I woke up yesterday to a bit of a surprise. Mike Eades, MD, has a new post up concerning a Twitter debate he had with one of my frequent commenters and a collaborator for a few posts I’ve published here, with a view to better understanding of things like the gut biome (glycans, “animal fibers”), carbohydrate intake (fresh kill, raw meat and sea mammal glycogen), glucose tolerance, and chronic ketosis amongst a good testing ground: the Inuit. The Twitter debate was spurred by one of those posts. Here they are:
- Disrupting Paleo: Inuit and Masai Ate Carbs and Prebiotics, Part 1
- Disrupting Paleo: Inuit and Masai Ate Carbs and Prebiotics, Part 2
- To Reiterate, Just In Case You Missed It: No Elevated Ketone Levels in the Inuit
- One Thousand Nails in the Coffin of Arctic Explorer Vilhjálmur Stefansson, and His Spawn
Since they live at the margins, the cool thing about studying the Inuit is very simply—from a scientific-methodological perspective—that there are fewer confounding variables to consider.
However, in Dr. Eades’ view, pointing out inconsistencies in the standard narrative surrounding the Inuit constitutes “confirmation bias” and “cognitive dissonance,” while holding to the standard narrative and dismissing many reasonable questions, facts and interpretations is a demonstration of impartiality and cognitive consonance.
You may have noticed in the way I write that I don’t go out of my way in pointing out bias. And while I appreciate pointing out logical fallacies in argument, I’m not much of a policeman about it. The Dialectic is the reason, specifically Fichtean or, Hegelian Dialectics. Rooted in the Socratic method of inquiry—and distinguished from debate and rhetoric—it’s how I have predominately viewed and engaged in human discourse for over two decades.
THESIS —> ANTITHESIS —> SYNTHESIS
The Synthesis then becomes the new Thesis, and the process repeats ad infinitum; not in circular fashion, but rather, a spiral fashion where each cycle represents more knowledge, better understanding, get’s a little closer to the truth. As such, I never have to worry much about someone’s bias. Let them be as biased as they like and then synthesize new understanding from competing bias. Someone’s comment on a post of mine might be 90% logical fallacy—or just mostly bullshit—but 5%, or 1% decent antithesis from which which a synthesis might emerge and in turn, a new, more complete thesis.
…Or, you can waste endless hours debating who’s right and who’s wrong; who’s biased and who’s impartial; who’s cognitively dissonant and who’s consonant. Or, you could be making progress recognizing that in all likelihood, you’re both right, both wrong; both biased; both living in some measure of dissonance and contradiction—in different proportions, contexts and perspectives—and there’s a synthesis dying to get out if you could both simply embrace intellectual honesty.
Getting the hang of it?
Let’s consider for a moment that this blog—with its 4,000 posts and 80,000 comments over 10 years—is basically just one huge-ass Dialectic where, most posts are in some way either theses—to advance or support some bias I hold—while the others are antitheses—to advance my bias counter the bias of others. And where, very importantly, the comment threads drive the whole thing. Moreover, most of those posts—because it’s a blog, there’s competition for mindspace, and there’s an entertainment element—are encapsulated within my own style of rhetoric. But the rhetoric is not ultimately important, merely my attempt to get you to read—which is why I was just as passionate in my anti-starch posts several years ago, as I am in my pro-starch posts today. If you don’t try just as hard to get people to read and consider your thesis or antithesis, then what’s the point?
There’s a few simple antitheses I’d like to offer concerning Dr. Mike’s post.
- Someone can be 100% biased, but still be the most right upon critical evaluation of relevant facts; while the so-called impartial saint can be more wrong. In other words, charges of bias or cherry picking are actually non-sequitur, or red herrings. Such accusations can also actually be a diversion tactic, when one is uncomfortable about new information, or a better understanding or integration of it. Or, rather than engage in cognitive dissonance, accuse your opponent of confirmation bias.
- Demonstrating that someone is biased is not the same as supporting an alternative hypothesis. For example, hearing for the 10-thousandth time that Ancel Keys confirmed his bias in cherry picking his Six Country Analysis (not the same as the Seven Countries Study) does absolutely nothing to support the alternate hypothesis (antithesis) that saturated fat in abundance is good for you and is heart protective and healthful.
- Ironically, if you look at the comment thread as I last saw it at about 50 comments, it’s largely a lot of people saluting their authority for helping them to confirm their bias, in a post about confirmation bias!
As to point three, I happened to see this tweet by Nora Gedgaudas linking to Dr. Mike’s post:
Finally! A voice of reason in the ‘resistant starch’ debate: bit.ly/QngFx3 Thank you @DrEades
There’s only one problem. Mike didn’t mention resistant starch one single time in the post, nor was the post about that in even a peripheral way. I got from several sources that at the recent Paleof(x)—where Nora, amongst many others, spoke—VLC is basically considered over as part of the Paleo paradigm—at least in terms of top dogma. Too many antitheses—many involving the practice of starch eating, and they are backed my many n=1 (and just try to tell someone that your thesis or antithesis trumps their n=1). So, perhaps the embrace of Perfect Health Diet levels of safe starches, combined with the whole irresistibility of resistant starch, has many who’re holding to a VLC thesis of paleo somewhat uncomfortable.
To summarize, don’t waste your time pointing fingers at cognitive dissonance or bias; and besides, neither Duck or I have a bias against low carb (he lost 40 lb, I lost 60 on LC). Rather, we simply want all relevant information integrated into the general narrative, not just brushed aside in some pretense that this is all settled. Instead, embrace the primary thesis that we’re all human, reject the antithesis that implies there exist pristine impartial superhumans that rise above such tawdry faults, but be intellectually honest and listen to every antithesis you can get your mind around. This is why I read every single comment posted to my blog and follow virtually every link included. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been sent down a rabbit hole that eventually caused me to form my own antithesis, from which I could have a synthesis, and a new thesis (Marketers: this is the essence of A/B testing). Not the absolute truth, just a step closer.
And if you’re smart, you understand that the journey (dialectic) is infinitely more important than the destination (absolute truth).
Alright, so lets get into some specifics about our Antithesis or, why these questions, objections and interpretations are reasonable and need to be integrated into the Inuit narrative in order to achieve a better understanding of how they do (or don’t) inform sound dietary and health practices in the modern world.
Owing to the environment, the Inuit ate very little plant matter, thriving instead on the flesh of land and marine animals. Their diet was high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate. As such, they spent much of their time in dietary ketosis. They exhibited pristine health and therefore 1) high dietary fat, and particularly saturated fat, is good for us 2) very low carbohydrate intake, leading to a state of perpetual ketosis is good for us, and 3) dietary fiber is likely not very important to modern health.
1. While it’s true that the Inuit did not thrive on plants, there’s reasonable evidence to suggest that they knew much about plants, made use of lots of them, sought them out, and prized them. Here’s a comment by botanist Arthur Haines on a PrimalDocs post.
That said, the Inuit were not strict carnivores, they were omnivores who consumed the lion share of their calories as animal foods. However, they consumed a relatively diverse selection of greens, fruits, and roots when they were available during the growing season. They also stored many of these same foods in oil-filled seal pokes for preservation. Greens included species of dock, willow-herb, rose root, sea-sandwort, and saxifrage. Fruits included baked-apple berry (a raspberry relative), crowberry, and cranberry. Roots included alpine sweet-vetch. It is estimated that 50% of some arctic indigenous population’s vitamin C intake were provided by these plant foods. Further, they ingested medicinal phytochemicals through these greens and fruits that would have fought inflammation, sickness, cancer, etc. Just as there is no indigenous group who was entirely vegetarian, there was no group that was entirely carnivorous.
Melissa McEwen, in a post from 2012 about the book, Plants That We Eat: Nauriat Niginaqtaut – From the traditional wisdom of the Inupiat Elders of Northwest Alaska, wrote:
Perhaps Anore Jones is part of a conspiracy, but if she is, it seems to be fairly usophisticated, because almost none of her book’s content has been disseminated online and it contains recipes that use such crowd-pleasing ingredients like seal oil and fish heads. Her book is called Plants That We Eat and it’s 240 pages, which is curious for a culture that supposedly eats no plants. If it’s fiction, she’s done a rather miserable job and I suggest you read Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings instead.
But I doubt it’s fiction. She lived in Kotzebue with Inupiat for 19 years and has numerous photos of them preparing plants. I think people with plant-free anecdotes may have either not spent enough time with the Eskimos or might have not had enough contact with women.
She also quotes Jones from the book:
My grandmother would always dig the roots of roseroot when she could. She buried them in sand and grass on top of a high knoll. If hard times came when we were short of food, we’d know they were waiting. As long as we had seal oil, we could eat them. – Bessie Cross, an Inuit who Anore interviewed […]
In a good berry year the otherwise green tundra actually has a blueish cast from so many berries. Even after people and all the creatures have taken their fill, the berries will still be thick. They freeze on the bushes and on the ground for the mice and ptarmigan to eat all winter and are there, dried and sweet, for bears, birds, and people to eat next spring. It’s such an enormous wealth of food, but one never to be counted on, for in a poor berry year you will walk all day and not find enough to taste. Then the animals that ate berries must find other foods and some must eat each other. […]
The root of the yellow flowered oxytrope (Oxytropis maydelliana) has been eaten from Sealing Point in the historical past. It is also known as aiqaq and eaten in Anaktuvuk Pass and Canada. It occurs nearly all over Alaska and Northern Canda but is eaten only in certain places.
A.E. Porsild, former Chief Botanist of the National Museum of Canada, in a paper entitled Edible Plants of the Arctic, written for the Encyclopedia Arctica, a project guided by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, wrote:
Among the Eskimo–the most widely distributed race of arctic aborigines the dependence on vegetable food varies from group to group according to tradition and according to what plants are available in the area occupied by them; thus, to the most northerly tribes the use of vegetable food is purely incidental and largely limited to the partly fermented and pre-digested content of the rumen of caribou and muskoxen, whereas in the diet of the Eskimo of southwestern Greenland, Labrador, and western and southwestern Alaska, vegetable food constitutes a regular, if not very large, item.
2. In addition to the plants they ate when they could, they got significant fiber from animals (see the first 2 links in the list at the top of the post; also, here). This is part of why it’s difficult to compare their meat-eating diet to ours because they typically ate nose to tail, and they ate it fresh. Fresh, the animal—even the blood—is chock full of “animal fibers,” just like raw mammalian milk, that feed gut bugs.
3. Another source of carbohydrate for the Inuit was the glycogen in fresh meat, eaten raw (see the 3rd & 4th links at the top of the post). While this seems to have been Dr. Mike’s chief consternation in the debate, I find it mysterious because there’s no comparison to fresh and raw vs. hung and aged (glycogen depletion is the reason meat producers age meat—it’s analogous to ripening fruit—and they use things like electrodes to speed the process). Moreover, owing to the demands of diving for long periods to great depths, sea mammals have significant glycogen stores. Whale blubber has been measured to be as high as 30% carbohydrate! Perhaps that’s why they call it blubber, and not simply, fat.
4. If the Inuit really are in perpetual ketosis, as Dr. Mike seems determined to uphold as a critical part of the thesis-narrative, then what state were they in when fasted for a few days, and their glucose tolerance went to hell in a hand basket (see the 3rd link at the top of the post)? While thriving normally, they could handle a bolus dose of glucose and not spike over 140, demonstrating absolutely normal tolerance to glucose that’s gold standard in the modern world. After a few days of fasting, the same bolus dose gave them glucose readings to 300 and at the 3-hour point, they were still above 230. In the modern world, this earns you a clinical diagnosis of diabetes. So what gives?
Moreover, how does that mesh with the thousands of comments on the blog I’ve had from LCers over the years, and that meshes with my own experience and the experience of my wife and close family; where, after a long time LC, you have morning fasting numbers of 110ish—when 80-90 is normal—and if you do happen to take a bolus dose of carbs—like a piece of birthday cake—you spike to 200 or more?
More, moreover, how does that mesh with the experience of myself, wife, close family and so many commenters that by simply nudging up the carbs to Perfect Health Diet levels, everything resolves within days?
5. Dr. Mike also seems to insist that the Inuit were moderate protein, when the studies I posted (see link 3 at the top) demonstrate otherwise. The average is 250 grams of protein. Try it daily. I have, as part of a Leangains protocal over about 6 months. It is very difficult unless you just drink it. But, if you’re cold because you live where it’s about the coldest place on earth inhabited by humans, and you have to work real hard to survive, then it makes sense. 250 grams of protein daily is not even close to “moderate protein.” Just try it.
Moreover, given the brain and other-organ requirement for glucose, is high protein the real, underlying “golden helmet” for perpetual VLC? More moreover, given what jimmy moore has demonstrated with his “nutritional ketosis”—that demanded that he cut the protein to low-moderate levels to get and stay in ketosis—mean that’s why researchers in 3 studies spanning over 40 years did not find ketosis in Inuit?
I might could go on, but let’s just take the 5 points above and see what kind of Synthesis we might derive, in comments. Gotta let you readers have some fun.
Let’s wrap this up. Let me be clear about Dr. Mike Eades first off. I am simply unsatisfied in his answers and the way he’s characterized it in his post. I’m not “disappointed,” which is the condescending characterization so many indulge in, but I won’t use. I think it’s still safe to say we’re friends. I hope so. Mike has helped millions of people, I acknowledge and recognize it.
But nothing is settled, ever. I prefer it that way.
Be open to all the antitheses, especially from people who accept much of your thesis-narrative. For example, just recently, the whole question of starch intake and what caused brain size explosion has come into question. Check into Nutcracker Man, and how it’s a misnomer; because, what he was eating was an endless supply of soft sedge tubers under weeds we commonly refer to as tiger nuts. Check into how the nutritional profile is off the charts.
Check into how C4 plants give us a better, more consistent understanding of a great deal. Early man as mostly carnivorous never made complete sense to me. I was around a lot of animal hunters, bird hunters, and fishermen when I was a kid.
I’ll leave you with a very gentle video by a very gentle man, Arthur Haines. The Myths of paleo or, in my parlance, the various antitheses.