3

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The !Kung: How come they can eat a load of omega 6?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 18, 2010 at 12:28 PM

Reading Don from Primal Wisdom's post:

http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/03/paleo-diet-basics-why-i-eat-walnuts.html

The !Kung get a large amount of their calories from Mongongo nuts which are quite high in omega 6.

When I read about the Kitavans I had to acknowledge that a high-carb diet could indeed be healthy - but since I've probably ruined my blood sugar metabolism I was better off sticking to the low end of moderate.

Could the same be true of the !Kung? As in it is fine for someone who is otherwise healthy, but for those of us who have spent their life eating refined vegetable oil have 'ruined' their omega 6 metabolism?

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on December 24, 2011
at 02:48 AM

Or 60+ years of SAD? :-))

Db56a3a7ef6f208222cb501f29741b64

(30)

on June 25, 2010
at 06:46 PM

The relative proportions of plant and animal foods in the diets of Paleolithic peoples probably varied between regions. For instance, hunter gatherers in tropical regions such as Africa probably consumed a plant-based diet, while populations in colder regions such as Northern Europe most likely obtained most of their food from meat. J. A. J. Gowlet (September 2003). "What actually was the stone age diet?" (PDF). Journal of environmental medicine 13: 143–147. doi:10.1080/13590840310001619338

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on June 20, 2010
at 04:31 PM

They seem to hunt a fair amount of wild game, it's difficult to say without better accounts of their diet.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 20, 2010
at 05:07 AM

Since the !kung don't eat much, if any, seafood...that would be low.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on June 19, 2010
at 01:51 PM

But they must be eating Omega 6 over 4% for a good proportion of the year, that was my point. There's no proviso in the 4% ratio rule that as long as you adhere to it 4 months of the year you're ok.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on June 18, 2010
at 10:51 PM

@Melissa -- "probably are not a great representation of ancient foragers" that is the understatement of the year. Too many, if not MOST people, conflate the modern foragers with Paleolithic humans. There are NOT one and the same.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 18, 2010
at 02:31 PM

I read Don's comment, but it doesn't affect my answer. There's a bell curve of availability which is probably a function of seasonal availability combined with how much effort and planning they put into their consumption strategy. It's not as if they are all eating 50% of their calories from these nuts every single day of the year, nor even 8 months of the year. They eat some that often, but there's no way they eat exactly the same amount all year round.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on June 18, 2010
at 01:08 PM

Don does address the seasonality issue in the comments: "Thus the !Kung had access to some mongongo nut/fruit at least 8 months of the year and even that overlapped the new crop, and they dried some for use out of season." Even still I don't think this will personally change my own diet. I find my appetite is greatly reduced when I balance my 3 and 6's. It does remain that most of the bad effects of omega 6 in studies come from refined veg oil. Also there does seem to be a protective effect of nuts in studies.

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7 Answers

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6
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 18, 2010
at 01:08 PM

The !Kung are a population of foragers pushed into a sparse environment and probably are not a great representation of ancient foragers.

The omega-6 fats they eat are fresh and they don't pair them with a lot of sugar. That said, there is some evidence that they are not the healthiest foraging population. In the book Nisa, a lot of problems not seen in other foraging populations are described- like morning sickness.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on June 18, 2010
at 10:51 PM

@Melissa -- "probably are not a great representation of ancient foragers" that is the understatement of the year. Too many, if not MOST people, conflate the modern foragers with Paleolithic humans. There are NOT one and the same.

Db56a3a7ef6f208222cb501f29741b64

(30)

on June 25, 2010
at 06:46 PM

The relative proportions of plant and animal foods in the diets of Paleolithic peoples probably varied between regions. For instance, hunter gatherers in tropical regions such as Africa probably consumed a plant-based diet, while populations in colder regions such as Northern Europe most likely obtained most of their food from meat. J. A. J. Gowlet (September 2003). "What actually was the stone age diet?" (PDF). Journal of environmental medicine 13: 143–147. doi:10.1080/13590840310001619338

2
0fb8b3d6dcfb279b0f7e050d2d22510f

(4645)

on June 18, 2010
at 05:30 PM

Eating a food that is rich in n-6 is not all that bad BUT consuming n-6 from industrial vegetable oils (very un-natural process), like corn, soy, safflower, etc is the cusp of the problem of our diet's top heavy n-6 to n-3. Real food over industrial food is a good rule. Avoiding grains is another.

2
4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 18, 2010
at 12:45 PM

Mongongo nuts are ripe for a few months out of the year. Presumably, they aren't eating 16g/day of linolenic acid all year round - probably something more like a bell curve with a peak around the max availability of the nut and troughs (or zero points) for the seasons directly opposite the max harvest. It wouldn't take a huge amount of omega-3 to balance that out, assuming they actually have a source of omega-3. Maybe if they did eat them year round, they'd have problems, who knows. Or maybe the omega 6 versus omega 3 debate is an oversimplification of what's really going on, and high omega-6 intakes are survivable if you also do X,Y,Z, all of which have yet to be quantified.

It's kind of hard to say that you can remove a single aspect of a HG diet, transplant it to a modern context, have it retain the exact effects on health that it had in the other context. You'd have to test the idea and see. Maybe eating a ton of nuts is ok; it looks like Don Matez is running his n=1 experiment and hot to defend the results. We'll see how he does I guess.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on June 18, 2010
at 01:08 PM

Don does address the seasonality issue in the comments: "Thus the !Kung had access to some mongongo nut/fruit at least 8 months of the year and even that overlapped the new crop, and they dried some for use out of season." Even still I don't think this will personally change my own diet. I find my appetite is greatly reduced when I balance my 3 and 6's. It does remain that most of the bad effects of omega 6 in studies come from refined veg oil. Also there does seem to be a protective effect of nuts in studies.

A727956fa3f943057c4edb08ad9e864e

(4183)

on June 19, 2010
at 01:51 PM

But they must be eating Omega 6 over 4% for a good proportion of the year, that was my point. There's no proviso in the 4% ratio rule that as long as you adhere to it 4 months of the year you're ok.

4145b36f1488224964edac6258b75aff

(7821)

on June 18, 2010
at 02:31 PM

I read Don's comment, but it doesn't affect my answer. There's a bell curve of availability which is probably a function of seasonal availability combined with how much effort and planning they put into their consumption strategy. It's not as if they are all eating 50% of their calories from these nuts every single day of the year, nor even 8 months of the year. They eat some that often, but there's no way they eat exactly the same amount all year round.

1
8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5

(2433)

on June 20, 2010
at 03:01 PM

Note also that the data about !Kung consumption of Mongongo nuts (and the idea of it being their staple food) is from the 1970's. The Marshall Family (book: The Old Way) spent a few years with the !Kung in the 1950's, and the staple food according to them was root vegetables.

So perhaps the !Kung diet began to change (for the worse, presumably) once the "civilized" folk began interfering.

1
1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on June 20, 2010
at 01:59 AM

Total omega-6 consumption needs to be put into context with omega-3 consumption.

This graph from William Lands illustrates a model of how much omega-6 is incorporated into body tissues (y axis) depending on the amount in diet (x axis).

Contrast the Greenlanders, who consume 4% of their calories as omega-3, with the Japanese who consume 1% of their calories as omega-6.

At 8% of calories from omega-6, the Japanese population will have roughly 50% more omega-6 in their tissue (60% vs 40%).

Similarly, the high amount of omega-6 in the !Kung diet may not be as bad as it seems if it is offset with a relatively large amount of omega-3.

1a8020e101199de55c1b3b726f342321

(1973)

on June 20, 2010
at 04:31 PM

They seem to hunt a fair amount of wild game, it's difficult to say without better accounts of their diet.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on June 20, 2010
at 05:07 AM

Since the !kung don't eat much, if any, seafood...that would be low.

1
667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 18, 2010
at 05:23 PM

i think the OP is spot-on when he said that perhaps after a lifetime of SAD etc and rancid n6-consumption that going high-n6 now, even though you may be a lot healthier and primalpaleo, would pose a problem. I think those !Kung one, like someone mentioned, prolly arent the best representation of HGs since they have been encroached upon and may have effed up their environment (or had it effed up by someone else) kind of like Jared Diamond writes regarding Easter Island, etc. And two, they prolly have lived a relative-to-us healthy lifelong lifestyle without all of our toxins, yknow? So their foundational health may allow them to handle a slightly higher n6 load, as compared to you and I doing paleo now after 30 years of SAD life.

96bf58d8c6bd492dc5b8ae46203fe247

(37227)

on December 24, 2011
at 02:48 AM

Or 60+ years of SAD? :-))

0
7841848bd0c27c64353c583fb7971242

(7275)

on December 24, 2011
at 02:36 AM

Marjorie Shostak also says in the book, Nisa, that the year the !Kung's diet was analyzed (1968) was a severe drought year, and normally they'd eat fewer mongongo nuts (which survive in drought) and more meat.

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