The other day I got an email (I guess I’m on his list) that there’s a launch of a brand new website and I put out on Facebook something like: The 2002 Understanding of Paleo Update.
His website says this in the tagline:
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., The World’s Leading Expert on Paleolithic Diets and Founder of The Paleo Movement
I contend that both of those claims are false. Let’s deal with the second claim fist. Unless the good folks keeping the Wikipedia page up to date are way off base, Cordain is nowhere to be seen as the founder.
First popularized in the mid-1970s by gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin, it has been promoted and adapted by a number of authors and researchers in several books and academic journals. A common theme in evolutionary medicine. Gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin was one of the first to suggest that following a diet similar to that of the Paleolithic era would improve a person’s health. In 1975, he self-published The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man, in which he argued that humans are carnivorous animals. He noted that the ancestral Paleolithic diet was that of a carnivore — chiefly fats and protein, with small amounts of carbohydrates. His dietary prescriptions were based on his own medical treatments of various digestive problems, namely colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and indigestion.
In 1985, S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, published a paper on Paleolithic nutrition in the New England Journal of Medicine, which attracted wider mainstream medical attention to the concept. Three years later, S. Boyd Eaton, Konner, and Marjorie Shostak published a book about this nutritional approach, which was based on achieving the same proportions of nutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals) as were present in the diets of late Paleolithic people. It did not exclude foods that were not available before the development of agriculture. As such, this nutritional approach included skimmed milk, whole-grain bread, brown rice, and potatoes prepared without fat, on the premise that such foods supported a diet with the same macronutrient composition as the Paleolithic diet. In 1989, these authors published a second book on Paleolithic nutrition.
Starting in 1989, Staffan Lindeberg led scientific surveys of the non-westernized population on Kitava, one of the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. These surveys, collectively referred to as the Kitava Study, found that this population apparently did not suffer from stroke, ischemic heart disease, diabetes, obesity or hypertension. Starting with the first publication in 1993, scholars with the Kitava Study have published a number of scientific works on the relationship between diet and western disease. In 2003, Lindeberg published a Swedish-language medical textbook on the subject. In 2010, this book was wholly revised, updated, translated and published for the first time in English.
Since the end of the 1990s, a number of medical doctors and nutritionists have advocated a return to a so-called Paleolithic (preagricultural) diet. Proponents of this nutritional approach have published books and created websites to promote their dietary prescriptions. They have synthesized diets from modern foods that emulate nutritional characteristics of the ancient Paleolithic diet. Some of these allow specific foods that would have been unavailable to pre-agricultural peoples, such as some animal products (i.e. dairy), processed oils, and beverages.
Those superscripts are all the many references, which you can see right here. So, uh, seriously, Dr. Cordain? The founder? C’mon, man!
Alright, now onto the claim that he’s the world’s leading expert on the subject. Well, see above, for one, but I have a question: has he changed his position on anything much since his first book was published in 2002? Isn’t it the same low carb, lean meats, zero dairy, grains, or legumes deal it always was?
To my knowledge, his entire schtick as concerns legumes is essentially 2002 verbatim but: Down the Rabbit Hole: When Phytate Becomes a Nutrient.
And now there’s this gem: Beans, Beans the Magical Fruit: Why the Paleo Diet Should Not Exclude Legumes, by Hillary Hubert in Popular Anthropology Magazine, 2013. It’s a very short read yet still manages to pack in 27 references to the literature and other primary sources.
Paleo promoters typically make two arguments: Paleolithic humans did not eat many legumes, and legumes have “antinutritional” properties (i.e., compounds that interfere with nutrient absorption) that make them not worth eating. Both of these claims are misleading. I am granting them attention because I find the basic notion that we should eat nutrients in similar proportions to our Paleolithic ancestors very compelling. There are valid arguments for eliminating dairy and grains from the diet in the various Paleo diet publications, but legumes are unfairly targeted.
Earlier versions of the Paleo Diet (e.g., Eaton et al. 1988; Voegtlin 1975) do not recommend excluding legumes. It is not clear where the idea that Paleolithic humans did not use legumes originated, but even legitimate scientists (e.g., Drs. Loren Cordain and Staffan Lindeberg) make this claim, while providing no appropriate citations. The pattern is to lump legumes with grains and then cite sources that discuss grains only (e.g., Cordain 2002, 2009; Lindeberg 2005, 2009). Ironically, Lindeberg (2009:44) writes that legumes were “practically unavailable in the Paleolithic” in the very same volume that Jones (2009) reviews the abundant evidence that legumes were an important part of the diet of Paleolithic humans, as well as the diets of other primates like chimpanzees. Legumes have been found in Middle and Upper Paleolithic assemblages from humans in Israel, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Albania, and Spain, in some sites being the dominant type of plant food found (Jones 2009; Lev et al. 2005; Savard et al. 2006). This is unsurprising given the vast geographical range of legumes. It is likely that neandertals used legumes as food too, and may have even cooked them (Henry et al. 2011).
[…] Nearly every article I have read claims that legumes should be avoided because of their “antinutritional” properties. This research is old by scientific standards. As understanding of their properties has increased, scientists have reevaluated the term “antinutritional,” widely concluding that not only do the benefits of legumes outweigh the negative effects, the negative effects are largely eliminated in cooking (Bouchenak and Lamri-Senhadji 2013; Campos-Vega et al. 2010; Roy et al. 2010). Humorously, many Paleo Diet bloggers claim that Paleolithic humans ate their food raw, so would not have been able to tolerate legumes. Even Dr. Loren Cordain (1999) tends in this direction when he asks whether legumes could be “realistically eaten as a staple by primitive groups without cooking.” Traditional legume preparation worldwide involves soaking and then cooking (Bouchenak and Lamri-Senhadji 2013; Campos-Vega et al. 2010).
[…] [W]hen Lindeberg (2009) writes that legumes are problematic because they have phytates, substances found in plant tissues that inhibit absorption of nutrients, he cites three articles (the most recent of which is nearly 20 years old), all specifically about the effects of wheat bran on iron absorption; not one even mentions legumes. […]
To summarize their nutritional quality, legumes have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, and hypotensive properties, as well as are effective in prevention of diabetes, osteoporosis, DNA damage due to aging, heart disease, and other disorders (Bouchenak and Lamri-Senhadji 2013; Campos-Vega et al. 2010; Roy et al. 2010). Just do not eat them raw.
[…] I like to imagine that this negativity toward legumes is intimately tied to human dislike of flatulence. Why else exclude a food group that is so nutritionally rich, has a deep history of being eaten by hominins and other primates, is one of the most concentrated sources of fiber available to humans, is inexpensive and widely available, and is so very delicious?
“The World’s Leading Expert.” Uh, yea, got it.