I’ve long argued that the most intellectually challenging issue in the field of nutrition is finding out what people eat.
Here’s what it takes: Using DNA technology, investigators examined the stomach contents of the “Iceman,” a man who died 5300 years ago but was frozen in the Alps until his body was discovered some years ago.
The result: “a remarkably high proportion of fat in his diet, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat, cereals, and traces of toxic bracken.”
A recent radiological re-examination of the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old European natural ice mummy, identified his completely filled stomach (Figure 1A) …Previous isotopic analysis (15N/14N) of the Iceman’s hair suggested first a vegetarian lifestyle [12, 13] which was later, after careful re-examination of the data, changed to a omnivorous diet . Further analyses of lower intestinal tract samples of the Iceman confirmed that he was omnivorous, with a diet consisting of both wild animal and plant material. Among the plant remains, there were cereals, pollen grains of hop-hornbeam, and fragments of bracken and mosses [14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]… In summary, the Iceman’s last meal was a well-balanced mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids, perfectly adjusted to the energetic requirements of his high-altitude trekking.
Nearly half (46%) of the bulk stomach contents consisted of animal fat, much of it saturated. This, apparently, had consequences:
computed tomography scans of the Iceman showed major calcifications in arteria and the aorta indicating an already advanced atherosclerotic disease state .
Fascinating, no? Now if we could do this kind of analysis on a population basis, think of the questions we could finally answer!