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The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet
The paleo diet is the most common hunter-gatherer diet. Photo Credit AntiGerasim/iStock/Getty Images

It's been more than 200,000 years since early hunter-gatherers gathered wild plants during the old stone age and had an average life expectancy much shorter than today's. While the industrial and agricultural revolution brought beneficial change, proponents of the hunter-gatherer diet argue that you'd benefit if your diet remained the same. It centers around the theory that your body is optimized to consume a diet similar to your ancestors from the Paleolithic era.

Why It's Better

The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet
Meat and vegetables. Photo Credit filipe varela/iStock/Getty Images

Loren Cordain, author of "The Paleo Diet," is one of the primary proponents of eating a hunter-gatherer style diet. Cordain proposes the modern diet is too high in carbohydrates and includes foods that your hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't eat. Cordain estimates that hunter-gatherer populations received most of their energy from animal foods, and had a low carb intake, since wild plants are naturally low in carbs. The take-home message is that if you adopt a diet mimicking your hunter-gatherer ancestors, you may reduce your risk of so-called "diseases of civilization."

High Protein, Low Carbs and High Fiber

The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet
Cook similar to the hunter-gatherer diet. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images

Hunter-gatherer diets such as the Paleo diet emphasize whole and organic food, high protein and low-carbohydrate intake, as well as a higher fiber intake. Cordain recommends that you should get 19 to 35 percent of your calories from lean protein and limit your carbohydrates to 35 to 45 percent of your total calories. Cordain also recommends a moderate to high intake of fat, particularly unsaturated fats. Hunter-gatherer diets exclude certain foods, such as grains, legumes, refined vegetable oils and dairy, all of which were unavailable before agricultural establishment.

Benefits for Type 2 Diabetics

The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet
Paleo consists of lean fish and vegetables. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Researchers in Sweden conducted a pilot study to compare the effects of a hunter-gatherer diet and a diabetes diet in patients with type 2 diabetes. Participants ate a Paleolithic diet that consisted of lean meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, root vegetables, eggs and nuts for three months. Compared to the diabetes diet, the hunter-gatherer diet resulted in a greater improvement in cardiovascular risk factors and glycemic control. The results were published in the July 2009 issue of the journal "Cardiovascular Diabetology."

Whether It's Right for You

The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables are a staple of this diet. Photo Credit Serghei Velusceac/iStock/Getty Images

Whether adopting a hunter-gatherer diet is right for you is a personal decision. Most adverse health effects linked to the typical American diet result from excess and deficiency -- whether it's too much of the wrong type of fat, salt, or refined sugar, combined with too little fiber, healthy fats -- or a deficiency in other vital nutrients. This suggests that balance is the primary component of a healthy diet. Hunter-gatherer diets exclude grains and legumes, which are two food groups that provide nutritional benefits. A hunter-gather diet does encourage eating more fruits and vegetables and cutting out processed foods, which is beneficial.

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