“Why Fuss About Paleo Life?”

dearime asks:

Why do people fuss so much about paleo life? The population has grown so much since that it’s easy to believe that we’ve evolved a long way from then.

Jared Diamond wrote a paper about rapid evolution on an isolated island. When modern (factory) food was introduced to the island (in the 1940s?), there was a very high rate of diabetes, presumably due to the new food. Since then, the rate of diabetes on the island has gone way down, although they still eat modern food. Diamond took this to be due to evolution (people with diabetes-resistant genes had more offspring), supporting dearime’s point of view.

After the first Ancestral Health Symposium, Melissa McEwen commented how unhealthy many of the top people looked. On the other hand, Tucker Max commented how healthy the attendees looked in general. I agree with both observations. A paradox.

When I was an assistant professor, and wanted to sleep better, I believed wondering about paleo life was unhelpful because (a) we knew so little about it and (b) it must have differed in thousands of ways from modern life. Should I spend an hour trying to find out about paleo life and/or what paleo gurus recommend for bad sleep? Or should I spend an hour trying to find out how ordinary people have improved their sleep? My answer was the latter. I ignored paleo life.

Looking into how ordinary people improved their sleep did help. I eventually reached a non-trivial conclusion: Eating breakfast made my sleep worse. No paleo guru had said that — I had been right to ignore them. Yet it made evolutionary sense. Cavemen did not eat breakfast, I was pretty sure. (No refrigerators.) After that I paid more attention to what evolutionary thinking would suggest. This led to several discoveries: the effect of faces in the morning on mood, the effect of standing on sleep, and the Shangri-La Diet. It is incredibly hard to discover big new experimental effects (such as the effect of morning faces), especially in fields you know little about (my specialty in psychology was animal learning, not mood, sleep or weight control). I was impressed.

The effect of bedtime honey (more generally sweets in the evening) on sleep emphasizes the paradox or puzzle or whatever you call it. I found out about the honey effect by paying attention to what works. No paleo involved. Stuart King told me it improved his sleep. Here are three reasons to look at ordinary experience and avoid paleo theorists: 1. It turned out to help. 2. It’s a huge effect and very easy. 3. Paleo theorists have said the opposite: avoid carbs, avoid sugar. If you followed their advice, you would do the opposite of what helped Stuart and me. On the other hand, I increased my belief in the effect because it made evolutionary sense: 1. It makes sense of why we like sweets. 2. It makes sense of why our liking for sweets goes down when we are hungry (surely due to an evolved mechanism). 3. It makes sense of why we eat sweets more in the evening (presumably due to an evolved mechanism that makes sweets taste better in the evening).

The short answer to dearime’s question is that, in my experience, it is incredibly hard to learn anything about health. There are so many possibilities and evolutionary thinking helps choose among them — decide which to take the trouble to test.

34 Responses to ““Why Fuss About Paleo Life?””

  1. Jake Says:

    When you are young, anything you do health-wise seems to work. When you are over 60, you have no room for error. That is when you must mimic your evolutionary past. I am 71 and my wife and I have followed a strict paleo low-carb lifestyle for the past 5 years which resulted in great improvement in our health.

    In the last two years I have mimicked paleolithic meal frequency including hunting failures and seasonal famines. This has resulted in even more dramatic improvement in our health.

  2. Joe Says:

    Seth: “The rate of diabetes has gone way down.”

    ‘According to the CDC, the rate of diabetes has roughly DOUBLED in just the last 30 years.’

    http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/prev/national/figage.htm

    And it was rising in previous years. And it’s projected to DOUBLE again in the next 30 years. So if there are such things as “diabetes resistant genes,” it appears that diabetics are reproducing far faster than non-diabetics.

    Seth: “I believed wondering about paleo life was unhelpful because (a) we knew so little about it and (b) it must have differed in thousands of ways from modern life.”

    We know quite a bit about it. We can also assume many other things about it. Such as HOW it must have differed in the “ways of modern life.” For example, that our ancient ancestors certainly didn’t eat fast food. For a long time, they didn’t even eat cooked food. They didn’t eat processed or refined foods. They didn’t eat sugar. They didn’t eat grains. They probably didn’t eat three meals a day. They probably were forced to fast from time to time. They ate what was available to them, e.g., meat, fish, insects, snakes, seeds, veggies and fruits, when they could find them. They spent most of their waking hours hunting and gathering. They were outside a lot. They got lots of sleep. Etc.

    Which is pretty much what “paleo” life today is all about. Eat only REAL foods. Don’t eat sugar. Don’t eat grains. Don’t think you need to eat three meals a day. Exercise. Get a good amount of sleep. And that’s about it.

    Our ancestors managed to live pretty healthy, relatively disease-free lives living that way (or we wouldn’t be here today), and we can today, too.

    Are there other ways to “skin the cat”? Yes. But why “fuss” about a way of living that served us so well for hundreds of thousands of years?

    Seth: “3. Paleo theorists have said the opposite: avoid carbs, avoid sugar. If you followed their advice, you would do the opposite of what helped Stuart and me.”

    Maybe the purists would say that. But the vast majority of them would say that a 80/20 rule is good enough. That is, feel free to tinker around the edges. If you can tolerate a little sugar, and not gain weight, go right ahead. If you can eat a lot of simple carbs and not gain weight, go right ahead. But some of us can’t do that without gaining weight.

    Seth: “If you followed their advice, you would do the opposite of what helped Stuart and me.”

    Have you ever eaten a strict paleo diet? Unless I misunderstood you, you previously said that you ate pretty much the way Alex C. eats. Which is apparently a strict vegan diet. But you decided to “tinker around the edges” yourself, and try a little animal fat. Which helped you think better and faster.

    So the question is, if you had been eating a paleo diet, would you have been thinking better and faster all along? :)

    Seth: “The short answer to dearime’s question is that, in my experience, it is incredibly hard to learn anything about health. There are so many possibilities and evolutionary thinking helps choose among them — decide which to take the trouble to test.”

    At least we can agree that there are many possibilities, and that taking the trouble to test them is extremely beneficial. That’s precisely how I found paleo and lost 100 pounds. But I think we can learn more by looking back in time (what we already know worked pretty well), than trying to forecast where evolution will take us (what we hope will work for us)…because that may not be a place we really want to go.

  3. Maarten Says:

    Evolutionary thinking is reverse engineering. It’s creating a narrative for an observation that can’t be explained by logic, filling the gap with theories that can’t possibly be proven. It’s what humans do when the world becomes to complex or unpredictable to understand.
    Finding a narrative is important, so in that way I’m attracted to paleo thinking. However, it should never get in the way of (self-)experimenting and observations. As you point out, when your observations conflict with a theory, just abandon it and find a new one. And one day, I hope to be okay with not understanding, or lacking a clear narrative for most observations in my life, and just live it.

  4. dearieme Says:

    “We can also assume many other things about it.” Why would I base my diet on someone else’s guesses?

    “But why “fuss” about a way of living that served us so well for hundreds of thousands of years?” “us”? We are not them; we have evolved. Our numbers have shot up so far since the beginning of the neolithic that we are bound to have many differences from them.

    Still, if you want to mimic what you fondly imagine is the diet that kept ‘em going to the ripe old age of 35, I admire your pluck.

  5. Joe Says:

    dearieme: Why would I base my diet on someone else’s guesses?

    What then do you base YOUR diet on?

    “We are not them; we have evolved.”

    Do you think we have “evolved” to eat fast food, processed and refined foods, sugar, grains, etc. in just 10,000 years? If so, why all the obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc? That sounds like we may be DEvolving.

    “Still, if you want to mimic what you fondly imagine is the diet that kept ‘em going to the ripe old age of 35, I admire your pluck.”

    I do have a lot of pluck! I attribute it to eating like Grok. But to your question, should I assume then that you think eating lots of fast food, sugar, processed and refined foods, industrial oils, grains, getting little or no exercise and sleep, etc. is helping us to lead longer lives? By what mechanism?

    Paleo man didn’t get to enjoy our present lifespans, but the reasons for that are pretty obvious, aren’t they. They didn’t have life-saving medicines, like antibiotics. They didn’t have doctors. Many of them probably starved to death. They also died from rampant infectious disease. They spent much of their time fighting each other over limited resources (warfare). Hunting and gathering in paleo times was a very dangerous business. Injuries (and deadly infections) were commonplace. It’s surprising they lived as long as they did.

    How long do you think we’d live today without medicines? Without life-saving procedures? Without doctors?

    Answer: Not long.

  6. Joe Says:

    Dearieme, as you can see from this graph, as recently as the early 20th century, lifespans were still only ~39 years (average of males and females) or so.

    http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/angel-1984/angel-1984-1a.shtml

    What else happened in the late 19th and early 20th century?

    Could it be the development of Modern Medicine?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_medicine

    Hmmmm.

  7. Seth Roberts Says:

    When I wrote “the rate of diabetes has gone way down” I meant the rate on this particular island — the island that Diamond was writing about.

  8. dearieme Says:

    “What else happened in the late 19th and early 20th century?

    Could it be the development of Modern Medicine?”

    Probably it was overwhelmingly caused by greater wealth bringing clean water, sanitation, and plentiful foods, plus the wonderful fluke of the discovery of antibiotics.

  9. Joe Says:

    Sorry, Seth. I was focused on your suggestion that just in a few years, people had actually EVOLVED to eat modern foods.

    I’m not a geneticist, but I’m unaware of any evolutionary theory that would account for anything like that, so quickly.

    I think the more reasonable explanation is that the vast majority of diabetes goes undiagnosed (if this is in fact the island of Papua New Guinea).

    “CONCLUSIONS: The vast majority of persons with type 2 diabetes in PNG are undiagnosed and are not receiving treatment: based on the lower of two country prevalence estimates, less than 3% of the diabetic persons in the country are seen at health facilities. Services are limited, with only a handful of health professionals specially trained in diabetes. Expansion of services and awareness and prevention programs are urgently needed.”

    I don’t know when “modern foods” were introduced, or even what “modern foods” really means. And I hope they didn’t use obesity as a proxy for diabetes, because the vast majority of obese people do not have diabetes.

  10. James M. Says:

    Looks like a great debate.

    Personally learning from Paleo/Primal (and even other sources like Weston Price for traditional foods, Raw foodists, vegetarians) and trying to keep it 80/20 has allowed me to: drop 30 lbs; maintain my weight; cleared up my skin, allowed me to get off an expensive medication; reversed health issues; gave me more energy; a clear mind; and so on. There are a lot of Paleo/Primal promoters who are saying to try different things and tweak the diet/lifestyle as one goes, and not be an extremist about it.

    Paleo/Primal also lead me to this website which put out there alternative approaches and the benefits of self-experimentation. By experimenting with Paleo/Primal I benefited. It’s quite possible some other approaches may have given me the same results, but then again if it works, don’t break it. Still learning as I go.

    I did note that Seth was talking about diabetes rates on the island and not the population as a whole. If people can be healthy on a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates, good for them. I’ve found its doesn’t work for me.

    Keep up the interesting writing. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but it does open the door to re-thinking on issues, and maybe a change in opinion.

  11. Joe Says:

    Dearieme: “Probably it was overwhelmingly caused by greater wealth bringing clean water, sanitation, and plentiful foods, plus the wonderful fluke of the discovery of antibiotics.”

    That too. So it’s wasn’t really fair to compare lifespans between paleolithic and neolithic eras, right?

  12. Gina Says:

    “I do have a lot of pluck! I attribute it to eating like Grok.”

    You eat nothing like Grok. Grok wouldn’t even recognize the meat and vegetables that you eat. Eat some cattails and bugs and wash it down with some untreated water and you might be getting closer to Grok’s ballpark.

    Avoiding processed foods is a great idea, but it doesn’t mean anyone is really eating “paleo”.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8

  13. dearieme Says:

    “Do you think we have “evolved” to eat fast food, processed and refined foods, sugar, grains, etc. in just 10,000 years?”

    I think it most unlikely that we haven’t evolved to eat grains in the last 10000 years. We know for sure that we evolved to drink milk in adult life in a much shorter period than that. As for “fast food, processed and refined foods, sugar”: since I don’t eat an Americanised diet I’m personally probably not much affected. Perhaps I have evolved to thrive on fish-and-chips, a wonderful fast food unavailable to my ancestors before the 19th century, and a perfectly reasonable part of a mixed diet. I particularly enjoy it with mushy peas with a squeeze of lemon on them. Allow me to recommend it to you. Or perhaps it’s more likely that some fast foods, such as f-&-c, are nutritionally beneficial without any need for massive recent evolution. If what you are asking is why Americans like their food and drink so sweet, I have no polite answer to offer, unless it be that it could be a response to the government’s War on Fat in the diet.

    “If so, why all the obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc?”

    Rather than being so excitable, take them calmly in turn.

    Heart disease rates have collapsed: the mysterious rise from the 1920s to the 1960s has been followed by a mysterious fall since. There’s no explanatory theory yet available that’s backed by good evidence. The scale and timing of the changes rule out age distributions, the rise and fall of smoking, and changes in diet as explanations, and (I’m tempted to say “of course”) medical intervention.

    Cancer is the subject of much hysteria. Last time I looked (about ten years ago) it was quite clear that talk of cancer epidemics in developed countries was rubbish. Once you’d corrected for the rise and fall of smoking, and the ageing of the populations, there was no increase in rates. Nil. Nowt. There was nothing to explain.

    Diabetes: there I have less knowledge. In the UK it is very hard to know whether there has been much or any intrinsic growth in Type II because (i) the population is ageing, but that never seems to be allowed for in consciousness-raising articles in the papers (ii) the racial composition of the population is changing: this may be a big deal because South Asians are particularly prone to the disease (iii) the threshold for diagnosis of Type II has been reduced, and (iii) the government pays GPs for each diagnosis diabetes. So higher rates of diabetes are of course reported. Whether that has happened on a like-for-like basis is unknown to me. But if there has been no change like-for-like, there is again nothing to explain.

    As for obesity, who knows? Perhaps it’s caused by an infection that stops the feeling of satiety working properly? Most aspects of human biology seem to be complex and little understood. Consequently quasi-religous doctrines on food strike me as inevitably short of evidence. I see two rational responses. (i) Eat a mixed diet, in moderation; certainly avoid slurping large beakers of brown sugar-water; probably include far more fish than is, for example, the American norm. (ii) See whether you can learn by self-experimentation, such as that advocated by our blogger, but don’t assume that the lessons that apply to you necessarily apply to everyone else.

  14. Joe Says:

    James M: “There are a lot of Paleo/Primal promoters who are saying to try different things and tweak the diet/lifestyle as one goes, and not be an extremist about it.”

    Exactly, James. As Seth says, this blog is about personal science, self-experimentation, and the scientific method. It also shouldn’t be about what works on an island somewhere; it should be about what works for YOU. I personally believe that most of what ails us is related to what we consume (and what our parents consumed while we were in the womb). Yes, I’m sure that our individual genes come into play, too, but the field of epigenetics shows us that we can also influence our DNA by what we eat.

    http://advances.nutrition.org/content/1/1/8.full

  15. Joe Says:

    Dearieme: “Heart disease rates have collapsed: the mysterious rise from the 1920s to the 1960s has been followed by a mysterious fall since.”

    You’re absolutely right! It peaked in the 70s and has been plummeting ever since. And well before anyone ever heard of statin drugs. For more about this phenomenon, read this book: “You Will Not Die of A Heart Attack,” by Dr. David S. Grimes. Smoking appears to be the main suspect, but there is no clear answer.

    “Allow me to recommend it to you.”

    I have no problem at all with fish and chips that are made without industrial oils and wheat flour. Know of any? :)

    “I think it most unlikely that we haven’t evolved to eat grains in the last 10000 years.”

    I disagree. Read Dr. Davis’s great book, “Wheat Belly,” for all the details. Also, the wheat being grown today is not the wheat your grandmother ate.

    “Cancer is the subject of much hysteria.” Unfortunately, that’s true, too. We have no idea what causes cancer (in general). And now we’re blaming relatively harmless viruses for it. :(

    “As for obesity, who knows? Perhaps it’s caused by an infection that stops the feeling of satiety working properly?”

    I think the vast majority of obesity is caused by what we eat, and how we live. Ditto diabetes.

    “I see two rational responses. (i) Eat a mixed diet, in moderation; certainly avoid slurping large beakers of brown sugar-water; probably include far more fish than is, for example, the American norm. (ii) See whether you can learn by self-experimentation, such as that advocated by our blogger, but don’t assume that the lessons that apply to you necessarily apply to everyone else.”

    I have no problem with any of that, Dearieme, accept perhaps with the word “moderation.” That’s what seems to trip a lot of folks up. And especially if it works for you, and your health markers are okay. Good luck!

  16. Joe Says:

    Gina: “You eat nothing like Grok. Grok wouldn’t even recognize the meat and vegetables that you eat.”

    How do you know what I eat? Was that you peeking in the kitchen window the other night? You were wearing a pointed cap and carrying a broom, right?

    I eat as close to what Grok ate as I can, only better. I eat grass-fed meats (including organ meats and bone marrow), wild game, like venison, elk, rabbit, wild-caught fish, organic veggies and fruits, even some so-called exotic foods, like snails, oysters, etc.

    “Eat some cattails and bugs and wash it down with some untreated water and you might be getting closer to Grok’s ballpark.”

    I’ve eaten cattails, and a lot of other stuff you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Like snakes, maggots, grubs, bugs, lizzards, etc. In the service, I was taught to eat just about anything, if anything was all I had to eat. Including untreated water, which is pretty easy to do if you know how. Grok knew how. And so do I.

    “Avoiding processed foods is a great idea, but it doesn’t mean anyone is really eating ‘paleo.’”

    It’s means they’re on their way, and that’s a “good thing”!

  17. Joe Says:

    Dearieme, one reason (I’m sure there are more) for the plunge in heart attacks since 1970 could be this:

    “When there is increasing traffic volume on a highway, it may make sense to make the highway into a larger freeway to allow a higher traffic volume. In short, the same happens to the coronary arteries: When blood flow is increased, the inner layer of vessel cells (endothelial cells) sense this necessity and start the process of enlarging from capillaries into genuine collateral vessels. In response to endurance exercise training (such as running, bicycling, swimming, and hiking), blood flow is increased, which leads to a conversion from capillaries into collaterals. This is a very elegant treatment everybody can accomplish. It reduces the chances of the occurrence of angina pectoris, myocardial infarctions, and death. Beyond the interventional, surgical, and medical treatments against coronary artery disease, this collateral training is a natural and valuable therapy that many patients can apply by themselves, for themselves, if only they are aware of it. ”

    http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/116/11/e340.full

    In short, exercise can create new collateral arteries, which is akin to giving yourself your own by-pass operation! I don’t know exactly when the fitness craze started (the 70s, it seems), but perhaps that has had more of an effect than we thought?

  18. dearieme Says:

    But lots of countries exist where it is or was normal for people to take far more exercise than Americans do or did. The rates peaked for them around 1970 too.

  19. Joe Says:

    Which countries?

  20. David Says:

    The issue with the 80/20 rule was initially put forth as a way of making Paleo easier to follow, now its a way to say, “we might be wrong so experiment.” Paleo is an entire lifestyle change and therefore virtually impossible to know what is really causing improvements in some people’s health.

    The problem i have with Paleo is that’s its a narrative, a belief system about what to eat. If Grok only got honey infrequently because he would have to scavage it from bees, then you should not eat honey at night – even if we discover it helps. I don’t find that logic compelling, and one thing i have noticed about the Paleo diet over the last decade is that it keeps evolving. First it was protein and veggies with low fat, then they added saturated fat, then tubers, i recently saw a paper on legumes being Paleo. At this rate, Paleo will involve eating bread in the next year. Pioners like Mark Sisson have said they would change certain things in their books. Robb Wolf has been making big changes in his understanding of Paleo. We do not fully understand Paleo.

    I find using evolutionary history as a valuable framework, but i’m more into finding an optimal diet and lifestyle, and i believe some answers might be outside the current Paleo understanding. That’s why i like Seth’s blog, he’s into experimenting, not following an idea.

  21. Joe Says:

    David: “The problem i have with Paleo is that’s its a narrative, a belief system about what to eat. If Grok only got honey infrequently because he would have to scavage it from bees, then you should not eat honey at night – even if we discover it helps.”

    That’s simply not true, David. If it helps you to take a little honey at night (say, to sleep better), go ahead and have a bit of honey. I get a good amount of sleep, but I tried it anyway, and it didn’t help me at all. On the other hand, there are many reasons that some people sleep poorly, right? Maybe there are other ways to “skin the cat”? Magnesium, potassium and Vitamin D deficiencies can easily wreak havoc with your sleep. Why not check that out, too? Or carefully review your daily routines. Anything there that might be affecting your sleep?

    But a little bit of nightly honey is not even close to being a deal breaker, as far as paleo goes. It might, however, cause you to gain weight and/or affect various health markers.

    “We do not fully understand Paleo.”

    Agreed! But that doesn’t mean it’s not a great place to start, does it? That is, eat what YOU think paleo is.

    For example, eat real foods, eat no processed or refined foods, no industrial oils, no sugar and no wheat. See what that does for you. More importantly, see what it does to your health markers. Then decide if you want to add or subtract any foods. See what THAT does for you. See what THAT does to your health markers. Etc.

    For some strange reason, you’ve come to think of paleo as a rigid system. It’s not! Compared to diets like vegetarianism and veganism, which eliminate entire food groups(!), paleo is about as permissive and logical as a lifestyle can get. It’s all about experimenting. Also, paleo isn’t just about what you eat, it’s about how to live a healthier life; it includes getting more exercise, and getting it outdoors (whenever possible). Getting good sleep. Etc.

    “I find using evolutionary history as a valuable framework”

    Indeed it is!

  22. David Says:

    Joe, i appreciate your view of Paleo, but i followed the Paleo diet for several years and for most Paleo advocates, it’s a belief system, a lens that you need to review everything through. Did Grok do it? If not, then you probably should not either. I later abandoned Paleo after several years because 1) was slowly gaining weight 2) stopped making progress in the gym 3) sleep got worse and 4) had low energy and it was affecting my work, 5) eating so much meat gave my clinically high serum ferritin levels. I was very healthy before Paleo and got less and less healthy during Paleo, so i dropped it after about 7 yrs although i bought into it for far too long and believe it really affected my health. Most damaging in my opinion was the low carb recommendations and the lack of cardio vascular workouts.

    I really like many of the Paleo principals, but I don’t consider eating real food, lowering your stress, exercising and getting more sleep to be anything more than common sense. The issue of grains and dairy are still debatable in my mind (my wife is 100% gluten free by choice).

    I agree that Paleo has helped many people, but many of those seem to have had health problems before finding Paleo.

    The point of Seth’s post was “why worry about Paleo”. I agree with him and you that its a valuable framework, but i’m much more willing to ignore the Paleo advice if my personal experience differs. In the past, it was: “No, high carbs are bad. You just need to get through the carb flu and get fat adapted.” After almost ten years of playing that game, i finally gave up.

  23. dearieme Says:

    “Which countries?” Read the fourth para.
    http://www.drdavidgrimes.com/2013/07/an-epidemic-of-coronary-heart-disease.html

  24. Joe Says:

    David: ” I was very healthy before Paleo”

    Then why did you try paleo???

    “Most damaging in my opinion was the low carb recommendations and the lack of cardio vascular workouts.”

    David, I can see by those comments that you don’t know much if anything about paleo. First, paleo doesn’t have to be “low-carb.” You can essentially eat all the veggies you want! You can eat fruits, too! Especially if you don’t have a weight problem. I average between 100-150 grams of carbs per day. That’s an awful lot of carbs, David. And sometimes even more.

    And in no way is cardio exercise discouraged! Just the opposite, in fact. What IS discouraged, is something called “chronic cardio.” That’s basically the marathon and half-marathon type runners. Repeat after me: Chronic cardio is bad. Cardio is good. I run 5k about 5 times per week. Sometimes I just briskly walk it. I never go further than 5k. And I always do it outside. And I don’t stress out if I happen to miss a couple days. Note: Just about anyone can do 5K.

    “I really like many of the Paleo principals, but I don’t consider eating real food, lowering your stress, exercising and getting more sleep to be anything more than common sense.”

    Semantics, David. Call it what you want, but paleo is all about common sense. Eating REAL food. Not eating processed or refined food. Lowering your stress. Exercising. And sleeping. Note: saying you work 10 hours a day and can’t find the time to run or walk for 30-35 minutes each day is known as bull ca ca.

    “The point of Seth’s post was “why worry about Paleo”.”

    The only ones here who appear to “worry about Paleo” are the folks who aren’t doing paleo, or don’t appear to understand what paleo actually is. And isn’t

    “eating so much meat gave my clinically high serum ferritin levels.”

    Have you been checked for hereditary chromatosis or liver disease? Do you have RA? Some solutions : eat less red meat and donate blood from time to time (which is a good idea anyway). Stop being so rigid, David!

    “After almost ten years of playing that game, i finally gave up.”

    That’s too bad. I wonder if you were ever really on paleo?

    But it’s definitely your prerogative!

    Good luck!

  25. Joe Says:

    Dearieme:

    It was just a guess anyway. But the fitness craze wasn’t isolated to the U.S. Do you really think that the UK took “far more exercise” than we Yanks? Really?

    But isn’t it interesting to know that you can effectively give yourself a coronary bypass operation (increasing the flow of blood to your heart) with the right kind of exercise?

    I do!

  26. dearieme Says:

    The only time I lived in the US was for three months in 1966. I was struck that the young men took no exercise – no cricket, no rugby, no soccer, no walking or cycling to work. People in Britain took far more exercise.

    I lived in a YMCA with a good gym. Only four people ever used it: two young Britons in the US for their university long vacations, and two young Italians ditto.

  27. Joe Says:

    Well, I’m not surprised you saw no cricket, Dearieme. :) But no baseball, no softball, no field hockey, no hockey, no soccer, no football, no flag football, no rugby, no bicycling, no jogging, no lacrosse? Wow. Even in the 60s, those were pretty popular activities. Not like they are today, but still very popular.

    What city or cities? I’ve spent some time in your country (mostly in London), and the most exercise I saw Brits getting was by staggering from pub to pub. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! :)

    PS: One of your countrymen, Dr. Malcomb Kendrick, thinks heart disease is caused by dysfunction in the HPA axis. You can re4ad about it in his book, Then Great Cholesterol Con, The Truth About What Causes Heart Disease and How You Can Avoid it.” I tend to agree with him.

  28. David Says:

    “Then why did you try paleo???” Because i was trying to be like Grok.

    Joe, these days Paleo has a lot of variability, you could argue an all meat Inuit diet is Paleo as is a super high carb Kitavan diet, but i started Paleo back when it was more low carb, when everyone talked about the carb flu and getting passed it, about being fat adapted, when you had to watch fruit intake because too much would be too much sugar, etc. It was mostly veggies for carbs and i don’t consider veggies carbs. No way broccoli gets me through the day the way potatoes do. I followed the likes of Cordain, Sisson, Art Devany, and others and it was lower carb. I felt it was more strict back when i was following it and i admit that i kept trying to go low carb to get fat adapted and break through the carb flu.

    I’m aware of the chronic cardio vs moving slowly distinction in Paleo, but i’ve been doing a little more “chronic cardio” and i feel better. I’m sure someone will say i’m damaging my heart and should be walking and not jogging, but i feel better and i’m not over doing it. I’m not training to be a marathon racer. (I do agree with the Paleo idea on that being harmful).

    As for blood iron levels, i don’t have a genetic disease but i do give blood frequently now. I ate so much red meat on Paleo (I bought it from a local farmer where his cows were 100% grassfed) that i began to detest it.

    Today i had leftover potatoes, lima beans, and pot roast for lunch, when i was doing Paleo the potoates and beans would have not been allowed. I find i feel much better with higher starch and sugar content like potatoes, beans, corn and grains. I also had horrible sugar cravings during Paleo that never went away and i would binge on chocolate sometimes. Now i just eat honey or drink fruit juice if i can. Are they Paleo? Well they weren’t a few years ago, maybe now they are.

    My point is it goes back to Seth’s post where he said: “Eating breakfast made my sleep worse. No paleo guru had said that — I had been right to ignore them.” I got some good ideas out of Paleo, but at some point, like Seth mentioned, i needed to ignore the paleo gurus and try some things that were not part of the Paleo doctrine.

  29. Joe Says:

    “Because i was trying to be like Grok.”

    I’ll take that to mean: just for the hell of it.

    But if you can’t live without eating lots of potatoes, beans, corn and other grains, fruit juice, etc., then paleo isn’t for you. And if you are doing “chronic cardio,” yes, you ARE damaging your heart, but jogging vs walking has nothing to do with it. It’s the amount of time and miles you put in. The actual science behind this is all over the internet, so you don’t need to listen to paleo gurus. So I’m not really sure that you know what chronic cardio is, either.

    I have a bit of chocolate, myself. But only really dark chocolate (88%). It’s actually good for the heart. The way I usually satisfy my own sweet tooth, the part that remains, is to eat various paleo treats made with sweeteners like stevia and xylitol. But infrequently. Mostly just on holidays.

    So, now that we’ve seen that paleo isn’t for you, and because I really have no idea how you are currently eating, all I can do is wish you good luck! So…good luck!

  30. David199 Says:

    I’m going to try and get back to the original question, about why we obsess over Paleo life. The short answer, is that many people believe we are best adapted to Paleo life and the further we move away from it, the further we move away from optimal health. Second, because its impossible to test every single aspect of health, it helps to have a framework. Did Paleo man have access to high fructose corn syrup in handy little aluminum cans? No, then maybe we shouldn’t either. No need to wait until a bunch of studies come out, we can use the Paleo framework right now to make the decision.

    My specific issue is that we need to be careful and not over-rely on a single framework because its based on our best guess of what happened a million years ago. That doesn’t mean its worthless, it just means that its one of several potential possibilities.

    So Joe, let me ask this question: If someone followed a Paleo diet (which i’m going to assume still prohibits grains) and then that person as an experiment ate grains for a 6 months and felt better and had better biomarkers, would you:
    1. Recommend that they keep eating grains because it appears to be good for them even though Paleo man didn’t have them.
    2. Recommend they don’t eat grains because Paleo man did not have access to them and therefore there may be other harmful things going on that are not represented in the way they feel or their test results (i.e. silent evidence).

    I would say #1 and i’m guessing you would say #2. And don’t get me wrong, i fully understand position #2 and believe silent evidence is very important to consider. Joe, you and i began to disagree over a few points, but i want you to know that i still use the Paleo framework quite a lot. It’s not something i completely dismiss, but i’m willing to consider that things outside the Paleo framework, even opposite to it, may be more healthy.

  31. dearieme Says:

    London, Joe, is scarcely in Britain at all.

    No, back in ’66 it was striking to this foreigner how little exercise Americans seemed to take. I know that much of your climate is unsuitable for the sort of country walks, and the more testing hill-walking, that are so popular here year round. I understand that gardening for nine months of the year would be pretty brutal in much of the US. But heavens, your population even plays golf largely sitting on its bums. And, in that one three month spell (and many short visits since) everyone has emphasised to me that nobody walked anywhere. They even drive to the gym!! I don’t know about you but for most of my career I cycled to work. You can in our climate (though it’s kinder in the dry east of the country).

  32. Joe Says:

    David, those are valid questions. I don’t eat grains not because of paleo, but because grains are bad for me. Grains, especially wheat (rice isn’t so bad, which is why I eat a little sushi from time to time), provide almost no nutrition (which is why it always needs to be “fortified.” I concentrate on eating NUTRIENT-DENSE foods. I want as much nutrition as I can get out of a food. Eating grains is much like eating sugar (as far as I’m concerned) – it’s just empty calories. And they’ll just help to make you fat. There is no way that eating grains can improve your health profiles (BS marketing by the grain companies aside), simply because it brings nothing good to the nutritional party. It does, however, bring some bad things, and if you’re interested in learning about them, you can’t beat Dr. Wm. Davis’s book, “Wheat Belly.” In short, today’s wheat is nothing like the wheat your grandmother ate.

    I would never recommend that anyone eat grains, especially wheat. On the other hand, if that was all I had to eat (which has happened at times to various populations in our history), of course I’d eat it. I’d eat just about anything if my very survival was at stake. But we have choices today, perhaps too many choices, and I think we should be thankful for them, and exploit them to the fullest.

    You say that you still use the paleo framework a lot. I think by eating lots of potatoes, beans, corn and other grains, and things like fruit juice, and bingeing on chocolate, etc., you’ve left the paleo “framework” in your rear view mirror. It’s much like a vegan regularly eating meat and still claiming to be a vegan. Tweaking a “framework” on the edges is one thing, but that’s not what you’re doing (IMO).

    Look, just by eating real foods, avoiding processed and refined foods, and sugar, you may somewhat improve your health markers. You sound like that may be good enough for you. It’s just not good enough for me. But whatever you do, don’t stress over it. Grab the bit and run! And good luck!

    PS: If you do find anything outside the paleo framework that’s more healthy, please let me know! I’ve been looking for many years and I can’t find anything even close.

  33. Joe Says:

    Dearieme, I may not know your country as well as you do, but I do know that London is in Britain. And I have no idea why you’d use the word “scarcely” there. Perhaps you’re just trying to pull my leg? :)

    You won’t tell me what U.S. city you visited, but I need to tell you that you have a very narrow perspective of my country. It’s a VERY big place. You’re painting us with a very narrow brush. Yes, we have places where the people rarely walk. But we also have places where we seldom do anything else. I always drove to work or took the train. Mostly because I didn’t exactly want to walk or ride a bicycle the 30-40 miles to the office and back. Like I said, we’re a VERY big country. But that didn’t stop me from jogging 5-6 miles when I got home, etc.

    You’ve probably heard of the blind men and the elephant story?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_men_and_an_elephant

    Well, the next time you come over here, you really do need to grab more parts of the “elephant.” :)

  34. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Joe, I have a friend who gets sick (he describes it as his digestion shutting down) if he doesn’t eat a lot of wheat, and it’s the same for at least one of his relatives.

    While I think there are tendencies in what foods are good and bad for people, I think the only advice I’d give to everyone is “give some attention to how your food affects you”.

    Fish seems to be very good for me, but it’s deadly for some people.