Ancestral Health Dishonesty ~ Phinney, the Osage and more Buffalo Feces!

Howdy all!  This one's been languishing in the draft bin for a bit as I hadn't had the time to round out the continuing saga of buffalo hunters.  It certainly belongs in the "I don't call it the Incestral Health Community for nothing" file!  As I was publishing up the Buffalo Roaming post the other day, "news" came across Jimmy Moore's Instagram feed that Stephen Phinney was unloading some ancestral dishonesty on the attendees of the CONvention of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians (or was it the Nutrition and Metabolism half of the event, who cares, same general schtick, over and over).  I include a screenshot of the slide here to confirm that this is the same slide I'd seen Phinney use before as you'll see here in a bit.  Essentially, this appears to be the same talk, different CONference.

[RANT] Question for the readers here.  If you had a child, let's say a middle or high schooler, and their American History teacher got up in front of the class and told them that in 1830 the Native Americans had had little contact with White Europeans, would you accept that?    I admit to occasionally having to go back and re-check dates from my own recollections of various historic events.  While I did well in history as a student (memorizing names and dates was the name of the game after all!), I was so totally bored most of the time that I saved very little in the long term storage, and at my age we're talking dusty archives.  But I was pretty sure that the White Man was well along into "wiping out" the Native Americans by this point in history, and I'd certainly make sure there were no major gaps in my knowledge before I got up in front of an audience to impart said knowledge.   

And yet, as you listen to Stephen Phinney tell it in the video I'm about to discuss, George Catlin was a whacky artist who went west of the Mississippi for some unknown reason to paint the Indians, and those Indians were still relatively "untouched" by the White Man.  What becomes most insulting about Phinney's narrative is that he presents it as if he, himself, researched cultures that thrived on a carnivorous diet, or at least combed the existing research on his own.  This would imply that he read the references he is careful to note on his slides.  Furthermore, Phinney comes from both academia and medicine.  He should be no slouch in the referencing department.  Were he to submit his telling of events as a history paper, with his own references, one would hope a failing grade would be assessed.  I'm going to throw a few references at you in this post, but the biggest problem for Phinney is that the Catlin reference would be all that he would have needed to avoid making a fool of himself.  I'm left to conclude he never read it.

Is it really too much to ask for references to support the assertions made by the various people who cite them?  Has it gotten so bad that we cannot even expect that?   In another ASBP slide, Phinney hails Nina Teicholz and The Big Fat Surprise, so I suppose it is.   Dr. Dr. Phinney (he's an MD and a PhD) has apparently taken it on face value that Teicholz is providing accurate information.  And why not?  It's almost impossible to identify the primary source of all of the various and sundry ancestral factoids circulating about the IHC, but so sure are they all in their mission, that not a one, apparently, ever sees fit to question what they are repeating.   It doesn't even sound "off" to them anymore it's been repeated so often.  And yet it's almost more difficult to find a reference that actually supports the statements attributed to it than not with this crowd.  This is a sad reflection on the integrity of the scientific "evidence" underpinning the cult.

It is insulting to the intelligence of everyone in every audience that Phinney speaks to when he goes through his ancestral schtick.  One would have to be totally lacking in some basic history knowledge, or just ... what? ... so in awe of all the obscure references and the amazing story they tell, the person never stops to think "hey, that doesn't sound right!".   I don't know.  But here is my challenge to the Stephen Phinney's of this world.  If you truly believe your dietary philosophy is the "right" one, let it stand on the facts.  Tell it like it really is, using references that say what you say they say (and don't say they say what they don't say - grin).  Revise your talks to accurately describe the diets of the peoples you exploit.  Tell the truth.  Don't you think that you owe that to people, so they can make informed decisions for their health based on facts?

Lastly, please, plEASE, PLEASE leave the poor epileptic children out of your gimmicky crusade.  And you know what else?  Stop using the obese and diabetic as your pawns as well.  Do not pretend that you are some altruistic visionary who really cares about the people, or even the cost "to society".  You prime your audiences with this crisis and act like you are doing some pious deeds for the good of all.  I guess that lulls folks into believing the lies that follow.   

Key words in this clip from the video I'm about to discuss:  FOR PROFIT (and still no conflicts of interest to report by Volek or Phinney in their more recent peer-review submissions.  

We'll see if they end up giving it away in 5 years.  (stifles laughter) [/RANT]

The Osage Indians

So the slide with the Osage was also used in this video on YouTube from the Low Carb Down Under tour.  The excerpt embedded below is ~11 min mark, and the full video is available here.   After a brief introduction and priming of the audience with ominous statistics on diabetes, Phinney launches into a discussion of the optimal low carb diet and begins listing cultures who supposedly ate this way.  You've got the Inuit and General Schwatka's account (sadly, he didn't write down exactly what they ate and in what proportions), and then the Masai.  Don't they look skinny (I think he meant lean) or tall, well they're both!  See?  Their growth is not stunted by eating only meat and fat like people will tell you!   (Growth retardation, likely from protein restriction, is common in the epileptic children on ketogenic diets.  I guess the "people" who point this out should be quiet, because the Masai).    And then ... the Osage ...  check out these hunka lunka menfolk!

Forget the buffalo for a moment here.  Stephen Phinney is rewriting the history of the North American continent and the United States!  The caption on the above slide reads:
In the 1830s, George Catlin traveled west of the Mississippi and painted hundreds of Native Americans while they still lived their pre-contact lifestyle. Black Dog and Tal-lee, Osage warriors who ate mostly buffalo, were both between 6’6” and 7’ tall.

STEPHEN PHINNEY:  [Catlin] for whatever reason for ten years he went west of the Mississippi in the 1830s before the area had much white contact at all.
The French are considered "White Europeans" ... right?  The Loisiana Purchase (1803) ring any bells?  Nope?  No history there?  Arkansas becoming a state in 1836 perhaps?  Yeah, not much white folk.  This might be marginally acceptable were it not for ... yes, the words of Catlin himself, from Phinney's own reference, writing from Fort Gibson, Arkansas (the name should give a hint, no?):
Their present residence is about 700 miles West of the Mississippi river; in three villages, constituted of wigwams, built of barks and flags or reeds. One of these villages is within forty miles of this Fort; another within sixty, and the third about eighty miles. Their chief place of trade is with the sutlers at this post; and there are constantly more or less of them encamped about the garrison.
And later:
The Osages have been formerly, and until quite recently, a powerful and warlike tribe: carrying their arms fearlessly through all of these realms; and ready to cope with foes of any kind that they were liable to meet. At present, the case is quite different; they have been repeatedly moved and jostled along, from the head waters of the White river, and even from the shores of the Mississippi, to where they now are; and reduced by every war and every move
The ancestral home of the Osages was part of the immense Louisiana Purchase that the United States acquired in 1803. Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, and soon after over 5,000 Osages were removed west to the Indian Territory. Other Indian tribes from the eastern U.S. were also relocated west of the Missouri and Arkansas boundaries. Federal troops were stationed in this “Permanent Indian Territory” to keep the peace.
How about Wikipedia?   I've pieced together a bunch, focusing on dated snippets.  
In 1673 French explorers ... were among the first Europeans to encounter the Osage ... The first half of the 1720s was a time of more interaction between the Osage and French. ... In 1724, the Osage allied with the French rather than the Spanish in their fight for control of the Mississippi region. ... In 1725, Bourgmont led a delegation of Osage and other tribal chiefs to Paris. ... By the late 18th century, the Osage did extensive business with the French Creole fur trader René Auguste Chouteau based in St. Louis ...The Osage were pleased to have a fur trading post nearby, as it gave them access to manufactured goods and increased their prestige among the tribes. ... After the 1818 massacre known as the "Battle of Claremore Mound," in which 30 Osage warriors were killed, their horses and trade-worthy goods taken, the Osage ceded these lands to the federal government in the treaty referred to as Lovely's Purchase. ...
The Osage began treaty-making with the United States in 1808, by the Osage Treaty and their first cession of lands in Missouri ... In 1808 the Osage moved from their homelands on the Osage River to western Missouri. The major part of the tribe had moved to the Three-Forks region of what would become Oklahoma soon after the arrival of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This part of the tribe did not participate in negotiations for the treaty of 1808, but their assent was obtained in 1809. ... The Osage occupied land in present-day Kansas and in Indian Territory which in the 1830s the US government later promised to the Cherokee ... Between the first treaty with the US and 1825, the Osages ceded their traditional lands across Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma in the treaties of 1818 and 1825. In exchange they were to receive reservation lands and supplies to help them adapt to farming and a more settled culture. They were first moved onto a southeast Kansas reservation called the Osage Diminished Reserve, ....
Overkill on the dates?  I don't know.  What will it take for these people to stop spreading their distorted versions of history to drive their agenda?    Ironically, the Osage rose to dominance over other tribes in the region at least in part due TO their interactions with Europeans, most especially trading for guns.  They seemed to be better at or more open to this than the others.  While they may have preserved their cultural dress and rituals, they interacted, and they most certainly were a "contaminated" culture by the time Catlin went on his artistic escapades.

But you see this doesn't work without the image of Osage as hunter-gatherer who subsisted on buffalo.  The distortion must be made to fit the narrative.  Phinney goes on to tell the audience:
STEPHEN PHINNEY:  These are nomadic peoples, they did not farm in the summer, hunt buffalo in the winter. they followed the buffalo where they went year round.
Sorry, but this is a lie.  Some buffalo hunting tribes have been described as nomadic, but every source I've seen describes the Osage as semi-nomadic, and this is not just a matter of semantics.   Square what Phinney just said with this:
The Osage way of life depended on hunting, since deer and bison provided food, clothing, and other essentials for them. Before leaving on the summer hunt (one of three annual hunts), the Osage planted vegetables such as corn, beans and pumpkins. In August, they returned to harvest their untended crops, and then left for an autumn hunt.
Oh sure, these were buffalo people.  They "depended" on it, but this is a far cry from only consuming it.  They also, apparently, depended on their crops, and carby ones at that.   Worded differently in another source (note horticulture before hunting):
The early Osage economy was based on horticulture, hunting, and the collection of wild food plants. Maize, beans, and squash were the most important crops. Although bison were the most important game animals, elk, deer, and bear were also significant. Persimmons, prairie potatoes, and water lily roots were staples in their diet. During the eighteenth century, the fur trade and Indian slave trade became important aspects of their economy. Horses, first adopted by the Osage in the late seventeenth century, facilitated bison hunting, which became the dominant feature of the Osage economy in the mid-nineteenth century. The last Osage bison hunt took place in 1875.
I'm reminded of Newcomb's words from The Indians of Texas:
In slightly less than three centuries this revolutionarily new kind of Indian culture came into existence, for a time blazed brightly, and suddenly was extinguished.
The Osage were but one example of what Newcomb meant by most of the tribes being "recent invaders" of the regions they later dominated, and Newcomb, too, spoke of agriculture: 
UP AND DOWN the eastern margins of the plains, in the prairies and in the river valleys, there had been a number of tribes who both farmed and hunted bison. Pawnees, Osages, the Central Siouans (Kansas, Missouri, Oto, Omaha, Ponca, and Iowa) were the southern tribes who practiced this economy (Kroeber, 1947: 84-86).
The Osage constructed rather elaborate villages of what are almost universally described as houses ... mention of tents/teepees is for the hunting phase -- see Catlin quote above.  My lordie, their villages were more "ordered" than many of the settlers'!!    


Phinney is relying on Catlin's accounts, and here's the kicker there ... again from Catlin himself:
This tribe, though living, as they long have, near the borders of the civilized community, have studiously rejected everything of civilized customs: and are uniformly dressed in skins of their own dressing -- strictly maintaining their primitive looks and manners, without the slightest appearance of innovations, excepting in the blankets, which have been recently admitted to their use instead of the buffalo robes, which are now getting scarce amongst them. 
No clue there??   But Phinney marvels at the tiny-headed Osage and Catlin's schooled painting skills and wonders how can that be?  
STEPHEN PHINNEY:  ... the answer is they're between six and a half and seven feet tall.  And they weren't unusual, for the people that lived on the buffalo.
 But as Catlin noted:
The Osages may justly be said to be the tallest race of men in North America, either of red or white skins.
How can that be?  There were some thirty odd tribes hunting buffalo, and Catlin visited (and painted) others.  And yet the Osage were notably taller.  Why weren't all of these other tribes taller?    And what of one of those two Osage chiefs Catlin painted, the one known as Black Dog?  
His height, I think, is seven feet; and his limbs full and rather fat, making his bulk formidable, and weighing, perhaps, some 250 or 300 pounds
Watch, now someone will blame that on the corn, or perhaps the insidious beans.  Just remember that it was only a day or so ago when he was being held up as a fine specimen of human ketotic perfection.   And lastly, the final insult:
STEPHEN PHINNEY it was a point of pride for these, these males in particular, that they ate no animal, I'm sorry, no vegetable products at all.
Look. I can see if this were an interview. You're talking about various cultures and you perhaps mix them up.   But this is a speech, with prepared slides.  And he's driving an agenda here, the undertone being that all of those folks who consider the diet unbalanced etc. are themselves unbalanced people.  He didn't just mis-speak. I have yet to come across any indication that Osage males even ate only meat, or that they even ate more meat than the women.  Is there any record of the men avoiding vegetable products?  Anything??   No, I think he is attributing the dietary preferences and practices of the Masai warriors (and just the warriors) to the Osage hunters ... because "natives"?  Sigh :(  Hard to think of any other reason ...


So the bottom line here folks, is that Stephen Phinney is lying to his audiences about the Osage Indians. At this point I am beyond disappointed and just flat out disgusted with these so-called scientists, academics and doctors.  Your "intellectual product" would fail the 8th grade, and instead it is being presented at conferences offering CEUs (Continuing Education Units) for various programs.
If the Low-Carb-High-Fat-Ketogenic Diet is so optimal, WHY DO YOU HAVE TO LIE TO PEOPLE TO CONVINCE THEM??   

Bonus Material

After his introductions, Phinney launches into his "they knew how to eat" spiel and let's look at some traditional humans for guidance.  He begins with the Inuit (who else??) and General Schwatka's account.  Nothing new there and as the tales go, he only talks about what was likely the "low carb flu" when transitioning to a diet of reindeer meat (likely somewhat lean).  At least he didn't lie and divine from Schwatka's diary as regards proportions.

So Phinney describes how Schwatka scooped him on his PhD thesis about adaptation to a low carb diet, but there's this idea that the Inuit are "special" because they had to eat that way.   Well, let's not throw that notion away too hastily as an argument against carb restriction.  If when given the opportunity to consume carbs, humans generally do so with a fair degree of preference, and if people choosing to do so outside the influence of modern man is a beacon pointing towards optimal, then maybe there's something to that?  Nonetheless, Phinney moves on to the Masai ...

More Dishonesty I:  The Masai

STEPHEN PHINNEY:  I also looked around to see are there other people who lived on a diet that consisted of meat and fat with not much carbohydrate or with very little carbohydrate.
Enter the Masai?  Usually this group is used as an example of high saturated fat intake with normal and perhaps even slightly low LDL or total cholesterol levels.  Some may argue they're "lower carb" than the SAD, but they are not low carb, and nowhere near ketogenic.    Phinney goes on about blood drinking for salt content, true?  Eh, I'm beyond wondering.  Anyone know?   He points to a "relatively modern" photo -- and look at the skinny tall people!  And then, instead of talking about George Mann, as most do, Phinney discusses "two Brits" who went to live with the Masai in the late 1920s.  

He's speaking of Orr and Gilks, and much of what Phinney is talking about is liberally cited from here.    I suppose the Orr & Gilks carb levels are more in line with low carbers (indicating perhaps more meat and less milk than Mann observed when his fat content was closer to 60%  but carb was also higher) but 100 grams of carb -- mostly from lactose, not eeking out every possible gram from cauliflower -- coupled with the extremely high protein intake of 300 grams would have meant these Masai were never even on the brink of ketosis and the magical low carb "metabolism".  Fat comes in under 50% in the analysis from this reference.

Meanwhile, if Phinney came across this source independently, he surely also came across the information about what the women ate.    He and Volek are going to be putting together something "that works" in their for-profit company.  Why are they ignoring the women?  It's not like there's any anecdotal evidence out there that women tend to fare less well on keto diets or anything to raise any concerns or anything ... :(

No, Phinney likely never read this information first hand.  Also, he implies that the problem for the Kikuyu was not only lack of meat and fat, but that they ate vegetable foods instead.  Funny how the Kikuyu women who DID eat the "effeminate" green leafy veg were in somewhat comparable health to their Masai counterparts, while eating even less fat than the Kikuyu men.  I discussed this all here.  It's rather disgusting that the male diet gurus pushing this diet with dihonest portrayals can't even bring themselves to address the women in most cases.    Given that obesity rates are generally higher in women, they should be given more attention, not less.

More Dishonesty II:  The PseudoInuit

The intro of Unpronouncable -First-Name Steffanson is quite funny.  I stumble over it too, but just do your best as Phinney eventually did: Vilhjalmur -- Veel - jal - moor -- seems about right.  Or you could just call him by his birth name William, or now we know he called himself Willy.  In any case, luckily for the keto hacks, they had old Ufn.  

This comes after we've made the rounds to Africa, back to the Plains and finally back to the Arctic, the only true possible flag bearers of the nutritionally ketotic diet.   Only they weren't ... for various reasons, and one need not go far to learn that the actual diet of the Inuit was not nearly as high fat as has been claimed, was very high in protein, and consisted of a lot of raw and partially rotted "high" meat.  Seals, caribou, and reindeer.  From Heinbecker the reader is directed to Krogh and Krogh (though the original paper eludes me still), but nobody has as yet challenged that Heinbecker's description of the diet is in conflict with the Krogh and Krogh analysis which puts the diet at ~45% protein, ~55% fat.  Also, no significant ketosis.

The actual accounts of the Inuit are not what Phinney & Co. rely on.  They instead mischaracterize the "experiment" Steffanson  engaged in when he returned home to the NYC area.  

There are a few papers from this "experiment", but here's a link to McClellan:  Clinical Calorimetry:  Prolonged Meat Diets with a Study of Kidney Function and Ketosis.  

Once again, if you are going to use a citation, it ought to be used accurately.  Here is a listing of some major claims and what the paper says:
  • "Incarcerated for a year" :  Subjects were checked into the hospital on Feb 26, and discharged on April 30 to continue the meat diet AT HOME. Steffanson traveled to give lectures.  He even lived at home during the final observations.  There is no indication of any confirmed supervision in the home and thus there are really only two months during which the only meat diet could be verified.  Of course one cannot presume he "cheated", but this was not a year long "metabolic ward" style experiment.  It was even noted that he sometimes ate butter and eggs when traveling to lecture if meat was unavailable.
  • Steffanson ate what the Inuit told him, not a lot of meat and mostly fat:  In actuality, they tried to replicate the macronutrient composition of the diet as described by Krogh & Krogh with locally available meats such as beef, lamb and chicken.  Organ meats and broth were also used. (There is a description of K&K within this paper, the 45-55 ratio is not obscured.)  By the third day of the experiment, Steffanson had to abandon the "Eskimo diet".

  • Steffanson ate > 80% fat the entire time:  As just mentioned, he attempted to eat K&K macros, but got sick.  It was only after that, they upped his fat intake and cut back on protein.  My calculations from Table I averages, had Steffanson's macro intake averaging 22% protein, 76% fat and 2% carb.  None of the periods exceeded 76% averaged fat intake, and even the day or two of "high fat" to recuperate would round to 80%.   It may seem nit-picky, but why misrepresent the data at all?  Would > 75% fat not be "wow that's a lotta fat" enough for you?  
So Steffanson, in largely unsupervised fashion, remained in relatively good health on a diet that was likely mostly fatty meat.  Another man succeeded in doing the same.  A third abandoned his effort after 10 days.  

No women.

They were UNABLE to consume the Inuit macro ratios.

So based on this, Phinney and Volek think they can devise an Optimal Diet for humans.   Only it won't be anything like any *real* diet.


charles grashow said…
Do you mean this paper?

Meddelelser om Grønland

A Study af the Diet and Metabolism of Eskimos undertaken in 1908 on an Expedition to Greenland. By August Krogh and Marie Krogh
charles grashow said…

Lies, Damned Lies, and The Inuit Diet
charles grashow said…
charles grashow said…

Peter Heinbecker
J. Biol. Chem. 1928, 80:461-475
charles grashow said…
Implications of Plio-Pleistocene Hominin Diets for Modern Humans
MacSmiley said…
Pretty sure the J in Vilhjalmur is pronounced as a consonantal Y. Right?

I'm sure we have Scandinavian friends on Twitter like Pauli and Erik who can help us out here.
MacSmiley said…
Of course, Phinney said nothing of the 800 mg/dl total cholesterol Anderson shot up to (Stephansson's was Jimmy Moore nightmarish as well) or the fact that they couldn't pass an OGTT. Yup. Totally healthy.
carbsane said…
Man my phonetic spelling is off. That's how I would pronounce it. J = Y in my own heritige ;-)
carbsane said…

A thousand thank yous for this Charles.

The PDF is more readable. Takes a while to load folks, and the first few pages are blank so you may think it's farkled. But the PDF is like 500 pages long.
MacSmiley said…
Ha. Dutch? German heritage?

Now an Hispanic would look at that J entirely differently. 😀
StellaBarbone said…
Well, I don't see why you can't trust the historical and anthropologic data supplied by a couple of exercise kinesiologists. They're MD/PhDs, so clearly they know more than plain old anthropology PhDs.

The free-ranging, horse-riding, bison-hunting period lasted maybe 250 years which is plenty of time for evolutionary adaptation of diet....
MacSmiley said…
Well how many years have the Pima in the U.S. been eating white flour and lard? Haven't adapted yet? (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge) 😝
charles grashow said…


7:43: Prof. V. Stefansson: Allowed himself to be locked in Bellevue for a year eating nothing but meat to prove the scurvy theory wrong.
StellaBarbone said…
Volek and Phinney are probably referring to the Hekawi tribe.
charles grashow said…
Adventures in Diet
By Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Parts 1, 2 & 3
charles grashow said…
by Vilhjalmur Stefansson

With Comment by Fredrick J. Stare, M.D., and Paul Dudley White, M.D
charles grashow said…
charles grashow said…
Low incidence of cardiovascular disease among the Inuit*/what is the
charles grashow said…
Received 13 December 1936
charles grashow said…
Carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in the Alaskan Arctic Eskimo
MacSmiley said…
Ahhh. Charles clued me in below. Hilarious!! 😝
MacSmiley said…
Ahh. NOW I get it!!😝😂

Gotta love F-Troop!!
Bris Vegas said…
He was born in Canada to Icelandic parents. His birth name was William Stevenson.
MacSmiley said…
Yes, I know. He used the Scandinavian forms of his name for publicity reasons.