September 14th 2020
The Hadza Diet: How eating like a hunter-gatherer benefits your gut
October 26th 2017 / 0 comment
The Hadza people is said to have the healthiest gut microbiome in the world. Here’s what we can learn from their seasonal diet...
From better mental health to greater immunity and less reactive skin, we’re starting to recognise how vital healthy gut flora and a diverse microbiome is to our overall wellbeing, but part of the secret to an optimum gut environment could well lie in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the 40,000 year old Hadza tribe, who have lived in the same area of Tanzania for centuries. Scientists have found that the Hadza tribe, which numbers around 1000 people, has one of the most complex and beneficial spectrums of gut bacteria in the world, with researchers comparing 350 stool samples of the Hadza to 17 other samples from populations across the globe. Not only did the Hadza possess an abundance of healthy gut microbes when contrasted with the average Western example, but their microbiome also shifted with the seasons, with bacteria never seen in the West coming into bloom during certain times of the year, owing to the dietary variations during dry and wet season. Their rates of disease are far lower than in industrialised countries, which is thought to be directly linked to the microbe party going on in their guts.
In an exercise to examine whether it’s possible to diversify gut flora by adopting a Hadza style of eating, Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at Kings College London, travelled and ate with the Hadza while analysing his stool samples along the way (all in the name of science that could save us). He discovered that after just three days, the variety of “good” bacteria in his microbiome had increased by 20 per cent, and he had even acquired said rare strains of bacteria that are now acknowledged as mightily favourable to human health and longevity. With a diet based on tubers, meat and baobab fruit in the dry season, and an abundance of berries and honey in the wet season, the Hadza hunt over 30 different species of mammal, and forage for plants on a daily basis. They eat no processed foods and never take antibiotics, which is a big plus from a gut microbiome point of view, and while we in the West are unlikely to be spearing a porcupine or giving up our prescriptions any time soon (although there’s currently a government led health drive against our over reliance on antibiotics), there are a few key learnings we can take from the Hadza plate…
Shop with the seasons
Or, ideally, grow your own fruit and veg all year round. If you don’t have a cabbage patch, be aware of what’s in season when, and it’ll have an added benefit for your wallet in addition to your wellbeing- buying produce in season is economical. There’s a reason that strawberries are five times the price in December and taste of water.
Fill up on fibre
On average, us Brits consume 15g of fibre per day. The NHS target is 30g. The Hadza get around 100g a day. Go figure. Fibre ferments in the large intestine, allowing healthy gut bacteria to flourish, so alongside keeping you regular, it’s key to maintaining good health across the board. Prioritise fibre rich foods in your diet, and for an easy and zingy fibrous addition, consider adding baobab powder to your morning porridge or smoothie- it’s a Hadza staple and has a 50 per cent fibre content, alongside sky high levels of vitamin C, fatty acids and omegas. It also tastes weirdly like sherbert, which is welcome.
Eat when you’re hungry
The Hadza don’t freak out if they don’t have their Pret baguette by 1pm. Hunting and foraging are for obvious reasons rather unpredictable in terms of outcome, seeking food often involves long walks, and during certain times of the year the community can go for up to nine hours without food. That said, their hunter-gatherer skills are so sharp that they never go unsustained for too long, and while they’re very much in tune with their hunger, they’re never starving. They eat when they need to, no more and no less.
Cut down on processed foods
When popping to the shops isn’t an option, it’s not hard to resist the lure of a sugary chocolate bar or salty pastry, but researchers believe that the lack of refined and processed foods in the Hadza diet contributes towards their generally glowing bill of health. While it’s wrong to write off all processed foods as unhealthy by nature, we all know that gorging on junk does nothing for our body or brain, and the rumbling, sore gut after a Hob Nob too many is probably indicative that our gut doesn’t prosper on processed foods alone either. Sort of obvious, but a key Hadza takeaway.
Consider taking a probiotic
From reducing our dependence on antibiotics to reducing the likelihood of us getting ill in the first place, probiotics get a good rap in health communities, and taking a good quality supplement could boost and diversify your healthy gut bacteria after even just a few days. Watch how you’re taking them though- they’re sensitive specimens. Check this guide to getting the most out of your probiotic supplement before you dive into the bacteria pool.
Sharing is caring
The Hadza never eat alone- all food is shared, mealtimes are communal and everyone pitches in, whether it’s cooking a potato, killing a porcupine or gathering honey from a bee’s nest (I know which of the three I’d pick). While not of direct benefit to their gut microbiome, the rituals and conviviality around food and mealtimes likely improves social bonds while fostering an appreciation of food and preventing any one individual from having more than their fill, all of which have to lead to better health in the long run.