Obesity in ancient Egypt


Ten or twelve years ago we wrote in Protein Power about the data contained in the vast amount of ancient Egyptian mummies. We pointed out that several thousand years ago when the future mummies roamed the earth their diet was a nutritionist’s nirvana. At least a nirvana for all the so-called nutritional experts of today who are recommending a diet filled with whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and little meat, especially red meat. Follow such a diet, we’re told, and we will enjoy abundant health.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for the Egyptians. They followed such a diet simply because that’s all there was. There was no sugar – it wouldn’t be produced for another thousand or more years. The only sweet was honey, which was consumed in limited amounts. The primary staple was a coarse bread made of stone-ground, whole wheat. Animals were used as beasts of burden and were valued much more for the work they could do than for the meat they could provide. The banks of the Nile provided fertile soil for growing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, all of which were a part the low-fat, high-carbohydrate Egyptian diet. And there were no artificial sweeteners, artificial coloring, artificial flavors, preservatives, or any of the other substances that are part of all the manufactured foods we eat today.

Were the nutritionists of today right about their ideas of the ideal diet, the ancient Egyptians should have had abundant health. But they didn’t. In fact, they suffered pretty miserable health. Many had heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity – all the same disorders that we experience today in the ‘civilized’ Western world. Diseases that Paleolithic man, our really ancient ancestors, appeared to escape.

The press has been filled with reports of the recent discovery – thanks to DNA analysis – of the mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt for around 15 years 3500 years ago.

According to the New York Times, Hatshepsut’s mummy is that of an obese, diabetic 50 year old woman with bad teeth. All the conditions that nutritionists today would have us believe would be prevented by Hatshepsut’s diet. It certainly didn’t work for her. And she is not a special case – most Egyptian mummies show the same disorders, especially the bad teeth. The skeletal remains of Paleolithic man, who consumed a meat-based diet, showed strong, perfect teeth. Bad teeth are the hallmark of carbohydrate consumption.


Here is an X-ray of Hatshepsut’s mouth. You can see cavities, lost teeth, and evidence of severe tooth abscesses, which had to have been miserably painful.

hatshepsutstatue.jpgHatshepsut’s statue pictured to the right shows her in her idealized form. I’m sure most of the Egyptian graphics and statuary of the time represented people in a thin, healthy state instead of the shape they were really in. Based on the mummy data many ancient Egyptians were obese, which is clearly not represented in their contemporary artistic renditions. If one were to look through on issue of Cosmopolitan or GQ or virtually any magazine to day and look at the people in all the ads, one would think no one is obese now. Which clearly isn’t the case. I suspect that the ancient Egyptians intuitively figured that thin and trim people were more attractive than obese ones and created their pictures accordingly.

One other interesting aspect of Hatshepsut’s mummy is that it appears that she died from metastatic cancer. Cancer has been tough to find in mummified and skeletal remains, leading most researchers to assume that the rates of cancer today are driven by environmental contaminants that weren’t present in ancient times.

The moral of this tale of ancient poor health is that a whopping load of carbs – even non-refined carbs – didn’t do Hatshepsut a whole lot of good, and they don’t do us much good either irrespective of the bleatings to the contrary by today’s nutritionists, who are woefully unaware of the history of the high-carb diet.

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85 thoughts on “Obesity in ancient Egypt

  1. You are completely wrong: the state of Hatshepsut was obviously caused by a statin deficiency.

    Yet she doesn’t look too bad for a 3500 years old girl.

    Hi Max–

    A statin deficiency, eh?  I hadn’t thought of that. 

    She may not look bad for 3500 years old, but looking at that mouth X-ray, I imagine she’s got pretty bad breath.



  2. I once asked a friend who is an amateur Egyptologist what the Egyptians ate, and she distinguished between ordinary people and the rich. The ordinary people ate bread, onions, and beer, the latter of which “was not a meagre addition to the diet. It was made by fermenting barley bread in vats and was apparently
    served minimally strained and rather thick, so it was more of a meal than a beverage.”

    Of the rich she said, “For the upper classes cattle, sheep, ducks and geese, cranes, and pigeons provided protein, as well as a variety of wild game hunted in the desert, including oryx and gazelle. There were both wild and domesticated goats, and they did have pigs, although they have appeared most often in the context of trampling the grain into the sown fields, and they were clearly used for food in Ptolemaic and Roman times.”

    “In their gardens they grew green beans, lentils, chickpeas, fenugreek, radishes, cucumber, lettuces, and herbs. Fruits included figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates. Honey was used both as a sweetener, and as an anti-bacterial in poultices.”

    Oddly fish, which was abundant, was avoided because “to eat fish made one ritually impure.”

    I think overeating of any kind, even “paleolithic overeating” can trigger diabetes in people with a genetic susceptibility. And of course the upper classes with access to all this meat PLUS sweet fruits and honey and bread as well would also have done very little labor.

    Hi Gretchen–

    I consider myself something of an amateur Egyptologist, having read widely in the literature of professional Egyptologists.  Most seem to think that the largest amount of calories in all walks of life came from carbohydrates, many of which your friend described.  Meat – even for the rich – was not an everyday food.  The rich just got a whole lot more carbohydrates than the poor.  Most of the mummies that have been preserved were from well-to-do people because they were the only ones who could afford it. (The poor were basically laid out to dessicate.)  And most of the mummies show these well-to-do people with horrible dental problems (the hallmark of excess carb consumption), obesity, and even arteriosclerosis and heart disease.  Paleolithic remains are typically skeletal remains, but they show good, strong teeth and healthy bones with few signs of infection and/or malnutrition (all of which can be determined in skeletal remains).  We know that Paleolithic man ate a meat-based diet.  And we know that the health of the average man took a turn for the worse when large quantities of carb became available after the agricultural revolution took place.

    The logical conclusion is that the lousy health found in Egyptian mummies was more than likely a function of their extremely high-carb diet.  Had the rich people eaten a meat-based diet without the carbs, they would have had perfect teeth just like their Paleolithic ancestors.

    And I disagree about overeating a Paleolithic diet.  It’s very difficult to do because meat is satiating.  No one binge eats on steak and eggs.  They binge eat on high-carb foods because those foods override the shutoff response in the hypothalamus.



    • this is hilarious!!! “it’s very difficult to do because meat is satiating. ”
      Hello.. USA thanksgiving dinner??! umm.. have you ever seen a heavy meat eater’s gut.. usually distended .. the only way to get that IS binge eating.

        • I agree. I see people stuffing themselves on stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, mashed potatoes, and let’s not forget the desserts! I’ve seen vegans in food coma after a Thanksgiving dinner…

          • Yeah, it’s so obvious that Thanksgiving is mostly carbs that the idea that people are over-eating meat is laughable.

            Cranberry sauce: carbs
            Sweet potatoes: carbs
            Stuffing: carbs
            potatoes: carbs
            rolls/bread: carbs
            Turkey: meat

            So out of six items, not including dessert items, commonly found in Thanksgiving dinner, only 1 is meat. I don’t know anyone who only eats Turkey and stuffs themselves silly from it.

    • Let’s not forget that the wealthy ate mostly wheat, while the lower down on the ladder you got, the more barley and millet you ate. The wealthy ate near-white bread; their flour was sifted to make it as fine and white as possible. Honey? Elites adored sweets and guzzled wine sweetened with honey, honey was added to beer, and then there were all the honey-soaked baked goods to consider. Ancient Egypt was very rigidly controlled; farms were inspected regularly by clerks, and harvests were stored in temples whence rations were issued.

    • I read recently in New Scientist that ancient hunter-gatherers had rotten teeth by eating lots of nuts, especially pine nuts. That is the most likely explanation for rotten teeth.

      • Hunter-gatherers tended to have excellent teeth, except for those heavily dependent on acorns – rich in carbohydrates.

  3. This subject fascinates me. I believe the last chapter of “Protein Power” touched on this.

    It was an early chapter in the hardcover edition.  When PP went to paperback the idiotic new editor we had at that time insisted that it be put in the back.  She actually wanted to get rid of the entire chapter because she didn’t think it was particularly interesting.  We prevailed on her to keep it, but she insisted it be in the back of the book as an epilogue.



  4. Dr. Mike:

    1. In case you haven’t seen this one from the UK Times about the findings of some Swedish researchers, here’s the link, the headline and a short excerpt:

    July 2, 2007
    Stone-age diet ‘could prevent diabetes’

    Diabetes could be avoided if people ate a “Stone-age” diet consisting of fruit, nuts, vegetables and lean meat or fish, a study suggests. Scientists found that patients with poor glucose control improved their ability to handle sugar vastly after switching to prehistoric eating habits. The “Palaeolithic” diet given to volunteers was similar to what early modern humans were eating when they first migrated from Africa 70,000 years ago.>>>>

    It looks like maybe the word about carb restriction really is starting to get out there.

    2. Max’s comment about “statin deficiency” was droll and funny. Maybe if the diet/cholesterol hypothesis finally crashes and burns, even Dr. Reckless will change his mind.

    3. Dr. Mike, don’t know if you have ever addressed the question of carb intake and inflammation. What is your take? Can a restricted carb diet reduce or even reverse that risk?


    • Why on earth do they say “LEAN meat”?! No one ever ate lean meat until recently. They ate more or less the whole animal. And, eating lean meat is NOT a healthy plan – especially with those old carbs still available around you EVERYWHERE. It is fat first an foremost which produces satiety and it is the only energy replacement for glucose (which comes from carbs AND “lean meat”, BTW).

      Eat the whole animal, doggonit!

      • So true, SMorgan. It is coming up seven years since this article was published and comments began, yet still the press and good doctors tout low fat. In a sad way that is sort of good for those in the know. Because of this ignorance (lack of knowledge and understanding-not meant in any insulting way) I get my beef fat for free from Superstore: loads of it.
        And to boot, liver, heart, tongue and other organ meats from the bovine are not expensive. I truly look to they day when this is not the prevalent.

        I have studied health issues most of my adult life so can easily sift the base from the precious. Nora Gedgaudas is about the best there is for understanding diet, its ancient history and the needs of today. Walter Last is one of the best nutritional experts out there. These two are not only a great start for the uninitiated, the breadth of their research and training is extensive and goes far beyond diet and obesity, building on the great work that went before them.

        I remember reading the Eades’ article on the Egyptians and actually like the placement of the article. To me it gave poignancy and was so easy to find when I wanted to re-read it or point it out to others. It is one of the greatest eye-openers on the subject of diet and health, ever.

        I take my hat off to the great pioneers in search of true health. They have done their good work to up seat the cunning exploits of Ancel Keys. Keys hangs right up there among the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity. Ignorance is not accepted in law and should not be in historical evasluayion. And he began with the President. Sheesh.

  5. Hi Mike–this raises an interesting question. Are you aware of studies showing any correlation, in various countries, between carb consumption and conditions like obestiy, diabetes, and heart disease? My guess is that (like studies comparing fat consumption and heart diesease) the results would be all over the map because diet is only one of a multitude of factors affecting these conditions. That said, what are your thoughts regarding countries where grain consumption is high but obesity is low (e.g. Japan)?

    Hi Paul–

    You’re right.  The studies are all over the map, and few conclusions – if any -can be drawn from them.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that no conclusions could be drawn from them whatsoever.  Epidemiologic studies are good for forming hypotheses, not for proving causality.

    As to the Japanese and grains…

    First, you’ve got to remember that there is more than the respective amounts of macronutrients that make up a diet: there are calories as well.  If I eat 4000 calories, 30 percent of which are carbs, then I’ve eaten 300 grams of carbs providing 1200 calories.  If you eat 2000 calories, 50 percent of which are carbs, you’ve eaten 250 grams of carbs providing 1000 calories.  I’ve eaten more carbs than you even though you’ve eaten a larger percentage of carbs compared to your total diet than have I.

    Americans – especially less affluent ones -tend to eat until they’re stuffed whereas the Japanese (and all Asians in general) tend to eat more for flavor and enjoyment of eating.  Those that do stuff in the carbs – Sumo wrestlers, for example – become obese.  Those who eat sanely don’t.



  6. Makes you wonder why these findings aren’t getting any press, doesn’t it? NOT that I have become cynical.

    Thank again Dr. Mike, for really USEFUL research.


    Hi Marilyn–

    It got press; just not the right kind.



  7. I agree it’s difficult to overeat on a “paleolithic diet,” which is one reason I prefer it. I’m not hungry all the time as I was on a low-fat diet. But I’m sure it’s possible in a royal household where people lounged around all day and ate for amusement—if any royal households followed paleolithic diets, which they probably didn’t because all humans love fruits and honey.

    Also, I didn’t mean to suggest that upper-class Egyptians followed a paleolithic diet and ate almost no carbs. Just that they did seem to have access to meat, at least sometimes, which the lower classes probably didn’t.

    Re moving the chapter on Egyptian diets to the end of the paperback, I noticed that and always wondered why it was done, as I found it one of the more interesting chapters in my hardcover copy of PP.

    Wasn’t it PP that said when upper-class Egyptians got diabetes they sent them to live with the peasants? I assume they had to work like peasants as well as having fewer calories.

    Hi Gretchen–

    Nope, it wasn’t PP that had the bit about the upper classes going to live with the peasants.  Your mentioning it was the first I’ve heard of it.



  8. Thanks for this discussion Mike. I just taught a topic this summer not directly related to nutrition but dental bacteria. Although I teach Microbiology I always, somehow, relate the topics to nutrition and the students seem to enjoy that, perhaps because it’s never been taught that way to them. For example, talking about bacteria in the digestive track, we saw how an increase in sugar consumption favors the development of dental bacteria, which when cooperating with other bacteria, they form plaque. These bacteria grow better in sucrose than glucose, which then makes the point of sugar and sugary foods and their connection with tooth decay (if not taken care of). Then I made the connection to fossils such as the one in the pictures you offered to make the point that tooth decay is not found in fossils from hunter-gatherers while abundant in fossils from agricultural groups. We even isolated a few of those from volunteer students. It’s always enjoyable the ‘ahá’ moment when they make the important connections!

    When I read your comment about calories and the amount of carbohydrate in different caloric intake situations, I can’t help but react a bit. Assuming that protein, the cornerstone of the cornerstone of the PP plan is really adequate while keeping fat intake moderate and limiting carbohydrates, then calories are not the star of the equation, in my opinion that is. We can’t even apply the standard calorie rule to a typical PP menu, unless we correct for the now smaller contribution of carbohydrates. The whole picture changes and we could overestimate calories a great deal. When you wrote that calories take care of themselves in PP, I did have one of those ‘ahá’ moments myself.

    So, because is virtually impossible to overeat when protein is the main component of the diet (for the reasons you explained above), then it’s not the same to talk about a large amount of calories from a diet with little carbohydrate than a standard, say FDA-like diet. Even if the number of calories is seemingly large, if enough protein is included, then the effect is not weight gain. Several studies, mainly from Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga, suggest that after weight loss on a low-carbohydrate diet (with more protein than normally recommended), weight gain did happen but it came from fat-free mass and it didn’t exceed 1-2 kg; no caloric restriction and not trying to aim for a caloric level either.

    I guess the point is that we still dwell too much in the calorie issue and that takes a lot from the actual effect of protein-rich food as people think that, regardless of where they come from, a lot of calories will necessarily end up in weight gain.

    A final comment, and perhaps you would like to blog on that at some point, is about the proposal for including nutritional information on the menu of fast-food restaurants (right now I’m not sure if that also includes regular restaurants as well).

    Perhaps the idea is sound, but what exactly is going to show up as ‘nutritional information’? Some AMA geniuses suggest the amount of fat and calories, as well as cholesterol, sodium and fiber. Thus people will be ‘well informed’ about their nutritional choices… You’ve blogged about fiber, sodium, of course fat and cholesterol, all of them not adding much to an already misinformed body of knowledge about obesity and its co-morbidities. Who knows, maybe in some 2000 years somebody will find mummified 21st century champ with bad teeth, signs of obesity, proud of having made the best choices based on what he/she read on the menu at the local McDonald’s.

    Hi Gabe–

    I agree with you 100 percent on the protein/calories issue.  It has the making of a full post.



  9. I do not agree with your opinion about binging on meat and eggs. It might be rare, but it is possible. Unfortunately, I am one of the people who never got significant appetite suppression on lowcarb (even when I was just eating meat and eggs). I read about people who can eat 1000-1200 kcal a day of lowcarb food and I wonder why I do not get that benefit. I have been lowcarbing for 4 years and I can easily it 3000-4000 kcal of just meat and eggs a day. I am female, 5’5″, 150-155lbs, I have PCOS, hypothyroidism and gluten sensitivity. I am optimised on my thyroid medication. Please tell me what is wrong with me and how to fix it.
    I read your blog entry about leptin and I wonder if I am somewhat resistant to leptin. Is it possible in non-obese folks?

    Thank you.

    P.S. I do believe lowcarb and unprocessed foods are healthy. I will never return to eating grains and other high carb junk.
    P.P.S. Your blog is great!

    Hi julia–

    Of course you are right.  One of the things we learn in medical school is that there are no absolutes.  There is always someone, somewhere for whom a particular medicine, diet or other therapy doesn’t work.  Unfortunately, you happen to be the one here.



    • Julia, you should replace the carbs with fat, and keep protein at a normal level. That will reduce your appetite. Meat and eggs alone is too much protein and too little fat. Try garlic butter and butter sauces on the side.

  10. Dr. Mike – When you say low carbs are bad for dental health, what types of finding are you referring to? Aren’t the teeth largely formed in utero and during early childhood? Did you intend to imply that low carb can lead to straight teeth? If so, what is the mechanism that causes this?

    Hi Brian–

    I’m not referring to the straightness of teeth, but the condition of the teeth.   Carbs cause dental decay, i.e., cavities.  And they cause periodontal disease.  I can’t tell you how many patients I’ve had who, after being on a low-carb diet for a while, told me that their dentists told them their gums were so much healthier.


  11. A lot of things that are not considered here..

    most importantly inbreeding/genetics and stone cooked into the already very hard bread (stone from the mill ) that wore the teeth down.

    I’m glad to see you’ve made a serious study of the issue. 

  12. Hi, Dr. Eades. I think you are spot on with the hypothesis regarding dental caries discovered in mummies. Your comments in this article reminded me of Price’s observations of the oral health of primitive peoples who had not been introduced to a Western diet. Thanks for your insight.

  13. Hi Doc,

    First I wish to say thank for your writing the wonderful Protein Power book. I have read many volumes of information on diet and exercise. I was one of those people that would work out to the extreme but would never lose the weight like I thought I should. At one point I was running 7 to 8 miles a day. And I am a martial arts instructor as well. So I do get a good amount of exercise.

    It wasn’t until I removed the carbs from my diet that I really lost significant weight. I have tried many different things over the years. But I find that low carb is the one thing that works. I have found that with myself I tend to have to eat lower carb than a lot of people do. Many times I find myself eating meals and snacks that have no carbs at all.

    Odly enough, I tend to have to remind myself to eat. I try to make sure that I eat 3 meals and then eat a couple of snacks along the way as well. After going from a 46 inch waist to a 36 inch waist I find that all I have to do to motivate myself is to look down at my stomach and think what it used to look like.

    Now what I didn’t expect was that I would actually get to where I really don’t like sugar. Now it tastes bad to me. It is just too sweet.

    Oh, and here is something very interesting. I have fought with psoriasis my entire life. And now that my carbs are very very low my skin has cleared up. I wasn’t really expecting that but am very glad of it.

    I also used to have some tooth pain. My family never knew because there was no need to bother anyone with it. But now that the sugar is gone so is the tooth pain. I would almost swear that my teeth are getting stronger.

    To top it all off, I sleep better than ever and have as much energy as I need. Also, I don’t seem to catch colds like I used to.

    Now, when I went to school I studied chemistry. And I understand a good bit of what is going on. I find it very frustrating, though, to try and share this information with others. So many of them have been brain washed by the current medical wisdom that they are unwilling to accept that there may be a better way.

    I can’t say that this diet is the perfect one. But it is the one that I have found that works. And I plan to stay on it for the rest of my life.

    Thanks so much for what you have done to help all of us out here that will listen.


    Hi George–

    What a testimonial! I’m delighted to learn that you have done so well.

    Thanks very much for writing. Missives like yours make my day.




    Maybe because of the bread and plants… Glad you liked the article.



  15. This is an interesting report by the BBC:

    Health Hazards and Cures in Ancient Egypt
    By Joyce M Filer

    “Anaemia, often a consequence of iron deficiency during childhood, leaves markers on the roofs of the eye sockets or on the top of skulls in the form of small holes … In ancient Egypt, iron deficiency could have been caused by infestation of bloodsucking parasites… or by people living on a largely cereal diet, with relatively little iron content…”


    Hi David–

    I’ve got some great slides in a paleopathology presentation I give showing these striking signs of iron-deficiency anemia in the roofs of the eye sockets. These findings are almost non-existent in pre-agricultural humans (many of whom would have been infested with parasites) and extremely common in post-agricultural humans.

    Thanks for the link.



  16. I just wanted you to know that I am citing you in a research paper about Egyptian foodways and their benefits and consequences.

    THANK YOU!!! There were some issues I hadn’t thought about, and I really appreciate your easy-to-read, straight-to-the-point, humorous take on the high-carb issues. Gramercies! Would you be interested in reading it sometime?

    Sure. Post the link if it is online.

  17. Hi. I’ve been reading your blog and enjoy it. I have no dog in any diet fight, and am a layman lost in the sea of competing claims. I do enjoy learning.

    The Paleolithic diet seems intuitively correct, and I basically eat that way by default, but my question is:

    With an optimal diet, wasn’t life expectancy still around age 40 or less for paleolithic peoples? And if so, can we conclude that diet is not the most important factor in increasing life expectancy?

    e.g. The queen died at 50 with diet induced disease, but is that worse than dying at 40 in relatively good health?

  18. Hi,
    I am a physical anthropologist who works in Egypt, and I wanted to make a comment about the dental health of the Egyptians. While it is true that diet had a big effect on teeth, I would argue that it was not the food itself that caused the problems, but the food preparation technique. Almost all the problems that the Egyptians faced with their teeth comes from wear (attrition) and not the carbohydrate content of their food. Bread, the staple of the diet, was made from processed wheat, which was ground with stones. Because of this technique the bread was full of grit, which caused significant wearing of the teeth over time. This wear eventually caused the introduction of bacteria into the tooth, causing cavities, abscesses, etc. The worst dental conditions are found in the older individuals in the population… the young have beautiful teeth in most cases (which would not be the case if carbohydrates were causing the dental conditions). Dental caries are relatively rare until after the wear process begins. In this case, I do not think that the Egyptians are a good example of what you are trying to suggest with high carbohydrate diets.

    I would also like to comment on the diabetes comment… I am not sure why it is suggested that Hatshesput had diabetes. There is some evidence that has been interpreted to come from the medical papyri that the Egyptians may have recognized diabetes, but this is contested. There are no physical remains yet published that suggest diabetes. If you have any sources on this beyond the New York Times article and speculation, I would love to hear about it.


    As I see it both the medical and the anthropological literature are full of papers correlating carbohydrate consumption with dental caries. I don’t know why it should be any different with the ancient Egyptians. I assume the wear of the teeth from grit in the bread would accelerate the process, but if Egyptians had perfect teeth while eating the amount of carbohydrate they ate, they would be unusual.

    From my reading on the subject and from my attendance of a number of paleopathology conferences, there is little doubt that ancient Egyptians suffered from heart disease and obesity. If so, why wouldn’t they have had diabetes as well, since these disorders go hand in hand?

  19. “Bad teeth are the hallmark of carbohydrate consumption.”

    Ever read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price? Apperantly not.

    The native people of the Swiss Alps subsist on their traditional foods, the eat some vegetables and meat about once a week but the diet predominates of equally sized whole rye bread and cheese, normaly an equal porportion of cheese is put on top of the rye bread. Just for the record I am not necessarily recommending this diet. Despite the carbohydrate intake in the rye and cheese, Price found that they had great teeth and bone health. Of course paleo man had great teeth as well as Inuit(Eskimo) who eat almost no carbs at all, but this IS NOT an argument against carbohydrate consumption(in the form of whole foods) with a nearly equal porportion of animal foods.

    Theres the anti fat anti cholesterol crew and then you have the anti carb crew, both are the same.

  20. The way I worded that might be confusing… To clarify, I didnt mean it to look like both vegetables and meat are eaten only once a week. A limited amount of garden stuff is grown, chiefly green foods for summer use and im not sure if they are preserved or if they eat wild foods. Meat is eaten about once a week.

    The traditional diets of the Swiss Alps vary little from village to village but they still include a significant amount of carbs and they have great teeth, physiques, absense from modern disease.
    The nutrition of the people of the Loetschental Valley, particularly that of the growing boys and girls, consists largely of a slice of whole rye bread and a piece of the summer-made cheese (about as large as the slice of bread), which are eaten with fresh milk of goats or cows. This meal is like 28 grams carbs 18 grams fat. Despite consuming signicant amount of carbs they still have great teeth! This can also be attested to by the fact that many of the famous Swiss guards of the Vatican at Rome, are said to have the finest physiques in all of Europe. They are, in Price’s own words, “the admiration of the world and are the pride of Switzerland”, and have been selected from this and other Alpine valleys to be guards.

    So you take people on a high carb junk diet or high carb fat deficient diet and say its the fault of carbs.

    There is no consistent image of what paleo man ate and there is no proof that we evolved in paleo times to a low carb diet. I know the evidence that people use to say that paleo man ate a low carb(aka carnivore) its based on half truths.. that is, archeological evidence, more specifically, animal bones found at nearly every homo sight. The problem is that we cannot say that these low carb foods are all that was eaten, plants do not leave behind bones like that! We do really know exactly what paleo people ate and there were many different “paleo men”, some not effected by the ice age at all! Even if paleo people had a low carb diet, this doas not prove that we evolved for this! What we can do is look to digestive biochemistry and nutritional needs. But sadly you resort to deceitfull comparisons and taking studies on low carb diets to show how much healthier they did vs high carb. Consistently ignoring the quality and qunatity issue. You throw the baby out with the bathwater. The world is not black and white, its not high carb vs low carb.

    Fats, while I don’t eat them predominently, I believe from not only my experience but from my book knowledge, that good quality fats build and heal, including saturated fats. You emphasize too much on protein as if more is better. Human breast milk knows perfectly what a growing human needs. Amino acids, Fatty acids AND carbohydrates. If you are getting quality bioavailable protein than requirements are low, carbs are not bad and do not cause bad teeth and we need minerals and fat soluble vitamins to activate them.

    I only wish health and peace upon everybody and honest research.

  21. Jonathan,

    I’m writing to you because I too come from the Weston A Price camp, and also because it looks like Mr. Eades is probably not coming back to this post anytime soon- (Lord knows he’s busy fighting the battle at Tim’s blog right now). You raise some very good points that I wish were addressed more often.

    I think it’s been shown, by Weston Price and others, that people can be healthy with a fair amount of carbs in their diet (unlike the Egyptians, whose soldiers were rationed 5 loaves of bread a day). But the fact remains that humans have ZERO dietary requirement for carbs, unlike fats and proteins. For people who are looking for a cure to their sickness, we’re interested in a human’s optimal diet, not just one that can sustain a healthy person. And if you find that you cannot possibly bear to subsist on less than 30 g of carbs a day, I would take caution as to why your body or mind seems to be dependent on something you biologically have no need for. All vitamins and minerals present in fruits and vegetables are also present in meats, and often more so, as discussed by Barry Groves in the book “Trick and Treat”. As far as I’ve heard, there are no harmful effects from eating only meat, especially if it is left undercooked.

    Notice I said carbs in moderation are okay for a “healthy person”. What I’m inferring from Eades and Groves is that we, in this day and age, do not really fit in that category, because most of us have been exposed to massive over-consumption of carbs in our lifetimes. I’m assuming the argument is that our bodies have been exposed to the insulin surges of sugars and such so often that we are hormonally hooked on carbs, unless we severely restrict them. I consider this an unfortunate flaw in our design that, prior to the agricultural revolution, we never had to face. I know that 10,000 years (4,000 for Europeans) seems like enough time for us to adapt, but that point is debatable among evolutionary scientists.

    As for the diet of pre-agricultural man, I simply have a hunch the meat theory is correct. Our guts are designed for meat, much like a dog’s, and are very far from an ape’s. The disappearance of large land mammals suggests we humans (and previous hominids) had a voracious appetite. And most people don’t realize that vegetables were not that easy to come by, calorically weak, and hard to digest without the use of fire. Fruits only appeared when in season, and usually weren’t as sweet or large as today’s modern breeds. In short, people didn’t have access to a 365 day a year supermarket, with such a wide variety available at all times. I think paleolithic man had little value for plant foods, and they were seen as merely filler. Also, here is an article that mentions a way that they can tell what humans ate from the bones.

    But the fact that the Swiss were able to eat a substantial amount of bread and yet not get cavities is a point worth investigating. I’ve read that tooth decay does not start with the bacteria but with the loss of the tooth enamel, as a result of the blood being low in minerals. (From Rami Nagel’s “Cure Tooth Decay”, I think). Perhaps there were differences between the Swiss and the Egyptians in this aspect. In Protein Power, Eades mentions that carbs somehow leach calcium from bones (I think), and high blood sugar levels inhibit growth hormone production. Also, the Egyptians were not getting enough fat soluble vitamins or protein, all involved with bone formation. Also, the fact that they got a lot of their carbs from fructose (sweet melons, fruits, honey) is a very significant difference, though I think that has more to do with the obesity and artery disease than the teeth.

    In closing, the Swiss could be good role models for us, but who among us is dedicated enough to really make bread like that? Notice in every case of Weston Price using whole grains to heal people, the grains were freshly ground and soaked/fermented. This is why I argue it is easier to exclude the grains altogether. Grains also have plenty of things that set off autoimmune reactions, especially if you have a leaky gut. Again I argue, over-consumption of carbs is the problem, and we have all been subjected to that for most of our lives. What Eades or Groves don’t emphasize enough, but I think is really important, is the issue of gut flora, covered by Natasha Campbell-McBride in “Gut and Psychology Syndrome”. Over-consuming carbs (well, starches and double sugars) actually changes the pH and environment of your intestines and makes it more habitable to bacteria that aren’t supposed to be there, whom eventually punch holes in your gut, inhibit your stomach acid production, and mess up your whole digestive process. I think it is imperative then to starve these carb-loving bacteria. People like the Swiss had good bacteria protecting them which we don’t, for lack of fermented foods and even the chlorination of our water.

    P.S. I agree that maybe Eades puts too much emphasis on the proteins, vs the fats. I think he was hesitant in his first book to support saturated fats that much, or to suggest such a high calorie diet for a weight less regime, but I think he has changed his stance a little since then, as with other things. (Also he had good reason to not recommend fats from animals that are grain-fed: Arachidonic Acid). On the other hand, perhaps the WAPF does not stress proteins enough; although when you eat fatty foods, the two usually go hand in hand.


  23. Here’s some anecdotal evidence for you.

    Growing up, I ate lots and lots of sweets, and was pretty fat as a result. I was known to eat brown sugar, and even white sugar, by the spoonful. And as disgusting as that sounds, I almost never brushed my teeth. Literally, almost never.

    Here’s the funny part: I never had even one cavity. Zero. Zilch. ( And I never had bad breath.) The only thing I can ascribe that to is that I drank a LOT of milk. Up to a half-gallon a day during some periods. Then about age 19, I went on a macrobiotic diet, lost about 60 lbs. to the point that I looked like an concentration camp survivor. Then I was mostly a vegetarian. A couple of years later I went to the dentist, and lo and behold, at age 21, I had my first cavity.

    I don’t believe cavities have anything to do with brushing or flossing. I think it’s pretty much all internal–your dental immune system. And obviously a lot of things contribute to that, but I think Dr. Price pretty well nails it. There could be some genetic factors, but both my mother and father had terrible teeth.

    Again, totally anecdotal, but at least suggestive.

  24. The upper class egyptians (the ones who could afford the mummification process) did not engage in hard labor — or in other words got the heart pumping, cardiovascular EXERCISE.

    It is quite simple really, the upper class were fat, lazy and rich. Especially the kings and queens eat allot of meat, tallow, lard, meats and carbohydrates in the form of grains and got very little or even NO daily, heart pumping, cardiovascular physical activity. Physical labor or exerting oneself or breaking a sweat was seen as lower class work.

    The major means of getting about was, not surprisingly, by foot. The upper class were transported around by carrying-chairs and in chariots, rafts, boats.

    It has been shown time and time and time again in medical studies and in real life how daily, heart pumping cardiovascular exercise can reduce or help to eliminate heart disease, and other diseases and the lack of it can cause it.

    From the research that I have done, I personally believe the Egyptians had heart disease because of their rich diet and lack of heart pumping, challenging, cardiovascular exercise

    Take the Roman men for example: They are allot of barley and were called “Barley Men” but were physically fit, strong despite their high grain consumption. Many men fought in the army well into their senior years. The difference here is that they got allot of cardiovascular exercise.

    Modern day examples would include Mr. Jack Lalanne. He ate a very healthy diet including whole grains (probably not as much as the egyptians did though), but DID NOT eat lard, tallow, rich diet with meats like the Egyptians did. Unlike the elite Egyptians, Jack is a rich man but made sure he got DAILY, rigorous, cardiovascular exercise. Jack is pushing 100 years old and healthy. Go figure!

    You’ve heard of a poor mans steak right? — Beans and Rice. You’ve heard of the poor mans life — Physical labor. Many lower class men eat better and are more fit than the same aged upper class man.

    A Jack Laanne quote: “Nutrition is Queen. Exercise is King. Put them together and you have a kingdom!”

    Everyone wants to make it so complicated. It’s quite simple, really.

  25. Tom-

    First of all, there is nothing BAD about lard, tallow, or meats. Many primitive and healthy societies favored the fat the most- see http://www.westonaprice.org. Bone records (and cave paintings) will tell you that the primary and healthiest diet of humans was meat. To boot, skelletal construction and health always took a sharp nosedive in cultures that turned agricultural. According to Michael Eades, “It takes a physical anthropologist about two seconds to look at a skeleton unearthed from an archeological site to tell if the owner of that skeleton was a hunter-gatherer or an agriculturist.” Humans also did not restrict themselves in how much they ate, and by all accounts food was in abundance for hunter-gatherers. On these unshakable historical foundations, I refuse to believe that any health problem, including obseity, is caused by dietary fat or overeating.

    Of course, then you get people like Jack Lalanne, who has been on a low fat diet, probably since the 70s, and has even dabbled in vegetarianism, though he usually at least eats fish and egg whites (http://www.shareguide.com/LaLanne.html). I can’t really explain these cases. The best I can say is that at least he put down sugar in the 1950s, correctly accusing it as the thing that makes people fat, and recommends meat and eggs for breakfast (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJVEPB_l8FU).

    Sure, exercise is good- Michael Eades says in Protein Power how it increases sensitivity to human growth hormone- but implying the common misperception that people get fat because they are lazy is not only wrong, it can actually be dangerous. Studies often show that people do not lose a significant amount of weight through exercise (unless they simultaneously starve themselves). See http://www.fathead-movie.com/index.php/2009/08/05/guest-post-exercise-bologna/. People either become discouraged and quit, or push themselves continuously harder, which is not natural and damages the body. We hear reports of people like Jim Fixx, author of “The Complete Book of Running”, dying of a heart attack while jogging. And I’m sure there are plenty of people who are moderately active and still get fat and have heart attacks. It’s not a matter of simply getting a sweat going. Gary Taubes gives some examples of societies that were poor and had lots of physical labor to do, but were still fat in “Good Calories, Bad Calories”.

    I don’t know enough about the subject of the Egyptians myself, but I got somewhere the impression that these afflictions affected all class levels. I know at least from the bones that severe dental problems affected all class levels, and I’m not so sure that the only mummies we have are from the wealthy, or that the upper class got NO exercise, or that they actually ate that much meat or fats.

    As for the Romans, I’ve heard that they were also issued rations of cod liver oil, and made sauerkraut from cabbage along their routes- no doubt these were keys to their success. I have also wondered about the paradox of a few of Weston Price’s cultures (Gaelics and Swiss) eating relatively high amount of carbs (though still lots of saturated fat from butter and cheese), and yet were prefectly healthy. But don’t try to imply that beans and rice are equal to, much less healthier than, a steak- based on human evolution this makes no sense.

    I know what you mean when you say that it’s really “simple”- it often seems like the desire to live, have fun, and be active does more amazing things for health than diet ever could. But these are the people that you notice- you don’t notice all the people who are impeded by their health. I can’t really say what the truth is. As Gary Taubes argues, perhaps people don’t get fat or tired due to lack of effort, but instead lose their will because they got fat or tired.

    By the way, in older days, the “diseases of the rich” were probably not caused by meat or alcohol, but white flour and sugar, which were not available to the lower class for quite a while (alcohol was plenty available to all classes). In the first half of the 1900s, fructose was firmly established to be a factor in gout, but they don’t tell you that these days. And sugar is half fructose. Fructose is also what they use to INDUCE insulin resistance in laboratory animals. High insulin causes the kidneys to retain uric acid. It’s true that uric acid is a by product of high protein foods like meat, but normally the kidneys would have no problem filtering it out of the blood. Once again, high insulin screws everything up. Read about it here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/10/05/gout/.

  26. Here is another video with Jack Lalanne that suggests he has not been eating white bread (nor presuambly, refined pasta):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-vjSOtuvDI. The Eadeses say that Glycemic Index is of little relevance, but perhaps it is some factor. Avoiding low quality bread might also lead one to bread with more vitamins and perhaps not iron fortified. (Of course, the same was true for the Egyptians…)

    Also interesting is that, off the top of his head, he named the foods that were known to make you fat: cakes, pies, candies, cookies. Notice he does NOT list eggs, bacon, butter, cheese, etc. This confirms Gary Taubes’ claim that it was fairly common knowledge pre-1970s that carb foods, especially refined carb foods, were what makes a person fat, as seen in this video: http://www.diabetesnewsstand.com/video/promo.wmv. By the way, I point out fatness because it is well established that obesity “increases the risk” for all the other diseases of metabolic syndrome. Of course, what they don’t tell you is that they correlate because they are caused by the same underlying disorder- insulin resistance.

  27. Hi, My name is Jayne and i live in Blackpool, United Kingdom.
    I am extreemly facsinated in Egypt and would one day love to become an egyptologist.
    I am mostly facsinated in the ancient Egypt where there was (apparently) curses and mummification.
    I would love to find out more about ancient egypt as it has become one of my biggest facsinations.
    I am also very interested in how the egyption environment has changed over thousands of years. (Egyption geology)
    I love watching discovery channels about egypt. I was wondering is it really true that there were curses? on one of the documentaries i watched, I think it was in the 1920’s a group of geologists went to egypt and discovered a pyramid. They researched everything and after that they went back to london. (UK)
    A few days later they died one by one. I am a strong believer in curses, Is it real?

  28. 1) Meat doesn’t cause heart disease, processed food does.
    2) Oh wait, there is evidence of heart disease before the invention of processed food? Nope, it wasn’t meat, it is the grains!

    Very convenient…..

    Weston Price did study African Tribes, but nowhere in his excellent treatise does he comment on anything besides physical stature, as well as the development of dental arches and caries in various tribes (please go back and read Chapter 9 of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration). He concludes that those tribes who live on traditional ethnic diets (even the grain based ones), have much better dentition than those who ate modern diets. The meat and dairy heavy tribes (who also ate cereals btw) did tend to have an even lesser rate of caries formation, but no mention is made of cardiac and chronic diseases, or longevity.

    Yes, you can blame grain based diets on everything, but cannot ignore that whole food, grain based diets have actually been shown to REVERSE existing heart disease as well as diabetes in prospective scientific studies. I am not aware of any similar trials with Paleolithic diets.

    There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that excess protein intake, especially with methionine rich protein (ie, animal proteins), negatively effect longevity. For more data, please look up the research being performed at Washington University in Saint Louis (Luigi Fontana, et al).

    I will not be surprised if diets that advocate consumption of such high levels of protein will in the long term be proved dangerous.

  29. New study argues that ancient Egyptian atherosclerosis was due to a diet high in saturated fat. Comment?

    Atherosclerosis and diet in ancient Egypt


    “The palaeopathological evidence can now be examined in conjunction with ancient texts to provide further insight into the occurrence of the disease among the ancient Egyptian elite. We have undertaken a new translation of hieroglyphic inscriptions on Egyptian temple walls that give details of the food offered daily to the gods. Since this food was subsequently eaten by the priests and their families, the inscriptions also provide details of their dietary habits. This has enabled an estimation of the fat content to be made. Interpretation of the hieroglyphs indicates that the diet consisted mainly of beef, wildfowl, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine, and beer. Many of these food items would obviously have contributed to an intake of saturated fat, and our analyses of the individual meat and wildfowl they consumed would demonstrate that all provided greater than 35% of energy from fat. Goose, which was commonly consumed, contains around 63% energy from fat with 20% being saturated, while the bread that was eaten differed from that consumed today, often being enriched with fat, milk, and eggs. The cakes were typically made with animal fat or oil. Although it is difficult to calculate exactly how much was consumed in terms of portion size, variance in food storage, preparation, and cooking methods, it is still evident from a conservative estimate that the dietary energy was more than 50% from fat with a significant portion of this coming from saturated fat. Other components of the diet may have also increased the risk of cardiovascular disease: fruit and vegetables in addition to a reduction in fat intake are thought to play a key role in prevention. Current recommendations state that the daily energy intake should contain no more than 25—30% fat in total, with the saturated fat being less than 7% of this amount. It is difficult to establish whether the dietary intake of priests achieved this amount. Moreover, Egyptian priests consumed little fish, and while oily fish is a major source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are also advocated in cardiovascular disease prevention, it is unlikely that the intake would have achieved anything like that required. Finally, salt intake is likely to have been high, because it was often used as a preservative. Similarly alcohol, known to increase triglyceride levels, was a common feature of the diet and the intake would probably have exceeded today’s recommendations.”

    • I read this article through a couple of times. It looks to me as if the authors went into it looking to finger fat as the culprit. The diet they describe sounds pretty much like the standard American diet without the sugar. Which was the case I made in Protein Power – that people following a diet high in carbs but without sugar, artificial flavorings, preservatives, etc. can still develop heart disease. And I’m not sure that these authors are exactly accurate in their description of the diet of the ancient Egyptians. I’m pretty well read on the subject, and it seems to me as if these folks are reaching a bit to make the data fit their obvious anti-fat bias.

  30. iv stayed with very primative people deep in the amazon rainforest. they eat meat maybe once a week, fish a little more often but protien is hard to come by so they supliment it with grubs, snails, caterpilars. about 80-90% of thier calories comes from boiled yuka (yam) and from a drink made from chewed and femented sweet potato- almost entirely carbohydrate. the eldest tribal members had very good teeth, the younger did not as they have recently(past 20/30years) been exposed to sugar for the first time. carbohydrates cant rot your teeth, they do however promote the bacteria that produce acids that can rot teeth. rich egyptians may have eaten a lot of honey, milk if it is boiled also becomes sugar. sweet acidic fruits are full of sugars and acids that rot teeth. your research is rediculously biased and unfounded

  31. Interesting article. I’m researching into dietary habits in ancient Egypt and related pathology. Could someone advice some concerning bibliography?

  32. The modern people of Crete eat very much like the ancient egyptians and theyenjoy amazing health. I have been to Crete and it is impossible to tell people ages if they are not smokers. I thought a woman who was 72 ws in her early 50s! They look glow with health and their skin is luminous. They eat bread as a big part of their diet but also fish, fruit, veggies and sweets…oh and tons of olive oil as well as nuts.

  33. This article is entirely incorrect on nearly every point.

    First of all, to generalize the diet of an entire population based on the state of one of their Queens is irresponsible, at best. As has been pointed out in other responses, the amount and variety of food available to the Queen is not the same as would have been available to the general population, nor would she have a typical level of physical activity within her society.

    Secondly, it has been made abundantly clear that the people who built the pyramids at Giza ate an astronomical amount of beef and fish- enough beef to feed tens of thousands of workers EVERY DAY for 30 years, not to mention MILLIONS of fish bones, not only throughout the industrial baking and butchering complex, but also in the mess halls and living quarters excavated there.

    It is true that these same people also ate bread and drank a bread-beer, but they also spend thousands of calories a day building pyramids and engaging in back-breaking support work for the builders. These activities engaged a far more significant proportion of the civilization than a single Queen.

    Finally, it is the fact that early homo sapiens sapiens ate more than just meat that ensured their survival. Testing of neanderthal remains shows that they, unlike their modern human counterparts, ate ONLY meat, and because of this, they did not survive.

    Thus, to suggest that the eating of carbohydrates is the root cause of humanity’s obesity issues is misleading, poorly researched and just plain wrong.

    Next time, discuss your armchair theories with currently working anthropologists and archaeologists before jumping to egregiously erroneous conclusions.

    • Gretchen, you are so far behind the curve it’s actually cringeworthy! Please discuss your theories with currently working anthropologists, especially paleoanthropologists. It’s well known in anthro circles that Neandertals not only ate plant foods, but they also cooked said plant foods.

    • Yes I agree with you is very generalizing, although of hard working throgh the first start of human civilization, where no machinery or cars help to affect our energy balance. This to the author why you did not select more cases to have a good support in what you say?
      Dr Aly R Abdel-Moemin
      PhD QUB-UkK

  34. I have an odd question Dr. Eades…

    How much of these problems was just a matter of becoming more socially active rather than hunter/gatherer active. I mean there’s a real difference between what farmer’s do to harvest grains and what Paleo- men/women did to hunt animals. Could the difference in health be attributed to the sustained hunts, rather than the stress of the harvest of grains?

  35. Wow, I enjoyed reading all of your comments. I have to say though that with all the big words and “intelligent” opinions from what seems to be very intelligent people, much more so than I, many of you are lacking what doesn’t take much intelligence at all, that is, respect and human kindness. While you may not, and do not have to agree with the findings of this person, or that of thier opinion, you can and should respect it. I wonder if any of you would like to be publicly insulted and spoke down to? Maybe next time we could all just appriciate each others opinions, findings, and beliefs and leave it at that. Yeah, yeah, we get it your smart, good for you, if you don’t agree with what this person says, get a blog and share with the world what you think is correct, instead of sharing with the world what a jerk you are and how rude you can be on here. God is Great! Amen, can any of you geniues tell me what “Amen” means?????

    • Apparently, this is one of the side effects of carbohydrate addiction. Haters of low-carb are nearly always bitter and fanatical just as you see here. I hope they find the path to recovery soon.

    • How can we talk about science and found this rudeness reply fro nixi to other cultures and racist words! are we happy with that? please all answer if we understand science and tolerance for others. Do you ask for Amen? this is shame and no place for people like you to share in scientific blog like this!

  36. Your evidence that the Egyptian people were fraught with heart disease and obesity is anecdotal at best. Because one Queen, who lived to be 50, happened to be “obese”? To my knowledge Kings and Queens tended to indulge themselves and didn’t spend a lot of their time doing physical labor. That particular case of tooth decay and obesity is in no way a microcosm of the Egyptian society as a whole. To say that disputing this poorly researched article is a symptom of carbohydrate addiction is laughable. Your defense of such nonsense shows an undeserved “faith” in the writer.

    • Actually Brent, average and poor Egyptians also mummified their dead and had family plot areas out in the desert. The corpses did not get the royal treatment of organ removal and special herbs etc but where still wrapped in old cloths and then buried in the sand in family area plots.

      University and museums purchase such mummies sites and if I remember correctly the numbers in the desert were in the millions buried.
      The people were as fat as Americans are today and had the same diseases of heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, bad teeth, etc. Life was not long. Children were often stunted and many died early. The people were not tall and thin but obese and unhealthy. Just as in fashion magazines today the Egyptian model of beauty was thin.

      The two oldest graves sites containing a community of graves I have been able to find but have since lost the url was from Iran 36,000 and 27,000 years ago. Interestingly in the older grave site the average height of the men was 6’7” and in the younger site the average height was a full foot shorter. They had their teeth and the bones were dense.

  37. This would be the worst example of making a story up to comfirm a belief.
    that is not based on any science whatsoever.
    Obviously you have no knowledge of the condition of actual paleolithic skeletons beyond what some food website says.
    It might interest you to know that the average Egyptian had a length of life twice that of paleolithic man.
    another example of how the internet lowers actual truth off knowledge.

    • I would suggest you might need to expand your reading horizons a little. Start with reading about Sir Marc Armand Ruffer, then go from there.