The New York Times asks: Is there an optimal human diet?

Two Masai warriors standing and looking away

Recently in its popular “Wellness Blog”, The New York Times, perhaps the most prestigious newspaper in the world, explored whether there is one sure way for humans to eat that maximizes health. The blog was reporting on the findings of a new study of modern hunter gatherers that was recently published by the journal Obesity Reviews.

The New York Times: Is there an optimal human diet?

Obesity Reviews: Hunter gatherers as models of public health

The study examined the diets, habits and physical activity levels of hundreds of modern hunter-gatherer groups and small-scale societies. These groups have lifestyles that most closely resemble those led by ancient populations.

Herman Pontzner, the lead researcher and an associate professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke University, found that each of these modern hunter-gatherer societies consumed a wide range of diets that feature a varied assortment of whole, natural foods. Most eat carbohydrates, but usually only ones that come from vegetables and starchy plants with low glycemic index (meaning blood sugar spikes rarely occur).

Almost all of them eat a mix of fish, meat and plants and a lot of fiber. If they ate any sugar it primarly came from one source: honey.

The study concluded that hunter gatherers are opportunistic omnivores, and no single natural diet is an optimal one for good human health. Rather, a wide range of natural unprocessed diets can provide excellent metabolic health.

From a health perspective, modern hunter-gatherer societies are remarkable for their relative lack of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart and disease and hypertension. Obesity rates are low, and type 2 diabetes are rarely seen. This is a testament to whole, unprocessed foods and physical activity.

For modern individuals with an already damaged metabolism, the science points to low-carb, whole-food diets for better health outcomes.

Anne Mullens


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