Monday, June 11, 2012

Just Give Me That Old Time Conspiracy

Ryan Murphy is skeptical about the paleo diet. And with good reason: there is little evidence supporting it in the peer-reviewed literature, and its most cogent defender is a journalist.

One response from the paleo advocates is: It's a conspiracy! All of the peer-reviewed journals have been bought off by big agriculture (although it is a mystery why in the world big agriculture wants us to eat less meat). Bob Higgs once conveyed to me a very nice way to think about this sort of contention. (I quote him here from memory, so I will not have gotten his argument precisely!)

"People ask me," he said, "if I believe that conspiracies exist. 'Of course I do,' I tell them. 'Just go down and eat breakfast in a cafe near K Street in Washington any morning, and there will be a conspiracy being hatched at almost every table around you."

"But the people asking the question usually believe in one big conspiracy [the Bilderburgs, the Illuminati, agribusiness, etc.]. I tell them that it is precisely all of the small conspiracies I can see every day are the very reason I believe one big conspiracy controlling everything is pretty unlikely: all of these small conspiracies work at cross-purposes."

In the food industry, I am quite sure there are conspiracies on the part of the soybean growers to get us to eat more soy. And the beef industry wants to get us to eat more beef. (Hey, how do you paleo folks know that Taubes isn't part of this conspiracy?) Ditto for the dairy industry. Green Giant doubtlessly has lobbyists working to put vegetables on our plates, and Oscar Meyer and Hormel probably at some point launched a processed meat conspiracy.

The net effects of all of these conspiracies are largely going to be:
1) Some bias against the small, independent food producer, who can't afford his own conspiracy; and
2) Not much more, since they will all tend to balance out, otherwise.

But, if you still suspect that there is one, master conspiracy, here's where I'd direct my attention: the xanthum gum manufacturers. How it get in everything otherwise?


  1. I used to believe in billionaires. But then one time I walked by a restaurant and realized the people in there were all trying to get rich, and I realized the silliness of my earlier view.

    1. The right analogy: I used to believe one person controlled *all of the wealth in the world*. But then one time I walked by a restaurant and realized the people in there were all trying to get rich, and I realized the silliness of my earlier view.

    2. Why is that the right analogy? The only people who think there is one malevolent being organizing all of the evil in this world, are Bible-believing Christians. But atheist conspiracy theorists think there is a cabal.

  2. I agree with your general argument, but I want to add that this doesn't mean that quite often a few conspiracies stand out and really get quite big. Therefore I would be careful to assume they generally have a high tendency to balance each other out, so that none or nearly none becomes really influential.

    As an analogy, just take music. There is so much music created all the time and they all try to become big and famous competing against each other. According to your argument (depending on how one interprets your "tend") they would need to balance each other out at least mostly. But this is only true for the mass, but never all. There are always a few who become really really big, and this at all times...

    So at best your argument doesn't prove anything but only says, it's very likely that this is just another small conspiracy that is balanced out by others, but to prove it you need to present specific facts (like the only one who supports it is a Journalist etc..)

    On the issue: I have no idea if this diet is good or not, and I don’t care. As a rule of thumb I think that no matter what you eat, make sure your digestive system likes it, that it makes/let you sleep well at night and that you feel good all day. In short listen to your body, beause Every-Body is different.

  3. Taubes isn't an advocate of the paleo diet. Taubes is an advocate of low carbohydrate diets.Loren Cordain is the original, I think, and he does research. There are more, as should be obvious from the link, since Cordain has co-authors on a lot of his stuff. Taubes went to the Ancestral Health Symposium, as did a lot of people who weren't strictly paleo, which may be the cause of this confusion.

    1. Let's not forget Dr. Cordian's research assistant, Robb Wolf. Then of course, there is Dr. Mathieu Lalonde, who is probably the most researched and knowledgeable organic chemist that I've ever met; he's essentially the guy that convinced me. Chris MasterJohn is also very good, even though he's got a little more time to go until he gets his PhD, he's probably the best authority on cholesterol and vitamin A. Then there is Dr. Mary Enig. Although she isn't strictly paleo, she does support it and a lot of her research has found its way into the paleosphere.

      Obviously, there is more than just some journalist who talk cogently and positively about paleo. Also, to say that there is little evidence to support paleo in the peer-reviewed lit is pretty ignorant. To be honest, since the great majority of nutritional studies are observational (due to necessity), just about any conclusion can be drawn from a lot of these studies. That's part of the problem in nutritional sciences as a whole. However, I do remember sending Gene a link to a great amount of research supporting Paleo, so that statement of his surprised me.

  4. I am curious about the similarities and differences between the Paleo diet and the Atkins diet, as both stress low carbs and high meats and vegetables. And Atkins was created by a doctor.

    1. Ayn, Atkins and Paleo are almost nothing alike once you get under the hood. Yes, it is true that both stress meats and veggies, but that is where the similarities end.

      While Atkins is low carb (or, very low carb), paleo has nothing to say about carb content per se. Humans evolved to eat a wide variety of foods, and many of these foods are extremely high in carbohydrate energy. If you're genetically related to the Kitavans, then your body will probably thrive on an extremely high carb diet. However, if you're genetically related to the Inuit, then you won't necessarily thrive on a high carb diet. The only way you can tell is by knowing your haplogroup and utilizing self-experimentation.

      Atkins is a ketogenic diet while Paleo is not. It is true that many Paleo eaters bring themselves into ketosis, there is nothing in the Paleo literature that states that you must do this. Once again, it takes a little self-experimentation to see what your body responds to. A great deal of those Paleo eaters that go into ketosis do so to take off a few pounds, or to take advantage of hormetic effects of ketosis (this is usually done through intermittent fasting). Humans obviously adapted to create their own blood glucose from proteins and fats, so many people like to turn these mechanisms on for a short time to enjoy some of the other metabolic benefits that follow (such as leptin reset, insulin reset, growth hormone release, longevity, etc).

      Both Atkins and Paleo do not have an irrational fear of saturated fats and cholesterol, but Paleo is far more limiting with regard to what fats are acceptable. For instance, if you're buying conventional meats, the Paleo literature recommends that you buy the super-lean cuts, so as to reduce the fat content of the meat. This is due primarily to the essential fatty acid content of conventionally-raised meat. The ideal omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is 1:1, and conventionally-raised meat has an extreme shift toward omega 6's. So, the Paleo literature recommends that you eat fatty grass-fed or pastured meats, because their 3/6 ratio is 1:1 and they contain other beneficial nutrients (such as CLA). Blood cholesterol is regulated by the liver, so dietary cholesterol has no direct effect upon blood cholesterol. You can eat nothing but high cholesterol foods and still have a perfect blood lipid profile. Thus, Paleo doesn't care how much cholesterol is in your diet.

      Regarding oils for cooking and flavor, Paleo pays far more attention to the fatty acid profile of the oil than does Atkins. In fact, I don't know that Atkins really pays much attention to fatty acid profiles at all. Paleo essentially attempts to limit polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet other than those that are essential (i.e. omega 3 and omega 6). The reason for this is that due to their chemical structure, polyunsaturated fats tend to oxidize much easier (esp. under heat). Lipid peroxidation causes free radicals to take and destroy the electrons of lipids in cell membranes. This is not a good thing. So, Paleo eaters stay away from all vegetable oils and prefer coconut oil, palm oil, avocado oil, olive oil, grassfed butter, etc. Canola oil is the only vegetable oil recommended by Paleo, and even that is beginning to fall out of favor due to its being high in polyunsaturated fatty acids and that it contains trans fats.

      Atkins doesn't really stress whole foods that much, whereas the backbone to Paleo is whole foods. For instance, take a look at one of those 'Atkins' bars at the store and read the ingredients. You will find that they are made of highly processed foods. The backbone of Paleo is to eat only unprocessed foods (or, as close to unprocessed as is feasible). Not only that, but it is recommended that you only eat organic produce and pastured meats if possible.

    2. Part II

      Atkins, being a low-carb, ketogenic diet, typically doesn't allow for very many fruits or starches. Paleo, on the other hand, doesn't care so much about the carb content of these foods as compared to their metabolic effects. For instance, everybody knows that fruits are good for you, but the Paleo literature typically recommends to eat fruit in moderation due to the fructose content. High doses of fructose over long periods of time can cause problems such as Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and leptin insensitivity. Also recommended is to eat fruits that are more anti-oxidant containing, such as berries. With starches, all Paleo really has to say is test it out to see what level your body will accept without metabolic damage. If you can eat a couple of potatoes a day without insulin spikes and crashes, then go for it. If not, then don't.

      Both Paleo and Atkins pretty much eschew grains, but for very different reasons. Atkins does so due to the carbohydrate content of grains, whereas Paleo does so due to the phytochemicals present in grains, and that they're not nutritionally dense as compared to other, less processed foods. Legumes also fall into this category, though they are far more nutritionally dense than grains. There is no such thing as a perfect food, as all foods contain good and bad things, so usually there is a cost-benefit analysis that goes into choosing foods. Most Paleo eaters don't see any redeeming qualities in grains (though, quinoa and rice sometimes get a pass). For instance, wheat is high in lectins and gluten, which usually initiates an autoimmune response that can lead to chronic inflammation; and, the nutrients found in whole wheat are mostly not bioavailable due to the phytic acid present in bran. Basically, the Paleo literature suggests that other foods are far more nutritious and energy dense while also representing a lower overall response of the immune system, so it makes more sense to eat those foods instead.

      Paleo recommends eating a wide variety of animal parts, whereas Atkins doesn't really say much about this. While it is true that many have become accustomed to merely eating the muscle of animals, there is a great abundance of nutrition and energy to be found in organ meats. Most Paleo eaters make it a habit to get at least some liver into their diet, more serious Paleo eaters like myself incorporate kidneys, brains, hearts, stomachs, hooves, bones, marrow, etc into our diet. It doesn't get much more nutritious than slurping out marrow from a freshly baked bone, a beef and veggie soup made in homemade bonestock, or a few slices of a nice chicken liver paté.

      Atkins stresses vegetable intake as a matter of keeping carbohydrate intake to a minimum (so that you can get into ketosis), whereas Paleo stresses vegetable intake as a matter of increasing overall nutrition and anti-oxidant intake. Though veggies aren't energy-dense, they are nutritional powerhouses. Paleo essentially recommends putting veggies at the forefront of your dieting strategy followed by adequate protein intake, Atkins does no such thing.

    3. Atkins is ok with dairy products, just so long as they are low carb. Paleo used to say "no" to dairy, but lately there has been a heavy 'Primal Blueprint' influence to Paleo, so dairy has become more accepted with some qualifications. Dairy for the most part contains saturated fat, sugar (lactose) and protein (casein). Many people are lactose intolerant, so they should obviously stay away from lactose-containing dairy products, instead favoring naturally lactose-free dairy such as aged cheese. However, some people have an autoimmune response to casein, which makes sense since casein is structurally similar to gluten. So, if you're sensitive to casein, then obviously you shouldn't eat dairy at all. Another consideration is the blood glucose and insulin response to lactose, though this can also be helpful to replenish glycogen stores after a workout, so it depends upon the situation. Obviously, with Paleo preferring foods that are not processed, raw and grass-fed is the preferred form of dairy in the paleosphere.

      Atkins typically has a recommended carbohydrate (macronutrient) intake. Paleo doesn't really have anything to say about the intake of macronutrients other than that it is usually dependent upon the individual, their genetic background and their daily activities; there is only a starting point from which to experiment. However, as I mentioned above, there has been a large 'Primal Blueprint' influence on the Paleo community, so there are many people who stress a higher fat intake vs that of carbohydrate energy and the use of moderate protein as a starting point. For instance, my macronutrient profile is typically 55% fat (comprised of roughly 50% saturated fatty acids, 45% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids), 30% protein (about 90% animal-sourced and 10% plant-sourced) and 15% carbs (comprised of 5% sugars, 50% dietary fiber and 45% complex carbs) , with the ratio of carbohydrates to fats being a function of how active the person is (i.e. more active=less fat, more carb).

      Basically, you only consume the amount of carbohydrate energy that can be burned immediately through activity and to ensure that your glycogen stores are replenished every day, any more than that and it will be stored as fat (which is cool if that is your goal).

      Another area where macronutrient content is focused on a little is in the area of protein. As with any moderate protein diet, Primal suggests anywhere from 0.7 to 1.0 grams of protein per lean body mass, depending upon how active you are. I am not positive, but I am pretty sure that Paleo also recommends roughly the same protein intake as Primal. However, as I said, there is no hard and fast rule on this, only a starting point from which you can experiment. Everybody is different and they all do different stuff, so there isn't really anything that can be applied to all people.

      The goal of Atkins is weight loss both long-term and short-term, whereas the goal of Paleo is longevity and the elimination of chronic disease. This is not to say that Atkins cannot be both healthful and help you lose weight, only that that isn't the prime goal. As mentioned, Paleo has no hard and fast rules really, rather there exists a set of starting points or guidelines, and then individual experimentation from that starting point. Basically, you eliminate the foods that are not nutrient-dense and/or that have a high content of anti-nutrients to establish an equilibrium. Then, after a few months, you start reintroducing certain foods to see what your body's response is to them. If you get horrible responses from those foods, then you eliminate them forever. If not, then you can tolerate them in moderation.

    4. Some people have indeed adapted to the lectins and gluten in wheat (and some other grains), so they won't have much trouble reintroducing it, but others will get extremely ill or have extreme metabolic responses. The only way to really know is to stop using them for a few months and then reintroduce them. However, I will say that the majority of people will not react well after reintroduction.

      While this isn't a definitive guide, I hope that I helped to explain some of the differences between Atkins and Paleo, as well as give you a clearer picture as to what Paleo is. As far as I know, conspiracy theorizing isn't an attribute of Paleo, rather it is an attribute of some of those who are proponents of Paleo.


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