For a nutritionist to find an interesting discussion in an archeological article isn’t the norm; but I found the article about Ötzi’s Last Supper interesting and insightful regarding the awareness of nutrition of our ancient ancestors.
First of all if you don’t remember or didn’t pick up the Ötzi story, Ötzi (pronounced Et-zi) is the world’s oldest naturally mummified corpse -- found by two German tourists who were hiking in the Ötztal Alps near the border in Italy (thus, the origin of his name). The tourists who found Ötzi’s frozen body sticking out of the ice thought it was a modern corpse and called the police; but after they dug the body out and autopsied it, he was discovered to be a man who had died there more than 5000 years ago.
Now, Ötzi is giving us a look at how Europeans ate 5000-6000 years ago. For his last meal, before he was hunted down – Ötzi dined on a stew from a red deer cooked in the fat of a wild goat (Alpine Ebix) served with a ‘pilaf’ of ancient einkorn-grain. Sounds tasty to me, but the scientists lamented it had no salt (though it was spiced with herbs) and was extremely high in fat (50% - compared to about 10% of a modern meal).
The scientists say the high-fat content of Ötzi’s meals was taking its toll. At approximately 45 years, Ötzi was already suffering from partially blocked arteries – but they also say it was a well-balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, and lipids. Doctor Maixner of the Eurac Research Institute said – although this is an exceptional amount of fat to ingest in a meal, high-fat content contains the necessary energy to survive in high altitudes.
Heat-related conformational changes of meat-fiber composition and charcoal particles in the lower intestine indicate that Ötzi generally ate a diet of cooked food – possibly including slow-drying or smoking of meat over fire. Metabolic compounds indicate a diet of ruminant fat or dairy and whole grain cereals with no presence of toxic heavy metals – lead, cadmium, or arsenic.
What Ötzi has managed to give us is a tiny glimpse into the meal type, composition, quantity, and food processing that is generally absent in most other studies, as well as a comparison with the diet of modern man. I actually thought about what I eat – and how it compares to the meal of Ötzi – our ancient ancestor.
It is obvious that Ötzi ate a balanced meal in the correct portions, suggesting an actually healthy meal – with the exception of the extreme fat content. Combined with a life of strenuous exercise, our ancestors lived a life style I should aspire to.. and what sounds to me like good food – a small portion of stew over healthy grains; the scientists further found that Ötzi appeared to have wrapped or eaten his food in fern leaves and moss – for additional greens with his meal. If I should eat so healthy!
- Briggs, Helen, “Iceman’s last meal was high-fat, high-calorie feast, BBC News https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44807101
- Maixner, Frank, et al. Report: The Iceman’s last meal consisted of Fat, Wild Meat, and Cereals, https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(18)30703-6
- “Ötzi,” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96tzi