I have been defending the “Paleo diet,” named after the book of the same name by Loren Cordain. Unlike many of its critics, I have actually read the book. I like the fact that it rests on an overall defensible viewpoint based on evolutionary theory while its specific claims are explicitly and painstakingly related to modern research.
The Paleo diet or v “caveman’s diet” simply says that our genetic apparatus cannot have changed much since the spread of agriculture, 7,000, 8,000 or 9,000 years ago (more like 6,000 for people of European ancestry). Therefore, the author argues, we should limit our food intake to what our pre-agriculture ancestors ate: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and especially fish and meat. Thus, it excludes cereals, beans, dairy products and sugar, among other staples. That’s the general argument. As I have said, there are also specific arguments pertaining to different classes of food that are linked to contemporary scientific research.
I have been observing the Paleo diet, with some systematic cheating, for a little less than a year. The cheating involves two items: wine and coffee. Cavemen obviously had the solace of neither (but they had the thrill of trying to escape giant cave bears.) Basically, I would rather be unhealthy than give up either drug. My adherence to the Paleo diet is not a “faith.” It’s completely rational, as the accommodation I make at this stage in my mind with the information available to me. I could turn on a dime on this.
Two things have happened since I started the Paleo diet: First, I have had Diabetes Type II for twenty years. Less than three months after I started, my basic blood sugar number became almost normal. (That’s the same number I have been monitoring for fifteen yeas.) It became completely normal another three months later and has staid there.* Second, I have lost a little weight without even trying. I keep losing. It’s very little but it’s consistent. (I use to gain a little weight consistently.) There is no mystery about why I lose weight: I seldom feel hungry and when a I do, I am able to cut hunger with ten almonds.
Of course, the coincidence in time of this positive health development with the diet may just be that, a coincidence. This is how I am thinking about it: For twenty years, there are no good news; I go on a specific diet that promises specific improvements; shortly thereafter, I get specific good news pertaining to the improvement the diet promises.
Of course, it’s possible that in addition to positive health outcomes, the Paleo diet is destroying my heart, or my kidneys. As to the first, my Stanford Medical school cardiologist is not concerned. My other doctor, the internist who hates fads has not said anything about danger to my kidneys.
The Paleo diet has not made me more handsome, nor smarter, nor yet kinder, I must admit.
My testimony just remains this, a personal testimony; it’s a truthful one. The critique below is more than a personal testimony though if you believe that the nature of its warriors tells you something about the validity of a particular war.
Of course, the Paleo diet has triggered the anger of vegetarians and “sustainable” agriculture advocates, and well it should have. Sustainable ag people simply don’t have a leg to stand on. Veggies are apparently tired of simply arguing that theirs is an ethically superior stance. (I believe it is.) There is an article in the June 3 2013 issue of Scientific American that just came to my attention. I surmise, it’s an expression of this anger. It treats the Paleo diet as just another unscientific fad. In the middle of the article, the author uses the following words with respect to our ancestors: “[they] evolved a mutation.” Cut, stop press! Mutations don’t “evolve,” they just happen; they happen all the time. The verb matters, it suggests that a particular mutation appeared in response to something. Mutations are not (adaptive) responses to anything; they are the material on which evolution plays. Natural selection simply retains spontaneous mutations.
End of story; end of reading. The author just demonstrated that he lacks a basic understanding of evolutionary theory, the main material of the view he is criticizing. How about the editors of Scientific Americans, what were they thinking when they allowed this monstrosity? Is there a reason for the laxness? Is there an agenda or is it just an expression of ordinary slothfulness?
This big mistake in a big publication dedicated to the spread of science does not make the Paleo diet right of course. I will await with interest a critique by someone who know what he is talking about.
* I am still taking the full complement of diabetic drugs. It’s a precaution and my doctor, a skeptic, does not seem to know how to phase them out without risk.