What You Can Learn From the African Hadza Tribe

In this interview, Dr. Paul Saladino, author of “The Carnivore Code” — a book on nose-to-tail animal-based eating — reviews what it means to be healthy at the most foundational level and shares his findings from a recent trip to Africa where he visited the Hadza tribe, who are among the best still-living representations of the way humans have lived for tens of thousands of years.

Like the !Kung tribe in Botswana, the Hadza live a hunter-gatherer life amidst the encroachment of modernized society.

“I see the Hadza as a time machine. They’re like a time capsule,” Saladino says. “They do not suffer chronic disease like we do in Western society, and that alone makes them infinitely fascinating. They do not suffer cancers like we suffer cancers.

They do not suffer autoimmune disease, which is a huge spectrum of disease, and they do not suffer depression, mental illness, skin issues. They do not suffer dementia anywhere near the rates that we do. They age with grace. This is called squaring of the morbidity curve.

If you look at a graph of their vitality across the lifespan, it is essentially flat and then drops off very quickly at the end. It’s like a square. They lose their vitality within the last few weeks of life, but until they’re 70 or 80 years old, they are vital individuals.”

If we look at Western society, the morbidity curve has a very different look. It’s like a ramp that steadily declines. In the Western world, people lose vitality consistently throughout life. This doesn’t happen in native hunter-gatherer societies, primarily because they do not suffer from the debilitation of chronic disease.

The Hadza Diet

Saladino primarily wanted to find out how the Hadza eat, what foods they prioritize and how it affects their health. Other investigators have analyzed the Hadza diet, but he wanted to confirm it for himself. For example, one 2009 study1 found the Hadza ate a lot of meat, tubers, berries, and fruit and honey from the baobab tree. According to this paper, the Hadza don’t eat vegetables.

“That supports a hypothesis that I had advanced previously in my work, which was that maybe vegetables, meaning roots, stems, leaves and seeds, are not that good for humans in the first place,” Saladino says. “I wanted to see this firsthand.”

The study in question also asked the Hadza to rank how much they liked each food. Honey was ranked the highest, followed by meat (primarily the eland, a very large type of antelope, baboon and bush pig), baobab fruit and berries. Tubers were their least favorite food. Saladino’s investigation supported these basic preferences as well.

Did a Meat-Based Diet Make Man Smarter?

Essentially, the Hadza favor meat and animal organs, while tubers are looked upon more as survival foods that don’t make up the majority of the diet. Saladino reviews how during the Pleistocene, going back some 2 million years, the human brain suddenly got a lot larger, and evidence suggests the reason for this was an increasing presence of meat in the diet.

“We really became human in the last 2 million years,” he says. “Before that, there was Australopithecus and a divergence, a sort of a schism of the evolutionary tree with a species called Paranthropus boisei, and then Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

That branch point was super fascinating because that was a branch point between meat and plant. This is about 4 million years ago in human evolution, and Paranthropus boisei ate more plants. We can tell this based on stable isotopes, looking at the teeth.

Homo habilis and homo erectus ate more and more meat … The unique nutrients found in that meat and those organs allowed our brains to grow — nutrients like choline, carnitine, taurine, B12, K2, essential fatty acids [and carnosine] …

I think the prevailing thinking now, which is quite compelling in my opinion, is that eating meat and organs made us human, and the species that chose to eat more plants went extinct … Many anthropologists believe the Hadza are some of the direct descendants of the original Homo sapiens who remained in the Rift Valley in Africa.”

The Hadza Lifestyle

In closing, there’s a lot we can learn from the Hadza. As noted by Saladino:

“I spent a week with the Hadza. I got to hunt for berries with them and dig tubers with the women and we drank the water out of the baobab tree. I got to see all of these parts of their life. They are always in nature, they’re always in the sun. They’re always having low-level activity with spurts of sprinting.

They follow the circadian rhythms of the sun, which was one of the most joyous things. One of the reasons I came to Costa Rica was because I thought, ‘I want to do an experiment. How can I live a little bit more like the Hadza? How can I be more in nature?’

Here in Costa Rica, I basically live in the jungle. I’m in Santa Teresa, by the beach. I’m in the ocean every morning. I get to watch all of the sunsets and sunrises and this has been a real gift. I think this is another takeaway for people to realize, and it’s been self-evident. This is what humans need. As I said, the Hadza’s default state is happiness.”

So, not only do we need to identify an appropriate human diet, but also the most appropriate human lifestyle. Done right, your default state will also be that of happiness and physical vitality.

The key message is that there’s an intrinsic happiness that results spontaneously from engaging in certain types of behaviors, and topping that list is the regular immersion in the natural world.

“I fear that in Western society, humans have been placed into a little bit of a zoo,” Saladino says. “We’ve been given these hamster wheels to run on, which essentially are treadmills at gyms and we’ve been given this processed, synthetic food, these rat pellets that are dropped into our cage every once in a while. It’s no wonder that we’re just not happy.

You know, I’m not a zoologist, but I have heard that when animals are placed in cages in the zoo, they become fat and unhealthy and they develop chronic diseases that they don’t get in the wild. I’ve always found that to be a fascinating parallel with humans because I think we’re exactly the same.

The difference for us is that the door to the cage is open. We have only to open the latch and walk through. We can get back to these things. You can get more sunlight. You can avoid blue light devices. You can avoid EMFs. You can eat the diet your ancestors ate and walk out of the zoo and find a richer life. Remember, the door is open. You’ve just got to walk through it.”

Sources and References

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