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The Hunter and Gatherers' Diet

By Janet Renee, MS, RD

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.

Benefits of Paleo Eating

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

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.

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Benefits for Type 2 Diabetics

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

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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