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The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet

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

Early hunter-gatherers who gathered wild plants during the old stone age 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 your body is optimized to consume a diet similar to your ancestors from the Paleolithic era.

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Benefits of Paleo Eating

This Paleo-type meal provides protein and fiber, with few carbs.
This Paleo-type meal provides protein and fiber, with few carbs. 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

Cook similar to the hunter-gatherer 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

Paleo consists of lean fish and vegetables.
Paleo consists of lean fish and vegetables. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ 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 usual diabetic 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

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a staple of this 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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