Plant-animal Subsistence Ratios and Macronutrient Energy Estimations in Worldwide Hunter-Gatherer Diets

Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Mar;71(3):682-92. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/71.3.682.

Abstract

Both anthropologists and nutritionists have long recognized that the diets of modern-day hunter-gatherers may represent a reference standard for modern human nutrition and a model for defense against certain diseases of affluence. Because the hunter-gatherer way of life is now probably extinct in its purely un-Westernized form, nutritionists and anthropologists must rely on indirect procedures to reconstruct the traditional diet of preagricultural humans. In this analysis, we incorporate the most recent ethnographic compilation of plant-to-animal economic subsistence patterns of hunter-gatherers to estimate likely dietary macronutrient intakes (% of energy) for environmentally diverse hunter-gatherer populations. Furthermore, we show how differences in the percentage of body fat in prey animals would alter protein intakes in hunter-gatherers and how a maximal protein ceiling influences the selection of other macronutrients. Our analysis showed that whenever and wherever it was ecologically possible, hunter-gatherers consumed high amounts (45-65% of energy) of animal food. Most (73%) of the worldwide hunter-gatherer societies derived >50% (> or =56-65% of energy) of their subsistence from animal foods, whereas only 14% of these societies derived >50% (> or =56-65% of energy) of their subsistence from gathered plant foods. This high reliance on animal-based foods coupled with the relatively low carbohydrate content of wild plant foods produces universally characteristic macronutrient consumption ratios in which protein is elevated (19-35% of energy) at the expense of carbohydrates (22-40% of energy).

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Body Composition
  • Climate
  • Diet / history*
  • Energy Intake*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Meat*
  • Plants, Edible*