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 facetious 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? Well…here are a few interesting things for y’all to consider:
1-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.
2-Many of the best coaches in the world recommend a Paleo diet. Granted, many also do not, but there are an ever growing number of coaches who recognize that optimized performance will not be found at the bottom of a box of cereal or served on a bagel.
Want a concrete example? How about Joel Friel, US Olympic Triathlon coach and author of The Triathletes Training Bible and Co-Author of The Paleo Diet for Athletes. I could use different examples but the endurance crowd is absolutely the most entrenched in this notion that optimized performance comes from a tube of GU or from some kind of Franken-Food like a Cliff-Bar. Here is an excerpt from The Paleo Diet for Athletes in which Joel talks about the Challenge Loren Cordain placed on him to try the Paleo diet for one month. check it out:
“I have known Dr. Cordain for many years, but I didn’t become aware of his work until 1995. That year we began to discuss nutrition for sports. As a longtime adherent to a very high-carbohydrate diet for athletes, I was skeptical of his claims that eating less starch would benefit performance. Nearly every successful endurance athlete I had known ate as I did, with a heavy emphasis on cereals, bread, rice, pasta, pancakes, and potatoes. In fact, I had done quite well on this diet, having been an All-American age-group duathlete (bike and run), and finishing in the top 10 at World Championships. I had also coached many successful athletes, both professional and amateur, who ate the same way I did.”
“Our discussions eventually led to a challenge. Dr. Cordain suggested I try eating a diet more in line with what he recommended for one month. I took the challenge, determined to show him that eating as I had for years was the way to go. I started by simply cutting back significantly on starches, and replacing those lost calories with fruits, vegetables, and very lean meats.”
“For the first two weeks I felt miserable. My recovery following workouts was slow and my workouts were sluggish. I knew that I was well on my way to proving that he was wrong. But in week three, a curious thing happened. I began to notice that I was not only feeling better, but that my recovery was speeding up significantly. In the fourth week I experimented to see how many hours I could train.
“Since my early 40s (I was 51 at the time), I had not been able to train more than about 12 hours per week. Whenever I exceeded this weekly volume, upper respiratory infections would soon set me back. In Week Four of the “experiment,” I trained 16 hours without a sign of a cold, sore throat, or ear infection. I was amazed. I hadn’t done that many hours in nearly 10 years. I decided to keep the experiment going.”
“That year I finished third at the U.S. national championship with an excellent race, and qualified for the U.S. team for the World Championships. I had a stellar season, one of my best in years. This, of course, led to more questions of Dr. Cordain and my continued refining of the diet he recommended.”
“I was soon recommending it to the athletes I coached, including Ryan Bolton, who was on the U.S. Olympic Triathlon team. Since 1995. I have written four books on training for endurance athletes and have described and recommended the Stone Age diet in each of them. Many athletes have told me a story similar to mine: They have tried eating this way, somewhat skeptically at first, and then discovered that they also recovered faster and trained better.”
So, if you missed the gist of that, Joel was able to train harder, longer and recover faster using a Paleo diet. He recommends the diet to ALL his athletes and includes this information in all his books. Oddly enough, we even have one of his staff dieticians, Kelly Cawthorn, available at CrosFit NorCal.
3-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. The folks at CSU Chico Nutritional Sciences absolutely HATE the concept of the Paleo diet, yet offer no counter point or model that better describes the data at hand, nor offers the least bit of predictive value. They are awash in “paradoxes”. French Paradox, Spanish Paradox…things are only paradoxical in the nutritional sciences because they made bad assumptions and abandoned the scientific method. I get fired up about this because peoples lives are at stake here and the information we are fed is WRONG. It starts from faulty premise and worsens with every step. Here is an excerpt from The Protein Debate, a work we sponsored between Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and Prof. Loren Cordain. Here is that excerpt which is the introduction for Prof. Cordain’s piece. The over-arching topic was the role of protein in health and disease in humans. As a side note: I’m a graduate of CSU Chico in biochemistry. When we sponsored this debate, between two of the most highly regarded researchers in the world, I thought the CSU Chico Nutritional Science department might be interested that a former student had sponsored and spear-headed this original work. I forwarded the Protein Debate to the members of the Nutritional Science department. Response? NONE. Sorry, I’m just bitter I guess, here is that introduction from Prof. Cordain:
Although humanity has been interested in diet and health for thousands of years, the organized, scientific study of nutrition has a relatively recent past. For instance, the world’s first scientific journal devoted entirely to diet and nutrition, The Journal of Nutrition only began publication in 1928. Other well known nutrition journals have a more recent history still: The British Journal of Nutrition (1947), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1954), and The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1988). The first vitamin was “discovered” in 1912 and the last vitamin (B12) was identified in 1948 (1). The scientific notion that omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial health effects dates back only to the late 1970’s (2), and the characterization of the glycemic index of foods only began in 1981 (3).
Nutritional science is not only a newly established discipline, but it is also a highly fractionated, contentious field with constantly changing viewpoints on both major and minor issues that impact public health. For example, in 1996 a task force of experts from the American Society for Clinical Nutrition (ASCN) and the American Institute of Nutrition (AIN) came out with an official position paper on trans fatty acids stating,
“We cannot conclude that the intake of trans fatty acids is a risk factor for coronary heart disease” (4).
Fast forward 6 short years to 2002 and the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine’s report on trans fatty acids (5) stating,
“Because there is a positive linear trend between trans fatty acid intake and total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol concentration, and therefore increased risk of cardiovascular heart disease, the Food and Nutrition Board recommends that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”.
These kinds of complete turnabouts and divergence of opinion regarding diet and health are commonplace in the scientific, governmental and medical communities. The official U.S. governmental recommendations for healthy eating are outlined in the “My Pyramid” program (6) which recently replaced the “Food Pyramid”, both of which have been loudly condemned for nutritional shortcomings by scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health (7). Dietary advice by the American Heart Association (AHA) to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) is to limit total fat intake to 30% of total energy, to limit saturated fat to <10% of energy and cholesterol to <300 mg/day while eating at least 2 servings of fish per week (8). Although similar recommendations are proffered in the USDA “My Pyramid”, weekly fish consumption is not recommended because the authors of these guidelines feel there is only “limited” information regarding the role of omega 3 fatty acids in preventing cardiovascular disease (6). Surprisingly, the personnel makeup of both scientific advisory boards is almost identical. At least 30 million Americans have followed Dr. Atkins advice to eat more fat and meat to lose weight (9). In utter contrast, Dean Ornish tells us fat and meat cause cancer, heart disease and obesity, and that we would all would be a lot healthier if we were strict vegetarians (10). Who’s right and who’s wrong? How in the world can anyone make any sense out of this apparent disarray of conflicting facts, opinions and ideas?
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 a REALLY long post but I want to make a point. We DO NOT endorse a fad for a nutritional program. Our recommendations are based on the best of both science and the empirical evidence of the worlds best coaches. Take some time and educate yourself on the topic.