British Journal of Nutrition

Full Papers

Human and Clinical Nutrition

Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet

Remko S. Kuipersa1 c1, Martine F. Luxwoldaa1, D. A. Janneke Dijck-Brouwera1, S. Boyd Eatona2, Michael A. Crawforda3, Loren Cordaina4 and Frits A. J. Muskieta1

a1 Department of Laboratory Medicine, University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), University of Groningen, PO Box 30.001, 9700 RB, Groningen, The Netherlands

a2 Departments of Anthropology and Radiology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

a3 Department of Bio-molecular Medicine, Imperial College, London, UK

a4 Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA


Our genome adapts slowly to changing conditions of existence. Many diseases of civilisation result from mismatches between our Paleolithic genome and the rapidly changing environment, including our diet. The objective of the present study was to reconstruct multiple Paleolithic diets to estimate the ranges of nutrient intakes upon which humanity evolved. A database of, predominantly East African, plant and animal foods (meat/fish) was used to model multiple Paleolithic diets, using two pathophysiological constraints (i.e. protein < 35 energy % (en%) and linoleic acid (LA) >1·0 en%), at known hunter–gatherer plant/animal food intake ratios (range 70/30–30/70 en%/en%). We investigated selective and non-selective savannah, savannah/aquatic and aquatic hunter–gatherer/scavenger foraging strategies. We found (range of medians in en%) intakes of moderate-to-high protein (25–29), moderate-to-high fat (30–39) and moderate carbohydrates (39–40). The fatty acid composition was SFA (11·4–12·0), MUFA (5·6–18·5) and PUFA (8·6–15·2). The latter was high in α-linolenic acid (ALA) (3·7–4·7 en%), low in LA (2·3–3·6 en%), and high in long-chain PUFA (LCP; 4·75–25·8 g/d), LCP n-3 (2·26–17·0 g/d), LCP n-6 (2·54–8·84 g/d), ALA/LA ratio (1·12–1·64 g/g) and LCP n-3/LCP n-6 ratio (0·84–1·92 g/g). Consistent with the wide range of employed variables, nutrient intakes showed wide ranges. We conclude that compared with Western diets, Paleolithic diets contained consistently higher protein and LCP, and lower LA. These are likely to contribute to the known beneficial effects of Paleolithic-like diets, e.g. through increased satiety/satiation. Disparities between Paleolithic, contemporary and recommended intakes might be important factors underlying the aetiology of common Western diseases. Data on Paleolithic diets and lifestyle, rather than the investigation of single nutrients, might be useful for the rational design of clinical trials.

(Received February 03 2010)

(Revised May 17 2010)

(Accepted May 18 2010)

(Online publication September 23 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr R. S. Kuipers, fax +31 50 361 2290, email


Abbreviations: AA, arachidonic acid; ALA, α-linolenic acid; en%, energy %; LA, linoleic acid; LCP, long-chain PUFA; RCT, randomised controlled trials