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Nutrition Past and Future

The Drivers of the Herd, Part 14

The NuSI Guys, Part 4, The Appeal to Paleo

Slide 3                   p.165. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

In his book Why We Get Fat, Gary Taubes avails himself of the intellectually bankrupt yet ever-versatile concept of a Paleo diet in his advocacy for risky low-carb diets. Here he tells us that researchers led by the author of The Paleo Diet himself, Lauren Cordain, looked at the diets of documented hunter gatherers. Taubes says none of the hunter gatherer populations were vegetarian. Is that supposed to be a strike against vegetarianism? Did any of them study calculus or play the violin?  I doubt it, but I’m pretty sure most of them carried considerable parasite loads and I’ve read some of them liked to eat the contents of caribou bowels. But comments such as that one are just an appeal to Paleo and as such they aren’t meant to be given much thought. Some guys gain a sense of identity from the appeal to Paleo. You know the type – the type who doesn’t give things much thought. Taubes knows they’re some of his biggest fans, though. He tells them that those hunter gatherers obtained most of their calories from eating animal-sourced foods rather than plants. Maybe you are grunting in agreement.


Slide 4         

Clearly, Taubes doesn’t understand what I explained in this video, which is that hunter gatherers represent a biased sample in favor of animal foods since they have lived in marginal lands where agriculture would  be difficult if not impossible. You can’t grow bananas in the Arctic. The Paleo diet is based on thinking just this bad.


Slide 5                   p.165. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

You’ll note the name of the author of The Paleo Diet, Loren Corden, right there in Taubes’ book. As you know by now, Taubes is a vocal advocate for saturated fats.


Slide 6                   Cordain, L., et al. "Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease." European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 56.3 (2002): 181-191.

At least back when he did that research, Loren Cordain was not. He made the argument that the wild animals eaten by hunter gatherers would have delivered very little saturated fat to primitive diets. You can see that Cordain expressed agreement with the National Cholesterol Education Program, that famous product of the lipid hypothesis. Cordain reminded us that higher LDL cholesterol may mean a higher risk of heart disease. Is that the lesson of hunter gatherer diets? If it is, Taubes isn’t telling us about it.


Slide 7                   p. 12-13. Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat. New York: J. Wiley, 2002. Print.

In his book, The Paleo Diet, Cordain told us that low-carb diets are a nightmare. Their promoters make “outrageous claims.” High-saturated fat diets will increase your risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are “lethal.” You should worry about them.


Slide 8                   p.166. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

Taubes explains to us how those authentic Paleo diets ranged from “high” to “very high” in fat. What’s “high”? 28% of calories is “high fat” to Taubes. This provides us with another chance to see Taubes’ hypocritical, say-anything mind at work. You see that he thinks a diet with 28% of its calories from fat is “high fat”.


Slide 9                   p.190. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

Here you see that Taubes says that one of the best low-carb studies ever looked at heart disease and diabetes risk factors. A high-fat, low-carb diet was compared to the 10% fat, high-carb Ornish diet. He says it was the A TO Z study from Stanford. The lead author of that one is named Gardner. Ornish’s diet was the low-fat diet in their trial of four diets. Taubes says he’s going to tell you about this study in detail.


Slide 10                 Gardner, Christopher D., et al. "Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN diets for change in weight and related risk factors among overweight premenopausal women." JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association 297.9 (2007): 969-977.

One small detail he left out is that by his own definition of a “high-fat” diet, the actual diet eaten by the so-called Ornish group was a high-fat diet. It wasn’t an Ornish diet or a low-fat diet at all using his own standards.


Slide 11                 p.338. Taubes, Gary. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. New York: Anchor Books, 2008. Print.


And yet you see here that he clearly refers to it as a “low-fat” diet in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories. That doesn’t seem very consistent, does it?


Slide 12                 He also referred to a study by Samaha in that book as a trial in which a low-fat diet came up short.


Slide 13                 Samaha, Frederick F., et al. "A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity." New England Journal of Medicine 348.21 (2003): 2074-2081.

Now look at the diet called “low-fat” in that study. It was 33% fat! That is well above Taubes’ own stated definition of “high fat”! Anything goes with this guy.


Slide 14       

If you’d like to learn more about these two diet trials, I discuss them here. Of course, this page is accompanied by a video showing you the facts just like the one you’re watching now.


Slide 15                 p.164. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

Let’s get back now to the Gary Taubes “appeal to Paleo.” Taubes says the original rationale for the Paleo diet came from an epidemiologist named Geoffrey Rose. He tells us that in two articles, “Strategy of Prevention” and “Sick Individuals and Sick Populations”, Rose said public health officials should recommend that we consume the diets to which we are thought to be “genetically adapted”. Sound familiar? This is the language of Paleo.


Slide 16                 p.165. Taubes, Gary. Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

Taubes assures us that Rose would have said that those hunter gatherer, high-meat and high-fat diets are exactly the diets to which we are genetically adapted. Geoffrey Rose was totally Paleo. He would have endorsed low-carb and Taubes without reservation. Taubes is trying to speak for Rose because Rose can’t speak for himself. He died over a decade ago.

Slide 17                 Now let’s take another look at those articles Taubes mentioned. The first is “Strategy of Prevention”. Notice again the phrases “biological normality” and “genetically adapted”.


Slide 18                 Rose, Geoffrey. "Strategy of prevention: lessons from cardiovascular disease."British medical journal (Clinical research ed.) 282.6279 (1981): 1847.

Now you are looking at part of the actual article by Rose. You see the phrases “biological normality” and “genetically adapted” once again. But you are also seeing his advice that we should undertake “a substantial reduction in our intake of saturated fat”. Clearly, Taubes is up to his old tricks again. This is apparently what it takes to get rich people to send you money nowadays.


Slide 19                 Here’s a graph from that paper. Rose is showing us how much more heart disease mortality there was in high-fat countries versus a low-fat country back in the ‘70s. What do you think his point was?


Slide 20                 Now let’s look at “Sick Individuals and Sick Populations”.


Slide 21                 Rose, Geoffrey. "Sick individuals and sick populations." International journal of epidemiology 30.3 (2001): 427-432.

That’s the article where Rose wrote, “Dietary fat is, I believe, the main determinant of a population’s incidence rate for coronary heart disease.”


Slide 22                 Here he explains just what I did in video 5 of this playlist. At the population level it is clear that high cholesterol is an important contributor to coronary heart disease.


Slide 23                 Taubes read that, but he made the decision to misrepresent Rose’s opinions. He pretended he was speaking for Rose. No, he wouldn’t have said that, Mr. Taubes.

Suddenly, I’m feeling inspired by Taubes. Maybe I should try to speak for Rose, too. I think Rose would have said we need to be vigilant against bad actors in the health business like Taubes.



Slide 24                 In “Strategy of Prevention” Rose warned us about people like him. Health professionals had a professional responsibility to oppose “uncritical propagandists” and “cranks” and to resist commercial interests. That there are now health professionals who have allied with Taubes, and that his false claims are now published in major journals would probably have disappointed him.

At least that’s what I think he would have said.


The NuSI founders Gary Taubes and Peter Attia both use Paleo logic to advocate for extreme high-fat diets, or ketogenic diets. I’ll show you why you shouldn’t become a guinea pig for their dangerous ideas in the next video.