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Paleo Ways

I’m probably going to review this book (The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain) when I finish it, and that will include all the negative bits, of which there are a number. However, I’ve read enough that I’m convinced it’s an essential book that everyone interested in optimal health ought to read.

In spite of the silly (and misguided, in my view) saturated fat-phobia (oops, there I go…), it’s very valuable in view of understanding ourselves in terms of the vast and varied fossil record, i.e., human evolution in the context of diet (and most notably: how diet drove the evolution), and how utterly-woefully far we’ve come. A hint: fully 60% of the caloric value in the average American diet (grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, vegetable oils and all their derivatives) was not consumed by our primitive ancestors — AT ALL! Not a bit. Not even one ounce. This is faint recollection (feel free to correct), but when you compare that 60% with what would have been eaten in its place by a primitive ancestor 50,000 years ago, that portion of the primitive’s diet contains on the order of 300-600% more essential nutrition in terms of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, etc. — not to mention an enormous reduction in anti-nutrients and toxins, found most prominently in grains, legumes and dairy.

Another bonus to the book is understanding how moronic vegetarianism is from an evolutionary perspective — although, thanks to the scientific wonders that brought us cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other diseases of civilization, vegetarians can now survive, wherein previously, all humanoid vegetarian lines went extinct. In other words: thanks to the humanoid bone marrow and brain scavengers responsible for tripling the size of the humanoid brain and halving the size of the gut over the many millennia, vegetarians can now eat the diets of large-gut pea brains and chimpanzees, and live, even thrive. (!!!) Got it? MmmK…moving right along…. But first, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the choice to be vegetarian / vegan that’s moronic; I respect the choice, and it’s actually a good thing that they won’t go extinct as they would in pre-agricultural times (our big brains require LOTS of energy — you would have to eat the fibrous plant matter literally all day long, every day, just to survive — if even possible). No; what’s moronic is the use of science, evolutionary thinking, and the fossil and archeological record in a fraudulent effort to justify vegetarianism as our “natural diet.” It’s BS, and anyone who seriously thinks it’s not…is a moron, deluded, or a scamster. Frankly. All legitimate, peer reviewed archeological evidence — every shred — contradicts that notion and provides overwhelming evidence that humans were omnivores — oftentimes bordering on near total carnivory.

A fairy long excerpt, but it’s provided to illustrate the importance of getting and reading the book so as to understand how vastly inferior your diet likely is, compared to people who lived tens of thousands of years ago.

At first, humans were not terribly good hunters. They started out as scavengers who trailed behind predators such as lions and ate the leftovers remaining on abandoned carcasses. The pickings were slim; ravenous lions don’t leave much behind, except for bones. But with their handy tools (stone anvils and hammers), our early ancestors could crack the skulls and bones and still find something to eat — brains and fatty marrow.

Marrow fat was the main concentrated energy source that enabled the early human gut to shrink, while the scavenged brains contained a specific type of omega 3 fat called “docosahexaenoic acid” (DHA), which allowed the brain to expand. Docosahexaenoic acid is the building block of our brain tissue.

Without a dietary source of DHA, the huge expansion of our brain capacity could never have happened. Without meat, marrow, and brains, our human ancestors never would have been able to walk out of tropical Africa and colonize the colder areas of the world. If these people had depended on finding plant foods in cold Europe, they would have starved. In a landmark series of studies, my colleague Mike Richards, at Oxford University, studied the bones of Paleolithic people who lived in England some 12,000 years ago. Their diet, Richards confirmed, was almost identical to that of top-level carnivores, such as wolves and bears.

[…]

The archaeological record clearly shows that whenever and wherever ancient humans sowed seeds (and replaced the old animal-dominated diets), part of the harvest included health problems. One physical ramification of’ the new diet was immediately obvious: Early farmers were markedly shorter than their ancestors. In Turkey and Greece, for example, preagricultural men stood 5 feet 9 inches tall and women 5 feet 5 inches. By 3000 the average man had shrunk to 5 feet 3 inches and the average woman to 5 feet. But getting shorter — not in itself a health problem — was the least of the changes in these early farmers. Studies of their bones and teeth have revealed that these people were basically a mess: They had more infectious diseases than their ancestors, more childhood mortality, and shorter life spans in general.

Teeth

They also had more osteoporosis, rickets, and other bone mineral disorders, thanks to the cereal-based diets. For the first time, humans were plagued with vitamin and mineral-deficiency diseases — scurvy, beriberi, pellagra, vitamin A and zinc deficiencies, and iron-deficiency anemia. Instead of the well-formed, strong teeth their ancestors had, there were now cavities. Their jaws, which were formerly square and roomy, were suddenly too small for their teeth, which overlapped each other.

And here’s what 10,000+ year old wild human hunters tend to look like. Fat soluble vitamins ADEK2 were sufficient in mothers to ensure wide dental bridges (if you had to have teeth straightened, as did I — including removing teeth to make room — chances are your mother was severely fat-soluble vitamin deficient). I like how Stephan at Whole Health Source put it:

Both the Kiffians and the Tenerians had excellent dental development and health. Take a look at some of the pictures. Those are the teeth of a wild Homo sapiens. Straight, free of decay and with plenty of room for the wisdom teeth. They must have had good dentists.

Ha! “good dentists.”

Learn more about these amazing wild animals here and here.

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

17 Comments

  1. Stephan on December 4, 2008 at 20:20

    I should suck it up and read that book one of these days.

    That photo cracks me up, doesn't it look like he's putting eyedrops on the skull? I guess your eyes tend to get a little parched after 10,000 years…

  2. Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later on December 4, 2008 at 22:27

    Richard – I've been 'reading' The Paleo Diet for Althletes for months now, but wonder whether I should have read the one you are reading instead. It's really interesting, but I struggle with the basic premise of the book, which is that it's a good idea (or rather, not a bad one) to train for long periods each day. Interesting to see how one would modify the paleo diet if doing endurance training but difficult to apply the information in a truly paleo context of more infrequent training. Plus there is the fat phobia element you have identified in his other book…

  3. Chris on December 4, 2008 at 23:36

    Richard, have you read Neanderthin yet by Ray Audette? Some is good, some bad but his principles are sound.

    Another one which I enjoyed when first getting into this stuff was theTBK Fitness Program by Tamir B. Katz M.D. Fairly basic stuff but a good read.

  4. Chris on December 4, 2008 at 23:42

    By the way, the paleo fat phobia – also present in Art DeVany – really gets on my nerves.

  5. Richard Nikoley on December 4, 2008 at 20:31

    I'm tellin' ya, Stephan: I don't think I've ever had such a love/hate relationship with a book. I'm only a third of the way through and have seen the "artery clogging saturated fat" bromide at least a dozen times.

    He even thinks chicken and turkey ought to be eaten skinless.

    I guess Paleolithic fowl were so lean they didn't even have skin!

  6. Jacqueline on December 5, 2008 at 04:51

    Yes, in fact Cordain has not so much a cognitive dissonance there as a complete cognitive disconnect: it really doesn't make sense to say that on the one hand we owe our evolution to eating (animal fatty) marrow and brain and then to espouse avoidance of same by the present-day paleo!

  7. Jacqueline on December 5, 2008 at 04:56

    Another thing: I've always thought that those myths and legends that are common in many cultures about the ancient heroes, for example, in Ireland there are the Tuatha de Danann and the Fianna who were – usually compared to the storyteller – so tall and strong and long-lived and carried out such wonderful feats of strength and endurance – are an ancient folk memory of the time before agriculture.

  8. Bill on December 5, 2008 at 08:03

    i have the book, anyone who recommends canola oil and skinless meat has no merit with me.two thumbs down.

  9. Richard Nikoley on December 5, 2008 at 08:01

    Yea, I was thinking of that only minutes ago over my first cup of morning Joe. Not only that, but in various places he talks about the leanness of wild animals, yet goes onto say that mule deer are 60% BF, all told. Well, which is it? Lean or fatty? I grant that wild animals likely don't have the inter-muscular ('ribeye steak') fat that livestock have, but that doesn't mean that primitives didn't cherish the fat on animals wherever they could get it, including back slabs, ribs, bellies, and of course bones and brains.

    What, once we evolved small guts and big brains we eschewed that which got us there?

  10. Bill on December 5, 2008 at 16:56

    oh yeah? the book was a waste of money you can trace conola oil aka rape seed back to the canadians they paid the FDA off for the USA to start using it.Check this out http://www.shirleys-wellness-cafe.com/canola.htm

  11. Richard Nikoley on December 5, 2008 at 09:55

    Does he still do that? The canola oil?

  12. Richard Nikoley on December 5, 2008 at 17:37

    Bill:

    It was a QUESTION to you, not an assertion. Do you know the answer in regards to what he advocates today as opposed to in 2002? I don't.

    At any rate, I try not to throw babies out with bathwater. It's fine if you consider it a waste of money, but I happen to often –perhaps always — consider principles more important than concretes and applications, which means: I consider his advocacy of only lean meats and minimal saturated fats to violate the very principles (evolutionary basis of diet) he so soundly and effectively lays out in the book. And, if canola is OK (according to Cordain), then why not other foods that aren't Paleo but supposedly have nutritional profiles that closely resemble Paleo foods?

    That's too bad, but not fatal, in my mind. The basis (the principles) is far more important than the errors he (and others) make in applying the principles to reality. He does a very fine job laying that out, so someone that has not learned this proper, reality-based foundation would get themselves a fine education by reading it.

  13. Richard Nikoley on December 5, 2008 at 17:52

    …I just went to check that reference and read at least some of it.

    It is enough for me that rape seed oil would never have been in our diet, modified, processed, denatured, or whatever.

    Unfortunately, it's very difficult for me to take some like "Shirley" seriously, when she can't even put together a coherent, decent looking website (animated gifs!!!???). I'm not saying she's wrong. I'm saying that I don't know, and having such a amateurish looking website gives me no confidence that she is a serious searcher of truth rather than simply a Luddite fear monger, as so many in the "holistic" area are.

    I really can't tolerate any of them for very long. Evolutionary science is where it's at, and that's more than enough.

  14. Richard Nikoley on December 8, 2008 at 14:23

    Chris:

    I'm a bit behind. At any rate, I've not read either but have heard of the former. Someday…

  15. J.R. Lagoni on December 9, 2008 at 05:32

    Greetings-

    I am a geologist/prehistorian,and p/t consultant for The Paleo Diet website, newsletter, etc. I agree with most all of your analysis, but think it would be good if you discussed types of fat in more detail(e.g., Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio).

    Dr. Cordain doesn't think ancestral groups that ate the largest calorie ratios (let's say 90%) of animal foods (and thus, abundant animal fats) had CVD, cancer, or auto-immune diseases.

    I am not a nutritionist, so here is a thorough reply that he wrote:

    I really enjoyed your article,
    J.R.

  16. Richard Nikoley on December 15, 2008 at 15:39

    I'm going to get to the omega-6/3 thing soon.

    Here's an interesting article out from Stephan this morning:

    http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/12/myth-of-high-protein-diet.html

  17. […] to apples, i.e., the anthropological record: that repeatedly and consistently demonstrates strong and robust skeletons and teeth amongst hunter-gatherers, in stark contrast to those diseased skeletons, rotten teeth, and even […]

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