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On the Chopping Block: A Larger Responsibility to the Paleo Community

By Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Founder of The Paleo Diet
September 11, 2014
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Chopping Block | The Paleo Diet

Scientific Veracity and Documentation > Snake Oil Salesmen

To put it bluntly, in the words of a well-known author "money can make whores of us all." It can destroy partnerships, marriages, families, friends and lives. This concept is nothing new and has been known to humanity since we left our egalitarian roles as hunter gatherers and became agriculturalists with stratified societies separated by haves-and-have-nots dating to at least 10,000 years ago. The modern Paleo Diet concept, despite its ancient origins, represents a mere drop in the bucket from an evolutionary standpoint when contrasted to other present-day diets. For contemporary people, the Paleo Diet idea began in 1985 with Boyd Eaton’s seminal publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.1 It gained a bit of traction in the non-scientific community with the publication of my book, The Paleo Diet, in 2002,2 but really became viral, starting in about 2009, with its recognition across the web and the subsequent publication of hundreds of cookbooks and diet books on the topic. As with any new concept or idea embraced by vast numbers of people worldwide, it was inevitable that money would raise its ugly head and become part of the Paleo Diet equation.

My original impetus to study the Paleo Diet concept had little to do with money, but rather to do with improving my own fitness and health. As a young man in my 30s I simply wanted to find a lifelong way of eating that would maximize my health and complement my daily exercise program. After reading Dr. Eaton’s revolutionary article1 in 1987, a light went off in my head that has only glowed stronger throughout my life. I have dedicated my life’s work and academic career to this concept and have tried to do it justice via the scientific method with which I was trained as a Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. student, and finally as a University Professor (Assistant, Associate and Full). Accordingly, my original goals, as improbable as they may seem, were not to become a widely known nutritional scientist, a bestselling author or a public speaker but rather only to discover a universal program of lifelong eating that could improve my personal health.

As I ventured forth in the world with this almost simplistic objective in mind, I met many scientists and lay people who shared my vision that evolution via natural selection was the driving force behind human diet. As I became more well versed in this powerful Darwinian concept, I soon realized these ideas were collectively important for improving the health and well being of all people on the planet. From that point on, I dedicated myself and my career to this Paleo Diet notion and began to publish scientific articles in peer review journals to substantiate this perspective. Eventually, my wife, Lorrie convinced me to write a popular book2 on the topic – Paleo went viral, and the rest is very recent history.

Unfortunately, money and greed have tarnished the simplicity and unadulterated vision of the Paleo Diet concept.

Conmen, Crooks, and Just Simple People

Before the Paleo Diet became a household name, less than a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand people worldwide were even aware of the idea. We used to correspond with one another via primitive “Listserves,” and got to know one another with our posts and ideas. The Paleo world was small then, and our concerns and worries revolved about scientific considerations; did pre-agricultural people eat cereal grains? How much long chain omega 3 fatty acids did they consume, and what were the health effects? At the time, none of us could even imagine the vast network of Paleo Diet websites, blogs and even scientific articles that exist today.

My old friend, Robert Crayhon, a well-known and now deceased, popular health writer, said, "Always, let the data speak for itself." I completely agree with Robert as his axiom is consistent with my lifelong academic and scientific training. I offer a second phrase for my friend Robert, "Charismatic individuals relying upon personal ideas should always be suspect."

Herein lies some of the problems with the contemporary Paleo Diet movement. It has become a Medusa head of ideas spawned by just about anybody who can write a blog, a popular diet book or appear at a Paleo Diet conference. Although the medical and scientific literature is clearly imperfect, it still maintains a powerful modulating factor via peer review – meaning you just can’t say anything you want without input from your scientific peers and the editors of the journal wherein the manuscript was published. The internet holds no such constraint; anybody can say anything without direct references to support their contentions – much less a critical review of both sides of any issue utilizing legitimate scientific references.

Specific Items

Mainstream Paleo Diet books are rife with nutritional myths their authors consider to be Paleo. Here’s a short list: salt, sea salt, honey, legumes, beans, nut flours, ghee, milk, goat milk, cheese, yogurt, kumis, coconut sugars, date and raisin sugars and molasses to name a few. Our writers and I have addressed many of these issues in prior blogs:

Sea Salt: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Dairy: Milking It for All It’s Worth

Beans and Legumes: Are They Paleo?

What’s the Skinny on Ghee?

Honey: The Sticky Truth

With Paleo Diet enthusiasts growing exponentially over the last few years, and manufacturers and vendors catering to this new market niche, the Paleo Diet community has experienced a huge upswing in the dietary supplement market. While a large percentage of the Western population takes supplements, there is little to no need to supplement while following a Paleo Diet as I have previously pointed out in “Vitamin and Nutritional Supplements Increase Chronic Disease Morbidity (Incidence) and Mortality (Death).” Diets consisting of fresh fruits, vegetables, grass produced meats and poultry, eggs, fish, seafood, shellfish and nuts provide our species with all known nutritional requirements.

So Paleo Dieters, I would urge you caution when considering all supplement pushers, and always let the data speak for itself. Don’t necessarily believe charismatic Paleo Diet figures on the web or anywhere else, rather examine the science for yourself. Many claims of supplement necessity are nothing more than opinions which are pushed on us without the rigorous scientific backing needed to make nutritional and health judgments one way or another. These charismatic, non-scientific authors tell us this is how it is – believe me because I tell you it is so. Unfortunately, no randomized controlled trials of these authors’ sponsored products and their respective claims exist, much less meta analyses. I’ll ask you, could it be that your trusted Paleo author has succumbed to money, or do they just not know better? Let the data speak for itself.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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