• Your life and health are your own responsibility.
• Your decisions to act (or not act) based on information or advice anyone provides you—including me—are your own responsibility.


Functional Paleo: A Definition And Short Manifesto

My series-in-progress, Why Are We Hungry? (part II, part III), will return after the Ancestral Health Symposium. I’m anxious to continue, because we’re just starting to dig into the meat of the problems with Part III)—but due to conference preparations and unexpected workspace issues, I simply don’t have the time to do it justice right now.

I’ll be signing copies of The Gnoll Credo at the Friday evening author event—so if you’re attending AHS, make sure to stop by and introduce yourself!

Also, if you don’t see me update next Tuesday, rest assured I’m on a mountain somewhere in the Eastern Sierra.

For reasons I’ve explained at length in What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway?, I believe the term “paleo” is sufficient to encompass the entire online and print community. The foundation of a paleo diet is our multi-million year evolutionary history as hunters and foragers, and we all understand that humans are poorly adapted to a diet of grass seeds—which we’ve been eating for perhaps a few thousand years.

However, though we as individuals can choose any point on the continuum, the print and online literature divides itself reasonably cleanly into two schools of thought. The traditionalists emphasize re-enactment of their perception of Paleolithic foods, make very specific claims about Paleolithic nutritional composition, and stress avoidance of all foods they view as Neolithic. In contrast, the new school claims that re-enactment is impossible, many claims of Paleolithic nutritional composition are either unsupported or implausible, and that we must evaluate foods, even clearly Neolithic foods, on their nutritional merits to present-day humans—though within our evolutionary context.

I believe we need a simple, descriptive term that distinguishes the pro-fat, dairy- and potato-tolerant “new school” of Paleo from the lean-meats-nuts-and-veggies traditionalists, without being pejorative to either.

To that end, I propose the term “functional paleo” to describe the new school.

Functional Paleo: A Definition

For my description and justification of functional paleo, read The Paleo Identity Crisis: What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway? Here’s the definition I close with:

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.

    In other words, “functional paleo” is based on the biochemical function of food within the human body. It is informed by evolutionary context, but not limited by it. (Or, most likely, a contested interpretation of it.)

    This functional definition carries its own risk: we can mistakenly see “food” as a collection of nutrients, an approach that ignores the many constituents of Real Food (meat, eggs, vegetables, root starches, fruit and nuts) that haven’t yet been isolated, recognized, or classified as nutritional. That way lies “meal replacement shakes” and madness—and that is why we must keep our evolutionary context in sight.

    Questions like “What would Grok do?” and “Imagine yourself in the woods, or by the ocean or on some fertile plain, with nothing but your own wit. What would you be able to eat?” are mental shortcuts to evolutionary context.

    However, the functional definition allows us to avoid silly arguments like “Paleolithic humans regularly ate rotten meat, so why don’t you?” and “An archeologist found starch residue in one cave in Africa, so that means cavemen ate bread and grains are paleo.” It also allows us to understand that though nuts and honey were certainly consumed in the Paleolithic, that fact alone doesn’t make them healthy to eat—especially in large quantities. I find this to be a worthy tradeoff, and I hope others agree.

    Functional Paleo: Who’s In?

    Here is a non-exhaustive list of sources I consider to be “functional paleo”. Please let me know if I’ve missed you or miscategorized you, or anyone else: I’ve erred on the side of caution by not mentioning any source I’m not reasonably sure of. (Leave a comment, or contact me directly.)

    I’ll be using the term “functional paleo” at the AHS and beyond, I assert no rights over it, and I encourage its use. I hope you find it both useful and descriptive!

    Live in freedom, live in beauty.


    What do you think? Are you a functional paleo eater? Does the term speak to you? Leave a comment!

    Since this is a short article, here’s a bonus video for you!

    Sometimes MMA is a subtle, skillful game of strategy: a wrestler’s top game vs. submissions from the bottom, strikes vs. takedowns, two kickboxers snapping insect-quick kicks and punches…

    …and sometimes it’s two giants playing the real-life version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.


    Permalink: Functional Paleo: A Definition And Short Manifesto
    • anand srivastava

      What about WholeHealthSource? He is not included because he does not recommend a diet, except for refraining from wheat, sugar and refined oil. But that is the same point as your 2nd one and he also uses biochemistry and traditional diets to decide on what is good and what is bad. Sounds to me like Functional Paleo.

    • Max More

      Hmmm. Coining terms to describe broad yet reasonably precise concepts is challenging, as I know well. “Functional paleo” seems to fit the bill well. I’ve been using “NeoPaleo”, but I think I like your term better.

      Okay, JS, I’m in.

      The logic of functional paleo, in contrast to paleo reenactment makes complete sense to me. Paleo reenactment is really just another form of fundamentalist thinking. That’s excusable and understandable for very short initial periods of time when moving from different beliefs systems or when very young, but otherwise is just silly. “Functional paleo” nicely labels a rational, evidence-based yet intellectually daring approach to nutrition and well-being.


    • Anand:

      Stephan has never self-identified as paleo AFAIK…he's more of a WAPF guy.  I know he soaks/sprouts grains — and lately he's begun strongly recommending a bland, starch-based diet, for reasons that I disagree with.  (Note that I absolutely accept the concept of food reward, and I believe that blandness can help address some cases of imbalanced hunger — but he seems to be advocating it as a universal solution, which I don't accept.  What I mean will become clear as I continue the series.)

      As far as soaking/sprouting grains, sure, you can remove a lot of some toxins…but grain protein is still sparse, of poor quality, difficult to digest, and often disruptive to digestion (e.g. lectins).  And no amount of soaking will cause gluten or gliadin not to mess with your intestines.

      AFAIK the only grain we can even remotely justify on functional paleo grounds is white rice, and that's because it's a relatively clean source of starch.


      You're right: good coinages are incredibly difficult to come up with.  This one simply came to me as I was preparing dinner and not thinking of anything in particular.  Which is good, because I was and am far too tired to write Part IV of “Why Are We Hungry?”

      I'm glad my articles still merit your attention!


    • Guy The Healthy Pale

      Yep agree

      Paul Jaminet’s book is excellent in this regard. I went to a seminar by Mat Lalonde and he is also driving this point, biochemistry above all.

      After nearly a year Paleo I am still experimenting around. I’m losing my attraction to fruits in general, except bananas(?) and berries. Bread is only good for the butter…. Coconut oil has a very soothing effect on me, I take it daily mornig and evening. Now I’m reconsidering the whole Crossfit mentality, that a bit of fat might be healthy, has opposed to chocolat abs mentality????

      I’m blogging about my experiences here: http://guythehealthypaleoguy.wordpress.com/ and oh yes I like week long water fasting, good for fat recycling and protein recycling.

      Thanks for another short paleo blurb!!!!!

      Guy The Healthy Paleo Guy

    • Sean

      Particle physics has been likened to trying to figure out how a clock works by smashing it with a sledge hammer and looking at the pieces.

      I think trying to figure out the optimal human diet by a combination of often poorly done (and institutionally biased) research, studying modern hunter-gatherers (almost non-existent), and archaeological evidence is somewhat similar, except that the human body is much more complicated than an atom and the tools we have to study it relatively more primitive than high-energy particle accelerators. So we are left with thing like ‘what would Grok do’. Such blunt tools are all we have at the moment, since we are pretty far from being able to compute nutritional biochemistry directly from the genome. But what would Grok do is way better than following the Food Pyramid or the China Study…

    • Asclepius

      I think this whole definition-thing is fraught with danger.

      For me ‘paleo’ comprises of fasting (so I throw one or two long fasts in a week, which are generally lower protein days), some higher carb days (potatoes and root veg), and some lower fat days. Notwithstanding the above, protein and fat dominate the diet. The days on which I implement the above are chosen at random. There is another paleo element I include, and that is an emphasis on seasonal foods.

      Trying to formalise the above is quite difficult and my main approach is one that had occurred to me, but which I first saw documented by Tamir Katz (http://www.tbkfitness.org/TBKdiet.html) who writes, “imagine yourself in the woods, or by the ocean or on some fertile plain, with nothing but your own wit. What would you be able to eat? Well, you could gather some berries, fruit, leaves, flowers, roots, nuts, and seeds. You could also use rocks, sharpened sticks, or other simple tools to hunt animals or catch fish.”

      Katz’s appraoch gives us a good handle on the paleo concept and can act like a compass thereafter. I usually start off with this example when explaing the paleo diet to people – which gets them to an understanding I call ‘Paleo Ground Zero’ (PGZ).

      I then suggest that from PGZ and armed with this ‘compass’ people can explore the paleo terrain and move from PGZ in to diary, eating perennial higher carbohydrate diets, eating unseasonally etc… But each time a novel food choice comes up, you can just reflect back upon Katz example, and if the food does not register in that situation, then treat it with caution. Novel can mean out-of-season as much as neolithic.

      This still does not capture the fasting part of the equation. Perhaps the modern desire for diet-by-numbers is an unachievable definition of paleo?

    • Jehane

      Rob Wolf – The paleo solution????

      I would say that’s functional paleo.

    • Anastasia

      Thank you JS for your kind inclusion in that distinguished list.
      I think we need a new term badly. I’m getting tired of a forward slash (Paleo/primal/lowcarb/evolutionary/…). We need something which doesn’t enclose us in a box because any box, even a Paleo one :), means that people turn off their brains and just blindly follow. Functional Paleo or primal works for me until somebody shows up and declares that primal means you have to eat sauerkraut daily or never ever buy milk from the supermarket.
      Fundamentalists are unpleasant in any guise even when they mean well.
      Enjoy the AHS. Wish I could be there.


    • James Schipper

      I like the term.

      For those of you wondering why he posted that MMA video, it wasn’t just for the entertainment value. Neil “Goliath” Grove is very much a Paleo guy.

    • Dave, RN

      Semantics. Just eat real food. Don’t worry about tags.

      A rose by any other name…

    • Jan's Sushi Bar

      I am most definitely a functional paleo eater, although I avoid using the term to describe my diet for the very reasons you have listed here – you end up in some of the most absurd conversations (“but cavemen only lived to be 25 years old!!”). I tend to tell people I only eat real food – and things that are processed are no longer real. If I’m feeling particularly argumentative, I’ll point out that all grains MUST be processed before they can be consumed, then ask if the person I’m talking to has ever eaten just straight flour. I actually had one person tell me, “Well, you don’t eat raw meat!” Uh, yeah, I do. I love sashimi, carpaccio and steak tare tare, and eat them every chance I get.

    • Mike T Nelson

      Great discussion!

      I agree, that the most basic question of “what is paleo” varies quite a bit.

      First off, if your method of paleo work, by all means go for it! Results above all else!

      For me, I like the Metabolic Flexibility concept (which I do owe you a follow on in regards to your great article on it).

      My goal is to be the most adaptable MF-er around. 90 to 95% of the time that means eating foods that make me better. The rest of the time is to test my response to foods and see if I can handle them ok.

      I should be able to drink a can of soda and not pass out from the “sugar rush.” This does NOT mean I will drink soda with every meal, every day though!

      I believe this method is more in tune with what our ancestors did, since food selection was more limited. People back then did not have the option to skip on certain foods when they were present. They ate as much as possible and those that continually passed on certain foods, probably did not live long and died from starvation.


      Rock on
      Mike T Nelson PhD(c)

    • Guy The Healthy Pale

      Isn’t interesting that nutritive food is Paleo
      and addictive/stimulating foods are …. not

      Do you eat to nourish and flourish
      Or eat to get stimulated?

      This is how I look at food today….

    • Ruby

      Oh man. I love MMA. Thanks for that! Will catch up on comments later!

    • Guy:

      Mat Lalonde is great, but he doesn't have a website I can link to!

      And self-experimentation is important…within the constraints of nutritionally sound foods.


      “Blunt tools” is a good analogy. 

      That's why I like to bypass so many of the poorly done studies — especially population studies, which statistics can be sliced and diced to “prove” just about anything — and go directly to such biochemistry as I understand.  For instance, my favorite example: if saturated fat is so terrible, why do so many animals store their surplus energy as saturated fat?  Wouldn't you think that somewhere in, say, the mammalian family tree, we would have started using our desaturase enzymes to store energy as linoleic acid, like grains do?

      “What would Grok do?” is basically a mental shortcut to evolutionary context.


      I'm not trying to define so much as coin a term.  The community is already where it is, and I'm not trying to move it somewhere else: I'm trying to describe where so many of us are already.

      As far as PGZ, it's a good mental shortcut to human evolutionary context, much like “What would Grok do?”  I like it, and as I've said, we always need to keep it somewhere in sight.


      Robb Wolf is a bit more on the traditionalist end AFAIK.  But I haven't finished reading The Paleo Solution, so I could be wrong.


      That's exactly why I wanted a term to distinguish the functional approach from the traditionalists: NeoPaleo, Paleo 2.0, etc. weren't descriptive, and “primal” is too closely associated with Mark Sisson (NTTIAWWT, but I don't see the Jaminets or Kurt Harris as derivative of the Primal Blueprint).


      I didn't know Neil Grove was paleo!  Forrest Griffin and Frank Mir also come to mind, and I'm sure there are more.


      I agree — but the problem with the term “real food” is that too many people think whole grains are real food and fatty meat isn't.


      Absolutely!  I hope this gives you another way to reasonably introduce and discuss the concept.

      Mike T:

      You can bet that I'll be talking more about met flex in the future…I'm just in a different area right now.  But I absolutely agree with you that it's important, and lack of met flex is either causal to, or associated with, a whole raft of health issues.

      Absolutely people with the flexibility to eat anything outcompeted those who didn't, though there is still a difference between optimal eating and bare survival: see my point about crises in evolutionary time in What Is The Paleo Diet, Anyway? 

      The trouble is that empirically, I see that decades of the SAD often seems to permanently impair met flex to some degree.  A lot of people seem to have to stick with low-carb because the moment they eat something carb-heavy, the switch apparently gets stuck on “glycolysis” and they become ravenously hungry — even people who aren't prediabetic and have otherwise functional metabolisms.  I don't understand the biochemistry here: it's an empirical observation.


      Yes.  I talk about that subject at length here.


      Glad to oblige!


    • About time! Good work, J!

      Disconnecting our thought processes from “what would Jesus^H^H^H^H Grok do?” and focussing upon what does biochemistry show is the best leap forward in terms of the paleo diet. Even using that term pins it back to Cordain and Wolf who make very useful first steps into biochemically proven good diet.

      It’s good to see Sisson up there in your list – I have a real admiration for the fellow! Curiously, that “grinning American” was the thing that put me right off, but I bought the book in the end and it is the one I’m keeping. I’m selling the other two. What I like about Sisson is that he understands that life is to be lived, to be enjoyed, not endured. His approach to fat, dairy, natural sugars and even legumes is all well worth reading, but very much backed up my what it does to us biochemically.

      It’s a shame that it was Sisson who brought Grok to us all – functional paleo is actually contra-Grok. We have science; Grok had whether it didn’t agree with him in an obvious way.

      Where you come in J, is with your key principle of ‘eat like a predator’. Okay, nuts and seeds are fine, but we’re not birds or foraging rodents. Some foods in absolute moderation, eaten rarely and as a treat are also fine and our bodies can cope with it so long as it is consumed rarely – think honey, or a sugar-heavy dessert. Likewise, once we’re down to a healthy size and fat ratio, we can start to enjoy the occasional natural treat like a piece of fruit.

      Metabolic flexibility should also be a key part of functional paleo.

      MF is very important indeed and something the lowcarbtards (to use a phrase I read in a recent forum argument) should read up on. Lowering carbohydrate content to levels laid out by Sisson for particular needs is useful. Understand what it is you want your body to do and feed it accordingly. I like that you cite protein shakes and other such nonsense as things we should avoid – we’re all about eating naturally and in accordance with our digestive milieu.

      Homeostasis is a word that we should be seeing more of. Perhaps that should be a focus of the functional paleo manifesto?

      So far, it is a definition and a short manifesto – you said that. Let’s get some meat on those bones. Principles and statements. Remember the discussion we had on play and rest as a potential second core point of any potential definition? I mooted that your two points from ‘The Paleo Crisis’ could be put together and beefed up with a statement about drink, then a second statement around work, play and rest. Yes, it can be distilled too far, but a couple of well crafted statements to encapsulate the whole notion of functional paleo is just a few keystrokes away – diet is one part; functional paleo is about the whole, which includes how we work, play and rest.

      Burgeoning work! This is going to be strong stuff.

    • primordial

      J. Stanton said:

      The trouble is that empirically, I see that decades of the SAD often seems to permanently impair met flex to some degree.  A lot of people seem to have to stick with low-carb because the moment they eat something carb-heavy, the switch apparently gets stuck on “glycolysis” and they become ravenously hungry — even people who aren't prediabetic and have otherwise functional metabolisms.  I don't understand the biochemistry here: it's an empirical observation.


      That's indeed true. I would never believe it myself, nor did I want to be true. In fact, I came from a few month of eating raw fruits and veggies after vegetarianism where I realized I headed in the wrong direction, because my health problems didn't get better.

      I was hyperinsulinic, hypoglykämic, hungry all day, had migraines (energy crisis), acne and other minor problems.

      After a few months low-carb, it is all gone. I couldn't believe that it is possible to eat less then 3 times a day and not being hungry for 4-7 hours, sometimes more. It's relieving!

      And here's the backside: I can't cheat with carbs, because then the hunger for carbs come back and I go on binging again. It seems my metabolism will need a few years to heal before I can maybe switch to a higher-carb paleo diet (I love fruits) or have the occasional cheat without a disfunctional glucose/insulin reaction or whatever the science behind that is.

      Because a lot of people suffer from metabolic problems I agree with you that strict paleo low-carb/ketogenic diet seems to be the only reason, at least in the beginning.

      Having said that, I am sure a metabolically healthy person has no problem with a high-carb diet in general. (There a numerous healthy tribes out there) or some rare eatin modern junk.


      Functional paleo is indeed the right term describung where the community is already heading. But I am not sure if it is something which is distinguishable from Loran Cordains or Staffan Lindebergs concept. If you ask them, they would talk exactly about this: The combination if evolutionary history and the marriage with modern science.

      Only the interpretion, what our ancestors ate and what science says about biochemistry differs.

    • Walter

      While Mike & Mary Dan Eades are associated with low carb, but if you read Protein Power and Protein Power Life Plan there is plenty of Paleo concepts and both Drs. Eades explain the science very well and the biochemistry or physiology is the final word for them, making them functional Paleo in my opinion.

    • eddie watts

      i get the ravenous hunger when indulging in carbs too, read about it a lot on low-carb sites (fathead comments and facebook mostly)
      seems to hit me more with sugar though, bananas and sweet potatoes don’t affect me any where near as much.

    • Sean and Asclepius' comments have reminded me of a point which I've added to the definition:

      “Questions like “What would Grok do?” and “Imagine yourself in the woods,
      or by the ocean or on some fertile plain, with nothing but your own
      wit. What would you be able to eat?” are mental shortcuts to
      evolutionary context.”


      As far as the fasting issue, I view the timing of meals as part of the eating of meals.  I haven't talked about IF too much because people like Martin Berkhan cover the subject so well, though I did touch on it in “The Breakfast Myth”. (Part 1 and Part 2.)  Energy storage and retrieval is a huge part of having a functional metabolism, and “metabolic syndrome” is basically a disease of broken energy storage and retrieval.

      Again, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything: I'm just trying to coin a term for what already exists.


      Functional paleo isn't so much contra-Grok as it is “Grok is a useful guideline that keeps us in sight of evolutionary context — but when science actually manages to give us concrete, usable knowledge, science must take priority.”  As discussed above, though, good science can only go so far, and we have to eat something and live somehow while waiting for the long-term controlled studies to complete.  And the process of science is both fallible and easily perverted, which is why I emphasize that we must keep in sight of our evolutionary context.

      As far as “this is going to be strong stuff”, I'm continually sharpening my own understanding and sharing the results with you and my other readers.  I'm not dispensing pieces of a “truth” I claim to have already discovered and understood in its entirety. 


      Good point about the Eadeses.  Perhaps I'll be able to ask them what they think at the AHS.


      Definitely true for many.



    • primordial49:

      Absolutely.  Some people, even within the paleo

      community, simply don't understand that reality, and make fun of low-carb practicioners.

      As far as distinguishability from Cordain/Lindeberg/etc., I offer the example that broccoli is no more intrinsically “paleo” than milk…wild cabbage was domesticated and bred into its modern forms long after animals were first domesticated.  Furthermore, nuts contain meaningful amounts of lectins and other toxins, which are apparently OK in nuts even though they're not OK in beans, because Paleolithic humans ate them.  And their very high n-6 content is also somehow not a problem, even though the n-6 content of modern grain-fed beef (which is bad, bad, bad!) is trivial by comparison. 

      Hopefully that illustrates a few of the reasons I don't follow their approach.


      OK, everyone, I'm already late and I have to leave.  Expect sparse replies until I return from AHS.  Thank you for the stimulating dialogue!

    • Steve S

      I know Kurt Harris struggled with this and Mark Sisson dealt with it back in 2008:


      The problem then: “A fundamental difference? The role of saturated fats.” -MDA

      I’m pretty sure Robb Wolf covered Cordain’s change of heart on the subject. Would you put Robb in the “Functional Paleo” camp?

      Anyhow, primal, paleo, Functional Paleo, (would say Archevore but just learned this is dead) it does not make a difference to me. What I do think is important is that Primal and Paleo lifestyles go beyond diet and cover fitness and environmental topics like sleep and stress. This differentiates us from low carb’ers and keto folks.

      What about “Evolutionary Wellness?” This is a term I use in my RSS reader to file many blogs under but would it describe the Eades, Taubes and Dr. Art Ayers from coolinginflammation.blogspot.com? Probably not but I’ve got them all lumped together anyhow.

      I think if you had to go with one term to define a lifestyle that nutritionally excludes the neolithic agents of disease, whole foods, grock-style primal fitness, sunshine, outdoors and living free of chronic stress I would go with “Paleo” if only because this word is used more often and is short, sweet and to the point. There will be a Paleo 3.0 and beyond but it will still be Paleo.

      Eggs, no eggs, high fat, low fat, dairy, no dairy, if it’s working for you, it’s functional paleo!

    • wozza

      What do you call traditional paleo? That’s where I’m at. Who do you think those best bloggers are?

    • Wozza – Loren Cordain wrote 'The Paleo Diet' and Robb Wolf wrote 'The Paleo Solution'. Cordain is the founder, Wolf the protege. That's what you might call “traditional paleo”, or original paleo.

      Robb Wolf runs a website, blog and forum.

      Do check out Mark Sisson as well, who is considered one of the “functional paleo” writers in this piece. He runs a website, blog and forum as well.

      URLs? Go hunt and gather! It's paleo …

    • eddie watts

      i should have said, i would consider myself functional paleo if i considered myself to have a “dietary label”
      i eat high fat dairy like cheese and greek yogurt, avoid low fat dairy. i don’t eat grains, i eat some peanut butter. (would make my own nut butter with mixed nuts but the price has just shot up here)
      i try to avoid eating too much cheese as i find this to stimulate eating binges in me, i have some daily still but keep quantities low.

      total avoidance of sugar and all flours seems to work for me, i’m currently not eating fruit too as i’m losing some weight too, which is needed. will eat fruit again once lost the weight but it is another food i could eat tons of easily 😀

    • Like you, Eddie I continued to call my dietary regimen “paleo” while continuing to eat dairy and without a great issue with potatoes. I didn't see that I needed to use an alternative term, although “primal” and “archevore” are both very good.

      I am not at all lactose or casein intolerant and so cheeses like feta, cheddar and those lovely crumbly cheeses that we seem to do so well in the UK are eaten with some frequency. Yoghurt is a mainstay for me an I believe that eating probiotic yoghurt, coupled with total removal of grains and temporary total removal of potato, has made a serious improvement to my gastric reflux problem and started on the long path to healing my gut. I get very occasional pangs of heartburn and I am not carrying emergency antacids around with me any more. For all intents and purposes, I'm healed … and that's through “functional paleo”.

      I am happy to cook potatoes occasionally for my wife. When I consider that I am down to my correct fat size I might bring them back in. My wife is not “paleo”, but comes along for the ride since I do all the cooking – she said to me yesterday that she MUCH prefers what we are eating now to what we were eating six months ago.

      This article is a good stake in the ground.

      There are a good number of us already who are vocally “paleo plus” – that's paleo with dairy and perhaps potato, certainly high fat; and I think a really useful short set of principles will form the manifesto over the coming period.

    • “I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything: I’m just trying to coin a term for what already exists.”

      I think that this is an important point to emphasise. People are on the look out for dietary fads. Paleo is burdened by confusion with LC, Atkins and cavemen! The fact that it manifests under several names (evolutionary fitness, NED, Paleo, Paleo 2.0, primal etc…), seems to generate suspicion.

      It is strange that many of us who follow the paleo concept find it pretty easy to understand and implement (and have no problem with the grey areas of IF, dairy, starchy tubers etc….). Even the divergence with WAPF is no big deal – we can accept the consequence of traditional cooking methods upon otherwise intolerable foods even if we shun grains ourselves, fermented or otherwise.

      I believe that ‘when the student is ready, the teacher arrives’. And so once an individual accepts the broader paleo premise (‘that we should look to evolution for cues as to what to eat’), it makes sense to have some robust, scientific-based arguments in place to help navigate this concept.

      Gnolls.org is definitely a good place to look for directions!

      Good luck with your presentation at the AHS.

    • Todd

      Robb Wolf is a lot less dogmatic then some give him credit for. His position on things like cream and butter have changed, and he has said that his admonitions against “fatty meats” assume standard rearing practices (high Omega 6) and not grass-fed.

    • hellaD

      Interesting discussion! I hadn’t necessarily though of myself as paleo prior to this but under that definition I would probably be a functional paleo, I guess that means no juicing though? I do most of my food processing manually, but I do like fresh carrot juice once in a while. I suppose that isn’t in the spirit of paleo at all though….

    • eddie watts

      hellaD while juicing would not be paleo per se, it’s pretty benign if you’re talking vegetables. compared to fruit or soda

    • Jacquie

      I like your proposed ‘functional paleo’. I’m pretty new to this way of life – just over 5 months in. The thing I’ve found is that the huge variations in what the gurus are suggesting/instructing/dictating paleo-ites to do renders the concept exceedingly difficult to understand and then to articulate. I tend to tell people that I’m avoiding processed foods – and if I like them, I’ll add that I eat meat and veges almost exclusively. Functional paleo suggests that within some very broad and shifting guidelines, we do what makes sense for our bodies from an evolutionary and practical perspective. I’m in.

      Your hunger series is wonderful. It’s the only time I’ve ever linked a blog to my facebook page. Thanks!!

    • Functional Paleo 

      […] This is an incredible article from Gnolls.org that, once again, puts a logical, straight-forward exp… […]

    • primordial

      J. Stanton said:


      Absolutely.  Some people, even within the paleo community, simply don't understand that reality, and make fun of low-carb practicioners.

      As far as distinguishability from Cordain/Lindeberg/etc., I offer the example that broccoli is no more intrinsically “paleo” than milk…wild cabbage was domesticated and bred into its modern forms long after animals were first domesticated.  Furthermore, nuts contain meaningful amounts of lectins and other toxins, which are apparently OK in nuts even though they're not OK in beans, because Paleolithic humans ate them.  And their very high n-6 content is also somehow not a problem, even though the n-6 content of modern grain-fed beef (which is bad, bad, bad!) is trivial by comparison. 

      Hopefully that illustrates a few of the reasons I don't follow their approach.


      That's my critizism, too. Additionally:

      -We never ate animal protein without the animal fat

      -We never ate vegetable or flax oil to get omega-3s

      -It makes no sense to eat that much fruit and vegetables with lean protein.

      First, we neaver ate that much protein. Because carbohydrates were often scarce, H/Gs needed to eat at least 70-80% fat, otherwise protein toxicity kicks in. And even if we had some carbohydrates, there would still be a lot of fat in the diet.

      -Raw nuts are especially harmful, thanks to lectins


      Ironically it can work in the short term because the massive amounts of protein counteract hunger which is caused be that much fruit carbs.

    • Ancestral Health and

      […] way of life – Paleo (Prof Cordain), Primal, Evolutionary (who started this one?), Archevore, Functional Paleo, and Ancestral. In general I agree that Paleo doesn’t work all that well as it refers to a […]

    • I'm starting to catch up on comments: thanks for your patience!

      Steve S:

      Robb is sort of a transitional figure AFAIK: he started as a Cordain protege, but he's become more flexible over the years.  Though his book is still basically Cordain.

      Evolutionary wellness is a good term.  And I absolutely agree that paleo goes beyond diet and exercise: I've written about it before, and will write more in the future.  But right now I've got a lot to say about diet.

      I absolutely agree that “Paleo” is a good term, and unlike Dr. Harris, I'm unwilling to abandon it.  But I believe there's a pretty solid dividing line, and that it's important to distinguish functional from traditional paleo.  Saturated fat is the most obvious of the issues, but not the only one.


      Probably Robb Wolf and Whole9Life.  Cordain updates very infrequently.  Anyone with more suggestions?


      Absolutely you're doing functional paleo.  As are most people, frankly.


      That's what functional paleo is about: evaluating foods on their biochemical merits, even Neolithic foods.


      Absolutely.  The #1 misconception I see and hear from those not already familiar is “caveman diet”, often followed by “but cavement only lived to 25 and didn't have refrigerators”.

      I didn't give a presentation at AHS: I participated in the “Meet the Authors” event, along with everyone from the Jaminets to Nora Gedgaudas to Sarah Fragoso.


      Yes.  That's why I count him as a sort of transitional figure: his position continues to slowly evolve.


      What Eddie said.  Juicing is a gray area, because it allows you to hork down a whole lot of food that you couldn't otherwise.  I discourage fruit juices for that reason, but if a juicer helps you get vegetables down the hatch, why not?

      Just remember that you shouldn't juice in quantities you wouldn't eat.  If you can do that and aren't gaining weight (I see people making endless banana + protein powder smoothies and wondering why they aren't losing weight), it's probably OK.


      Absolutely.  Functional paleo allows us to not get caught in the “but cavemen didn't eat that” trap.

      I'm glad you enjoy the hunger series: it's coming back in just a few days!


      Absolutely.  I have no idea how an active person is supposed to eat enough lean meat and veggies to maintain caloric balance without protein toxicity.




    • Functional Paleo: A

      […] Functional Paleo: A Definition And Short Manifesto September 8, 2011By: J. Stanton Read the Full Post at: GNOLLS.ORG […]

    • ~pjgh » Blog A

      […] paleo bloggers, Stanton and Harris, have made some significant contributions to the paleosphere – Functional Paleo is now defined and Archevore has moved to a version 3.0 and the role of starches in the paleo diet […]

    • ~pjgh » Blog A

      […] it The Primal Blueprint, Functional Paleo, Archevore, the Perfect Health Diet or Paleo+ what we have is a gentler, more playful paleo but […]

    • Peewee

      Sean said “the human body is much more complicated than an atom and the tools we have to study it relatively more primitive than high-energy particle accelerators”

      It’s much simpler to split a human than an atom no, much simpler to dismantle a watch than an atom.

      ‘Particle physics has been likened to trying to figure out how a clock works by smashing it with a sledge hammer and looking at the pieces.”

      thats a terrible analogy it would be much more like flying a supersonic jet into a watch recording the trajectories of all the pieces , reconstructing the properties of the materials based on how far they went, how fast they went, what kind of paths they took.

    • […] 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, […]

    • […] Functional Paleo – a short manifesto […]

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