The very first time I ever heard about the paleo diet was one and half years ago. Now it’s all over the traditional media, blogosphere, and twitter. I just finished reading a long article in the Atlantic magazine, This Is Your Brain on Gluten.
The author, James Hamblin, builds the article around a virtual dialogue between two MDs. David Perlmutter is the author of Grain Brain: The surprising truth about wheat, carbs, and sugar; your brain’s silent killers. I haven’t read the book, so here’s a quick summary from the Atlantic article:
Over the last 40 years, people have become addicted to gluten, Perlmutter’s narrative goes. In combination with carbs, gluten’s influence on our diets explains why we get dementia—and every other common neurologic problem. “Inflammation is the cornerstone of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis — all of the neurodegenerative diseases are really predicated on inflammation. Who knew?”
This sounds pretty close to the message I’ve been getting from Michael Rose, Paul Jaminet, and John Durant—my three Paleo gurus (although there are some variations in their views, the overlap between their views on the right diet is over 90 percent; good enough for me).
The second MD in the debate is David Katz. He seems to be pushing the standard line, although it has been eroding recently (in particular, on cholesterol targets and the need for statins). He also says “There actually is an argument to give the Paleo diet serious consideration.” But mostly he disagrees with Perlmutter. As Hamblin reports,
Perlmutter has estimated that the Stone Age diet was 75 percent fat, a claim Katz finds “wildly preposterous.” Anthropological research, he pointed out the work of Loren Cordain, suggests that in the age before cooking oil, humans ate mostly plants with a scattering of seeds and nuts. “Virtually nothing in the natural world is that concentrated of a fat source, except maybe for the brain. Maybe if they just ate the brains of animals? They didn’t have oil. They only started adding oil to the diet after the Dawn of Agriculture. What the hell could they possibly have eaten that would be that fatty?'”
Now the 75 percent number is too high, I agree. But Katz rebuttal is ridiculous. “Humans ate mostly plants with a scattering of seeds and nuts”??? Aren’t seeds and nuts also plants? And what about meat (including seafood)? Evidence for meat eating in the Paleolithic era is extremely robust. Furthermore, we are critically dependent on getting our Omega-3 fats, and main sources of getting this essential nutrient are grass-fed ruminants (e.g., beef and lamb) and seafood.
One underappreciated source of fat is bone marrow (see my blog on this). Katz seems to be pretty clueless about the diet of our ancestors pre-agriculture (at least judging from the way his views are portrayed in the article).
James Hamblin also seems to be pretty clueless. In the end he simply chose the middle ground between Perlmutter and Katz. But, as the Texan saying goes, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.”
One part of the article that amused me was the discussion of the scientific method. The article essentially accuses Perlmutter of only using results when they suit his preconceived ideas. Perhaps. But the definition that Katz gives of the scientific method is hilarious:
“You’re only being a good scientist,” Katz said, “if you say, ‘I’m going to try to read the literature in as unbiased a manner as I possibly can, see where it leads me, and then offer the advice that I have based on that view from an altitude.’”