ancestors eat alkaline foods

Did our ancestors really eat mostly alkaline foods?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short summary

Contrary to what the supporters of the alkaline diet believe, between 40%-50% of people before the agricultural revolution had a net acid-producing diet. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

This myth question is related to the alkaline diet’s main argument, that alkaline foods promote health while acid-forming foods cause many modern day diseases. I will answer this myth from that perspective.

Accordingly to the supporters of the alkaline diet, our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed a diet  that consisted primarily of alkaline foods. These claims are partially based on a 2002 study which estimated that 87% of humans before agriculture ate alkaline foods. (1)Sebastian A, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Merriam RL, Morris RC Jr. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1308-16. Available here.

One of the arguments that follows this result is that modern day diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, various cancers, bone diseases and autoimmune diseases, were virtually absent in hunter-gatherer societies thanks to the alkaline diet.

Is this estimate and the resulting conclusion correct?

In the light of the latest results of most recent studies, the answer is no.

A recent (2010) large study that investigated 229 worldwide historically hunter-gatherer societies, revealed that  between 40%-50%, and not 13%, of the diets consumed by the pre-agriculture populations were net acid-producing. (2)Strohle A, Hahn A, Sebastian A. Estimation of the diet-dependent net acid load in 229 worldwide historically studied hunter-gatherer societies. Am J Clin Nutr February 2010. vol. 91 no. 2 406-412. Available here.

The most recent studies show that the diet largely depended on where each particular population lived, which, in turn, was determined by the latitude and the ecologic environment. (3)Strohle A, Hahn A, Sebastian A. Latitude, local ecology, and hunter-gatherer dietary acid load: implications from evolutionary ecology. Am J Clin Nutr October 2010. vol. 92 no. 4 940-945. Available here.

Scientists found that in higher latitudes, the net-acid producing diet was more common. Above 40o, for example, the diet was predominantly net-acid producing while below that level they were more base-producing.

In addition to the latitude, the ecological environment was another important factor. Acid-producing diets were more common in the northern areas (tundra and coniferous forest), temperate grasslands or tropical rainforests while other regions were base-producing.

Conclusion

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About half of the hunters-gatherer populations were on an acid-ash diet and another half were on an alkaline diet. This contradicts the recent theories that attributed the absence of modern society’s diseases in ancient societies to a mostly exclusive alkaline diet. The diets weren’t mostly alkaline.

References   [ + ]

1. Sebastian A, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Merriam RL, Morris RC Jr. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1308-16. Available here.
2. Strohle A, Hahn A, Sebastian A. Estimation of the diet-dependent net acid load in 229 worldwide historically studied hunter-gatherer societies. Am J Clin Nutr February 2010. vol. 91 no. 2 406-412. Available here.
3. Strohle A, Hahn A, Sebastian A. Latitude, local ecology, and hunter-gatherer dietary acid load: implications from evolutionary ecology. Am J Clin Nutr October 2010. vol. 92 no. 4 940-945. Available here.