The Hunter-Gatherer Diet

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What our bodies understand

The De-Stress Diet works to help our bodies receive what they have evolved with and therefore the diet and lifestyle that can optimise health. This is not 100% possible in the modern world, but knowledge of how our ancestors were living helps us move in the right direction.

Our ancestors only made the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers around a relatively recently 10,000 years ago. Before this time the diet that shaped our DNA and therefore the chemical expression of our bodies was simply what our ancestors could hunt down in the way of animal foods and find in terms of plant foods. With our growing population this was becoming unsustainable however and the end of the Ice Age at this time signalled the extinction of some animals through loss of their habitat and the proliferation of wild cereals and grasses with new pasture land.

See Moving Away From The Stone Age for more information.

Moving away from the Hunter-Gatherer lifestyle

Some game had also been hunted to extinction, illustrating the new human impact on the environment. Agriculture – the settling down to grow crops and domesticate animals for food – was becoming a necessity; hunting and gathering can support maybe one person per square mile, whilst new farming techniques moved towards at least 100 times that. This ‘Agricultural Revolution’ (or ‘Neolithic’ era) signalled the end of the Stone Age (or ‘Paleolithic’ era) and the following chronological changes:

  • c.9,000 B.C. – previous use of wild grasses and cereals made them an obvious choice to become staple foods grown
  • c.9,000 B.C. – sheep and goats domesticated in the Near East, followed by pigs and cattle
  • c.7,000 B.C. – wheat, barley, legumes, fruit and nuts first cultivated resulting in sharp fall in meat consumption
  • c.5,000 B.C. – agriculture spread to all continents except Australia

There has been a recent trend towards following the foodstuffs this diet would have consisted of and particularly those missing and introduced when we settled down to agricultural ways. The Stone Age, Hunter-Gatherer or Paleolithic Diet describes the foodstuffs eaten during this period, roughly 40,000-9,000 B.C.:

  • Evidence has shown that up to the beginning of the Neolithic Age, these Stone Age humans were surviving on a diet of 65% plant foods to 35% animal, with few grains, roots or legumes, which need farming and cooking.
  • From this point in history the worldwide ratio has changed to as much as 90% plant foods to 10% animal – not necessarily criticising the vegetarian aspect but rather the quality and type of plant foods eaten and considering whether they are providing the quality and relative amounts of proteins and fats that we need to not just survive, but function with optimal health

To illustrate, the Stone Age, Hunter-Gatherer or Paleolithic Diet was characterised by:

Foods availableFoods not present
 EggsBeans and peas – pulses
Insects (and larva)Root vegetables that cannot be eaten raw – potato, tapioca, sweet potato, parsnips, yam
Seafood  – fish and shellfishRefined sugars
Root vegetables that can be eaten rawMeats from sedentary or grain-fed animals
FruitsSeparated fats and oils – only those present in foods
NutsFoods containing yeast
Herbs and spicesDairy products
VegetablesProcessed meats
Honey, maple syrup, date sugars – natural sugarsJuices, sugary drinks, coffee

The diet which we now eat predominantly, especially in developed countries, tends to have more in common with the left column above than the right. Links to this high intake of foods which our bodies may struggle to adapt to has resulted in a looking back to where we came from and examining whether our original natural diet may provide answers to finding our optimal health. Even an adaptation of the Hunter-Gatherer Diet can immediately put an emphasis onto foods in their most unadulterated states, at the very least recognising how processing and refining practices have increased alongside our rates of so-called ‘diseases of affluence’; type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, certain cancers, asthma, alcoholism, allergies and depression.


Citing specific sources:

  • Foley, Robert, (1995) Humans Before Humanity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
  • Groves, Colin (1993) “Our earliest ancestors.” In: Burenhult, Goran (ed.), The First Humans: Human Origins and History to 10,000 B.C. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers.
  • Burenhult, Goran (ed.) (1993a) The First Humans: Human Origins and History to 10,000 B.C. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers.
  • Scarre, Chris (ed.) (1993) Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient World: A Visual Chronology from the Origins of Life to A.D. 1500. New York: Dorling Kindersley.
  • Eaton, S. Boyd; Shostak, Marjorie; Konner, Melvin (1988b) The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet and Exercise and a Design for Living. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Eaton, S. Boyd; Eaton, Stanley B. III; Konner, Melvin J.; Shostak, Marjorie (1996) “An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements.” Journal of Nutrition, vol. 126 (1996), pp. 1732-1740.
  • Eaton, S. Boyd (1992) “Humans, Lipids, and Evolution.” Lipids, vol. 27, no. 10 (1992), pp. 814-820.
  • Palmqvist, Lennart (1993) “First Farmers of the Western World.” In: Burenhult, Goran (ed.) People of the Stone Age: Hunter-Gatherers and Early Farmers. New York: Harper-Collins Publishers. (pp. 17-21, 24-26, 28-29, 32-35)
  • Ulijaszek, Stanley J. (1992) “Human dietary change.” In: Whiten A. and Widdowson E.M. (editors/organizers), Foraging Strategies and Natural Diet of Monkeys, Apes, and Humans: Proceedings of a Royal Society Discussion Meeting held on 30 and 31 May, 1991. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press. (pp. 111-119)