One of the things my blog has been missing, is a dissertation of how the Paleo/Primal diet actually works. I have been wanting to post an article on this, because understanding the science made a big difference to me. I would like to think it could also make a difference to others.
The problem is the science is not easy to explain. To be honest I have been putting off writing an article about it because I knew it would be time consuming and challenging.
So, I was very pleased to find this video with Dr. Doug McGuff where he goes through the biochemistry of human metabolism to explains obesity, diabetics and why eating Paleo/Primal works for optimal health.
I have read a lot of material on how Paleo nutrition works, but this is by far the clearest explanation I have come across.
The whole video is 1 hour and 38 minutes long, but I have embedded it so it only plays the part where Dr. McGuff explains current understanding of metabolism. If you want to understand the science of Primal eating, these 36 minute are going to be worth your while.
Hi Peter – Came across this interview with Michael Arnstein, a dedicated frutarian marathon runner, who is a running mate of my friend Ben Ko. From an ancestral health perspective this kind of diet not only doesn’t make any sense: it shouldn’t be possible at all. Yet, Michael is proof that this diet not only works for him – but his athletic performance is the best it has ever been (he’s in his mid-thirties). I’d be curious about your response – I am a huge fruit fan, and I notice that you don’t eat much fruit at all. So Michael’s diet would be a different as it is possible to be from yours – yet it works for him. – Martin
On first sight Michael Arnstein’s diet does seem to go against ancestral diet principles. He suggests 80% of daily calories should come from carbohydrate, leaving just 10% for fat and protein respectively. Furthermore, most of the carbs come in the form of fruit, which means Mr. Arnstein ingests a lot of sucrose and fructose daily. The typical Paleo or Primal dieter would have concerns about all those things.
But there is another way to look at it. You could argue Fructarians eat a part-Paleo diet. Mr. Arnstein’s diet basically consists of raw vegetables and fruit, and Paleo advocates would approve of the following characteristics of these foods:
- If you set aside the sugar content of fruit, Fructarian foods are anti-inflamatory and dense in nutrients.
- A Fructarian regime eliminates pro-inflamatory grains and seed oils.
- Eating raw fruits and vegetables means you avoid all processed foods and dairy.
So, at a stretch, you could view the Fructarian diet as a raw food variant of the Paleo diet without the meat, fish and eggs. In fact, it seems to me the Fructarian and Paleo diets have more in common with each other, than either have with the typical Western diet.
The ancestral health community would say a diet without meat, fish and eggs would not be optimal for your health. I tend to agree, but I also think it is a personal choice. The key principle here is to eat natural nutrient dense foods, and avoid toxic and processed foods. Beyond that I think it’s about eating a diet that makes you feel and perform well. I would also take the guess work out of it by having blood tests regularly to make sure you are staying healthy.
I do think these things have to be viewed in the context of what I believe to be widespread metabolic damage in the western population. It is clear that most overweight people suffer from poor blood glucose control, and, for a growing number, this eventually turns into type-2 diabetes. So, I personally think a low-carb approach is the best remedy we currently have for returning overweight people to normal weight.
Going low carb does not necessarily mean you have to eliminate fruit from your diet. But the problem is fruits have widely differing sugar content. To illustrate this, here are two examples coutesey of SugarStacks.com:
Particularly for someone who has just started a weight loss program, fruit can be a bit of a minefield. I made the choice not to eat fruit at all when I first started loosing weight. I now eat a little, but I tend to stick to berries, which have a lower sugar content than other fruits.
If you really enjoy fruit, I see no reason why you couldn’t incorporate it in your diet in a way that allows you to still achieve your health goals. I would suggest you initially track the fruit you eat and see how it affects you. If you find your weight is sensitive to fruit, then you may have to track your consumption permanently to manage your intake. Alternatively, you could have periodic “fruit frenzies” where you eat as much fruit as you like on a nominated day per week or every fortnight. You will find there are a lot of diets out there, including some Primal and Paleo diets, that advocate “off days” or “cheat days”. A regular off day makes it psychologically easier to stay the course if you find your diet restrictive. It also seems consistent with the Paleo/Primal principle of eating like our hunter gatherer ancestors.
I believe we all need a healthy dose of curiosity, critical thinking and independent thought to manage our health. Particularly since government guidelines and prevailing wisdom has led us down a path of widespread obesity, diabetes and chronic disease. So, it would be inconsistent and disingenuous of me to insist everyone eats as I eat. Instead, I advocate you eat real food from natural sources and otherwise do what works for you.
This blog reflects my personal opinions and experiences. None of the material I make available should be construed as medical advice, nor should it replace proper medical consultation. If this blog inspires you to start your own weight loss program, I encourage you to consult a medical professional. If you, your friends or your doctors wish to question or challenges any information on this blog, I welcome your feedback.
Loren Cordain is one of the scientists who provided the foundations of the Paleo movement through his research. In this lecture, he goes through the scientific principles and hypotheses behind Paleo nutrition.
I personally have a hard time with Dr. Cordain’s assertion that you should limit saturated fats in your diet, and I am more relaxed about dairy than he is. But overall I find his research insightful and fascinating.
This blog reflects my personal opinions and experiences. None of the material I make available should be construed as medical advice, nor should it replace proper medical consultation. If this blog inspires you to start your own weight loss program, I encourage you to consult a medical professional. If you, your friends or your doctors wish to question or challenges any information on this blog, I welcome your feedback. Please leave a comment by the relevant blog article.