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