This will be the last installment in the Ancestral Health series, and I may indulge myself and expound a little. I have been getting quite a lot of mail in response to this series, and a question that has come up repeatedly has been: Is there a right way that the Paleo diet can be practiced? I am going to address that, but first, I want to point out that the whole idea of trying to eat like the Caveman is, for lack of a better term, a romantic idea, and by romantic, I mean imbued with imagery, idealism, and even idolatry. But, before you let the romance go to your head, keep this in mind: Paleolithic Man was a cannibal.
I first became aware of that from reading Women, Sex, and Food in History by Soledad de Montalvo- a book I have mentioned before. It is actually a four-volume series, an unvarnished and politically incorrect history of western civilization. And she starts with Paleolithic Man and provides evidence that he was, indeed, a cannibal.
Evidence of cannibalism centers around finding butchering marks on human bones- the same kind of marks found on the bones of food animals, breakage of long human bones for marrow extraction, cutmarks and chopmarks resulting from the skinning, defleshing, and evisceration of humans- just like those seen on the bones of food animals. The identification of human tissue in fossilized human feces has also confirmed the practice of human cannabilism.
Such evidence of cannibalism has been found at Gran Dolina a paleolithic site in Spain, Moula-Guercy a Neanderthal site in France, Klaises River Caves a paleolithic site in South Africa, Fontbrgoua a mesolithic site in France, and Sierra de Atapuerca, another Spanish site, and many more. Cannibalism was practiced widely in primeval Great Britain, with evidence of it found, for instance, at Gough’s Cave. And there is ample evidence that cannibalism was practiced in the Americas and by the Australian Aboriginals and New Zealand Maoris.
Why did people eat people? A better a question might be, why not? After all, we have a taboo against it, but why should we impart that taboo to Paleolithic Man? He didn’t have our hangups. And even our taboo is not absolute. Today, there are people in many places who devour the human placenta after birth. Tom Cruise said he was going to eat the placenta after his wife gave birth in 2006. In 1998, a prominent French chef cooked human placenta on television and served it to dinner guests. I was invited once to a post-birth celebration where placenta was being served. I didn’t attend.
Paleolithic Man may have regarded the eating of human flesh as a natural consequence to winning in battle. He may have given ritualistic meaning to it- a way to absorb the spirit and energy of his foes. Or, he may have hunted people just like any other prey- to secure a meal. Obviously, today, we don’t kill and eat each other- unless we are as deranged as Jeffrey Dahmer. However, I think it’s worth noting that- argumentatively- cannibalism is as consistent with the paradigm of the paleolithic diet as anything else.
And it’s just one reason why I think we should reject the whole paradigm. Paleolithic Man had his conditions, resources, and faculties, which led to his choices and actions, and we have our conditions, resources, and faculties, which should lead to our choices and actions. He was stuck in an ice-age; we are not. He had no way to exploit, concentrate, and expand the best of what Nature had to offer; we do. He had instinct and cunning but no knowledge. We have vast knowledge and extraordinary means that he was incapable of even dreaming of. The idea that we should take dietetic lessons from him makes no more sense than that we should take science lessons, music lessons, or any other kind of lessons from him.
But, what about the Theory of Evolution? Doesn’t that force our hand? No, of course not. Hopefully, I have convinced you that the Theory of Evolution is the biggest fraud in the history of science. It’s even bigger than the one about steel skyscrapers collapsing straight down at free-fall speed due to fire. The idea that the complexity of life was brought about my random mutations undergoing natural selection is a mathematician’s nightmare. They don’t buy it, and neither should you.
I think it’s altogether whacky for us to try to eat like the Cavemen. But, I don’t overestimate my powers of persuasion. I realize that some people are enchanted by the lore of it all and will remain so. Do I have any practical advice for them? Yes, I do.
First, if you are going to eat like a hunter/gatherer, do a lot more gathering than hunting. It may have been the opposite for the Caveman, but he didn’t have a choice, and you do. Plant food is abundant in your world, available year-round, so make the most of it.
You have no reason to eat a lot of meat. You don’t need all that protein, and you don’t need all that iron. Paleos like to talk a lot about genetics, but remember that, by virtue of genetics, human mammary glands make the lowest protein milk on the planet- with less than 1% protein by weight. And that’s true across the whole Family of Man and regardless of what diet is eaten by the mother: the amount of protein in breast milk always remains low.
And remember, an excess of dietary protein is the most burdensome dietary excess that there is. That’s what strains your liver and kidneys. In animals, it has been shown to accelerate aging. You should eat enough protein to maintain structure and function but not for fuel. You don’t want to throw it on the fire like a log. And the fact is: most of the calories we consume are for the purpose of burning fuel.
So, even if you want to go paleo, build your diet around plants. Eat fruits, berries, and melons. Eat vegetables of all kinds, both raw and cooked. And include some tubers in your diet. Tubers are not anathema to paleolithic eating. It is widely recognized that hunter/gatherers, of the past and the present, have eaten and do eat tubers. I realize that there is a lot of bias against white potatoes today, which I think is unfounded. But, if you are influenced by it, then eat sweet potatoes instead. Sweet potatoes are very nutritious. They are one of the highest antioxidant foods, including carotenoids and Vitamin C. And they are completely unrelated to white potatoes.
Then, eat raw nuts. Nuts have been human foods for countless millennia. Walnuts, just like those eaten today, were growing profusely in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, over one million years ago. And, we know for a fact that our ancestors were eating them. They even stored them in their caves.
And although it took much longer for humans to reach North America, when they got here, they had no problem taking to the native pecans, beechnuts, hickory nuts, butternuts, black walnuts, and chestnuts. And don’t forget about the nut-like seeds, such as sunflower seeds, which the hunter/gatherers of North America gathered long before there was agriculture.
I can understand your resistance to grains. After all, grains are grass seeds, and we have no visceral attraction to grass as food. And in Nature, cereal grains are commonly eaten by birds which have gizzards to grind them. And even after soaking and cooking, whole grains are texturally difficult for humans to eat. It’s no accident that none of the vast human populations that adopted rice as a staple went for brown rice. It was all white rice- even in antiquity. Why? I suspect it’s because humans have an inborn sense about how long foods should be chewed and masticated. The urge to swallow kicks in long before brown rice is thoroughly broken down and liquefied. And, I know for a fact that a large percentage of the brown rice people eat goes right through them- unchewed and undigested. And, it probably doesn’t matter for most adults- it may even be an advantage- but what about for growing children? Inadequate growth has been documented among European and other children raised on the so-called “macrobiotic” diet, which includes a lot of brown rice. Kids just don’t chew it up enough. It’s also noteworthy that dentists have reported that the teeth of brown rice eaters get worn down a lot, and I mean to an extraordinary degree. I still eat brown rice, but not very often. And when I do eat it, I consciously think about chewing it up carefully and resisting the urge to swallow too soon.
But, let’s forget about grains. I don’t expect any paleo to eat them. But what about legumes? Legumes do not start off as grass. Legumes start off as vegetables, podded vegetables. And when we use them in the dry state, we are really just reconstituting something that was originally a vegetable.
I used to live in the small town of Yorktown, Texas, which is about an hour’s drive southeast of San Antonio. In Yorktown, vegetable gardens were very common because the native soil there is very good: deep, black, and loamy. And at the start of the growing season in late February, people would plant pinto beans. But, they grew them as vegetables, not beans. Pinto beans make a wonderful green bean, and they are truly a “string bean.” You have to pull the strings off before cooking them. We don’t see string beans any more in the markets. Farmers have all gone to hybrid, stringless, green beans because that’s what people want. But, the old-fashioned string beans were much more flavorful, including pinto beans. They are absolutely delicious.
I have not tried to grow pinto beans where I am now in Buda, Texas, which is just a little south of Austin. For one thing, the native soil here is terrible, horrible. It won’t grow anything. You have to import this man-made blend of rice hulls, granite dust, manure, and other ingredients that they call soil, but which looks nothing like real soil, and then grow in a raised bed. It does work to some extent, and I have grown successfully another vegetable from my Yorktown days: black-eyed peas. Black-eyed peas are beautiful. The bushes are very dark green with shiny leaves. The blossoms are pearly white. And the “fruits” are very striking: long pods with large, elliptical seeds that strain and bulge the jackets like a series of bicep muscles. You can see the strength in it. If you water them, black-eyed peas will grow and produce all summer long- even in 100 degree heat. And they are a delight to eat. I eat the whole thing, pods and all. I just plop them in the steamer and let them steam for 10 or 15 minutes. They’re delicious, and they go down easy. It’s not like eating brown rice. They dissolve in your mouth readily, and there is no disconnect between the amount of chewing needed and your urge to swallow. And I’m willing to bet that, except for Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, fresh black-eyed peas have some of everything that the human body needs. They are very close to being a complete food.
And why anybody, in our time or in paleolithic time, would not consider this good eating is a mystery to me. For me, it has a visceral attraction as food.
And, I suggest you don’t get caught up in the fuss about anti-nutrients in beans and legumes. They are well neutralized by cooking. And, legumes are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. According to the USDA, of the 5 foods highest in antioxidants, 3 of them are legumes.
Boyd Eaton, in The Paleolithic Prescription, one of the first paleo diet books, did allow legumes. Subsequent paleo writers, such as Loren Cordain, have trashed them, but it’s interesting that some paleo advocates have allowed dairy products. Michael Eades, for example, speaks of preparing food in butter. And Mark Sisson speaks of eating Greek yogurt and certain cheeses, and it makes no sense to me. You can’t milk a wild animal. Animal husbandry went along with agriculture- not with hunting and gathering. I suppose, if asked, they would admit that they are cheating when they eat dairy products. However, I say if you are going to cheat on pure paleoism, ditch the milk, and fix yourself some nice beans. Get yourself some Anasazi beans, which are red and white and oh so tasty. Cook them up with onions and garlic and tomato paste; maybe use a little extra virgin olive oil; and then at the end, add some basil and oregano. That is tasty eating. That is good, satisfying, hearty eating.
Oh! But, what about meat in your paleolithic diet? Well, if you want it, just eat it moderately, certainly not more than once a day. Just a have a several-ounce portion, and eat it with a large quantity of vegetables. Or, have fish that way instead. There is no reason to eat flesh-food more than once a day. And avoid dairy products completely. Why eat them? It isn’t paleolithic, and it isn’t healthy. But, if your cholesterol isn’t too high, and you enjoy eggs, you could eat a high-quality egg sometimes. But , I suggest limiting it to one. Don’t push your luck. Make plants the bulk of your diet and the bulk of every meal.
Well, that completes our look at the paleolithic diet- for now. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the ride. Next time, we’ll tackle a new subject.
Now, we are going to look at the most anticipated question about the paleolithic diet: what about all the cholesterol and saturated fat? I will discuss it, but, I don’t have to pose it as a question to the paleos. They address it. They face it head-on, and they do a fine job of handling it. They point out that cholesterol is a vital substance, present in every animal cell, and without which all animal life would cease to exist. The body makes a lot of cholesterol, far more than anyone could possibly eat. The link between high cholesterol and heart disease is just a statistical association- not a cause and effect relationship. And for some groups, such as women and the very aged, high cholesterol has never been correlated with increased heart attacks. And if cholesterol is so bad, why doesn’t it clog up the veins? Venous blood is just as cholesterol-ridden as arterial blood. Also, arteries within the cranial bones don’t get plaqued up under any circumstances either. Why not, if it’s all supposed to be caused by cholesterol?
We hear a lot about high cholesterol, but what about low cholesterol? Low cholesterol has been statistically linked to a higher risk of cancer. However, I’ll point out that the naysayers say that it’s cancer that causes low cholesterol, and not vice-versa. This remains unresolved.
There may be a greater risk of infection from low cholesterol. Dr. Uffe Ravnskov points out that in rural China, where blood cholesterol averages just 129, Hepatitis B is endemic. Also, among the very aged, there is greater resistance to deadly pneumonia among those with high cholesterol. Beyond the age of 70, high blood cholesterol is associated with reduced mortality- from all causes. It’s not far-fetched to think that cholesterol supports immunity. Low cholesterol has also been correlated with depression and anxiety.
But, how low is low? It’s common for cholesterol of 200 to be considered high and cholesterol of 150 to be considered fine, but how much difference is there between them? 150 is only 25% less than 200. Why should dropping the cholesterol level by 25% make a colossal difference in plaque formation? A 25% differential in an organic substance like cholesterol isn’t much. Is it reasonable to think that subtracting 25% from the blood concentration will affect the amount of cholesterol being deposited in the vessel walls? I doubt it.
And notwithstanding the Chinese, 150 is about as low most people will go in their blood cholesterol when they stop eating animal foods. The only way to get it substantially lower is to take drugs. And of course, that is exactly what the medical establishment wants us to do. They’re looking for an LDL cholesterol of 70 or lower. But, nobody can get to 70 or lower without drugs. It isn’t natural. The body wants more LDL cholesterol than that.
So, the medical establishment is telling us that the human body is dangerously defective in that it makes too much cholesterol, and the only way to get it down to a safe level is to take powerful drugs that slam the liver hard and prevent it from doing what it wants to do, which is to make cholesterol. To be healthy, we have to knock out our livers. It’s a very morbid view of life and of health.
The Life Extension Foundation does not champion super-low cholesterol. They think that total blood cholesterol should be between 150 and 180 and definitely not below 150. Last checked, my total cholesterol was 161. And my LDL cholesterol was 92 (where less than 100 is considered right for those without heart disease). Considering all the positive roles of cholesterol in the body: as a steroid hormone precursor, as a cell membrane insulator, as a nerve cell facilitator (there is lots of cholesterol in the brain, and the brain makes its own cholesterol), as an immune booster, a mood elevator, and more, it’s possible that cholesterol has a useful, guarding effect even in heart disease, and that the deposition of cholesterol in the vessel walls is protective. That would make cholesterol a marker for heart disease but not a cause of it.
This is a crucial issue, and I applaud the paleos for standing up to the medical establishment and taking them on. Clearly, it's awful, and I mean criminal, that millions of Americans are being laden and burdened with dangerous statin drugs all on the basis of a blood test. I believe that the harm from these drugs is far greater than any potential good they can do. Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, of Sweden, a leading cholesterol skeptic, points out that, even granting the most favorable interpretation of the statin studies, 100 people would have to take statins for 10 years in order for 1 of them to avoid having a heart attack. He also points out that even this miniscule effect has no relation to cholesterol lowering. His book, The Cholesterol Myths, is well worth reading.
I heartily applaud Dr. Ravnskov, and I consider him a medical hero. He’s a lot smarter than the mindless, medical zombies who prescribe statins all day long.
However, even though I think Dr. Ravnskov is right, I’m not inclined to cast caution to the wind and start eating animal foods with abandon. There are plenty of good reasons to eat a plant-based diet that have nothing to do with cholesterol. Only plants have fiber, and we know how protective fiber is: against heart disease, colon cancer, and even diabetes. There is no fiber in animal foods. Also, it’s plants that have phytochemicals and antioxidants, and we know how important they are. Meats have essentially none. How are you going to get those phytonutrients unless you go to the source and eat plants? Of course, a paleo could eat a lot of plants with his meat and fish, and that would be the best way to practice a paleo diet. But, the fact is, for every mouthful of animal food that you eat, it is one less mouthful of plant food going into you. And, there is another nutrient that you can’t get unless you eat plants: carbohydrate. And to my mind, the demonizing of carbohydrates makes no more sense than the demonizing of fats. And what about magnesium? It is widely distributed in plant foods and scarce in animal foods, and I mean all of them.
So, for these and other reasons, I think that eating a plant-based diet is paramount. But, if you broaden it a little to include some animal food, I don't say you are going to ruin it. However, there is no good reason to go hog-wild over animal food. Cholesterol, even if it’s not as harmful as the experts say, is something that the body can easily make. It is not a required nutrient. And even if cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease per se, it definitely can accumulate in excess. For instance, consider gall stones, which are very common, afflicting tens of millions in the US alone. Most often, gallstones are composed of cholesterol, and they form because the concentration of cholesterol in the bile is too high, where it precipitates out. No matter what anybody says, I have to think that if you’ve got gallstones that scarfing down on more cholesterol can’t possibly be in your best interest.
So, the bottom line for me is that I applaud the paleos for exposing the establishment’s fraudulent anti-cholesterol campaign, which is mainly designed to push drugs on people. But as far as diet goes, I start where it should start: with a vast array of fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, I add raw nuts, which are primal human foods and proven health-builders. And so far, I haven’t violated any paleo tenets. Then, I add legumes and beans, which are considered non-paleo foods, but, I am not so sure about it. Two of the first foods cultivated by humans in the Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the alleged birthplace of agriculture, were lentils and chickpeas. Why did they grow them if they weren’t used to eating them? It is absolutely certain that humans made some use of legumes prior to agriculture.
In my backyard, I have a wild mesquite tree, and it produces beautiful mesquite beans. I have never eaten them, but they do look edible. And, I know that the aboriginals of Texas did grind the mesquite beans into flour and use them in their cooking. Explain that, paleos. I’ll have more to say about legumes in my final article in this series.
And, I also make use of whole grains in my diet. I don’t say you have to. You can be well-nourished without them. But, I happen to like them. I find them hearty and satisfying to eat. They certainly haven’t made me fat. And while paleos are making a lot of noise about gluten and celiac disease, I observe the fact that every study that has ever been done on whole grains has shown them to be cardio-protective and cancer-preventive. If there is even one study to the contrary, I haven’t seen it.
So, the point is that since I am eating fresh fruits and vegetables in vast amounts, raw nuts, plus cooked legumes and whole grains, that’s a lot of food! That’s a ton of food! No matter how sanguine cholesterol may be, I wouldn’t have much room for it in my diet anyway. As I’ve said, I will occasionally eat a high-quality egg, and I don’t worry about the cholesterol in it. But, for those who are really gorging on animal foods, I have to think that they are not getting their full ration of plant foods.
Finally, in regard to saturated fats, I think the paleos are right that they have been unfairly demonized. Saturated fats are very widely distributed in Nature, and not just in animals and in tropical seeds like coconut. 14% of the fat in olives is saturated. Almost as much of the fat in nuts is saturated. And of course, saturated fats are something that your body vitally needs. However, it is also true that your body can make all the saturated fat it wants.
It’s interesting that within the paleo community, there is a debate going on about saturated fat. Dr. Loren Cordain, a leading paleo writer, recommends eating only certain meats, such as lean game meats, because he claims that in primordial times, the wild animals being hunted must have been very lean. However, other paleos have pointed out that there are globs of fat in every animal, including lean ones. And we know that carnivorous animals often hone in on the fat. Lions, for instance, will focus on the organ meat and fattier parts of the prey and leave the lean cuts to scavengers. Polar bears will pull seal cubs up from under the ice and deliberately eat globs of fat, leaving the lean meat for arctic foxes and wolves- who would probably prefer the fattier cuts too, but hey, you take what you can get. And among human hunter/gatherers similar honing in on fat has been observed. As Mark Sisson points out, since it’s the fattier cuts of meat that are the tastiest to us, why should it have been any different for our forbears? We know from the fossil record that the long bones were broken and the marrow sucked out, which is very fatty. I don't think there is any instinct in human beings, past or present, to avoid dietary fat.
There is going to be just one more, final episode in this Ancestral Health series, in which I will wrap everything up and put it all in perspective. So stay tuned.
This question for the paleos may sound rather similar to the last one, but I believe it is important enough to warrant its own spot on the ledger. It concerns the composition of human breast milk. Let’s recall that every mammal, from the tiny pygmy shrew to the giant blue whale, which is the largest creature alive and that ever lived, produces milk for its young, and these milks vary widely in composition. And, the balance of nutrients in the milk reflects the balance of nutrients in the future diet of the infant because there needs to be continuity. For instance, cats, are pure carnivores; they eat 100% meat, which is a very high-protein diet. So, correspondingly, their milk is very high in protein- about 11% by weight. Cows, in contrast, live on grass, which is lower in protein, and their milk has only 3.4% protein by weight.
Judging by the protein content of our milk, humans must be very low-protein feeders, but the early protein researchers didn’t look at it that way. They looked at other things- which misled them. For instance, Chittendon, a turn-of-the-century protein researcher, declared that humans need 132 mgs of protein a day. That’s because he based his conclusions on nitrogen excretion, and he found that vigorous young males who were fed less than 132 mgs of protein daily went into “negative nitrogen balance.” That means that they were excreting more nitrogen than they were taking in. But, what Chittendon did not realize is that when protein consumption is reduced, the body- over time- slows down its protein turnover such that nitrogen balance is regained at the lower level of consumption. So, the negative nitrogen balance is only temporary- it goes away. Today, we know that people can adjust to amazingly low levels of protein consumption. For instance, I have known individuals who avoided high-protein foods completely- including plant proteins. They were vegetarians who ate no beans or nuts or grains, and they ate no animal foods. They ate only fruits and vegetables- including avocadoes- and nothing else. And, as expected, they got rather thin, but perhaps not as thin as you might think. They still had some muscle shape and tone, and they were fully active. And, they lived that way for years. It’s extreme, I admit, and I’m not recommending it. However, it goes to show how little protein the human body can get by on- if it has to. And the point is that the amount of protein that you eat sets the pace of your protein metabolism, and that pace starts with the amount of protein you get from your mother’s milk. And, I think it’s safe to say that the transition from nursing to weaning is supposed to be smooth- not jolting. So, mammals who eat high-protein diets get high-protein milks, and animals who eat low-protein diets, get low-protein milks.
How much protein is there in human milk? I used to say 1% by weight, making it the lowest protein milk on the planet. However, for a long time, some analyses have come in at .9%, and now I’m finding some analyses coming in at .8%. Compare that to the milk of a cat. It’s a 14-fold difference! It’s funny that Dr. Loren Cordain, a prominent paleo writer, has suggested that humans are “evolving” towards becoming increasingly cat-like, but apparently, nobody told the human mammary glands.
A paleo might respond by saying that humans take so long to mature (on average, boys continue to grow until the age of 18) that it’s the long, protracted growth period that accounts for the low-protein content of breast milk. After all, 18 years of growth is longer than the whole lifespan of some mammals. However, that doesn’t change the fact that humans grow very fast as infants. Typically, babies double their birth weight in 6 months. It is the most rapidly growing period in human life. And, they do all that growing on a diet of low-protein mother’s milk.
Another way to look at it is as protein as a percentage of calories, and on that basis, human breast milk derives 7% of its calories from protein. And, as foods go, 7% of calories from protein is low. Among plant foods, all provide a higher percentage of calories from protein- except for some fruits. In contrast, green vegetables, on that basis, are extremely high in protein (33% of calories), and even grains provide about 13% of their calories as protein-which is almost twice as high as human milk. Beans, of course, are very high in protein, as are most oil-seeds and nuts. So, unless you are eating too much fruit at the expense of other foods, you can’t fail to obtain enough protein from a plant-based diet- so long as you are getting enough food.
Human milk is not only low in protein, it is also very high in carbohydrate. It is, by far, the sweetest of the milks with over 7% lactose by weight. No other milk comes close. That not only conditions the infant’s body to receiving a steady supply of sugar, it also conditions the baby’s tongue to a sweet taste. That’s why the foods that babies are most accepting of in weaning are sweet foods, such as blended cantaloupe and mashed banana.
The bottom line is that the composition of breast milk shows that humans are not high-protein feeders- not even when we are undergoing our most rapid period of growth. But, as a 60 year old man, I am not growing at all. I am just maintaining. So, how much protein do I need?
So, our question for the paleos is: Since human breast milk is the lowest protein milk on the planet, containing as low as .8% protein by weight, and yet babies grow just fine on it, doubling their birth weight in only six months, why should a high-protein diet be needed later in life, especially after growth has stopped?
The central tenet of the Paleolithic diet (also known as the Primal diet, as popularized by Mark Sisson) is that, for a very long time, humans ate a high-meat diet, and through the process of Biological Evolution, we became adapted to it. So, we have to keep doing it because it’s, well, our thing.
But, are we really well-adapted to it? I think there are good reasons to think that humans are not very well-adapted to a high-meat diet, that we are, in fact, mal-adapted to it.
Consider first: appendicitis. It is amazing that even today, there is little information disclosed about the causes of appendicitis. Supposedly, a person can be perfectly healthy- normal in every way- and then suddenly come down with life-threatening, acute appendicitis. “What a tough break, what a piece of bad luck that he should come down with appendicitis. He was the picture of health!” But, doesn’t it stand to reason that, regardless of how he looked on the outside, and regardless of how he felt, that there must have been something very morbid and abnormal on the inside for such a thing to happen?
Appendicitis is thought to be caused by an obstruction of the lumen of the appendix by hard, compacted stool. Sometimes, we hear that tomato seeds or other seeds are to blame, but that’s ridiculous. My goodness, if tomato seeds could cause appendicitis, we’d all be afflicted. The fact is that appendicitis is very much a meat-eater’s disease. Multiple studies have shown it- one being the Oxford Vegetarian Study as reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 1999. Plant fiber protects against appendicitis, and the more plant fiber you eat, the more protected you are. Another reference is: Emergency Appendectomy and Meat Consumption in the UK, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, December 1995. The incidence of appendicitis has actually declined, and that’s because eating plant foods, such as green salad, has become more commonplace. What I have observed is that eating an inordinately large portion of meat all at once can trigger appendicitis- especially in someone who is not used to it. Many times, for instance, I have heard about people going to a barbecue and pigging out and then coming down with appendicitis.
Some mammals have true appendices just like ours, while others have ends to their cecums that are different but still appendix-like. So, why is it that humans are the only ones inclined to develop appendicitis? And why is it that cats, and other pure carnivores, can eat 100% meat diets without developing appendicitis, or anything like it that is comparable to their anatomy and physiology, while humans succumb? I would argue that it’s because cats are adapted to a high-meat diet, while humans are not adapted to it.
Likewise, gallstones and gall bladder disease happen much less often among vegetarians. There is an attitude in Medicine that it’s time to get your gall bladder out when you’ve reached a certain age. That, of course, is nonsense. You should be able to go your whole life without having gall bladder problems. You shouldn’t hear a peep out of your gall bladder your whole life. You shouldn’t even know that your gall bladder exists- except for reading about it in a book.
Gallstones are made of cholesterol, and they form when the bile becomes super-saturated with cholesterol. And that comes from a high-meat diet. Many studies have confirmed it. Here’s one: Risk Factors for Gallstones in a Thai population, as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology, April 2009. There are many like it. And likewise, true carnivores can eat a 100% meat diet without corrupting their gallbladders. Polar bears live on seal, particularly seal fat, yet, they don’t get gall bladder disease from it. They, unlike us, are truly adapted to it.
Ditto for kidney stones. Again, lots of studies. Here’s a quote from “Kidney Calculi: Is diet a trigger?” from the German Medical Journal, March 2000: “Epidemiological studies confirm that a diet rich in meat protein carries an increased risk for forming urinary tract stones.” And again, do lions and tigers get kidney stones? Of course not. They’re not like us. Or, I should say: we’re not like them.
Gouty arthritis arises from the high purine content of meat which elevates uric acid in the blood. I’m not even going to give you a citation because it’s been known for centuries that heavy meat-eating triggers gout. That’s why they called gout the “disease of kings” because they were the only ones rich enough to afford to be able to eat the amounts of meat necessary to cause gout. Yet, in contrast, natural carnivores can clear uric acid from their blood no matter how much meat they eat. They’re adapted to it; we’re not.
Of course, I could also bring up cancer and heart disease and their correlations with meat-eating, but I will not because most people have heard about that; paleos are aware of it, and they do try to address it. And also please know that my purpose in addressing this whole issue is to not argue for radical vegetarianism. My purpose is to argue for a plant-based diet, which means, regardless of how you feel about hunting animals for food or raising them for food, that, in pure self-interest, you should eat primarily plant foods simply because it is in your best health interest to do so.
So, let’s frame this into a question for next year’s Ancestral Health Conference:
Heart disease and cancer have been correlated with a high-meat diet, and paleos have, at least, tried to address those issues. But what about other diseases, such as appendicitis, gall bladder disease, kidney stones, kidney failure, gout, inflammatory bowel disease, and others which have been strongly linked to meat consumption? Does it not challenge the assumption that humans are, through Biological Evolution, well-adapted to a high-meat diet?
Before leaving the subject of Evolution, I want to emphasize the significance of it. Humans were hunter/gatherers for a long time - for their entire existence up until 12,000 years ago. And, according to Evolutionary theory, 12,000 years is not long enough to bring about genetic adaptations. Therefore, we are still adapted to our original diet, the hunter/gatherer diet. Perhaps I should call it the HUNTER/gatherer diet because that’s how devotees really mean the term. But, what really is a hunter/gatherer diet? It simply means that people ate anything and everything they could get their hands on that was remotely edible, and it was determined mainly by what was growing and living and available in their range of travel. And that’s why hunter/gatherer diets vary so much in composition and proportion. The hunter/gatherer diet really isn’t a diet at all. It doesn't specify anything. We can speak of the natural diet of lions as antelope and zebras. And we can speak of the natural diet of zebras as grass. And we can speak of the natural diet of koalas as eucalyptus leaves. But, the hunter/gatherer diet was just humans being opportunistic about food wherever they were. It had less to do with genetics and more to do with circumstances. Why did the early humans of northern Europe eat so much meat? It wasn’t because of genes or Evolution; it was because of an ice age. There are many theories as to what causes ice ages: variations in the sun’s output and reduced sunspot activity, wobbles in the Earth’s orbit, continental drift, etc. But, it was very unlucky for humans that an ice age had to come along during our early development. There we were losing our body hair, becoming relatively hairless, during an ice age. And why did that trend continue? Why didn’t it reverse? Was it because we started covering ourselves with animal skins? But, we weren’t able to cover ourselves all that well. It seems like Evolution would have “selected” more body hair, but it didn’t. The trend towards less body hair continued despite the ice age. We need to admit that we do not know how and why life developed the way it did on Earth, including human life.
But, let’s move on to our next question for the paleos, and it concerns human protein needs. It is widely agreed among biochemists that most of the calories in food are used as fuel. We use proteins to build and maintain structures and to make various functional compounds, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies. But our total need for protein isn’t that great. The US government, which is no enemy of the beef and dairy trusts, says that adults need about 60 grams of protein a day, which is about 2 ounces- a little more for men and a little less for women. 60 grams of protein comes to 240 calories, and if a man gets 2400 calories total, that comes to 10% of calories. The government admits that there is a significant “safety factor” (excess) built in to that figure, and other organizations, such as the World Health Organization, cite a much lower requirement.
This issue of how much protein we need has been studied in great technical detail, including rates of enzyme turnover, rates of muscle tissue breakdown from exertion, rates of hormone, and immunoglobulin production, etc. One researcher who has studied it a lot is Dr. Mark Hegsted of Harvard University, and he concluded from his vast work that, based on all the considerations for protein utilization in the body, that humans need .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So I, for instance, weighing 61 kilos, would need 48.8 grams of protein a day.
We know for certain that any amount of protein consumed above the basal requirement gets broken down, deaminized, and burned- either like a carbohydrate (as with glucogenic amino acids) or like a fat (as with ketogenic amino acids). And for now, let’s put aside the whole issue of muscling-up and bodybuilding. Let’s just talk about people like myself: an adult who wants to stay fit and maintain his muscles but not grow them larger. The amount of protein that I need to do that is not very much. And any protein I eat in excess of that is going to be dismantled and burned.
So, we can use protein as a fuel. So, what’s the big deal? The big deal is that 15% of the amino acid is nitrogenous, and nitrogen doesn’t burn. When that amino group (NH2) gets split off, it immediately tends to pick up another hydrogen (since nitrogen has three hands) forming NH3 which is ammonia. You know how caustic and irritating ammonia is. Burns the nose, right? Well, it burns inside of you as well. The body has to get rid of ammonia pronto, so it combines two amino groups with one molecule of carbon dioxide to form a different substance: urea. Urea is essentially non-irritating. It is a waste product, but it doesn’t burn like ammonia. So, it’s easier to handle. The more protein you eat, the more urea you form. And the more urea you form, the greater the burden on your liver and particularly your kidneys.
If you don’t die of anything else sooner, you will eventually die of kidney failure. That’s because the kidneys are gradually breaking down throughout life. You’re losing nephrons, which are the functional units of the kidneys, and they aren’t being replaced. And when you don’t have enough working nephrons any more, you either go on dialysis, or you get a kidney transplant, or you die. There’s not much you can do for your kidneys, except not to abuse them. You abuse them by taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and by smoking. Excess salt also abuses the kidneys. And excess protein abuses the kidneys as well, since the kidneys have to do the work of eliminating the excess urea.
Carbohydrates burn clean: all the way down to carbon dioxide and water. Imagine if there were cars whose exhaust was nothing but carbon dioxide and water vapor. There would be no air pollution! And even fats burn pretty cleanly. They too, eventually, get down to carbon dioxide and water- but along the way they form keto-acids which can cause trouble- but only if you’re diabetic. But, proteins never burn clean. You could say that proteins make black smoke.
People who eat high-protein diets tend to have higher levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN). Ideally, BUN should be in the teens. I have even seen it in the single digits in people who scrimp on protein. But people who eat high-protein diets are usually in the 20s, and sometimes in the 30s, and I don’t consider it a good thing or a harmless thing. Why should turning the blood more urinous be considered OK?
So, my question for the paleos at next year’s Ancestral Health Conference is:
Since research, such as that of Dr. Mark Hegsted, has demonstrated a human need for protein along the order of .8 grams per kilo of body weight, what is the advantage in consuming vastly more than that, as people commonly do when eating paleo diets? And even if you think it is harmless, what good reason is there to do it? Why doesn’t it make sense to eat only as much protein as is needed to maintain bodily structure and function, and not use protein as a fuel?
And I’ll close by saying that if they try to argue that vastly greater amounts of protein are needed to maintain structure and function, I will have to hit the penalty button. I am 5’6” and I weigh 136 pounds. And frankly, I am more solid and muscular than most men my age, which is 60. And I eat a plant-based diet that is practically vegan. I eat no meat, no fish, and no dairy. Occasionally, I eat a free-range, organic egg, but that’s it for animal food- and not every day. Mainly I eat plants, including lots of fruits, vegetables, starches, and raw nuts. I AM maintaining my structure and function, and they can't tell me otherwise. I don't claim to be the strongest man in the world, but if there is heavy furniture to move, don't worry, I can handle my end. If you can lift it, I can lift it.