Beyond Paleo: moving from a “paleo diet” to a “paleo template”

6913771395_62943268b4

Over the last couple of years, as the popularity of the Paleo diet has expanded, a lot of controversy has emerged over exactly what a Paleo diet is.

Part of the problem is that there are now a number of authors and bloggers – from Mark Sisson to Kurt Harris to Robb Wolf to Paul Jaminet to myself – that advocate what might generally be called a Paleo diet, but with slight variations in each case. This has unfortunately led to some confusion for people new to the “Paleo diet”.

It has also spawned new terminology in an effort by each author/blogger to clarify the differences in their approach, such as Mark Sisson’s “Primal diet”, Paul Jaminet’s “Perfect Health Diet”, and Kurt Harris’ former “PaNu or Paleo 2.0″ and current “Archevore” concepts.

So what’s the controversy or confusion all about? It usually revolves around the following questions:

  • Is the Paleo diet low-carb or low-fat? Is saturated fat permitted? If so, how much?
  • How much protein should someone eat on a Paleo diet?
  • Does the Paleo diet include dairy products – or not? Which kinds of dairy?
  • Are any grains at all permitted?

In the early days, following Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, the Paleo diet was considered to be moderate in carbohydrate and low in saturated fat (though monounsaturated fat wasn’t restricted).

Then, as low-carb diets rose in popularity and many low-carbers switched over to Paleo, it seemed that the lines between low-carb and Paleo began to blur. For these folks, the Paleo diet is high in fat – especially saturated fat – and low in carbohydrates, with a moderate amount of protein.

More recently, some authors/bloggers have advocated a diet based roughly on Paleo principles but that also may include dairy products and even certain grains like white rice and buckwheat, depending on individual tolerance. Still others have suggested that a high carb, lower fat diet – provided the carbs come from starchy vegetables and not grains – may be optimal.

So what is a Paleo diet? Is it low-carb? Low-fat? Does it include dairy? Grains?

We’re not robots: variation amongst groups and individuals

The answer to that question depends on several factors. First, are we asking what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, or are we asking what an optimal diet for modern humans is? While hard-core Paleo adherents will argue that there’s no difference, others (including me) would suggest that the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial. Dairy products are a good example.

Second, as recent studies have revealed, we can’t really know what our ancestors ate with 100% certainty, and there is undoubtedly a huge variation amongst different populations. For example, we have the traditional Inuit and the Masai who ate a diet high in fat (60-70% of calories for the Masai and up to 90% of calories for the Inuit), but we also have traditional peoples like the Okinawans and Kitavans that obtained a majority (60-70% or more) of their calories from carbohydrate. So it’s impossible to say that the diet of our ancestors was either “low-carb” or “low-fat”, without specifying which ancestors we’re talking about.

Third, if we are indeed asking what the optimal diet is for modern humans (rather than simply speculating about what our Paleolithic ancestors ate), there’s no way to answer that question definitively. Why? Because just as there is tremendous variation amongst populations with diet, there is also tremendous individual variation. Some people clearly do better with no dairy products. Yet others seem to thrive on them. Some feel better with a low-carb approach, while others feel better eating more carbohydrate. Some seem to require a higher protein intake (up to 20-25% of calories), but others do well when they eat a smaller amount (10-15%).

The Paleo diet vs. the Paleo template

I suggest we stop trying to define the “Paleo diet” and start thinking about it instead as a “Paleo template”.

What’s the difference? A Paleo diet implies a particular approach with clearly defined parameters that all people should follow. There’s little room for individual variation or experimentation.

A Paleo template implies a more flexible and individualized approach. A template contains a basic format or set of general guidelines that can then be customized based on the unique needs and experience of each person.

But here’s the key difference between a Paleo diet and a Paleo template: following a diet doesn’t encourage the participant to think, experiment or consider his or her specific circumstances, while following a template does.

The only way to figure out what an optimal diet is for you is to experiment and observe. The best way to do that is to remove the “grey area” foods you suspect you might have trouble with, like dairy, nightshades, eggs, etc. for a period of time (usually 30 days is sufficient), and add them back in one at a time and observe your reactions. This “30-day challenge” or elimination diet is what folks like Robb Wolf have recommended for a long time.

As human beings we’re both similar and different. We share the same basic physiology, which is why a Paleo template makes sense. There are certain foods that, because of their chemical structure, adversely affect all of us regardless of our individual differences.

On the other hand, each of us is unique. We grew up in different families, with different dietary habits, life experiences, exposures to environmental toxins and lifestyles. Many of our genes are the same, but some are different and the way those genes have been triggered or expressed can also differ.

For someone with an autoimmune disease, dairy products, nightshades and eggs may be problematic. Yet for others, these foods are often well-tolerated. This variation merely underscores the importance of discovering your own optimal diet rather than blindly following someone else’s prescription.

I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to argue about what a Paleo diet is, because the question is essentially unanswerable. The more important question is, what is your optimal diet?

Finding your own optimal version of the Paleo diet

In my upcoming book, Your Personal Paleo Code (published 12/31/13), I provide a simple—yet powerful—three-step approach for helping you to discover your own ideal version of the Paleo diet. CLICK HERE to learn more about it and pick up a copy.

Like what you’ve read? Sign up for FREE updates delivered to your inbox.

  • I hate spam too. Your email is safe with me.

Categories

Paleo Diet

Comments Join the Conversation

  1. says

    I love this article. I couldn’t agree more with your philosophy. The paleo lifestyle is a template. Listen to your body and remove the foods that your body does not respond well to. Well said Chris.

  2. Julie M says

    Wow – is diet the new religion? Seems so many people are closed minded & want their way to be the only way, that attitude has not done us any favours to date.

    Some thoughts:

    Reading all these posts I notice that many talk about eating this or that, pros & cons, but don’t mention how these foods are produced or grown.

    Unless you grow your own or buy from organic sources you can trust, you don’t know what is in your food. Much of the ‘fresh’ fruit/vegetables available are dead foods as they are often months or even years old – kept in cold storage. Many are selected strains (often with reduced nutrition) modified to look perfect because consumers won’t buy a blemished apple or a misshapen tomato that won’t look fresh for long on the supermarket shelves. Many contain high levels of pesticide/herbicide residue as well, so eating those could be triggers for health issues & not the food itself?

    This site has interesting stats for normal v’s organic produce http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/index.jsp

    Having all fruits & vegetables available all year isn’t a natural way to eat if you want to eat in a ‘Paleoesque’ way either. Apples & pears ripen in Autumn as do most berries, so eating them all year isn’t what ancient people did.

    Add to that the strains of fruits & vegetables available in ancient times were less sweet & smaller than modern cultivars, which means less sugar in the fruits/veg consumed. So one apple today may well be the equivalent of 4 apples in ancient times?

    I think there is something that is being missed by all the promoters of eating styles, the benefits of eating live food straight from the plant or animal.

    We have a small farm in a reasonably unpolluted part of rural Australia & we grow our own organic fruits & vegetables. I have experienced often a ‘zing’ or slight ‘buzz’ on the tongue when eating something I picked directly from a plant. Maybe our ancient ancestors were benefitting from optimal nutrients that helped ward of illness because they were often eating truly fresh ‘live’ foods?

    Plus add to that the exercise they gained daily in their search for these foods. Lots of walking probably combined with short bursts of running, either to catch animals to eat or to avoid being eaten. We often walk a short distance to our fridge to eat our aged foods, even I only have to walk about 100 feet to my apple trees to pick an apple, not walk miles every day.

    It seems the benefits from this type of exercise are now becoming better understood & why HIT – interval training is showing more health benefits than aerobic exercise at a steady pace does.

    In addition if you imagine yourself as a hunter gatherer, during the Winter months especially in areas of Winter snow, it’s probably fair to say many hunter gatherers in the Northern Hemisphere were living almost solely on animal protein/fat, plus some carbs from plant roots or vegetables that last (like pumpkins) during Winter. They would have probably been in ketosis much of the time, burning off the fats laid down in the previous months of abundance when they burned glucose as the fuel source. The body can switch between fuel sources & doing so is probably more in keeping with the natural available food cycles of ancient times?

    Birds don’t lay eggs in Winter, but eggs would be commonly available & probably easier to get in Spring as would meat due to young animals being born who are easy prey. Birds are on every continent (even the Arctic/Antarctic) so it seems logical eggs would form part of any ancient diet?

    Then in Summer you get abundant vegetables & some fruits like melons before you move on to Autumn & get more fruit again to fatten up for the hard Winter ahead, the cycle continues.

    Consider even a basic like water- if it’s from BPA plastic bottles you may be consuming more than you think, is it filled with fluoride for your ‘health’, is the piping it runs through old lead pipes? We drink & bathe in rain water from our own tanks, easy for anyone to do nowadays with the new thin under eaves water ranks available (filter for toxins though if you live in suburbia or a city).

    Milk was available for some ancient peoples like the horse owning nomads mentioned & also for the Bedouin for whom camel milk has been a staple for thousands of years, but it differs in many ways from cows milk.

    Here in Australia they promote a cows milk called A2, this is a milk from cows that only produce a milk with a certain type of protein which is claimed to be better for digestion. It is said this is the type of milk ancient cattle produced, but we humans have selectively bred for cattle that also or exclusively produce the A1 type protein which they claim causes gut issues. If this is correct – then maybe the whole dairy debate needs to be reconsidered?? The mainstream dairy industry doesn’t agree – but they have a business to protect so we need to consider all views & try things ourselves to see if it makes a difference.

    This blog post give a good explanation of how it all works http://www.katie180.com.au/nutrition/i-drink-a2-milk-heres-why/

    Is there something similar in the UK or USA? If so, it may be worth a try for those with milk intolerance? We know wheat isn’t the same as ancient wheat so the issues with modern dairy for some, may be due to similar human tampering for commercial gains?

    Some other additional diet items like honey would be irregular for some, but more easily obtained for native Australian aboriginals for example, as the Australian native bee is stingless.

    It all depends where in the world you live, ancient Britains wouldn’t be eating watermelon or tomatoes, & Pacific islanders would not be eating beef or rabbit, but eggs, birds, fish & coconuts etc.

    Most islander people were shown just like the Maori mentioned to be in optimal health on a diet rich in natural foods, & high in good fats, especially coconut based. But after the introduction of the Western diet these people have developed all the same issues as those in on western diets.

    In our modern world Americans have problems finding grass fed beef or dairy, but In Australia grain fed is rare with grass fed being normal. So what may be considered a bad food in one place could be a good one in another.

    I find the attitude of defining a paleo diet as being any set thing rather ridiculous & Chris your approach makes common sense.

    My husband & I are both middle aged & would by most standards be considered a healthy weigh, fairly trim. We have been slowly over several years refining our already reasonably ‘healthy’ by Western standards diet to be closer to dare I describe it as ‘Paleo’.

    I prefer to eat a little bit of this or that without too much of one thing. I have mostly removed grains from my diet, eat some dairy, eggs, grass fed meat, Australian grown salmon from Tasmania’s clean waters, home grown fruit/veg were possible or organic.

    Recently started eating Konjac vegetable ‘pasta’ which is apparently a good source of pre biotics & low carb/ low calorie so also good for those needing to lose weight. I made sure it came from a clean source, not from Japan whose recent nuclear issues are cause for concern for food production.

    I don’t know what the perfect diet for me is yet but I just keep researching & mostly eliminating foods that are obviously not healthy for my body (vegetable oils, grains), eating in moderation some that are natural but not wise to consume a lot of (honey for example), & the base of my intake comes from protein, good fats (olive, coconut oil, some animal fats), vegetables, a variety of tree nuts & a small amount of fruit.

    I still indulge in dark chocolate occasionally & homemade cakes/sweets made without grains a little, but considering that is the only sugar I get in my diet (I drink water, no juice or soft drinks (soda) ), then it’s a very small intake that I’m willing to live with.

    I tried some of the Stevia/mixes promoted by some in the world of keto diets for example but believe this upset my stomach (cramps), so just use honey or very small amounts of sugar now & again.

    I have to live in this world, not the Paleolthic era, & we are still evolving to some degree so we may not be 100% the same as people in Paleo times. I don’t for example eliminate wheat 100%, just 99% as I have heard of people becoming extremely reactive to it if they have not had any at all for some time. I don’t what to have some severe reaction eating out at a restaurant for example because they used flour to thicken a sauce! I would point out I never had any major issues with gluten, so for me this works.

    I’m a realist not a zealot, overall lifestyle balance is more important to me & I find it odd that some will be extreme in eliminating every bit of ‘negative’ food from their diet, but happily live in a smog ridden city environment, have a coffee on the sidewalk as 1000’s of cars drive past just a few feet away pumping out exhaust from petro chemicals.

    Others rigorously avoid sugar in all forms but happily eat celery that can in some places be sprayed with up to 29 types of pesticides without ever questioning how it was grown, or eat grain fed beef that is known to be less healthy than grass fed. http://chriskresser.com/why-grass-fed-trumps-grain-fed

    Recently I found a nice herbal tea that I really enjoyed, but found out (after asking the manufacturer) that the cinnamon used in it (38%) was Cassia cinnamon which has been shown to contain the natural toxin coumarin that can cause liver damage & was carcinogenic in rats. The true or Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) has little of this toxin & has the health properties people take cinnamon for, yet how many consume cinnamon & don’t even know what type it is?
    The cinnamon available in most supermarket spice racks is Cassia – basically if it doesn’t state the type it’s Cassia.

    Ask questions & do your own research is my approach. take responsibility for your own health & don’t rely on others to define what is healthy for you.

    Sure, it takes longer to shop when you read every label & I find Australian labels much more informative than American ones. (imported products from the US have to have a more detailed contents sticker added for Australia). But it is worth knowing what you are actually eating, the amount of hidden sugars, omega 6 oils, misleading ingredients, chemicals & wheat hidden in even basic foods never ceases to astound me.

    My overall point being that don’t get so consumed by which food group on some ‘diet’ type is listed as being acceptable & totally miss the big picture.

    All food for thought. :)

    • josh358 says

      It seems to me that while most of what you say is true, but then, perfect is the enemy of good. Not all of us can move to the bush and have our own farms, I try to eat organic produce when i can, get grass fed beef when I can, order wild Alaskan salmon. I avoid processed food. But for the reasons you mentioned, I can’t eat or work the way our ancestors did. Hunger-gatherers walk many miles per day, and current theory suggests that men were long distance runners. I can try to get exercise and get out of my chair, but modern life sets practical limits.

      On the other hand, merely avoiding processed food and getting exercise provides huge health benefits. Our ancestors ate a wide variety of diets and filled a wide variety of niches, and they prospered in many of them. We’re pretty adaptable. i like to think that we have to dot every “i” and cross ever “t” to enjoy good health.

      BTW, interesting what you said about wheat. I’ve noticed that myself. Wheat gives me irritable bowel, something I didn’t discover until I tried paleo and cut it out — I’d suffered with this for years but no one had ever been able to diagnose it. It’s what they now call non-celiac wheat sensitivity and the latest thinking is that it isn’t a reaction to gluten at all, but something else in the wheat. Anyway, I’ve found that if I avoid wheat entirely, it does really hit me when I do eat wheat, as you say. Whereas if I eat a bit of it periodically, it’s much less severe.

  3. kazy says

    I have a question for Chris, or anyone else who wishes to answer. I am very curious about the whole Paleo diet and the belief system behind it that what our ancestors ate is the right way to eat? Where did this evidence come from? I can agree with the current scientific observations on what food does to the body and determine from there what is healthy and what is not, based on controlled clinical studies and scientific discoveries. But from what I read about our early ancestors, it was kind of touch and go. Food was often scarce and they basically ate what was available. They had no built in detector telling them what was healthy and what wasn’t. It was trial and error and in some cases they died from poisonous foods and that’s how they learned. But as far as eating healthy or correctly, I don’t see any evidence of that. What they ate was what was accessible to them regardless of whether in the long term it was healthy or not. And in some cases, food was very limited and sparodic and so they migrated where food was more plentiful. IOW it was the quantity and the attainability – and convenience – of obtainable food that determined what early peoples ate, not what was necessarily in the long term healthier.

    • josh358 says

      That’s a fair question. I think the primary empirical evidence is that numerous observations of hunter-gatherers showed that the have extremely low rates of the “diseases of civilization” — heart disease, stroke, obesity, type II diabetes, etc. — even when they live into old age (when they do die, it is infection, accident, violence, and the like). And this isn’t genetic, since the same people develop these diseases when they immigrate to western countries or adopt a western lifestyle. In addition, the fossil record suggests that pre-agricultural people had greater stature than their post-agricultural successors.

      By the way, hunter-gatherers don’t typically live with the food scarcity or periodic famine that most imagine. That for the most part came about with primitive agriculture. When times are tough, they switch to less desirable seasonal foods.

      In one remarkable experiment, Australian Aborigines who were suffering from the diseases of civilization went back to live temporarily in the bush, and experienced a dramatic improvement in health.

      There are also theoretical reasons, beginning with the evolutionary argument — that these are the diets our species evolved to eat, and that only limited adaptation has occurred in the 10,000 years since agriculture appeared. And there are nutritional theories, observations of for example blood chemistry, and studies, which unfortunately are still small-scale and limited.

      Last but definitely not least, when people try eating that way, they quickly discover that it benefits them, sometimes spectacularly — e.g., reports of spectacular weight loss without calorie counting (I’m one of those who experienced it).

      It’s covered in greater detail in some excellent books that are available but I think that’s the gist of it.

      • kazy says

        I agree that the essence of the paleo diet is healthy. No doubt. I am on it. And the science shows that it’s healthier but what I am saying is that our ancestors didn’t know it was healthy. They ate what was available. I think a lot of the foods we eat now that are considered unhealthy are due in large part to it being so tainted by all the additives, preservatives, hormones, antibioltics and an unregulated food industry – and the flour mill. I’ve heard of people not reacting to the wheat they eat in Europe but are intolerant to it here in the states.

        • josh358 says

          I think you’re right about what’s wrong with the food we eat today, and would add some other things to the list, such as oxidized cholesterol, high omega 6 vegetable oils, fatty grain-fed meat, and sugars in everything.

          But I think you’re underestimating the power both of dietary culture. Primitive people are far more sophisticated in their food choices than one might think. Arguably, more sophisticated than we are, since they don’t change their diets in the name of scientific evidence that turns out to be wrong, like the advice to eat trans fats or replace saturated fat with carbs. Rather, they develop a remarkably elaborate knowledge of food availability and quality. And generally, they subsist on fruits, nuts, vegetables, meat, insects, fowl, eggs, fish, wild honey, roots and tubers that are traditionally eaten and therefore known to be safe. And they instinctively and culturally eat these things so as to get the right nutrients. Then the specific foods don’t much matter.

          Google the Hadza, among the few surviving hunter-gatherers, and check out the studies of what they eat, and how they choose it, and their fallback foods — e.g., tubers when more favored foods are scarce. Anyone would be healthy on such a diet. Also note what they say about becoming farmers, as some of their compatriots have. They know they will be forced to as their lands are taken, but as things currently stand, they have much better food security. Indeed, they tell of some farmers having joined them when food was scarce.

          I think you have to give credit to evolution. As opportunistic omnivores, we’re well suited to a broad range of foods.

          That isn’t to say that every hunter-gatherer chose an ideal combination of foods, or could. We can’t either, since we don’t know what it is and it probably differs anyway depending on genetics. But the available evidence suggests that for the most part, hunter gatherers chose wisely. At any rate, you won’t find hunter-gatherers with beer bellies and rotten teeth.

      • M.M. says

        Exactly. What seems to be the case regarding the changes in health and figure is the life style in a broader sense and not just just diet, right?
        Human beings like any other mamal and non mamal species were not supposed to stay sitting in front of a computer or desk all the time…We are supposed to stay outdoors and walk everyday or so our ancestors thought…

        • josh358 says

          Yes, definitely. So much of what we’re told to do via diet and exercise is just an attempt to move us closer to the behaviors of our ancestors. Hunter-gatherers walked amazing distances and it’s been said that we are exquisitely adapted to long-distance endurance running as well. How often did our ancestors sit the way we do? I imagine only on rare occasions, e.g., when they were sitting on a rocky outcropping. For the most part, they stood, crouched, lay down, sat on the ground. And of course they had different emotional experiences than we do, received enough sunlight to synthesize vitamin D, etc.

  4. says

    Great post here Chris. i have been on the paleo regimen, however, I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY to what you base your principle of a PALEO TEMPLATE. As to what Bruce Lee did to JKD, you have done so with paleo.

    My journey to swtiching to paleo is based on a choice for health reasons since I am a professional culinarian and throughout the years, i have come to realize that eating SIMPLY & CLEAN, which to me is based on my own research is to have the purity of the foods SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES….minimal cooking, but never SACRIFICING FLAVOR.

    So it will be coming to 2 years since switching over to Paleo, and I have lost over 20# to date, simply by following a guideline, but not set in stone. I am weaning mysel away from certain grains but not all as i do monitor what happens on certain food products that does give me a certain reaction and then make a note o fit to stay and then progress to others that i feel will help me in my journey towards optimal health. Incorporating more dark green and brightly colored produce & fruits, the inclusion of green smoothies has been of IMMENSE BENEFITS, the addition of integrating organic produced SUPERFOODS like hemp protein powder, chia seeds, spirulina, chlorella, has given me more energy boost throughout the day when i was in my 20s & 30s.

    Keep up the great work Chris! PALEO TEMPLATE FOR LIFE!

  5. Mike says

    Yes…This is a great idea…JUST EAT REAL FOOD…We live in a great time of discovery of the root cause of disease… The key to a good paleo diet is bypassing metabolic weakness… Think about it…
    A paleo gene diet? It costs 100.00 bucks to have the 23 me testing done on your genes.
    The key is to by pass the weak link with food and supplements.Its all about methylation..Check it out…you have the testing done you have a CBS mutation. You can not eat a high protein diet…Also sulfur veggie with bother you…You will need to bypass the CBS mutation with food… This give you the power to prevent disease. This will be where paleo meets the modern world of customized diet… based on your metabolic weakness..THE PALEO G DIET.

  6. says

    YES– I agree with you on the “TEMPLATE” — I myself don’t prescribe diets to my clients – I think following one very calculated diest can be quite unneccesarry, boring, therefore very easy for clients to just ignore- instead I give out “PRINCIPLES” or templates in this case.
    Templates and principles are easier to remember and are much more simple but the value it serves stays the same as to giving out a STRICT diet!
    Cheers man

  7. PaleoSouthpaw says

    Hi, Great article and blog!

    I was wondering what the paleo-centric consensus on using honey as a sweetener is?

    Ancient peoples certainly could find beehives and could break off pieces of honeycomb to consume some of the sweet nectar inside! Granted, they probably didn’t eat it all the time, but they must have found some from time to time, and braved being stung to get at the sweet substance.

    Honey also is an interesting food in that it never goes bad, and also has antibacterial properties.

    Thoughts?

  8. Peter says

    You may be interested to know that a Scientific American article which bashes a strawman “half-baked” Paleo Diet links to this blog post. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-paleo-diet-half-baked-how-hunter-gatherer-really-eat&WT.mc_id=SA_googleplus_sciam
    “Some Paleo dieters emphasize that they never believed in one true caveman lifestyle or diet and that—in the fashion of Sisson’s Blueprint—they use our evolutionary past to form guidelines, not scripture. That strategy seems reasonably solid at first, but quickly disintegrates. Even though researchers know enough to make some generalizations about human diets in the Paleolithic with reasonable certainty, the details remain murky. Exactly what proportions of meat and vegetables did different hominid species eat in the Paleolithic? It’s not clear. Just how far back were our ancestors eating grains and dairy? Perhaps far earlier than we initially thought. What we can say for certain is that in the Paleolithic, the human diet varied immensely by geography, season and opportunity. “We now know that humans have evolved not to subsist on a single, Paleolithic diet but to be flexible eaters, an insight that has important implications for the current debate over what people today should eat in order to be healthy,” anthropologist William Leonard of Northwestern University wrote in Scientific American in 2002.”

    • Josh says

      A disappointing article. The author misses many major points, e.g., the fact that a) *none* of the mummies in that study were paleo-style hunter gatherers; they were agriculturalists or neolithic-style arctic hunter-gatherers who eat an extreme diet; that b) they had only half the rate of atherosclerosis of other groups anyway; and c) that — and this may be the most interesting finding of this and similar research — atherosclerosis does not necessarily equate to heart disease, e.g., the Masai develop atherosclerosis but interestingly their blood vessels expand to maintain blood flow and they have few of the lesions that cause heart attacks.

      That’s just one example of the superficial knowledge he brings to bear on this this issue. Another would be his belief that a paleo diet is low in nutritional substances like calcium that can somehow only be provided by modern foods.

      He does make some valid points, e.g, that some adaptation has occurred in the genome — lactose intolerance or the extra starch-digestion genes common in East Asia — and that this has to be taken into account in tailoring a personal diet. But he doesn’t seem to understand the difference between adaptation that occurs rapidly because of very high selection value and adaptation that occurs only gradually. Genes that affect the primary nutrition of young reproducers will be in the former category, but genes that cause only incremental mortality in elderly non-reproducers have little selection pressure and will change only gradually. Again, a point he would understand if he had actually done some reading.

      He makes even more basic mistakes, e.g., equating the short life of hunter-gatherers to dietary flaws — he doesn’t understand the elementary difference between diseases of civilization or affluence and diseases of poverty, typically infectious diseases and parasites. He also, curiously, complains about the parasite load of hunter-gatherers. What, exactly, does this have to do with diet, as opposed to hook worm larvae crawling entering the soles of your feet? However, had he looked into it, he would have found that some parasitic infections appear to *decrease* blood cholesterol and, in laboratory animals, atherosclerosis.

      Also, even though he gives lip service to the evolutionary argument, he believes that a wide range of prehistoric diets is incompatible with the notion that the paleo diet can be beneficial. He doesn’t seem to understand that evolution could have accommodated a wide dietary window and that it is only when we (or for that matter, our ancestors) stepped outside of that genetic window that diet-related illness occurs. Even though that seems a very obvious concept, e.g., a sailor who eats two oranges a day will be healthy and a sailor who eats three oranges a day but a sailor who gets no vitamin C whatsoever will develop scurvy.

      So, basically, what could have been an interesting discussion (since he does raise some interesting and as far as I can tell unresolved issues) turns into an attack that founders due to lack of knowledge.

      • Mike says

        Lack of knowledge? Study the methylation cycle , run the lab testing on your self , get the gene testing done. We have detrimental DNA damage. We are living in a toxic world and just eating healthy will not fix this. The paleo diet is a good place to start ( . )

  9. says

    HI chris, very unique blog well done. my question is : what types of grain do you consume? what is your typical breakfast lunch and dinner? i recovered from anorexia that i suffered from for 11 years by eating the aforementioned ‘paleo’ way, namely because it helped me tackle gaining weight a healthy way,the ‘best’ way. anyway, i haven’t eaten wheat, grains for two years (my recovery time) I’m 25 years old and while ‘paleo’ makes me feel ok its now trapped me into feeling i can’t eat sprouted bread, sourdough rye, or looking at my carb intake. i try sporadically to introduce sprouted buckwheat groats or white rice occasionally (sprouted buckwheat and organic yoghurt today has sent me into a panic), but end up feeling so guilty and struck with hoards of the knowledge about not being able to eat even buckwheat afterwards, that i vow never to eat it again. i would like to start consuming legumes and beans again, i used to love them, and i miss sprouted bread but I’m too scared after reading so much about wheat and legumes etc.. by the way when i say paleo its not really true as i eat yoghurt, occasionally raw cheese, but I’m trying to figure out how to eat because I’m still not functioning as a woman- so technically my body can not reproduce- so I’m starting to question the diet… also my skin is peeling a lot and really sore, and i have bouts of depression- probably not dietary related maybe but more to do with feeling bound to the ‘paleo/primal’ way of eating in a world of beans and rice or pea bread ! I’ve read the akea life blue zones with david buettner (amongst the other vast quantities of nutrition literature/ weston price/ tribes and so on!!0 and i see that all cultures stick to their locally grown foods and the foods that come natural to them. I’ve noticed sadinians have their pane carasou bread and fava beans, the bama have their millet and corn and so on… I’m just searching for an answer really. i live in england..i seem to be the only 25 year old paleo type eater with no menstruation (amenhorrea), skin peeling and depression and questionable mental concentration- i feel like until i find an answer i can’t really carry on freely. i used to love legumes like chickpeas with no issue- the hummus made with extra virgin olive il, the bread sprouted or sourdough rye, and i look at the french, the monks in mount athos? sardinians, loma linda, okinawans etc eat rice, buckwheat, some of them eat wheat- mount ethos monks who are know for their longevity- etc etc- i just question- is it more about local ingredients, home cooking and how your body digests them? because we can be eating the best types of food or paleo accepted and if our bodies aren’t happy they will digest them wrong or not utilise them effectively… I’m just confused, namely because so many studies basically point to this : eat everything, and not too much of anything, eat organically and eat what is natural to your community and culture- it seems actually culture and community have a lot to do with it? what are your thoughts?

  10. Erin C says

    I agree withthe template concept. During this challenge I am definitely going strict and avoiding all processed carbs and foods as wella s dairy. I think after the challenge ends I will stick with some of the healthier snacks and food choices but will likely add some dairy and carbs back into my diet and see how I feel. I am amazed thatI do feel much better than I have in the past and I don’t find myself sleepy in the afternoon. I have actually cut down to 1 cup of coffee a day which is a drastic drop for me. Knowng that I feel better onthis diet makes me think that long term I can modify and tweak some things and see how I feel. I definitly like the template idea because I think I will need that flexibility in order to remain successful.

  11. Josh says

    I can’t agree. The entire idea of the paleo diet is that *evolution* makes the calls. Not us. Evolution knows more than we do. When we start using our incomplete knowledge to modify the diet we evolved to eat, we are departing from the most fundamental principle of the paleo philosophy and running the risk that we’ll make all sorts of mistakes. And we have a long history of making scientific mistakes where diet is concerned: breakfast cereals and Graham crackers were health foods, hydrogenated oils were health foods, high Omega-6 vegetable oils were health foods, and even today the government recommends that we eat a high-grain diet that makes people blow up like balloons.

    It is true — certainly — that our ancestors were versatile eaters, becoming more so beginning about 70,000 years ago. People ate different things depending on location, season, and their tribal way of life. There’s no need to be slavish.

    But if someone thinks they can do something unnatural like adding lots of saturated fat or cutting out carbs, well, you’re just taking part in another fad diet experiment.

    By the way, the Masai are not hunter-gatherers, but herdsmen. They do not eat a paleolithic diet and in any case few of us would want to eat theirs, based as it is on a mixture of cow’s blood and milk.
    The Inuit are hunter-gatherers, but their diet is a very recent adaptation and it isn’t characteristic of a traditional hunter-gatherer diet either. They show on autopsy evidence of atherosclerosis although they don’t die of cardiovascular disease. We should not use either of these groups as license to depart from paleo principles.

    One caveat — we have evolved some since paleo days, as witness the fact that the descendants of herding populations are now lactose tolerant, and that many east Asians have extra copies of a starch-digestion gene. Many of us are likely adapted to some extent both genetically and epigenetically to an agricultural diet. But the key word here is partly. I’ve seen no evidence that any agricultural group shares the robust good health of hunter-gatherers.

    As a recent article in the New York Times said, “We have a lot more to learn from groups like the Hadza, among whom obesity and heart disease are unheard of and 80-year-old grandmothers are strong and vital.” I couldn’t agree more. I still drink my coffee in the morning and cheat with the occasional slice of pizza, but in doing so, I’m departing from a way of life that is *known* to be conducive to robust good health.

  12. Gon says

    I wonder if my symptoms might be helped by a diet like this. I have chronic anxiety, acne, hair loss, cold hands and feet in the winter, gas, constipation, eczema, dandruff, muscle pains and mites allergy. I don’t know if there is some autoimmune condition (or other) that is causing all this (maybe you have an idea) but maybe this diet could help?

  13. says

    My wife got me into your podcast (we’ve been paleo-ish for a while), but I have a nagging feeling that we are overdoing it on meat. (We eat a lot of veggies and sweet-potatoes, but we have red meat or bird at nearly every meal, occasionally fish.)

    I see this sort of thing from time to time about red meat: http://holykaw.alltop.com/pan-fried-steaks-pose-cancer-danger

    It makes sense to me that browned / charred meat would have some unwanted properties as it becomes taken up into our cellular metabolism. And even a little char (as on a rare steak) might go a long way.

    Is there a body of literature you suggest I look at to get me off the fence about this? I should either cook differently (although boiled steak doesn’t sound as appealing), or learn enough that I can sear my steak without stress.

    I’m already on a path to reduce my reliance on red meat (mostly because I want more variety in my diet) but your take on the cooking method question would really interest me.

    Thanks!

  14. Nicholas Kinnunen says

    Going a bit off-topic here, but couldn’t find a more appropriate article to pose this question. In the “Beyond Paleo #2″ newsletter you mention that we “now know” that people with celiac disease can have cross reactions to other foods like dairy, glutenfree grains, pseudocereals, etc. I would like to know more about the research behind that claim, have done some searching in Medline but failed to find any indications of cross-reactivity to any foods other than dairy.

    • says

      Dr. Ritamarie has a ton of information about gluten (all scientific and proven information) on her website. I highly recommend checking out her free ebook called “Eat Your Way Out of Pain” which covers a lot of topics, but the central point is avoiding all gluten and why.

  15. Susan says

    I found this post interesting because it is less dogmatic than other articles on the Paleo Diet. I have considered trying it, but because of my digestive problems (I have had 10 intestinal surgeries since 2006) I don’t think I can manage it. Also, I like to do endurance exercise and I would need to manage a reasonable carbohydrate intake. My health issues mean I cannot eat many vegetables or fruits and I’m already underweight, so I don’t see how I could eat enough calories without going broke buying meat.

    But the main point of posting here is the following. I see the crux of the issue, regardless of whether a person’s dogma is the Paleo Diet or another method, surrounding reducing our reliance on processed food and excessive intake of sugary carbohydrates, particularly those in beverages. The macronutrient composition is likely someone individual and relative to one’s exercise regimen, but the main problem with diet in wealthy countries (I’m American now living in the UAE for research), lies in our dependence on food that is far from its original source. When we get away from this, the particulars of the diet fall into place — we will naturally be eating a diet free of chemicals, processed foods, and added sugars.

    • says

      Susan,

      Is it possible for you to eat steamed vegetables, brown rice, sauerkraut and sea vegetables such as nori?

      I had a friend who could not eat a raw food diet due to how messed up her stomach was, but another friend of hers does macrobiotics and his version of macrobiotics includes a whole grain (such as amaranth, brown rice, teff, quinoa or buckwheat), a steamed vegetable, a raw fermented vegetable (such as sauerkraut, kim chi or umeboshi), and a sea vegetable (such as arame, hijiki, dulse or nori) at every meal.

      The combination of these four foods at each meal is very healing to the digestive system. Combined with small amounts of raw healing herbs such as cilantro, basil and dill, the body heals and within a year more and more and more whole foods become tolerable to the system.

      My friend now is able to eat all foods on a macrobiotic diet and all foods on a raw food diet without digestive upset.

      ~ Raederle

  16. Jo-Anne says

    Do we really have to have a label……….food is food……….anything out of a box or can or packet or drive through is not…….diet originally meant: The kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. I would add to that what is readily available.

    What is readily available to most westerners……..not real food.

    So what are we doing differently to the Hunter Gatherers of old………..we talk endless about the next ‘hunt’ which for us is about where can we source the best meat or eggs which like the original Hunters and Gatherers may not be as often as we like. And to quote Professor Gumby we ‘gather’ whatever is most readily available [or what we can afford] in our ‘harsh’ environment [the local supermarket] as a ‘subsistence diet’ is it even if it isn’t the ‘preferred or optimal diet’…..what has changed……not much.

    My take on all this is I eat real food at home……….I eat the realist [is that a word yet....] food I can at restaurants and functions……….I avoid guilt which I consider more toxic than the most toxic processed food that I will eat on occasion.

    I read sites like this to educate myself but most of all I try to listen to my body…….what does it want/need?………..ask the little questions…….get the big answers.

  17. Jim Jozwiak says

    On the subject of unfermented milk for Northern Europeans who potentially have lactase persistence into adulthood, I have frequently noticed that if I stop drinking a significant amount of milk, I become lactose intolerant and this lactose intolerance is not reduced by starting to drink milk again. However, if I use lactase-treated milk for a few weeks, my lactose tolerance returns perfectly. This suggests that the intestines only synthesize lactase in response to galactose absorption, so that eliminating milk and then reintroducing it as an experiment is bound to fail much of the time because there is so little free galactose in the rest of the diet.

  18. says

    From the standpoint of a raw vegan educator, nutritionist and chef:

    I 100% agree about the most toxic things being white sugar, corn syrup, white flour and conventional soy (gmo).

    Also, I agree that the territory of beans, milk, and grains are murky.

    BEANS

    For one, beans are extremely hard to digest — they take about six hours in a healthy digestive system. If someone ate beans by themselves, and waited six hours before eating anything else, and also had a very healthy digestive system and lifestyle, then I highly doubt beans would hurt them at all.

    However, if someone has any digestive issues, beans must be avoided entirely.

    I used to have stomach ulcers, candida, leaky guy syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux. Just a small half cup of beans is still something that I can not eat (last time I checked.)

    Also, beans should not be eaten before bed, because digesting during sleeping hours throws of hormonal balances (which is a long discussion in its own right.)

    Because food timing is so relevant, and food combination is so relevant, it could be that “people are different” not just because of location, toxin exposure and medical history, but because of cultural differences and habits.

    A person who follows beans with fruit may feel very sick. The same person could feel great if they ate beans alone and waited at least four hours before eating anything else.

    BASELINE

    “Likewise, if someone comes to see me in my private practice and they’re dealing with multiple health problems, one thing I often do is put them on a strict Paleo diet for a short period of time. Why? Because it gives us a baseline to work from. By removing all common food toxins and observing what happens, we learn which foods may be contributing to their issues and to what extent. From there the next steps usually become a lot more clear.”

    That is particularly important. If I wanted to see where a person was at, I’d want them to do a 95% raw diet, and 100% vegan diet for five days, with minimal intake of nuts and no oils. Many issues would vanish in just five days. It’d be a good place to try adding things back into the diet one at a time. Particular problem foods would become evident.

    WHEAT

    For me, all wheat is completely off the table. It gives me crazy-cravings for grains and cooked foods that I don’t usually ever have, and it also makes me feel moody, apathetic and pathetic.

    All-in-all the site looks like it has its facts straight.

    NEED FOR RAW FOOD?

    Part of the “need” for raw-veganism is *not* that the human body can not thrive with animal products or cooked foods included. It’s obvious that the human body *can* thrive while including cooked foods, such as long-grain brown rice, boiled vegetables, wild-fish and grass-fed beef.

    DETOX

    However, a raw vegan diet puts someone on a slow detox, even if they don’t do a lot of juicing. Almost any cooked food stops the body from removing toxins. So anybody with severe toxicity may require a raw vegan diet to fully heal.

    However, for people who never had mercury poisoning, never smoked, and have not taken anti-biotics more than once, a diet including cooked foods and even quality animal products can be quite robust.

    ETHICS

    I’m actually in disagreement with most vegans since I did not get into from the “don’t murder animals or exploit living creates” standpoint.

    As far as I’m concerned, mass-harvesting vegetables can be an ethical crime, and mono-crops of corn is absolutely an ethical crime.

    Many animal-free options are more detrimental to the overall eco-system of the planet than “animal exploitation.” Synthetic fabrics often create so much waste to create that they destroy acres and acres of land, whereas wool only makes sheep cold (it doesn’t destroy the entire habitat for all the plants and animals where the sheep roam).

    In that respect, I think some vegans can be a bit blind and single-minded.

    MY OWN NEEDS

    My own diet is so “radical” because I really need a full and complete detox. Emotionally, physically and spiritually I’ve been polluted a lot in my life, and I feel a strong need to keep as “clean” as possible and as “light” as possible — which means that 90% of my diet is raw fruits and raw vegetables.

    THE WORLD

    After reading four of the pages on this website, I actually agree that this diet is a good set of guidelines for a large percentage of the world population.

    Thanks for sharing.

    ~ Raederle Phoenix

    • Adlock Hungry says

      Raederle Phoenix,

      What a pleasant share on your own perspective! Nice to focus on some of the unifying principles of disparate nutritional approaches. So often people are more focused on what divides.

      I consider myself “nominally paleo”, but am definitely averse to dogma (even if I succumb to it from time to time!). Chris’ rational, more individualized approach is more my speed.

      I came to “Paleo” sort of by default, having eliminated grains, legumes, then even squash and nuts simply by experimenting on myself after various issues that had plagued me for some years. Although I’m fairly enthusiastic about the benefits to me of an omnivorous diet that includes animal meats & fats, I have always suspected that a temporary regimen, say 1 to 2 months, of a strict vegan raw diet might provide considerable cleansing benefits that could help restore my system even further. Thoughts?
      Anyone else care to comment?
      Cheers!

      • says

        Hi there Adlock,

        By all means, do try a raw vegan diet for a time. Even one week will provide benefits. Just make sure you get a balanced plan before you set out. Add a little sea salt to something each day (as raw foods don’t come loaded with salt) and make sure to each vegetables each day, not just fruits and fats.

        There is a ton of information about getting started and why to do so, and even nutritionally complete meal plans on my website. I invite you to check it out.

        If you have any questions, write my facebook wall. My website and my facebook are both easily findable via my name: Raederle Phoenix

        ~ Raederle

  19. Paleophil says

    Correction: it was in Cordain’s revised edition of The Paleo Diet, as well as in other of his writings, lectures and interviews that he has used the term “evolutionary template.” I mis-remembered seeing it in the original book.

  20. Paleophil says

    Hi Chris,
    I like the term “Paleo template,” but I wonder whether you’re aware that Cordain used the term “evolutionary template” in his original book, which is quite similar and maybe even better, since it isn’t restricted to the Paleolithic era (which might be relevant, since some of our species’ dietary adaptations could have occurred before or after the Paleolithic era)?

    Some might be surprised that Cordain actually called the Paleo diet “low carb” in his original book (and compared to the “typical U.S. diet” and most diet book recommendations of the time, it was) and he listed a range of 22-40% calories as carbs as representative of hunter-gatherer diets (he excluded extremely low-carb, high-fat Arctic figures as being skewed by an extreme environment that restricted plant food availability), so presumably he was OK with 22% carbs. The median of that range of around 30% is even today called low-carb by Paul Jaminet, though others would disagree. Plus, some higher-carb advocates regard Cordain’s recommendations as too dangerously low carb. The problem is that there is no agreement on what constitutes “low carb.”

    Cordain did indeed originally strongly recommend restricting saturated fat, though his tone has been moderating on that. Nora Gedgaudas and Emily Deans reported that he gave a very different message about animal fat at the Ancestral Health Symposium than he did in his first book. Unfortunately, his presentation apparently wasn’t one of the ones that was recorded. I’d like to see him move farther and become more positive about animal fats, at least wild and pastured versions that aren’t excessively heated/processed, like you, Kurt Harris, Mark Sisson, and others.

    Overall, I’ve noticed that there seems to be more agreement between the various ancestral/traditional diet factions than people seem to realize and the differences seem to be more often of degree than of kind. That’s not to say that the differences aren’t important, but it might facilitate discussion and learning if people were more aware of the areas of agreement as well as the differences.

    Love your blog and podcast.

  21. George says

    @Chris,

    A bit off topic, but I was just reading your piece on gut flora and I didn’t see an area to comment. I suspect I might have a bad gut, and want to introduce some probiotics to my diet to see if it helps. I know you recommended taro, sweet potato, and a few others… but about how often should we be consuming these things to activate a healthy gut? Daily? Couple of times a week? Any insight would be much appreciated.

    • Chris Kresser says

      The foods you mentioned have prebiotic properties (as starches), but you asked about probiotics. Which are you wanting to know about?

      • George says

        Well, I guess I’m just trying to experiment with is fixing (what I think is) bad gut flora. Terrible digestion currently, and have some belly fat to lose. You’d mentioned that yams and such would help… But just wondering the doses (daily?) to help trying to fix this problem of getting more good bacteria into my gut.

      • George says

        As an extra note, been doing paleo for a bit in hopes of ridding myself, once and for all, of the visceral stomach fat I’ve had since I was 8 (29 now). I just haven’t ever, ever had a flat stomach, no matter how lean I’ve become (even at 148 pounds and 5’10”). I think bad gut flora could finally be the missing piece of the puzzle to get me there.

  22. says

    Great post. While our family hasn’t officially done the Paleo diet, we did go gluten-free because of our son’s celiac disease, and then did the GAPS diet which is very similar at it’s core. We are still on the GAPS diet about a year later, and have moved all the way through intro to the full diet.

    All of us improved our health – each in different ways. And as we introduced new foods (the GAPS diet goes through an introduction process) we found that some of us could happily eat everything, and others discovered intolerances, or a need to be extremely moderate with certain foods.

    Sticking rigidly to some principles may be necessary, especially when giving a up an addiction (like I did – to sugar) or when there are serious health consequences (like there are for my son with gluten). Outside of that, we need to be open to listening to what our bodies tell us.

    After years of being considered a hypochondriac, I am relearning what it is to trust what my body tells me about my health. The way the GAPS diet encourages people to listen to their body with each new food that is introduced, and to make decisions based on that has been very helpful to me.

    You can follow our family’s journey of healing with real food on our blog, and get an intro to our story at:
    http://theliberatedkitchenpdx.com/meet-the-liberators/our-story/
    -Joy

  23. John says

    I continue to notice an increase in my uric acid levels on a paleo diet. Dr now recommending I cut out liver, sardines, and limit beef and seafood and reduce fat intake. This goes completely against my paleo diet. I tried taking copper to better balance my iron intake but this did not help as my uric acid rose to 9.8. What do to recommend?

    • Chris Kresser says

      Observational studies are notoriously unreliable for studying this kind of question because they don’t control for confounding factors.

  24. says

    Thanks for this accessible way to present a certain amount of dietary guidelines together with enough personal flexibility to meet individual needs. I particularly appreciate how you phrase the template as encouraging careful thinking to determine one’s own optimal diet and lifestyle. I’ve worked with several clients wanting to transition to a Paleo diet, felt inspired to try it myself, and took on a 30 day challenge. As a vegetarian, it was an interesting experience in creative cooking. I blogged about it here: http://planithealthier.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/experimenting-with-a-vegetarian-paleo-diet/. I’m still leaning towards Paleo-inspired recipes and food choices, and am happy to have found your site. Thanks!

  25. Lyle says

    I think a method for observation in “experiment and observe” would be helpful. Currently I judge my bodies near term reactions using:

    Mathematical Measurements
    1. Blood Pressure
    2. Pulse (resting)
    3. Weight (water is retained when my body is dealing with a problem food)
    4. I’m about to add blood sugar to see if that helps me determine my reaction.

    Of course, a full blown daily blood test would be nice, but that’s not going to happen.

    Non-Mathematical Measurements
    1. Mental clarity
    2. Sense of balance
    3. Pain in various parts of the body
    4. Joint stiffness, especially in the hands
    5. Emotional state (I find myself humming when my body is feeling it’s best as example)
    6. Are palms sweaty
    7. Are my hands and feet warm or cold.

    Any one else care to share your methods? I would appreciate any additional ideas.

  26. says

    Chris,
    This is an excellent article and an issue that many overlook. Follow a diet that nutritionally approximates that of our ancestors has very clear and obvious benefits, but the decision to eat or not eat foods in the “paleo diet” should not be binary. As you say, just because a food was not available to our ancestors does not mean that it is not healthy or beneficial. In order to reach optimal health (and preserve sanity), it is essential to take a more nuanced approach to eating.

  27. says

    What a fantastic post! It correlates SO much with what I believe about diet and what I know works for me. My nutrition approach is a combination of the Eating for Health approach (taught at Bauman College in the Bay Area?) and the WAPF principles regarding food preparation. After eating a veggie low fat diet for years (which left me hormonally imbalanced and kind of mentall weird too!) I feel better than ever – and I enjoy food so much more!! Super glad I discovered your blog and looking forward to finding out mroe!

  28. Harriet says

    Great post and great conversation. I am going more paleo as I find an unconventional doctor friend’s advice is more useful than other advice I have had. He is anti dairy, or at least what passes for milk and milk products in the US. He says the galactose is great food for candida and other fungi and certainly cheap supermarket milk increases the auto-immune diseases I have. Apparently having too much of the wrong sort of fungi and other microbiome in the gut can switch on the genes that cause autoimmune problems. Cutting out grains, sugars and dairy 6 days a week also got rid of my acne roseacea. My ongoing sinusitis has occasions when it clears up but any “cheat day” makes it flare again.

    I have a theory that raw milk products from grass fed A2 cows should be OK but that might have to be after I fix the sinusitis/fungal issues. If I have to explain my diet to others I say it is a basic, high antioxidant, low insulin, high enzyme diet. The high enzyme part relates to the Nourishing Traditions approach and I have made curds and whey, using the whey to make pickles and I also make and use my own pineapple vinegar.

    Is it working? Well 15 kg weight loss and the loss of lots of problems, though still not healthy yet. But others I were sick with are now either worse and on huge numbers of medications or dead so I reckon I’m not doing too badly.

  29. Terri says

    Are there any recommended cookbooks or recipe books oriented toward these principles?

    The ones I see on Amazon related to Paleo, attempt to stay strictly within that framework.

    Thank you.

  30. Richard says

    Great post and really pinpoints the reasons paleo clicked for me in the first place. In practice you could just as easily pidgeonhole my diet as mediterranean, blood-type, whole food, south beach, etc. but the thing I love about paleo is that it gives me a framework to experiment and is empowering rather than restrictive. In this sense it also travels well. I live in Singapore and hail from Sydney and have never found authors’ recommendations not applicable due to their “American-ness”.

    I would also add that I’m not sure the question of optimal diet is a very important or meaningful one. We’re dealing with fairly inaccurate measurements here and the realities of individual difference and impossibility of conducting controlled, randomise, birth-to-death experiments mean that we will never be able to quantify the impact of most of our individual dietary decisions nor even no whether they were positive, negative or a bit of both. Plus we’re all in a constant state of flux trying to balance competing priorities such as health, longevity, asthetics and performance, not to mention make informed decisions about digressions, allowances for hedonism, new and conflicting information, etc. Just thinking about it all is enough to spike your cortisol!

  31. says

    Great post!

    What about microbiota? I guess it is impossible to address any paleo/archeo diet as correct/wrong any diet because of the different bacteria we have in our guts. And this flore depends very much on the different environments, mother or life experiences. It’s a whole evolving ecosystem and it is probably the most misunderstood piece of our health. I guess kitavans/inuit have a complete different gut flora, if one tries to mimmic one of them overnight… well, maybe not a good idea coming from a western diet

    Even more, as Dr. Harris pointed out there is no such “macronutrient” schema. It’s just a way to store biochemical products in baskets. Is cholesterol fat? Are fructose and glucose the same carbs? Talking about macronutrient ratios makes no sense. I can eat 70% fat coming from nuts or 70% fat coming from coconut/avocado, it does not mean anything.

  32. primalgirl says

    love this site!!!

    seems a good place to post an interesting bit of info i discovered while being a subject in a clinical trial at UCSF studying the ADA (american diabetic assoc.) diet vs. paleo – no dairy/grain (modified).
    one month on ADA, then one month on paleo ( with increased fruit, hence the modification).

    two observations: first: my uric acid increased significantly on paleo. the endocrinologist said it was from the fructosamine!!!! never heard of fruit increasing uric acid! second: at the end of the paleo portion i resumed my usual diet (fairly paleo – with some occasional indulgences) and discovered a previously unknown allergy (after 59 years)

    i swim laps. i made some cupcakes. at one – swam. noticed difficulty breathing while swimming. next morning ate two cupcakes prior to laps. difficulty breathing intensified. being a slow learner i had not yet made the grain/respiratory connection. third day – cupcakes again. could not finish my laps because of difficulty breathing. ah-ha moment. wheat bad. so, i avoided wheat/gluten from then on…

    a month later while eating out i inadvertently consumed wheat. had a severe respiratory reaction. wound up in the ER. they only considered an MI. not wanting that experience again, i no longer completely avoid wheat. some compromise, huh. how does a single empty-nester mom get to eat out and breath well?

    also – are all these asthmatic children really just allergic to wheat?

  33. says

    Another great article Chris and you are a man of great wisdom in a nutrition field filled with people that sometimes want to overly complicate these topics.
    I think a realxed approach like this where you can tinker yet never move too far from the basics is best – its a bit like exercise i.e. yes we all know we have to lift weights, do mobility/stability work, vary working intensity etc and its nice to vary things up a bit now and again just to see what happens.
    All the best and keep up the great work
    Dominic in Ireland

  34. says

    The Paleo Diet is great i love it, I have been following the guildlines for about 2 years now. I feel great, im in great shape, and i have not fallen ill once. I have great resources about the paleo diet and recipes for those you want to give it a try!

  35. says

    I’m a 23-year old naturally lean, physically and mentally active male who seems to need a lot of protein and fat. I crave pork, sour cream, cheese, and spiciness (I have to pile on full-fat yogurt or sour cream to feel satiated at meals). I love seafood, dates, dark leafy greens, bone broth soups, lentils, stews and curries. I seem to do best with at least a moderate amount of potatoes or white rice. I also really enjoy chocolate and the taste of coconut.

  36. James says

    Congrats on the baby chris! When you have people do the GAPS diet, I know the time frame varies, but do you find any of your patients fall into the 6 month category for healing to occur? The time frame Dr McBride mentions is anywhere from 6 months- several years, and I was wondering if you have seen the GAPS diet work in the shorter time frame ever.

  37. Jennifer says

    Excellent post, Chris. Nice to see common sense. Your last two sentences “I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to argue about what a Paleo diet is, because the question is essentially unanswerable. The more important question is, what is your optimal diet?” say it all.

    Thanks.

  38. Aedmon says

    This approach is much more along the lines of what I always felt the spirit of diets such as paleo represented. However, you hint at the issue of what is healthy for modern humans. The fact is, we weren’t “designed” to eat like our paleolithic ancestors b/c we haven’t been those ancestors, biologically speaking, for some time. The 10,000 years since the start of agriculture is a long time evolutionarily. Our bodies have changed to accept foods that our paleolithic ancestors couldn’t eat. Thousands of genes in the human genome have changed since that time, so how could that diet possibly be optimally healthy? We can certainly take some principles from it, but simply copying what early humans ate is probably not ideally healthy.

    • Cathryn says

      Thanks for the suggestion, Maggie. I heard about this treatment years ago, but since there seemed to be a lot of evidence that antibiotics could have contributed to the disease in the first place, by impinging on gut health and enabling inflammation, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Even with the possible toxic effects of the medicine I take now, I have been able to get my gut in better working order than it has ever been. Granted, I do not know the exact protocol for the treatment of RA, but taking antibiotics just generally doesn’t seem like a good idea.

      Chris, what do you think? I’d be very interested in your opinion, which I regard highly.

  39. says

    This is a fantastic article and one that everyone in this community needs to read. I have been telling this to my readers and fans for the past few weeks. My “diet” is different then YOUR diet even though we both follow a primal/paleo eating plan.

    I found out through my facebook fan page that 90%+ of primal/paleo folks eat dairy on a regular basis. I eat butter on a regular basis but thats it for dairy. I sometimes to raw grassfed cheese because I love it. I may try to add greek yogurt too.

    One needs to experiment to find out what is best for him or herself!

  40. ben says

    excellent article. Timely, too. I frequent paleohacks (great site) and there are numerous discussions about this very issue. I always maintain that paleo=avoid grains, legumes, dairy. Done. That any human on earth will improve their health by avoiding these three things more so than otherwise. Beyond that, macro ratios are up to the individual. I eat 40-40-20 protein, carb, fat. I am lambasted by people for being afraid of fat. People ignore the nutrient requirements of different people living different lifestyles. I am extremely active, an amateur powerlifter and need lots of energy a lot of the time. I spend more time than most involved in activities that are directly in the glycolytic pathway. People hear this and simply say, “ah, you’ve never been keto-adapted.”

    Rant, sorry. Anyway, you’re spot on, Chris. Smart post.

  41. Kevin says

    I love to eat full fat Greek yogurt and hard cheese, but I always get acne everywhere from them. It always clears up within a week of stopping both. I also get an instantly oily face from eating (raw) cheese. I don’t know why that is…

  42. says

    The orthodox Paleo inevitably refers to Prof. Cordain. It’s a shame that he doesn’t participate actively in the discussion. There is no one really who would represent his “school”. We need the back and forth of the ideas and the conversation.

    I noticed that people who have academic careers have a separate set of priorities. Heck, people put their health on the line, there is the tremendous responsibly of the advice. They better back it up or face moral responsibly.

  43. says

    The question is methodology. You might chose to believe or not to believe in the “Paleo mythology” but in the end everyone relies of some paper or study. I mean poor Kitavasn never had a chance to make any coin from all the references.

    The troubling point is that we are so bad in decoding our own reactions and are cursed with always relying on some outside authority. And that method is less than perfect and always involves some motif of the author.

  44. Pedro says

    I think you’re somewhat missing the point. Not every paleo culture was as healthy as the others, and there’s crearly evidence that there’s things we are more adapted to than others. It’s ok to think for oneself, but that can’t just go against sound evidece. What Don MAtez has shown about humans eating a high carb lo fat diet for most of their evolution (africa) is compelling, and so is his other evidence. Why don’t you adress that instead of giving vague responses like “just think for yourself”?

    • Chris Kresser says

      What do I need to address? I have never claimed that the Paleo diet is low-carb, so I don’t feel obligated to defend that position. What the evidence clearly suggests is that humans are adapted to eat a wide range of macronutrient ratios when they are healthy with intact metabolic function. The reason Don’s argument is wrong is that he’s now trying to convince everyone that a low-fat diet is optimal (because that’s what he’s doing and having success with), when just a few months ago he was writing about why a low-carb diet is optimal. There is no “optimal” macronutrient ratio for everyone. Don can of course find examples that support his point of view, but I can find just as many that do not. That only proves my point.

      • Pedro says

        I can get what you’re saying, but if truly for most of our time as homo sapiens sapiens we ate a diet that was low in fat, high to moderate in polyunsaturated fat and high in unrefined carboydrates, such evidence is ought to turn some things upside down. Unless, of course, you think it really doesn’t matter and the sparse evidence of some select groups with complex practices (eskimo eating head (thyroid, vitamins; masai eating bitter herbs, etc.) is enough to counter all the weight of such evidence, and all what Don has shown in these last weeks. I can totally get the idea of us being adaptable, but in that same light, you’re are bashing some things (PUFAs, high carb for most people, or for the “metabolically ill”) for which there’s ample evidence (again, from Don and others he has shown) that we equally or even more adapted to than the foods you promote. I personally was a supposed carbohydrate intolerant, per glucometer measurements, but after a month of high carb eating, my readings are much more closer to normal. I wonder if, even if saying ” I have never claimed that the Paleo diet is low-carb”, you are placing fear of whole foods based on your own theories in people who really doesn’t need to avoid it, or could even benefit from it. When you talk about people eating a “moderate carb diet” of 150 to 200 grams of carbs, I can’t help but think that’s low-carb, compared to what most of the world does.

  45. says

    “You’ll always have the zealots who insist YOU MUST EAT THIS WAY, and they probably need that structure (and they probably have the scars to prove it). But I suspect for most people a moderate, sensible approach is the best.”

    The zealots came out of the woodwork when I started documenting my own 30 day paleo trial on my website:

    http://www.my-healthy-eating-secrets.com/paleo-diet.html

    About 10 days into the experiment, I realized that the high fat approach was never going to lead to optimal health for me personally, and I began a new approach: make the diet work for me, not the other way around (an approach that is summarized beautifully in this article).

    For me, this means not restricting fruit to little side dishes or snacks and instead using it as a generous foundation of the diet, in place of the excessive amounts of fat that others were insisting was “the only way to do paleo.”

    Well, boy oh boy. The hard core low carb believers did not like this, and they let me know, over and over, that my unique template was “not paleo,” even though there is an incredible amount of overlap in our approaches: both grain free, dairy free, legume free, processed food free, junk food free, vegetable oil free, refined sugar free, bread & pasta free diets based around pasture-raised animal products, fruits and vegetables.

    A reader tipped me off to this article and I am thrilled to see it. Thank you for joining the chorus of reason: one rigid dietary structure does not fit all, folks. Make the diet work for you, not the other way around.

      • CTE says

        The British Food Safety Authority is actually called the Food Standards Agency and is not a privatised organisation.

        From the website http://www.food.gov.uk/about us:
        “The Food Standards Agency is an independent Government department set up by an Act of Parliament in 2000 to protect the public’s health and consumer interests in relation to food”

        I’d also say on this subject, the NHS, which is the system of delivery for UK government health policy, is impartial, as the link that Paul Phill posted demonstrates.

        I find the made up facts to suit an opinion or to reaffirm a misguided point of view really do cloud the conversation over all of these matters – and it’s incredibly frustrating.

  46. Mike Ellwood says

    I believe that Stefansson said somewhere that pastoralism pre-dated agriculture by quite a long way.
    Not millions of years, but quite a few thousands of years.

    So at least some of our ancestors might have had access to milk and milk products, and perhaps eggs, for a lot longer than we might otherwise have thought.

    (Sorry, I can’t give you a reference, although it might be his famous work Not by Bread Alone).

  47. Daniel Firestone says

    Hi Chris,

    In the blog post introduction you mention “…and Kurt Harris’ former “PaNu or Paleo 2.0″ and current “Archevore” concepts.”

    My understanding is that “Paleo 2.0″ is synonymous with what you’re calling the “paleo template” and that “Archevore” is Dr. Harris’ particular version of a Paleo 2.0/Paleo Template type diet.

    Thanks as always for your blogs and podcasts!

  48. says

    Thank you! This is a great article and you articulate exactly how I feel about paleo/template/ and room for experimentation. I think so many of the principals behind paleo are brilliant, and after following it for most of this year I have successfully eliminated migraines from my life after a 14 year battle. I too have found my balance, and I still enjoy a little milk in some teas and a little cheese here and there. I won’t ever go back to gluten however as the difference having eliminated it entirely, condiments included is totally worth it. One size does not fit all, but your basic guidelines for healthy eating and living are exactly aligned to mine. Thank you for the post.

  49. Cathryn says

    Peter, your comment made me chuckle. Do you work for the tobacco industry? Think I’ll pass on seeing how smoking makes me feel, but I do get your point. And Ben, I agree mostly with what you say, but how are we orthorexics supposed to have any fun if we get philosophical? What will we do if we actually get it figured out? I will admit to being only a little bit orthorexic. You know, like being a little bit pregnant. And yes, probably most of us need an extreme event to teach us how to pay attention to the subtleties, which is where a lot of us seem to be now and what Chris is encouraging, I think, but not to the extreme. It’s tricky. Too much attention = orthrexia, not enough = continued problems.

    Thanks, smgj, I did not know about the differences in lactose in the dairy products.

    • says

      I’m only able to find the information in norwegian – you may try a google translate
      http://bramat.no/kosthold/matvarer/38-laktose-i-meieriprodukter

      Grams lactose per 100grams produce:
      lactose reduced milk < 0,2 (norwegian standard)
      butter 0,6 (ghee has less)
      cottage cheese ~1.5
      fresh cheese 0 – 3.0
      mature cheese 0 – 4.0 (more mature, less lactose)
      full fat cream/sour (full fat) cream ~3 (up to 4.5 for low fat products)
      drinking milk 4 – 5 (no difference between full fat or skimmed, a bit less for sour milk as kefir)
      youghurt 5 – 7

      The norwegian producer states that most lactose intolerants may tolerate 2-7 grams of lactose in a meal. I, personally, don't tink its wise to push it.

      • says

        Dunno if you guys have it but evaporated milk is meant to be free of lactose. The brand here is Carnation.and it is under the Nestle mantle. It’s popular in Australasia and I guess predates the UHT technology. Of course it is very much a processed food and has 60% of the water content removed along with most of the goodness. I bought it when I’d bought into the mainstream BS about coconut milk/saturated fat. Now I buy coconut oil by the 4L bucket and enjoy the medium chain fatty acids.

  50. Peter Silverman says

    You could say the same about smoking. Different people have different health consequences, see for yourself, pay attention to how smoking makes you feel. I think the problem is more that we don’t have long term studies yet, so we just have to guess. Is Ron Krausse right that there are two dietary pathways to heart disease, overdoing carbs and overdoing saturated fat? I wish I knew.

    • Paula says

      Hi Peter.
      Not true about Krauss being down on saturated fat. Quite the opposite – this is from Dr. Mike Eades blog from a post called “Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: Studies Old and New”:

      “In 2009 Ron Krauss came out with a meta-analysis (called Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease) showing no correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease risk. And getting it published in 2009 in the AJCN, probably the world’s most prestigious nutritional journal, no less.”

      From Krauss’s paper itself:

      “Conclusions: A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.”

      Read p. 172 of Taubes’ GCBC on Krauss’s prior research on lipids and why LDL is itself only a marginal predictor of heart attack risk (that’s because apo B and VLDL are the predictors within LDL – so it doesn’t matter what your LDL is; it matters what your apoB and VLDL markers are).

  51. says

    Exactly. I always thought of nutrition as individually based following the idea that you can use Paleo as the template for better eating but tweaking it to suit your needs. Find the foods that work for you and build a WOE around them.

    I also routinely self experiment with food(try new or temporarily eliminate) to gauge how the body responds, throw in some IFing and, of course, exercise.At the end of the day it is all about feeling good and being healthy.

  52. says

    I really appreciate the voice of individuality entering this debate. I believe that the notion that one diet should fit all people is just as silly as one-size t-shirts. But I also strongly believe that all the processed food (read refined oils, crackers, sauces etc) and additives are pure evil and that we should aim for real food at least 90% of the meals. Dairy and perhaps also grains are more of an individual issue, and also the tolerance for carbs/fruits.

    An elimination diet + candida diet and desiccated thyroid hormones have been my personal saviors. I’ve lost all my hypo weight and a bit more – a total of 13kg (28.5lbs) and feel fine. I’m now 37 and back to my high school body weight and terribly proud of it. 
    For the time being I lay off most processed food and all flour and refined sugar. I do try to limit omega-6 and increase omega-3 – perhaps a better ratio may help dampen my thyroid antibodies. So I’d call my diet paelo inspired. I neither limit nor pursue high fat, but I limit carbs by not eating any flour or sugar. I indulge in some fruits & berries and a little potato/rice for one of the daily meals.
    During this process I’ve discovered that I don’t tolerate beans or quinoa in any significant amounts. When I tried to cheat with sugar-free chocolate my stomach made an uproar against the manitol.

    Cathryn – I get terrible spots and increased zits when eating too much dairy. Butter, cream and cheese in limited amounts (they are naturally low in lactose) are tolerated by my stomach, but will – if eaten for each meal cause spots after 2-3 days. And if I then keep up eating (too much) dairy I’ll get severe diarrhea which it will take me 2-3 days to bring back under control. So I just eat butter regularly and cheese from time to time, but not daily.

  53. Andy Jay says

    Chris, Hello from Australia. A very sensible and well written post. I was introduced to the Paleo “solution” via Robb Wolf, where even he says dairy, rice and corn are OK if you can tolerate them. Your guest spot on his podcast led me to be a subscriber to yours and, consequently, to those of some of your guests. I am now benefiting from a more rounded “education” into nutrition and health. You and others have stated what I try to explain to people about the paleo way of eating – it is more a philosophy than an attempt at reconstructing or emulating the diet of the paleolithic period exactly. Thank-you and keep up the great work.

  54. says

    Thanks for spelling things out in simplified ways Chris. It all boils down to awareness, and whatever ‘paleo’ comes to stand for must not be usurped by a minority battling over the Internet as to whether or not we are optimized with or without dairy, rice, high fat etc etc.
    The template you suggest can be thought of as a framework for taking charge of not only our food choices, but the very way our health is influenced by our surrounds and the way we allow concepts and science to propogate certain universals that are very much that: general ideas that suit certain people under certain conditions, but are NOT intended to be applied without personal appraisal, seasonal experimentation etc

  55. says

    Great article. I’ve had much success using the paleo diet with my Personal Training clients and “Experiment and Observe” is exactly right!

  56. Jammies says

    Fantastic post. This is the most rational, sane, and comprehensive article on paleo eating I have seen yet. Thank you!

  57. Cathryn says

    After struggling for decades to achieve gut health, eight years ago a naturopath suggested an elimination diet for me based on blood tests that indicated sensitivities to a number of foods. What? No more pasta and bread? And all this fat and meat? But I did it and had such tremendous improvement in less than a week that I stuck with it and the pounds melted off with my normal exercise routine. I wasn’t concerned about weight loss, just wanted to not have a stomach ache and headache nearly every day. I have found that I like being 20+ lbs. lighter. I used Sally Fallon’s, Nourishing Traditions as my guide. I did not know I was on a “paleo” diet until I ran across Robb Wolf’s website a few months ago. I had started last Feb. eating some foods that I had not eaten in years, like oatmeal and yogurt (although I had used butter and heavy cream nearly every day with no problem), kale and cabbage. I was also taking some probiotics and continue to take one every day which I think has helped tremendously and made me brave about adding back some foods that posed problems before. I felt great eating all the new foods, everything seemed to improve, except my skin. I started getting some huge zits and my skin did not feel good. I have a tendency toward rosacea but it had been under control. Reluctantly, I gave up the oatmeal. No skin improvement. Next goodbye yogurt. Still no improvement. I figured they were the most likely culprits. I tried some other things for skin like extra Vit A for 3 weeks, Milk Thistle. Didn’t help. Then I decided to go on the 30 day elimination diet (as per Robb Wolf), which is quite strict for me because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I also started taking some evening primrose oil with 50 mg of GLA, one daily. I’m on day 9 of the diet and my skin is lots better, a very noticeable improvement. I take a medication that controls the RA very well, but it is toxic so I thought I’d be crazy not to at least try the diet, to see if it improves the minor symptoms I have. Also to see if something I was eating was the zit culprit or if the GLA fixed that problem.

    I need to fess up about one thing. I’ve been eating chocolate every day for 3 weeks straight. I had not had any in EIGHT YEARS and never was a chocoholic. I eat only 90% and 99% and nibs, not too much. I eat no other forms of fructose except a small amount of fruit and whatever is in vegetables. The dark cacao does not seem to affect me adversely at all, quite the contrary, and had nothing to do with the zits since they started way before that. I know this is probably not part of a 30 day elimination, but I’ll take that chance unless Chris gives me a really good reason not to eat it. I am 5’3″ and weigh 105 lbs., very lean and well-muscled. I’m 60 yrs.old, if that means anything to anyone.

    It does take effort to figure out one’s own particular balance and will-power to not tell everyone they should do it your way. I have a neighbor who is 98 yrs. old, pretty sharp, mentally and gets around quite well. Lives alone, cooks for herself. She eats a lot of soy and not much meat. Thinks dairy is bad. Follows the blood type diet because she thinks that’s what our soldiers do and I cannot convince her otherwise. I have to laugh at myself when I continue to try. I guess we’d all have to concede that what she’s doing is working, including the daily glop of yogurt seeds and nuts and prunes! Of course they gotta have their prunes!

    • Jeff says

      I personally always struggled with acne, and it disappeared almost immediately when I started supplementing my diet with grass fed butter and fermented cod liver oil a couple times a day. However, it did start to creep back in eventually and I personally did identify the culprit to be chocolate. I eliminated the chocolate and my acne cleared up immediately and my skin has been beautiful ever since. I wouldn’t give chocolate a free pass because it didn’t seem to cause it in the first place, my guess would be that it is the culprit and is at least deserving of being a suspect and excluded in the beginning of an elimination diet.

      • Cathryn says

        You could be right, Jeff, but it’s puzzling that the acne started almost a year before I had any chocolate (which I only started having a little over 3 weeks ago after nearly a decade) and my skin actually improved while eating it every day. As I said above, it could be better because of something I eliminated or from something I added, specifically the GLA in the form of Primrose oil. Maybe it was actually the chocolate that made it better – wouldn’t that be heaven! I did not have chocolate today (a challenge) and I plan to have it less frequently and in very small amounts, not because I think it causes skin problems (I don’t), but because it I think it might be better not to eat any food too frequently.

        Congratulations on your beautiful skin!

  58. says

    Great post! I Think the paleo diet has taken on a life of it’s own and become somewhat of a fad. Just as people previously followed atkins or southbeach they are mindlessly following paleo. I agree that a template is a better approach. Food is very personal and should be eaten based on our individual and unique needs which constantly vary. Observation is key.

    Thanks for spreading the word!

  59. says

    Very insightful and reasonable Chris! I hope this current “controversy” makes the paleo community stronger instead of tearing it apart…

    Ultimately very little is known about optimal human nutrition, and the only thing we can say conclusively is that we lack sufficient evidence to form concrete scientific guidelines a la “the food pyramid.” I think the paleo community would be better off trying to agree on what we don’t know, and then continue to work together to find new ideas and information. I think this line of thinking and collaboration has great potential to eventually yield a new revolution in human health but it’s not ready to do so yet.

    Ultimately the “paleo” or “evolutionary medicine” concept is nothing more than an epidemiological correlation… one which needs more research to rigorously establish and understand the relationship between disease and specific foods.

    Instead of arguing our different hypotheses, let’s work to test them. This is why my current efforts towards furthering the “paleo” movement center around working towards a PhD in bioengineering.

  60. Rikke says

    Brilliant, Chris!

    This very much reminds me of Richard Nikoley’s post where he mentions that you should have your body keep guessing (I think he got it from Art de Vany?). Until recently, I was slightly “carbophobic”, but have just started to re-introduce starches and I’ll see how it goes, but I have a feeling they’re here to stay – especially PWO.

    Again, great post!

  61. Julie says

    Great article — it matches what I have been thinking and doing about my approach to primal/paleo eating.

  62. Jez says

    Thanks for this post; I think you are spot on! I have recently backed away from the “all the fat you can eat” approach to the Paleo diet as well. After being diagnosed with Celiac about five years ago, I removed all gluten-grains, ate non-gluten grains in moderation, and removed sugar and processed food from my diet. I felt amazing within 6 months after years of fatigue and stomach pain! About 2 years ago, I discovered Paleo eating. It was so similar to how I was already eating that I decided to give it a try. I gave up all grains and yogurt, reduced fruit intake, started eating grass-fed fatty meat (before I avoided mammal meat), and upped my fat intake signficantly. Well, my health has definitely taken a nose dive in the last year. I have developed inflammatory conditions: RSI/joint pain and endometriosis.

    Recently, I have cut way back on my fat intake, especially saturated fat, I have increased my fiber intake (which means more carbs, fruit even!) and I am already noticing a positive difference. Just because we’re all the same species doesn’t necessarily mean that the same exact diet is optimal for all of us. Maybe someone who is not prone to inflammation (ie. endometriosis-free) will do fine with all of the bacon and beef, but I certainly wasn’t able to (unfortunately…it was very tasty).

    • Dana says

      I did read up on arachidonic acid and it seems that while it is supposed to be anti-inflammatory in healthy people, it can cause inflammation in someone with other underlying problems. I think that’s actually one of Matesz’s and his wife’s issues, to tell you the truth.

  63. jamie says

    Excellent post. Thank you. I have seen this to be true of myself and my husband. Through trial and error, and elimination diets and just being observant and in tune with our bodies, we both follow a paleo-ish diet with some differences. For instance, I do not tolerate eggs at all, unless they are pastured. I can tolerate high amounts of fat with less protein, hubby needs more protein and less fat. Neither of us tolerate tomatoes well, but I tolerate white potatoes. I cannot tolerate milk, cheese or even yogurt or kefir even if lactose free- however husband seems to do will with yogurt, and we both enjoy goat protein and goat colostrum in smoothies. I can tolerate white rice- husband cannot. We both enjoy buckwheat and chick peas. There is no such thing as a one size fits all diet. It’s good to remember that when talking to friends or making recommendations.

  64. Jeff says

    Great article Chris, and good timing given I just sent you an email inquiring as to why stuff like white rice can be ‘ok’. There is definitely a balance that needs to be struck between our anthropological knowledge and our modern nutritional knowledge combined with the unique blueprint of each persons genetics and upbringing. I personally eat high protein paleo+lots of full fat dairy-nuts (I’m a math guy, can you tell?). I find that dairy feels better on my gut than nuts do and have a better nutritional profile to boot (nuts have so many PUFAs and their course nature can’t be good on your gut lining). And thanks to the new found information I got from you I’ll probably add small amounts of white rice back into my diet. I’m excited to make some homemade rice pudding using white rice and raw cream!

  65. kitty says

    well said. I pretty much just tell people that starches make my stomach hurt … if they ask me about my diet. otherwise, I don’t bring it up. It’s not worth it, 90% of the time.

  66. Jay says

    Great post Chris. Sums up what I’ve been telling people who question me about the paleo concept. Some things are universally applicable while many others are very individually dependent. Experiment, observe, apply what you learn.

      • Jack Kronk says

        Don’s article is ridiculous. I’m sorry to hear of his nagging health challenges. I wouldn’t wish those horrendous issues on very many people. But regardless of his own experiences with his diet, blaming all his proclaimed health issues on fat consumption and “Paleo” is so unbelievably off base that it’s, well… unbelieveable. His ‘exit’ is not classy or respectful to his “once fellow Paleo folk” in any way. If he seeks to gain trust as a result of some twisted attempt at ‘exposing the truth’, he produced the opposite result with me personally.

        • says

          Your attack on Don is off base. I just read the post and found it interesting, you need as much of the contrarian argument as you can. The paleo echo chamber like all internet induced echo chambers adds no value to the conversation.

          • Jack Kronk says

            I am not attacking Don. I am saying that I don’t trust his writings anymore. He can do whatever he wants. It’s his site. But I can do whatever I want too, and I don’t buy into his “Farewell to Paleo” message. I think it oozes rotten thought at the core and I have a problem with that.

              • Jack Kronk says

                I’m sorry Ben but I disagree. If I steal your car, which leads to you receiving an insurance check, which allows you to buy a better car, does that make me stealing your car an acceptable thing to do? Just because something begat something doesn’t mean it’s good. Winners respond to situations like winners. Perhaps ‘that’ is what triggered this very post here.

                • says

                  Don saying farewell to the notion the high fat, low carb, hypercaloric diets are the end all be all. He defines these diets as paleo. They very much aren’t. Many people who eat paleo do eat diets that are all those things but the paleo diets can be different than that as well. The classic is the examples are the kitivans or you can follow me around for a day to find out I eat a high-ish carb paleo diet.

          • Jennifer says

            It’s not the conclusions he came to, necessarily, it’s the way he conveyed those conclusions. If you have a following and you change horses in mid-stream, you should do it with a little more tack and circumspective language. I’m perfectly open with someone changing their mind: If your health isn’t improving you try different things. But if you have been preaching one thing for a long time you don’t change by kicking the followers in the teeth. He came across as rather arrogant and frankly, disrespectful. I can take the arrogance, but the disrespect, uh, no.

  67. says

    Thank you! The voice of reason at last. I think it’s easy, but dangerous, to get sucked into dogma with regards to the Paleo diet. I’m guilty of it myself– exposure to even small amounts of dairy lands me in the hospital with anaphylactic shock. Because of that fact, I feel my blood pressure rise every time someone says “Oh, yeah, I’m following a strict Paleo diet– I had scrambled eggs and cheese sauteed in butter for breakfast this morning.”

    It’s a real struggle not to scream “DAIRY IS NOT PALEO AAARGH DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT STUFF WILL KILL YOU!?!”. But that’s not accurate. Well… it’s not *completely* accurate. I still maintain that calling dairy “Paleo” is completely ridiculous (Want to change my mind? Send me a video of yourself catching and milking a wild deer, elk, moose, or bison. Then I’ll shut up about it.). But it would be more truthful to say “don’t you realize that stuff would kill me, and some other people I know who are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant”.

    In conclusion, while calling this diet the Paleo diet was a good marketing decision originally, I wonder if it’s fragmenting and harming the movement more than helping it, these days.

      • says

        Yes, it takes about a day to ferment. It’s kept in a skin by the door and I think as people come and go they give it a bit of a mixing. I kept forgetting it was mildly alcoholic and would get a bit tiddly as I generally avoid alcohol but love the salty and tangy milk drinks of Central Asia (kumiss) and Asia Minor (ayran). Their horses are set free over the winter to fend for themselves in the shallow snowfalls (Mongolia is a desert). The survivors are rounded up and the mares are got in foal. When the foal is born, it is kept tethered with others and the mares hang around to feed them. The foals are handled alot and even little children who can barely walk are placed on their backs to get used to being on horses and vice versa.

        Mongolian are classified as lactose intolerant. When I was there, some horse grooms with our trekking party offered me milk. Not realizing it was horse milk from the mare I was riding, I accepted with glee saying it would be lovely in my cup of tea. They weren’t keen on this use of it and encouraged me to drink a cupful. Now I discover that if they did that, it would make them unwell so either they were having me on, or they realized most of us from Northern Europe extraction can handle that stuff. This is probably why they like to ferment it. It’s offered to visitors in every ger (tent). Great nutritious custom.

    • Dana says

      Traditional Maasai were pretty much Paleo. They were herders. Worked out great for them too, they were quite healthy and well-formed.

      I think herding is, or can be, a transitional thing between hunting and gathering, and going into horticulture or agriculture (not quite the same thing). Actually you could still be a forager if you’re pastoral, because the animals can move with you as plant food availability changes.

      I don’t think trying to apply a label to a concept is a bad thing and I don’t think calling this Paleo was the central problem. I think the central problem is that we grow up and live under the spell of cultural universality. It is one thing to be loyal to your tribe and to believe that that’s the best way for you to live; quite another to believe everyone ought to live in one way and to try to force that to come about through coerced conversion to your way of life. This is not unique to any of the major religions; it is the very essence of civilization (human domestication). A critical look at what we call Paleo style eating would reveal that “Paleo” peoples had a wide range of diets. We just have a hard time shaking the notion that there’s one right way for the whole world’s population of human beings to live. It’s not enough to say “what would your ancestors eat”–we’ve got to take it one step farther and decide, “everybody’s ancestors ate beef and squash and salads and avoided dairy,” and never mind the experiences of the Inuit or the Maasai.

      It’s like the Borg, only it’s people. We think too much like machines now, and we want everything to work together like one giant well-oiled efficient machine, everything nice and neat and uniform. And living beings do not operate that way.

      Note I said “we.” I catch myself doing this too. Just about all the time. Tough habit to break.

    • Jeanmarie says

      My favorite line from this is also: “…the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial. Dairy products are a good example.” Just because dairy doesn’t suit one or many doesn’t mean it’s off limits to everyone else. To begin with, there’s a vast difference between industrial dairy and carefully produced raw dairy, especially such raw dairy that has been fermented. Even the latter two may not suit everyone, or not everyone at all times, such as if they have a damaged gut — which, after all, could be healed. So even a damaged gut doesn’t necessarily mean dairy will never be appropriate for a given person. There never was any one single Paleo diet, and that’s still true. It’s not about historical accuracy but what’s optimal for modern humans in general and each individual in particular (and those aren’t going to be the same in all cases). Paleo is a good template, which each person can use to find the right tweeks for themselves.

  68. says

    I come from a WAP/Real Food perspective but have learned a tremendous amount about what is best for me from the paleo world including Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf.

    I love your “Paleo Template” approach of striving for an optimal diet based on individual circumstances using the guidelines you described.

    My favorite line; “…the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial.”

    Thanks again for yet another outstanding post!

    (Great interview with Robb Wolf- I would love to see a post on the presence of selenium in fish protecting against mercury and other toxins. I’ve never read that before and would like to be able to link to something in writing to help others make better choices instead of avoiding fish).

  69. Chris Kresser says

    Monte: I agree that cycling between various macronutrient ratios based on geography, season and constitutional factors is a good idea. This is what the ancient sages of Chinese medicine have recommended for thousands of years.

    I find myself eating more fruit in the summer, more dense, starchy carbs in the winter, and more protein when I’m training harder. Sometimes I eat a lot of raw dairy, sometimes I avoid it almost entirely.

    I think the key is to learn to tune into our own ever-changing needs, and respond appropriately. It requires awareness and an open mind, and the willingness to experiment and question one’s beliefs. Those qualities can’t be learned from a book – they need to be cultivated. This is why black & white diets will always be more popular than “templates” that require people to think for themselves.

  70. Andrew says

    Good post! People get so hung up on following a certain paradigm and it leads to dogmatic beliefs about macro-nutrient ratios and the condemnation of fats or carbs or both. If you are getting a diet with proper mineral and vitamin content, you can probably metabolize almost any macronutrient combo.

  71. says

    Thanks for this blog post, Chris. I truly believe this is an experiment of one, and we all need to find out what works the best for us, as long as we are avoiding the things we clearly should not eat.

  72. Mario says

    Great article Chris!

    For me, my optimal diet must not include fish. My thyroid autoantibodies stopped decreasing when I was eating fish twice a week, probably due mercury and other contaminants.

    I know that your position is that a fish has more selenium than mercury it is safe, but this is something I’m not so sure and worries me when I see some paleo bloggers moving from eating lots of meat to primarly eating fish…

    Lithium and Other Elements in Scalp Hair of Residents of Tokyo Prefecture as Investigational Predictors of Suicide Risk (http://pmid.us/21671085):

    “Although the analytical results suggested that the Se status of the subjects was generally adequate, as seafood was a major dietary source of Se, much of it was actually sequestered by mercury and only a fraction was bio-available.”

    • says

      Yup, I’m avoiding the big boys such as tuna, long-living hoki or dogfish and picking on the little guys e.g. sardines and anchovies that are lower down the food chain. Green-lipped Mussels are my main source of seafood.

      • Roymun60 says

        Yep I agree with the smaller fish, and the mussel, along with N.Z. eel one of the highest fish in omega 3, absolute superfood. I am part maori and this is what my Maori ancestors ate, along with all manners of fowl (birds), and greens, with only the kumara (sweet potato) as a true high carb source. In the 18th century, scientist Joseph Banks observed that Māori were in good health and appeared to suffer from few diseases: and further… ‘So simple a diet accompanied with moderation must be productive of sound health, which indeed these people are blessed with in a very high degree. … I do not remember a single instance of a person distempered in any degree that came under my inspection … Such health drawn from so sound principles must make physicians almost useless.’ 2 Forty one per cent of Maori are officially obese. That’s a rate 37 per cent higher than US folk.

        But it wasn’t always so. Maori once were the most physically perfect race on the planet. Their physical perfection is backed by the first sketch of Maori by Abel Tasman’s cartographer, Isaac Gilsemans, who shows young and old warriors in a canoe, every one of them in superb physical condition. They’re lean and they’re muscular. Any of them could be a pin-up at the gym today.

        The sketch isn’t stylised. Gilsemans was a cartographer: lives depended on his accuracy. His purpose was to show the “appearance of the people”.

        That was in 1642. Captain Cook in 1769 observed: “They are also exceedingly vigorous and active. Their teeth are extremely regular and as white as ivory … they seem to enjoy high health and we saw many who appeared to be of a great age.”

        Captain Cook’s botanist, Joseph Banks, concurred. “The men are of the size of the larger Europeans, stout, clean limbed and active, fleshy but never fat. Among them I have seen many very healthy old men and in general the whole of them are as vigorous a race as can be imagined.”

        The early Europeans found Maori to be taller than them, healthier than them, fitter than them and maintaining their health and fitness to a good age.

        Maori had the best teeth ever recorded. The first director of Otago’s Dental School was Henry Percival Pickerill. He reported examining 250 pre-European Maori skulls to find only two had tooth cavities.

        They had no toothpaste, no toothbrushes and no dentists. Old-time Maori clearly knew how to look after themselves and their teeth.

          • Honora says

            Thanks for sharing that article. It looks as though Rodney has done his homework. My nephew who has a Hons.degree in Geography told me that at one time in the 1830’s the Maori of the Waikato area has the largest wheatfields in the world and about 20 steamboats paddling up and down the Waikato. So they were quick to adopt grains, unfortunately.

            I have an account and photos by Elsdon Best showing the magnificent physique of his Tuhoe informant, Tutakangahau who was in his 60’s at the time (Best of Both Worlds by Jeffrey Paparoa Holman).

            I say to Maori: we didn’t need to kill you, we just gave you our diet (and cigarettes and alcohol) and let that do the job for us more slowly. Now they don’t live too long into their late sixties. Very sad to see the traditional food gathering places disappearing (kai moana etc.).

  73. Steph says

    Not much to add but: yup.

    I hate even referring to what I eat as a “diet”. It suggests a temporary fix. It isn’t. It would take extremely compelling personal evidence (i.e., crazy-bad blood tests or a sudden, dramatic downturn in health) for me to stop eating this way.

    You’ll always have the zealots who insist YOU MUST EAT THIS WAY, and they probably need that structure (and they probably have the scars to prove it). But I suspect for most people a moderate, sensible approach is the best.

  74. says

    I was waiting for someone to write this post. There is one problem though. We are limited in our ability to *read” the result of the experiments. And some of the consequences of the toxic foods are only long term. Often it takes more that a generation(s) for our species to figure things out. We also tend to make grave mistakes even in our controlled, “scientific” observations. For example I have been eating bread all my life and and I had no idea it was bad for me. How can you try something and then tell with certainty after a very short period of time if it is bad or good unless you have an extreme reaction. I will be devouring Napoleons then…

    So the boundaries indeed blur, it becomes very hard to explain it to the newbies and even the veterans. In our day and age you need an elevator speech while the ride gets longer and longer.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Ben: as I mentioned in the article, there are certain foods (like wheat bread) that we should probably all avoid because of their potential to cause harm. This is the basis of the “template”.

      Beyond those foods, experimentation usually reveals what we can and can’t tolerate. As you point out, there is rarely any “certainty” in those experiments. But is it necessary to be certain? What matters is whether we can find a diet that nourishes and sustains us, and increases our chances of living a long, healthy life. There are no guarantees, even with a “perfect” diet.

      • says

        Chris, I agree completely with the premise of the post and the reply to my comment. Although one has to underline the core human dilemma, being cursed by the eternal unknown. And let’s, be clear about the methodology, we are blind to what is good or bad for us unless there is a catastrophic response. Coincidentally this is how we only learn from the extreme events, i.e. stock market crashes, revolutions, sickness, .etc. Indeed there an illustration of this in your own story or Robb’s story, etc. The proverbial “life and death” experience.

        In facing with this predicament the dictators throughout history decided that they will spare the mortals the pain of confusion and uncertainty and juts tell them “what to do”, all “for their own good”. The *Orthorexia* inevitably follows.

        • says

          P.S. BTW, I think a better name is “Paleo Method” it denotes a progression, possibility of change. While “Template” means a static scheme, literally a mold to copy things exactly as they are.

          Template: “a shaped piece of metal, wood, card, plastic, or other material used as a pattern…”

          You want to break the pattern instead…

  75. Monte Diaz says

    Exactly! “Paleo” is a time period, not a diet. The template idea fits. People ate every macro ratio under the sun during this time period (and afterward). What’s more is that individuals would be forced to change their macros many times throughout the year because of seasonal variables and travel. In fact, taking into account individual tolerances for specific foods, I think everyone should mix up their ratios a few times a year just to stress (exercise) the bodies metabolism. I bet this is why Cyclic diets work so well.

Join the Conversation

Current ye@r *