Tag Archives: hunter-gatherer

Did All Hunter-Gatherers Really Have a Lean Body Type? | The Paleo Diet

Whether you’re looking at an illustration of a hunter-gatherer in the Paleolithic era with a spear or a photo of modern day advocate in such great shape, they appear to be the perfect specimen of a human, one thing often remains the same:  the idea that all hunter-gatherers were lean, mean machines.

But is this theory really all that accurate?

Were there no cavewomen with curves?  Or portly cavemen that had a bit of a pouch from overdoing it a little on the honey?  (Not-that-funny-jokes aside, sugar consumption is one of the primary causes of extra weight. Top that with not eating fat either, forget about it!)

According to newly presented research,1 fragmentary fossils suggest our genus has come in different shapes and sizes since its origins over two million years ago.

We’re all familiar with how humans as a species have grown taller, wiser and become more adept at decision making as our brains grew, but the idea that our body shape may have its roots date further back in history than Great Aunt Martha and her voluptuous thighs and bum isn’t something that’s discussed that often.

How much does what we eat really factor into the shape of our bodies?  Dr. Jay T. Stock,2 co-authored a study from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology that compared measurements of fossils from sites in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Georgia. He found significant regional variation in the size of early humans during the Pleistocene, noting “we can now start thinking about what regional conditions drove the emergence of this diversity, rather than seeing body size as a fixed and fundamental characteristic of a species.”

So, does that mean we should shrug our shoulders, throw in the towel and sigh with disappointment that we’re destined to never achieve that taut tummy or toned thighs we’ve always coveted? Not by a long shot!

What you eat factors in tremendously to how you look.  In my experience working with clients over the years, I’d wager to guess that nutrition can play as much as 80% of the role in whether or not an individual resembles the stereotypical hunter gatherer…or the stereotypical modern day American!

While genetics obviously factor into what you look like, we can still control the amount of foods we ingest and our movement. For example, there may be foods we can tolerate better than others based upon our ethnic roots, or our ability to build up endurance to run long distances.

By relying on a sound, true Paleo diet approach, you can reach your own personal best lean body size that combines what nature provided you with and what you choose to nurture yourself.

If you’re 5’6” and 45 years old, you’re not going to get any taller and unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do on that end. But if you’re also tipping the scales at 200 pounds at that very same height, you’ve got an incredible opportunity to change your fate (and your body size and shape) by choosing the path to better health, simply by what you’re putting in your mouth.

So, carry on being a hunter-gatherer, even if it is 2015 and you’re not exactly doing the hunting and gathering yourself. Lean body coming soon!

REFERENCES

[1] University of Cambridge. (2015, March 26). Earliest humans had diverse range of body types, just as we do today. Science Daily. Retrieved April 13, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150326204642.htm

[2] Manuel Will, Jay T. Stock. Spatial and temporal variation of body size among early Homo. Journal of Human Evolution, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2015.02.009

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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