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Nutrition Past and Future

TPNS1 Introduction: The New Barbarians

Primitive Nutrition 1:
The New Barbarians


Goldstein, J. (2010, June 8). The New Age Cavemen and the City. The New York Times[New York]. Retrieved from

Once lost to the haze of prehistory, the Paleolithic caveman and cavewoman have returned.  Do these Stone Agers look a bit more normal than you might have expected?  Well they would look normal to you because you are a caveman, too.  Deep down, we all are.  We are just stranded here in modern times, not quite fitting in.  But thanks to a new approach to diet and lifestyle, we can recreate our golden age as a species, our paradise lost.  Don't you know it was better in the good old days, before the decline of man began with civilization?  While the modern caveman’s appearance may not provoke a second glance, his behavior might.

ABC Nightline Paleo Story (Accessed November 2011)

By JOHN BERMAN (@johnsberman) and SARAH HODD March 2, 2011

No, this man's Range Rover is not broken down.  This luxury SUV is here a stand in for a big fresh kill from an imaginary hunt.  This gentleman understands that dragging carcasses around was so integral to the primitive man's way of life, he best pull his truck down his driveway now to be in harmony with his caveman genome.

This man is performing an Olympic weightlifting movement.  Evidently these lifts are part of the primitive lifestyle, too.

Swinging on a bar is as well.  No doubt this is good exercise, but people were doing this sort of thing long before the current hunter gatherer diet fad.  I am not aware of any evidence of real hunter gatherers behaving like this, but this is still part of the package.  This sort of exercise is the best feature of the current primitive lifestyle trend.

Unfortunately, there is a diet philosophy that accompanies all this good exercise that is not of such clear benefit.

This is the Paleo philosophy as practiced at the dinner table.  The primary purpose of this video series is to show you that this approach to food is deeply flawed.  Eating like this is illogical and at odds with the today's best science.  If it reminds you of Atkins or other low carb diets, that is not a coincidence.

Cordain, L. (2002). The Paleo diet: Lose weight and get healthy by eating the food you were designed to eat. New York: J. Wiley.

Paleo promoters are quite up-front about this.

The Paleo diet is just the latest repackaging of low carb.  This list of speakers on the upcoming low carb cruise is a mix of Paleo and low carb celebrities.  Many of them will be discussed in this video series.

There are some easy criticisms one might make of this philosophy.  Selling nutritional supplements online to support a hunter gatherer lifestyle requires more than a few intellectual contortions.  You can easily think of many examples of this sort of contrast between lifestyle theory and practice.  I find this sort of incongruity amusing but inconsequential.

I feel the same about the broscience-inspired promotion of the diet.  Some Paleo diet leaders are not shy about showing their bodies.  It's doesn’t make sense to base your choice of diet on these good photos alone, though, because people have developed great physiques with contrasting approaches to diet. (“Art DeVany on the New Evolution Diet and Exercise Program,” Tom Kirkendall) 7 Dec 2010.

For example, here is economist and modern meat-loving caveman Arthur DeVany looking great at around 74 years of age.

But here is Jim Morris at the age of 71.  Mr Morris looks phenomenal.  However, he is a vegan.

Hariss KG. “Vitamin D via Insolation – the natural route in the North.” 28 Oct 2009

Supplement creator and Primal Blueprint author Mark Sisson and radiologist and Paleo blogger Kurt Harris can both show off the benefits of their good exercise.

But so can Derek Tresize and Marcella Torres.  Like Jim Morris, they are committed vegans.

Visit their website and you can see for yourself how far they stray from the imagined Paleolithic diet. Nevertheless, they seem to be doing pretty well.

There are more than a few vegans showing good results eating Paleo's forbidden foods while totally rejecting all the meat the Paleo dieters think is so important.  To find the truth about diet, photos of healthy-looking people can only take us so far.

Now I can understand if you have a certain latent favorable predisposition to the idea of eating the caveman way.  Really, I can.  But the Paleo diet isn't based on shirtless photos and some very effective marketing by the movie industry.  Stone Age dieters offer intellectual support for their approach as well.

Cordain, L. (2002). The Paleo diet: Lose weight and get healthy by eating the food you were designed to eat. New York: J. Wiley.

This is a book called The Paleo Diet.  It has been of central importance in promoting the current hunter gatherer diet fad and it makes a lot of claims based on science and history.

Cordain, L. (2005). The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Emmaus, PA: Rodale.

To his credit, its author Loren Cordain has kept his shirt on.

In my opinion, Cordain is the most interesting and responsible of the promoters of this philosophy.  Therefore, he will receive more than his fair share of attention from me in these videos.  I'll take a good look at the scientific support he offers for his diet.

Who is Loren Cordain?  Let's have a look at the back of his book.

Cordain, L. (2002). The Paleo diet: Lose weight and get healthy by eating the food you were designed to eat. New York: J. Wiley.

“Loren Cordain, PhD is one of the world’s most renowned scientists doing groundbreaking research into the original human diet.”

This raises a couple questions for me right away.  Does this mean he is just one of the world's most renowned scientists researching primitive diets?  Or is he one of the most renowned among all scientists and he just happens to be researching these diets?  I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and say it's the latter, putting him up there with Stephen Hawking, Craig Venter, and Roger Penrose.  Why not, right?  So clearly I've chosen a formidable target for my criticisms.

Look up Cordain's training and he does not seem like the most likely person to redefine proper human nutrition.  Education in exercise physiology is not a qualification shared by many top nutrition scientists or public health experts.  He is not alone among Paleo nutrition promoters in this odd discordance between his credentials and his ambitions.

As noted, Arthur De Vany is an economist. (originally from

Mark Sisson is a former competitive athlete with a degree in biology.

When I search the phrase "nutrition scientist," the first hit is a good one.  As you can see, Johanna Dwyer has impressive education and experience in public health.

Dwyer, Johanna T. "Health aspects of vegetarian diets." The American journal of clinical nutrition 48.3 (1988): 712-738.

Here is an example of the work she has done.  In this assessment of vegetarian diets, she finds they have the potential to promote good health.  There is no indication she came to this conclusion using archaeological evidence.  Was this her oversight?  Economist Arthur De Vany rejects vegetarian diets.  Does he understand human nutrition better than Dwyer?

Cordain, L. (2002). The Paleo diet: Lose weight and get healthy by eating the food you were designed to eat. New York: J. Wiley. p 38.

Cordain is opposed to vegetarian diets as well.  Would it be convincing to Dwyer that Cordain has declared that humans are not meant to be vegetarians?  Do medical professionals regularly formulate advice based on an assumption about the way we were meant to be?  Are we meant to brush and floss our teeth?  Are we meant to write and read books?  I can't speak for Dwyer, of course, but I would be surprised if she would let all her years of research into human nutritional needs take a back seat to speculation of this kind.

Before we go further, let's define the Paleo Diet.  From the looks of it you should first understand that it is the optimal diet for all humans.  It's a smart move to have that built right into the definition.  Apparently, this diet is known to be an unavoidable consequence of evolution.

More specifically, the diet requires a rejection of grains, legumes, and sometimes potatoes.  In other words, the foods that homo sapiens cultivated to better pass on genes and take over the Earth.  Paleo also bans dairy, but I think that’s a good call.

Cordain, Loren, et al. "Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets." The American journal of clinical nutrition 71.3 (2000): 682-692.

Making up for the lack of these is meat.  Lots and lots of meat.

Before I get into the diet itself, I'll examine the logic and theories that produced it in the next several videos.

Now you may be wondering about me, who is this guy?

My simple answer is that it doesn't matter who I am, but if it helps, think of me …

As Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.  I don't know much.  I'm just a caveman.  Your Paleo beliefs frighten and confuse me.  I don't understand your battle with leaky gut or your fixation on protein.  But one thing I do know is the Paleo diet is a fad diet.

And why should you believe what I say?  You don't have to.  I've provided citations in the slides you will see the whole way through.  They will go by really fast sometimes, so fast you won't be able to read them.  That's intentional.  There is a lot of content here and I want to present it all together at once.  You can decide how you want to use these videos and how much time you want to spend with them.  You can hit pause to read the slides and get more detail, or you can let it just keep rolling so you can merely listen to what I'm saying and take in the big picture.

Whether you watch just a few minutes of it or all of it, thank you for your time.  It is my sincere hope that The Primitive Nutrition Series will inoculate you forever against fad diets and point you in the direction of your best health and your best self.

To start this tour of the primitive diet belief system, I'll show you the fallacy at the root of it all.

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