What Did the Caveman Really Eat

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 08/31/2023

There are a lot of theories out there saying that we should eat like the cavemen ate. The idea behind diets like the Paleo diet is that modern food is not ideal for the human body, and we can get healthier if we only eat the kinds of foods that would have been available to our prehistoric ancestors. But if we really want to eat the same foods that early humans did, then we actually need to know what caveman food really looked like.

This information can help us to understand if we should be eating more meat and going more carnivore, if we should tend towards veganism, or if somewhere in between is healthiest. So let’s take a closer look at what caveman food actually was, how the caveman really ate, and what I’d recommend as far as a balanced, nutritious diet.

In this article, I will cover:

Let’s start by looking at recent evidence from archeologists who studied what the cavemen ate 780,000 years ago.

Man dressed as caveman in leopard print holds knife and fork, caveman food, what did cavemen eat.


 

Studies show caveman food included plants and animals

A few years ago, a study came out highlighting interesting findings from several archeologists investigating a site in northern Israel. The findings provided evidence for what humans ate 780,000 years ago, helping us to answer the question “What did the caveman really eat?”

They found that humans ate a combination of both plants and animals.

Specifically, they found that humans consumed a large range of plants, including things like:

  • Thistle seed
  • Water lilies
  • Acorns
  • Water chestnuts
  • Olives
  • Some seasonal fruit

They also found that humans ate animal products, such as:

  • Whole animals
  • Elephant brains
  • Insects

In other areas of the world, findings have shown that cavemen ate whatever they could find, including insects, milk, fat from seals, and much more.

This evidence shows us that our ancestors ate both plants and animals. So if we are looking to eat foods that our bodies adapted to eat long, long ago, then a combination of plants and animals is probably best.

Cartoon illustration of caveman holding meat stick and chasing vegetables, hunter gatherer.


 

More evidence that we need both plants and animals in our diet

It isn’t just archeological evidence from what the cavemen ate that suggests a combination of animal and plant foods is best. We can also come to that same conclusion if we look at how our bodies are designed and the nutrients we require in our diets.

Here are some of the other factors that suggest a balanced diet of plants and animals is preferred.

1.Our nutritional needs

There are certain nutrients we need in our diets that the body cannot make. These are considered “essential,” meaning that we must we get them from our diets in order to survive and stay healthy.

These essential vitamins and nutrients come from a variety of food sources, both plant, and animal. Here are some examples:

  • Vitamin C. The body cannot make its own vitamin C, so we depend on our food to get it. Vitamin C comes from plant-based foods such as leafy greens, bell peppers, sauerkraut, cabbage, and more. If we don’t eat these plants, we cannot get the vitamin C we need to stay healthy.
  • Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is another vitamin we have to get from the foods we consume. Unlike vitamin C which comes from plants, vitamin B12 comes primarily from animal products. It is highest in things like meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. Vegan sources of B12 are much harder to come by. This indicates that we need to consume animal products for optimal health.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Another type of nutrient we need in our diets is the omega-3 fatty acids. The most powerful of these are DHA and EPA, which come primarily from fish. There is another type of omega 3 called ALA that comes from plants and can be converted into the active DHA form. However, the conversion of ALA to DHA is not very efficient, and it is hard to get enough omega-3 fatty acids through this conversion process alone. Again, this suggests that we probably need more than just plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids. We really weren’t designed to exclusively rely on plant-based omega 3s.
     

Close-up photo of meat and vegetables, steaks with peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, on cutting board.


These are just a few examples of the varying types of nutrients we need and the different food sources they come from.

As you can see, some essential nutrients come primarily from plant foods, while others come from animal products. If we exclusively eat only plants or only animal products, we likely won’t be able to get all the nutrients we need to keep our bodies functioning optimally.

2.The design of our digestive system

Additional evidence for a combination of plant and animal foods comes from the design of our digestive systems.

When we look at the digestive tract, we can see that certain parts are optimized to digest plant foods, while other parts are optimized for animal foods.

Medical illustration of digestive system anatomy showing stomach, intestines, colon, digestion.


For example, our stomach has a low pH that is between 1 and 3. This acidity helps make the stomach ideal for digesting dense protein. The stomach is used primarily for protein digestion, such as the protein in meat.

The colon, on the other hand, has a higher pH (around 5.5 to 7). This is similar to the pH of a cow’s stomach, which is designed to digest and ferment plant fibers. It is not designed to digest dense protein.

Additionally, when we look at the small intestine, we can see that it is ideal for fat and protein digestion – not fiber.

By looking at the structure and function of the digestive system as a whole, we can see that we are designed to have both plant and animal foods in our diets. The various parts of the digestive system are each meant to break down and digest different types of foods; some parts are ideal for meat and animal products while others are ideal for fruits and vegetables.

 

The bottom line

If you are wondering whether you should be eating mostly meat, only plants, or some specific type of diet like the paleo diet, here is the bottom line:

I personally believe you should be somewhere in the middle, eating a combination of both plants and animal products.

Our bodies are meant to run on the nutrients that come from both plants and animals. And this idea is supported by the studies of caveman food showing that our ancestors ate a range of both plant and animal foods.

If you eat only plants or only animals, problems can occur. Learn more here:

Healthy ketogenic diet foods, balance of plant and animal foods, meat and vegetables on table.


If you want to be eating a healthy diet that is full of the nutrition your body needs to function optimally, consider eating both plant foods and animal products. Make sure to get plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables into your diet like leafy greens, and add in quality animal products like grass-fed beef and dairy.

This balance of animal and plant foods is a good combination if you want to satisfy your nutritional requirements and feed your body the way it was intended to be fed.

What are your thoughts on caveman food? Do you tend towards a vegan diet or a carnivorous one? Leave your comments and questions below.

References

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Disclaimer: Our educational content is not meant or intended for medical advice or treatment.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for quality and relevancy.
 

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