TPNS 4-5. Truthiness, Paleo-Style
Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 08:22AM
Plant Positive

Primitive Nutrition 4:
Truthiness Paleo-Style, Part I


Here's an interesting phrase from Mark Sisson's book, The Primal Blueprint: What our genes truly crave."  If you get comfortable with this sort of thinking, you can give practically anything you want an evolutionary justification.  You could say, "my genes are hungry," or "adultery is in my genes". It's sort of a Paleo-logic version of "listening to your heart" or even obeying the voices in your head. Do you think I'm being unfair to Sisson?


Then you haven't met Grok.  Grok is a handy rhetorical tool for him.  Will fruit make me fat?  Should I consume most of my calories from meat?  Well don't worry about sorting through all that science, and certainly don't listen to expert panel recommendations on nutrition.  Why assume they know what they're talking about?  Just consult Sisson's imaginary caveman.


Why listen to a guy like this?  All that research and study has probably just confused him.


You're better off imagining what this guy would have done.  He may have smelled terrible and made lousy conversation, but he probably had six-pack abs.  You know he loved going shirtless. Imagining what a stone ager would do is super easy, and it just feels right, doesn't it?  Grok is the Paleo-logic symbol of truthiness.


This is how the Paleo world justifies its beliefs.  See the last phrase?  Our crusty imaginary friend would certainly be tipping his hat to us as we alternate gorging on meat with intermittent fasting.  You just know he'd have charming mannerisms like that.  Grok would probably be just be a great all-round dude, you know?


Of course, the ladies would have loved him.  Most women these days would melt for a guy who could bring down a woolly mammoth.  You can signal you are that guy by taking Sisson's advice and grunting and growling at the gym.  The gym is the right place to play out your Paleo fantasies of tearing apart giant prehistoric beasts.  If anyone thinks you're being uncivilized, that's their problem.  As Sisson says, "If people are offended, they shouldn't be in a gym."  You'll be feeling your primal best, and the ladies will be sure to notice!


Sisson does have a knack for connecting with adolescent boys of all ages.


Unfortunately, channeling one's inner barbarian doesn't seem to help the Paleo promoters agree on some basic nutrition issues. On one hand you have modern day Paleo radiologist Kurt Harris arguing plant compounds are not essential.  This is worth hitting pause to read.  He seems to be creating a bit of a straw man, implying that someone out there says there is a single phytochemical that is indispensable to human health.  I have never heard such an argument put forth, but just in case someone does, Dr Harris is all over it.  However, I'm not sure he has really addressed whether phytochemicals in edible plants are good for us.


"Fruits and vegetables hit cancer with a one-two punch: They're excellent sources of antioxidant vitamins and minerals... and they also contain a variety of special substances called 'phytochemicals,' nutrients found in foods that are lethal to cancer."


On the other hand, Loren Cordain believes phytochemicals are worth eating if you want to reduce your risk of cancer.  Did he ask his genome what it craved to figure this out?   Both of these guys are on the cutting edge of that big paradigm shift to Paleo.  Why don't they agree on something so basic then?  This isn't the only example of Paleo-logic leading to very different conclusions.


From the beginning, the Paleo diet idea was sold as something really different from low carb, even though it was low carb.  Those other low carb diets were hazardous.  This low carb was better because it was closer to the recommendations of major health institutions like the American Cancer Society.  Well, if these institutions are the ultimate source of validation for a diet, why then do we need the Paleo idea?  Why not just see what the American Cancer Society says directly?


Let's see, fruits, vegetables, cutting out modern abominations like fries, doughnuts and sodas.  Hey, they are doing Paleo!


Except they also say you should eat whole grains and limit red meat.  Man, it's too bad they messed that part up, isn't it?  I guess they never consulted Grok.


This nutritional plan is totally unlike those irresponsible, low-carbohydrate, high-fat, fad diets that allow unlimited consumption of artery-clogging cheeses, bacon, butter, and fatty meats.


Here's Loren Cordain calling all the other low carb diets irresponsible.  They would have to be. There is only one original biologically appropriate diet for all humans and he's trademarked the name of it.


You see, the Paleo Diet is indeed low carb.  But it's not like them.  It has a big idea.  Those other low carb diets on the other hand can be lethal.


But wait a moment!  The Paleo diet is modeled on hunter gatherer diets.  What did hunter gatherers actually eat?  Were they staying away from lethal fats back in 1922, long before industrialized foods might have entered their diets?


It seems they really liked the parts that were most loaded with saturated fat.  It even looks like Apache Indians didn't mind parting with the lean meat Cordain says is so healthy.


By the way, just imagine eating fresh hot raw bloody bison liver by the handful.  Yikes!


Going back much further you can see that hominids may have prioritized the fat in a carcass, too.  Some Stone Age diet proponents use information like this to argue for eating lots of animal fat.  In an unforgiving ice age that might make sense, right?  They could use those calories to add body fat.


Loren Cordain does seem just a bit off when he says Paleo man ate a diet that would have burned off his fat reserves.  Isn't his idea of fighting a battle of the bulge with his diet a little more modern day vanity rather than evolutionary science? Ignoring for now the question of whether or not eating a lot of protein will make your fat simply melt away, what survival advantage would a Paleolithic human have found in being skinny?  Would a fast metabolism have been an asset in the struggle to survive?


I’m just getting started with showing you how Paleologic has led to some seriously conflicting beliefs.  There is more ahead in Part II.


Primitive Nutrition 5:
Truthiness Paleo-Style, Part II


Loren Cordain is a believer in low cholesterol.  He came to this opinion because hunter gatherers seem to have low cholesterol.  There’s a little more to that story that I’ll reveal later, but at least he is giving a responsible opinion.  He deserves credit for that.


You might think Cordain's views on cholesterol and saturated fat would make him a target for the high-fat Paleo promoters.  Not necessarily.  For some committed low carbers, promotional back scratching is more important than presenting a consistent message.  Cordain has chosen to have Michael Eades provide the endorsement on his cover.  This is a little awkward, as Cordain thinks you were designed to go low carb the lean meat way, while Eades goes so far as to say the state of ketosis, in which your basic metabolism changes dramatically on an extreme high fat diet, is the natural human metabolism.


Dr Eades recently went far out on a limb in support of eating lots of saturated fat.


Have a look at this quote.  Remember, Cordain has called saturated fats lethal.  Eades, on the other hand, will think you're a wuss if when you go low carb you don't add extra fat to your already fatty meat.  For God's sake, he says, don't listen to your body.  You want the fat dripping down your arms.


Eades is an ardent defender of saturated fat.  In 2009 ABC news did a little experiment to show what happens in your blood after a high fat, high calorie meal.


Here you see two different blood samples after they have separated into their plasma and red blood cell layers.  Guess which one came after the fatty, high calorie meal.  The segment left the impression that it was the fat in the meal that caused this.


Eades didn't appreciate this piece and wrote a scathing blog post to argue it was the carbohydrate in the meal that was to blame for that cloudiness.


This is an excerpt to show you his reasoning if you care.


That cloudiness after a meal is called postprandial lipemia.  Postprandial simply means after a meal.  Lipemia has been associated with heart disease and diabetes, so he doesn't want you thinking it comes with high-fat diets.  So do carbs cause lipemia?


In normal humans, pure carbohydrate, in the form of glucose, lowers postprandial lipemia in a dose-dependent manner.


In contrast, here is a description of the process of how dietary fat causes lipemia.


In a controlled study saturated fat in particular was shown to increase these fats in the blood.  Animal studies have shown the same thing.  Even in diabetic individuals, fat was shown to increase insulin and fatty acids.


Here is a study that directly links high fat meals in healthy humans to fat in the blood and its ill effects. A low fat meal had no such effects.


ABC News heard the complaints of Eades and others, however, so they repeated the test with a lower fat meal.  As you might expect, a lower fat, lower calorie meal produced much less fatty results.


“But to unequivocally say that saturated fats do not cause atherosclerosis, is sheer folly. “ Loren Cordain


“It might be (In fact I think it is) that a diet high in saturated fat protects against atherosclerosis.” Kurt Harris


“In fact, the evidence is that saturated fats are harmless, if not beneficial, and that trying to avoid them is as likely as not to be as detrimental.” Gary Taubes


“... saturated fats do not contribute to heart disease and in fact actually protect us against this and many other diseases.”  Sally Fallon


Here are a few quotes to give you an idea how all over the map opinions are about fat among people who use Paleo-style truthiness to make diet recommendations.  Loren Cordain, who has published many journal articles to bring intellectual respectability to his ideas, is smart to stake out the more conventional position.  These differences between low carbers are often papered over in the low carb community.


I think it's worthwhile to see exactly how far out in left field Paleo-logic can take you.  Here is an actual quote from Paleo promoter and radiologist Kurt Harris.


"I don't think any person on the planet needs to have any of their lipoproteins or cholesterol tested ever.  I think it's all worse than useless because, what happens is - and I get these emails all the time - you know, eating Paleo, feeling great, blood pressure decreased, no longer on medication, no longer have diabetes... bench press 250, and then they say, but, but, my total cholesterol is now 290 or 300 ...

My answer to that is, well, you were doing fine until you got your cholesterol measured."


You probably know this is not an opinion shared by most doctors.  To show how bad this advice is, let's consider people who have an inherited tendency toward high cholesterol.


People with inherited high cholesterol, called familial hypercholesterolemia, have many times the risk of dying from heart disease as other people.


The mean age of death in hypercholesterolemic men was only 54 in this study.  Heart disease can be detectable as early as 17 in these people.


Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of death under 65. In this study of people at autopsy, coronary artery disease was the most common cause of sudden cardiac death between ages 20 and 40 as well.  Blood cholesterol was shown to be a major risk factor.


Bear in mind, you can have high cholesterol and heart disease while being totally asymptomatic.  This is especially true for women.


And it is possible to have a fatal heart attack as the first symptom of heart disease, even if you are young.


The untimely death of Tim Russert raised awareness of this issue a few years ago.  Here you see that like in him, 40-60% of the time sudden death is the first sign of a problem.  In light of these facts, it's hard to believe an MD would say it's not important to know if you have familial hypercholesterolemia.  But I guess a blood test isn't very Paleo.


Now before you think that Loren Cordain's view is the right one, let's look at his clarified position on saturated fat.  Yes, it causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries, he says.  That won't be what kills you, though.  In his Paleo-logic, there is no problem with an ever increasing amount of cholesterol-filled, calcified plaque in your arteries.  Your arteries will just keep expanding to compensate for that.  But eat some bread, and your cholesterol-laden plaque can turn lethal as it breaks free and kills you.  In his mind carbs cause inflammation and that's the problem. I'll look at this idea in another video, but for now, realize that even for the most responsible Paleo promoter, you need to be comfortable with a diet that causes a slow and steady buildup of plaque in your arteries. That isn't my idea good heart health.


Cordain is right in a sense.  To have a heart attack you need plaque to break loose, and this can happen even in people who don't have advanced atherosclerosis.  This doesn't change the fact that some plaque must be there to break loose.


Cordain and other low carbers want you to think they know why plaque breaks apart but really they are just speculating.  Plaque rupture doesn't lend itself very easily to study in humans.


And there are no good animal models for it and there may never be.  I don't think Cordain's conjecture is enough to make the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque acceptable.  I'll eat foods that are known to promote heart health instead, thank you very much.


One of the sillier examples of the use of Paleo-logic to justify personal preferences and idiosyncrasies comes from the economist Arthur De Vany, shown in video 1.  He objects to distance running using Paleologic.  This blogger does an excellent job of responding to his ill-considered belief.  It's worth a read.


Actually, this evolutionary biologist thinks the capacity for distance running was a key development in human evolution.  Of course, he is an avid distance runner and De Vany is not, which probably explains why they wound up having opposite beliefs about this.


One can easily use Paleologic to argue against De Vany and in favor of distance running.  After all, bipedal efficiency, thermal regulation through sweating, and the hunter gatherer practice of persistence hunting could make a typical Paleo-type argument in the other direction.  Which truthy argument do you prefer?


Here's my point in this video: If the Paleo idea means such different things to different people, it's not a very useful idea.  We'd be better off without it distracting us from the real nutrition science.

Paleo promoters tell us certain foods are bad for us because they haven't been around long enough for us to handle them very well.  In the next video, you'll see why this is nonsense.

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