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The Paleo Diet: An Interview with Dr. Loren Cordain
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Introduction

Ten thousand years ago the Agricultural Revolution was the beginning of a drastic change in the human diet that continues to this day. Today more than 70% of our dietary calories come from foods that our Paleolithic ancestors rarely, if ever, ate. The result is epidemic levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, and more.

- Dr. Loren Cordain


Conventional notions of healthy eating were shaken with the publication of Dr. Loren Cordain’s 2002 book, The Paleo Diet. In the midst of the low-fat, processed food health craze, this Colorado State University researcher argued that many of our modern notions of healthy foods were way off base. His persuasive arguments helped ignite the rejection of low-fat approaches popular in the 90s.



Dr. Cordain examined eating habits of hundreds of primitive hunter-gatherer cultures constructed from archeological remains, as well as studies of primitive cultures in existence today but isolated from modern society. His studies have brought to light how far the modern diet has strayed from foods that humans evolved to eat.

Imagine a Paleolithic human confronted with a Twinkie or even a pizza. He or she wouldn’t even recognize these modern-day treats as food.

 

- Dr. Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet


No stranger to controversy, Dr. Cordain’s critics have often cited the brief lifespan of primitive cultures as the reason for lack of more chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But, always a scientist, Dr. Cordain has supported his assertions with hard findings from his studies. Although lifespan among primitive cultures are shortened by traumatic injury and infections, the substantial proportion of survivors in their 5th and 6th decades are uniformly free of chronic diseases. And, irrespective of lifespan, Dr. Cordain argues that the practice of grain farming that marked the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution somewhere around 8000 B.C. also coincided with a substantial upsurge in chronic diseases.

There is growing awareness that the profound changes in the environment (e..g, in diet and other lifestyle conditions) that began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry 10,000 years ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary time scale for the human genome to adjust. In conjunction with this discordance between our ancient, genetically determined biology and the nutritional, cultural, and activity patterns of contemporary Western populations, many of the so-called diseases of civilization have emerged. In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Periods have fundamentally altered 7 crucial nutritional characteristics of ancestral hominin diets: 1) glycemic load, 2) fatty acid composition, 3) macronutrient composition, 4) micronutrient density, 5) acid-base balance, 6) sodium-potassium ratio, and 7) fiber content. The evolutionary collision of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods may underlie many of the chronic diseases of Western civilization.

 

Loren Cordain et al.

Origins and evolution of the western diet:

Health implications for the 21st century.

Am J Clin Nutr 2005


Dr. Cordain advocates a return to the eating habits of our ancestors. Fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood form the core of this approach. Conspicuously absent are wheat and dairy products, as Dr. Cordain argues that a surge in heart disease and diabetes developed when these two food groups were adopted into the human diet.

Does Dr. Cordain advocate hunting for your own wild game? Of course not, but he does advocate re-creating the nutrient composition of diets of primitive cultures.

With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago). These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables— foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.

 

- Dr. Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet


What does this have to do with coronary plaque-control? As Cordain points out, the nutrient-rich, high-fiber, low glycemic index/low sugar, and high mono-unsaturated fat content of the Paleo Diet approach fits well with the Track Your Plaque philosophy. Although we’re not as strict on curtailing grains and dairy products, perhaps Dr. Cordain has something to teach us.

Interview

TYP: Primitive cultures rely a great deal on captured game for food and the Paleo Diet advocates including plentiful lean meats in your diet. Doesn't a meat-based diet like our Stone Age ancestors promote high blood cholesterol and heart disease?


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Copyright 2005, Track Your Plaque, LLC

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