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The hunter-gatherer’s dinner is front page news these days. Drawing from the writings of Dr. Boyd Eaton and Professor Loren Cordain, experts in the so-called Paleolithic diet, columnists and reporters are spreading the word about the health benefits of a diet rich in protein and high in fiber from a variety of plant foods 1,2. It’s actually amusing to see what the modern food pundits come up with as examples of the “Paleolithic Prescription.” Jean Carper offers a Stone Age Salad of mixed greens, garbanzo beans, skinless chicken breast, walnuts and fresh herbs, mixed with a dressing made of orange juice, balsamic vinegar and canola oil.3 Elizabeth Somer suggests whole wheat waffles with fat-free cream cheese, coleslaw with nonfat dressing, grilled halibut with spinach, grilled tofu and vegetables over rice, nonfat milk, canned apricots and mineral water, along with prawns and clams. Her Stone Age food pyramid includes plenty of plant foods, extra lean meat and fish, nonfat milk products, and honey and eggs in small amounts.4
Above all, the food writers tell us, avoid fats, especially saturated fats. The hunter-gatherer’s diet was highly politically correct, they say, rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids but relatively low in overall fat and very low in that dietary villain-saturated fat. This is the one dietary factor that health officials tell us is responsible for all the health problems that plague us-everything from cancer and heart disease to obesity and MS.
That the hunter-gatherer was healthy there is no doubt. Weston Price noted an almost complete absence of tooth decay and dental deformities among native Americans who lived as their ancestors did.5 They had broad faces, straight teeth and fine physiques. This was true of the nomadic tribes living in the far northern territories of British Columbia and the Yukon, as well as the wary inhabitants of the Florida Everglades, who were finally coaxed into allowing him to take photographs. Skeletal remains of the Indians of Vancouver that Price studied were similar, showing a virtual absence of tooth decay, arthritis and any other kind of bone deformity. TB was nonexistent among Indians who ate as their ancestors had done, and the women gave birth with ease.
Price interviewed the beloved Dr. Romig in Alaska who stated “that in his thirty-six years of contact with these people he had never seen a case of malignant disease among the truly primitive Eskimos and Indians, although it frequently occurs when they become modernized. He found, similarly, that the acute surgical problems requiring operation on internal organs, such as the gall bladder, kidney, stomach and appendix, do not tend to occur among the primitives but are very common problems among the modernized Eskimos and Indians. Growing out of his experience in which he had seen large numbers of the modernized Eskimos and Indians attacked with tuberculosis, which tended to be progressive and ultimately fatal as long as the patients stayed under modernized living conditions, he now sends them back when possible to primitive conditions and to a primitive diet, under which the death rate is very much lower than under modernized conditions. Indeed, he reported that a great majority of the afflicted recover under the primitive type of living and nutrition.”6
The early explorers consistently described the native Americans as tall and well formed. Of the Indians of Texas, the explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote, “The men could run after a deer for an entire day without resting and without apparent fatigue. . . one man near seven feet in stature. . . runs down a buffalo on foot and slays it with his knife or lance, as he runs by its side.”7 The Indians were difficult to kill. De Vaca reports on an Indian “traversed by an arrow. . . he does not die but recovers from his wound.” The Karakawas, a tribe that lived near the Gulf Coast, were tall, well-built and muscular. “The men went stark naked, the lower lip and nipple pierced, covered in alligator grease [to ward off mosquitoes], happy and generous, with amazing physical prowess. . . they go naked in the most burning sun, in winter they go out in early dawn to take a bath, breaking the ice with their body.”
Greasy and Good
What kind of foods produced such fine physical specimens? The diets of the American Indians varied with the locality and climate but all were based on animal foods of every type and description, not only large game like deer, buffalo, wild sheep and goat, antelope, moose, elk, caribou, bear and peccary, but also small animals such as beaver, rabbit, squirrel, skunk, muskrat and raccoon; reptiles including snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators; fish and shellfish; wild birds including ducks and geese; sea mammals (for Indians living in coastal areas); insects including locust, spiders and lice; and dogs. (Wolves and coyotes were avoided because of religious taboos)8.
According to Dr. Eaton, these foods supplied plenty of protein but only small amounts of total fat; and this fat was high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and low in saturated fats. The fat of wild game, according to Eaton, is about 38 percent saturated, 32 percent monounsaturated and 30 percent polyunsaturated.9 This prescription may be just fine for those who want to promote vegetable oils, but it does not jibe with fat content of wild animals in the real world. The table below lists fat content in various tissues of a number of wild animals found in the diets of American Indians. Note that only squirrel fat contains levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids that Eaton claims are typical for wild game. In a continent noted for the richness and variety of its animal life, it is unlikely that squirrels would have supplied more than a tiny fraction of total calories. Seal fat, consumed by coastal Indians, ranges from 14 to 24 percent polyunsaturated. The fat of all the other animals that the Indians hunted and ate contained less than 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids, some less than 2 percent. Most prized was the internal kidney fat of ruminant animals, which can be as high as 65 percent saturated.
Sources of Fat for the American Indian10
|Antelope, kidney fat||65.04||21.25||3.91|
|Bison, kidney fat||34.48||52.36||4.83|
|Caribou, bone marrow||22.27||56.87||3.99|
|Deer, kidney fat||48.24||38.52||6.21|
|Dog, meat, muscle||28.36||47.76||8.95|
|Peccary, fatty tissues||38.47||46.52||9.7|
|Reindeer, caribou, fatty tissues||50.75||38.94||1.25|
|Seal (Harbor), blubber||11.91||61.41||13.85|
|Seal (Harbor), depot fat||14.51||54.23||16.84|
|Seal (harp), blubber||19.16||42.22||15.04|
|Seal (harp), meat||10.69||54.21||23.51|
|Sheep (mountain), kidney fat||47.96||41.37||2.87|
|Sheep (white faced), kidney fat||51.58||39.90||1.16|
|Sheep, intestine, roasted||47.01||40.30||7.46|
|Squirrel (brown), adipose||17.44||47.55||28.6|
|Squirrel (white), adipose||12.27||51.48||32.3|
|Game fat, according to Eaton||38||32||30|
Politically correct paleo-dieters also ignore the fact that the Indians hunted animals selectively. The explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who spend many years with the Indians, noted that they preferred “the flesh of older animals to that of calves, yearlings and two-year olds. . . It is approximately so with those northern forest Indians with whom I have hunted, and probably with all caribou-eaters.” The Indians preferred the older animals because they had built up a thick slab of fat along the back. In an animal of 1000 pounds, this slab could weigh 40 to 50 pounds. Another 20-30 pounds of highly saturated fat could be removed from the cavity. This fat was saved, sometimes by rendering, stored in the bladder or large intestine, and consumed with dried or smoked lean meat. Used in this way, fat contributed almost 80 percent of total calories in the diets of the northern Indians.11
Beaver was highly prized, especially the tail because it was rich in fat. But small animals like rabbit and squirrel were eaten only when nothing else was available because, according to Stefansson, they were so low in fat. In fact, small animals called for special preparation. The meat was removed from the bones, roasted and pounded. The bones were dried and ground into a powder. Then the bones were mixed with the meat and any available grease, a procedure that would greatly lower the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids, while raising the total content of saturated fat.12 When a scarcity of game forced the Indians to consume only small animals like rabbits, they suffered from “rabbit starvation.”
“The groups that depend on the blubber animals are the most fortunate, in the hunting way of life, for they never suffer from fat-hunger. This trouble is worst, so far as North America is concerned, among those forest Indians who depend at times on rabbits, the leanest animal in the North, and who develop the extreme fat-hunger known as rabbit-starvation. Rabbit eaters, if they have no fat from another source-beaver, moose, fish-will develop diarrhoea in about a week, with headache, lassitude and vague discomfort. If there are enough rabbits, the people eat till their stomachs are distended; but no matter how much they eat they feel unsatisfied. Some think a man will die sooner if he eats continually of fat-free meat than if he eats nothing, but this is a belief on which sufficient evidence for a decision has not been gathered in the North. Deaths from rabbit-starvation, or from the eating of other skinny meat, are rare; for everyone understands the principle, and any possible preventive steps are naturally taken.”13
The Whole Animal
Ruminant animals, such as moose, elk, caribou, deer, antelope and, of course, buffalo were the mainstay of the Amerindian diet, just as beef is the mainstay of the modern American diet. The difference is that the whole animal was eaten, not just the muscle meats.
Beverly Hungry Wolf describes the preparation and consumption of a cow in The Ways of My Grandmothers, noting that her grandmother prepared the cow “as she had learned to prepare buffalo when she was young.” The large pieces of fat from the back and cavity were removed and rendered. The lean meat was cut into strips and dried or roasted, pounded up with berries and mixed with fat to make pemmican. Most of the ribs were smoked and stored for later use14.
All the excess fat inside the body was hung up so the moisture would dry out of it, recalls Beverly Hungry Wolf. It was later served with dried meat. Some fats in the animal were rendered into “lard” instead of dried.
All the insides, such as heart, kidneys and liver, were prepared and eaten, roasted or baked or laid out in the sun to dry. The lungs were not cooked, just sliced and hung up to dry. Intestines were also dried. Sapotsis or Crow gut is a Blackfoot delicacy made from the main intestine which is stuffed with meat and roasted over coals. Tripe was prepared and eaten raw or boiled or roasted. The brains were eaten raw. If the animal was a female, they would prepare the teats or udders by boiling or barbecuing-these were never eaten raw. If the animal carried an unborn young, this was fed to the older people because it was so tender. The guts of the unborn would be taken out and braided, then boiled too. The tongue was always boiled if it wasn’t dried. “Even old animals have tender tongues,” she recalls.
The hooves were boiled down until all the gristle in them was soft. The blood was also saved, often mixed with flour or used to make sausages in the guts.
The second stomach was washed well and eaten raw, but certain parts were usually boiled or roasted and the rest dried. “Another delicacy is at the very end of the intestines—the last part of the colon. You wash this real good and tie one end shut. Then you stuff the piece with dried berries and a little water and you tie the other end shut. You boil this all day, until it is really tender and you have a Blackfoot Pudding.”
According to John (Fire) Lame Deer, the eating of guts had evolved into a contest. “In the old days we used to eat the guts of the buffalo, making a contest of it, two fellows getting hold of a long piece of intestines from opposite ends, starting chewing toward the middle, seeing who can get there first; that’s eating. Those buffalo guts, full of half-fermented, half-digested grass and herbs, you didn’t need any pills and vitamins when you swallowed those.”15
The marrow was full of fat and was usually eaten raw. The Indians knew how to strike the femur bone so that it would split open and reveal the delicate interior flesh. Eaton and others report that the marrow is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids but Stefansson describes two types of marrow, one type from the lower leg which is soft “more like a particularly delicious cream in flavor” and another from the humerus and femur that is “hard and tallowy at room temperatures.”16 According to Beverly Hungry Wolf, the grease inside the bones “was scooped out and saved or the bones boiled and the fat skimmed off and saved. It turned into something like hard lard.” More saturated fat the professors have overlooked!
Samuel Hearne, an explorer writing in 1768, describes the preparation of caribou: “Of all the dishes cooked by the Indians, a beeatee, as it is called in their language, is certainly the most delicious that can be prepared from caribou only, without any other ingredient. It is a kind of haggis, made with the blood, a good quantity of fat shred small, some of the tenderest of the flesh, together with the heart and lungs cut, or more commonly torn into small shivers; all of which is put into the stomach and toasted by being suspended before the fire on a string. . . . it is certainly a most delicious morsel, even without pepper, salt or any other seasoning.”17
Sometimes the Indians selected only the fatty parts of the animal, throwing the rest away. “On the twenty-second of July,” writes Samuel Hearne, “we met several strangers, whom we joined in pursuit of the caribou, which were at this time so plentiful that we got everyday a sufficient number for our support, and indeed too frequently killed several merely for the tongues, marrow and fat.”
Certain parts of the animal were considered appropriate for men or women. The male organs were for the men, as well as the ribs towards the front, which were called “the shoulder ribs, or the boss ribs. They are considered a man’s special meal.” For women, a part of the “intestine that is quite large and full of manure
. . . the thicker part has a kind of hard lining on the inside. My grandmother said that this part is good for a pregnant mother to eat; she said it will make the baby have a nice round head. Pregnant mothers were not allowed to eat any other parts of the intestine because their faces would become discolored.”18
All of the foods considered important for reproduction and all of the foods considered sacred were animal foods, rich in fat. According to Beverly Hungry Wolf, pemmican made with berries “was used by the Horns Society for their sacred meal of communion.” Boiled tongue was an ancient delicacy, served as the food of communion at the Sun Dance. A blood soup, made from a mixture of blood and corn flour cooked in broth, was used as a sacred meal during the nighttime Holy Smoke ceremonies.19
Bear was another sacred food-altars of bear bones have been found at many Paleolithic sites. Cabeza de Vaca reports that the Indians of Texas kept the skin of the bear and ate the fat, but threw the rest away. Other groups ate the entire animal, including the head, but recognized the fat as the most valuable part. According to colonist William Byrd II, writing in 1728, “The flesh of bear hath a good relish, very savory and inclining nearest to that of Pork. The Fat of this Creature is least apt to rise in the Stomach of any other. The Men for the most part chose it rather than Venison.” Bear grease was thought to give them resistance by making them physically strong. “We eat it sometimes now and everybody feels better.”20
Bear was also considered an important food for reproduction. When Byrd asked an Indian why their squaws were always able to bare children, the Indian replied that “if any Indian woman did not prove with child at a decent time after Marriage, the Husband, to save his Reputation with the women, forthwith entered into a Bear-dyet for Six Weeks, which in that time makes him so vigorous that he grows exceedingly impertinent to his poor wife and ’tis great odds but he makes her a Mother in Nine Months.”
Indians living in coastal areas consumed large amounts of fish, including the heads and roe. Price reported that in the area of Vancouver, the candle fish was collected in large quantities, the oil removed and used as a dressing for many seafoods. Shell fish were eaten in large amounts when available.
Animal fats, organ meats and fatty fish all supply fat-soluble vitamins A and D, which Weston Price recognized as the basis of healthy primitive diets. These nutrients are catalysts to the assimilation of protein and minerals. Without them minerals go to waste and the body cannot be built tall and strong. When tribes have access to an abundance of fat soluble vitamins, the offspring will grow up with “nice round heads,” broad faces and straight teeth.
Certain fatty glands of game animals also provided vitamin C during the long winter season in the North. The Indians of Canada revealed to Dr. Price that the adrenal glands in the moose prevented scurvy. When an animal was killed, the adrenal gland and its fat were cut up and shared with all members of the tribe. The walls of the second stomach were also eaten to prevent “the white man’s disease.”
A variety of plant foods were used throughout the North American continents, notably corn (in the temperate regions) and wild rice (in the Great Lakes region). Dry corn was first soaked in lime water (water in which calcium carbonate or calcium oxide is dissolved), a process called nixtamalizacion that softens the corn for use and releases vitamin B3, which otherwise remains bound in the grain. The resulting dough, called nixtamal or masa, can be prepared in a variety of ways to make porridges and breads. Often these preparations were then fried in bear grease or other fat. Many groups grew beans and enjoyed them as “succotash,” a dish comprised of beans, corn, dog meat and bear fat. As an adjunct to the diet, corn provided variety and important calories. But when the proportion of corn in the diet became too high, as happened in the American Southwest, the health of the people suffered. Skeletal remains of groups subsisting largely on corn reveal widespread tooth decay and bone problems.21
Tubers like the Jerusalem artichoke (the root of a type of sunflower) were cooked slowly for a long time in underground pits until the hard indigestible root was transformed into a highly digestible gelatinous mass. Wild onions were used to flavor meat dishes and, in fact, were an important item of commerce. Nuts like acorns were made into gruel or little cakes after careful preparation to remove tannins. In the Southeast, pecans contributed important fat calories. In the southern areas, cactus was consumed; in northern areas wild potatoes.
Staples like corn and beans were stored in underground pits, ingeniously covered with logs and leaves to prevent wild animals from finding or looting the stores. Birch bark was used to make trays, buckets and containers, including kettles. Water was boiled by putting hot rocks into the containers. Southern Indians used clay pots for the same purpose.
In general, fruits were dried and used to season fat, fish and meat-dried blueberries were used to flavor moose fat, for example. Beverly Hungry Wolf recalls that her grandmother mixed wild mint with fat and dried meat, which was then stored in rawhide containers. The mint would keep the bugs out and also prevent the fat from spoiling.
The Indians enjoyed sweet-tasting foods. Maple sugar or pine sugar was used to sweeten meats and fats. In the Southwest, the Indians chewed the sweet heart of the agave plant. In fact, the Spanish noted that where agave grew, the Indians had bad teeth.22
Use of sour-tasting fermented foods was widespread. The Cherokee “bread” consisted of nixtamal wrapped in corn leaves and allowed to ferment for two weeks.23 Manzanita berries and other plant foods were also fermented.
The Indians also enjoyed fermented, gamey animal foods. The Coahuiltecans, living in the inland brush country of south Texas set fish aside for eight days “until larvae and other insects had developed in the rotting flesh.24 They were then consumed as an epicure’s delight, along with the rotten fish.” Samuel Hearne describes a fermented dish consumed by the Chippewaya and Cree: “The most remarkable dish among them. . . is blood mixed with the half-digested food which is found in the caribou’s stomach, and boiled up with a sufficient quantity of water to make it of the consistence of pease-pottage. Some fat and scraps of tender flesh are also shred small and boiled with it. To render this dish more palatable, they have a method of mixing the blood with the contents of the stomach in the paunch itself, and hanging it up in the heat and smoke of the fire for several days; which puts the whole mass into a state of fermentation, which gives it such an agreeable acid taste, that were it not for prejudice, it might be eaten by those who have the nicest palates.”25
A number of reports indicate that broth and herbed beverages were preferred to water. The Chippewa boiled water and added leaves or twigs before drinking it.26 Sassafras was a favorite ingredient in teas and medicinal drinks.27 Broth was flavored and thickened with corn silk and dried pumpkin blossom. California Indians added lemonade berries to water to make a pleasantly sour drink.28 Another sour drink was produced from fermented corn porridge.29 In the Southwest, a drink called chichi is made with little balls of corn dough which the women impregnate with saliva by chewing. They are added to water to produce a delicious, sour, fizzy fermented drink.30
Guts and Grease in a Glass
Modern food writers who assure us we can enjoy the superb health of the American Indian by eating low fat foods and canned fruits have done the public a great disservice. The basis of the Indian diet was guts and grease, not waffles and skimmed milk. When the Indians abandoned these traditional foods and began consuming processed store-bought foods, their health deteriorated rapidly. Weston Price vividly described the suffering from tooth decay, tuberculosis, arthritis and other problems that plagued the modernized Indian groups he visited throughout America and Canada.
Modern man has lost his taste for the kinds of foods the Indians ate—how many American children will eat raw liver, dried lung or sour porridge? How then can we return to the kind of good health the Indians enjoyed?
Price found only one group of modernized Indians that did not suffer from caries. These were students at the Mohawk Institute near the city of Brantford. “The Institute maintained a fine dairy herd and provided fresh vegetables, whole wheat bread and limited the sugar and white flour.”31 So the formula for good health in the modern age begins with the products of “a fine dairy herd”—whole, raw, unprocessed milk from cows that eat green grass, a highly nutritious substitute for guts and grease and one that every child can enjoy, even native American children who are supposedly lactose intolerant. Add some good fats (butter, tallow and lard), aim for liver or other organ meats once a week (but don’t fret if you can’t achieve this with your own children), make cod liver oil part of the daily routine, eat plenty of meat and seafood, and augment the diet with a variety of plant foods properly prepared, including a few that are fermented. Keep sugar and white flour to a minimum. It’s a simple formula that can turn a nation of hungry little wolves into happy campers.
Meanwhile, be skeptical of government guidelines. The Indians learned not to trust our government and neither should you.
The authors are grateful to Don Coté for his help with this article.
Native Americans and Diabetes
American Indians know all too well the havoc that Type II Diabetes can wreak on the human body. What they may not know is that Uncle Sam is to blame.
Thousands of American Indians depend on the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). What do participants receive? It should come as no surprise that the commodities are loaded with carbohydrates with very little protein on the menu and even less fat. And the fats Indians do receive are loaded with trans fats. These foods are cheap and the multinational giants that produce them are equipped with lawyers and lobbyists to ensure that their products are the ones our government buys. The federal government feeds 53 million people per day. Is it any wonder they’re out to cut costs, whatever the consequences to our health?
Even in light of the latest research on the ill effect of excess carbohydrates on the human body, federal agencies have no choice. The National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act of 1990, also known as Public Law 101-445, states that all federal agencies shall promote the current US Dietary Recommendations in carrying out any federal food, nutrition or health program. The USDA Food Pyramid is more than a recommendation; it’s a federal prescription written in stone. And it’s speeding the death of most if not all Americans.
The Indians are hit harder and faster than the rest of us because they are only two generations away from the “old way” of life, based on game animals and fish. Uncle Sam will never admit that the Indians were tall, lean and healthy just two generations ago. If ever someone wanted proof that humans weren’t designed to eat a grain-based diet, look at the American Indian population-almost all of them are battling overweight, diabetes, and heart disease. Addictions are common. Yet many Indians have vivid memories of life before federal handouts, a time when diabetes and other diseases of civilization were unheard of among the Indians.
The US government has failed miserably when it comes to treating its native peoples. But without a change in US law, Indians will continue to receive a recipe for death. One possible remedy is the Tribal Self-Governance Project, created by Congress in 1988, which allows tribal governments more flexibility in the decision-making and administration of their contracted programs. Indians must take a stand and demand that government subsidies reflect their native diet. Better yet, Indians who can should refuse their “gift” from the government and return to hunting and fishing-the only way to reclaim their health.
Michael Eades, MD
Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades are the authors of Protein Power Lifeplan (Warner, 2000)
- S. Boyd Eaton, MD with Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Konner, MD, PhD, The Paleolithic Prescription: A Program of Diet & Exercise and a Design for Living, Harper & Row
- Loren Cordain, PhD and Boyd Eaton, “Evolutionary aspects of diet: Old genes, new fuels. Nutritional changes since agriculture,” World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics 1997:81
- Jean Carper, USA Weekend
- Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, “Stone Age Diet,” SHAPE, October 1998
- Weston A. Price, DDS, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, (619) 574-7763, pages 73-102
- Ibid., p 91
- The explorer Cabeza de Vaca is quoted in WW Newcomb, The Indians of Texas, 1961, University of Texas.
- Eaton, op cit, p 80
- USDA data, prepared by John L. Weihrauch with technical assistance of Julianne Borton and Theresa Sampagna
- Vilhjalmur Stefansson, The Fat of the Land, MacMillan Company, 1956
- Frances Densmore, “Chippewa Customs,” Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 86, page 43
- Stefansson, op cit
- Beverly Hungry Wolf, The Ways of My Grandmother, pages 183-189
- John (fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes, Lame Deer Seeker of Visions, Simon and Schuster, 1972, page 122
- Stefansson, op cit, page 27
- The Journals of Samuel Hearne, 1768.
- Hungry Wolf, op cit
- Hungry Wolf, op cit
- Inez Hilger, “Chippewa Child Life,” Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 146, page 96
- William Campbell Douglass, MD, The Milk Book, Second Opinion Publishing 1994, page 215
- Personal communication, Florence Shipek, expert on the Californian coastal Indians.
- Mary Ulmer and Samuel E. Beck, Cherokee Cooklore, Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 1951
- Cabeza de Vaca, op cit
- Samuel Hearne, op cit
- Frances Densmore, op cit, page 39
- “Wildman” Steve Brill with Evelyn Dean, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants, Hearst Books, New York, 1994, page 220
- Personal communication, Florence Shipek, op cit
- Mary Ulmer, op cit
- Keith Steinkraus, ed, Handbook of Indigenous Fermented Foods, Marcel Dekker, New York, 1983
- Weston Price, op cit, page 31
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2001.🖨️ Print post
Read this in: Español
Very informative and a point-of-view that I haven’t considered in the Native American (NA) health dilemma. In the past, prior to this article, my thought on this subject was one dimensional in that I theorized that due to natural selection, the Native American’s metabolism was one of efficiency (slower) due to the times of food scarcity. Since we are barely over a couple generations removed from their traditional way of life, it would appear that The NA’s with slower (more efficient) metabolisms survived these periods of scarcity.
….Just a thought.
Great article and research!!! I will continue down the path you have uncovered as well.
I am half Yaqui (Southwestern)/ half white. My cousin who is Cherokee (Southeastern) and half white complained that he was overweight and always sick. He raised an eyebrow when I told him, “You are eating too much of the white man’s food. You are going to be sick.” I made the suggestion of more game, whole foods, little or no bread or sugar. Let fruit take the place of sugars and no store bought juice. No milk but bone soup in its place. He has lost 50 lbs and he is still loosing weight. He has been surprised and happy with the results. He has more energy and less pain in the joints.
I only have a bit of Cherokee but those genes definitely showed up. My family is healthy but we don’t process milk well. Diabetes and blood sugar problems run in my family. My mom’s and my blood sugar spikes and plummets to extremes. Since I’ve gone ketogenic, which is very similar to what the author described- high fat, low sugar/carb- I have more level energy through the day, acne has decreased, I’ve lost weight and inflammation, my hormones are more regulated (tmi ahead- I don’t get depressed before my periods, way less moody, and I don’t have those extreme pain, throwing up periods anymore!) I think more people should look into eating in the way of their ancestors. It helped with medical problems I didn’t even know could be helped!
I’d like to know more about how to go about this- I live in Long Island, so it’s hard to get more natural ingredients. Would you mind sharing information on the matter?
I hope you will get this reply in 2020. It doesn’t matter where you live…if you Google ‘buy grass finished meat online’ you will be able to order and have healthy products sent to you.
It is amazing how some of the modern diet “authorities” have presented diets as ideal that are so far from what hunter gatherers and native people ate. I’m so glad this article was posted. I am spreading the word about it.
Susan Mason says
I am glad it was posted, too. I learned of the price study about 3 years ago, and I consider it the best study ever done on human nutrition. It would be extremely difficult to do a comparable study today. However, I shared this article on Facebook before I actually read it, and it will be interesting to see how Vegans react to it. I am surprised that I have seen no negative comments from Vegans on this thread.
It’s because if approached with an open mind (and realizing that you have been brainwashed in a way from all the health food suggestions from fit foodies), it converts vegans to return to a traditional diet. ….. I say this as a former vegan. I used to go through 1-2 gallons of milk a week as a child, then I stopped and a couple years after that I went vegan, I developed many cavities, anemia, dry skin, poor diegestion, extream carb cravings, weight gain even in a calorie deficit, and other health problems. But my dad said I would have to start using floride if I got any more cavities, so I found the dental essentials website, then found this website, and had my first cavity free check up in years after taking some advice from here. Also had almost no tummy aches which I had had daily for years, and my skin was much less dry from eating more animal fat.
hana harris says
I find your information accurate. I remember my great-greatgrandfather was very healthy and being very tall. In contrast to my greatgrand parents as being sickly with dental and other health problems. I too am over weight with detail problems. This information will help me make better health choices. Thank you.
The “politically correct” nutrition espoused today is far, far from the “paleolithic nutrition” concept, as i have learned it. There is great info out there about eating a diet high in protein, fat and carbs as found in veggies and fruits. This diet can very easily include organ meats, marrow, lard, wild game and fish.. in fact that is the ideal many paleo dieters are working towards. I haven’t found any info on nutrition that claims to be paleo that would recommend eating canola oil or garbanzo beans.
Another interesting point is that even among the original inhabitants of North America, agricultural crops like corn and beans have only been cultivated for at most 10’000 years. This is why the paleo concept says it is most natural for humans to not eat dairy, grains or legumes – because they have only been eaten by humans for a tiny fraction of our history, and our digestive systems have not evolved to easily digest these things.
All interesting stuff… I have been a devoted Nourishing Traditions-style eater and cooker for the last several years, and was living and working on a farm – an agrarian lifestyle like that of many of the world’s people during the last ten thousand years. In the last few months I have been following a paleo diet in the way I’ve described here (not in the way described in the article) and it makes more sense with my current lifestyle – I hunt and gather, and grow some vegetables. Time will tell how I feel eating “paleo” but I must say that I feel great NOT eating legumes, grains and dairy, although I never thought I would say so
It’s worth the time to read a book on Paleo or do some googling.. it instantly made sense to me when I really thought about the fact that humans have only cultivated plants and animals for such a short time.
Just because a plant or animal was domesticated does not mean that the food was not consumed before domestication in it’s wild form. Humans have been eating a plant based diet much longer and older than any meat based diet. Legumes have been consumed by humans as long as dating goes back about 160,000 ago when modern human appears in fossil record. http://www.naturalhub.com/natural_food_guide_grains_beans_seeds.htm#Van%20Peer%20et%20al.%202003
Rick correa says
You are correct in the fact that early humans consumed plants more than meat,just like our primate cousins did. But as soon as humans started cooking meat, humans evolved to be the dominate species. A combination of meat and plant based diet is the best option as far as I am concerned.
You are wrong. On the Great Plains the original diet of the Lakota & other peoples was 80% red meat. Let Natives speak for Natives.
Mary Titus says
I have been doing a paleo-type diet for 15 years . I began my journey on Atkins but it wasn’t until I read this article 6 months later that I became convinced AND committed to following this method for life. After all, the food is wonderful. My biggest complaint is not being able to come closer to their method of eating older animals. I have not had chitterlings for years and I want to change that as part of my new years resolution. I am sure that the meat sold in grocery stores are 2 years old or less. I quit eating lamb and/or veal because of this however…except on rare occasions. I go for fattier cuts of beef when I am not eating grassfed meat, so I look for the organic meat that has not been treated with antibiotics. I also scope out eggs that were laid by hens free to consume their natural diet in the form of bugs, worms, grass and even stones. I believe this diet is my shield against developing T2 diabetes which has plagued my family for decades. One day , I will be able to add hunting to my bucket list… at least once.
Colton Romannose says
So that’s why I have really straight teeth.
(Direct descendant of chief Romannose)
Actually Native Americans weren’t really Paleolithic. (Obviously this would be in reference to the time up to arrival of European explorers and – illegal? – immigrants).
They were primarily a cross between Mesolithic and Neolithic as most tribes had settled into “towns” and had anywhere from rudimentary agriculture (or steady access to fish and seafood regularly such as the coastal northwest Native Americans.
One end of the spectrum where the Native Americans were fully Neolithic would be the Incans, Aztecs, Mayans, and settled tribes of the Eastern U.S. and Great Lakes region (especially the lower Great Lakes).
At the other end, one would have the various nomadic tribes such as the Plains Indians (even before the introduction of horses back to the continent of North America) and the Inuit of the Arctic and Greenland and far northern Canada area and Native American Indian tribes (non Inuit) of northern Canada, Alaska, etcetera. These nomads had no agriculture, had minimal plant gathering (if any, and what there was had a very short “season of ripeness”), and relied – as emphasized by Stefansson – on meat sources to an extreme degree. In fact for long time periods some form of meat – in large amounts – and water was the diet.
The Umatilla people didn’t just eat food when it was ripe. They had various ways to preserve camas, berries, and meat. They left caches of these items across their territory.
Norm eburne says
What was the mean age at death among the indigenous people described in the article?
Documents please. All past & future natives whip out your birth cirtificates!
Remember that the cause of death was most likely accidents, (infections from these) that’s why the earlier death rates. Anthropologist and NA-Ottawa
Benjamin David Steele says
They didn’t have antibiotics. So, most of their deaths were from infections. And a high percentage of deadly infections happened in childhood. But beyond the early susceptability to infectious diseases, hunter-gatherers in adulthood tended to have a lifespan equal to modern Westerners.
Delaine Wapass says
I would love to live like my ancestors again, I am asking my cocom if she can show me how to skin a deer or moose ! I am tired of eating proceed foods
Mary Titus says
I’ve been doing a version of the ketogenic diet for 17 years. It was this article that encouraged me to commit to the sort as a lifestyle.
Deb Flint says
Very Informative, I would have to say when I was on a strictly wild game fresh fish diet , I am lactose intolerant haha so I raise dairy goats to supplement the difference. but as I was saying I have a low tolerance for grains , dairy etc. But when I was actually following this diet for 5 years I was healthy , happy and physically active. I fell off the wagon per say about 3 yrs ago when meats and fish became limited. I have become increasingly slow and gained excessive weight, my health is dropping. So there is something to say about the proper way to eat.
one thing I have noticed the new generation is stagnant and has issues with activity outside the digital world. a high protein diet is very good for active people that will actually burn off any excess fat intake. But, with people who are stagnant it may have some adverse reactions. not sure what they are but worth looking into.
The diseases that plague our modern world, did not plague our ancestors. Modern type cities and modern diets generated and excellerated this ever growning problem. Sugar and glucose kills you. Our own government in the USA tells us that grains and carbs are the top of the food pyramid. Try eating nothing but leafy greens and meat for a month, try it! See how you feel. Make your own choice. You won’t believe the difference in yourself.
Deborah Hopper says
I found this very interesting, and this new food is not the best for digestion, I need to return to the old style of eating.
Chris Coles says
As a direct descendant of Princess Pocahontas, (so have been told since childhood and cousin having a copper snuff box with John Smith inscribed on cover), but born as a Brit living in the UK, may I also suggest everyone read the book, Pocahontas Or The Nonparell of Virginia by David Garnett, Published by London Chatto (1933). It gives an excellent description of how the Powhatan Indians were living when first contact was made.
Thank you, I have just ordered this book! It is good timing now before the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA.
As a vegan, I appreciate reading about a culture which practiced the consumption of carcasses in such an efficient manner. One of the reasons for this life choice of mine is the enormous negative impact that animal agriculture in aggregate has upon Earth’s environment. Dietary flesh has not impressed me as having anything particularly good to offer anyone, but it is refreshing to read about people practicing animal based diets so well and being rewarded so richly.
Keep reading. How old are you? How long ‘vegan’? Do you ever CHEAT or LIE and how often & on what?
Right. Industrial agriculture & industrial meat production is totally horrific & has about totally ruined world food supply. So that means throw small sustainable farms & farmers out along with the crooks? And this ‘carcass’ & that ‘life choice’ and are you quite well?
And what about the carcasses of all the endless animals killed by your industrial agriculture for soybeans? Way out there. And the ‘dietary flesh’ of that eggplant or that yam? All poison you know.
Ben Beamer says
I am 24 and have been vegan for 2 years. I don’t lie, but I do make exceptions for dairy sometimes when eating with others.
I am quite well. I climb trees professionally (arborist) and I am the most physically capable at my work place. I am healthy with a strong physique and teeth that have been healing since my dietary shift. I actually had a serious non-work-related injury recently that involved a TBI and broken bone, from which I recovered in a third of the estimated time frame with no dairy during that period.
‘Small sustainable farms’ do not seem capable of keeping up with the entire US demand for animal flesh.
It’s my understanding that more soybeans are fed to animals than humans, part of the problem with animal agriculture being the amount of food has to be grown to feed them (most of which is unhealthy for them as is soy). It takes much more grain and soy to feed a cow to be eaten by humans than to just feed the humans. Also, I eat very little soy because I feel there are better ways to feed my body than a bean which has been subjected to the same sorts of industrial irresponsibility as that of the cattle to which they’re fed.
I don’t know about eggplants and yams being poison, but I would be interested to see the research on that.
My comment was only meant to show my respect for the accomplishments of a diet that I feel is otherwise harmful.
The industrial meat industry is terrible of course, but you don’t want to eat soy and grain fed animals anyway. Animals which eat grasses are converting otherwise inedible plant matter into valuable nutritional resources for humans. The grassland would be unsuitable for agriculture, so why not use it as pasture to raise animals? We need them for proper nutrition.
Greg Parden says
The focus of the article is about how the modern PC writers lie about what native people ate. And how they ignore the fact that natives ate the most nutritious parts of animals (which are the parts that most modern people are repulsed by and do not eat). It is wrong to assume however that the natives were somehow more efficient at it. The modern animal farming industry literally use every single part of the animal to an extreme level of efficiency that native cultures were simply not technologically equipped to match. I don’t say this as a defense of the CAFO industry, and I would only advocate eating clean grass-fed meat, never factory meat. But this idealized myth that natives and paleo peoples in general were more efficient users of animal products than modern society is just not historically accurate or physically possible. I think you may have missed the real point of the article, which was that a meat-based diet is healthier than any modern diet including vegetarianism.
Plant Lives Matter. Plants are living creatures too. But unlike animals that can run away or fight, plants can only protect themselves biochemically with substances that will harm and hopefully dissuade animals from eating them.
There is nothing about vegetarianism that is better, or more pure, or more ethical than those who eat meat.
Life for life – no two ways around it.
So happy to see this post. I changed my diet to meats and fats, including organ meats about 10 years ago. I have great levels of energy and my skin looks fantastic, no one can really guess my age. In addition, the only way I can eat veggies is if they are fermented. So I began fermenting just a few (using water and sea salt).
This is an interesting post, and I’ll admit I haven’t read all the way through.
I see that many people here are claiming Native American ancestry –therefore, the need for a Native diet.
I would like to offer an additional perspective:
Now that we have found ourselves on this North American continent –most of us are immigrants — we would do well to live “Native.” One of the best gifts that our Native American indigenous communities could offer is the lessons of how to live on this continent in harmony and respect.
Of course, we are modern, and we can’t go back. But I think that there are many important principles we can apply to our lives –on all levels.
Hope this is food for thought.
No matter which way you eat, make sure all your food is ORGANIC and raised without poisons. Make sure you support the farmers who let the animals graze grass. Only eat grass-fed meat. Fight for healthily grown food. Fight not only for your own health but fight for the health of the whole world. The Government only cares about big corporations and making money. They don’t care what happens to the people
Leroy Jenkins says
The article mentions natives eating “maple sugar”. This is probably inaccurate at best. making Maple sugar is a fuel (and calorie!) intensive process that usually delivers just a few pounds of sugar at the cost of hundreds of gallons of sap. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, it’s likely that natives simply drank the sap and possibly fermented it, but large scale production of sugar is unlikely without cast iron cauldrons and large scale economics to support it.
It seems most of this information is quite inaccurate based on what most archaeologists and Native historians say today, it is 18 years old now. 18 years is a long time in the scientific community, now a days anyway. I recently read an article written by a Native historian of Choctaw decent. They have found that the hunting they did was only during the autumn months if they needed it. They very much ate a plant based diet and didn’t hunt regularly until the European settlers came over, because of the technology. When the Europeans came they only brought 10-15 different types of seeds with them when the Choctaw had hundreds. They had orchards and berries along with dozens of variety of corn and squash and beans. She started delving into their past eating habits because she was studying obesity in Native Americans today. She came to realize it was the Europeans technology and their hunting more and eating foods the Europeans taught them about that started the trend of obesity in Native Americans in the southwestern region. They were no longer eating what their bodies had taken thousands of years to grow accustom to.
native american is a very broad term. to say the native american ate this or that is like saying, “all humans eat this way…”. the cultures and habits were varied significantly.
Eat “real” food. Eat organic food. Eat variety of food. Eat all in moderation. Exercise through natural movement, I.e., walking, gardening, hunting, fishing, swimming, etc. Avoid drugs and modern medical treatment if at all possible. You will drop weight over time, feel good, have more energy, and possibly extend your life. At minimum, you will have a very good ” quality” of life. Above all thank your creator daily for a good life and enjoy your life. I hope your life is long, well lived, and ends peacefully.
Thank you, and same to you.
Phanupong Asvakiat says
Thank you for this very valuable information. Ancient civilizations especially in the orient valued saturated fat with high cholesterol; unsaturated fats easily turn into free radicals. However, diets must reflect climate, lifestyle, sex and genetics, which makes it very difficult to know where each of us ( husband/wife and partner) stands today; many living in more than one place at a time ( country and/or cities).
Hi Americans…this nutrition style is not so unfamiliar to the “old world”. My grandma told me how they slaughered pigs in the past and used every single bit of it. They caught up the fresh blood and cooked it with kidney, liver, lungs, stomach. It seems so disgusting today…but those meals are being re-discovered and even TV-chefs cook them again. Instestines are “en vogue” 😀
There are so many old-fashioned natural dishes we can eat still today…veg-soups, lentil-soup with smoked meat in it, smoked fish, baked vegetables, cottage cheese with herbs and salad…and so on. Yoghurt is fermented…it’s very healthy for the stomach.
When it comes to raw meat, in Germany we have raw pork with spices and onions as a sandwich-spread. Its tasty 🙂
Here too, awareness is growing about processed food and sugar…government doesn’t care about our health, we have to do it ourselves.
Raw pork may be tasty, but one who consumes it runs a high risk of contracting parasites.
NSNG (no sugar, no grain) lifestyle is a thing now. It is identical in diet to the pre-insulin treatment for type-1 diabetes. It’s high fat, no carb.
I have processed many game animals. Two points. The quality of “saturation” or chalky-ness of the fat is directly related to where the fat is on the body or how far it is from the heart. In other words, in the cavity – very chalky, marrow in the lowest part of the leg – very oily, fat on the back – oily. I suspect it has to do with thermals and how the body requires a more viscous fat in cold exposed locations. Not that one is necessarily “healther” than another. We can almost see this in fish which swim in cold water needing an predominantly oiler fat. Or plants, coconut is more saturated, flax, far less.
I have also found that the food we eat today are actually trying to emulate the different foods we ate in the past. Buttered toast is alot like meshy parts of bones with marrow in it. Making pizza dough , alot like drying a bucked skin (you dont eat this though).
Good luck all and remember to be generous with your gifts.
correction – closer to the heart MORE viscous, further away less – ….you get the idea
bear is entirely different from ungulate. their grease is much like pork and not tallowy at all. their stores by fall are significant as this is what gets the furry ninjas through the winter. keep in mind however that the period through which both species fat stores even exist is limited.
you have to look at an organism as a finely tuned machine that tries best to fit the demands of its environment. the sweet little black bear is like a house. they can put on a-lot of fat over the summer and fall, just so they can burn off those reserves while they sleep during the winter; so the fat wants to act as heat fuel, and it wants to store on their body, and as they say you become what you eat. I find it really gets your heat up. the deer on the other hand does not sleep all winter. their fats are completely different.
the demands of living in the wilds of the past are a hard experience to grasp, but these animals where, in part, the fuel that were there to fuel us through. BUT, the demands were there and the labor was there.
and the periods of famine were too.
Those with the APOE4 gene need to eat a diet LOW in SATURATED fat and cholesterol because this gene cannot safely metabolize large amounts of it. The main fat source should be MONOunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats should still be kept to a minimum.
Leo G Younger says
You may find value in a book, The Carnivore Code, 2nd edition, published 2020.
I love Nourishing Traditions! Have used the cookbook for 5+ years.
I’m wondering if natives had DIFFERENT health problems, especially parasites, since they ate this way? Raw intestines? Ancient meditative diets like ayurveda focus on fruits, vegetables, some grains, and dairy. They have lots of food combinations to avoid, to generalize, it’s like IF YOU EAT MEAT, just eat one meat at a time with maybe a few simple sides. Milk best consumed alone. etc.
So did American Indians have more parasites and inflammation than Hindu Indians? I do remember Buddhist lifespans were some of the shortest. They ate lots of rice and vegetables. But they also focused on spirituality rather than living a full material life. Just questions in my mind.
It’s worth remembering that the Bible is full of ancient dietary wisdom. maybe that dusty old book still has something to say to this generation …
the word if the Lord endures forever.