The secret to a long, healthy and happy life: never touch a vegetable?

by | May 22, 2022 | Nutrition

The secret to a long, healthy and happy life is to never touch a vegetable?

Hadza people in Tanzania are celebrated for their insanely healthy, vibrant, happy life. They are free from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, depression, and autoimmune illnesses that plague our society. Could it be thanks to their focus on meat, honey, fruit, and avoiding vegetables?

This is the view of Bear Grylls, the TV presenter known for his survival programmes, and some other influential men and women.

 
Is there a substance to this controversial claim, or have we missed anything?
 
Let’s look at the post and what we can learn from it.

“So I was interested to hear what they like to eat?”

“This is interesting to me: Over 90% of what the incredible Hadza people in Tanzania eat comes from hunting and gathering around their camps – And they are insanely healthy, vibrant, happy, and free from so many of the chronic illnesses that plague our society, such as diabetes, obesity, depression, and autoimmune illnesses.
 
Contrary to popular belief, they live as long as we do, with much greater health-spans…
 
And they are vital much later in life than western counterparts, climbing trees and hunting all day well into old age.
So I was interested to hear what they like to eat?
 
Answer: Meat, organs, and fat from the biggest animal they can hunt…
 
But also understanding how they prioritise food was so interesting and the findings are clear: the focus is on meat, always…
 
Animal foods first, then followed by honey and fruit, like berries, then a distant 4th would be tubers or roots, most of which are spit out because they are so fibrous…
 
They don’t even glance at a “vegetable”…
 
The Hadza live in a way that suggests that organs, meat, fruit, honey, and raw dairy work as a healthy lifestyle… and reminds me that those foods have been the MOST SOUGHT after foods by humans for millions of years.
 
Could this play a part in what allows their health to thrive? Thoughts? Thanks for your health advice always Paul Saladino, Carnivore AureliusLiver King – I fear I may have got much of my nutrition understanding wrong in years gone by!

Stories sell, whether they are true or not.

When I read a narrative post like this, I feel captivated and inspired. Who wouldn’t like to be “insanely healthy, vibrant, happy, and free from so many of the chronic illnesses that plague our society, such as diabetes, obesity, depression, and autoimmune illnesses”?
 
And that is where we get to the problem of posts such as this.
 
Bear Grylls sourced this information from Paul Saladino, MD. For those of you who don’t know Paul Saladino, he is known as the ‘carnivore MD’ and he has built his career on anti-vegetable and pro-meat narrative.
 
Most nutrition gurus use nutrition studies to prove and support their ideas to their audience. Usually, these studies are low-quality studies and they rely on the fact that the majority is unable to comprehensively read and interpret such studies. Paul uses a different, powerful technique -storytelling.
 
Statistics, numbers, and data are nice but we don’t connect with them emotionally. Stories, on the other hand, stories do sell, whether they are true or not.
 
By carefully choosing the right combination of words, music, voice, and colours we can craft an experience that makes people receptive to the message of the story without questioning its validity.
 
I remember watching one of Paul’s presentations and thinking “Yes, that makes so much sense!”, just like Bear did. That was because I was captivated by his delivery and I did not question a word he said.
 
I am not going to break apart all the claims against vegetables. Friends from Sigma Nutrition made a great job at breaking apart Paul’s narrative.

The message of the story is clear, but is it correct?

The message is clear: Eat more meat, don’t even glance at vegetables and you will live a long, healthy, happy life.
 
There are five big issues with it:
 

Problem #1 It doesn’t account for the lifestyle as a whole

The Hadza people, that Bear and Paul refer to, don’t lead a modern lifestyle. Unlike people living in the western countries reading this, Hadza people spend their life being physically active and they don’t have the chronic stress we experience. It is said that a simple life is a better life.
 
In nature calories are scarce. In the modern world, calories are abundant!
 
This influences their eating behaviour. The reason Hadza people don’t even glance at vegetables is not that it would cause harm like Paul would have us believe, but because vegetables are low in calories.

Problem #2 Partial truth is not the whole truth

Paul spent a few days with the Hadza people. Researchers like H.Pontzer carefully documented Hadzas lifestyle and eating habits for over a year and shows what the Hadza tribe really eats. As you can see in the graphic below, meat is not the focus of the Hadzas diet most of the year.
 
People who study indigenous people don’t attribute their health to meat or fat they eat, but rather to their diet as a whole:
  • the lack ultra-processed foods
  • they get a lot of fiber in their diet, which does not come from meat

“It is thought that the Hadza consume about 100g of fibre every day, compared with a mere 18g among British adults.” 

Problem #3 Unintended consequences

We already eat a lot of meat and we are paying for it with our health and environment. Even though meat in moderation is not unhealthy in a vegetable-rich diet (source), an average person does not know that.
meat consumption in Europe and North America
A post like this can promote unhealthy eating behaviours. People with obesity and disease are often from low-income populations and because of that, they reach for processed meats in fast foods.
 
Ultra-processed meat products have been shown to have negative health effects.
 
Now imagine when an exciting story like this is shared and reshared thousands of times. Bear Grylls has over 12 million followers on Facebook alone!

Problem #4: Should we Eat the Way our Ancestors Ate?

“The Hadza people live in a way that suggests that organs, meat, fruit, honey, and raw dairy work as the healthiest eating pattern… and reminds me that those foods have been the MOST SOUGHT after foods by humans for millions of years.”
 
The romance of eating like our ancestors or indigenous tribes can obscure other considerations like the scaleability of the food system, environmental considerations, transportation etc.
 
It is a typical example of a logical fallacy known as an “appeal to nature”. – what is natural is good.
 
One reporter tried it and documented his findings. Such a diet helped him lose 3 kg, cut 4 cm off of his waist, but his wallet also got lighter. He also noticed  wind (thanks to the fiber) was noticed by his family, who did not appreciate it.

The key take-aways

There are several things we can take away from the lifestyle of the Hadza people:
  • Hadza people are active and being active is healthy regardless of your body fat percentage.
  • They eat locally and seasonally.
  • They eat a lot of honey (pure carbohydrates) and they are still lean – Will that convince you that carbohydrates are not the cause of obesity?

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Resources

Berbesque, J. & Marlowe, Frank. (2009). Sex Differences in Food Preferences of Hadza Hunter-Gatherers. American Journal of Human Biology. 7. 601-616. 10.1177/147470490900700409.
 
 
 
Effects of Evolution, Ecology, and Economy on Human Diet: Insights from Hunter-Gatherers and Other Small-Scale Societies Herman Pontzer and Brian M. Wood, Annual Review of Nutrition 2021 41:1363-385