• 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.