Monday, March 8, 2010

Paleo Diet Q & A - Snails

Q: Do you know if they ate snails in the paleo times? Thank you, Geha

A: Hi Geha,

The Paleolithic era stands for the "Old Stone Age" (Paleo means old; lithic means stone) and extended from 2.6 million years ago with the appearance of the first crude stone tools until the beginning of agriculture 10,000 years ago. During this period, it is estimated that at least 20 species of hominins (upright walking apes) existed1. Because all hominins were omnivorous opportunists2, land snails were almost certainly consumed on an occasional basis throughout hominin evolutionary history.

However, having said this, the first direct evidence for land snail consumption does not appear in the fossil record until 31,000 years ago at the Mumba-Hohle site on the shores of Lake Eyasi in East Africa3, 4. The earliest archaeological evidence for land snail consumption in the Middle East has been dated to 22,000 to 23,000 years ago at the Kvar ‘Aqil site near Beirut, Lebanon3. The hominin that would have eaten these snails was our own species, Homo sapiens. Archaeologists interpret that snails were eaten because their shells were found in huge heaps called middens, and frequently were charred from being cooked5. Snail middens dating from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago and from 10,000 to 6,000 years ago are common in lands close to and surrounding the Mediterranean Sea3, 5. The five most commonly consumed species of snails (Helix aspera, Helix melanostoma, Leucochroa candissima, Helicella setifensis, and Otala species) still occur in the Mediterranean region today.

If you don’t know, snail meat is considered a delicacy worldwide and is most commonly known from its French term, "escargot," an appetizer typically cooked in a sauce of butter, garlic and parsley6. Although three species of snails (Helix aspera, Helix pomatia) and the African snail (Achatina fulica) are most commonly consumed6, a large variety of snail species are eaten worldwide, depending upon location and availability. The cost of 1 kg of prepared snail meat is expensive and fluctuates between $5 - $137. Snail meat, like fish, is high in protein and low in fat, and contains significant amounts of iron (see Table below). Give escargot a try, it’s a great Paleo appetizer.

Table 1. Nutritional value of snails. USDA National Nutrient Standard Reference, release 19 (2006).

Nutrients Units of measurement for nutrients Nutrient content per 100 grams of snail
Water g 79.20
Energy kilocalorie 90.00
Protein g 16.10
Total lipid (fat) g 1.40
Ash g 1.30
Carbohydrate, by difference g 2.00
Fiber, total dietary g 0.00
Sugars, total g 0.00
Calcium, Ca mg 10.00
Iron, Fe mg 3.50
Magnesium, Mg mg 250.00
Phosphorus, P mg 272.00
Potassium, K mg 382.00
Sodium, Na mg 70.00
Zinc, Zn mg 1.00
Copper, Cu mg 0.40
Selenium, Se mcg 27.4
Vitamin C mg 0.00
Thiamin mg 0.01
Riboflavin mg 0.12
Niacin mg 1.40
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.13
Folate, total mcg 6.00
Folic acid mcg 0.00
Folate, food mcg 6.00
Folate, DFE mcg_DFE 6.00
Vitamin B-12 mcg 0.50
Vitamin B-12, added mcg 0.00
Vitamin A, IU IU 100.00
Vitamin A, RAE mcg_RAE 30.00
Retinol mcg 30.00
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) mg 5.00
Vitamin E, added mg 0.00
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) mcg 0.10
Fatty acids,total saturated g 0.361
4:0 g 0.000
6:0 g 0.000
8:0 g 0.000
10:0 g 0.000
12:0 g 0.000
14:0 g 0.056
16:0 g 0.249
18:0 g 0.051
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated g 0.259
16:1 undifferentiated g 0.048
18:1 undifferentiated g 0.211
20:1 g 0.000
22:1 undifferentiated g 0.000
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated g 0.252
18:2 undifferentiated g 0.017
18:3 undifferentiated g 0.000
18:4 g 0.015
20:4 undifferentiated g 0.000
20:5 n-3 g 0.119
22:5 n-3 g 0.099
22:6 n-3 g 0.000
Cholesterol mg 50.000


  1. Wood B. Hominid revelations from Chad.Nature. 2002 Jul 11;418(6894):133-5.
  2. Cordain L. Saturated fat consumption in ancestral human diets: implications for contemporary intakes. In: Phytochemicals, Nutrient-Gene Interactions, Meskin MS, Bidlack WR, Randolph RK (Eds.), CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group), 2006, pp. 115-126.
  3. Lubell, D. Prehistoric edible land snails in the circum-Mediterranean: the archaeological evidence. In, J-J. Brugal & J. Desse (eds.), Petits Animaux et Sociétés Humaines. Du Complément Alimentaire Aux Ressources Utilitaires. XXIVe rencontres internationales d'archéologie et d'histoire d'Antibes, pp. 77-98. Antibes: Éditions APDCA, 2004.
  4. Mehlman MJ. Mumba-Hohle revisited: the relevance of a forgotten excavation to some current issues in East African prehistory. World Archaelogy 1979;11:80-94.
  5. Lubell, D. Are land snails a signature for the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition? In, M. Budja (ed.), Neolithic Studies 11. Documenta Praehistorica XXXI: 1-24.
  6. Ozogogul, Y, Ozogul F, Olgunoglu AI. Fatty acid profile and mineral content of the wild snail (Helix pomatia) from the region of the south of the Turkey. Eur Food Res Technol 2006;221:547-549.
  7. Zymantiene J et al. Selected features of vineyard snails shell, their movement and physic-chemical composition of foot meat. Biotechnol & Biotechnol Eq 2006;20:82-87.

1 comment:

  1. That's a fair amount of magnesium. Do those nutritional facts assume the shell is eaten, too?


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