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It has become probable that some known human groups (e.g., Neanderthals, Plains Indians, Inuit) were at a very high level of carnivory. However, they ate the whole free range animal … and received many important nutrients from the brains and organs. It is also unlikely that they wouldn’t have eaten a favorite plant food or two that were easy pickins’ in their territory. And in the same vein, while there are substantial numbers of hunter gatherer groups that ate primarily plant food, there is no evidence that there have been totally vegetarian groups. (Editors Note: Please write to me if you know of any totally vegetarian h-g groups that are described as such in peer reviewed academic level publications).
An important point for both modern vegetarians and carnivores is that human groups in the wild are opportunistic omnivores. Population groups rarely, probably if ever, went around saying, “Oh, we just don’t eat ANY plants”, or “We despise eating ALL animal food. There is compelling evidence that they learned to eat what they could “make a living at” – nutritious foods that they could find on a predictable basis in their own well-known and well-studied ecological niche (their life depended on it so in all cases they know their “territory” extremely well). If they were not thriving, but having trouble subsisting, they obviously would even be more inclined to be omnivorous and widely opportunistic.
Scientific studies trying to compile all hunter-gatherer average relative amounts of plant versus animal derived foods have varied – some reporting plant derived food has averaged 2/3 of total calories to some reporting plant derived food has averaged 1/3. Some of the discrepancies may derive from not accounting for invertebrates and small vertebrates as a food source. Nearly all nutritionists would say that grubs, insects, and eating a whole salamander, for example, are highly nutritious for humans and pre-humans. However, I don’t think this “average” is nearly as important of a point as scholars and writers are making it – since all h-g’s derived the substantial health benefits regardless of whether they ate primarily animals or plants. All anthropological experts, or over 90% of them, would say humans are and have been omnivores – and it would be accurate to say certain human groups have thrived on a diet that is 80% animal food calories, and certain human groups have thrived on a diet that is 80% plant food calories.
So, if you want the considerable benefits of a hunter gatherer diet, you have a wide range of options … but need to follow the general guidelines. You don’t have to be either a “carnivore” or “vegetarian” – but you can pretty much be very close to either … and derive these wondrous health benefits people all over the world have been experiencing. My best summary of the main components of eating a nutrition very similar to that of a hunter gatherer (as shown by research in peer reviewed science articles), is listed below:
- Lower the total Glycemic Index/Load of your total intake (often drastically from your modern diet), most notably eliminate or minimize sugar, high fructose corn syrup, grains, and grain products.
- Make your diet more Omega 3 rich (as compared to standard western diet), & probably more Omega 6 poor (some current research is suggesting we are being poisoned by an unnatural amount of Omega 6 in the SAD).
- Eat no trans fats, and no heated vegetable oils
- Eat minimal or no grains/grain products
- Eat minimal or no processed foods
A hunter-gatherer (hg) diet is what humans ate before human groups had mass agricultural fields. They hunted and gathered food instead of farming it. The reason hunter and gatherer diets are important is not just for archaeology and anthropology – there is growing evidence that if you attain the same nutritional characteristics in your diet, many of our modern ailments will simply disappear or be drastically reduced (e.g., arthritis, heart disease, many chronic and auto-immune diseases, epithelial cancers, degenerative diseases, obesity, acne, poor health in older age, and more). The reason is our physiology and genes are still that of our wild, hunter-gatherer, ancestors.
Hunter gatherers have had a rich and varied diet history, but there are certain nutritional aspects that were universal. Hunter gatherer’s have always had a low glycemic diet, with the fruits and vegetables carrying a much lower total sugar load (glycemic index/glycemic load) than the totals of the plant food we tend to eat today. There was no refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc. … and even fruits had significantly less sugar than what we typically buy today.
And why are all the nutritionists shouting at us to take Omega 3 supplements and eat wild fish? Because the meats and seafoods consumed by hunter gatherers were Omega 3 rich when compared to modern grocery derived Omega 6 rich animal foods. Very current nutritional studies are showing we may be poisoning ourselves with too much Omega 6 fatty acids (found in very unnatural quantities for us in both domestic animal foods and grains/grain products).
And a hard thing for many to swallow (pun intended) – hunters and gatherers did not eat grains, except perhaps as starvation food (grass seeds are very hard in the wild, and must be cooked and usually crushed, to even be edible and nutritious for mammals). These seeds have anti-nutrients in them (i.e., toxins, lectins) that the plant has evolved to inhibit mammals from eating them. No wild mammals eat grains. Obviously, there were no “processed foods” – but this is an additional, and very important point. And amazingly, it is accurate to think of grains as the first processed food in our human history. Go try and eat a wild grass seed raw – or even raw corn in a vast, Iowa field. Not coincidentally, our massive intake of grain and grain dominated processed foods in the
modern diet – also overload what is our natural Omega 6 intake from hunter gatherer foodstuffs.
NUTRITIONAL SCIENCE AND MEDICAL RESEARCHERS:
Some of the professors, researchers and medical doctors involved (who you can google for articles/info) include: Prof. S. Boyd Eaton, Prof. Staffan Lindeberg, Prof. Loren Cordain, Dr. Walter Voegtlin, Dr. John Ludkin, Dr. Michael Eades, and Prof. Janette Brand-Miller)