What Did Our Ancient Ancestors Actually Eat?

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.


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!

TAGS:  Grok

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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146 thoughts on “What Did Our Ancient Ancestors Actually Eat?”

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

  2. 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 be picky and eat just the white meat.

    Sort of like grizzlies in July – when salmon is abundant – they just eat the salmon skin and brains, the most nutritious parts.

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

  3. “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!

  4. 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.

    1. 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 the least productive areas.

      1. 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. Had to walk or drive somewhere to choose from a very limited variety of week-old produce and dead, old meat! SHE thought WE were a barbaric people who ate garbage, were ashamed of our bodies, and lead pointless lives. Try that on for size…

        1. 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.

        2. 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 after about 6 months. She had huge plans for him to stay there, even having two wives assigned to him, never mind that he already had one back home!

    2. 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!

      1. 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, and considering that adaptations that optimize several different endpoints in the context of a selection pressure gradient with regard to these very endpoints are exceedingly unlikely. Take familial hypercholesterolemia, for example: Being a (heterozygous) allele carrier apparently conferred a survival advantage for most of our evolutionary history (a certain degree of protection from infection/septicemia trumped increased cardiovascular risk later in life) , seeing as FH is still present in the gene pool today – but for the average westerner living in this day and age, FH is the next best thing to purely maladaptive, because the extrinsic mortality rate in the western world is rather low these days . Trying to reassemble the pieces of a puzzle only makes sense when the surface one is recreating said puzzle on hasn`t changed substantially – otherwise, one might find that the pieces don`t interlock like they used to, thus distorting the pretty picture one expected to see. Even Cordain et al. acknowledge this problem in the paper Mark cites – although they only mention it with regard to fatty acid (specifically AA) intake (and misspell “antagonistic pleiotropy”).
        In conclusion: What our ancestors did and did not eat may be an interesting starting point with regard to the generation of hypotheses in the search for “the optimal human diet,” but the proof is indeed in the testing via RCTs /nutritional genomics – and yes, the respective evidence base for Paleo (and especially Primal) eating is not exactly substantial as of yet.

        As an aside: How does an average carbohydrate intake of approximately 40% jibe with Mark`s “Carbohydrate Curve,“ assuming that our East African acestors were even moderately active?

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

      1. 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.

  5. 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.

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

      1. 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 sense bugs make across the board. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m also all for the high-tech solution to modern food problems- I’d be all for eating engineered, lab-designed meats, fish and chicken. They have already succeeded in producing lab grown meat.

        It’s also just a few years away. Should eventually be much cheaper. Heck, I could see us one day having meat machines as appliances in our homes, just like a bread maker. Add aminos, healthy fats, cue up a specific formula and go! Then cook to taste. No more cattle transport, slaughterhouses, runoff, water waste, need for hedging commodities, vast acreage of farmland, methane, and on and on. It’s a lot easier solution than getting the world to be vegan.

        Also, bugs probably assisted our immune systems in some way as well. While e coli is potentially lethal, perhaps eating whole bugs, digestive tracts and all, was immune boosting for our ancestors.

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

        2. 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.

        3. 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.

        4. 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 have to make, is it?! Hmm.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

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

        3. 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

      2. 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 so stocked with wildlife and now…

        1. 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 not work either. I live in a dry chaparral area. The dry plains may have a similar issue.

        2. 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.

    3. 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!

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

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

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

        3. 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.

      2. 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. 🙂

    4. This article was largely focused on early homo sapiens in the Rift Valley of East Africa primarily referencing the paper I cited. I didn’t intend for it to be a comprehensive review. In future posts, I’ll explore the dietary habits of hunter gatherers in other parts of the world, and insects will undoubtedly make an appearance.

      If you want some info on eating bugs, check out these:


  6. 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?

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

    2. 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!)

    3. 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 the middle of the night either. ;-P

  7. 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! 😉

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

  9. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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 sometimes for medicinal. And sometimes large leaves for holding things together for cooking or making burrito type things. I don’t see them eating big fat salads though. That makes sense though. Salad without a fat source would mean many of the nutrients are not digested, plus salads without a fat source have very few calories and thus are not sustaining.

  10. 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 gyms. It’s the type of movement we’re meant to do…pulling, pushing, jumping, climbing, etc. It’s one of the reason why I love, and prefer, body weight routines.

    Sorry to go off the food path, but when it comes to thinking about being healthy and fit, I think it’s important for everyone to keep in mind the other part as well.

    Comedian George Carlin once joked about if kids even know what a rock or stick is. Sad stuff now a days when you think about it.

    I loved playing in the woods, trying to make things, climbing trees, jumping over rocks, etc. Nothing like it.

  11. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. I read about it here, https://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!

      2. 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.

    2. 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.

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

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

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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 is that there isn’t a perfect diet. Each person is different in their needs, likes and what their body will process and digest well. We should definitely strive to consume natural foods that are free of chemicals and unwanted hormones, however there is no need to eliminate any food class especially something as broad and basic like grains and starches or even dairies just because our ancestors didn’t eat them.

    1. 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.

      1. 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 has evolved to utilize starches as a primary source of energy.

    2. “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.

    3. @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, etc.)

    4. 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.

      1. 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 calories and have that same carb ratio the Asian cultures you refer to.

        1. 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.

      2. 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…

        1. 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.

        2. 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.

      3. 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.

    5. 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 by industrialization and large manufacturing companies, processed in ways to destroy natural proteins and nutrients (dairy), made with genetically engineered bacteria (cheese), grown with totally new genetics invented in the 70s and known to screw with gut health (wheat) and often flavored with chemicals to make us buy more. (does anyone eat wheat flour without adding sugar and flavorings?)

      Just because a ton of products these days are made with wheat and dairy does not mean they are good for you. However, betacasomorphin in dairy and gliadorphin in wheat do make them addictive and likely to sell well so that’s probably why they are in everything. People are addicted to the morphine receptor response they provide when eaten and big corps love the money that flows in as you buy more and more of an item that is cheap for them to make. It’s a great way to make money. Formulate an addictive food that is cheap to manufacture and get people hooked. Then tell everyone it is healthy too. Addicts of any kind already find it difficult to admit the truth of their addiction, but once those in charge tell them falsely that their addiction is actually healthy, it becomes nearly impossible to figure it out. That’s why I suggest everyone to prove they are not addicted by just going 1 week without a food. If you are not addicted, then it should be easy to skip a week for any type of food. What foods do you fear attempting to live without? Those are the ones you are addicted to and should take a close look at. For me it was dairy, wheat, sugar, and aspartame, the food items I loathed and feared to go even one day without. I wonder what other people’s worst addictions were?

      1. 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 that mean they are evil and we should stay away from them? Absolutely not. The diet of South East Asian is radically different from Mediterraneans or even African people. Does that mean that one is better and the other is worse? Of course not. Humans have learned to consume what was naturally available in the region they lived and their bodies as adapted to those foods.

        1. 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.

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

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

  17. 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!”

  18. 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 sharp sided pieces of stone used in the palm of the hand to cut open shells and so forth. Their diet was known to consist of meat ( a lot of reptiles included), shellfish, fish, yams (with their heart-shaped leaves that was a give away sign that, with a lot of digging down to at least 2 feet normally would reveal the most delicious yam that was thrown in the hot ashes and- yum). They also supplemented their protein rich diet with a lot of fruits which often reflected the harsh landscape and was small and very nutrient rich. Native nuts such as macadamia and bunya were eaten when in season and were a reason for some of the rival groups to meet and share food while initiating each others young to adult-hood. Having lived as support staff on an Aboriginal community in northern Australia I saw first hand that they still use the same skills to hunt and gather food and it was an eye opener to see the array of food gathered from such a stark and harsh surrounding. I was fortunate to be invited to go with the women gathering these treats and hunting mud-crabs in the mangroves and turtle from the fresh water billabongs while the men fished and hunted in separate hunting parties. The diets were very protein rich and nothing wasted, the old women would sit and suck every last morsel out of the fish heads, eyes and all! Australian a
    Aboriginals would be a perfect example of how our ancestors lived as they are considered on of the most least advanced in western terms however their skills for survival would leave us for dead, literally, as we have lost most of those skills with modern living.

    1. 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 feel good, or at least you don’t have to eat the stuff that makes you feel bad.

  19. 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?

  20. 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.

  21. 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 of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade, and How Cooking Made Us Human by Richard Wrangham. Both are scholarly works, but are completely fascinating.

  22. 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.

    1. @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. He hands me some books to read on it all. Next thing you know, I’m thinking it’s the best thing to do. I love animals, so that plays a supporting role and further aids me in justifying the switch. Sure enough, I think anyone who isn’t a vegan is an idiot bent on self-destruction. Little do I know it’s me who’s the idiot.
      I lose a lot of weight (was on a thinner side to begin with) and people start telling me I’m too skinny and losing too much weight. I think they’re idiots who are jealous of my will power not to consume animals.
      Well, after a couple of years I start losing my hair (it starts falling out but my hair does not look thinner). Other little changes happen.
      Common sense kicks in (where was it before?) and I start incorporating some meat back into my diet. The hair thing and the other little things stop.
      I soon realize I was not making a wise decision and it was indeed me who was the idiot.
      Do I frown down on vegans? No. They are disillusioned/ill-informed, usually with kind intentions.

  23. 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.”

  24. 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 exists in America).

  25. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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…

  26. 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 man’s guidelines, ratios of protein to fat to carbs, etc. This is what I think this article is discussing.

    Here’s my take: lots of foods evolved without contact with ancient man… we weren’t really eating them then. Other continents, food for other creatures, I don’t know. But they are healthy and good for us. Our current modern bodies digest and deal with them. I’m not talking about processed foods. In my garden I can grow berries and vegetables of all varieties. Many of these vegetables were created with true genetic crosses (not GMO, the old fashioned way). Ancient man would probably recognize them as food but they are WAY different than what was available back then. And that’s not a bad thing! We haven’t evolved so much that certain food looking grains and processed cane sugar are healthy for us…. But we are flexible enough that lots of whole foods ancient man never dreamed of are totally accessible. Right? So I don’t look back at the ancient man menu to decide if blueberries are good for me or not. Really how many coconuts did my celtic ancestors have access to? But they work for me, now. People who argue that modern man can eat more variety than ancient man might be trying to say this — there’s so much more to choose from now and it’s not all bad just because it isn’t ancient. A bit of education as to why the awful processed stuff, grains that defy digestion, starches that skew blood-sugar, animals raised with totally weird fat ratios is intolerable to good health is what convinced me.

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

  28. 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.

  29. 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

    1. 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.

  30. 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 ate.

    End of rant, & my time on this site.

    Peace & love.

  31. 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 done it justice. My issues are not about how i look ( i look really good, if i should say so myself. for my age, i am confused by most to be in my 20s) Thanks to mum’s genes.. but the foods i have been eating have made me so ill and very unhappy due to being in constant pain, i have all sorts of food allergies, migraines and enviromental allergies that i never had living in kenya.. i decided to take control of my life (after the dr. i was seeing kept giving me more and more medication and the side effects were horrible) and i started eating the way i was brought up eating , just as you describe in your blogs and journals and the last 6 months i have been doing just that and i have zero migraines, allergies are almost non existent ( i was constantly using inhalers and all sorts of stuff.. zero used in over 6 months), i sleep like a baby and i sprint better than ever before.. I feel amazing… I love going back to kenya, slaughtering a goat at grandma’s, drinking the blood and eating the organs, eating bugs, picking the tubers ( arrowroots, yams( yucca) for breakfast no bread with tea..and fish ( especially the nile perch), picking our own kale, spinach and cooking it in open wood fire.. I really needed this article as a reminder of where i came from and how i should take care of my body. Thank you for the website, the support through your articles and the comments in the forums.. You are a life saver.

    1. 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 allergies to other foods like apples and some fruits, went away when I stopped eating wheat. Also my cat allergy went away. Now the only thing that can get me, and only if it’s super intense exposure, is house dust and then only a little bit. Nor more seasonal pollen sniffles either. That wheat was really doing a number on me! 42 years of asthma thanks to wheat, and 1 year asthma free now without it. Score!

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

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

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

        1. 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.

        2. I’d actually thought of Organ Grinder and remembered this recently. I wasn’t sure if it sounded enough like a coffee shop, maybe more like just a butcher shop, so I didn’t add it even though it made sense to me (and even though these comments are not very serious).
          Victor gets the kudos for that suggestion.
          I wasn’t aware until a little while after that an organ grinder is a windup toy, so that name would be approaching perfection for this enterprise.

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

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

  39. 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 (ONLY when its super high quality usually Hawaiian Spirulina and Chlorella) and I know that Algae is dates back pretty much as far back as almost anything else…

    It just makes sense to me that, being so resourceful, not being afraid of funky looks and smells, and being in need of nutrients, that Grok (as smart as he was/we are) would not have passed this natural resource up!

    OOOOh and even if Grok didn’t Eat Algae, maybe Grok was going into algae infested water enough to absorb some nutrients through Groks skin?

    I have not heard anyone in the Paleo community speak about Algae….probably because it isn’t safe for us to go drinking any green water (maybe it is!) but Grok lived in a different time…so what do you think Mark? How do you feel about Algae

    1. 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 to eat some of the algae picked up out of the water but it was too tough to chew and didn’t taste good.

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

    1. 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)

      1. 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.

  41. 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.

    1. “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!)

  42. 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 per oz of lean meat, so about 2.25 lbs of lean meat.

    Leafy greens have nearly 50% of calories from protein, so if they at just 20 grams of carbs from leafy greens, that would be nearly 20 grams of protein from plants. Fruits provide maybe a few grams for every 25 or so grams of carbs. So, if they ate fruit they would have gotten some protein from that, maybe not a huge amount if they were only eating 250 grams of carbs a day. Nuts give about a gram of protein per gram of carb on average. I would imagine that the fibrous tubers were higher in protein than our modern agricultural tubers that are bred to be bloated and starchy, so I wonder how much protein that contributed. A modern potato has about 4 grams of protein, so just using that number, if they ate 5 tubers a day on average, that would be 20 grams of protein. Interesting to consider.

    I’ve read that paleo people ate a ton of fiber, so we know they were eating a lot of plant foods. How much these plant food contributed to the 29% of calories from protein would be an interesting estimation given the protein content of plant sources as touched on above.

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

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

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

  45. 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 unstable, but probably healthier.

    The shellfish-eaters had a depressing life, but, in a region with good conditions for grain production, were sedentary enough to gradually adopt agriculture, and agriculture seemed far better than their previous miserable existence.

    But that was my interpretation at the time, I think it would be interesting (but incredibly difficult) to research the actual conditions in which these people were really living, whether they were really sick and weak, or whether this was just the prejudice of an agriculturalist!

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. Snails must have been in the diet as well, they are an excellent source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. And for sure frogs. Both are so easy to hunt that it wouldn’t be logical for Grok to ignore them. In that perspective, french kitchen is pretty paleo sometimes (just get rid of the bagel and the croissant 🙂 ).

  49. Interesting….

    Both Hippo and Crocs are TOUGH. Not to mention wary. Neither of them are easy to catch and kill. Grok earned his tucker.

    Secondly, I’m betting that warfare was one of the reasons that game was abundant. There is research amongst Australian Aboriginal hunter-gatherers indicating that inter-tribal warfare generated similar per-capita casualty rates across the population, to those experienced by the belligerent nations in WW1.

    Thirdly, I wish that people would develop a healthy scepticism towards the tripe frequently written about the agricultural livestock industries. In point of fact, 97% of the cattle in Australia (and a higher proportion of sheep) are eating grass at any one time. 97%!
    Claims about water used in production rest on the unwarranted assumption that the water could somehow be “saved” if it were not used to grow beef. On the contrary, it would still evaporate or grow material that would be left to ROT if we could not make it productive by feeding it to livestock. Please explain to me how not passing some small portion of this through a steer is somehow saving it……

  50. “pelagic fish from the Rift Valley lakes”??? The word pelagic means of the open sea, i.e. out to sea, not of waters close to land or inland!

  51. That’s an interesting post – what our ancient ancestors may have actually eaten during their time. And the way it’s been sort of analyzed seems to make a lot of sense. Would have been nice to know what they would have had for dessert.

  52. I knew it! Even tho so many people have been preaching about the starches in tubers, I stubbornly kept on eating them! Mainly carrots and beets, because I have been saying for years already tubers most have been a part of the Paleo/Primal diet!

  53. Hi everyone. I have a question regarding the types of meat we consumed. Now I know we definitely had to eat animals daily to get our complete protein, as these were in the days before grains, beans, peas and legumes could be combined, so my question is were the animals lean, low iron types or red meat high iron containing animals? I ask this because I am currently reading a fascinating article on the freetheanimal website regarding iron overload and the potential health dangers of it. Blue zone populations consume very little heme iron yet thrive, but if the animals we ate were mainly red meat, high iron types then high amounts of iron should not be a problem. I personally can’t see how on earth we can reach the rda of 8 and 15mg respectfully for adult males and females on low iron meats…..unless of course the rda’s are way too high…..which would explain the blue zone populations doing so well on little iron. I am a tad confused! So if anyone knows what types of meat we ate that would help me a lot. Thanks in advance