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The Paleo Identity Crisis: What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?

Remember back when “Are white potatoes paleo?” was the biggest question facing the paleo community? Now we’re seeing perfectly respectable paleo bloggers advocating butter and heavy cream…and some are even experimenting with white rice.

What sort of caveman diet is that?

And just what is the “paleo diet”, anyway? Is the term becoming diluted because we just can’t stop eating delicious cheat foods—or is it still a valid concept?

First, we need to define the paleo diet. Here’s one attempt, which I’ve chosen because it’s typical:

“With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago).” -Dr. Loren Cordain, “The Paleo Diet”

This is a simple and concise definition, and it avoids the common pitfall of “eat only what cavemen ate”: we hunted mammoths, mastodons, gomphotheres, glyptodonts, wisents, and most other megafauna to extinction, so “what cavemen ate” is no longer an option. And the fruits and vegetables found in a supermarket have little to do with ancestral, wild varieties: they’re products of agricultural domestication. Paleolithic humans didn’t wander around the African savanna picking Paleolithic broccoli.

They probably tasted delicious, too: otherwise we wouldn't have hunted them to extinction.

Unfortunately, this definition is also misleading. “Every single person on the planet” didn’t eat the same diet during the more recent times (Upper Paleolithic, 10,000-40,000 years ago) for which we have good evidence—and during earlier times (Lower/Middle Paleolithic, 2.6 million-140,000 years ago), the direct evidence is too sparse to make specific recommendations.

Clearly we must do better.

Surviving Lean Times Is What Defines Us

The ability to survive lean times is what defines a long-lived, slowly-reproducing species like humans. It doesn’t matter how successful we are during good times if bad times kill everyone off.

Even if we thrived during “normal” years, but 90% of us died off during each 100-year drought, we would have gone extinct long ago—because hunter-foragers don’t reproduce quickly enough to grow their population ten-fold in 100 years. Even a terrible disaster that happens once every thousand years is basically a continual condition on the scale of millions of years of hominid evolution.

Nomadic hunter-foragers are hard-pressed to have more than one child every four years or so. Lacking blenders and convenient jars of pablum, hunter-forager children are typically breastfed for years; it’s very difficult to care for a second child until the first is big enough to keep up with the tribe on foot; and it takes a long time for the mother to build her nutritional reserves back up.

In contrast, one mosquito can lay thousands of eggs in just a few weeks, and bacterial generations are often measured in minutes.

Humans can’t depend purely on genetic selection to adapt us to droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, hard winters, prey dieoffs, and other dramatic, short-term crises: each of us, as individuals, must change our behavior to survive the situation.

Adaptability: Why Intelligence And Omnivory Are Both Important

I’ve made the point before that general-purpose intelligence is selected for during times of change, which basically defines the entire Pleistocene…a repeating cycle of glaciation and warming that caused sea levels to fluctuate by over 150 feet and pushed ice sheets down to what is now southern Illinois. The combination of tool-using and general-purpose intelligence has allowed hominids to adapt to a bewildering variety of ecological niches, from the high Arctic to the jungles of Central America to the deserts of Arabia to the endless grasslands of the Great Plains.

However, intelligence does no good without the ability to digest and metabolize a variety of food sources. If mountain lions could speak, they still couldn’t live off of bamboo or eucalyptus leaves. If wildebeest could reason and make Gravettian stone tools, they still couldn’t live off of hunted meat.

Our Ancestral Diet: Just Because We Can And Did, Doesn’t Mean We Should

This poses an interesting question: which of our dietary adaptations simply allowed us to struggle through bad times, and which are our “ancestral diet”? To choose a modern example, humans can clearly survive and reproduce on a diet of donuts, Taco Bell, and Red Bull—but we all know such a diet isn’t optimal for health or long life.

To answer this, we need to ask a question: “How continual was this source of food during our evolutionary history?” If we only needed to eat something mildly poisonous (but not fatal) during the driest seasons of 500-year droughts, resistance to the poison might only have been weakly selected for—whereas tolerance to something we ate regularly would have been strongly selected for.

To choose one example, this is why a few thousand years of agriculture have only weakly and incompletely selected us for gluten tolerance: intolerance won’t kill you outright, and even celiac kills you very slowly.

Therefore, humans are likely to be well-adapted to dietary patterns for which we have frequent and robust evidence over a long span of evolutionary time.

The case for infrequent and weak evidence is less clear, because there are several possibilities. One, of course, is that we’ve simply not found very many such sites yet. Another, however, is that we’ve found evidence of crisis behavior: foods eaten only in extreme periods of hunger, and to which we’re not well adapted.

Try going without food for two days—if you can—and take a walk through the woods or your local park. I guarantee you’ll start wondering whether tree bark is edible, and if you can really catch those squirrels. Anyone living in a First World nation, and reading this article on their computer, is extremely unlikely to have a meaningful conception of hunger.

Then imagine what would happen if you had to fast for another day, or an entire week, and still maintain all your regular responsibilities. (Going on a retreat and sitting on a beach doesn’t count…and “juice fasts” aren’t fasting at all.) You’re going to eat anything that will fit in your mouth and doesn’t immediately kill you.

Another possibility is medicinal use: modern hunter-foragers collect a variety of plants that are never eaten, and which are only used occasionally in small quantities. And there is a final, more disturbing possibility: not every ancient group of hominids survived, and not all experiments are successful. Infrequently eaten foods could have been the last-ditch survival effort of a tribe that starved to death and left no descendants, or a failed experiment that slowly poisoned the tribe that depended on it. Human population was small, thinly distributed, and most branches of the hominid line went extinct. There’s no way, from looking at one single archaeological site, of knowing whether the remains came from successful or unsuccessful tribes or cultures.

For instance, sorghum residue in one cave, found 70,000 years previous to any other evidence of regular seed processing, could be a trace of a thriving culture of grass-eaters; it could be a temporary response to a drought or a crash in prey population; or it could be the final meals of a starving family. (“Early homo sapiens relied on grass seeds” is, in my opinion, a transparently silly assertion to make from such limited evidence.) And as Dr. Cordain points out in his response, there’s no evidence of all the other technologies necessary to make sorghum edible to humans. (Original paper, Dr. Cordain’s response.)

Be suspicious of these types of stories in the media, for reasons I outlined in last week’s article: in addition to turning “residue in one cave, with no evidence of cooking or other necessary dietary processing” to “CAVEMEN ATE BREAD!!11!!1!, these stories typically conflate “grains of starch” with “cereal grains”.

For some perspective on life in the wild during hard times, see the incredible National Geographic documentary “Last Feast of the Crocodiles”. It’s in four parts: here’s Part 1.

(I’ve linked you to Youtube because NatGeo has never released it on DVD, let alone released a downloadable or streamable version. If they ever make it available for sale again, I’m glad to link to that.)

Dietary Conclusions From Archaeology: Not As Robust As We Might Hope

In order to claim that archaeological evidence represents typical human behavior, or that its remains are representative of an ancestral diet to which we are well adapted, we need robust evidence throughout the time when selection pressure was shaping hominids into anatomically modern humans, but before we spread out from Africa—approximately 2.6 Mya to 65 Kya.

Stone tools are found in profusion, all throughout the Paleolithic: first the Oldowan industry, which are just round, easily grippable rocks with an edge smashed into one side. Then came the Acheulean biface industry, which lasted for well over a million years. Then the Mousterian and Aurignacian industries, and the microlithic technologies that allowed hunting with spears and projectiles…

…and from their earliest traces 2.6 million years ago, at Bouri and Gona, through to the present, they have been frequently associated with cutmarked animal bones, and frequently feature wear patterns consistent with skinning and butchering of game.

So the evidence for consumption of meat (and its associated fat) is robust. The evidence for eating anything else is relatively indirect, since plant matter doesn’t tend to fossilize, and we’re generally limited to inference based on things like tooth shape, jaw musculature, estimations of local weather and climate, and unambiguous evidence of controlled fire and hearths. Furthermore, evidence of any kind is extremely thin the farther we go back in time: entire ancestral hominid species are implied by a few reassembled bone and skull fragments.

Click for an article by the redoubtable John Hawks about these skeletons.

In conclusion: archaeology tells us that the ancestral hominid diet involved cutting meat off of bones and eating it. Beyond that, we’re a bit foggy on the details until we get into the Upper Paleolithic, where we can perform isotopic analysis of proteins, analyze plant residues, and run DNA analyses that connect the sites to modern populations of which we have historical knowledge.

And during the Upper Paleolithic, humans expanded to inhabit such a wide range of environments, from Siberia to the African rainforest, that the concept of “what Paleolithic humans ate” is dismayingly broad.

Direct Evidence: The Takeaway

  • Beyond meat, we don’t know that much about what Lower and Middle Paleolithic humans really ate from day to day. Direct archaeological evidence is extremely thin until perhaps 140,000 years ago.
  • The evidence in the Upper Paleolithic (40,000 years ago and newer), and from the few remaining Neolithic hunter-foragers, doesn’t point to a single “paleo diet”: it only allows us to speak of “a paleo diet”.
  • It’s impossible to recreate historical paleo diets anyway, because most of the meat animals are extinct, and the plants commonly available to us have all been domesticated.

Fun fact: Herd animals were domesticated long before cabbage was bred into its modern forms. Therefore, humans have been drinking milk for longer than we’ve been eating broccoli!

In short, it’s clear that the concept of “paleo re-enactment” has just been triangle-choked into unconsciousness.

Why Call It Paleo, Then?

We call it “paleo” for the same reason that we call it “Latin”, even though we have absolutely no idea how it was spoken. Just as Latin scholars attempt to maintain something syntactically analogous to written Latin, paleo dieters attempt to maintain something nutritionally analogous to an ancestral human diet.

This is where we have to start using science to draw tentative conclusions from the evidence we have. And while it’s tempting to get into speculative arguments about human prehistory, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves: What is the biochemistry of humans? How does human metabolism work, today, right now?

So it is absolutely valid to question whether strictly Neolithic foods, such as butter or rice, have a place in the paleo diet. Eating butter because it’s nutritionally similar to animal fat is no different than wearing clothes you bought at the store because they’re functionally similar to animal skins.

That is why the paleo community is asking all these questions about clearly neolithic foods. Should we eat butter or cream? Should we eat white potatoes or white rice? And do snow peas really count as a legume?

This Is Not N=1/”Whatever Works For You”

There is an important difference between “We don’t know all the answers yet” and “Do what feels right, man.” These questions have answers, because humans have biochemistry, and we should do our best to find them and live by the results. Oreos are delicious, but there’s no contingency by which they’re even remotely paleo.

Wrapping It Up: Is There A Definition Of The Paleo Diet?

Here is my best attempt at a definition. If you can improve it or think of a better one, leave a comment!

A paleo diet is:

  • Eating foods that best support the biochemistry of human animals with a multi-million year history of hunting and foraging, primarily on the African savanna.
  • Avoiding foods, such as grains, grain oils, and refined sweeteners, that actively disrupt the biochemistry of these human animals.

I call this approach "functional paleo".

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JS

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Postscript: As several commenters have noted, there’s a useful intermediate step that involves only the second part of my definition, “avoiding foods … that actively disrupt the biochemistry of these animals”. Usually this means going gluten-free, sugar and HFCS-free, and eliminating heavily processed snack foods, i.e. Sean Croxton’s JERF. Often it’s softened to “minimizing foods …”: an example would be the WAPF, which advocates sprouting grains and beans to reduce their toxin and antinutrient load.

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68 comments

Permalink: The Paleo Identity Crisis: What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?
  • While still in my first month of paleo eating, I have been doing a lot of reading and absorbing as much as I can from the paleo community.

    Hardliner like Cordain and Wolf will tell us that dairy should NOT be in our diet, yet Sisson and Harris will say these are fine so long as they are tolerable. Likewise, hardliners will say that fatty meats are out, and again Sisson and Harris tell us these are okay. Moreover, Harris tells us that there is little evidence to show that dairy, white rice and white potatoes are wrong; quite the contrary, in fact.

    If I was looking for a hardline cause, I’d stick rigidly to Wolf. Sisson, I like – he understands that people also have lives to lead and more importantly, enjoy. Harris goes further and on the face of it seems to be so full of compromise and concession that you wonder what the point is of trying to apply the word paleo to what he writes.

    Indeed, a timely article and something I have been seriously mulling over in the last day or two.

    For me, I am more happy with Harris’ understanding – paleo is about seeking out and rejecting modern agents of disease from our lives. I say lives since we are alive – what we eat is more than a diet, just as activity is more than exercise; both go together to make a life(style).

    So, while some things are tolerable … are they desirable? Early into my transition to paleo, I had a panic about exactly what I was going to cook and seemed to cling to cooking habits I had formed – especially with potatoes. Having actually eaten paleo for a couple of weeks, I have no desire for potato, nor rice or some of the other concessions we’re seeing. I eat other things now and thoroughly enjoy it.

    Furthermore, I am addressing a lifelong problem with gastric reflux which has been managed through prescribed medication for the last decade or so. I noticed that I had missed a pill, or two, so just went with it and … tentatively, I’ll say I’m cured. Looking at what is new in my food, such as an increased intake of very green vegetables, more meat, more fish, and at the food I have dropped out, no beans, grains or pulses, and no potatoes, I can see biologically (as far as I am able to understand) how I am cured. Again, just because potatoes are okay, does not make them desirable – for someone with gastric reflux problems, they most certainly are not and so, I’ll leave them out. Yoghurt has a very positive effect and so, dairy remains in.

    Sound article, JS!

    While it is good to go back every now and again to see whether the original stake in the ground is still in the right place, such as the likes of Sisson and Harris, it is more valuable to stop and really take a look at why it was put right there in the first place – this article promotes that consideration.

  • Melissa

    Paul, I found after an initial low-carb period, I could add carbs back in. It makes sense because PPIs are known to cause bacterial overgrowth in the stomach o_0 Low carb allows you to kill off that bacteria.

    Either way, good post! I wouldn’t describe my diet as paleo any more, maybe simply as industrial-poison free? Haha.

  • Bodhi

    Sound article, JS!

    +1

    All of this denying of the word “Paleo” reminds me of priest looking for the true name of god. Or, maybe a doctor looking for the disease so we can identify it, name it, and hate it. Let’s just called it “Fred”. But I do understand the frustration of telling someone you follow a caveman/paleo/primal WOE and then having people call you on it. You say you eat a paleo diet but you eat “X”, no caveman ever ate “X”. It does get irritating. I like the word Primal, so I use it. I like to combine what I have learned from Sisson and Wolf. Mark calls his “The Primal Blueprint”, because that is what it is, a guideline to go by to express your best genes. I like what Rob Wolf says, “…how do you look, feel, and perform?” and “Check the biomarkers of health and disease”. So we eat the foods we believe are best for the human animal and we avoid the ones that are not. What shall we call this way of eating?

  • Mark

    Sir, you have posted another great article. I don’t necessarily agree with evolution(a conversation for another time) but I find your articles interesting, thought-provoking, and educational.
    Once sentence from this article sums up why, though I disagree with evolution, I choose to eat paleo. “These questions have answers, because humans have biochemistry, and we should do our best to find them and live by the results. “
    From all I have read about sugar and grain consumption, I’m convinced that they do harm to the human body. I dont have a problem with grains(that I’m aware of) but the fact that others so is reason enough for me to only consume it very sporadically(2-3 beers per week and occasionally a sandwich or burger on my cheat day).
    Thank you again for the article. By the looks of it, you will keep me entertained at work for the forseeable future.

  • A.B. Dada

    No matter how much I try, my body just hates potatoes and rice. I’ve been low carb for 6 years, primal blueprint for about 2, and finally in the Archevore lifestyle for the past 3 months. I’ll do potatoes twice a month, rice never. For me, my body loves fats too much to overdose on protein, and most of the starchy carbs just slam me to the ground (nap time within an hour).

    I think the key is that each of us really has to look at the “Direct Evidence”, meaning the effect that each food has on us individually. I have 2 friends who are carbkins and can eat anything all day long (and, no, not purge after) and stay skinny (not even skinny fat). I’m not jealous, though, because they’re over a decade younger — and I’m in better overall shape.

    Next month I am going to try potatoes again, but this time with hella more fat involved.

    Great post, J. Stanton.

  • I think you could extend the definition of a ‘paleo diet’ towards the subject of intermittent fasting and the metabolic flexibility you outlined in an earlier post.

    The point being that ‘eating your body fat’ is an important source of calories in a successful paleo diet.

    Another very fine post!

  • Angelo Coppola

    Great article. I covered my take on “What is Paleo” in episode 20 of latest in Paleo: http://www.latestinpaleo.com/blog/2011/6/20/latest-in-paleo-episode-20-clean-15-dirty-dozen.html

    Also, talked about some people who have left the Paleo fold, and why it might be a good idea for Paleo to stay a big umbrella for “real food” and to be more open to variants. Like high-carb Paleo.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking and well cited article.

  • Bodhi

    OK, I have the name. I was reading Dustin Sharp’s blog Paleo Velo and he used the term; Just Eat Real Food (JERF). So maybe we can call it JERF instead of Fred or Paleo.

  • Daniel

    Just a thought for discussion: If we go back to the ancestral diet by excluding modern foods, aren’t we then “stalling” evolution? If we remove modern foods, how will the human race continue to evolve and adapt to one day accept those types of food? Do you think it is possible for humans to evolve to effectively digest sugars and grains over the long term?

  • Fmgd

    Very nice article :)

    The problem I see with your definition is that people will try to push things like cereals and maybe even oils as “good for our biochemistry” and meats and fats as bad, despite that multi-milion year history. So they’d technically fit your description, but no one thinks of that as paleo.

    I think it was you who once defined paleo as using that history we have as a framework or a starting point.

    Your point about things we strived on for longer (and more) periods of time being the ones we’d be more strongly selected for is good, and as I see it trying to observe that point is a commom trait of the paleo world.

  • Fmgd

    @Daniel

    I don’t know, we already live long enought and procreate as much as we would with the foods most people eat, thanks in part to medicine but also to other things of the modern world.

    So to what extent being able to adapt better to these foods would be a selective advantage?

    There are lots of ways in wich we are “stalling evolution” already. Then again, evolution is not a path, it’s not like there’s a place we should be getting at.

    Anyway, we’re animals living right now and we can’t really tell what will happen in thounsands of years. Whatever happens it’s not like eating something or other in our lifetimes will change our genes.

  • Timothy

    Outstanding and provocative thoughts as always from J. Stanton.

    The fact that humans were selected to endure periodic shortages suggests a neglected aspect of health: metabolic flexibility.

    As omnivores, our bodies are prepared for a constantly shifting spectrum of nutrition. Consider how often you’ve found a meal that you loved, and felt you could eat the same thing every day forever. Yet after a while it no longer had the same allure, and you found yourself drawn to new favorites. Part of this is our seasonal nature, but I think there’s more to it than that.

    Considering the environment in which humans evolved, we could hypothesize that our bodies are most comfortable in a state of constant adaptation. If this is true, then the notion that each person has a single, optimal diet is an illusion, to say nothing of a universal “paleo diet” that fits all humans.

    I began to suspect this myself when I reached a fitness plateau after many months of low-carb (following many years of very high-carb). As an experiment, I tried strategically adding starchy carbs back into my diet, even though it felt like dancing with the devil, and was delighted to find that carbs no longer left me bloated and comatose as they did when I first adopted a low-carb diet. In fact, I leaned out noticeably.

    Since that discovery, I’ve tried to mix up my primary energy sources from day to day:

    - Carbs over a few meals on days I lift heavy weights
    - Fat-gorging after a day-long fast on days I do cardio
    - Alcohol once a week to the exclusion of both fat and carbs
    - Occasional 36-hour fasts with no energy intake at all

    Whatever energy source I’m consuming, I always include lots of complete protein.

    It’s still early in my experiment (only 4 weeks), but the results of all this mixing up are so far encouraging: noticeably improved leanness and increased energy and strength. My tentative conclusion is that we thrive the most when we juggle our energy sources, challenging our bodies to master every metabolic pathway, just as our ancestors were forced to by circumstance.

  • Courtney West

    Daniel,

    Please see a video about the Pottenger Cat Study.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMixcLtHvso

    The study found that processed foods led to chronic illness among cats in the first three generations and sterility in the fourth generation.

    The Pottenger video also highlights the following comment in JS’ above article:

    “This poses an interesting question: which of our dietary adaptations simply allowed us to struggle through bad times, and which are our “ancestral diet”? To choose a modern example, humans can clearly survive and reproduce on a diet of donuts, Taco Bell, and Red Bull—but we all know such a diet isn’t optimal for health or long life.”

    The above video describes sugar cane as a nutrient-rich substance. However, the commentator doesn’t discuss whether this natural substance should be regularly consumed to promote health and longevity. However, her point seems to be that ALL whole foods contain all the nutrients the body needs to properly digest them. Nonetheless, she seems to be promoting sugar cane as a healthy food choice, which is certainly debatable.

    Many people who are trying to overcome sugar addiction cannot take a bite of anything sweet, just as an alcoholic can’t take one drink. Otherwise, these addicts binge on the forbidden substances. Refined sugar is a drug with a chemical structure similar to alcohol.

    Interestingly, “natural” drug rehab centers treat sugar addiction in the same way that they treat addictions to hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. Please see The Diet Cure by Julia Ross. This book explains that sugar addiction is caused by chronic neurotransmitter deficiencies, which are usually the result of a high-sugar/processed food diet or excessive use of recreational (and probably over-the-counter and prescription) drugs.

    Like other directors of natural drug rehab centers, Ms. Ross uses amino acids, vitamins, and minerals to eliminate sugar cravings. She says amino acids supplements can end sugar addiction within 24 hours. She says daily use of an amino acids supplement may be necessary for 3 months to a year or more. That’s because it takes time for the supplement to help the body restore depleted neurotransmitters. Once this occurs, cravings for potatoes, rice, and other carbs that were unknown to human ancestors should permanently disappear.

    Willpower and prescription drugs help about 5% of drug addicts to permanently abandon their drugs of choice. On the other hand, Ms. Ross and other founders of natural drug rehab centers achieve success rates of 70% or more.

  • Hello, everybody! Thanks to your efforts, gnolls.org has become so popular — especially within the past week — that I may not be able to respond directly to every comment anymore.  Rest assured I read and appreciate all of them, and I'll do my best.

    Paul:

    I agree that eliminating Dr. Harris' NAD is the most important step.  That's why it is part of my definition, and is Step 1 of “Eat Like A Predator”.  And the question of how to start is interesting in itself: there's the Whole 30 “do everything, so that if there is improvement to be made, you'll see it”, and there's the Primal Blueprint 80/20 “do what you can, it's better than nothing or giving up”.  That's a whole new topic!

    Congratulations on fixing your GERD…that's a common benefit of paleo.  (And see my comment to Melissa about met flex, below.)

    Melissa:

    I think you're right about carbs: in the early stages of the diet, it's all about forcing your body into beta-oxidation, i.e. retraining yourself for metabolic flexibility.  Once you've regained that ability, many of us can add some quantity of carbohydrate to our meals (important: carb snacks are still bad) without losing our met flex.

    Of course there are some people whose metabolisms seem to be permanently broken, and can't eat carbs without the switch getting stuck on 'glycolysis'. I wonder how many of those people exercise semi-regularly: as I point out here, exercise isn't important because it burns calories, it's important because it increases your met flex.  (I have my theory as to why, which I'll explore someday.)

    Based on what I know of your diet, I think you're probably a JERF.  See my link to Sean Croxton's page, which I added in the Postscript.

    Bodhi:

    It's paleo.  If there were some way to truly recreate “the ancestral diet” that some people are following but we're not, I'd say “ok, let's find another label.”  But I don't see even Don Wiss advocating giving up his refrigerator and freezer — and as I stated in the article, dairy is technically more “paleo” than broccoli.

    (Note that I still agree with what I said in “Eat Like A Predator”: casein and lactose have issues, but butterfat doesn't.  I eat full-fat yogurt, but I don't drink milk.)

    Good to see you back!

    Mark:

    At the end of the day, we have to respect the science over the re-enactment.  I'm sure Paleolithic humans ate plenty of rotten raw meat…but I can't see how that would be beneficial to us.

    I'm glad you enjoy my articles!

    A. B. Data:

    Welcome!  Like I said above to Melissa, there are definitely people who, for whatever reason, simply don't deal well with carbs of any kind.  Fortunately they're not strictly an essential nutrient, so as long as you're getting enough protein to make glucose from, you're fine.

    Personally, I've found that I deal OK with glucose…but too much fruit is a problem even though it's “natural” fructose.

    I agree that there's a place for “eat what feels right…”, but only within the context of real paleo foods.  Otherwise it's too easy to get short-circuited by junk.  This may become an article someday.

    Asclepius:

    Definitely.  Once we've got a useful definition, there is a lot of work still to do.  JERF is a huge improvement, but we're not satisfied with “better”: we're looking for “best”.  IF is definitely part of that for me, and I'm sure I'll talk about it more specifically at some point.

    Angelo:

    Thank you!  I'm a couple episodes behind right now, so I haven't heard that one yet.

    The whole thing is a continuum: you've got the WAPF, JERF, Perfect Health Diet, Archevore, Primal, and Whole 30, all of which are friendly to each other but are clearly different.  The question is “Where do you draw the line and say 'that's not paleo anymore'?  I think it's right around Archevore and the PHD (which are quite similar): any more abstract than that, and the “paleo” label just gets silly — and whether Dr. Harris himself is still “paleo” is an interesting question.  I'm inclined to say yes, because despite eating Rice Krispies on occasion, he's more “paleo” than someone doing 80/20 Primal.  Even if you assume someone on the PHD is getting 100% of their carbs from rice, that's still under 20%.

    There probably needs to be a useful term for the Whole 30/Cordain/paleodiet.com end of the spectrum: let me know if you think of one.

    Bodhi:

    JERF is Sean Croxton's term AFAIK: I linked it at the end of the article.

    Daniel:

    We haven't stalled evolution: we're just selecting for the desire to have as many babies as possible, independent of the means or ability to provide for them.  (Or socialize them.) 

    Fmgd:

    They'll push that crap no matter what we do or say.  That's why I specify “human animals with a multi-million year history of hunting and foraging”: to give us that theoretical framework.  Science has to start somewhere.  

    And that's absolutely why I made the point about crisis food: everyone gets all excited about starch grains found in a few isolated caves, but when you look at the sheer number of sites featuring cutmarked bones found in association with stone tools, and add the protein isotopic analysis to that, the picture becomes a lot more clear.

    Excellent point about evolution, by the way: it's easy to ascribe some sort of will, goal, or foresight to it.  No: it's simply a statement of fact.  Animals that successfully reproduce leave descendants who are more like them than they are like the animals that didn't reproduce.

    Timothy:

    Different types of exercise deplete different nutrients, and the human body tends to seek equilibrium.  If we want to make progress, we have to perturb that equilibrium somehow.  Have you read leangains.com?  It sounds like you're doing similar things…

    Thanks for sticking around! I enjoy your comments.

    Courtney:

    Epigenetics is just beginning to be understood: it turns out the sins of the parents are indeed visited upon the children, unto multiple generations.

    I think the Ross theory is related to the Fat Fiction theory that obesity is caused by nutrient deficiency: the reason we're hungry is because our body requires nutrients it's not getting, and we'll keep eating until we get them.  But in the case of processed carbohydrates and snack foods, there are no nutrients to be gotten, so we keep eating and eating.

    I'll have to look at her work someday, because I'm interested in the role of amino acid deficiencies in carbohydrate addiction.  

    Thanks for the reference!

    JS

     

  • Timothy

    JS, I am familiar with leangains.com, a valuable resource that I recommend to anyone trying to maximize fitness. I owe some major insights to Martin Berkhan, such as the importance of segregating aerobic and anaerobic workouts and the benefits of cycling alcohol as a macronutrient (as a non-drinker, that never would have occurred to me, and much hilarity has ensued).

    However, leangains.com is awfully short on details, so the clever reader will have to fill in the blanks from personal research, anthropological theory, and n=1 experiments — which is more fun anyway.

  • Andrew

    @Timothy,
    I’ve also been experimenting with alternating some low-carb and low-fat days, as well as the odd intermittent fast, with some success. Seems like there’s also a very good case for some low-protein days too. Paul at Perfect Health Diet has talked about how it is protein-restriction that turns on autophagy, letting the cells do some house-cleaning. He suggests coconut oil fasts, to help your body get into ketosis. Just another part of the “metabolic flexibility”, I guess.

  • Andrew

    @Timothy II,
    btw, Your “Alcohol once a week to the exclusion of both fat and carbs” sounds intriguing. How does that work?

  • Bodhi

    Doht! I didn’t read the postscript.

  • Eric

    Does anyone care that you have to kill animals to eat them? Or does some perceived health benefit to humans trump that fact? And are you folks that still consume dairy aware that you are suckling a cow? Is that normal behavior?

  • Franco

    @Eric,
    no, yes, yes and yes!
    Now go whine somewhere else.

    @JS,
    you’re getting better and better! I really enjoyed this essay.
    About nutrition cycling:
    I follow closely the PHD but don’t stress macro-ratios anymore. There are days I’m very LC and others more LF. Protein doesn’t varry so much but with frequent IF that should take care of itself.
    Btw, regarding fruits, do you have problems with all fruits, JS? Because all fruits aren’t created equal! I have no problems with bananas, pineapples, cherries, grapes but apples(especially!), strawbeeries(other berries not so much) and watermelon gives me stomacch problems.

  • Lee

    Nice post. The word Paleo is bound to see a raft of definitions develop as more people jump on the train to see for themselves what it can do for them. These greater numbers will have a push/pull effect that stimulates discussions like this. For me, biochemistry is the datum form where we start and also the point we go back towards.
    Generally the science is not challenged, so measuring any diet, eating plan, lifstyle influenced food choice should start from that place and over time, any modifications to that should go back there. I enjoy http://www.primalmeded.com as a reference for exactly this. The Blogger is a medical student who openly questions conventional wisdom and uses her strong knowledge of biochemistry as a measuring tool for most that she posts. I enjoyed reading this post and having it start and finish in a similar way. Well done.

  • Byron

    @ Eric – Sure. I’ve also considered the naive notion encouraging humans to attempt step outside the milieu in which they evolved and exist (the cycle of life and death). I’ve realised it’s a fools errand and ultimately ideological claptrap. My health is the sine qua non of my morality, not the other way around. You think your soul will get dirty or that the Great Life Force will be harmed by causing death. I think that’s religion.

  • What Is The Paleo Di

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  • Timothy:

    I know what you mean: the info is there, but you have to dig around a lot to find it.  It's quite simple, though, once you do.

    Andrew:

    Yes, I frequently do 16-20 hour fasts.  Today I did about 22 hours because I was busy, and I did over 40 hours a few weeks ago.  I've never needed the coconut oil to get me through it, but some might.

    “Metabolic flexibility” has a very specific meaning in the literature, so be careful using that term.  But I know what you mean.

    Bodhi:

    You didn't miss it: I edited the post to add it.

    Eric:

    Animals were most likely domesticated before agriculture, so it's likely that we've been drinking milk longer than we've been eating wheat or corn.  Eating grains is no more “normal” than eating dairy products.

    As far as death, we have to kill animals to eat anything at all.  The entire Midwest used to be a forest.  Bears, cougars, wolves, coyotes, rabbits, gophers, opossums, hawks, doves, and thousands of other animals die when the land is cleared for your rice cakes, corn muffins, and glutenburgers.  

    All that vegetarianism does is push the death to where we can't see it.  But it's there.

    js290:

    Rosedale misunderstands how evolution works: nature doesn't have any “intent”.  That's just religion in scientific guise.

    Also keep in mind that since hunter-foragers reproduced slowly (as I mentioned in the article), there was indeed incentive for them to live a long life.  Just to replace the population requires 2 children, which would have been born ~4 years apart, plus the time to raise the youngest until she was a young adult…and what with infant mortality, the average had to have been more like three children, so you're talking a minimum of 16-18 years of adulthood just to maintain the population, let alone grow it.

    Rosedale has it exactly backwards.  Reproducing quickly was the advantage of farmers, whose wives could stay at home and pop out babies one after the other.

    Franco:

    Thank you!  As far as fruits, I haven't eaten enough to notice.  It's not a digestive disturbance, they just mess with my energy levels.

    And I don't watch macronutrient ratios that closely, either…in fact, sometimes I have to force myself to eat carbs because I'm aerobically active and can run low on glycogen.

    Lee:

    Thank you!  Science has the last word…but we need to start somewhere, and we need to double-check results against evolutionary common sense.  When someone purports to say that palmitic acid causes heart disease, we have to ask “Then why do we store surplus energy as palmitic acid?”

    Byron:

    Yes.  Vegetarianism and veganism are religious in origin: no known pre-agricultural culture is vegetarian.  For that matter, no ancestral agricultural culture is vegetarian.  The concept first shows up around 2000 BC.

    JS

  • eddie

    love the post, was not expecting there to be a new one when i clicked on last night, very happy to be surprised though :D

    as for the killing animals and such forth, i think most people do care. however we are not going to stop the killing of animals, if we all turned vegetarian/vegan we’d have to kill all those cattle pigs and sheep that are currently reared by farmers as there’ll be no further use for them. these species will then become extinct as we’ve removed their abilities to defend themselves too.

    ethically reared animals is the way forward and to apply pressure to the foodchain providers you have to refuse to buy non-ethically reared animals and be willing to pay more for the ethically reared animals that are available.
    in time this will lead to more ethically reared animals and, in time, an end to the battery farming methods utilised by some farmers.
    (as an aside i live in UK where animals are typically reared in pasture and only fattened up on grains for 1-2 months)
    this will take time, but it’s better than attempting something that will simply fail and would in fact cause massive harm to the very animals you are alleged to care about. (i count extinction as massive harm)

    worth noting that this is where egg rearing is heading now, free range eggs used to be expensive and rarely reared, now they are the norm and as a result prices have come down.

  • “All that vegetarianism does is push the death to where we can’t see it. But it’s there.”

    Yes it does. And it pushes the killing to an indiscriminate level. Pesticides and herbicides can be blown on the wind far beyond their intended ‘ground zero’. Those that do hit their targetted location can further wash in to the water system. The very ploughing of soils kills life. The consequently exposed topsoils are washed off in run-off to the streams killing further…

    Arable farming kills at the very base of the food chain; the point where any sustainable complex system can least support it. Much better to eat from the top down!

  • Timothy

    @JS:
    Thanks for the feedback, by the way. Your insights are always thought-provoking, and I’m glad you write only once a week because I like to ponder them at length.

    @Andrew:
    I certainly agree with your approach. For low-protein days, I’ve just been fasting, because I was utterly convinced by JS’ article on how snacking makes you fat and weak (i.e., an insulin spike from carbs in the absence of complete protein tears down lean mass). But using coconut oil is a very interesting idea, because it wouldn’t affect insulin. I wonder if having some coconut oil during a 36-hour fast, rather than just eating nothing, would bring on ketosis faster… I’m going to give it a try.

    As for the alcohol idea, it’s really Martin Berkhan’s insight over at leangains.com, and if you want the full scoop you should check out his article. But the basic idea is that you eat a full course of protein (1g per pound of lean body mass) and lots of vegetables, while keeping fat extremely low (about 1.5g per pound of lean mass). Then you hit the booze. For me, this means fasting until 2pm, and then:

    Salad:
    Three cans of tuna, one can of clams, one large prepacked salad (mostly kale with shredded carrots)

    Shake:
    50g whey protein, two raw pastured eggs, 1/4 cup raw cow milk kefir, 1/2 cup almond milk

    Alcohol:
    Smirnoff triple-filtered vodka

    As a non-drinker, I learned the hard way that you should 1) drink gradually, because all that protein slows the alcohol absorption, making it easy to overdo it, and 2) stop drinking when you feel impaired. It’s also good to have someone as your spotter. Fortunately my wife is extremely patient and understanding. :)

  • Timothy

    Correction above: fat should be about 0.15g per pound of lean mass. Oops!

  • Andrew

    @JS
    Thanks. (I’ll have to read up on exactly what metabolic flexibility means, then…)
    Yeah, I find fasting is definitely a whole lot easier than most people imagine. It’s quite a liberating experience. I find although I enjoy food more after, food seems to loose its power over me.

    @Timothy
    I’ll have to check out the artile at leangains. Never been much of a drinker other than a glass of wnie in the evening, but sounds interesing.

  • Eric B

    JS

    Another great stimulating and well written article….while I agree with many concepts like eating eggs and sausages and minimizing sugar and carbs and such, my understanding of the Paleo diet resonate with Sally Fallon’s review of the Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain (http://www.westonaprice.org/book-reviews/thumbs-down)

    Perhaps your could do a review on both of these reports/review?

    Thanks!
    Eric

  • neal matheson

    @js90
    Hominids are one of the few animals that specializes in grandparental care. It sounds good to say that we are evolved to live long enough to reproduce but it might not be the case, We might be evolved to live long enough to help our children reproduce.
    A 2% difference in reproductive success can mean the difference between species survival and extinction.

  • js290

    @Eric… They won’t let you eat them alive…

  • Anastasia

    Interesting point: can Dr Harris still call himself “paleo”? I follow similar principles as him and have used this word to describe my diet. Like you, I am not interested in recreating our Paleolithic past. Instead I focus on the basics of human biochemistry and then apply evolutionary reasoning. I called this principle The Framework of Common Sense, mainly to avoid questions like: “is sweet potato Paleo?”. Great minds think alike ;)

  • ~pjgh » Blog A

    [...] I find more common ground with Harris and an affinity with what he writes, not because I am most comfortable with it, but because I am most challenged by his writing; challenged to think it through, fully. It is all very well moving the anchor point that secures paleo, but there is also much merit is taking time to consider why it was placed there initially, and that is the key theme in the following essay from J Stanton: http://www.gnolls.org/2226/the-paleo-identity-crisis-what-is-the-paleo-diet-anyway/ [...]

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  • Franco

    @Neal,

    I’m with you. There is a tremendous advantage in grandparental care for a slow growing/much learning species like us. And “helping to reproduce” includes “helping to raise” as well. That’s why our basic lifespan is 60-75 (roughly 3 generations).
    All “bigger” health problems start thereafter if a more traditional/H-G diet is followed.

  • Eddie:

    Exactly.  Grass-finished beef was insignificant in the 1980s in America.  Now it's a thriving industry.  Our choices make a difference.

    Asclepius:

    Also note that Roundup (glyphosate) binds to minerals in the soil, making them not bioavailable…another blow to our already-depleted soil nutrient quality.

    Timothy:

    AFAIK coconut oil might delay ketosis a bit, because you're giving your body calories to burn that replace some of the glucose you'd otherwise have to make via gluconeogenesis.  But when you wake up you're already probably in mild ketosis, and once you're started it's OK then.  It might let you go longer without eating anything to pull you out of ketosis.

    Andrew:

    That's part of what I cover in my article.

    Eric B:

    That's a funny review of Cordain.  I know he's moderated some of those positions since then, but I think the main thrust of the review is correct: it's politically correct, and based on some naivete regarding the diets of actual hunter-gatherers.

    We talk about the Jon Barron review in this comment thread.

    Neal, Franco:

    Good point.  And once there's enough language and cultural transmission of knowledge, grandparents become even more useful as teachers for everyone.

    js290:

    Those are great videos, aren't they?

    Anastasia:

    (Your comment was stuck in the spam filter: I pulled it out.)

    Dr. Harris can call himself anything he wants.  I, myself, consider him (and the Jaminets) at the far border of “paleo”.  Like the article says, claiming “we're recreating the REAL ancestral diet, you're not paleo” is silly.  And Dr. Cordain doesn't own the term just because he had the chutzpah to misleadingly call his book “THE Paleo Diet” (as if there's only one).

    I have no intention of abandoning the term, and I hope you don't either.  Your blog is great and I've linked to it.  Keep writing.

    JS

  • Todd

    Robb Wolf’s position is a little more subtle than total elimination – at least at the moment. Check out the transcript to “Paleo Solution” episode 68 for more details (available @ http://robbwolf.com/2011/02/22/the-paleo-solution-episode-68/). Essentially, it’s in a “gray zone” for him, and he seems to be altering his opinions a bit based on arguments made by Kresser and Lalonde. To precis his opinion; “get it out of the diet, get the gut sorted out, then re-introduce and see what’s up.”

  • Todd:

    That's interesting!  Wolf's book is very strict, so we'll see how that evolves over time.  

    My opinion remains that butterfat is extremely unlikely to be a problem for anyone: it's casein and lactose that can be issues, which makes me very suspicious of cheese (being mostly casein).  I consume butter, full-fat Greek yogurt, and sometimes half-and-half, each of which are very low in casein and lactose.  (I've never had dairy or lactose issues, and cutting dairy entirely from my diet never made much of a difference, other than I get a bit phlegmy if I consume too much half-and-half.)

    JS

  • Todd

    I’m also tolerant of most dairy as near as I can tell. I’m sure there may be things going on at a very small level that I’m not aware of. But, for the bulk of my life I was phlegm-y and limited my dairy because of it. Turned out that dropping gluten was the key. Four months of low-phlegm living!

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  • Franco

    JS,

    “coconut oil may delay ketosis a bit”
    How comes?
    From Paul Jaminet we hear it does the opposite – promote ketosis, even with some carbs in the mix.

  • Franco:

    I'm not sure how eating calories does anything but delay ketosis.

    I definitely understand how eating fats that readily produce ketones as a product of their breakdown (e.g. the MCTs in coconut oil) is better than eating foods that either shut down ketosis (carbs) or don't promote it (long-chain fats).  But as far as I know, fasting is still the fastest way to enter ketosis.

    However, I haven't spent a lot of time studying ketosis, so I could be wrong.

    (rim shot)

    JS

     

  • Hi J! I have cited your two principles on my blog: http://pjgh.blogspot.com/p/what-is-paleo.html

    I am writing up a number of my meals for paleo people and to inspire the paleo-curious. I had to make up a page giving a description of what is paleo and between you and Harris, the definition is sorted. I hope you don't mind. If there is anything you would like re-pointing, re-writing or maybe a plug for TGC, just say. I didn't want it to read like an advert … people can hunt and gather for themselves.

  • Richard

    Humans did not kill all the megafauna, both paleontology and archaeology have debunked this myth in the last 15 years. I wish people would stop supporting the ‘overkill hypothesis’, it’s simply patently wrong. While the rest of your post is well written, this little piece just bugs me because it’s incorrect.

    While our prehistoric *and* Paleolithic ancestors did in fact _hunt_ megafauna, they did not kill them all as the overkill hypothesis suggests. This hypothesis relies on the fact that megafauna and ancestral human remains were found together and that cave paintings show ancestral humans hunting these animals. This is a clear case of causation-is-correlation, which a good hypothesis and clear-cut science clearly do not support.

    The book you linked to is based on Martin’s own theory he proposed more than 40 years ago, which has been disproven in the last 15 years.

  • Paul:

    Quoting is fine!  I appreciate the links, and I'm glad you find them useful.

    Richard:

    You're making a large number of unsupported claims.  

    * Who has disproved Pleistocene overkill, and with what evidence?
    * What is your alternate theory of megafaunal extinction?
    * How do you explain the fact that the Eurasian, American, and Australian megafaunal extinctions do not coincide with any event but the arrival of Homo sapiens?

    The best attempt I've seen so far is David Meltzer's “debunking” of Martin in First Peoples In The New World, which was such an obvious combination of ad hominems, appeal to popularity, and pure baloney that I nearly threw the book across the room — and I hadn't even read Martin yet!

    In fact, if I recall correctly, Meltzer's attack is what motivated me to read Martin in the first place.

    I'm open to evidence on this issue — but what I've seen so far has, to put it politely, not impressed me.

    JS

  • Clement

    Hi,

    So how does a near-vegetarian-sweet-tooth (ie, a carb addict) graduate to paleo?

    For personal health reasons I stopped eating any red meat (mammal, to be concise) 10 years ago, although I continue to eat dairy, fish and chicken (in limited quantities). I’m quite happy with this approach, although I still consume way too many carbs, which I’m eager to change.

    Do you have any advice?

  • Clement:

    It's possible to be a paleo-fishatarian.  

    Eggs are an excellent source of nutrients, and just about anything tastes better with a fried egg on top or an egg scrambled into it.  

    Fish and shellfish are a fine source of protein.  I recommend moderate amounts of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines (a couple times a week is good), and don't forget the mussels, scallops, oysters, etc.  You'll want to watch out for mercury content if you're eating a lot of fish (tuna, shark, and other high-level predators tend to bioaccumulate methylmercury).

    Also, most fish meat is very lean, so you'll want to compensate with plenty of coconut oil, butter, and/or cream sauce when you eat lean cuts.

    Nutritionally you'll be fine: the main problem will be money, because fish is generally quite expensive relative to red meat!

    I'm not a fan of chicken due to the lousy n-3/n-6 fat profile, though if you have a source of free-range chickens that aren't fed grains, they can be OK.  But I'd still much rather eat the eggs than the chickens!

    Is your mammal meat avoidance due to allergies, factory farming, or because you've been convinced it's bad for you?

    JS

  • Clement

    “Is your mammal meat avoidance due to allergies, factory farming, or because you’ve been convinced it’s bad for you?”

    After living on a fairly meat-heavy diet for a while, I wasn’t enjoying the lethargic sensation after meals and felt I needed a change, especially with a family history of heart conditions (both grand-dads died of heart attacks). Whilst I don’t have any doubts that red meat can be prepared in a healthy way too, I’m much happier being an lacto-ovo pescatarian of sorts (sheesh, I just avoid red meat, is all). I stopped the red meat component mostly in order to improve my focus on what I eat and just haven’t missed it, over the years.

    I also agree that chicken isn’t a great substitute and hope to minimize that as well.

    Thanks for a most informative site, providing some valuable “food for thought” :)

  • Clement:

    If you simply prefer a fish-based diet, it's absolutely possible to be optimally healthy.  In fact, I'll be interested to see what sort of meals and dietary composition you eventually settle on, as I've seen the “what if I'm a pescetarian” question before: please keep us updated!

    JS

  • Hey, Clement – I was raised a vegetarian and we occasionally ate fish. Despite that, I grew up to be a tall, strong and independently minded fellow. I can appreciate you not enjoying meat – I don't eat much chicken; not liking it for texture and flavour (and omega 6 richness now I'm paleo), nor pork, but belly pork … Wow! … and red meat … try out some game meats, try out some proper grass fed ruminants. Slow cook it!

    Maybe an overt link over to my new food blog, but I think there will be a few interesting fish recipe combinations for you to try. Keep checking in – I'm always updating it, but one I adore for wild salmon is: http://pjgh.blogspot.com/2011/06/wild-salmon-with-…..ocado.html – pure paleo and damn 'effing tasty!

    Look out for smoked mackerel – often plastic packed and freezeable, great for any meal, but a damn nice breakfast. Sole works well with blueberries, firm fish like cod and haddock steamed with lots of veggies, herring, pickled herring, sardines in abundance grilled under a fierce heat over a salad of whatever you choose, baked fish … the world is literally “your oyster”.

    If you want some ideas for fish and shellfish, just shout! I'm hereWink

  • PrimalNut

    I might have one for ya.
    My mother was diagnosed with gallbladder stones. She’s been on a high grain/coffee/low fat diet her entire life. I then researched things about the gallbladder and did you know that little organ only empties its bile in the presence of fat?!
    My Dad has been on a high fat/protein/low sugar diet his entire life and has nothing wrong with his gallbladder. His diet is also high in organ meats like liver, tongue, kidney, heart and the blood of animals (blood soup, blood sausage with chunks of fat).
    My mother lost all of her teeth early in her life, while my Dad sports all of his 32 teeth at the age of 68. Both live in Germany but are of 2 different cultures.
    Mother is a finnish Lapp and Dad is originally from the south Balkans.

  • PrimalNut:

    That's a very interesting data point…gallstones are a relatively common complaint.  It would be interesting to find out if their incidence inversely tracks fat consumption!

    And yes, it's well-known that mouth bacteria feed on sugar.  That, I think, is the best evidence that the natural human diet is low-carb, as Paleolithic humans certainly didn't have toothbrushes, let alone fluoridated toothpaste.

    JS

     

     

  • FED

    A much-needed post given the current state of “Paleo” and its current, confused state (“reenactors” vs “neo paleoists”).

    I recently posted an article titled “Paleo and the Naturalistic Fallacy” on my blog which was an attempt to speak to this issue albeit from a slightly different angle.

    (http://www.fitnessinanevolutionarydirection.com/2011/09/paleo-and-naturalistic-fallacy.html)

  • FED:

    Yes, the naturalistic fallacy is one of the traps people initially fall into, and why I dislike the term “caveman diet”.  GROK SMASH! indeed.

    The challenge is to come up with a logical framework that includes evolutionary context, but is not limited to it…and that's what this article (which defines “functional paleo”) is about.

    Thanks for the support, and congratulations on your transformation!  Most people would be happy to have your “before” pictures…which shows that “paleo” isn't just a diet plan for fatties.

    JS

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  • Mike Ellwood

    I’m personally not a fan of the term “paleo diet” for the simple reason that (as you amply write about) we don’t really have a lot of information about exactly what people in the palaeolithic period(s) ate, beyond meat (which seems obvious, especially given our short guts).

    I came to low-carb-high-fat thanks mainly to Gary Taubes and Jimmy Moore. People who have read GC, BC may remember that one researcher way back that Taubes writes about asked experts he could find, what foods did people evolve to eat, and got the answer “fatty meat”, and that’s what he based his reducing diets on (with some optional green vegetables).

    That is essentially the approach I took to “low-carbing”, except that I allowed myself eggs, butter and cheese (raw if I could get it). I instantly gave up all grains and starchy vegetables (and didn’t miss them!), and of course all forms of sugar (including most fruit except on rare occasions).

    I figured that (c.f. Stefansson), although agriculture is relatively new, pastoralism is a lot older, and we probably had access to eggs and milk for longer than people may think (and there wasn’t much to do with milk except to let it ferment, once you’d drunk as much of the fresh stuff as you could before it went off.). This was without having read anything about “paleo” diets. As far as I was concerned I was just “low-carbing” in the original way it was conceived, and that’s how I still think of it. If it happens to (more or less) coincide with what people call “paleo”, well that’s all right but I’m not going to worry about definitions.

    I must say that your description of your interpretation of “paleo” is about the best one I’ve read to date.

    I must say that I’m glad the organisers of AHS used that term “Ancestral Health”. It feels closer to what I think I’m sort of doing … I’m approximating to the diet of my ancestors, although it’s a bit of a guess, and the best I can do in the 21st century.

  • Eat like your grandparents!

    I touched upon some of what you said in my little post here: http://paleo.pjgh.co.uk/2011/10/entering-mesolithic.html musing that we benefit from a pastoral lifestyle and one in which some wild grains were eaten, certainly root vegetables, certainly dairy and an increasing tendency towards storage of food while persisting in a largely nomadic lifestyle with an emphasis upon hunting. There was some tendency towards preparing vegetables, cooking vegetables and using stoneware to cook with.

    This is the epipaleolithic, or entering the mesolithic.

    I think this best describes what “paleo” people actually eat.

  • Mike Ellwood

    @Paul Halliday: Thanks for that.

    But what are you trying to say here? I may be getting on a bit, but even my grandparents weren’t around in the palaeolithic period! :-) (Just kidding).

    More seriously, grandparents – yes and no actually. They lived in a rural part of northern England, had 7 children, lived well into their 80s, Grandad worked in a shipyard till his 70s, both worked very very hard, and were pretty healthy until old age. He grew a load of vegetables, tomatoes and kept chickens. Even so, during the depression and the war, they went hungry. He was often out of work. And after the war, when things got a bit better, they’d be eating things like white bread spread with margarine and jam, and sugar in their tea (along with healthier things as well). Even so, Grandad remained lean all his life.

    Thanks for the link. Very interesting.

    However, I was never a big fan of potatoes, (and don’t see how my longer term ancestors would have had access to them, and I’m not sure if anything resembling them grew here then), and I think fat in the amount I have it probably leaves me fairly mellow. I’ve always believed in real food, both before and after low-carbing, and I think I’d describe myself as a Real Food, High Fat, Low-Carber, with a nod back towards my ancestors, whom I follow in spirit, if not in the letter.

    Best Wishes,
    Mike

  • Mike, Paul:

    As has been argued many times, “paleo” is more closely defined by what we avoid than what we eat.

    When “paleo” first began, the “avoid” list was based on archaeology, and included or excluded foods based on “was it eaten in the Paleolithic?”  As we move toward a more nuanced understanding of exactly what components of food are bad for us, we can make finer distinctions.

    However, we must be careful not to descend into the opposite of nutritionism, or “anti-nutritionism” as I like to call it.  Just because we've discovered some anti-nutrients (phytate, gluten/gliadin, phytoestrogens) doesn't mean we've discovered all of them — and just because pressure-cooking decreases some of the known anti-nutrients in beans doesn't automatically mean pressure-cooked beans are good to eat. 

    Frankly, we're at the stage that nutritionism was in the early 1900s, when the first vitamins were just being discovered.  I'm reluctant to make sweeping judgments like “legumes are OK” based on knowledge I know to be dramatically incomplete. 

    JS

  • “The Paleo Identity

    [...] Stanton, of Gnolls.org recently published an absolute MUST read to get your mind around this discussion.  Great info, well written and cool VIDEOS too. He calls [...]

  • [...] Important! I must note that there is not universal agreement, even among those I’ve linked, on what exactly constitutes ‘paleo’, let alone ‘healthy eating’. I call my approach “functional paleo”—and I define it in detail here, in “What is the Paleo Diet, Anyway?” [...]

  • [...] 1  Lisa Linnet, midwifemidwife It depends on what iteration.  The basic idea is not unsound: that our genes haven't had enough time to change so that we can be well-adapted to a modern environment, with (for many people) constant availability of huge amounts of food, being sedentary, and having as the foundation of the diet foods that appeared relatively recently in human history–refined grains and refined sugars (and factory produced seed oils).  Boyd Eaton and Loren Cordain and some others started speculating in the 1980s about improving health by trying to align one's lifestyle somewhat with characteristics of the lifestyles that humans would have led through most of human history–more physical activity and time outside, and eating foods similar in macronutrient content and nutrient density to the foods that humans ate during the long hunter-gatherer period of our history.  Back then, they were suggesting a lot of lean meat and vegetables, with some fruits.  When they thought about what archaic humans would have eaten, they imagined them hunting and then valuing the same cuts of meat that we do today (muscle tissue, lean meats).  But there is information from archaeological findings from ancient sites & memoirs of what Europeans observed of hunter-gatherer life in some Native American societies that suggests that people actually preferred to eat the fat and the fattiest cuts first, and sometimes didn't even eat the lean (sometimes giving it to their dogs).  So there are these ideas, and then they evolve as people learn more about what we humans were like long ago.  There's a lot of weirdness because the paleo idea got popular–paleo recipe sites that seem like 90% desserts made out of almond and coconut flour and some kind of super-expensive sugar substitute that is just sugar.  Ignore all that.  The interesting stuff about the paleo diet is the idea behind it, and the serious studies that look into the issues related to it.  It's not about trying to recreate life as it was 20,000 years ago but thinking about the environment we evolved in, how it differs from the environment we live in now, and the ways that thinking about the differences can help us figure out the healthiest ways to live now.  It's not just about food but also about patterns of activity (exercise), social life, Circadian rhythms, being outdoors.  Some of the interesting books include The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain, The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson, and The Paleolithic Prescription (the original classic).  I have some problems with some ideas presented in some of them–like sometimes they talk about how legumes are so bad for you because of the toxins, but it looks to me like those are inactivated by cooking.  (I like to track down the references rather than take things at face value, and the research showing beans being all full of toxins seemed to be done on raw beans.)  They sometimes say that dairy is bad because it's too new for us to have adapted to it but lactase persistence seems like a perfect example of how some of us (a minority, but still) really have adapted to certain Neolithic foods.  But some of the ideas in there are fascinating!  Here are some of the online sources that are very interesting, too:http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/05/31http://coolinginflammation.blogshttp://high-fat-nutrition.blogsphttp://www.gnolls.org/2226/the-phttp://www.gnolls.org/2526/bette…Embed QuoteUpvote • Comment Loading… • Written just now 1  Alison Meyer, ADHD and hyperfocusing on science.ADHD and hyperfocusing on science. Humans have evolved; our foods have also evolved.  Our lifestyles are completely different from our ancestors' 20,000 or so years ago.  So first of all, the paleo diet is impossible, and second, it's probably not good for us just because it used to be the only choice we had.  Yes, it's pseudoscience.  Just eat real food.  Sheesh.  And exercise.Embed QuoteUpvote • Comment Loading… • Written 5h ago 2  Albert Donnay, Toxicologist & Env.Health EngineerToxicologist & Env.Health Engineer Vote by Jesse Lashley.According to your comment, you are asking about the Paleo diet. This is based on real scientific research in real journals about what paleolithic people ate and how.But its promotion for people today is based on pseudoscience in that most claims being made for its effects on modern humans are anecdotal and not rigorously tested per the scientific method. Long term results are available so far only from ape studies. There are many other Quora questions on Paleo Diet but not many scientific studies are being quoted in the answers.Embed QuoteUpvote • Written Sun 2  Joshua Rueda, Chef, Entrepreneur, Paleo Lifestyle EnthusiastChef, Entrepreneur, Paleo Lifestyle Enthusiast Vote by Lisa Linnet.Take the time to do a bit more research. A great place to start would be with Jon Durant's book The Paleo Manifesto. It is a great read, and all of his information is cited one way or another, for more in depth research. Beware of paleo cookbooks, as many of them end up forming their own additions to the lifestyle that were not originally intended. Also, Dr. Loren Cordain wrote the guiding principles in his book The Paleo Diet, also a very good book. I hope this helps to answer your question.Embed QuoteUpvote • Comment Loading… • Written 3h ago Add your answer, or answer later.Loading…var __W2__shouldUseNewContentForLoadingSpinner = false; require.enqueue(function(require) { require("cookies").cookie("tz", new Date().getTimezoneOffset(), {"path": "/"}); }); $.whenIdle(350, 350, function() { require.enqueue(function(require) { if (window.w2_timing) w2_timing.logTime('componentInitStart'); var W2 = require('webnode2'), LiveNode = require('w2.livenode'); W2.addComponentMetadata({parents: {"mkUvHxB": "JW5DMuX", "A3fMFpw": "yyRhWko", "OpSFxTr": "FphGkEU", "JjapOpQ": "KSmxETu", "OeCFNKr": "RjUWdap", "HeYKieG": "miENCSd", "yaQ5zCo": "zgIHZJM", "eb3Ue1X": "sf5kfwD", "irsGcaW": "aEeCwMa", "XVev0bP": "PVrnHeL", "qE18Lxr": "VyPp8p4", "AQSot8G": "yMoC2if", "BnHPghe": "ZYIY2BP", "vN2gmrL": "jLf0dHO", "cn22pqd": "OpSFxTr", "XDvgmcm": "NJt3mZP", "aQyqeU0": "naAV9zg", "sxyXxSx": "QLvsz2t", "skqOt1q": "fj5PBHw", "hWVOOsl": "l5pBV5L", "BNlTGd8": 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