High Fat and Healthy: The Maasai Keep on Walking

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

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

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Primal Blueprint for Both Men and Women?

10 Ways to “Get Primal”

Chronic Cardio Talk

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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22 thoughts on “High Fat and Healthy: The Maasai Keep on Walking”

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

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

  3. I know Mark that you got your stuff pretty much balanced diet and exercise wise but I have read from so many low-carb boards how aerobic exercise is bad for us that I want to praise endurance training with a couple of words.

    As Mark said we have to remember that Maasai people move around all day long. They don’t need extra “moderate” aerobic exercise. What does typical western people do? Sit all day long. Most of us don’t have time to walk around all day long, that’s why I think endurance training should not be eliminated.

    A lot of “broscience” people talk how aerobic exercise speeds aging, adds oxidative stress and so on… Bunch of nonsense.

    Current idea is that oxidative phenotype -> longevity. Resveratrol for example induces oxidative phenotype (endurance type) -> SMALL fibers that are characterized as mitochondria rich and energy efficient. No hypertrophy! Longevity and endurance training responses have many other things in common.

    “Compared with power athletes, the ratio of all-cause SMR(Standardized Mortality Ratios) was lower for endurance (0.63; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.51-0.79) and mixed sports athletes (0.76; 95% CI, 0.65-0.89); the respective ratios of SMRs for coronary heart disease were 0.59 (95% CI, 0.39-0.85) and 0.63 (95% CI, 0.47-0.84) for the same groups, respectively.”



    Remember moderation and balance.

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

  5. Yes, I would certainly blame the lower life expectancy of the Masai on the high fat in their diet, rather than the high rates of syphilis, LIONS, unreliable access to clean drinking water, and the fact that the Masai are typically, while not necessarily pro-war, inclined to provoke violence through stealing others cows (highly valued) and other acts.

    Oh, did I mention they routinely deal with LIONS? And probably jaguars as well. And elephants, hippos, cape buffalo, and miscellaneous reptilian types-you know, poisonous snakes, crocs, the like. You think they’re no big deal, pick up Peter Hathaway Capstick’s book Death in the Tall Grass, and read it.

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

  6. This is completely true, I was born in london, england but my parents are from Somalia and at the age of 22 I went there for 6 months and lived with the nomadic herders, I looked after the camels which walk alot more than cows and it was drought season which meant that I had to cover far distances. I must of covered atleast 20-30km a day, I was about 18-20 kilos less than I weight before I went and I looked like a long distance runner when I came back to the UK, seriously I was like a stick man, the only way you will look healthy there is if you eat alot of fatty stuff to make up for what you burn in the day.

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

  8. People in Hong Kong 50 years ago were almost never fat. In 2011, there are more people are fat but still not a lot. This could be due to increasingly sedentary lifestyle as technology becomes more advanced.

    Unlike the Maasai, people in Hong Kong still eat a lot of carbohydrates mainly from white rice, yet they were not fat and sick. This most likely has to do with the fact that they also walk a lot, and at a much quicker pace too. People there use public transportation most of the time.

    When I went to Hong Kong for five days, I managed to lose about 5 pounds even while eating rice. After the first day, my legs were very sore from trying to walk the same pace as people there normally would. So while the Maasai in Africa are a example of how fat does not make you sick, the Chinese in Hong Kong are another example how how carbohydrates do not always make you fat and sick especially if you’ve got plenty of physical activity for the foods you eat.

    Also, I would like to point out something. Historically, all the larger and more dominant civilizations regularly ate grains and potatoes and were still healthy. For example, Romans Greeks, Mongols, and Japanese. Most of the civilizations eating mainly meat-based diets are very small and not very advanced even though they were healthy. For example, the Inuit, Eskimos, Native Americans, and the Maasai. Americans basically wiped out the native Americans, and at the time, the Americans were still eating grains and potatoes, and were more fit because of more walking and other manual labor. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are recent illnesses. These diseases have been more recent to us than the discovery of cooking grains.

    1. Yes, it’s amazing what you can eat if you’re walking 20 miles a day or doing heavy manual labor. But a few differences of opinion:

      1)Native Americans were wiped out mainly by smallpox, a possible 90% attrition by the 1600-1700’s;

      2) The Primal diet is not really ‘meat-based’, but more cutting down on grain-based carbs and substituting greens-based carbs at a significant-but-not-extremely lower level than before, and raising protein and fats to make up some of the difference. Sounds pretty omnivorish to me.

      3)I wouldn’t say the (traditional) Masai were meat-based (mostly blood and milk), and Native Americans were a very heterogeneous group whose diets ran the gamut depending on the local resources;

      4)Americans colonists (mostly farmers) ate significant amounts of meat;

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

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

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

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

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

    1. Not true .
      You have posted this lie on many different websites

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

  12. The numbers are already in, the debate is over. Indigenous people living on a plant-based diet live the longest and have the lowest disease rates.

    Okinawans vs Maasai: Okinawans win. Forget the tigers and war, they have diseases that result from their diet, such as osteoporosis, as Alma pointed out.

    The Inuit lose too. Introduce American food to Okinawa, and people start getting fat and dying. And don’t even try to blame it on ‘grain-fed meat’, that’s just a bunch of meat industry funded BS to keep you drinking the koolaid. Wake up and smell the vegetables already. Seriously, it’s so obvious by now, the only way people are still having trouble figuring this out is by willful ignorance. Visit nutrition facts dot org for some studies and get with the program already.

  13. It’s interesting so many people point out lions as a high cause of mortality. Lions have actually learned to recognize the color red and avoid it because the Maasai hunt and kill them. Some lions are bucking the trend, but that is a more recent development.

    Okinawa vs Maasai…an interesting one again. The Okinawans staple was taro (Kalo and poi), sweet potatoes, breadfruit, fish, seaweed, yams, ferns, and pork. The diet was very carb rich. They also lived on an island. They were not by nature nomadic.

    Nomadic tribes rely primarily upon milks, blood, and meat, and are usually always high in fat. The Beduoins (spelling?) relied heavily upon camels and goats, Inuit upon seals and whales, Maasai in cattle, Mongolians…etc.

    Native American diets varied extensively because some were nomadic, others were stationary.

    Individuals with pastorial ancestors have a genetic ability to tolerate milk; others don’t. Our ancestral genetics help determine to a small degree what works best.

    Indigenous peoples learned early on that grains and legumes are healthy only if soaked, fermented, and/or sprouted. Traditional masa tortillas were made by first chewing small bits of ground corn and then mixing it all up, chewed up corn and saliva, and cooking it.

    THOUSANDS OF TRIBES AND PEOPLE eat insects. Western cultures can’t stand the thought.

    Maybe we should all simply focus on more fruits and veggies, and let meat and dairy fall where it may, either eating it or not.

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