Dr. Cordain was recently interviewed for a chapter in the new Time, Inc. book titled “What To Eat Now.” The interview questions and Dr. Cordain’s responses are below:
I’m a freelance science writer working on a chapter/cover article for a Time, Inc. “bookazine” called “What to Eat Now.” The article is a friendly discussion of how science now seems to be homing in on a more natural way of eating, one that doesn’t involve counting calories or going hungry. I’m especially focusing on the questions that you’ve been addressing in your research — whether a calorie is simply a calorie from a metabolic perspective, did we go wrong with the low-fat/high-carb approach, what our evolutionary history can tell us about how we should be eating.
I’d love to include your perspective in my article. Would I be able to have about 25 minutes of your time in the next few days to get your thoughts?I’m on the East Coast and am currently weathering the hurricane, but I’m available to talk anytime today or tomorrow, and I’m flexible the rest of the week. Below are some examples of the types of questions I’m interested in, in case that helps.
Thanks in advance for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Regina Nuzzo, Ph.D.Freelance Science Writer
Dr. Cordain’s Response:
Here are my answers to your questions. Feel free to give me a call at home or at work when power is restored in your area of the storm.
1. Some experts say that science is homing in on a more natural way of eating, one that doesn’t involve counting calories or going hungry. Would you agree? How would you characterize the new shifts in thinking about eating patterns?
Yes. Recent studies suggest that higher protein diets may help to curb appetite and increase metabolism. Additionally, low glycemic load carbohydrates combined with higher protein diets have been shown in large randomized controlled trials (The DIOGENES study) to be the most effective dietary strategy to promote weight loss and to keep it off.
2. Using our evolutionary history to guide eating patterns seems to be a compelling argument for many people. What in your opinion is the most persuasive evolutionary argument for change? (Or, alternatively, what is the important evolutionary-based change people can make?)
Processed foods (refined grains, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, salted foods, canned foods, dairy products etc.) comprise about 70 % of the calories in the typical US diet. Clearly these foods were rarely or never available on a regular basis to our hunter gatherer ancestors. By replacing these foods with more nutrient dense healthful fresh, fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood and nuts we can go a long way towards improving our health and wellbeing.
3. One of the appeals of a Paleo eating template is the promise that we can eat until satisfied and still normalize our weight, without feeling deprived. How can an unlimited diet help people lose weight?
Fresh real food (fresh vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood) are more satiating than processed sugars, grains, vegetable oils and combinations of these food ingredients because they contain more protein, more fiber, greater vitamins and minerals and healthful fats. As I have previously mentioned diets high in protein with low glycemic index carbohydrates experimentally are the best way to normalize weight without feeling deprived.
4. Many people say that Paleo eating is unhealthy and/or impractical because it cuts out “entire food groups.” Are grains a necessary or even important source of nutrients? What about fruits and vegetables?
There is no human nutritional requirement for either grains or dairy. All human dietary requirements can be supplied with meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. In fact, the addition of dairy and whole grains to our diet decreases the overall nutrient (vitamin and mineral) density when they replace meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Our hunter gatherer ancestors rarely ate grains and never consumed dairy products after weaning.
5. How would you characterize the Paleo diet as different than Atkins or low-carb/high-fat?
Paleo makes no quantitative restrictions on carbohydrate intake except that they should come from fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts. Additionally, Paleo restricts fats from cheese and dairy products and encourages consumption of animal fats from fatty fish and grass produced meats and poultry.
6. People are starting to hear researchers talk about insulin and glycemic index. But I think they still don’t have a clear mental picture of why insulin is important. What’s the current thinking on insulin and carbs, and how can we visualize/understand their importance for a healthy weight?
High glycemic load carbs found in processed foods (baked goods, candy, chips, white rice, commercial breakfast cereals, most breads, French fries, etc.) elevate blood glucose and insulin concentrations in a manner which causes a condition called insulin resistance which is a metabolic prelude to obesity and a variety of diseases (type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high blood lipids, certain cancers and heart disease among others) that afflict the majority of American adults.
7. What about individual variability? Is there a one-size-fits-all optimal Paleo diet? Should people self-experiment? Do you think that genotyping will eventually help people determine their optimal diet?
The starting place for optimal human diets Ares the minimally processed fresh meats, seafood, fish, fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts that were the staple of our ancestral diet. Some people have common food allergies to foods (shellfish, nuts and egg whites) which frequently part of contemporary Paleo diets. If a certain food disagrees with you, always listen to your body.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus