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Dr. Cordain’s Response:
I noticed that you are quoted on ABC news today as saying that, “our Stone Age ancestors gathered more than hunted by most accounts, and had a mostly plant-based diet”. Our group has compiled contemporary hunter gatherer plant to animal subsistence ratios in all 229 hunter gatherer societies available in the literature. We published our findings in 2000 in AJCN and actually demonstrated precisely the opposite conclusion of your statement (1). We followed this study up with a paper in the Eur J Clin Nutr evaluating the 13 known analytical studies of hunter gatherer diets and found a similar outcome (2). Our work with historically studied hunter gatherers has been corroborated in Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) and Stoneage Homo sapiens living in Europe 13,000 years ago using isotopic analyses of fossilized collagen delta carbon 13 and delta nitrogen 15 data (3, 4).
We partially agree with your statement, “The meat our Stone Age ancestors ate is nothing like the meat we eat today,” said Katz. “When’s the last time you saw a mammoth? I rest my case.” We have actually contrasted the lipid composition of wild game to grass produced meats and to feedlot produced meat (2, 5). Clearly game meat is superior in all nutritional aspects to feedlot produced meat, however grass fed meats come in a close second. There is no reason to believe that the nutritional content of mammoth meat varies much from that of wild elephant meat, except that it was probably fattier, as more northern latitude mammals maintain higher body fat percentages throughout the year (6). Hence, it is entirely possible to emulate the nutritional characteristics of our ancestral diet with commercially produced grass fed meat (2,5). The exclusion of dairy products, grains and processed foods (sugar, vegetable oil and refined grain and salt containing foods) actually increases the the trace (vitamin, mineral, phytochemical) nutrient density of contemporary diets because refined grains, whole grains, dairy products, and processed foods are inferior sources of the 13 nutrients most commonly lacking in the US diet (1 ,7, 8).
I bring this information to the surface, not to necessarily cross swords with you, but to make you aware that modern empirically driven scientific studies of hunter gatherer diets are inconsistent with your contention that contemporary diets based upon Stone Age food groups are unhealthful. I guess it is a bit late for you to withdraw your statement, but read these papers (attached) to update your knowledge base. I will distribute your comments and the data driven science behind them to a much wider online audience than ABC news, and would be happy to debate these issues with you in the scientific literature.
1. Cordain L, Miller JB, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SH, Speth JD. Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar;71(3):682-92
2. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Miller JB, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Mar;56 Suppl 1:S42-52
3. M. P. Richards, R. E. M. Hedges, R. Jacobi, A. Current and C. Stringer. Gough’s Cave and Sun Hole Cave Human Stable Isotope Values Indicate a High Animal Protein Diet in the British Upper Palaeolithic. Journal of Archaeological Science; Volume 27, Issue 1, January 2000, Pages 1-3
4. Richards MP, Pettitt PB, Trinkaus E, Smith FH, Paunovi? M, Karavani? I. Neanderthal diet at Vindija and Neanderthal predation: the evidence from stable isotopes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000 Jun 20;97(13):7663-6
5. Cordain L, Watkins BA, Florant GL, Kelher M, Rogers L, Li Y. Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2002 Mar;56(3):181-91
6. Katzmaryk PT et al. Climatic influences on human body size and proportions: Ecological adaptations and secular trends. Am J Phys Anthropol 1998;106:483-503
7. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):341-54.
8. Cordain L. The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Nutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.