Mimicking Hunter-Gatherers Seasonal Dieting Habits


Mimicking Hunter-Gatherers Seasonal Dieting Habits

The best way to spruce up your Paleo menu and learn which foods are in season is to shop at local farmer’s markets, where the food is fresh, comes from nearby farms, and creates good safety net to ensure a higher-than-average quality diet. As Paleo Dieters we aim to closely mimic the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors in contemporary society.

In springtime, hunter-gatherers in Israel hunted species that were overly lean and otherwise fat-depleted, they supplemented the fat content of their diets with acorns and nuts.1 While the animal meat to which we have access in modern times isn’t subject to large variations in fat content, we can still benefit from the nutrient-density and healthy fats in nuts.

For many months out of the year, during the wet season, hunting wasn’t productive for the Hadza, so much of their caloric requirements were met by honey.2 Obtaining the honey was no easy feat, often an energy-intensive process, which in some respect justified its consumption. Nowadays, honey is available year-round, and as a sugar-rich food, excess consumption is not recommended. In summertime, when many delicious fruits are in-season, just remember that historically, this change in diet quality was frequently accompanied increased energy expenditure.

The Hiwi, on the other hand, have better success hunting game in the wet season, whereas in the dry season they rely more on fish trapped in small ponds.3 Living in a coastal state, much of the fish to which I have access is consistent year-round; this will certainly be different for mainlanders. However, seafood has been critical throughout human evolution and I see no reason to consume less of it during any particular season.4, 5

With regard to animal foods, I don’t see the seasonal aspect as relevant as it is for plant-based foods. In warmer months, carbohydrate-dense plants are more seasonally available, and even in our modern environment this may well be perfectly fine. While we’re not expending exorbitant amounts of energy acquiring honey, this is still a time of increased physical activity – more time spent playing outside, for example. Also, increased sun exposure translates to increased levels of vitamin D, which have been associated with a wide variety of improved health parameters. So the higher level of dietary carbohydrate at this time of year is matched with increased physical activity and higher levels of vitamin D. If you live somewhere with a frigid season, when you’re trapped indoors with much lower levels of physical activity and sunlight, perhaps a more seasonal approach may be prudent: plants that are more fibrous with less sugar and starches like nuts, mushrooms, spinach and kale, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus.

Some aspects of seasonal dieting remain relevant today, despite the fact that our access to most foods is not seasonally-restricted, regardless of where you live.

William Lagakos, Ph.D.
@caloriesproper
CaloriesProper

William Lagakos, Ph.D.Dr. William Lagakos received a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry and Physiology from Rutgers University where his research focused on dietary fat assimilation and integrated energy metabolism. His postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego, centered on obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Dr. William Lagakos has authored numerous manuscripts which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as a non-fiction book titled The Poor, Misunderstood Calorie which explores the concept of calories and simultaneously explains how hormones and the neuroendocrine response to foods regulate nutrient partitioning. He is presently a nutritional sciences researcher, consultant, and blogger.

references

1. Lev, Efraim. “Mousterian Vegetal Food in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel.” Mousterian Vegetal Food in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel. Journal of Archaeological Science, Mar. 2005. Web. 12 Aug. 2014.

2. Eaton SB, Eaton SB, 3rd, Konner MJ, Shostak M. An evolutionary perspective enhances understanding of human nutritional requirements. J Nutr. Jun 1996;126(6):1732-1740.

3. Hurtado, A. Magdalena. “Early Dry Season Subsistence Ecology of Cuiva (Hiwi) Foragers of Venezuela – Springer.” Springer. Journal of Human Ecology, 01 June 1987. Web. 07 Aug. 2014.

4. Crawford MA, Broadhurst CL, Guest M, Nagar A, Wang Y, Ghebremeskel K, Schmidt WF. A quantum theory for the irreplaceable role of docosahexaenoic acid in neural cell signalling throughout evolution. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. Jan 2013;88(1):5-13.

5. Cunnane SC, Crawford MA. Energetic and nutritional constraints on infant brain development: Implications for brain expansion during human evolution. J Hum Evol. Jun 10 2014.

 

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“2” Comments

  1. You need to also consider that most, if not all, nuts are collected in late summer/autumn and stored for winter consumption. If it was a particularly harsh winter those nuts may be gone, or that there aren’t enough left for proper fat intake through the spring. Our ancestors likely ate the brains, bone marrow and organs of the lean game for the fat they contain.

    Likewise, sugars like fruit and honey wouldn’t be available in winter or spring, so those would be harvested in summer/autumn as well and stored if possible. Part of the excess sugar consumption of the SAD diet today is the year round supply of fruit, and not just processed foods alone. Not only is this supply out of season for many areas, it’s also destructive as far as sheer tonnage of fuel used and the resulting carbon foot print, as all that fruit has to be shipped in from somewhere.

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  14. Great article!
    As Bill mentioned, if you do all your shopping at the farmers market (assuming you live in a city of decent size) you’ll be forced to eat seasonally.
    You’ll have to work pretty hard at certain times of year to make things work, but that’s a good thing.

    At the moment, you’d probably have to be eating a lot of eggplant, peppers, and maybe tomatoes because that’s about all there is. (Stews w/farmers market meat my suggestion)

    Additionally, you’ll be pretty surprised how narrow the seasons are for different fruits (or fruit in general)
    Greens too, and tubers.. Pretty narrow window, at least here in the south.

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