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Paleo-Reality Part 1: What’s right and wrong about paleo diets.

How does MotherNaturesDiet differ from The Paleo Diet or The Primal Blueprint?

This post is a complete appraisal of how I see MotherNaturesDiet in comparison to the Paleo or Primal diet movement.

Warning, this is a long post!! Sorry, I promise it’s worth it, I have a lot to say, and there is a lot of common sense in this post. If you care about good health, and if you are at all interested in the ancestral health movement, then I am sure you will find it worth the time it takes to read it. This is being posted in 3 parts, this being Part 1.

MND is NOT just another Paleo diet. A large part of my journey to good health has been through following the core scientific principles of the paleo diet, and MND developed FROM that base, but I have since developed MND on a long way beyond where I found the paleo movement, and I now see significant distinctions between MND and the paleo diet and lifestyle.

I first came across paleo when I had been thinking for a while “caveman must have eaten a cleaner, pure diet, natural and more healthy, free from chemicals and processed foods…and I bet he suffered far fewer health problems” so I searched “caveman diet” on Amazon back in 2009, and I found Primal Blueprint, which I couldn’t put down it was so good. I found paleo in my search for ‘the natural origins of our diet’, in my quest to try to understand how we should eat and exercise, as first planned by Mother Nature herself.

Paleo diets are great, but they have become “all the rage” in recent times, and I have some points to make, mild criticisms I guess, about how many followers of the paleo/primal lifestyle, are missing the point in more ways than one.

Let’s take things back to the start

If you regularly follow this blog, you will already know that my beliefs around nutrition are largely what would today be called a ‘paleo diet’. Paleo is very trendy right now, and I too have followed primal and paleo diet lore for a few years, on my way to formulating MND. However, MotherNaturesDiet is NOT strictly a paleo diet, and my beliefs around nutrition, lifestyle and exercise actually differ quite extensively from many of the most popular trends prevalent within ‘the paleo movement’.

I want to be clear:

  • I have nothing bad to say about the main proponents of the modern day paleo movement. Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, Mark Sisson – these authors are the best, and I think they offer excellent knowledge and advice. I love their books, blogs and websites
  • I have nothing bad to say about the main beliefs of the paleo movement
  • I have nothing against the people who make up ‘the paleo community’ personally. I offer any thoughts here simply as observations, to help us all to achieve the best health possible

However, MND is not ‘another paleo diet’ and I do not strictly adhere to the same rules of nutrition and lifestyle that the paleo movement does. MND is ‘a natural diet’, as against ‘a paleo diet’. By suggesting we follow the health principles laid out in MotherNaturesDiet, I suggest we look to Mother Nature for the best way to live and to eat, rather than looking to the Paleolithic era. This is a key distinction.

  • I have concerns that, as so often happens when any niche segment goes mainstream, many people are jumping on the paleo bandwagon and distorting the basic principles. For beginners, finding the paleo movement for themselves, in their own search for good health, the further people stray from the original core texts – Weston Price, Loren Cordain, Michael Pollan, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolff, Michael and Mary Dan Eades – then the more the message is becoming distorted by less knowledgeable folks and people with too many commercial interests.
  • I think a great many people claim to be following a paleo diet, and they seem to think it sounds cool to say they want to live like ‘caveman’, but in reality, I don’t think many of these people would really like to give up many, or ANY, of their 21st Century luxuries and truly live like caveman did.
  • In all honesty, I don’t think we need to go as far back as the Paleolithic era to undo the biggest problems we, as a race, now suffer in terms of nutrition, health and disease. I believe the biggest problems in health and nutrition today, stem from the Industrial Revolution, not the Agricultural Revolution, and so if anything, MND is ‘The Pre-Industrial Revolution Diet’, or The PI Diet, rather than ‘A paleo Diet’

Do you really want to live like caveman?

Paleo diets are great, but there are some loop-holes in the logic. Everyone has this romantic notion of this idyllic life caveman led, but he didn’t.

We, humans, are an animal, like all the others, and we lived in the dirt like the other animals do. We sat in the dirt, ate in the dirt, shit and pissed in the dirt, had sex in the dirt and raised our young in the dirt. When it rained, we got wet, when it snowed, we shivered, when we slept, we slept on the floor, in the dirt. Life was cold and hard, there was little ‘comfort’ in caveman’s life.

Caveman ate bugs, slugs, worms, spiders, flies, moths, insects, beetles and snails. Caveman ate raw fish, raw shellfish, cold, slimy raw food. Caveman drank the warm blood of the animals he killed. Caveman likely ate some of the organs of the animals he killed, while they were still warm and wet, freshly torn from the carcass of the kill. He ate bugs, insects, creepy crawlies. Considering that spiders are quick, all leg, and often poisonous, he probably favoured easier sources of protein – like worms and snails.

Yeah, snails are not as tasty as ‘paleo choc-chip cookies’, so you can bet he didn’t drastically over-eat on his diet of raw, muddy snails. Our food now is tasty, often sweet, mouth wateringly delicious, using all the best bits and discarding the bits we don’t like the look of. By contrast, caveman’s diet would have been bland, boring and often same-old, same-old day after day. Berries would likely have been small, tart, bitter, sour, gritty. Roots would have been chewy and bland. When he did have meat, every scrap of that animal would have gone to good use. He would have gnawed the meat down to the bone, all the fatty bits, chewy bits of gristle, the organ meat, nothing would have been wasted. His whole diet would have been boring, many days, until ‘delicious treats’ turned up – a fresh cooked kill, an abundance of fresh fruit in summer, a bees nest to raid for honey, an abundance of eggs in spring time. These treats would have been very welcome in an otherwise often quite bland diet.

Like most other animals, caveman likely spent the vast majority of his time finding food. Way back, our very early ancestors, back when we came down out of the trees and first stood on two legs, we would have spent most of the day finding food, as so many of nature’s animals do, life is a game of survival and breeding and little else. Just watch birds, they start at 4 or 5 am and work tirelessly gathering food til sundown. A mother Great Tit will make up to 900 trips to her nest PER DAY to feed her young. That’s parenting on an epic scale. Strength to weight ratio, a mother Great Tit is like an Olympic marathon runner and then some. However, early humans developed bigger brains than small birds. Over millions of years, as our brains grew, we would have increasingly spent less time foraging for snails and roots, and more time evolving our skills as hunters, to catch ‘high calorie load’ prize kills. And let’s face it, caveman doubtless found cooked antelope a tastier treat than raw slug.

Virtuous circle

Brain growth became a virtuous circle. As we got better at fishing and hunting, so the high protein load and high calorie load in our diets increased, which fuelled brain growth, and as our brains grew, we got better at hunting and fishing. Biological evidence shows that the only way the early hominin brain could have grown so fast, was if early apes mastered cooking. Had we been eating all that meat raw, it would have taken more than the 24 hours available in a day to eat enough protein calories to grow our brains that fast in just a couple of million years. Mastering fire and the art of cooking, enabled us to eat far more protein in less time (cooked meat being far easier to eat than raw meat, because cooking partially breaks down the food, speeding mechanical digestion) and this is how our brains grew so fast. So apes learned to catch and cook meat a long time ago, likely around 3 million years ago, and this spurred rapid brain growth.

From 2.5 million years ago, until anatomically modern humans appeared 200,000 years ago, we hunted, killed, cooked and ate our way to big brains, brains big enough to create complex language, tools, weapons, hunting strategies, simple arts and crafts and much more.

So truly, this process of evolution changed us…that’s what evolving is, it’s change. We changed. The ape-like, vegetarian, closely-related-to-chimps, mostly-lived-in-the-trees, short, hairy, stocky hominins that we once were, are now long gone. We are not that species anymore, so looking back at what we were then is pointless, as that is not what we are now. Looking back 5 million years, 2.5 million years, or even 200,000 years, is to study a species gone. We are not that species any more. Our bodies are different, we changed, and we changed our environment, this planet.

Scientifically, I find it very interesting to look back, but that’s not what I created MotherNaturesDiet for. MND is designed to help US, real people, NOW. There are 1.5 billion over weight, out of shape people on Earth, NOW, today, and they need to know what to eat and how to move and live in order to live with better health. MND has taken a lot of lessons learned from history, but I am trying to apply it all to today. We can’t pretend to be what we once were, we need to know how to live healthily NOW.

Paleofantasy

I have recently read a new book ‘Paleofantasy’ by Marlene Zuk. Regulars on this blog will have seen a couple of vlogs I previously posted about that book.

I was very keen to read the book, having read a number of blog posts arguing for and against the paleo lifestyle, some in support of Paleofantasy, some defensive of the paleo movement. I have to say the book turned out to be very uninspiring. The author quotes some extremely unreliable ‘sources’ (tabloid newspaper stories and random blog comments, and anecdotes about her pet cat) and avoids addressing many of the best scientifically-sound work from Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and others. I understand some of what she says, but there is very little fact or data, and in my opinion it’s quite a dull and disappointing read.

But the book – or rather all the paleo communities’ reactions to the book – have helped me to see something that I think a lot of the paleo crowd is missing. They [the paleo community] have gotten hung up on ‘paleo’ as a concept, meaning the Paleolithic era, meaning caveman, meaning the period from 190,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago. Because this is the chosen focus of the main books (Cordain et al, the original names in the field) then everyone has focused on that period…but I am beginning to think that in fact, it makes more sense to focus on the post-industrial period, not the pre-agricultural period.

I’ve been looking at all the key data – population growth, obesity, health issues, disease spread – and it all ties in more with the industrialization of agriculture, than the advent of agriculture itself. It seems to me, that between 10k years ago and 200 years ago, we were eating grains without terribly disastrous consequences, but since the widespread uptake of refined sugar, and the addition of petrochemicals to our food growth and supply, and the advent of mechanization in agriculture…this is what has taken grain consumption through the roof, sugar consumption through the roof and chemical consumption by humans from nothing to through the roof.

Personally, I think that for a lot of people, the focus is on ‘paleo’ because it sounds ‘sexy’, interesting, a cool concept to sell from a marketing perspective. People are turned on by the idea of ‘eat like a caveman’, it somehow conjures up subconscious images and thoughts, people suddenly think they are going to grow a bunch of big muscles, they think it will get them laid more or help them win in a fight…I think ‘caveman’ has marketing appeal in our modern, suited, office-bound world. Millions of people in shirts and ties sitting in front of a PC all day, somehow connect with ‘caveman’ as a marketing concept, like they all imagine themselves as Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club, and they think a paleo diet is there personal rebellion against the structure and order of the 21st Century.

In reality, I think the real downturn for human health and the real growth factor in ‘lifestyle’ diseases comes from changes caused by the industrial revolution, not the agricultural revolution….but ‘The Pre-Industrial Diet’ doesn’t sound very sexy for marketing purposes. I’m not changing the name of MND to The PI Diet, but it’s important to understand the science.

Why The Pre-Industrial Diet?

Over the last few months, I have been reading extensively about the ways our food supply has changed over time. When we study the composition of the human diet, broken out into calories, and we look at what makes up those calories, it becomes very clear to see that the two major shifts in human eating were the advent of agriculture circa 10,000 years ago, and the Industrial Revolution.

Nothing exceptionally new there.

While I personally believe that the most significant change that has ever occurred to affect the structure and status of life on planet Earth, certainly in the last few million years, was the advent of agriculture, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that the Industrial Revolution is actually the change that most screwed up our food supply, our population growth, our levels of physical activity, and hence our health.

Food became a mechanized process. Food became industrialized. We stopped treating plants and animals as other living things that deserve respect, and started treating them as commodities to be pumped into factories and warehouses and ‘processed’. We treat almost every other life form on Earth as though it is inferior to us, and it has no right to live peacefully in natural harmony.

What will we do when we have destroyed them all? We can’t eat rocks, we can’t eat money. Will we finally eat each other?

Arguing over paleo-purity…

I’ve read all the books, and read many of the blogs, the for and against paleo discussion threads, but really all this argument and conflict, all this point-counterpoint stuff is all WHY I came up with MND in the first place. I’ve spent years reading all these different books and opinions and theories on how to lose weight and be healthy, and they all disagree with each other, and they all leave poor old normal people feeling lost and confused. I spent years learning about nutrition and healthy living, I studied all the arguments and I just think all these people make it all too scientific, all too confusing, there is no way the mass market will ever adopt a healthy lifestyle while it is confusing, full of complex science and all the experts disagree and argue.

MND is simple and achievable, millions can do it, it’s easy…just eat REAL FOOD, clean meat and fish, more veg than fruit, eat eggs and nuts and seeds, drink plenty of water. Move your body, some strength work, some endurance work, some combat, some flexibility, variety is key. That’s MND, a message I can take to a billion fat unhealthy people, it’s logical, clean, easy to grasp and implement.

  • MND is about more than nutrition. I accept that it would be best for ultimate perfect health if we all made fresh green veggie juice every day, did yoga every day, ran every day, slept 9 hours per night in winter, fasted some days, ate lightly steamed green veggies every day, ate a few sprouted beans, munched a 70% raw diet, but if I told everyone to do that…they wouldn’t. If I made MND complicated, with a book load of rules and structure, an expensive regime of superfoods and supplements, and long lists of exercises that must be completed on certain days each week, it would be of little use to anyone except a few people with ‘diet mentality’, and we all know where they end up…right back where they started, every time.
  • MND isn’t trying to be ‘another diet book’, MND is a way of living, aimed at teaching broad principles, to help people live longer, avoid disease and ill health, and have plenty of energy. Billions of people are eating themselves into obesity and chronic disease and an early grave because ‘the diet industry’ isn’t doing a very good job of MARKETING healthy alternatives, whereas Big Food and Big Pharma are world class marketing experts. MND is an attempt to offer a healthy way to life that appeals to millions, offering a simple set of rules that are achievable, affordable and sustainable. It’s a balance between good health and realistic marketing, it’s a way to live that real normal people CAN stick to.

The self-proclaimed experts like to talk now about “the search for the perfect ancestral diet” and again they demonstrate that they are missing the point. These experts are all arguing over fossil records and evolutionary adaptation, and hypotheses and tracking gene codes. I think many of them are missing the point.

We can’t EVER AGAIN enjoy the ‘perfect ancestral diet’.

  • Whatever ‘caveman’ ate, whatever he did, we are NOT HIM and cannot do what he did or eat what he ate.
  • Most of the species of creatures our ancestors ate between 2.5 million years ago and 10,000 years ago, are extinct now, or what remains of them have changed and adapted in the modern world.
  • The plants have changed, we have largely tamed and selectively bred and modified most of them.
  • The animals are selectively bred, mostly slower, lazier, fatter.
  • Small animals have been bred to be larger (I.E. chickens) over the last few hundred years, and over the last 50,000 years large animals have been wiped out (woolly mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, European bear, etc.,) in favour of more manageable-sized animals, ideal for domestication (I.E. cow) which now we are breeding to be bigger again. When we only had man-power, we wanted animals of a size we could control, so we wiped out things like the woolly mammoth, preferring an animal the size of a cow or pig. Now we have tractors and steel fences and machines, we can manage bigger animals again, and we pump the poor things full of hormones to try to make them as big as possible. (Who ever gave us the right to play God, to tamper with other species this way?)
  • The air we breathe is different – it’s polluted.
  • The ozone layer protecting us is different, it’s weakened and has holes in it.
  • The water, the oceans and rivers, are different, they are polluted. Water courses diverted, dams built, seas over-fished, the list goes on.
  • Whales, dolphins and sharks are depleted. Fish stocks diminished. We have eaten so much of the small marine life, that the large marine life no longer breeds so prolifically.
  • Sea levels are at a historic high, coastlines changed, forests reduced, biodiversity is at an all-time low. The world WE now live in is substantially different to the world ‘caveman’ lived in.
  • In 100 million years’ time, if archaeologists of the future look at the fossil record, the current time, now, will show as the greatest and fastest time of mass extinction on earth. Not since the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago have so many species been wiped from the face of this beautiful planet in such a short space of time. That’s what we have done in the 10 millennia since the agricultural advent of modern civilization.

We don’t live in the world caveman lived in. We live in a world full of roads, buildings, airplanes, cars and TV screens. Our world is full of mortgage payments, work stress, credit card bills, divorce lawyers, bank managers and air conditioning. We live with air pollution, stress, crime, money worries, junk food, water treatment plants, crop spraying and genetic modification.

To hell with your PhD in nutritional science, what should I feed my children this week?

So all these ‘Paleo-purists’ with MSc’s and PhD’s can stand and argue the purity and finer details of marbling in steak, the chemical composition of a root or a tuber, whether or not caveman ate this mammal or that mammal 1 million years ago, or 60,000 years ago, legumes and the seasonal availability of certain fruits, and to me it all just looks like they are playing a ‘who has the biggest brain’ competition. I think the vast majority of ordinary folks are completely turned off by this academic postulation, these long blogs full of big words and quoting lots of science.

These folks might all be very clever, but they are not achieving anything USEFUL for the 1.5 BILLION overweight people on this planet. These people are alive NOW, today, in THIS world that we live in, not 100,000 or 50,000 years ago, NOW. They go to Wal-Mart, or Tesco, or Carrefour, every week. They went TODAY, they are going again TOMORROW, and they will buy food for themselves and their children from the range of what is available, and if we don’t educate them, HELP them to make the wisest choices, then they will go with whatever sugar-coated shit has the most sparkly attractive packaging.

These people WANT to make better choices, but they genuinely DO NOT KNOW what they are doing wrong, they do NOT understand the mistakes they are making. They trust Big Food and Big Pharma, because these organizations are legal, they are bright and highly visible, high profile and deeply penetrated into our supermarkets and our homes and our lives. These companies bombard our innocent eyes and ears with marketing messages from before we can walk and talk, we grow up trusting these highly recognizable brands and as our parents ate these brands, they raise us eating them, and we perpetuate the cycle.

The trouble with the paleo diet movement in 2013…

So I think many in the paleo movement, especially all those who now prefer the more upscale name ‘the ancestral health movement’ are getting lost in what they are doing.

In the 3 or 4 years I have been living in a broadly paleo way, and reading and learning about all this, I have identified several groups of people that are calling themselves ‘paleo’, but they seem to be getting off track, in my personal opinion.

  • Group 1: The Bacon Brigade. Sadly, there seem to be a group of people who think that ‘eating paleo’ is just the latest Atkins Diet. Many of these people populate Facebook, and they seem to think that ‘living like caveman’ means lifting heavy barbells 5 times a week, and eating bacon every day, in unlimited quantities. I watch these pages on Facebook, read some of what these people say…sadly, many of them seem to still drink alcohol, take sports supplements, train in front of TV screens in air conditioned gyms, some seem to smoke, they never talk about organic veggies, humanely treated pasture raised meat, or animal rights. They never seem to talk about walking in woodland, enjoying natural sunlight, or taking time to grow their own food. Pretty much, they seem to lift barbells and eat 3 packs of bacon per day, and not much else. These people probably look good in a tight t-shirt while they are still only 27 years old, but I don’t know how much they truly care about long term good health, anti-aging, and disease prevention.
  • Group 2: The Recipe Book Authors. The second group of people I see who form a big part of the paleo movement are a group I term The Recipe Book Authors. This group are all wonderful people, they are into eating healthily, regular exercise, clean living; they are smart, kind, caring; they want to learn as much as they can, and they embrace all the paleo knowledge they can lay their hands on. They take it all in, then create blogs about ‘paleo lifestyle’ and write blogs about their paleo journey. Yes, I am ‘almost’ one of this group! But the point where these people go wrong, is that they put ALL their focus on food, and I see them publishing ‘paleo recipe books’ – “164 recipe’s for living paleo every day” and it just bugs me that this is, by definition, distilling the essence of what the paleo movement SHOULD be about. Thinking about how caveman lived, is about far more than just food, as I first figured out in my mind, when I decided to search “caveman diet” on Amazon, 4 years ago, and that search led me to Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, and so I found I was far from the first person to think about eating and living like a caveman. But by putting all our focus on food, we miss several key points.
    • Modern humans are obsessed with food. We eat because the clock says it’s time for one of our three square meals each day.
    • We make food tasty by combining many foods in one meal. Caveman would have rarely eaten more than one ‘ingredient’ at a time. Try it, you won’t over eat. I’m serious, TRY IT. Just broccoli. Just beef. Just tomatoes. Just chicken. Just pork. One thing. Try it.
    • We have too much choice, the thousands of products available to us now, in supermarkets, flown and shipped in from all over the world, preserved and chilled for freshness, means we have way too much available to us. Caveman would have had whatever occurred naturally within a few miles of his location, and that’s all. Local, seasonal, migratory, unreliable and unpredictable. Our vast choice encourages us to use far too many things in each meal.
    • Modern life is far removed from Mother Nature, in far more ways than just our food. We live in air conditioned homes and work in air conditioned buildings and drive air conditioned cars. We stare at TV screens at home, computer screens at work, and smartphone or tablet screens in any remaining spare time. We exercise in air conditioned gyms, on machines that force our muscles to follow precise lines of movement, staring at TV screens mounted on the wall. We breathe polluted air, we drink sterile, chemically treated water and we wear clothing and use cosmetics that expose our skin to all manner of chemicals every day.
    • Caveman would have eaten the same things time and again, meal after meal, day in day out. If he lived near a shore or river, the same shell fish or the same river fish would have been daily staples. If he was living in an area where certain fruit trees abounded at certain times of year, he would have frequently eaten that fruit. If he was travelling following a certain herd, then that animal would have made up his meals – ALL his meals – for weeks at a time. Making Paleo Cookbooks still encourages that modern human trait of making food over complicated, over tasty, desirable, fun, and this encourages over eating. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy eating, though, some days, maybe it should just be ‘fuel’, and we can save the enjoyment for the weekend. This is one of the core reasons so many people are overweight these days…food is too good, too tasty, too much fun, too much variety. We are not ‘spoilt for choice’, we are literally ‘spoilt BY choice’, too much choice. MND promotes very simple meals, only 2 or 3 ingredients…most of the week food should just be ‘essential fuel’, not delicious treats, to help combat habitual over-eating.

To think that ‘ancestral health’ or ‘living paleo’ is all about DIET, all about FOOD, is a vast over-simplification of the difference between our ancient ancestors and our modern lifestyles. To only focus on food, is a huge mistake. People in this second group, The Recipe Book Authors, all offer ways to make sweet chocolate tasting deserts using ‘paleo approved organic chocolate’, or raw cacao, and they publish entire ‘paleo desert recipe books’. PALEO desert? Cavemen didn’t eat desert! Wake up people!

I saw one Paleo Deserts Cook Book advertised, boasting dozens of “Delicious Paleo Desserts” – oh please, give me a break, a whole book of Paleo deserts, with pictures on the front of cookies, muffins and pastries, dripping in chocolate sauce and stuffed with fresh berries and what looks like some kind of whipped cream. I was not alive 80,000 years ago, but trust me, ‘caveman’ never ate anything that looked like that! Cookies? Muffins? Dark chocolate this, dumpling that. Oh please! Don’t tell me you are ‘embracing all things PALEOLITHIC’ and you love the notion of ‘living like a CAVEMAN’ but you want to eat chocolate chip cookies for desert! No, you mean you want to eat cookies and you need an excuse to say they are healthy, and you love the marketing pitch of ‘caveman’ living because it sounds kinda retro and funky and anti-establishment and it’s down with where the hip young things are these days, all anti-corporate, anti-globalisation, anti-establishment. Well get real people, caveman lived and died, ate and shit in the dirt, froze his arse off all winter, and got eaten if he couldn’t run fast enough. If you are so keen on paloelithic living, get up off your comfortable sofa and go camping more often, but without the tent, the sleeping bag and the pillow you take with you. Bed down on leaves and ferns, in the rain, and then get up and don’t eat til you have caught it or picked it. I have tried camping wild and catching my food to eat, and it’s bloody hard unless you have trained and learned what to do. Ray Mears and Bear Grylls make it look easy, but they have years and years of training behind them.

To continue the modern human trend for making food tasty, varied, exciting, fun, engaging, delicious and sweet tasting is to completely miss the point of what the paleo movement is, or should be, all about. Caveman did not eat chocolate cake, so stop trying to recreate something that never existed. If you want to publish a recipe book offering 137 healthy desert recipes using natural ingredients, free from gluten, dairy and refined white sugar, then great, please go for it, but please title it “137 Healthy Desert Recipes” and do not put the word PALEO in the title, because caveman didn’t eat desert, and chocolate muffins did not feature in the Paleolithic era, and you are totally missing the point! You are clouding the ancestral health space with your desire to bake cookies and pretend they are a healthy food choice. Desert – eating a small sweet meal immediately after you just finished eating a large savoury meal – is an entirely modern, gluttonous concept! Very post-industrial! Hardly pre-agricultural! As long as we are finding ways for the mass market to continue eating sweet-tasting, delicious, fun food, we will not break the cycle of perpetual over-eating that is endemic in modern society

  • Group 3. The Ancestral Health Science Club. These are the ‘braniacs’, the PhD’s, the scientists, the clever blog writers, the experts, authorities and general geniuses who are blinding everyone with their science, their evidence and their conflicting views on every imaginable aspect of ancient human life on earth and how we evolved to where we are now. Personally, I love all that science, it fascinates me and I have utter respect for these people…but they are ‘the extremists’ of the paleo movement, and they talk a language that the mass market does not understand. I could read that stuff all day, but 99% of people won’t, and are not interested, and by publishing too many books with the word ‘diet’ in the title, they are just adding to the mass confusion the public are suffering from.

Paleo-anthropologists and geneticists and archaeologists and nutritionists arguing over the minutiae of what evidence may or may not be telling us about the diet our early ancestors ate one million years ago, and then publishing their arguments in lengthy, wordy, intellectual blogs, TEDx lectures, books and videos, will do MORE HARM to the broader public reputation of the paleo community than it will do good. The public who make up the 1.5 billion obese and overweight people alive today, people who will be diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer and heart attack statistics over the next 20 years if we don’t help them NOW, will learn nothing from these academic arguments and postulations.

Whether caveman ate a few tubers or not, whether meat made up 80% of his calories in winter or not, whether fruit back then was small and less sweet and so he ate few calories from fruit, or not…these things are only PART of the story. Once again, ALL the focus of these arguments is about food, all the focus is on food.

Caveman did more than EAT all day. He searched for food all day – expending calories. He spent more time looking for food, than eating it. Modern humans expend virtually no calories gathering their food, but they spend proportionately more time consuming it. Caveman did many things differently.

  • Food was FUEL – not a leisure activity, nor a pastime, nor an OBSESSION.
  • He walked under sun and rain and snow, whatever Mother Nature threw at him – ALL day, EVERY day. He could not go indoors, there was no indoors, just the occasional cave, which needed to then be lit and heated, which required considerable effort gathering fire wood.
  • He absorbed natural sunlight and breathed natural fresh air – all day every day.
  • He moved his body all day, every day. He lifted, picked, gathered, stretched, carried, bent, stooped, balanced, crouched, fought and ran every day.
  • He did not sit on a soft couch for hours. Soft couches and arm chairs did not exist. A moss covered log was probably the most comfortable seat on Earth. Thick grass was his everything. And when his babies rolled and played in that thick grass, he had to look out for snakes, spiders, poisonous mushrooms and numerous other hazards.
  • He did not stare at a TV for hours. TV did not exist.
  • He did not own a laptop. Or a smartphone.
  • He did not drink soda. Or eat pizza. Or popcorn. You get the idea.
  • He was not stressed about his mortgage payments, car payments or overdraft.

It seems to me, that The Bacon Brigade have jumped on the paleo bandwagon because they want an excuse to eat a huge cooked breakfast every morning. I doubt they are as keen on broccoli as they are on bacon. Shame. Because if they are buying bacon that has sodium nitrite in it, they are choosing a road that is far from the healthiest path to follow.

It seems to me that The Recipe Book Authors are trying to earn a living telling everyone how to eat paleo. To me, and the logic that drives MotherNaturesDiet, they are selling something that bares very little resemblance to life on Earth in the Paleolithic era. I will likely publish a recipe book at some point, because people keep telling me they WANT one, they tell me they WANT all the details laid out, to help them. I understand that, but just like the recipe page on this blog site, my recipe book will be very simple, no meal will have more than a half dozen ingredients at most, and my recipe book will mostly be aimed at teaching the guiding principles of MND, rather than specific recipes. I don’t do weights and measurements, I rarely measure anything more scientific than ‘a handful of this, a handful of that’. I have nothing against people earning a living from publishing healthy recipe books, I just have an issue with them doing so under the name ‘paleo’.

Thanks for sticking with me this far!!

Now, please move on to the next post: Paleo-Reality Part 2: Introducing The PI Diet – The Pre-Industrial Diet.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lil #

    Great post! I would argue that the term ‘paleo’ and its use is an issue of semantics and that in this case, as in many others, the word serves more as a signpost than a scientifically accurate term. After all, in this day of the internet, trying to disseminate your information to large numbers requires an obvious word-association, in this case, ‘paleo’. The same thing applies to other dietary choices: I know people who would term themselves vegan, but who still consume honey, or organic eggs and wear leather – it’s simply easier to pick the signpost which most closely points in your general direction than to enter into long winded accounts of the nitty-gritty of your lifestyle choices, during which the recipient of your lecture usually glazes over… Saying, ‘I eat a paleo/primal/MN diet,’ is more likely to spark questions which may lead that person to an autodidactic forray into the lifestyle.

    I think Mark Sisson is brilliant for this – he doesn’t claim to live a scientifically accurate paleolithic life, but readily agrees that he is simply emulating one by eating those foods which are most natural to modern-day us (which IS what paleolithic people would have done, regardless of what form that food took), incorporating those kinds of movements most suited to our bodies, but adapted to our preferences, the existence of modern equipment and technology (eg, walking workstations as a work:movement hack) and our work-centred lives. He covers a lovely broad range of related areas, ranging from the latest scientific research for those so inclined and of course the Friday Success Story, for those who need that kind of human motivation. Incidentally, it’s great to have something similar that’s based in the UK, as the cultural divide can every so often be a little alienating.

    As for the ‘paleo’ desserts trend, again I think we have to work with the culture we have. As you so rightly say, people lack proper education with regard to nutrition. Not only do we no longer have to hunt for our food, but it would not be practical for us to do so, given sheer numbers, therefore we are more sedentary. Among modern neolithic societies, there is no biological imperative for us not to be and the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with the lack of education and cheap and easy availability of multi-national-backed frankenfoods, are not immediately apparent. By the time they become problematic, habits are so ingrained that they are very difficult to break, particularly to those lacking the education or means to break them, instead of going to our equally uneducated health professionals for a ‘mask’ for the symptoms in the form of a convenient, no-effort pill.

    This is where I think so-called ‘paleo’ desserts can be pretty useful and the ‘paleo’ tag as well. Whilst we are hopefully aware enough to realise that paleolithic man did not snack on ‘paleo chocolate brownies,’ knowing that there is a way to ease a little less painfully into a healthy lifestyle is appealing to many and could be make-or-break for some. When I first became interested in this lifestyle, being able to make treats was an important factor, not to mention a means to avoid alienating my kids from their peer groups whilst avoiding the evils of the sugar-crash! Whilst not the healthiest choice, it is far less easy to overeat chocolate chip cookies made from ground almonds, very dark chocolate and honey or maple syrup than it is those made with white flour, sugar and milk chocolate – even of the homemade variety. They are simply too filling, and don’t trigger the carb-cravings in anything like the same mindless way! Also, I found that as I moved forward with these dietary choices, my tastes changed and these days, I do ‘paleo’ baking only rarely – my go-to treat is a square of 85% dipped in some homemade cashew butter, but it’s good to know that sometimes, I can have a treat without feeling guilty, or simply unwell, afterwards. I know that my dessert recipes are not ‘paleo’ in the true sense, but describing them as such is easier than calling them my ‘grain-and-refined-sugar-free-choc-chip-cookies’. It’s also more search-engine-friendly! As it so happens, many of my recipes have inspired in others the curiosity necessary for self-education and that can’t be a bad thing (it also gives me the warm and fuzzies when folks tell me I should open a ‘primal’ tea shop!).

    The thing is that we no longer have natural selection and therefore not everyone has to be self-disciplined enough to make the right choices (for survival) and just go cold turkey when through little fault of their own, they have become addicted to the things they must suddenly give up. And then there are the other little triggers like the term ‘give up,’ which implies foregoing something that is good. There’s no one-size-fits all. Being stoic isn’t for everyone and just like any cultural movement, when large numbers of people have access to it, distortion is inevitable; just try finding a consensus on what feminism is for a prime example! The point is the signpost, the rest is up to the individual and refinement takes time and research.

    Wow, that was longer than I envisioned, sorry! =D

    October 7, 2013
    • I love this response Lil, thanks!

      I totally agree about the ‘sign posts’ and that’s why I picked “MotherNaturesDiet” as the name for my blog – I hate using the word ‘diet’ because it’s such a miss-used word these days, but it encompasses a lot in one name, and people can relate to the notion of “MotherNaturesDiet = oh that means eating, healthy, lifestyle, natural, bang, you got it”.

      Yes, I’m a big fan of Mark Sisson too, and a few people have read my blog and said “Oh you’re like the UK’s Mark Sisson” and I just smile and think “if only”!! I’m honoured by such a comparison, Mark is one of my heroes and I hope to meet him and work/train with him someday. I think he runs some ‘workshops’ and I intend to go learn with him. All the big names – Mark, Robb Wolf, Loren Cordain, these folks are all great and I support and follow them all – the point in this post, is about their followers, way down the line, who have taken the well-structured, intelligent, well-thought-out work these guys publish, and turned it into an excuse to eat too much bacon!

      Yes, you make a very good point about the desert business. I agree with you, if it require a bunch of gluten-free cookies (made with raw cacao and manuka honey instead of regular butter and refined white sugar) to get someone off a diet of processed foods and on to a diet that follows a paleo program, than absolutely I am all for it. I think the point where I become frustrated, is where too many people forget that one of the core problems we face today, is this imbalance between calories in and calories out. In all sincerity, we need to move more and eat less, we as a society, are growing obese at an alarming rate. One of the core fundamental problems is that food has become an obsession, a leisure activity, a favourite hobby for hundreds of millions of people. I wrote about this here – https://mothernaturesdiet.me/2013/03/03/stop-overeating-switch-to-eating-simpler-meals-using-fewer-ingredients/

      It worries me that as long as we keep sweetening foods and making them ‘complex’ and delicious, we are not breaking this cycle, this mentality that food is some kind of fun thing to do to brighten up an otherwise dull day. Once a week, great, gather as a family, invite friends, create a feast…but the rest of the week, I think food should really be seen as fuel to keep you going, a means to an end not the end itself.

      So I totally get your point, and I agree that my ‘hard line’ is definitely not for everyone, but I worry that leaders in the ancestral health field like Weston Price, Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and our beloved Mark Sisson, have brought life changing good work to the world, and the mass market has gotten hold of it and started messing it all up! As soon as we have a thousand new faces in the game, all selling books, protein supplements, superfoods and prescribed workout plans, the movement loses so much of what is so great about it in the first place! I guess, this post is really a guide to say “cut through the crap, and stick to the core guidelines”.

      Thanks again Lil, great to have your thoughts, I really appreciate you taking the time to write and I am sorry it’s taken so long to get back to you! Cheers, Karl.

      October 22, 2013
  2. Hi Lil…don’t apologize, I’m delighted to hear from you!
    I will read it (tomorrow) and get back to you 🙂
    Thanks again!

    October 7, 2013
  3. Having read this I believed it was really enlightening.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this short article together.
    I once again find myself spending a significant amount of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

    August 21, 2014

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