Diets of modern hunter-gatherers vary substantially in their carbohydrate content depending on ecoenvironments: results from an ethnographic analysis
Received 18 March 2011; revised 30 April 2011; Accepted 2 May 2011. Available online 12 June 2011.
In the past, attempts have been made to estimate the carbohydrate contents of preagricultural human diets. Those estimations have primarily been based on interpretations of ethnographic data of modern hunter-gatherers. In this study, it was hypothesized that diets of modern hunter-gatherers vary in their carbohydrate content depending on ecoenvironments. Thus, using data of plant-to-animal subsistence ratios, we calculated the carbohydrate intake (percentage of the total energy) in 229 hunter-gatherer diets throughout the world and determined how differences in ecological environments altered carbohydrate intake. We found a wide range of carbohydrate intake (≈3%-50% of the total energy intake; median and mode, 16%-22% of the total energy). Hunter-gatherer diets were characterized by an identical carbohydrate intake (30%-35% of the total energy) over a wide range of latitude intervals (11°-40° north or south of the equator). However, with increasing latitude intervals from 41° to greater than 60°, carbohydrate intake decreased markedly from approximately equal to 20% to 9% or less of the total energy. Hunter-gatherers living in desert and tropical grasslands consumed the most carbohydrates (≈29%-34% of the total energy). Diets of hunter-gatherers living in northern areas (tundra and northern coniferous forest) contained a very low carbohydrate content (≤15% of the total energy). In conclusion, diets of hunter-gatherers showed substantial variation in their carbohydrate content. Independent of the local environment, however, the range of energy intake from carbohydrates in the diets of most hunter-gatherer societies was markedly different (lower) from the amounts currently recommended for healthy humans.
Abbreviations: P:A energy subsistence ratios, plant-to-animal energy subsistence ratios
Keywords: Evolutionary ecology; Carbohydrate intake; Hunter-gatherers; Paleolithic diet; Ethnographic Atlas
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Methods and materials
- 3. Results
- 4. Discussion