Is the hunter gatherer diet a solution to modern-day challenges?
The exact Hunter Gatherer diet remains elusive spurring conflicting arguments. Scientists can only extrapolate from modern day existing Hunter Gatherer societies, and what is known of Paleolithic plant fossils. Nutritional composition of food today does not resemble its predecessor’s. Meat was leaner, fruits and vegetables may have had a higher cellulosic content, unprocessed foods were higher in antioxidants, and gut bacteria was completely different. Therefore, scientists can only estimate the nutritional quality of foods and the ability of the Hunter Gatherer to digest and absorb their meals. The following table demonstrates the macro- and micro-nutrient intake of Hunter Gatherers compared to current intake. One can see that it is superior in all nutrient provision. Surprisingly, calcium intake is double current intake without availability of dairy foods. Most dietary calcium came from plant sources, though intake varied widely depending on where the Hunter Gatherer lived and which food sources prevailed. For example, the Inuit people or Eskimos may have met their calcium requirement with a diet rich in fine boned fish.
(Eaton, Eaton, Konnor, & Shostak, 1995)
The Modern Paleolithic Diet
Enter the newest popular trend in eating among the privileged and misinformed, The Paleo Diet or Cave Man Diet. Preceded by the Atkins diet made popular by a famous cardiologist in the 80’s, these share the premise of a primarily meat based diet with fruits and vegetables providing carbohydrates. All dairy, legumes, and grains are eliminated. Nuts, eggs, and fish are allowed; and so is chocolate depending on the “expert”. Basically, eating like the Hunter Gatherer in the days of abundant large game and forest land, before receding glaciers forced mega-fauna north and sierras supported smaller species. This diet gained in popularity after recent burgeoning rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases singled out sugars as the primary culprit. Rampant fears of genetically modified Franken-grains and rising rates of gluten and dairy intolerance have only added to proponents of this eating regime. According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics this “ketogenic” diet is inadequate in calcium and high in saturated fat, and not indicated for long-term use. Again, what do all of the above statements have in common? They are ANTHROPOCENTRIC!
Forget contemporary poor lifestyle choices, inactivity, laziness, and gluttony. This Hunter Gatherer diet spells disaster for a world facing severe calorie shortages in the next 30 years with 2.5 billion more people to feed. What is really happening, is that unhealthy people are purchasing large amounts of industrially produced, high fat, grain fed beef, factory-produced chickens and pigs, and fished-out fish. The nutritional composition of these listed items in no way resemble their wild equivalents. The amount of physical exertion required to obtain this level of protein is almost nothing, as the Paleo eaters are just shopping at Publix. In sum, this is not a diet healthy for our planet, and people who want to be “healthy” are stressing the Food-Energy-Water Nexus.
Eaton, S. B., Eaton, S., Konnor, M., & Shostak, M. (1995). An Evolutionary Perspective Enhances Understanding of Nutritional Requirements. The Journal of Nutrition, 1732-1740.
Manning, R. (2005). Against The Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization. North Point Press.
Roberts, P. (2009). The End of Food. In P. Roberts, The End of Food (p. 10). Boston: Mariner.