When It Came to Eating Right, Did Hunter Gatherers Have the Right Stuff?

Our forebears ate a diet high in wild plants, with variable amounts of meat thrown in. It was, overall, a reasonably low-fat diet that required human digestive systems to work hard to extract nutrients. The pancreas and the body’s insulin-producing capabilities were never overwhelmed by a sudden sugar onslaught.

Jul 3, 2008

Yes, they lacked indoor plumbing, permanent settlements and elevated manners when it came to eating, but our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have eaten a diet that can help modern people combat metabolic syndrome and even type 2 diabetes.

That’s the hypothesis of Dr. Umesh Masharani, an endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco. He and his colleagues are looking into the benefits of the diet our ancestors ate during the Paleolithic Era more than 10,000 years ago, before the invention of agriculture.

Until then, our distant kin ate what they could hunt or gather. The result was a diet high in wild plants, with variable amounts of meat thrown in. It was, overall, a reasonably low-fat diet that required human digestive systems to work hard to extract nutrients. The pancreas and the body’s insulin-producing capabilities were never overwhelmed by a sudden sugar onslaught.

But that changed when humans domesticated animals, grains and other plants, and settled down in villages and cities. Their new, sedentary lifestyle provided them with unheard-of new foods: processed meat, high-fat dairy products, refined grains and legumes that added an abundance of saturated fat, simple sugars and salt to the human diet. Since then, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes have been a recurring burden on humanity.

Dr. Masharani and his team theorize that the Paleolithic diet of lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts could help prevent or treat metabolic syndrome and all of its related health challenges. They think the diet could result in improvements in glucose control, insulin resistance, blood pressure and lipids. 

Additionally, because the diet is rich in antioxidants, Dr. Masharani expects that oxidative stress will be reduced and endothelial function will be improved at the cellular level—helping to reduce cardiovascular disease risk in patients. 

His team plans to recruit 24 patients with type 2 diabetes to participate in an open-labeled, randomized diet intervention study. One half will follow the standard American Diabetes Association diet, and the other half will follow the Paleolithic diet.

More information about this study

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Categories: Diabetes, Diabetes, Diets, Food, Insulin, Low Carb, Nutrition Advice, Nutrition Research, Type 2 Issues

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Posted by Green Lantern on 3 July 2008

Well, it's about time. A small study is a great place to start, but I hope the researchers move on to a study large enough to get the attention of the U.S. media.

Posted by bonny on 5 July 2008

To reach a truly reliable, meaningful, and understandably relevant study result, may I suggest the following procedure: Please
(1) use only newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetics who are deemed medically healthy to exercise;
(2) none of the diabetics should be on any kind of pharma drugs, alternative medications, or herbals which can skew the study results;
(3) study participants should be required to exercise no less than a total of 1 hour/day or more than 2 hours/day in as many sessions as deemed proper, 1 session immediately before each meal (gatherer-hunters had to work hard first to find their foods);
(4) meals should be no more than 3/day, no snacks except water between meals;
(5) blood sugar tests should be done immediately before an exercise session (specifically the exercise segment to be done immediately before a meal) and to use the bs reading as a gauge as to the amount of exercise to be done (a normal bs reading should not be a reason to reduce the daily amount of exercise to be done).

You will surely be pleasantly surprised as to the result you will get. The real point for my suggestion is that gatherer-hunters were more of hard workers than eaters.

Thanks for your time.

Posted by seashore on 7 July 2008

The key for controlling diabetes is a low-carb diet. Excercise is important, but secondary. Hunter-gatherers ate low-carb diets.

Posted by Anonymous on 8 July 2008

It is quite ridiculous to assume that a hunter-gatherer would kill an animal only to eat the lean meat and avoid the fat and organ tissue. Of course it is difficult to say what their macronutrient intakes were exactly because this would vary depending on the availability of food, but if they did eat meat at all they'd eat every part they could.

Posted by barbsdad2003 on 9 July 2008

I've already figured this out. My homespun diet has improved my control to an impressive degree: I call it, my words, vegetarian caveman.

Posted by barbsdad2003 on 9 July 2008

I should add here that my last A1c was 5.2, which is my normal average nowadays.

And incidentally, low-carb is advice--though well-intentioned, I'm sure--poorly given. "Carb" covers a multitude ... of virtues and sins. We benefit best from ingestion of the virtuous forms, lose greatest by the sinful ones that are the current favorites of chronic overeaters.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 November 2009


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