The Ache now?

Robb Wolf has another post up complaining about paleo bashing.  This time it is about this article in Scientific American:  How to Really Eat Like a Hunter-Gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet Is Half-Baked.  Such articles are written because:
People, particularly folks in the academic scene, seem to really have their britches bunched over biochemists, MD’s and others using this evolutionary biology concept to look at nutrition and health.
Yeah that's it.  The article begins with:
paleo diet, hunter gatherer food.
image link
Meet Grok. According to his online profile, he is a tall, lean, ripped and agile 30-year-old. By every measure, Grok is in superb health: low blood pressure; no inflammation; ideal levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides. He and his family eat really healthy, too. They gather wild seeds, grasses, and nuts; seasonal vegetables; roots and berries. They hunt and fish their own meat. Between foraging, building sturdy shelters from natural materials, collecting firewood and fending off dangerous predators far larger than himself, Grok's life is strenuous, perilous and physically demanding. Yet, somehow, he is a stress-free dude who always manages to get enough sleep and finds the time to enjoy moments of tranquility beside gurgling creeks. He is perfectly suited to his environment in every way. He is totally Zen.
Ostensibly, Grok is "a rather typical hunter–gatherer" living before the dawn of agriculture—an "official primal prototype." 
The article is describing the cartoonish Paleo™ and mocking it.  Wasn't it the sage Jimmy Moore who said we need to ditch that schtick?  Someday someone is going to have to explain to me how eating lean meats and non-starchy veggies and a heckuvalot of supplements is applying evolutionary biology to nutrition and health.  Or is that fatty meats, chocolate and buttery coffee?  How can Robb Wolf or any of these paleo types be SO sure of their version of paleo?  The incredible degree of defensiveness when someone even asks for clarification is telling, and the various purveyors of what I call Paleo™ can't even seem to agree amongst themselves about it.  The gist of the article is that Paleo™ is not so much defined these days by what folks eat, but rather what they don't because supposedly these foods were not part of the human diet before the advent of agriculture .... this despite ample evidence of consumption of grains and legumes while the acquiesced to dairy is basically impossible before domestication of animals, and would have been limited to whole milk from mammary glands of lactating prey.  I agree wholeheartedly with this from the article:

How do we reconcile the Inuit diet—mostly the flesh of sea mammals—with the more varied plant and land animal diet of the Hadza or !Kung? Chucking the many different hunter–gather diets into a blender to come up with some kind of quintessential smoothie is a little ridiculous. "Too often modern health problems are portrayed as the result of eating 'bad' foods that are departures from the natural human diet…This is a fundamentally flawed approach to assessing human nutritional needs," Leonard wrote. "Our species was not designed to subsist on a single, optimal diet. What is remarkable about human beings is the extraordinary variety of what we eat. We have been able to thrive in almost every ecosystem on the Earth, consuming diets ranging from almost all animal foods among populations of the Arctic to primarily tubers and cereal grains among populations in the high Andes.”
And yet, that's really what Cordain and company do.  In a rebuttal written by Loren Cordain he writes:
Unfortunately, a number of fundamental limitations exist with δ13C analysis to evaluate diet. δ13C measurements cannot determine the exact species of either C3 or C4 plants that were consumed, but more importantly δ13C values cannot distinguish if the C3 or C4 signatures originated from the direct consumption of plants or from the indirect consumption of animals that consumed these plants.
This is an interesting statement as it admits uncertainty.  The Paleo Diet he developed and trademarked was developed from looking at hunter-gatherer diets in relatively modern times.  So we don't know that our ancestors ate this diet to ANY degree of certainty.  If we cannot be certain of the origin of the isotope in the human diet -- be it direct from vegetation or indirect from animals consuming that vegetation -- how can we be certain of the animal content of the diet?  You can't have it both ways.

In Hominins living on the sedge, Nathaniel Dominy, Anthropologist at Dartmouth , whom Cordain might include amongst colleagues, writes (of another paper written in 2012 by the same anthropologists responsible for the current works):
The magnitude of 13C enrichment, which, among australopithecines, is eclipsed only by Paranthropus boisei (6), suggests that the carbon in their diet was derived mainly from C4 plants rather than the tissues of C4 grazing animals (5). This inference led the authors to focus on sedges, a graminoid plant that is perhaps more promising than grass as a food source for hominins. Indeed, the thickly enameled, low-cusped (bunodont) teeth of A. bahrelghazali and P. boisei would appear to be functionally incompatible with a diet of grass blades (7). Could sedges, then, bring consilience to the C4 conundrum?
Fig. 1.

You may be interested in this video of Dominy speaking:

So I agree with Robb Wolf.  Before going off on something it is a good idea to read the literature, and it's a good idea to broaden your resources past those so often cited by the Paleo™ community and such.  

Robb quotes from a comment left by Kim Hill, PhD on that Scientific American article.  His CV is here and here's a synopsis from the first link:
My theoretical interests cover the evolutionary ecology of human behavior, and the evolutionary history of later hominins. I have worked on foraging theory, time allocation problems, food sharing, life history theory, parental investment, divisions of labor, cognition and social status, culture and the emergence of hyper-cooperative behavior. My applied work has included conservation biology and resource management, land rights issues, health issues, and the ethics of anthropological research. 
I think it is fair to say that his focus is more of a cultural one than one of discerning the diet of early hominims.   What of his work with the Ache?  You can find that HERE.
Systematic recording of dietary intake while living in the forest entirely off wild foods suggests that about 80% of the energy in the diet comes from meat, 10% from palm starch and hearts, 10% from insect larva and honey, and 1% from fruits.
This is very interesting because this bears zero resemblance to any diet I've seen in Paleo™ or in the studies on the paleolithic diet that are fruit-heavy. I wonder if palm starch is a safe one, but PHD is the only diet that includes starch. The Paleoista, who introduced paleo foods alongside Cordain on the Dr. Oz show, says that only endurance athletes should consume starch. And eighty percent calories from meat???  Even Eaton/Konner/Cordain/Lindeberg and all the rest don't put it near that high.  Actually, this paper by Hill discusses the seasonal variation and puts meat at 47-77% while honey ranged from 0.4-44% of calories (mean calories ~3700/day).  What kind of meat?  Why armadillo, lizard, deer and monkey.  Impossible to find the nutritional info on a whole armadillo, but the meat is quite low fat:  1 oz cooked boneless meat contains just over 1 gram of fat and 8 grams of protein, and the fat is almost half (47%)  MUFA and only about 36% SF and 18% PUFA.  It is difficult to ascertain the fat content of the diet from the paper I linked, but it, too, varied seasonally and protein intake is likely very high.  (I'm efforting other citations and will edit in links if I'm successful, didn't want to hold up the post for them however.)

In any case, here is part of the comment Hill made on the article with Robb's emphasis in bold and mine in bold red:
But the point is that if Hunter-gatherers are lean, and fit (they look much more like serious athletes than do modern people), why? If not their diet and exercise regime, then what does make them lean and fit compared to modern people? Logic suggests that diet is part of the solution (excercise seems downplayed by everyone). So the discussion here should be focused on what we can learn from hunter-gatherers to improve our own health. How do “paleofantasy” critiques contribute to that discussion? I'm not sure, I haven't read the book. 
Hill discusses his and his wife's fitness as well and he speaks of the Ache of Paraguay from much experience living among them.     Firstly, I'm unsure that modern Americans are the only yardstick of health against which to compare these hunter-gatherers, but scan through the page and see if you don't see what I do.  Quite an array of body types and outward appearances of health.  I see emaciated and muscled, lean and abdominally obese.  The toothed and the toothless.

Hill, himself, describes the activity level of the Ache as one with "extremely high exercise loads" yet later in the comment acquiesces that exercise is downplayed.  The thing about all of these cultures is that you can't just take dietary lessons without environmental context -- at least Kruse got that much correct (to some degree anyway).  

But I suspect Robb was heartened by Hill's kumbaya and doesn't really care much what the facts are.  If the average American were to try to reproduce the Ache diet, they likely couldn't, but replacing armadillo with pork, lizard with livers and monkey with mutton isn't going to cut it.  Let alone with the (bordering if not outright eating disordered) fructophobia in the paleo community, and the aversion to starch, what would a Paleo™ Ache-style even look like?  

Interestingly, Hill commits the sin Robb Wolf accuses everyone else of -- he hasn't even read Zuk's book, so how can he really comment?  One would think that someone like Hill would be more offended by the modern manifestations of some so-called paleolithic diet and the traveling circus it seems determined to be.  Which is not to even mention the rampant supplement pushing, laxative abuse, cleanses, fermented cod liver oil worship and aversion for anything modern medicine has to offer.   At least the ladies of Paleo are more forthcoming fessing up:
The lady Paleos get understandably defensive when asked about the backlash. They protest that the Paleo diet is just a guideline; it's not supposed to be taken too literally. "I'm not hunting for my food," Sanfilippo says. "We're not trying to live like we're in the Paleolithic era. There's modern technology. But we're just trying to revert to a diet through which our bodies can live in their best and healthiest forms."
Perhaps that's why the tribeswomen are inching away from the term "Paleo." It's just a marketing tool, Sanfilippo admits: "The only reason that I call what I'm doing the 'Paleo diet' is that it helps people understand what I'm teaching them." Fragoso echoes the sentiment: "Honestly, if this wasn't my career, I wouldn't call it anything," she says. "But it's also good that there's a name for it because it helps spread the word." (She suggests renaming it the "Real Food diet.")
"It's awesome that we don't have identical genes to our ancestors," Fragoso says. "I throw my hands up in the air and say, 'Whatever.' We're not cavemen. That's true. I don't care to live like one."
At this point to even use Paleo™ doesn't even equate with a paleolithic diet  and eating paleo is not practicing evolutionary medicine.  Sorry.   According to Robb, it's not the stereotypical strawmen those in the mainstream who have taken note of the diet portray.  I just wonder where they get these crazy ideas from.   Meanwhile, I contend we don't need to go much further back than my childhood to find the answers to how we can improve our health through diet.  


Chris Ford said…
Great comment.
Ben Kennedy said…
The evolutionary story told by Stephen Guyenet is far more compelling - human brains just can't cope with the relatively recent changes to society that increased the availability of food. It is a much better story because the food environment has changed so much over recent history. When the cost of food goes down along with the effort required to obtain it, people eat more and gain weight. It explains the world far better than saying some macronutrient or other is implicitly fattening, as it just take ones one counterexample to prove otherwise. We're just like the rats in the cage that don't get fat on unlimited amounts of rat chow, but happily get fat on unlimited amounts of junk food
joker said… didnt know where to leave this. TED is huge, can't believe this joker is on it. Knew what it was going to be about just by reading the title. brb running for 3-4 hours a day

his website:
Paleo Nouveau said…
Agree. Just last night I was watching a show called "Naked and Afraid." It's a "reality" show that put 2 people naked and without much supplies in the Costa Rican rainforest to fend for themselves for 21 days. Cut to the end, the man lost 46 lbs and the female lost 20+ lbs. In a true HG or survival lifestyle it is nearly impossible to be fat unless you are ingesting Western type foods. In order to get calories you always have to spend calories. There is no free ride!
Susanne said…
I know lots of 60-70 year olds too who are fitter and leaner than the norm, and they eat a Mediterranean diet. So there's my anecdotal data. I suspect it has more to do with the fact that they, like the letter writer, fall into the "academics who do fieldwork" demographic (my cohorts are archaeologists) than the specifics of their diet.

Why is it always assumed to be about the diet? Why might it not be down to things like -- just to pick at random from the article -- the Ache have to perform 5-6 hours of physical labor to obtain their daily calories; they live in very small groups without domestic animals (this potentially cuts down the transmission of lots of diseases); they sleep in hammocks or on the ground; or that they fill their free time by weaving mats, performing scarifying rituals, and conking each other on the head rather than sitting on a sofa watching TV. (Hmmm ... a lifestyle book niche which probably hasn't been exploited yet. Who's in? How long before we can get ourselves on "Dr. Oz"?)
carbsane said…
carbsane said…
I do not know what to say about this really. I left a comment on the video because this choking up and medical anecdotes fall very short for me. This man left medicine after his residency. He went into healthcare management/financing which, BTW, makes up quite a substantial portion of the NuSI boards. He then learned his biochemistry from Gary Taubes -- not from going back to his textbooks or seriously delving into the science. There is NO evidence for obesity as an adaptive mechanism to control blood sugar. None.

If he is really so passionate and such, one wonders why he doesn't go back into medicine?
carbsane said…
I also found this extremely difficult to watch. Took me over an hour total as I had to take it in small doses.
carbsane said…
I will have a short new post up today. I also believe it's somewhat cultural. We don't have a good idea of portion sizes really. My parents' generation grew up through the Depression and we were always admonished about the children starving in Ethiopia -- as if finishing my dinner had any bearing on whether some poor child was starving across the globe. My folks didn't push food on us, but there was a culture of thrift. The Big Gulps and Supersize and All-You-Can-Eat etc. are all perfectly marketed to my generation that grew up with that culture of thrift in economy but relative affluence to afford excess. Couple that with most portions being determined by restaurants where quantity = value vs. quality and you have a recipe for "simple obesity".
Ben Kennedy said…
Yes - it's why every diet out there is designed "eat what you want". Any diet that does this will, in the long term, fail because the problem to begin was "eating what you want" - to excess,. I know it's a bit depressing, but the prescription from Guyenet is correct - to lose weight, surround yourself with food you *don't want*, or at the very least don't crave. Then you will spontaneously stop overeating
Susanne said…
This is true of my family growing up too. But it had a happy effect: we weren't deprived of junk food because my mom considered it unhealthy, rather because it was expensive/a waste of money. Water is free! (In the summer we got a container of powdered "lemon" ice tea to mix in, which we kids did at what my mom considered ridiculous proportions, but in retrospect was probably about equivalent to Coke in sugar per serving. And when it was gone we had to wait a while before the next one appeared.)
carbsane said…
"conking each other on the head"

Sounds sciencey ;-)
Myron Schwarzennecker said…
I am now wondering if Attia did the typical deliberately-pig-out-then-snap-your-before-photos trick, and all this about his miracle transformation was planned for all along. Just like happens with any of the body-reshaping contests out there.

Here are some:

More and more I'm wondering if the billionaire with the Enron background that gave them oney really just gravitated to his own kind by instinct.
Myron Schwarzennecker said…
Most doctors who quit do so because of:

1) being burned out after many years

2) want more money than doctoring gives to them

Here is a Peter Fattia photo, as if this is repesentative of the typical overweight/obese American that is his marketing target.
carbsane said…
Yeah, I do think he overstates his former fatness and ill health, which is not to say he didn't have some weight to lose. He used to swim channels and has a picture of him standing next to his pregnant wife somewhere where he has a little pot (like nobody kinda let's it all hang out even deliberately after a race) and he jokes that he's not preggers but his wife insists he let people know she was.

He's more of an extreme experimenter if you ask me. Why go full on NuttyK with like 500g fat (mostly dairy)/day?? Who EVER ate that way?
Myron Schwarzennecker said…
Channel swimmer!!!! OMG, you just proved my point that he gained that fat deliberately, that's what they do. One reason is for insulation. Another might be for buoyancy. Fuel also? Does this character actually claim that his fat gain was unintentional??????? ??????

"When to gain weight for a channel swim?"

They're talking about gaining 20 lbs or more. Here is a real ironic quote said there for you: "I've found counting calories for a few weeks is the way to go, if you want bulk up. Science works."

There are also discussions where people talk about explaining and joking self-consciously that they didn't just get fat, they actually did it all deliberately for channel swimming.

The article that has the picture I posted has NOTHING to say about deliberate gain for swimming. Was that blogger duped?
Myron Schwarzennecker said…
OMG, it's true that he says NOTHING about intentional, planned gain of fat. He even says "I simply couldn’t fathom how this happened? I exercised more in one day than the average person did in one week. I didn’t eat at McDonalds or Taco Bell. I really cared about my health, but I was overweight, and felt like I was on a path towards chronic disease."
Sanjeev Sharma said…
Does he claim he was losing all that in urine? When I first started Atkins I could not get the ketositx to budge color at all. massive exercise and fat ... no go.

They did finally turn slightly pink when I had some flax seed oil. With some of this oil plus 5 hours of cycling I could get purple ketostix for around a day, fading 2 pink within 2 days

Do the calculation: that's 1.6 grams of ketones per liter of urine. At 5 calories per gram you lose 8 calories per liter.

Unless Attia was losing TWENTY TIMES more in breath and sweat[0] that's an insignificant loss.


Something's EXTREMELY fishy (not his breath, which would be a different odour)
carbsane said…
I don't think he claimed he was losing ketones in urine. It's possible at those extremes that urine ketones (and breath and sweat) are greater than in the normal Atkins context, but IF Attia is truthful about his intake, he has either become mighty metabolism mouse and I wouldn't want to be his liver, or he's got a fat malabsorption issue. His exercise regime is excessive by just about everyone's standards.
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