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

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.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“6” Comments

  1. I have been following a Paleo diet loosely for the past several years. Lately I have become concerned with the community. Not so much about whether a particular food group is acceptable, but with problematic attitudes which cause exclusivity. Here are a few
    1. Assuming able-bodiedness, and that we all can and should choose strength training over other exercises.
    2. Encouraging fasting, regardless of history such as eating disorders
    3. Anti pharmaceuticals, to the point where essential medications are being discouraged in some circles
    4. Assuming food security

  2. As an individual who recently made the switch to this dietary lifestyle, I find myself often confused when reading recipe ingredients listed in various “paleo” cookbooks. While I understand the reasoning behind avoiding grains, will you please explain why nut flours (e.g., almond, coconut)should not be consumed on the Paleo Diet?

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  4. Hello Dr. Cordain,

    Until now, I have been following Paleo for the past year. It is easy and the food is delicious.

    However, now I am in a confused quandary. I have been listening to Yuri Einkam “Eat for Energy,” who is so energetic and prolific in his efforts to help people become healthy. But…he says the ultimate healthy diet is mostly raw food and that meat is acidic and cooking any food above 118 degrees destroys the necessary enzymes for proper digestion. Thus causing inflammation, sluggishness, poor blood flow and digestive issues.

    How does Paleo address the acidity caused by eating meats? Alkalinity and Acidity in the body has not been addressed in Paleo. Not cooking food because it kills enzymes and becomes dead food.

    Thank you if you can shed a scientific Paleo light on this theory, as right now I am really wondering what’s best to do in eating for health.

    Best regards.

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  8. As a newcomer to Paleo I greatly appreciate this! There is a myriad of information out there, but I have quickly learned that this is the best and only true source for data-driven information. Thank you!

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  10. Well said.

    There are so many people out there who either criticise the paleo diet and clearly have no clue about what it is OR try and sell it and clearly have no (or only a little)clue. This is a substantial hurdle – as more people learn about the diet (or at least the name) and variable advice is sold as paleo, when it clearly is not. This seems contradictory and puts people off due to their perception of a lack of consistency. The zoned nature of the paleo diet is a similar cause of confusion although the ancestors of the eskimo and the !kung were both on a hunter-gatherer diet people find this difficult to appreciate.
    I find it hard work to communicate even the basics of the idea that our social evolution has removed selective pressures (starvation, predation) with the result that many are eating “foods” that are discordant with our evolutionary heritage.

    Keep up the good work. Best regards OB, Australia

    • After a 40 year career in clinical and administrative medicine, including 15 in preventive work, I can only confirm what LC has said: building on Boyd Eaton, Shoshtak et al’s The Stone Age Program, LC has publicised Paleo so that it is now a serious challenger to conventional nutritional theory and practice
      LC deserves, with B-E and co., a nomination for the Nobel Prize

      On a personal front though, I have found pushing Paleo problematic, as my earning capacity has been significantly dented by adverse commercial consequences in terms of clients’ rejection of Paleo advice
      But I would not have it any other way: integrity has won out, and I can fortunately wear the losses involved

      So be brave, push Paleo a la Cordain and au naturelle, and eschew all those promoting any non-naturally occurring value-added commercial supplement or product, especially anyone who tries to push dairy as being in any way natural!

      Keep off the breast, go against the grain, leave legumes in the ground where they belong, and balance energy intake with output so as to attain or maintain a trim, muscular form from here on and forevermore!

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