Tuesday, February 04, 2014


I liked John Durant’s book (recommended by Steven Pinker) The Paleo Manifesto so when I heard about his new PaleoCon conference, I had to check it out. Today there was a talk by Seth Roberts, who I know from Beijing, which made it even more mandatory for me.

Everything about the “paleo lifestyle” is easy to caricature. Eating and acting like a caveman? You gotta be kidding. And it’s not just common sense that tells us this is stupid.  US News and World Report ranks Paleo dead last among 32 diets studied by their scientific advisors. University of Michigan Biological Sciences professor Marlene Zuk devotes an entire book to explaining the problems, which she calls Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live. So who’s fooled?

Well, the problem is that the term “paleo” is just too easy to ridicule. Even Zuk’s book, I found, picks on a straw man that doesn’t exist. There really are no serious Paleo people who believe what she thinks they believe. A much better term, “Ancestral Health”, captures the idea more accurately: that we humans are mismatched between the urban “modern” environment in which we find ourselves today, and our rich, native habitat that our genes were designed for. You can quibble about the details — and the US News survey, for example, gets the details wrong — but I really don’t think the core idea can be controversial.

So PaleoCon gathers a number of interesting speakers to talk about different aspects of Ancestral Health, and I found today’s speakers to be especially full of good ideas.

Chris Kresser debunks several myths:

  • Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters [the evidence is conflicting and doesn’t distinguish between processed and “natural” meat]
  • Eating saturated fat causes heart disease [eating eggs, for example, don’t affect cholesterol levels in most people]
  • Dairy is bad [maybe for those without the lactose-persistence gene, but not for the rest of us]
  • Fructose is a toxin [whole fruit is digested differently, and be wary of studies based on mice, which have different digestion of sugars]

Seth Roberts explains how he does his self-tracking:

  • Good sleep is the single most important aspect of good health
  • Take a tablespoon of honey before bed
  • Your body uses smell to decide whether to burn food or store it as fat: avoid exposing yourself to the same smells regularly.
  • Animal fat (like 60g of butter/day) can help with brain function

There’s more, including a bunch of additional ideas from David Asprey and others. I didn’t agree with everything, and some of the information was contradictory. But that’s what it’s like when you explore new territory with interesting people. It’s worth checking out.