Primitive Nutrition 32:
Ancient and Out of Fashion
Promoters of primitive nutrition like to keep our attention on cultures that depended heavily on animal foods. As I have shown you, the overall health picture in these cultures has been presented in an overly sanitized and idealized way.
If they were truly interested in learning from successful traditional diets, they would find there is much to contradict their beliefs. Some of their omissions are glaring.
Before I get into some of those, I should acknowledge that authors from long ago brought their biases into discussions of food just as authors do today.
If you look for them, you can find claims of the wonders of a meaty diet far less reserved than those of Weston Price. For example, here you see that raw flesh can produce ferocity of mind, not to mention a love of liberty.
Perhaps a dietary pattern more widely agreed to promote good health and longevity, if not ferocity of mind and love of liberty, is the Mediterranean diet, with its plentiful fruits and vegetables.
The next time you see a study claiming to compare a fad diet to the Mediterranean diet, look at the fiber intake and remember this slide. The real Mediterranean diet is a high fiber diet.
The longest lived among those eating a Mediterranean diet consumed lots of fruits and vegetables.
Greens were not just part of the salad but also the main dish.
The Japanese have also long been admired for their health and longevity, which cannot be said for hunter gatherers.
They were famous for these virtues even in the 19th century.
This slide will give you an idea of what they were eating then. These are the results of a survey conducted in 1879 showing the high carb diets enjoyed throughout Japan. Most were eating plenty of cereals.
Here are the findings from another survey, this of the Okinawans in 1919. The Okinawans are perhaps the most studied of the long-lived populations. Back then their carb-heavy diets didn't vary much by class.
Japan was also a country believed to have unusually low rates of cancer. Some physicians saw this as fitting a pattern. In countries where meat consumption was at a minimum, cancer was less common.
In Gambia hardly anyone ever suffered from cancer.
This was true throughout the Gold Coast.
In this region very little animal food was eaten. Once again, these people ate high carb.
A connection between meat eating and cancer had been observed in other parts of Africa as well.
Observations like these have also been made in the present day.
This author had Weston Price-like ambitions of presenting successful dietary practices from around the world with an emphasis on physical fitness.
Overall the author saw a consistent link between physical strength and the consumption of plant foods. Where this link was not apparent, he thought poverty and disease could be blamed.
Among the cultures known for physical strength, only a handful ate much meat by his reckoning. Legumes seemed to be particularly beneficial.
This book also includes observations about the rarity of cancer and appendicitis among vegetarians in Africa.
He attempts some rough cancer epidemiology...
and he finds strong correlations for alcohol, tobacco and meat, and these correlations are seen today as well. He was, however, off base in his implication of coffee and tea.
We can see a connection between strength and diet in other old sources as well. Here is a text that contrasts the strength of the carnivorous Eskimos, who were said to be relatively weak, with the natives of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, who were said to be extremely strong. So what did they eat?
The Andamaners mainly ate tubers and fruit. High carb beat low carb for strength then as now.
I'll offer a few other examples of overall health in primitive cultures that resist the primitive nutrition dogma. Loren Cordain has referenced the Pygmies as possessing a healthy metabolism due to their primitive lifestyle. What does that lifestyle include?
Lots of carbs. They will actually trade their meats for carbs.
And among those carbs are grains. The pygmies are a poor example of the Paleo diet idea.
They are certainly hunters, though. They are also very small in stature. Here Pygmy height trends are compared with those of African Bantus over time. Whereas the Pygmies did not grow by much in nearly a century, in sixty years Bantu grew quite significantly. What do the Bantu eat?
Their staple food is corn. They also eat grains, legumes and tubers. Meat is less important in their diets. Doesn't Paleologic say grains and legumes made people shorter?
Lastly, here is an isolated Brazilian hunter gatherer population that exhibits no increase in blood pressure with age, low cholesterol, and low blood sugar. The authors of this study give some credit to their diet of complex carbohydrates and vegetables.
If you've watched all the videos in the Primitive Nutrition Series so far, you know now why I am not impressed with the Paleo diet idea. I'm not alone, either. A Paleo Honor Roll is next.