The question of what Paleolithic people actually ate is hard to answer, and the Paleo and Primal communities are divided. One of the biggest controversies is whether Paleolithic peoples ate lean meat and had little fat in their diet, or whether they ate all the animal fat they could get, and plenty of it.
There is some evidence, in the form of bone piles in caves, and there is the research of Dr. Weston A. Price, who actually met and studied the diets of traditional peoples who lived completely by hunting and gathering.
It appears that hunter-gatherers, whether in Paleolithic times, or in the twentieth century, prized animal fat as one of their most crucial foods, and ate as much of it as they could get.
The Evidence for Lean Meat
When the Paleo eating ideas were first expressed, the belief was that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate lean meat, not fat. One of the strongest reasons to support this theory is that the meat of wild game is much leaner than the meat of domestic animals. The old hunters ate wild game, which has lean meat. While this is true, the fact is that wild game animals, especially older animals, actually have plenty of fat, especially in the late fall, when they put on extra fat to prepare for winter.
The fat is not in the meat, but in a huge layer of fat in the back, and in the internal organs, and in the bones, in the form of marrow.
The other basis for thinking that early peoples ate lean meat appears to be based on the common false belief that animal fat is unhealthy. Actually, fat from grassfed and pastured animals is a vital nutrient as seen in the article The Skinny on Fats.
The Evidence for Eating Fat
Some caves have been found that were occupied by early hunter-gatherers. Along with pits showing the use of fire, there is almost always something else—a bone pile. The bones are those of wild animals, and the bones have been split open. It is universally assumed that the bones were split open so the hunters could eat the bone marrow. In addition to being one of the most nutritious foods that can be eaten—bone marrow is almost 100 percent animal fat.
Dr. Weston A. Price met and studied several peoples who got all their food by hunting and gathering. This was in the 1930s. One of the peoples he studied lived in the far north of Canada, and got most of their food from hunting, as gathering was impossible during much of the year. The diet of these people had never changed in the memory of the tribes, and so could have been the same in very early times.
This native people preferred to hunt older animals, because these animals had more fat. They ate liberally of the back fat and the fatty organs, as much as they could get. They had perfect teeth and no disease, even though they were deprived of all plant foods for most of the year.
The Inuit, who lived even further north, valued the fat of sea mammals, game animals, and fish above all other foods. They would throw the lean meat to their dogs, and eat the fat and organs themselves. They would often eat pure animal fat, in addition to the fatty meats. It is likely that their traditional diet had been the same for uncounted thousands of years. These people were also free of tooth decay and had no chronic illnesses.
The traditional diet of the Native Americans was recorded when they were contacted by Europeans, and it is clear that the hunting peoples ate as much animal fat as they could get, and valued animal fat as a survival food. The Native Americans who lived on the Great Plains lived mainly off the bison herds.
Now, bison is a very lean meat. But bison carry a huge amount of fat in their humps, and the hump was the most prized part of the bison. The Native Americans of the Great Plains made most of the bison into a survival food called pemmican, which would keep indefinitely without spoiling. Pemmican was one-third dried lean meat, one-third dried fruit, and one-third bison fat, mostly from the hump. It was very nutritious.
These are just a few examples, and I could provide many more. In fact, it appears that every hunting people ever studied ate plenty of animal fat from their prey.
If you want to eat a diet similar to those of Paleolithic peoples, you would do well to eat plenty of animal fat from grassfed animals and wild game, in my opinion.
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