’t want to drop the weight! Frustration! Can you possibly send forward any recommendations for someone in the Los Angeles area? Thank you.