“WOAH, bro…that meat grass-fed or what?”
This bro-like questioned would never have been posed at your standard barbeque five years ago and now you’re seeing entire sections of the supermarket dedicated to organic grass-fed cage free wild hormone-free pastured pheasant chicken hen.
Anyone who has chatted with me in-depth about nutrition knows that I hate diets. Detest them. I’ve never been a fan of looking at nutrition through that small-scale of a lens since “diets” are typically short-term attempts at fixing very long-term problems, aka fat people being lied to and tricked into thinking they can lose 50 pounds in a month by eating Cheerios.
The Paleo Diet is the exception to this diet hatred of mine as it was originally hypothesized by Dr. Loren Cordain and made a national buzz term and widespread addiction more recently by Robb Wolf in his very good book, The Paleo Solution.
Without giving too much of this post away I will tell you flatly that I think it works, and I think it works well. I’ve used it to some success and believe the overall principles of the approach are sound, scientifically backed and easy to execute. There’s not much about this book that I didn’t like and in today’s entry I am going to give you the overall summary and break down the main points for you to make an informed decision on whether or not you want to read it.
I also would like to say that I am not the typical “Paleo guy”. Paleo guy is aggressive and unrelenting with his love for the Paleo Diet, making you feel weird if you even glance in the general direction of a bagel and quick to tell you that consuming gluten is the dietary equivalent to murdering babies. I am not Paleo guy as I stray from it big time on the weekends and claiming otherwise would make me feel like a poser, but I do believe this diet would benefit just about anybody and from my own experience I’ve dropped 3% body fat (~12% to ~9%) in the eight months I’ve changed my diet. Sickness is almost foreign to me. I have increased energy, have reversed health issues and believe I am only scratching the surface on what this nutritional approach can do for me.
One last note before we dive headfirst into this review. Nobody likes listening to someone who is on a soap box so rest assured you won’t find that tone in this entry.
“It is our natural birthright to be fit and healthy.” – Robb Wolf
Read those words again and let them sink in. Very simple, yet profound and true words that pretty much set the tone for the entire book as Wolf’s goal is to prove that we are genetically wired to be fit and strong, not fat and sick. Believe it or not, we are not supposed to be fat sacks or develop diabetes. Humans did not evolve to be pre-disposed to that condition, it’s a life choice we have been making through diet.
But let’s back up for a quick second and tell you about the author, since I will credit or discredit a book before even reading it if I find out dirt or bias from an author.
Here’s what you need to know about Robb Wolf.
- He is a former lipid research biochemist, carries a biochemistry degree and was an editor for the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.
- He won a California State Power Lifting Championship at age 19.
- He is owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning which was named a Top 30 Gym in America.
- He is a former vegan.
Let’s make it clear. Robb Wolf is probably smarter than you and is definitely smarter me. There are not too many gym owners who are former research biochemists, who also carry the former experiences of a vegan, and have also won power lifting meets. So let’s just say his words carry an unbelievable amount of street cred and his viewpoint is well-rounded. All the facts and references in this post are from his intelligent brain, I am just simply throwing them up on this page here for you since frankly, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the diet.
Whether or not you agree or disagree with this diet, do not let it be because you doubt the science. The research is there in abundance.
The Paleo Diet is based on what is believed our ancestors from the Paleolithic era ate, before the Agricultural Revolution over-populated the world with grains, legumes and dairy and agriculture took over the hunting and gathering method of sustenance.
Before the revolution, hunter-gatherers (HGs) enjoyed a much different diet that was based on the following foods.
- Wild Animal Meats (there were no feedlots back then and the notion of ‘grass-fed’ was all that existed.)
- Fruits & Vegetables
The following is shown to be true by modern science when examining the skeletal remains of these HGs.
- HGs show almost no cavities, compared to the agricultural farmers who show about seven per person.
- HGs show significantly less bone malformation, typically associated with malnutrition.
- HGs appear to suffer virtually no cancer until legumes, dairy and grains were adopted.
- Since we adopted grains, dairy and legumes we have become smaller, sicker, malnourished and weaker.
What I love about the Paleo Diet is the genius of the simplicity. It removes every ounce of guesswork from meal creation because it just focuses on those foods above and the oils derived from them (olive and coconut oil).
The book is over 300 pages so don’t worry, I am not going to sit here and recite the whole thing.
“Hey. Hey, Rob…remember when you said, you said that grains are bad?”
“…..That was awesome.”
What I will do instead is give you the synopsis of why he condemns his big three of foods and why he likes other foods, sticking to the most major points that make the diet what it is.
If you had to summarize the Paleo diet in two words or less it would be “avoid grains”. It’s certainly more complex than that but grains are Robb Wolf’s Osama Bin Laden and he makes an overwhelmingly convincing argument that you should bypass them faster than Star Jones’ arteries, due to the problems they cause in our digestive tract and intestines as well as how they send our insulin into a tailspin.
I am going to try and explain glucose and insulin very quickly even though it’s a very intricate subject. Here goes.
All food is broken down into glucose into our bloodstream after we eat, hence the term ‘blood sugar’. Glucose is indeed fuel for our bodies and a necessity, however too much of it becomes toxic to the bloodstream. This is why you feel like complete ass when you eat an entire Papa John’s pizza. When you repeatedly eat meals that spike your blood sugar, which is any high carbohydrate meal (including a large bowl of oatmeal with fruit, honey and milk),you are placing a very big demand on insulin to come in and clear out all that excess glucose. Your pancreas becomes taxed from secreting insulin over and over again, and over time this is how you develop diabetes and a host of health issues (oh what up, Paula Deen. Should have passed on the daily deep-fried cheese grits).
In examining the effect grains have on our insulin, it’s bad. Very bad. Simply put, they are not a stable foot conducive to insulin, health and weight management.
“Eating gluten is on par with a pack a day smoking habit” – Robb Wolf
First off, I cannot get that overboard on gluten. I’ve smoked a cigarette before and I’ve eaten bread before. I can’t say I feel the same effect from both but I understand and respect his fervor for eradicating gluten as it’s definitely nasty, problematic, dangerous stuff. Convincingly.
Gut irritation and Leaky Gut Syndrome are two big buzzwords these words and the culprit for the bad buzz are gluten and lectins.
Gluten is the protein found in wheat and what causes all of the major problems in the gut. Gluten is in every food produced with flour and wheat including breads, pastas, about every single processed food and even many sauces and condiments. The problem with these two is what they do to our digestive system once we consume them.
Gluten and lectins are not broken down by our normal digestive process, so what happens is that large, intact chunks of lectins are left in our gut undigested. Our body, unfamiliar with this invader confuses these lectin chunks as if they were kamikaze pilots, foreign objects out to cause us harm and as a stress response sicks the immune system on them.
Now, let’s pause real quick. In case you might have glossed over that you should understand that it is absolutely not normal for our immune system to have to create response after we eat a meal. Meals sustain us and make us healthy, not trigger the immune system. This type of gut damage opens us up to serious illness on a macro scale and inhibits our ability to absorb nutrients properly on a micro scale. Over the long-haul, this type of repeat antibody production by our immune system in response to lectins is exactly what opens the door to autoimmune disease (where your immune system attacks you) and cancer.
“So wait, bro. You are saying that grains cause cancer? But cereal brands says I should eat that shit every day for breakfast. It’s got as much protein as an egg, brahhhh.”
No, I am not saying that. I am saying there is legitimate theory behind the long-term over-consumption of high carbohydrate foods being very detrimental to our health, and in this book Robb Wolf says that yes, it can lead to serious disease like that.
Now, there is a simple reason that these facts about grains have not been widely accepted.
- Healing is big business. It is not profitable for major drug companies if America is completely healthy. Further, our government subsidizes the production of corn and grain. So basically, our government would be condemning the very food they are paying to produce and in turn profiting upon thousands of times over. Ever wondered why Uncle Sam says to eat 6-10 servings of grains per day? It ain’t for your health, compadre. It’s for Sam’s 401(k) portfolio.
Dairy & Legumes
Wolf indicates that legumes and dairy, while not containing lectin, have very similiar gut-irritating proteins, antinutrients and protease inhibitors.
Here’s the thing.
I’ve got no friggin’ clue what protease inhibitors are, so I am pretty much just fake nodding my head in agreement with Wolf. But I do understand his comparison with the gut irritants and combined with the fact they jam me up when I eat them, I am convinced enough to avoid them.
But by sheer real estate of page space, he villifies these two far less than grains but still classifies them in his “no fly list”. I happen to dislike dairy (except cheese) and beans so avoiding these is no problem at all for me.
His stance on fruit is basically to consume it in moderation and it’s a rule I have successfully adopted for myself. Fruit contains fructose which can be a very problematic sugar when consumed in excess. Fructose is only used by our liver, and since the liver is very taxed by most Americans who overfeed it can be very sensitive to over consumption of fructose. That’s not to say that a bowl of pineapple is the same as a taking a bottle of Fireball Whisky to the face, but you just want to be careful that you are consuming a moderate amount because high calorie meals with the insulin spiking effect of fructose can be detrimental to health.
My take on fruit: I don’t eat a lot of fruit and I don’t coach people to eat a lot of fruit, either. Fruit is high in sugar/carbohydrates and speaking strictly for body composition management, it can be problematic. You only have so many carbohydrates you can eat per day before you store them as body fat and each serving of fruit is between 25-35g a pop. Given that most people’s limit is around 150g you can see that too much fruit will take you past your carb limit pretty quickly. Additionally, there are not many micronutrients you get from fruit that you can’t get more of from vegetables. Fruit is overrated. Plain and simple. Think small serving once every other day.
Be a Fatass
Okay, don’t do that. But I just wanted to get your attention in case you started to zone out (see, what I just did was drop a Fireball reference to perk you up, and then came in hot with a curse word to liven things up a bit.)
If grains are the con side of things, then quite possibly the biggest thing the Paleo Diet is out to prove on the pro side is that fat is not the enemy.
It all started with this a-hole named Ancel Keys who was commissioned by the US Government to show the public that dietary fat was killing us (ahem, corn and grain subsidization. They clearly have a stake in promoting the consumption of grains, grains and more grains). In his “Seven Countries Study” Keys seemingly proved that dietary fat led to heart disease and so the subsequent battle between our hearts and filet mignon was born.
Here’s the thing…
Keys threw out the results of 15 other countries that would have contradicted the results our government was paying him to produce, blatantly skewing the study to read that fat was bad.
SHIT IS FUCKED UP, MOX.
In reality, the study entailed 22 countries but by whittling it down to the seven he found to favor his argument was able to present an overwhelming case that fat was bad and we would have a heart attack if we even wafted a pot roast in our general direction.
Thankfully, modern science is slowly but surely working to tarnish Seven Countries but like anything that formerly got the stamp of approval from Sam, it isn’t an easy thing to reverse. Just look at Subway still using fat as a successful marketing ingredient. Eat this one foot piece of carb because it only has 7 grams of fat!
What Wolf illustrates is that cardiovascular disease is not caused by fat at all, but by the fat storage that is promoted when your body’s insulin is spiked. And the number one cause of insulin spike is a?? A wha??
Yyyyep. high carbohydrate diet.
Guess what contains a ton of carbohydrates and sets off your insulin like an Irishmen in a Guiness factory?
Guess who says we should eat 6-10 servings of grains per day?
(Sorry, America. You know I’ve got your back through thick and thin but you sir, are wrong about this one.)
Did you know there are essential dietary fats? You know what carries no ‘essential’ label?
Yyyyep. Grains. There is no such thing as an essential FiberOne bar.
If you do not consume certain kinds of fats like the healthy fats in salmon, avocados, olive oil and certain nuts then you will become sick. I’ve said it ad nauseum in just about every nutrition post I’ve created, but you must control your omega-3 to omega-6 ratio and Robb Wolf does not let this point go untouched. In fact, he molests it.
Essentially, it breaks down like this.
- Our Paleo ancestors maintained 3:6 ratios of approximately 1:1. Meaning for every omega-6 they got in their diet they had an omega-3 to balance it out. This 1:1 ratio lead to thriving and long-term health, and was achieved through a diet rich in grass-fed meat and wild-caught fish.
- Modern ratios are listed at anywhere from 1:10 to as bad as 1:20 because we eat far too many corn-based foods. Corn and vegetable oils are omega-6 spikers and are contained in just about every commercially processed food in the supermarket.
So the takeaway is to absolutely get more healthy fat in your diet or run the risk of disease and sickness.
Additionally, here is one of my favorite studies touting the actual benefits of nature-produced healthy saturated fats.
Days as a Vegan
I will never knock someone for trying to be healthy, and there are certainly studies and anecdotes from folks who have achieved success with a vegan diet. I also cannot argue with a moral stance against inhumane slaughter. But, I personally do not believe it the vegan diet as there are valuable nutrients from meat we simply cannot get anywhere else in the abundance we need and Robb Wolf agrees tenfold.
What I love about Wolf’s stance to embrace meat is that he was a former card carrying, Nor Cal hippy vegan and in the doctor’s office all the time. When he went to a Paleo diet he became healthier, stronger and bigger and as such remains a very staunch anti-Vegan. This is completely his right given he used to embrace the lifestyle.
If you are a vegan, I would love to hear your feedback on the Paleo Diet. If you have read the book, of course 🙂
The Critics and My Thoughts
The main arguments for those who are anti-Paleo are generally based on the following.
- Fat is bad for you! (Not true – as shown above and in just about every credible health and nutrition website these days).
- We have no clue what our ancestors ate. It’s all speculation (True – more on this in a second).
- Fear and lack of knowledge = it must not be true. Most people I have spoken to who are so confident in it’s condemnation, I flat out don’t respect because when I look at them, they are fat. I am sorry to be harsh but this is completely true. If you are fat, I will turn my brain off when talking to you about nutrition.
The main argument for those who try and discredit Wolf and the Paleo approach is the second bullet point. It is true that at the end of the day we don’t have a way to prove for certain what people ate thousands of years ago. That said, the assumption is considered by many Paleolithic scientists to be spot on.
But, let’s assume we really can’t prove it and concede that point. Hell, let’s even take it a step further and say that we are throwing a dart on a dartboard and picking food ingredients based on where it lands.
Who gives a shit?
If it works and proves to be healthy, then honestly, who cares? I’ve seen my health take a dramatic turn for the better in the months I’ve been majority Paleo.
As previously mentioned, my body fat has gone down from 12-13% to 9-10%.
My strength, energy and athleticism has peaked and continues to trend upward at age 29.
I got my first cold in roughly a year last month and it takes about 12 sick members coming to the gym to do the trick. Other than that, I fight it off.
My chronic heartburn that’ “run in my family” has completely vanished.
I have energy to get through a 14-hour work days five times in a row.
On the flip side, I just can’t get myself to be that afraid of grains to completely eradicate them from my diet. I’ve read the science and honestly, I believe it fully. But, I also enjoy food. I enjoy eating things every now and again that taste incredible and more times than not that comes in the form of delicious bread, a tortilla or deep-fried and that will never change about me. The majority of the time (90%) I follow the Paleo Diet to a tee, but 10% of the time I am Fat Bastard.
The above statements regarding my health, fitness and energy are all 100% truthful and I credit them to the Paleo Diet. I am not saying I have personally proven this with science or anything like that. I am saying what I believe to be the cause of these improvements.
I believe the Paleo Diet works. I believe it is not a passing fad and I’ve seen from everyone I know who is on it that they are leaner, healthier and stronger than those not on it. Fact.
You can either believe me and try it, not believe me and shun without researching the literature for yourself, or not believe me yet be interested enough to try it and see what it does to your health, body and fitness.