Evolutionary Nutrition

I came across a great post from Robb Wolf of CrossFit NorCal. If you live anywhere near Chico, CA, this is definitely the place you want to be working out and training. The thing about Robb is that not only is he running quite a show out there in terms of physical conditioning, but he's a biochemist as well. He knows his nutrition.

You might have noticed that the nutrition approach we recommend at CrossFit NorCal is a bit…oh, shall I say, contrarian? Where the USDA, AMA and the rest of the Government sponsored entities recommend grains and legumes as the base of the diet, we recommend lean meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

That’s crazy, right? aren’t we going to die from heart disease and cancer if we eat meat? How will we ever get fiber if we don’t eat grains!? I mean, fruit and veggies…what have they got to offer?! I’m being fecetious here, I hope you get that. I do understand our recommendations fly in the face of what we are told to eat from nearly every source you can find…what’s the deal? Well…the deal is, our nutritional approach, a diet the attempts to emulate that of our paleolithic ancestors, is without a doubt the best route to optimized performance and health. Big claim? Yep, but easy to back up. Folks start with us, tweak their food, then look, feel and perform better. Every measurable bio-marker such as cholesterol, triglycerides or blood pressure improve…depression resolves. It just works, because this is the way we are wired to eat. But hey, what the hell do I know? I’m just the crazy guy in the shed telling people to do weird stuff like sleep more, take fish oil and increase their protein intake. How could I possibly be right about this?

And here's the critical point he makes:

A paleo diet, calorie per calorie, beats any other diet you can compare it to. Here is a nice look at this in a paper from Loren Cordain. If you notice, the basic diet presented here looks like taking a nutritional supplement. Now, if you are ambitious, you can take ANY of those listed paleo foods, Lean meats, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggeis and compare them to the same calorie content of grains, legumes or dairy (non- fortified…just the way nature made them!) and you will decrease the relative nutritional content of the diet. Don’t believe me? You can actually do this experiment with the USDA Nutrient Database. So before you start waxing eloquent about how “nutritious whole grains are” give this a shot…build a diet the way our government recommends you do it via the food pyramid, then compare that to paleo foods.

I make this point all the time. Beyond all the harping about crappy processed vegetable oils, the sugar crack house, and grain-fed fatties, a Paleo-like diet is simply more nutritionally dense than any other — by leaps and bounds. (Aside: how come everyone knows and understands that livestock are fattened for slaughter by feeding them grains, but then are completely dumbfounded when it's suggested that grains are how you fatten humans, too?)

Here's the funny scene of woeful stupidity and ignorance on display. You want to see it? Just start having them substitute fruit or tomato slices — even cottage cheese — for BOTH your hash brown AND toast that go along with your eggs and breakfast meat of choice. Watch the looks of disbelief from the servers, some of whom even insist in asking me if I'm sure.

This is how brainwashed and laughably idiotic it has become.

Anyway, the next section of Robb's lengthy post deals with athletic performance gains documented on a Paleo diet, and how it's becoming more accepted by coaches and athletes as a means of improving.

Then he gets to his third and final point.

The paleo diet describes our past, shines a light on our current situation, and provides predictive value for our future. The Nutritional “Sciences” are anything but. In theory they are a subset of Biology. The basic tenant of biology is evolution via natural selection…yet this fact absolutely buggars those in the nutritional sciences.

He then quotes Cordain in offering some explanation as to why everything you are told by the nutritional health "authorities" is wrong, dangerous, and will likely kill you, disable you, and/or make you miserable downing tons of pills every day. I'm not joking. "Nutritionists" are outright killing and maiming people with their "eat more whole grains" mantra.

In mature and well-developed scientific disciplines there are universal paradigms that guide scientists to fruitful end points as they design their experiments and hypotheses. For instance, in cosmology (the study of the universe) the guiding paradigm is the “Big Bang” concept showing that the universe began with an enormous explosion and has been expanding ever since. In geology, the “Continental Drift” model established that all of the current continents at one time formed a continuous landmass that eventually drifted apart to form the present-day continents. These central concepts are not theories for each discipline, but rather are indisputable facts that serve as orientation points for all other inquiry within each discipline. Scientists do not know everything about the nature of the universe, but it is absolutely unquestionable that it has been and is expanding. This central knowledge then serves as a guiding template that allows scientists to make much more accurate and informed hypotheses about factors yet to be discovered.

The study of human nutrition remains an immature science because it lacks a universally acknowledged unifying paradigm (11). Without an overarching and guiding template, it is not surprising that there is such seeming chaos, disagreement and confusion in the discipline. The renowned Russian geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” (12). Indeed, nothing in nutrition seems to make sense because most nutritionists have little or no formal training in evolutionary theory, much less human evolution. Nutritionists face the same problem as anyone who is not using an evolutionary model to evaluate biology: fragmented information and no coherent way to interpret the data.
All human nutritional requirements like those of all living organisms are ultimately genetically determined. Most nutritionists are aware of this basic concept; what they have little appreciation for is the process (natural selection) which uniquely shaped our species’ nutritional requirements. By carefully examining the ancient environment under which our genome arose, it is possible to gain insight into our present day nutritional requirements and the range of foods and diets to which we are genetically adapted via natural selection (13-16). This insight can then be employed as a template to organize and make sense out of experimental and epidemiological studies of human biology and nutrition (11).

This is why a little guy like me (as well as plenty of guys like Robb, Art, Cordain, Eades, Taubes) are RIGHT and the entire weight of the worldwide "nutritional" establishment is WRONG. We are operating from a GENERAL GUIDING PRINCIPLE: human evolution by means of natural selection.

It's why everything makes perfect sense: we always stay on track and can't lose our way because we have a guiding light. It's why there are no more "paradoxes" (there never were; they were always wrong). It's why this is so simple. It's why food is fun and luxurious, again.

The ignorant-obstinate buffoons that comprise the world's nutritional "authorities" are killing, maiming and unnecessarily enslaving people to a lifetime of pill popping to artificially manage problems caused by their Frankendiets in the first place. And they are doing it with impunity.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More


  1. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later on November 6, 2008 at 13:41

    Nice – couldn't have put it better myself.

  2. Jesse Edmunds on November 6, 2008 at 15:41

    Wow, awesome post. I have never read it stated so eloquently before. Nutritional science just doesn't make sense unless you put it in an evolutionary context.

    Makes me think about how all of the human sciences, psychology and physiology, plus exercise should really be based around evolutionary theory as well. Any science related to the study of humans and their behavior should be based around evolution of the human species.

  3. Richard Nikoley on November 6, 2008 at 18:43


    What you're getting at, but don't say explicitly is that underlying everything, man is an Animal.

    All the rationality (and plenty of rationalizing) in the world will never allow us to escape that basic fact.

    We must act accordingly.

    "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." — Francis Bacon

  4. on November 22, 2008 at 20:25

    Often, I forward your site to others but I misspell… FEED the animal… *hah* It's not far off.

  5. Marisa on February 2, 2009 at 10:51

    Hi! I stumbled upon this "paleo" eating quite by accident. I have a gluten/casein allergy that has wreaked havoc on my health, and has induced autistic symptoms in one of my children. Since removing it from our diet, my eczema has abated, and my child's ability to cross-pattern appeared for the first time, along with her toe-walking (symptom of neurological damage) being a thing of the past … except when we get wheat contamination, and then she walks around like a ballerina again. (along with the diarrhea, aggression, and general malaise)
    We experiemented with the whole GFCF (gluten-free/casein-free) world of other grains, but literally spent a fortune. In the hopes of reeling in the finances, I dropped all the "fun" foods, and stuck to non-allergenic foods that were readily available to us: grass-fed, organic beef, pork, chicken, vegetables, nuts, organic oils (EVOO, coconut and palm mostly), coconut milk, and some fruits (thank god for Whole Foods). Because of our leaky guts I shied away from legumes (mold). Well, there you have it: the paleo diet.
    As we progressed along this line, I was astonished at my kids' recovery: they were happier, less tantrum-y, their skin (which had always been dry) became dewy soft, their chapped lips were a thing of the past too. For me, I had discovered God's design for us. In Genesis it says that "man" is to have dominion over the animals, and to me I read that as: we are to eat the animals! In a grateful and conscienctious way for they sacrificed their lives for us. Their spilt blood ensures me a higher quality life: I truly am grateful.

    I think 50 years ago, before the gov't partnered with farmers and there was a big push to become grain-based, the SAD was "healthier" and there was less heart disease and inflammatory illnesses (I think I read this in Taubes' book GCBC – ??). I heard a Dr. say on a show about bariatrics that 20 years ago there was NO case of teenage morbid obesity. That was an "adult" disease. After a generation on the USDA food pyramid, that is no longer the case.

    I don't see the evolutionary paradigm as necessary to understand nutritional requirements. I think you're fighting big brother. I think the "immature science of nutrition" is really the strong-held belief that food isn't a drug – that a food item can heal or poison a person.

    That's my two-cents. I wanted to drop a line b/c I have so enjoyed your insight. Although I come from a different point of view, I feel that we are on the same journey to optimal health. Salut! Marisa

  6. Marisa on February 2, 2009 at 11:38

    I'm looking forward to that blog – just a side note, to give creds to Dr. Sears of OmegaZone. That's where I read about food being a drug. Which is what aspirin (salicylate) is, basically willow bark (not necessarily a pharmaceutical concoction).

  7. Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2009 at 10:56

    Excellent, Marisa. I think I'm going to blog about your comment.

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