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Dr. Cordain Discusses The Paleo Diet with Native Society

These days, the Paleo diet seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. It was my absolute pleasure to join theNativeSociety.com for both an intelligent and heartfelt interview and contribute to their mission to inspire and aspire individuals worldwide.

Originally published on theNativeSociety.com, April 15, 2015.

Q: How did you get into the health industry?

A: I am primarily an educator, researcher and writer.  I am a Professor Emeritus at Colorado State University where I have taught, mentored students and carried out research for 32 years.

Q: Tell us about The Paleo Diet. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company and future books?

A: In 1987 I read a scientific paper, “Paleolithic Nutrition,” published in the New England Journal of Medicine by S. Boyd Eaton that has influenced my life and career ever since.

I believe that Darwin’s concept of evolution through natural selection will eventually become a universally accepted organizational template for optimal human nutrition.

As randomized controlled trials of the therapeutic effects of contemporary Paleo diets progressively accumulate, I believe that scientists will increasingly publish their findings in scholarly articles and books.

Q: What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to your success?

A: I was lucky enough to be involved in the evolutionary approach to optimal contemporary human nutrition early on, and as such networked with many like minded anthropologists, nutritionists, physicians, scientists and lay people from around the world, just as the internet began to be widely used in the mid 1990s.  The ability to correspond instantaneously with worldwide colleagues allowed some of my ideas to rapidly come to fruition.

Q: What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

A: I am not so much involved in the industry per se, but rather in translating nutritional evolutionary concepts and data into therapeutic dietary strategies to promote health and reduce the risk for chronic disease.  Paleo diets may hold promise for certain autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease) patients.  As such dietary strategies may eventually complement pharmaceutical interventions in these conditions.

Q: What is your Life Motto?

A: Approach life with generous amounts of optimism, hard work, and faith in humanity.

Q: What is Paleo’s Motto?

A: I can’t speak for all of the Paleo community, but here is a notion that may resonate:  Always let the data speak for itself.

Q: What is your greatest success as Founder of The Paleo Movement?

A: Although I may have coined the term “Paleo Diet” with my first book The Paleo Diet in 2002, I certainly was not solely responsible for the concept, as many thousands of dedicated scientists worldwide have been involved in uncovering this very good ideas for all of humanity, including my mentor, Dr. S. Boyd Eaton.

My greatest successes come from hearing about people all over the planet who have improved their health and well being by adopting this life long way of eating.

Q: What is the most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?

A: Understanding certain human behavioral frailties and how these shortcomings can sidetrack positive characteristics (trust, honesty, kindness, humility, hope and optimism) that we all maintain as we work collectively for a better future.

To overcome, one must recognize the constructive ramifications of these positive universal human traits and focus upon them for the benefit and survival of our children and our species.

Q: Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

A: Read as much as you can about your topic, but more importantly read widely across disciplines outside of your area of expertise.

Q: Describe the ideal experience using The Paleo Diet.

A: Feeling “good” goes a long way in improving mental health and vice versa.

Q: How do you motivate your employees?

A: My primary occupation is as a University Professor, teacher, graduate student mentor and writer.  To motivate my students, I have always tried to treat them as I myself would like to be treated – ergo with trust, honesty, kindness, humility, hope and optimism.  Similarly, when I write in the popular literature I try to treat my readers with respect and egality.

Q: One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

A: From an evolutionary perspective, humans like all other mammals generally only drink water or obtain water from the foods they consume.  Humans are omnivores and consequently cannot eat a single food to maintain life.

So, let me humor this question – 1) Steamed Alaskan King Crab, and 2) if not water, then a good glass of white wine from anywhere in the world.

Q: What literature is on your bed stand?

A: It varies widely: day to day, week to week and year to year depending upon whatever topic in our universe catches my eye.  I read widely in the natural sciences literature, particularly from scientific journals, but also from non-fiction books, biographies, music, archaeology, cosmology, geology, automobiles, 60’s rock and roll, politics, computers and technology, medicine, evolution, aerospace, history and on ad infinitum.

On yesterday’s nightstand are scientific papers about the famous Manis archaeological site analyzing a hunted pre-Clovis mastodon (dating to 13,800 years ago) in the state of Washington, a recent AJCN paper on folic acid metabolism. Neil Young’s Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life and Cars, and a scientific paper on the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site in Snowmass Village, Colorado in which an incredible plethora of ice age fossils were recently discovered.

Q: Role model – business and personal?

A: I’m not really a business man, so I can’t specifically speak to the topic except to say that humanistic entrepreneurs who eventually put their profits back into people, education, social and economic programs, health care, food, housing and the environment help us collectively as a species.

My personal heroes and heroines are too numerous to fully document.  They include everybody (athletes, scientists, nutritionists, anthropologists, archaeologists, writers, politicians, actors and actresses, rock stars, musicians, clothing designers, women’s rights activists, singers, inventors, businessmen and women, adventurers, discoverers, sailors, physicists, teachers, professors, bus-drivers, nurses, mothers, film producers, architects, engineers, cooks, editors, computer geeks, chefs, laborers, waitresses, student activists, inventors, cowboys, Indians, truck drivers, carpenters, secretaries, queens, kings, farmers, hunter gatherers – everybody!) All are human and all have flaws.  Let’s admire the best of their qualities (also ours) and try to incorporate these positive traits into our lives.

Q: Current passion?

A: Folic acid metabolism and health; diet and autoimmunity; causes of the Younger Dryas geologic era in North America and Europe starting about 12,800 years ago; Springtime in Colorado and North America.

Q: Favorite travel destination?

A: Home.

Q: What’s next for The Paleo Diet and Yourself?

A: Paleo Diet has become an amazing profusion of thoughts and ideas since its popular emergence (1985) in the recent scientific literature – also with my first book The Paleo Diet in 2002 and with its viral surfacing on the internet in about 2009.  I hope that for future generations, “The data will always speak for itself” and that we (as a species) will not be overly influenced by any single charismatic individual, but rather move forward logically, scientifically and collectively as we fully appreciate this most powerful organizational and conceptual template.

For me, the greatest reward in my personal life has always been and always will be children and family.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

Couple Finds Relief from Chronic Conditions with The Paleo Diet

Jump to Cachola Alentejana Recipe

Dear Professor Cordain,

My husband and I have been reading your published books and research regarding the Paleo Diet, as well as watching interviews and documentaries on the subject and doing our own research as intensively as our free time allows us.

Only recently did we become familiar with the Paleo Diet, but it immediately struck a chord. My husband is 37 years old and was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (relapsing remitting) 6 years ago. Although he is fortunate enough to have been relatively free of any serious relapses, the fear that it may escalate is always present. As you can imagine, we were quite excited when we came across your work on the subject and how the Paleo Diet can not only prevent the condition from evolving, but even revert it to some extent.

Curiously, a few months ago the MS treatment he was on (Gilenya, active ingredient Fingolimod) was no longer having the desired effects and the doctors suggested he started a new drug, Alemtuzumab. He was therefore required to stop taking any medication for a couple of months before he could be admitted to hospital to receive the new treatment. This happened to coincide with the time we started our strength training and weightlifting, and transitioning from our normal diet to Paleo (we had already eliminated sugar, legumes and most dairy and grains).

During those weeks, my husband’s energy levels and overall health improved remarkably, so did his athletic performance and even his mood. In fact, he was feeling so good he was even reluctant to go to hospital for the new MS treatment when the time came. He was actually concerned that all the good results would be undone. Naturally he did go and received the treatment but, in his own words, “couldn’t wait to get back home, enjoy proper food, go back to the gym and feel good again.”

As for me, I’ve been recovering from an eating disorder (Restrictive Anorexia Nervosa) for the past year. During that period, I’ve been following nutritional recommendations from well-intentioned nutritionists and doctors that are loaded with starches, “healthy” whole grains, porridge and even pudding.

Needless to say I put on weight (body fat) quite fast following the nutritionists’ recommendations (40 – 50% Carbohydrates and about 20% Fat, Protein being the rest). If I hadn’t taken up strength training in the meantime, an even greater percentage of the gains would have been body fat instead of most needed lean mass.

Coming from a low carb-diet, I could immediately feel the effects of the “recovery meal plan”: feeling bloated and sluggish, putting on fat on the abdominal area and thighs, being hungry within an hour after a meal. Naturally, replacing this with a Paleo approach not only felt intuitive but also the only rational path to follow, regardless of my condition.

We are currently reading The Paleo Answer, and also looking into Dr. Terry Wahls’ research, as well as the works of Robb Wolf, Gary Taubes and Dr. Boyd Eaton.

Although we are now living in Ireland, we are originally from the south of Portugal and already followed a diet that is not far from a true Paleo plan – we were fortunate enough to grow up in households where plenty of organ meats, fish, meats, vegetables and good fats were often on the menu. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have that daily glass of warm milk and cookies before bed, sugary cereals for breakfast or, during most years of our adulthood, we didn’t fill a good part of our diet with fast, processed foods, sugar and takeaways. We are guilty as charged.

Nowadays we try as much as possible to eat organic, fresh produce, putting most of the emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, on good quality meats and fish, and eating little or no refined sugar or processed foods. Of course, as most people do, we thought whole grains and the so called “healthy carbs” were doing us a world of good.

It was only when I found myself in a rather delicate position regarding nutrition that a friend (a CrossFitter) suggested we had a look into the Paleo Diet. Both my husband and I are quite data driven people and the evidence behind the benefits of a Palaeolithic diet seemed irrefutable.

We therefore decided to make the transition from the current “common” diet to the one our bodies were designed to handle. I’m sure that you, better than anyone else, can understand how hard it is to “reprogram” our brain and reset a lifetime of unbalanced nutrition plans and bad habits, but I’m proud to say that, in a couple of weeks, we were able to eliminate all sugar, processed foods and legumes from our diet, and we dramatically reduced our intake of dairy products and grains (the odd slice of sourdough bread still tempts us from time to time, I must admit).

This is where I need guidance. Having reached a weight that is considered out of the underweight/danger zone and that I am happy with (I am 5’7 and 111.7 pounds), I have to reteach by body how to eat normally again, particularly following a Paleo diet.

Most Paleo followers are looking to lose body fat. On the contrary, I’m trying not to lose weight, maintain a healthy level and distribution of body fat and continue to get fitter following my strength training program.

M: What would be a correct macronutrient distribution? I am currently aiming for 25% Carbohydrates, 35% Protein and 40% Fat.

LC: Generally, on contemporary Paleo Diets, carbohydrates will be lower and protein higher than normal western diets, and fat generally will be higher. Typically, I don’t encourage people to weigh or measure their food intake, but rather to let your appetites govern how much and what type of food you eat.  Nevertheless, the percentages of macronutrients (PRO, FAT, CHO) you have listed are reasonable, however 35 % protein approaches the physiological protein ceiling limit (35-40 %) of calories).  Again, I recommend that you do not worry so much about macronutrient intake, but rather focus upon wholesome, living, natural foods at levels which satiate your natural appetite.

M: What is an appropriate portion size? For example, a typical fish meal for me is about 180g of grilled salmon, 100g of grilled asparagus (these are weighed after grilling), 1 tsp of olive oil and a tangerine, or a slice of watermelon, or 5 to 6 strawberries.

LC: These portion sizes are reasonable and in line with the amounts of foods many people consume while following contemporary Paleo Diets.  I stress that you let your appetite govern your food intake.  A rule of thumb is not to completely “stuff” yourself at every meal, but rather to leave each meal full and satisfied, but not over filled.

M: I tend to eat a lot of fruit during the day, almost at every meal (including snacks, and the same is true for my husband). Should we restrict the fructose?

LC: There is no doubt that modern contemporary fruits (apples, bananas and grapes) contain much more sugar than their wild counterparts.  I have listed the sugar content of most modern domesticated fruits here.

Unless you are overweight or maintain one or more symptoms of the metabolic syndrome (hypertension, abnormal blood lipids, cardiovascular disease, etc.) you should not worry about limiting your fresh fruit intake. In my most recent book The Paleo Answer I’ve detailed why we need keep dried fruit intake fairly low, any fresh fruit should not be a problem.

M: I also snack on nuts or nut butters quite often and so does my husband, are nuts and nut butters something we should cut back? For example, a snack for me would be a diced apple with cinnamon and 30g of almond.

LC: In the amount you have described, nuts or nut butters will cause no adverse health effects.  All nuts tend to be high in omega 6 fatty acids (particularly linoleic acid) which can be pro-inflammatory if consumed in excessive quantity, particularly if you don’t get enough long chain omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) as found in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines etc.) butter.

M: Can you comment upon Calories In/Out vs. Satiety Levels? In your book you state that one should eat as much as one wants. Although the calories in/out theory has been proven to be misleading, should it be completely ignored?

In my specific case, I believe my body is clinging on to every single calorie after starvation and this is the reason why my weight won’t stabilize and my body fat keeps rising. I also have a hard time interpreting my satiety signals – some days it seems I could keep on eating at every meal, other days I’m not hungry at all. Therefore, I’m having difficulties in letting go of counting and measuring everything I eat.

LC: Protein has a greater satiety value than either fat or carbohydrate and most people eat fewer calories on a high protein diet (which is what the Paleo Diet is). Additionally, when people consume low glycemic index carbohydrates compared to high glycemic index carbohydrates, they also eat fewer calories. With the Paleo Diet, you will be obtaining almost all of your carbohydrate calories from low glycemic index vegetables, fruits and nuts, while you avoid high glycemic index carbs such as refined sugars and grains.

M: I cannot thank you enough for all your research and groundbreaking work, it has been life changing.

We are now considering writing a Paleo Cookbook, adapting the classics of the Portuguese cuisine and our own family recipes (such as pork heart, lungs and liver stew) to the Paleo approach. Most of the dishes are already compliant and the ones that are not will be adjusted according to your guidelines.

Thank you so much for your feedback, we are extremely grateful.

Marta and Jorge

LC: Thank you for your support and contributions!

Cachola Alentejana

(Pork Liver, Heart and Lungs Stew ­ Traditional Recipe from the Alentejo Region, South of Portugal)

Serves 6


Couple Finds Relief from Chronic Conditions with The Paleo Diet

  • 1 kg of pork organ meats: heart, lungs and liver
  • 2 medium to large onions, chopped
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp of ground cumin (add to taste)
  • 1 tsp of smoked paprika (add to taste)
  • 1 tsp of “colorau” (a Portuguese red pepper powder ­ you can replace it with sweet paprika or pimentón powder), add to taste
  • 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of pure pork lard (substitute: olive oil)
  • 250 ml of pork blood (optional)
  • 1 tsp of red wine vinegar
  • Directions

    1. Dice the organ meats into bite size cubes. If you can’t get hold of the pork blood, make sure you save all the liquid and blood while you’re dicing the meat and set it aside in a bowl.

    2. Add the minced garlic, spices and bay leaf to the meat and toss everything together.

    3. Leave it to rest ideally for one hour, but if you’re short on time you can cook it straight away.

    4. Put the pork lard and/or olive oil in a large pot (preferably a casserole or a ceramic pot) and sauté the onions until soft.

    5. Add the meat and sear it for a few minutes until lightly cooked.

    6. Add enough water to barely cover the meat and adjust the seasoning.

    7. Let it simmer, covered, over a low heat for 45 min. At this point, test the meat with a fork ­ the heart and lungs should be soft and tender (bear in mind that the liver has a firmer consistency). If not, allow to simmer for a while longer.

    8. When the meat is nearly done, add a tbsp of vinegar to the blood you reserved earlier and stir it into the pot.

    9. Still over low heat, bring it back to a boil and stir it for a while to thicken.

    Serve with grilled zucchini (or oven baked sweet potato wedges for a post workout meal) and fresh spinach salad. Pair with a red wine from Alentejo, of course, Monte Velho Tinto from the Herdade do Esporão.

    Recipe Courtesy of Marta and Jorge.

    Lose Stubborn Fat | The Paleo Diet

    Dr. Cordain,

    I was a poster child for the FDA food pyramid…the queen of whole grains. I have a strong family history on both sides of Type II diabetes so I have been very vigilant about diet and exercise. I was bewildered because the more I followed the whole grain, low fat diet, the fatter and fatter I got. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, but treatment didn’t generate weight loss. I did have niggling reservations about whole grains; after all, that’s how we fattened our livestock on the farm I was raised on. I dismissed my reservations (because the experts told me to) and applied myself ever more diligently…and my weight crept up to 188 pounds.

    As a 50-year-old female at 5’5, this is not so attractive. Worse, the weight was impacting my activities. I regularly participate in long distance hiking and biking (4 – 6 hours nonstop at least once a week). I have ridden metric centuries and routinely bike 40 miles in a weekend. I kayak, boogie board, horseback ride, ski, and snowshoe. I spent my 49th birthday snowshoeing at treeline in Rocky Mountain National Park. I SHOULD NOT BE FAT.

    Every diet I tried gave me minimal results at best or introduced ways of eating or foods that I found to be unhealthy and unsustainable. But when I would cut calories too much, I would bonk and be unable to participate in my activities of choice. I was really suffering. I was grinding out hikes and gritting my teeth through bike rides. I began experiencing debilitating headaches, hip pain, and tingling in my feet. I was lethargic, depressed, puffy, and irritable. Anti-depressants came next and let me feeling groggy and drugged. And the headaches just got worse. I was in a downward spiral mentally and physically. I had tried a litany of vitamins and supplements and never felt measurably different no matter how many I took.

    I came across the Paleo Diet when I was researching ways to deal with side effects of anti-depressants. I searched the term and clicked on the link to a new life. In my gut, I immediately recognized the logic of Paleo eating. I don’t know if this diet is right for everyone. What I do know is that is indisputably the right one for my body type.

    I can only speculate that I was very insulin resistant and the initial shock of the Paleo Diet was a real challenge for me. While I was never hungry, for the first month, I struggled almost daily with cravings and feeling rather weak and puny at times. I was committed, however, and I continued with my activities level. I bought and read Paleo for Athletes and the guidance in there, particularly allowing sports drinks, helped me significantly during endurance activities. Then I had a breakthrough. I experienced, for the first time in my life, the “runner’s high.” Instead of feeling simply wrung out, hot, and sweaty after biking a steep trail, I felt jazzed. I was actually riding with the big boys! I now routinely get energized by exercise instead of worn out by it. My husband had no idea how much trudging I had been doing over the years. I’m amazed I stuck with it!

    It’s been just three months eating the Paleo way. I am losing, on average, a pound a week and the weight loss pace is now picking up. I used to have to preload with Ibuprofen before big events to stave off soreness. I am now using no NSAIDS and experience little or no lasting soreness. Ski season just kicked off and I am skiing without stiffness or aches. I look and feel 10 years younger. I can breathe freely as my nasal allergies have magically disappeared. The few deviations I have made from the Paleo diet always have consequences enough to remind me that this is the way I have to eat if I want to have a healthy, full, active life. THANK YOU!


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