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Plant/Animal Ratio

There is a common misconception that The Paleo Diet® is an all-meat diet. In reality it is a balanced diet based on eating natural, minimally processed foods from plant and animal sources. By volume it is, in fact, primarily plant based.

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Very early in the development of the Paleo Diet concept, several of the key researchers, including Dr. Loren Cordain and Dr. Boyd Eaton, published a study analyzing the plant-animal ratios of 229 recorded hunter-gatherer societies.1

They found that there was no single, common ratio among the different groups. Plant-animal ratios based on calories ranged from 35:65 to 65:35 for most hunter-gatherer societies. Societies closer to the Earth’s poles ate a higher ratio of animal food (particularly fish), while societies closer to the equator ate more plant food. They also found that 73 percent of hunter-gatherer societies derived over 50 percent of their calories from animal foods (both hunted and fished).1

There were no hunter-gatherer societies that relied entirely on plant food or animal food—except at certain times of the year when plant food was not readily available in areas closer to the poles. In other words, there were no vegans or pure carnivores.

It’s also important to note that while most hunter-gatherer diets were over 50 percent animal-based, that was based on calories. Animal foods are much more calorically dense: A kilogram of fish has many more calories than a kilogram of fruit. So, when the ratios are looked at by volume, many hunter-gatherer diets were heavily plant-based.

Because of the vast differences among our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the Paleo Diet does not promote one single plant-animal ratio. Instead the diet focuses on the one commonality—all the diets were a mix of a natural, minimally processed plant- and animal-based foods. That means large amounts of vegetables, fruits, seeds, healthy lean meats, fish, eggs, and a sparing number of nuts.

It also means that, contrary to popular belief, The Paleo Diet is not based on the consumption of meat. That is a fallacy. In fact, while a Paleo Diet is not vegetarian, it is, by volume, heavily plant based.

1. Cordain, L., et al., Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. Am J Clin Nutr, 2000. 71(3): p. 682-92.

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