Sunday, May 1, 2011

Venus Figurines and Upper Paleolithic European Diets

Venus of Willendorf. Source:  Wikipedia
What do Venus figurines tell us about Upper Paleolithic European diets, between 35 thousand and 11 thousand years ago?

These figurines. found in France, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Switzerland, Siberia, Spain, and Czech Republic, accurately depict central abdominal obesity with its associated anatomical alterations. 

For example, the Venus of Willendorf, above, depicts the knock-kneed posture common among very obese women.

This probably means that Upper Paleolithic Europeans had some grossly obese women among them, who provided models for these figurines. Otherwise, the sculptors couldn't have depicted great obesity with this degree of anatomical accuracy.

They didn't eat grain-based diets, and they didn't have refined grains, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, or omega-6 rich seed oils. Thus, we couldn't blame it on so-called neolithic agents of disease, could we?

According to the Pleistocene Overkill hypothesis, during this time that, possibly, humans in Eurasia were intensively killing the very large, fat wild game animals, like mammoths, rhinos, and enormous elk, possibly contributing to the Quarternary Extinctions.

In fact, these figurines date to the same period from which we have human bones on which we have performed isotopic studies indicating that European hunters ate diets similar to top predators like wolves:

"There have only been two studies of Palaeolithic modern humans, Homo sapiens sapiens. A study of the isotope values of humans from the late Upper Palaeolithic (ca 13 000 years old) site of Gough's and Sun Hole Cave in Southern England (Richards et al, 2000a) indicated, again by the delta15N values, that the main source of dietary protein was animal-based, and most likely herbivore flesh."

This means that their diet consisted largely of animal protein and fat. 

But according to some, you can't get fat eating animal protein and fat.  You just can't overeat animal protein and fat, right?  According to the insulin theory of obesity, you can't get central abdominal obesity except from a diet consisting of toxic neolithic carbohydrates, right? 

You can eat grass-fed, saturated animal fats until you are blue in the face, it just can't make you fat, because you'll get sick before you overconsume calories, and anyways, it just doesn't affect your insulin function...right?

In relation to the theory that neolithic nutrition causes obesity, it seems to me that the Venus figurines present an anomoly, suggesting that perhaps the Upper Paleolithic European woman, at least, was not optimally adapted to the prevalent diet. 

Wait.  What hominin species inhabited the Upper Paleolithic?  Homo sapiens sapiens.  Just like us.

It reminds me of the film, My Big Fat DietJay Wortman, M.D., goes to British Columbia and teaches the natives to eat a high fat, low carbohydrate diet, with plenty of saturated fats.  Some of the men lose some fat, and diabetes symptoms do resolve.  But over a year of adherence to the big fat diet, some of the women who could benefit by losing 30 pounds or so, lose only 10-15 pounds.  In a year.  A mere pound per month.  Then stall.  Not. Very. Successful.  



SamAbroad said...

I always thought the venus was supposed to be pregnant and thus a symbol of fertility?

Doesn't sculpture usually represent some sort of ideal? Not necessarily a realistic representation, a lot of populations where skinniness is akin to poor nutrition, fatness as a sort of 'superstimuli' is revered.

izigr said...

Huh indeed. Very interesting, and I appreciate these occasional bits that knock what we think we know!

Melissa said...

Obesity is also caused by numerous pathological conditions.

Though on the overeating hypothesis side you have textiles from the same area that would have been very labor-intensive - made my many people and worn by only one and may point to a culture that was more hierarchical than we typically associate with the paleolithic. Perhaps such a high ranking individual would have also had people feeding them.

Monica said...

Thanks for the dose of reality that is sorely needed in the paleo community, Don.

I lost roughly 15 lbs. on low carb paleo and it all came back. I'm now looking at high protein/caloric restriction and weight training to bring off what I would like. Although I only want to lost @ 30 lbs, I don't kid myself anymore that perhaps my body doesn't want to be that thin and that this may just be a struggle for vanity.

Don said...


That Venus is for sure not only pregnant. I've seen lots of lean pregnant women, they don't have the enormous breasts and so-called "muffin top" abdominal fat. Plus, pregnancy often increases pear-shape, i.e. more fat on hips and thighs, not abodomen as in the figurine.

Certainly artists represent the 'ideal' in their cultures, but they draw on what they see to produce their works. Even the best (e.g. Michealangelo) use models. I have no doubt the Venus of Willendorf a realistic representation of someone. If all the artist knew was thin women, he would not have known about the knock-knee posture or the way the fat hangs around the waist.


Obesity itself is pathological. If this was an odd pathology among those Eurasian hunters, we wouldn't find the theme widespread across the continent. Women in this condition had to be common enough to be known in all the regions I listed.

Galina L. said...

Come on, there is a long stretch between paleolithic morbidly obese figurine and loosing just a pound of fat a month. Loosing, not gaining! Reminds me of my own weigh-loss dynamic - since 2007 I lost just 32 lb on a LC diet, being extremely discipline all 4 years and experiencing 2 years long weight-loss plateau in the middle of it. Nature wants most of middle-aged females to be fat in order to protect their estrogen .
But figurine are too fat even for typical middle-age middle.
I read about some examples when in primitive societies girls were fed special diet it order to be unnaturally obese. I can't tell the source now. Fertility cult is very old and world-wide spread.It is easy to imagine that paleolithic tribes may specially honey-fed one female or small number of women as a part of fertility-worshiping ritual.

Anonymous said...

my guess is women were always going to be overfed in those times. a fat woman is a fertile woman. a fertile woman meant more babies. i bet men went out of their way to endure a famine while women probably rarely experienced one.

maybe has nothing to do with protein fat or carbohydrates but the inborn brain sequence of women which is a drive to feast, hormonal cravings etc

men will always be better dieters than women and more prone to easy weight loss. women will always be...women. hormonal and with a drive to give the body what it desires because whether a women wants to reproduce or not, she is set up with that purpose(aint nothing we can do about it) and during evolving times i can see 'grok' shoveling the food at grokette and standing by until she was able to reproduce

i have no doubt very few men were obese but women is a different story

Tuck said...

Interesting post. Being overweight was much less common one hundred years ago, compared to today, and it's been well documented that HGs of all dietary types were much leaner, on average, than those eating the Modern American Diet.

The interesting question then is why was this woman obese, and was she the norm?

If she was a fluke, the theory not in danger. There are genetic abnormalities that can cause gross obesity, after all.

Greg said...

Don't we suspect that these statues represent the *most* overweight of a culture (possibly those with genetic abnormalities)? And can we really be so certain about the diet of a few individuals of a group just because they lived in a time period where humans were generally consuming meat? It is entirely possible that the models were eating little to no meat.

In the second season of
Mark & Olly: Living with the Tribes, there is at least one overweight individual eating a diet composed mostly of potatoes.

Don said...


"nature wants all middle aged females to be overweight"

Briefly, that is WAP foundation bullshit. Go to Asia and you will see many very lean middle aged and elderly females. Go to hunter gatherer groups or Kitavans...women actually get leaner as they age, not fatter.

Also, obesity impairs fertility in both men and women:

"Fertility can be negatively affected by obesity. In women, early onset of obesity favours the development of menses irregularities, chronic oligo-anovulation and infertility in the adult age. Obesity in women can also increase risk of miscarriages and impair the outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies and pregnancy, when the body mass index exceeds 30 kg/m. The main factors implicated in the association may be insulin excess and insulin resistance. These adverse effects of obesity are specifically evident in polycystic ovary syndrome. In men, obesity is associated with low testosterone levels. In massively obese individuals, reduced spermatogenesis associated with severe hypotestosteronemia may favour infertility. Moreover, the frequency of erectile dysfunction increases with increasing body mass index."

For women, there is a sweet spot of fertility between 15 and 22% body fat...over or under that will impair fertility.

Taking 4 years to lose 32 pounds is diet failure, plain and simple. The diet "worked" but not very well.

Don said...


See comment to Galina. Obesity does not enhance fertility, quite the contrary. In addition, culturally it is quite rare to find men giving excess food to women rather than eating it themselves. On the contrary, it is more common to find women malnourished relative to men.


I have no doubt that she was NOT a fluke. As I noted, these Venus figurines are found all across Europe. The phenomenon had to be widespread to have attained such significance. Art mimics life.

Khwarezmian said...

It seems you have had quite a change of opinion. What prompted your sudden disavowal of the current direction of many "primal" bloggers? (I agree with you, by the way, that a higher carbohydrate diet is superior to the "eat all the butter you want" diet that many paleo/health bloggers promote.}

Don said...


Potatoes? In ice age Europe?

Why don't these "genetically abnormal" women who get obese eating only potatoes show up among the Kitavans, who eat a diet almost entirely of potato-like foods and sweet fruits?

Let me see. To get obese, a woman has to consume more energy than she expends. Lets say she is completely sedentary and needs only 1500 calories per day to meet her needs. A 4 ounce potato provides about 100 calories. So she has to eat "only" 15 potatoes daily to meet her energy requirement. Possible but unlikely a common thing.

The key word in your reference to Mark and Olly is "mostly."

Anonymous said...

There is some speculation about particular amino acids being anti-metabolic in excess, I don't see it being impossible to gain weight on a 50% protein diet or something like that. I also don't like how a mainly carnivorous diet would impact mineral status like magnesium and potassium. So I don't consider it to be implausible. But then again I'm not a proponent of the insulin/carbohydrate theory of obesity. If your thyroid is impaired you can very well get fat on just about anything.

Don said...


First, I've advocated and practiced eating starchy vegetables and fruits consistently. Take a look at some of the My Meals posts on my blog. Most have potatoes or sweet potatoes or fruits prominent, compared to other primal bloggers.

But I did slip recently (over about the past 12 months) into a higher fat, lower carbohydrate, diet.

My experience with this and inability to ignore evidence like the Venus figurines lead me to refine my view.

By experience, I mean seeing too many diet failures among people, mostly women, eating "paleo" diets high in fat. By diet failure I mean failure to lose, or, in several cases, actual gain rather than loss (which happened to Tracy). On top of that, seeing women on the high fat diet getting more PMS, breast abnormalities, menstrual disorders, and other issues that I know research links to excessive fat in the diet.

In addition, after years of keeping myself free of seasonal allergies with diet, this spring, after a prolonged period of eating much higher fat and lower plant food than typical of my previous 20 years, I had the worst seasonal allergies I have had in probably 30 years at least, indicating that my own body had gone from low inflammation and strong immunity to to high inflammation and challenged immunity. This was accompanied by increases in other signs of inflammation in my system.

I couldn't ignore these failures of the program, especially when affecting people in my family as well as myself, and keep silent, without losing integrity.

Joe said...

Recently I found myself looking at upper paleolithic sculptures on display at the natural history museum. What struck me was our technical proficiency 10,000-20,000 years prior to the neolithic transition. I'll have to see if I can go back to take a more specific look at the depicted body shapes.

I greatly respect your opinion and am very interested to see where this new line of questioning takes you.

Anya said...


this is exactly why I keep reading your blog (and Art De Vany) to keep some sanity in the paleo world.

In my summary, I think most gains are made by excluding the NAD's as Kurt Harris ( calls them
AND practice the stuff everyone seems to leave out : seasonality.

As a human, we are meant to adapt.

We (and that includes our intestinal helpers and parasites) adapt to a low-carb diet and to a low fat diet to seek out maximum efficiency for extracting calories (but not necessarily nutrients).

I must also admit that this is difficult to prove in studies.

SamAbroad said...

What research would that be out of interest?

Would the research have accounted for the amount of linoleic acid as a component of the high-fat diet?

Sue said...

A lot of the paleo blogs recommend more calories, and usually more fat if someone is not losing weight. Or they say just eat paleo and don't be so impatient if you don't see any weight loss your body has to heal first. I think you should start to see weight loss relatively quickly.

Dr J said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for referencing my work which was documented in the film, "My Big Fat Diet". I don't agree, however, that our findings support your position that a low-carb ketogenic diet does not deliver significant weight loss and metabolic benefits over the long haul. In our study we found that these benefits were associated primarily with compliance. There were people who achieved excellent results while others struggled and ultimately failed to comply with the diet (the documentary followed only a small subset of the study population).

A further observation: unless you have some kind of unusual pathology, it is very difficult to retain excess calories as fat unless you are eating carbohydrates. The science in this area is not controversial.

And, as to the history of diet, have a look at Jared Diamond's article published in Discovery in 1987, "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race".

Jay Wortman MD

lmackenzie5 said...

Polycystic ovarian syndrome causes obesity - not the other way round. I developed PCOS around puberty (aged 8-9) and I was very slim (bmi=20), later I put on weight, most of it during the course of one year (20-21). I find it very hard to lose on low carb, still having issues with too much insulin being released at low carb, moderate protein meals causing hypoglycaemia.

In PCOS, the insulin resistance comes first and the increased insulin causes the ovaries to release excess androgens.

I don't have any difficulty believing that such a genetic disorder existed back then, and such women would be an anomaly - maybe seen as figures representing fertility and seasons of plenty.

Malena said...

Finally a primal/paleo promoter (except for Staffan Lindeberg) who does not believe man evolved in the Arctic region, with us being direct descendants from bears and wolves.

Anonymous said...

Don, thank you for posting this article and for your comments. Most useful food for thought.

I, too, gained weight on 15-20g/CHO/d, and 50-75g/PRO/d, which obviously meant the FAT grams were too many. I have been wondering if this is common among older, middle-aged women eating an evolutionary diet.

I went on an evolutionary diet to improve my health, not for weight loss or gain.

My health has, indeed, improved in many ways, but the weight gain, and some things which are in this category you mentioned:

"On top of that, seeing women on the high fat diet getting more PMS, breast abnormalities, menstrual disorders, and other issues that I know research links to excessive fat in the diet."

have had me questioning.... I decided recently to just reduce the fat intake, so your post comes at a most useful time.

If you don't mind, could you post a bit more about the symptoms the women had, their age ranges, and what was bettered by consuming less fat?

I use beef fat, pastured butter, cream, and a bit of coconut oil. Have only had a very low PUFA intake for just over two months. (Used to eat 2-3 tablespoons of almond butter most days.) I no longer add the extra fat to foods, and have reduced the amounts of cream. (I make yoghurt from cream and half-and-half.)

Thanks very much for posting about this. It's one of those areas of evolutionary eating that does need addressing.

I appreciate your taking the time to write about it.

Galina L. said...

Excuse me, if it sounds like a criticism, but I found your opinion about my diet as a failure a shallow one. The reason I managed to stay on a very LC for so long, and even 2 years long plateau didn't discourage me - I dd it for health benefits (premenopausal symptoms,asthma, leg edema, various infections and seasonal flues all are gone, huge improvement in migraines and eczema, and it is not all), and weight loss is a small part of that picture. I tried different diets, always was involved in exercise and cooked my own food. Somehow LC of ketogenic level works the best for me,especially for migraines, and starchy veggies and fruits would get me out of ketosis pretty quickly.I have one day a week, when I eat that stuff, but that is it.
Probably I didn't say clear enough - when I mentioned that nature wants us to be fat, I mean, us, middle age women, like me, not young ones. My told me that it was more difficult to loose weight after 40 because extra fat was a way for a nature to compensate for fallen production of estrogen in ovaries. Is that theory right or wrong, I have no idea. Why would nature want it? I don't know. What I know is - woman have much harder time to loose weight after 45, most straggling to just not to gain. I believe you, that it is different in some other countries - never saw it myself, I hope you know what you are talking about.
I would define a success in a diet as a loss of at lest 20 lb , an ability to maintain it , and an ability not to be hungry on that particular eating regimen.Adding potatoes and removing of some fats sounds like a double strike to increase hunger at least for people like me. People are different. I hope your female clients would be fine.

John said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for the cognitive dissonance ;-)
Do you have any ideas on the mechanisms behind your worsened seasonal allergies? Cortisol maybe?


Chris Kresser said...


As I know you know, diet is only one of a myriad of factors that influence weight regulation. Cortisol/circadian rhythms, gut barrier integrity, genetics, brain-gut axis relationships, etc. all play a role. Who knows how these factors played into the Venus figurine model's life?

The problem in the Paleo/Primal community as I see it is the mistaken idea that there's "an answer" for everyone. What I appreciated most about my training in Chinese medicine is their understanding of relativity and individual variation in health. That is unfortunately lost in most of the debates about which type of diet is best, just like the "intangibles" (stress reduction, sleep, etc.) and their effect on weight tend to be underemphasized.

Bryan - oz4caster said...

I like Melissa's theory and agree with Chris Kresser's assertions. Could be a combination of the two. Paleo women may have idealized those in power who may have had access to more priviledged foods in greater abundance, even back in paleo days. Perhaps priviledged foods catered to our inate sweet-tooth and included lots of honey and fruits? Today, this tendency is one of the important aspects of the obesity epidemic IMHO. Add a little MSG, aspartame, OTC drugs, disbyosis, and presto, a recipe for run-away obesity.

Don said...


I have consumed and watched others consume diets ranging from 10% to 80% fat. My primary impression of the effect of fat on PMS etc. comes from my experience, and also from my Chinese medicine perspective. Generally, Chinese medicine recommends against high fat diet and maintains that it can cause stagnation of liver function, which affects menstruation. From a western science perspective, if the liver is occupied with processing fats and excess amino acids, it may have less resources/energy available for efficiently processing the excess hormones that arise in the premenstrual phase. According to Chinese medicine,dysphoria, breast tenderness, and other PMS symptoms show liver stagnation...basically, an overburdened liver.

From clinical observations, so far as I can tell, at least in some women, high fat intake can increase PMS symptoms, especially if accompanied by low carbohydrate intake (if too low for the individual). In my experience, this can occur regardless of fat source (high or low in LA). The specific research I have in mind looks at the incidence of PMS and menopausal syndrome in Asian women on Asian diets compared to women in other nations having higher fat diets. I can't put my finger on the research right now, but for example, at least one study found that Central American Indian women on very low fat diets have no menopausal complaints; women in Japan on SJD rarely have such complaints; many women in Greece, with higher fat intakes (olive oil about 40% of calories) have noticable symptoms; and women in the U.S. top the list for menopausal discomfort (both high in fat and high in sugar compared to Central American or Japanese diets).

I believe a too-low carb diet might cause PMS and menopausal problems in part because of the effect of carbohydrates on serotonin system. Basically, carbohydrates in diet support higher serotonin levels in the nervous system (by helping to deliver tryptophan). Lower systemic serotonin levels may cause depression, general dysphoria, and contribute to abdominal cramping. The Wurtmans at MIT discuss the serotonin/carb connection in this article:

Generally, lower carb goes with higher fat and vice versa. The effect may be caused by too low carb (at least during the luteal phase) for an individual, which rides with higher fat.

Don said...

Hey DrJ

Thanks for stopping by to comment. I am thoroughly aware of Diamond's paper and actually agree with him. However, many H-G groups not practicing agriculture do not have high fat ketogenic diets...The Hadza for example get most of their energy from tubers. The question is what did people generally eat during the process of human evolution. They lived in Africa, not Europe. How can we be sure that the diet of people in Ice Age Europe between 35 and 10K years ago is the diet humans are most adapted to? It seems unlikely that it would be since it isn't the original environment of humans.

Regarding the non-compliance issue, whenever I see this explanation I wonder why people did not comply. When they don't, it seems to imply that the diet did not satisfy some need, so they kept leaving its boundaries. This suggests that the people who complied are more suited to that diet, and those who did not comply may need a different approach.

Don said...


I think gut inflammation underlies most undesirable immune responses, allergies being one example of undesirable immune response. So I speculate that for me at least, the high fat diet I was eating increased gut inflammation, leading to an immune system overload that could not tolerate pollen, etc.

The funny thing is, when I first started exploring nutritional medicine more than 30 years ago, one of my main personal motivators was seasonal allergies. A short while on a low-fat, lower-protein, dairy free diet gave me relief in the very first allergy season thereafter. I maintained high immunity to allergies for many years on a lower fat, lower protein, higher carb diet than I have recently consumed. I have lived in the same city for 7 years, with minimal symptoms when eating a produce-dominated diet, but this year on a high-fat, higher protein diet I suffered a lot.

Alan said...

look at the waifs (by the way, I personally think they're hot) who abound in OUR popular media...... do you think that archeologists of 200,000 AD will ssee these cultural artefacts and therefore conclude that all our women were TWiggy's?

Greg said...

Hi Don,

The figurine you are using as your example was found in the Danube valley of Austria. Are you saying there was a glacier covering the valley when this was found? I would think it most likely that the people would be in the bottom of the valley, away from glaciers unless I had more information.

Don said...


By 'diet failure' I only meant that the rate of fat loss was slow. I feel glad that the diet helped your health, but in terms of weight loss, it didn't produce what I would call a decent result. Eight pounds per year is not what I consider a decent result. 24 pounds per year would fall into the decent category in my estimation.

Don said...


I agree with you. A well-planned, physiologically sound diet should produce pretty immediate and sustained fat loss on the order of one-half to one pound per week, without inducing cravings for foods not 'on the diet' and without inducing unnecessary hunger. I say unnecessary hunger because I think some have gotten the idea that if you are hungry it shows that your insulin is high, etc. Hunger is a natural signal for eating, like thirst. You can't eliminate hunger any more than you can eliminate thirst. Saying that a diet is only right if it eliminates hunger is like saying that a beverage regime is only right if you never get thirsty. If not hungry, its not time to eat.....

Anonymous said...

Great article. While this surely doesn't prove that obesity was prevalent among our paleolithic ancestors, it does suggest that obesity could have possibly been an issue, contrary to what most paleo folks believe.

Perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to use such blanket statements as "obesity didn't exist thousands of years ago," or "our ancestors were free from our modern diseases," when not enough evidence exists to accept those hypotheses.

Will we ever know all the answers? Of course not. Should we keep an open mind and not be so quick to dismiss certain diets just because we don't personally follow them? You bet.

Don said...


It is well accepted that PCOS is NOT a genetic disorder, but a disorder caused by diet.

In other words, if you say that the women who inspired the sculpture Venus of Willendorf had PCOS, you are saying that the diet that they ate caused PCOS.

Since obese women are less fertile than lean women, I fail to see why obese women would represent fertility. This is reinforced by what men look for in body type when seeking reproductive mates. Universally it is a small waist, not obesity.

Don said...


Age ranges: late 20s to 60s

For the younger group, I've seen high fat diets produce and lower fat/higher carb intake resolve

Premenstrual headaches
Acne outbreaks in luteal phase
Emotional swings
Sweets cravings
Cramping (dysmenorrhea)

For the peri- and post-menopausal women,

Weight gain despite low carb intake due to excessive food intake (i.e. appetite not matching energy requirements)
Sweets cravings
Emotional moodiness
Post-meal bloating

Don said...


I didn't conclude that ALL upper paleolithic Eurasian women were obese. I said that these figurines indicate that SOME of those women were obese, which is contrary to the claim that all prehistoric humans were lean and healthy regardless of locale and diet.

Humans originated in Africa, a very different climate than Europe, yielding most likely a very different diet. Since we were adapted to Africa, and did not leave it until 50K years ago, its really not surprising that the European ice age diet was incompatible with the human genome and produced diseases. I don't understand why everyone thinks that all post-African exodus primitive diets are equally good for humans. Its a bit like saying that zebras would do just as well in the Arctic as in Africa.

Don said...


No, I am not saying there was a glacier covering the valley at the time. I am saying that the climate would not have been favorable to many food plants, which is why the isotopic studies show that those people most likely were eating almost exclusively carnivorous diets.

This was only about 15K years after the African exodus of H sapiens sapiens. Not enough time for humans to adapt completely to a new environment and diet. So I find it completely plausible and very likely that those early Europeans had multiple diseases resulting from the mismatch between their African genes and the new environment, ranging from rickets due to skin too dark to get adequate vitamin D, to obesity and almost anything else we know to be diet-related.

Dr. Gee said...

interesting perspective.

but how "high" is considered "high fat" diet to cause problems for women?

cause i found the normal (< 30% fat) is too low for me. i'd be cold; i also headache/migrain all the time)

btw, my OMD suggest that i could use more lard & meat, no salad & fruits, no wind, no cold drink or ice cream (too "cooling")



Rudolf said...

Do we have any evidence that today almost all meat diet causes obesity? Was there any obesity among Inuit? If there is no such evidence in regard to modern humans, so maybe the women represented in this figurines were not obessed due to eating meat, otherwise people eating all (or almost all) meat diet today would also get obes.

Don, after these findings what would be now your diet recommendation?

John said...


Thank you for your prompt reply.

Your gut inflammation suggestion got me speculating: what if it's not gut inflammation, but just the amount of gut bacteria?
The way I understand it, the amount of gut bacteria plays an important role in the activity level of the immune system. So a lot of gut bacteria would mean that the immune system is very active, to keep them all in check. If the amount of bacteria is lower, the immune system would have more "spare time" to get caught up in lower priority activities like fighting allergens. A bit like an army that experienced no real threat for a long time: at some point they might begin shooting everything that moves.

Switching from a produce-dominated diet to one higher in fat and protein seems to have the potential of lowering gut bacteria count, provided that the amount of dietary fiber goes down. The lowered bacteria count then might result in lowered immune system activity, causing it go haywire over pollen.

In hunter-gatherer times, the food probably shifted a bit from animal only to more plant matter by the time plant matter became more available, i.e., in spring and summer. That would of course somewhat coincide with increased levels of pollen as well. So perhaps eating more plant matter might help ward off some allergic reaction by keeping the immune system busy with the gut bacteria.

I don't know how realistic these speculations are, but perhaps they can be useful.


Malena said...

My experience is that allergies are not only dependent on the ratio, or amount of carbohydrates vs. fats, but also on some specific types of foods.

As an infant, born in the 70s, I was fed breast milk substitutes. Before having a fully developed gut system and immune system, my little baby body was invaded by foreign substances from milk, grains and soy (depending on what year you were born, the milk substitutes could also come from corn, soy, added fish oils and citric acids).

As is well known among veterinarians, no young cub or calf should be given anything but mother's milk the first weeks or months after birth, otherwise the immune system will be compromised with weaker and sicker individuals as a result.

Strangely enough, this practice is not adhered to among humans.

Here in Sweden there a "controversial" agronomist called Ursula Jonsson has come up with the theory of "basic allergy", namely the theory that what the baby is fed before six moths of age will disturb the development of the immune system with these very foods later in life causing all kinds of troubles associated with an overloaded immune system such as conventional allergies, depression, repeated colds, weak immune system, fibromyalgia, psychological disturbances such as MDB and ADHD, intestinal problems etc.

I have myself had very good results by excluding TOTALLY the "basic allergens" from my diet. That means I do not ingest any kind of dairy products, wheat, rye or oats, soy, yeast or glutamate (all related to the common grains mentioned above). Considering most babies' poor bodies are invaded by these awful substitutes, most grown-ups in the western world have a high or low-grade food allergy. As the immune system has been compromised at such an early stage, you cannot test for these allergies. I know several people who have done extensive allergy tests and blood test claiming they are not allergic to milk; however, their health is very much improved by totally excluding all kinds of dairy products.

Many of the new diets such as LCHF, primal, paleo, etc do avoid many of the mentioned allergens, however, most people still include butter, or cream, and then they "cheat" on a birthday and perhaps they eat some bread at a wedding and in the end you just wonder how paleo their diet really is. Or they claim that LCHF is such a natural diet and then they pour cream all over their food although we can be pretty sure cream has been a luxury for those few of our forefathers that consumed milk products.

Here in Sweden their is some sort of belief among the LCHF adherents that people in Sweden used to eat bacon, sausages and cream all day long when this was rarely seen on the table except for at Christmas, normally the average person was glad to at least have a piece of bread, mixing it up with bark. When reading Weston A Price, a whole group of people, women, men and children, shared one liver, or ate seafood once a month. In Switzerland, meat was consumed once every week.

There is a lot more to say on satiation, the role of the pancreas and insulin; the body is far more complex than easy to digest theories.

My belief regarding allergies and related problems, however, is that some foods should be left out of the diet completely before a full healing can take place.

Melissa said...

Here is another theory out of the left field: parasitic infection can paradoxically cause abnormal fat deposits such as those seen in Elephantiasis or in many SA hunter-gatherers with bloaty bellies.

I am cyclically relatively low-fat because of religious obligations and my period is definitely worse on low fat.

k1wuk said...

Dr Dobson has had something to say about the Neandertals. I suspect that much of his position is correct.

Don said...


Depends on the individual. If you have a cold constitution or condition, eating just enough more fat can help warm the system. If you have a hot condition or constitution, eating less would help cool the system. What is too high for one person could be just right for another. What is too low for another might be just right for someone else. What works for you now might not work later. We are dynamic systems and the 'best' fat intake will vary over time.

The effect of fat also varies with other diet components. High fat with high protein will make more heat than high fat with low protein. High saturated fats with high carbohydrate will increase inflammation quickly; with low carb, not as much.

Helen said...

Don said : "How can we be sure that the diet of people in Ice Age Europe between 35 and 10K years ago is the diet humans are most adapted to? It seems unlikely that it would be since it isn't the original environment of humans."

Thank you. I've long thought that the low-carb assumptions of much of the Paleosphere suffered from a European bias, albeit backed up by studies of the Inuit.

I'm 45 and have lost 30 pounds in the past year, going from a BMI of 25 (I think) to a BMI of 20. I don't think of myself as middle-aged, but I guess I am. The first 20 pounds I lost on a low-carb, high-fat diet. It was slow-going. The last 10 I didn't even mean to lose, and it's easy to stay at this weight. In fact, for a while I was worried the weight loss would just continue indefinitely, but it's stabilized. My current diet is low-fat.

I originally embarked on it due to gallbladder trouble, and I've wondered if the high-fat diet helped along my gallbladder dysfunction.

In any case, my body doesn't seem to "want" to be fat on this diet. On a WAPF then near-Paleo diet (high fat, but not low carb) it did want to be fat. On a low-carb diet, it grudgingly lose weight, but it easily lost weight on a low-fat diet. I'd always sneered at the low-fat brigade, but it seems to work for me. Though in a whole-foods way, not a Snackwell diet cookies and Activia way.

Don said...


First, I didn't say that an all meat diet would make anyone/everyone obese.

Second, read H's comment above. She gained weight on a diet containing only 15-20g carbohydrate daily. Its close enough to all meat to show that some people do gain weight even when eating almost no carbs. If you say that she gained because she ate 15-20g carbs daily, I won't believe it. That is simply not enough carbohydrate to have a significant metabolic effect. It is negligible, especially if it came from fibrous vegetables (mostly indigestible).

Third, the sample size of people eating all meat diets in modern nations is too small to draw any conclusions. The people who stick to an all meat diet are self-selected...that is, most of those who stick to it, do so because they get the results they want. Those who gain fat weight on it stop doing it (unless they want to gain). In other words, in modern nations, the people who would grow obese on all meat diets probably don't continue on it long enough to grow obese. We would need a very large clinical trial of a 100% meat diet to see what percent of people can grow obese on such a diet.

Fourth, Inuit. So far as I know, they all remain lean on their diet, but it isn't typically only meat, it also contains some plant foods but more importantly it is primarily marine based, which provides a fatty acid intake quite different from a land-based hunting diet (i.e. much higher in omega-3s, lower in saturated fats).

Fifth, I'm still advocating a hunter-gatherer diet, but I don't think everyone can thrive on high fat, predominantly meat, very low plant-food diets.

I think there is a good bit of evidence that women in particular are more adapted to the GATHERER aspect of the hunter-gatherer diet...i.e. a more plant-dominated approach.

I also think that the evidence points to man being more of a FISHERMAN throughout evolution, with hunting land animals a secondary adaptation.

So when we look at who lives longest with the lowest rates of diseases of civilization among industrialized nations, we find the longest-lived, most disease-free people in nations like Japan, where the diet is predominantly plants and seafoods, with less land animal meat.

I think the huge component of seafood in the Inuit diet makes their "all-meat" diet healthier than it would be without all that marine meat.

And I reserve my right to refine this view as I go along.

Helen said...

On the figurines: I have never read anything to support this idea, but I wonder if certain privileged members of the community were "fattened" as they are in some other cultures, and that, since the Goddess was thought of as being a special individual, that the idealized features of the fat and privileged members were used to depict the Goddess.

Also, in biology, animals often respond to exaggerated, artificial "markers" of fertility and other stimuli, like a baby bird's open beak, more strongly than the than the real thing. Because being able to store some body fat indicates fertility in a woman, perhaps the intuitive assumption was that more would be better.

Don said...


I agree with everything you wrote, including the reference to Weston Price's work. Universal and almost constant availability of high fat foods does seem rather recent. Hunter-gatherers may have preferred fattier animals, but I have doubts that they always got what they preferred.

Anonymous said...

Don, thanks very much for taking the time to post about the women. It's very good food for thought and further reading.

In case a report is of use to others:

I was endeavoring to keep the ratio of 2.5 or more FAT to 1 PRO, according to Dr. Jan Kwasniewski. I now keep FAT at ca. 1.5 (or a bit less) to 1 PRO, which is his recommendation for weight loss rather than maintenance.

I eat beef, beef/calf liver, veal brains, wild salmon, mackerel/herring/sardines, pastured butter, some cream (more than half as yoghurt), occasional cheese such as brie or camembert, and rarely Swiss or cheddar. Fruit: lemons, black olives, and in summer, cucumbers. Some of the beef is pastured, some not. Vegetables also include fresh herbs, and seaweeds from Larch Hanson. I grow most of my own herbs and vegetables.

I do not eat grains, legumes, sweet fruits, nuts/seeds or their oils, except some coconut oil. No alcohol, coffee (except a very occasional decaf), chocolate, nightshades, or spinach.

I go to sleep before nine, have a varied and appropriate exercise program, and keep regular sunshine, and prayer times. :)

I take cod liver oil on days I don't eat fish or when I have grain-fed beef.

I thoroughly enjoy eating very low carb.

We are all so different, and my food plan works well for me at this time.

Don, thanks for daring to broach addressing a topic that has been glaringly avoided. Thank you, again, for your blog post and comments. They are bringing much needed and fruitful discussion and thinking.

SamAbroad said...

Don, couldn't all the issues you describe be attributable to too much protein in the diet? I mean gluconeogenesis is harsh enough on the liver, harsher than butter. I know in my own experience, once I raised carbs to 100g and dipped the protein I started to feel a lot better, not cured but a lot better.

I'm totally with you on the liver side of things. It makes perfect biological sense. However, how does fat stagnate the liver? I've just never seen a credible source, in fact, the opposite, saturated fat aids the clearance of fat from the liver.

I've done low fat diets in the past and my periods were never as bad, ever!

Don said...


Your experience does illustrate what I am getting at...for you, an increase in carbs, with a decrease in protein, helped.

I agree that excess protein rather than fat most likely gives the liver the most extra work to do. And increasing fat does help clear fatty liver...very low fat (less than 30% of calories for example) is most likely NOT good for most people for many reasons including stagnating bile function.

But fat in the diet demands bile, and the more fat you eat, the more bile you need...the liver makes bile. So in that way, increasing fat intake increases the amount of work the liver has to do. What I'm calling stagnation happens when the liver just has too many things to do and can't keep up with demands.

Most likely everyone can find some fat intake that would place them beyond their liver's capacity for bile formation (the level will vary from person to person).

Add to this excess protein and premenstrual hormones and voila you have a 'stagnant' overburdened liver.

I am of the mind that every nutrient has a 'zone' of optimum intake, which zone varies in size a bit from person to person. Above or below the window, disorders will manifest in the organs associated with metabolism of that nutrient. So, a very low fat diet can cause liver or gallbladder problems by reducing bile formation and clearance (for example, we know that very low fat diets cause gallstones to form quite rapidly due to inadequate bile flow), and an excessive intake of fat can also cause liver or gallbladder problems. Just the same as too little and too much exercise can both cause body damage.

Pretty In Primal said...

Food for thought. I tend to think that personal constitution does play a role in personal macronutrient appropriateness (as unpopular in Primal and Paleo circles as that may be). I believe in Doshas and TCM constitutional types and individual energetic balance. I know I'm probably in the minority on that!

As far as women not losing weight no matter how they eat (and this seems to be an issue for so many) undiagnosed autoimmune thyroid issues always have to be considered. I can gain or lose solely depending on how my immune system is treating my thyroid.

I do wonder if these Upper Paleolithic cultures had fattening rituals for women, as so many cultures do. I was watching Globe Trekker recently and it took place in Nigeria (I believe, but I could be wrong) and they went to a tribal wedding where the Nigerian guide was explaining her own fattening period before her wedding: she was made to sit in a room for a month and do nothing but eat every hour or two (she ate a lot of starchy things). Most of the unmarried girls at the wedding were slim or average weight, so it seemed that it took some effort to gain all that weight.

I wonder, too, about the effects that very cold climates would have on the body's ability to fatten up even on fat and protein if excess calories are eaten. Body fat certainly keeps you warmer and our bodies are smart, so maybe it's just easier to get fat if it's freezing out?
Just some thoughts...

SamAbroad said...

Hmm, you've given me a lot to think about.

I am so loathe to increase carbs more and reduce fat as that's when the natural satiety stops for me, and my vain self really likes being thin.

Re: bile acid production, I thought when you exceeded fat tolerance, it just goes 'straight' through so to speak. Unless your talking about prolonged exposure above optimum.

Ugh, I hate challenging my biases, it's always so painful.

What's the solution then? Just experiment for a 'sweet spot'? Or do you have something more prescriptive in mind?

Malena said...

Pretty in Primal, I really agree with you regarding personal constitution. And I have to add that the personal constitution goes beyond genes and environment. I have an identical twin and we thrive from slightly different foods. My sister can tolerate protein, and more purine rich protein, as well as fat, better than I do. Differences manifested in us already as children, with my sister always having a little problem with loose stools, and I with slight constipation. On the same diet! In the same environment!

This and many other such examples have convinced me that there are much more to the human being than we see and can measure. And that these unmeasurable factors have a large influence on us that can override genes, environment and many conventional (Western) theories.

Don said...


Your body is always trying to match bile production to habitual need. Yes, if at any point you eat more fat than matches your habitual fat consumption, the excess fat will go undigested, often causing painful bloating (I've experienced it) on its way out.

I don't have any prescriptive formulas, its all about experimenting to find the sweet spot for you.

Don said...


I find your story about yourself and your genetically identical sister a fine rebuttal to those who would say that our destiny is written in our genes. I agree with you that much (or most?) of any human being lies in unseen, unmeasurable factors.

Anonymous said...

Don, there is an interesting story about identical twins and difference in body composition in this blog post:

Rather astounding difference in training.

The blog author links to the original report here:

Don said...


Re. gallbladder disease, this report reviews some of the evidence on dietary factors:

Some evidence points to saturated fats and cholesterol promoting gallstone formation. Some suggests unsaturated fats protect. Consistent evidence points to omega-3s being protective. So its possible but not proven that a high fat diet can induce gallstones, unless high in omega-3s.

This again points to our ancestral diet being richer in omega-3s and lower in saturated fats....i.e. a more marine, rather than grassland, diet.

On the gathering side, high fruit and vegetable consumption and vitamin C intake (present primarily in fruits and vegetables) appear to protect against gallstones:

"Serum ascorbic acid level was inversely related to prevalence of clinical and asymptomatic gallbladder disease among women, but not among men. Among women, each SD (27 micromol/L) increase in serum ascorbic acid level was independently associated with a 13% lower prevalence of clinical gallbladder disease (P = .006) and asymptomatic gallstones (P = .048)."

Which also supports the hypothesis that women might need more vitamin C, i.e. more gathered plant foods, than men, due to their being the gatherers of plant foods.

"A total of 384 women (8%) and 107 men (3%) reported a history of gallstone disease, and 347 women (7%) and 81 men (2%) reported a history of cholecystectomy. An inverted U-shaped relation was found between serum ascorbic acid level and clinical gallbladder disease among women but not among men."

But then gallstones occur more frequently among women than men, possible because estrogen influences bile production, so the protective effect of vitamin C will more likely show among women than men. In other words, this doesn't mean that gathered foods don't benefit men.

Don said...

for example, high serum vitamin C associates with lower risk of cataract in both women and men:

"A total of 252 women (12%) and 164 men (9%) reported a history of cataract. Serum ascorbic acid level was inversely associated with prevalence of cataract in multiple logistic regression analyses; each 1 mg/dl increase was independently associated with a 26% decrease in cataract (P = 0.03)."

Helen said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for that info. I didn't have gallstones - but inflammation and sludge. I think probably my gallbladder was simply less than functional, due to some other health issues I have (hypothyroidism, mild diabetes, maybe genetic factors).

I tried to boost my vitamin C intake from foods; supplements, which I took for years, increase my glucose readings. (I know you didn't recommend those.) But I still wonder if I generally overwhelmed my physiology, which didn't seem happy with the high-fat diet in other ways as well. Live and learn, lose an organ. You know how it goes.

Bill said...


This brings to mind those who get sub-clinical hypothyroid on a highfat, low carb diet. I also came across a study that showed that ideal diet ratios for testosterone were 15/55/30 pro/carb/fat respectively, and that a high fat, low carb diet actually can hinder maximum testosterone production. What are your thoughts on this?

Don said...


How's your satiety on a lower fat diet?

I find that I have good satiety when eating about 30% fat IF the majority of my calories come from potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Sue said...

Maybe more women get gallstones because more likely to go on low fat diet for weight loss and then binge on carby/fatty foods. Most men would probably just exercise to lose weight and not consider a low fat diet.

Helen said...

My satiety is actually the best it's been in my life. Before I thought much about my ratio of fat to carbs (I've had some variation of a whole foods diet since I was 20 or so), I'd wake up ravenous, get ravenous an hour after lunch, feel hypoglycemic throughout the day, need a huge pre-bed snack, and still woke up terribly hungry and feeling (but not actually being) "hypo" in the middle of some nights. (For most of my life, amazingly, all this eating didn't lead to much weight gain.) This was the case on low-carb, too, though maybe it abated slightly. On a low-fat diet which is fairly high fiber and gluten-free, I am not having all of these swings. I thought I would because I always felt I needed fat and protein to ground me.

I'm doing a gluten challenge now, eating a couple of wheat crackers every day for three weeks to prepare for a biopsy to rule out celiac disease. After a week of this, my appetite has increased, but I can't say for sure that it's related.

Gluten-free by itself didn't increase my satiety but maybe the low-fat, gluten-free combo does. We'll see when I drop the gluten again, which I plan to, whatever the test results.

Don said...


I think you are referring to this article by T Incledon:

"Diets with a PRO intake greater than the CHO intake lower total T levels, and may actually decrease the bioactivity of T in the body. Higher CHO diets (70% or more from CHOs) may increase T levels, but they also affect the metabolism of T as well. While the role of fat is not entirely clear, saturated fat and cholesterol are closely linked to higher levels of T and PUFAs have some modifying role.

So, what is the best type of diet to follow if your only concern is to increase T levels and make more of it available to the body for the purpose of improving lean body mass and/or performance? It would seem that CHO intake must exceed PRO intake by at least 40% to keep the bioactive fraction of T high. Fat intake should be at least 30%, saturated fat needs to be higher than PUFA, and fiber intake needs to be low. A sample diet would have roughly the following calorie breakdown: 55% CHO, 15% PRO and 30% fat. "

So, he thinks you need to eat at least 40% more carbs than protein to have optimum T levels. Looks like he has good data but I've not checked all of it myself. I think that it makes sense though.

Helen said...

@ Sue,

I believe that women's increased risk for gallstones may have to do with higher estrogen, which slows down the thyroid, which then slows down gallbladder emptying. The women I've known who've had gallstones did not lower their fat intake *until* they had a gallbladder attack.

Rapid weight loss also increases the risk of gallstones. This can happen on any weight loss diet.

Ten grams of fat a day is sufficient to stimulate gallbladder emptying. Above this, I don't know if there is an optimal level of fat intake for gallbladder health. I'd tend to think it's as Don suggested - our body adapts to the need. The higher the fat intake, the more need to move fat and bile through.

Untreated celiac disease can completely shut down CCK production in the gut, and diabetes can diminish it. CCK signals the gallbladder to contract, and also signals satiety. So these are two other risk factors for gallbladder disease.

Rudolf said...


thank you for your response. It makes sense. I have two more questions:

1. How many calories from fat do you consider as high fat, and how many gave you allergies problems?

2. I do not fully understand one thing: in your last post (Estimated macronutrient...) you seem to doubt the estimations of the team that our ancestors in Africa over 100.000 years ago could have obtained 70% calories from hunting because today they are able to hunt only the half of that with more advanced tools. But, wouldn't the same conclusion apply to Europe between 35 thousand and 11 thousand years ago. They also had, I guess, less advanced tools. So, if in Europe we were able to hunt most of our calories, why wouldn't be able do the same (e.g. 70%) in Africa. Could the tools be so much more advanced in Europe than in Africa? Or were so much more animals available in Europe than a while back in Africa? Or were we prefering fish and plant foods (caloric dense tubers?) due to them being more available in Africa?

Beth@WeightMaven said...

I'm a little late to this discussion, but is there any reason to think that this body type was more prevalent than it was in the 1800s or early 1900s? Back then, it clearly existed, but those who were this obese were very atypical and you'd usually only see them as sideshow attractions.

As to cause, aside from the potential pathological options (prader willi etc), I wonder whether whether there's a connection to what we're seeing today at a much greater scale, i.e., obesity related to liver injury.

Venus wouldn't have had industrial grains and high omega 6 oils, but perhaps something else could be at work (ref Chris Masterjohn's recent post showing diet-induced obesity can occur in the absence of sugar).

Morris said...

Thanks for another balanced article, well put and refreshing avoidance of confirmation bias. I consider my personal anecdotal experience/observations to have the same or maybe higher validity (but only for me) as the “received science”. This view can only be logically supported if one accepts the premise that the space of metabolic variables ie the internal (disease, inflammation, lipid peroxidation etc etc) and external (diet, stress, exercise etc) is too large to make individual predictions except of the crudest sort. As living organisms are adaptive, some perhaps many of the variables, are not independent the possible health outcomes are endless. I take that your view is to some extent in agreement with the above.
Re you allergic reactions. In my case, now 10 months on a “paleo” diet, my immune system sensitivity seems to vary a bit, but without correlation. Initially some plant foods produced a small reaction (runny nose) which later diminished. Now into spring this response is returning but is very mild, barely detectible. As well early into the diet lactose & casein produced some very definite but mild joint sensations but only in combination with mechanical stress. During the diet period, which I consider an experiment, my energy intake varied between 2400 and 3300 cal/day and fat % between 65 and 79 but my weight (BMI 23) varied only +/- 1 lb on 7 day moving average. I have seen many small improvements in aging bio-markers but remain agnostic as to the reasons, but the observation time-period is still too short to really make firm conclusions

Morris said...

Re gut bacteria. My experience supports your hypothesis. Observation of gut bacteria is an indelicate but possibly rewarding subject. I was able to substantially reduce the inventory of colon contents ( I estimate 2-3lbs) and to move the bacteria morphology towards the planktonic form and away from the biofilm. I think I got there by intermittent fasting (30-36hrs) and reduced fibre intake (less than 15gm/day) over a period of about 6 weeks. This experiment was after 4 months after the start of the ”paleo” diet. The surprising and amazing result was the complete remission of nocturia which had been worsening over the last 7-10 years.

Don said...

Morris and John,

Another aspect of allergies lies in histamine clearance, a job of the liver. Again, if the liver has a lot of work to do metabolizing excess amino acids and producing bile acids, detoxifying various chemicals, etc., then the immune system starts producing a lot of histamine in response to another load (e.g. pollens), it may not have resources up to the task...the histamine accumulates in the system and pollen, etc. triggers the sensitized cells (e.g. in respiratory system) and voila you have allergies.

Don said...


For now, I will consider above about 1/2 of diet energy from fat as high fat. My diet was around 65% of energy from fat for most of last year until very recently.

When humans reached Europe in the Ice Age, they would have been forced to live largely on animals simply due to the paucity of suitable plant foods. As I mentioned, we think that anthropogenic extinctions of megafauna were occurring at the same time as the figurines appeared. These extinctions could not have occurred by hunting single animals with simple spears and bow/arrow tools, since taking one or two animals at at time (the way other top carnivores do it) doesn't destroy the reproductive capacity of the herd. There had to be a system of mass killing. Europeans used a newly discovered hunting technique, namely running whole herds of animals off cliffs or into bogs, with the help of 100,000 years ago, humans had partnered with dogs (wolves) to hunt in packs, for this purpose (using dogs to force the animals into panic to run off a cliff into a bog).

So this new technique itself introduced a dietary change that deviated from the African. It increased caloric harvest dramatically over techniques previously used. So much so that it destroyed the resource base, leading to the agriculture. In Africa people would have had more access to fish and tubers, much easier to catch, so they had no need to invent this technique.

Don said...


Also, Africans previous to 50K years ago did not have the bow and arrow (to the best of our knowledge) but it appears that people did have the bow and arrow after 50K years ago. Again, a leap in technology that made hunting more efficient....increasing the harvest and possible caloric yield from hunting land animals. It increased the land animal portion of the diet....

These changes are quite recent and made possible dietary intakes that were not possible previous to 50K years ago. On an evolutionary time scale, we don't really have reason to believe that our genes would be well adapted to a change like this. As I write this, it seems amazing to me that 'paleo' diet thinkers point at the agricultural revolution as being too recent for us to be adapted to the diet it produced, but don't think the same of technologies that obviously dramatically increased land animal meat consumption. Of at least 3 million years of human evolution since Australopithecus, 50K years is only about 2%, i.e. 98% of human evolutionary time occurred before the introduction of the bow and arrow or methods of mass animal killing (cliff and bog methods).

Don said...


You correctly point out that we only need a very small amount of fat to stimulate GB emptying. 10g is only two teaspoons. Also thanks for pointing at gluten's harmful effect on gallbladder function.

Malena said...

This is such an interesting blog! Thank you Don and everybody commenting!

Anyhow, I just remembered an article I read about the Viking town Birka on Björkö, in the Stockholm archipelago. Björkö was inhabited long before it became a Viking hot spot and trade centre in the Baltic Sea. But nevertheless, although the agricultural revolution took place later up here in the north, the Björkö era was definitely after agriculture was introduced. The article presented some news on the Björkö diet. It was previously believed that the inhabitants subsided on typical agricultural produce such as wheat and pork; however, new archaeological findings showed that they ate a lot of seal. And fish. But primarily seal. I find this interesting. The inhabitants could chose among almost anything, at times the climate was more favourable than it is today, but they discarded grains and meat (they ate some pork though) and feasted on seafood. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the article or good references to the Björkö diet. But if I remember correctly the archaeologists were surprised to learn that they preferred seal and fish to such a large extent.

When looking at the optimal diet, if there is such a thing, perhaps we should look at peoples who are able to choose? According to Weston Price, groups on tropical islands seem to have favoured a very diverse diet consisting of fruits, tubers, greens, fish, seafood, coconut, wild pigs etc. And not at peoples living in remote marginal environments or entering new habitats. Just a thought. To me, big game hunters and Eskimo diets are not very representative for the human food choices throughout time.

Malena said...

I'd like to add to my previous comment that a fruitarian diet and a raw food diet is not representative or very likely either because, when people can choose among an enormous variety of fruits, they still cook food and eat animal foods.That's what I'm thinking right now anyhow.

Tal said...

Hi Don - thank you for your time and energy here.

You mention that these new killing techniques 'destroyed the resource base' and that this 'lead to agriculture'. This contradicts the ideas forwarded by Riane Eisler, Daniel Quinn and others that agriculture was not something that was adopted but rather something that was forced upon largely HG and pastoralist populations by an aggressively expanding culture that was itself fuelled by what Quinn terms 'totalitarian agriculture.'

I'd be interested to hear your views on this idea in light of this recent discussion.

Don said...


I think I agree with the general theme of your last two posts. If all meat was what people are genetically programmed to eat, I think people would choose it no matter where they lived, even South Pacific, just as a lion would choose all meat no matter where he lived. Similarly, if all fruit was the genetically programmed diet for humans, then we wouldn't find people living anywhere except where all fruit was possible.

Don said...


Eisler, Quinn, et al are talking about post-agricultural revolution. I am talking about pre-agricultural revolution. It appears that between 50K and 10K years ago, before the ag revolution, the megafauna died off, probably in part because of mass killing techniques of humans. The overkilling increased caloric yields to humans, which allowed the population to expand rather rapidly, but it simultaneously wiped out the resource base (i.e. the herds), which then threatened the newly increased humans with hunger. Consequently they had to find some other food source. This may have contributed to their experimenting with grass seeds, which led to agriculture. After some groups adopted agriculture, their numbers expanded even more rapidly and those new farmers started encroaching on the hunters and herders. That's when the process described by Eisler, Quinn, et al started its long history up to this day.

Chris said...

here is the archetypal mate for the figurine.Does that mean men used to look like this?

Don said...


Facetious, eh? The point about the Venus is it is anatomically accurate depiction of obesity, it has features one could only know about by having seen obesity in person. We know this because such women occur in our own present experience.

From our own direct experience also, we know that The Priapus is not an anatomically correct depiction of the human male, although men might under some circumstances feel as if he looks like Priapus, and some women might also think that some men act as if they are constructed like Priapus.

Moreover, the Venus only suggests that some (i.e. at least one) woman known to the sculptor had central abdominal obesity with its unique anatomical characteristics. I certainly did not say that all upper paleolithic women looked like the Venus figurine.

Toban said...

Don, you shook up a bees nest here! Good for you! It's always good to subject ideas to critical scrutiny.

My own thoughts on this phenomenon of 'paleo obesity' is that these women were probably the product of fattening rituals. Taubes talks about such rituals in GCBC (chapter titled Fattening Diets). As Taubes argues, it's just plain impossible to overeat on meat and fat, it simply gets too painful. It's not hard to imagine that a wealthy chief could secure enough honey to "blimp out" his wife for a ritual or as a status symbol.

Dr. Curmudgeon Gee said...

thanks, Don,

you're right that ea. person is different. (my composition is "cold" & "ying" according to 2 OMDs)

FYI: my diet is not really low carb (20%-30%), P is about 15%/ rest is fat (preferably SFA).

i don't really "count".
my goal is health, not weight loss.


Jesús said...

Dobson has suggested that some of the upper Paleolithic Venus figurines [...] may represent cretins among iodine-deficient terrestrial hunther-gatherers (Food and Western Disease, Staffan Lindeberg, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010, page 217). Reference: Dobson, J.E. (1998) The iodine factor in health and evolution, Geograph Rev 88, 1-28.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Don! Keepin' it real buddy!

Unknown said...

I just watched Hertzog's film about the chauvet cave in France. The hypothesis crossed my mind that the proliferation and wide geographic distribution of these obese "venus-like" figures from this time period might indicate the following: that these images didn't represent women who were simply obese, but those who able to successfully give birth and lived through it.

They were large women, yes, but they had successfully given life to sons and daughters. Because they had done so, they were then protected, fed more than their share of resources, glorified, fiercely protected and perhaps even worshipped.

It just cannot simply be that all, or most paleolithic women were obese. Just the ones who had successfully birthed several children. Such a rare accomplishment would certainly have been rewarded and cherished.

Anyhow. Not well thought through yet. Maybe later.