Saturday, December 10, 2011
Primitive Nutrition Critique of Paleo Diet Conceptual Framework, Part 2
Paleo diet proponents promote their viewpoint as a scientific revolution akin to the Copernican revolution.
In his contribution to The Protein Debate , Loren Cordain claims that “The study of human nutrition remains an immature science because it lacks a universally acknowledged unifying paradigm." Apparently he thinks other sciences are "mature," i.e. virtually completed, which would be news to physicists, astrophysicists, chemists, and biologists, most of whom know that we have only scratched the surface of the world we study.
He goes on to claim that “nothing in nutrition seems to make sense because most nutritionists have little or no formal training in evolutionary theory, much less human evolution. Nutritionists face the same problem as anyone who is not using an evolutionary model to evaluate biology: fragmented information and no coherent way to interpret the data.”
I don’t know why he thinks nothing in nutrition seems to make sense. Does he really think that if you open a textbook of nutrition, nothing in that book makes sense? Are those chapters telling us about the scientifically established nutrient requirements of humans just gibberish to him?
Perhaps he thinks this because there seems to be a general scientific consensus that we can improve our health prospects by reducing animal food consumption, but he prefers to eat a lot of meat. The American Heart Association, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and numerous other scientific medical organizations recommend eating more plant-based diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, while reducing intake of animal products. Naturally, for someone who fervently believes in a low carbohydrate, high meat diet, the recommendations of the American Heart Association and the American Institute for Cancer Research don’t make sense.
Cordain sees his mission as providing a “universally acknowledged unifying paradigm” through his paleo diet hypothesis. According to him, we can ‘make sense’ of all the ‘confusing’ information he sees “By carefully examining the ancient environment under which our genome arose.” Here's a snapshot of his claim in The Protein Debate:
Certainly, nothing can be easier to do than examine the ancient environment under which our genome arose. We'll just get into our handy time machine that will take us back 200 million years to the emergence of the first mammals (a large part of the human genome emerged that long ago; we are a variation on a biological theme, not a totally unique entity) so we can “carefully examine” that environment first hand, rather than examine imaginary reconstructions offered by various creative minds.
Similarly Rob Wolf refers to non-believers in the paleo diet paradigm as similar to members of the “flat-earth society,” implying that paleo believers are akin to Copernicus, while non-believers are akin to those who still believe that the earth is ‘flat.’
Paleo advocates also claim to be bucking ‘conventional wisdom,’ again implying that they have the advance take on diet and everyone else is in the dark ages believing in the nutritional equivalent of a ‘flat earth.’
So let’s see, which of these two statements is more aligned with ‘conventional wisdom’ and which is more ‘revolutionary’ in the context of historical and recent beliefs about human nutrition, biology, and medicine?
Loren Cordain’s Paleo Belief: Humans must eat meat to obtain adequate protein and other nutrients, to build muscle mass and excel athletically, to maintain intelligence, and to maintain health. People can reverse disease by eating more animal products and less plant foods.
T. Colin Campbell’s Vegan Belief: Humans do not need to eat any animal products to obtain adequate protein and other nutrients, to build muscle mass, to excel athletically, to maintain intelligence, or to maintain health. We can reverse diseases by eating more plant foods and avoiding animal foods.
Given that approximately 98 percent of people in the U.S.A. eats meat on a daily basis, and many (including many paleo diet adherents) will immediately ask a vegan advocate “But where do you get your protein?” I submit that the paleo diet belief is far from revolutionary, indeed I might consider it reactionary.
Let me put it this way. At this present time, very few people accept the idea that a vegan diet can adequately provide protein and general nutrition to the average human, which explains why very few people eat vegan diets. Most people ‘believe’ that we need to eat meat, the way that, at the time of Copernicus, most people believed in a flat earth at the center of the sun’s orbit.
This belief in the importance of meat to human nutrition has a long history. I know of no time in Euro-American history when Campbell’s vegan belief was as widely accepted as the belief in a geocentric universe was at the time of Copernicus. On the contrary, the vegetarian perspective has been accepted by only a minority of people, mostly philosophers (e.g. Plato, Pythagorus) and medical doctors (e.g. Christoph Hufeland), throughout the history of Western civilization since the time of the Greeks.
In fact, T. Colin Campbell himself was initially indoctrinated to believe in meat and animal protein as critical to human health. It was only through research that he came to reject this widely accepted belief. That makes him more like Copernicus, challenging the widely held assumptions of his generation, whereas Cordain is simply agreeing with the long widely held belief that we have to eat meat to be healthy, smart, strong, and human.
Further, the idea that a vegan diet can reverse degenerative diseases contradicts the long-held belief of Western medical scientists that diet alone is inadequate for treatment of disease. The orthodoxy believes in eating meat and using drugs and surgery to treat disease. The revolutionary believes in avoiding meat and using a vegan diet as the primary tool in treatment of disease.
It seems to me that Cordain's paleo diet view aligns more with conventional wisdom and has more in common with the 'flat earth society,' and Campbell's vegan view bucks conventional wisdom and has more in common with Copernicus.
That’s my introduction to these two videos from PrimitiveNutrition which explore in greater depth the poor reasoning behind the paleo 'paradigm' starting with the fallacious appeal to nature (i.e. Eating meat is natural, therefore eating meat is optimal) which itself is based on a short-range view of 'natural' behaviors and their consequences (homicide is also natural, but if we all acted homicidal, we would be suicidal).