Malnutrition –> Health Degeneration –> Obesity & Other Diseases of Civilization

Notice I don’t have carbohydrates, per se, in that chain of causality.

The idea, simply stated, is that perhaps the very root and fundamental cause of obesity and other “diseases of civilization”—obesity being a good ill-health marker—is malnutrition. But, because food is plentiful and we’re not talking about malnutrition in terms of chronic caloric deficit, the malnutrition is subclinical, i.e., no obvious micronutrient deficiencies such as would usher in rickets, scurvy, and other well-documented, easy-to-spot diseases arising out of micronutrient deficiencies like vitamin D, C, or others. Or, to put it another way, sufficient or even excess macronutrient nutrition in the face of mal-micronutrient-nutrition.

This is an idea that’s been brewing for some time and in fact, while not stating it explicitly in my book draft because I’m still thinking about it and would like to get more input, I did focus substantially on nutrition vis-à-vis the nutritional density of quality animal foods/fat and whole plant foods being crowded out by processed and fast foods, alternatively known as crap-in-a-bag/box/bottle. In other words, nutritionally bankrupt calories sufficient for energy utilization, insufficient for adequate or optimal biochemical and hormonal functioning.

Neither is the idea new, I don’t think; and anyone familiar with the work of Dr. Weston A. Price will immediately know what I mean. It’s just that thanks to the great work of both Dr. Stephan Guyenet and almost-Dr. Chris Masterjohn over the years, my understanding—or perhaps synthesis—of all the information at hand is working to give me a better understanding, way of thinking, et cetera…that I can then convey to you…in particular, recognizing that my readership goes from those who’ve been here for the duration, to those who popped in days, weeks or only a few months ago and who stick around to “see what he’ll say next.”

Stephan was the very first to open my eyes to the world beyond an Atkin’s style, low carb diet (at the time, I had yet to make even basic, dutiful distinctions between Atkins and De Vany’s EvFit), when near the very start of his blog back in 2007 or ’08, he began blogging about the marvelous health of relatively “primitive” populations; or at least, those existing on diets of Real Food without a lot of interaction with the industrial world (…as though those people aren’t industrious…but you know what I mean). At that time, I pretty much thought it was all about carbs. Enter Chris Masterjohn, via Stephan, and the very first thing he referenced was a specific micronutrient—Activator X or, Vitamin K2 MK-4 Menatetrenone most likely—that Price had isolated in his worldwide research of primitive peoples in the 1930s, and that he ultimately used to halt and reverse tooth decay (remineralize cavities), another huge marker of ill health. He was a dentist.

(I have for years used roughly that same formulation to keep my teeth pearly white and smooth, with little need of brushing, no need of flossing…and this…after having two surgeries in the early 2000s for gum disease.)

Now enter Gary Taubes and his fine work. I know there has been a materially relevant dispute going on between he and Stephan, but I’ll set that aside because it really doesn’t matter much to me. The ideas of both have seemed, in my awareness, to have evolved and developed over the years and I see no reason for that not to continue. I trust that it will.

…Where all the parties are honest dealers and continue in their searches and exchanges of information and ideas, things tend to run toward synthesis. In the end, it’s highly likely that two honest dealers can actually both be wrong—or some melange of wrong & right—but that the one’s thesis vs. the other’s antithesis, and vice versa, result in an overall synthesis more right than at the outset…and the process continues.

To be clear, I’m not making any just-so judgments on their respective ideas at this point; I’m simply describing a process of gaining knowledge—whether that German dialectic process is best attributed to Hegel, Kant, Fichte…or even Marx or Engels—that I believe all of us have been engaged in for years now, and it’s very healthy.

Stay honest. We may never get there but we can get ever closer. It’s…mathematical.

I could have chosen to write this post without even mentioning any of the foregoing gentlemen. On the other hand, I’ve had the privilege of meeting all of them in person, with email correspondence with Stephan for a very long time, and to a shorter extent, email exchanges with Chris & Gary. Here’s the deal: none of them ever try to persuade me to any view explicitly, and they never come off as authoritative even though I see them as such, relative to me. It’s always, always, about thinking. They deal with me honestly.

…When I was scouring the Internet for some things I could use in my book that I’d never blogged about, one of the top choices was this, by Chris Masterjohn: Understanding Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom.

First time that post from October of last year has ever been linked to, here; and while I’ve been aware of it for a couple of months, it’s like one of those early Stephan posts that I chewed on for weeks or months before blogging about. It’s kinda funny. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration ought to be enough, one might think. But it wasn’t until that Masterjohn post that I began to draw a more comprehensive and meaningful distinction between paleo and Ancestral Health or Wisdom.

paleo is the given; the evolutionary, environmentally given. It’s what you have available in any environment and if ultimately insufficient, you have to move on or suffer consequences. Enter cost/benefit dynamics and potential degeneration—as an acceptable cost over other alternatives or risk undertaking. Remember that these people were foremost and always: on their own. It’s also a long process of gaining wisdom; so while paleo is broader, it covers only survival…presumably, with the ability to migrate when survival becomes too hard or impossible. Then, Ancestral health ushers in the idea of enhanced or, optimal paleo in my view…or even better dealing with neolithic food (soaking, sprouting, fermenting, etc.). No longer is it merely sufficient to kill meat and gather veggies, tubers and nuts. You’re going for the big nutritional bang!

Money quote:

If rampant tooth decay can occur without the introduction of modern industrial foods, as it did during the Archaic period among the lower Pecos hunter-gatherers in Texas, what was it that protected many of the “primitive” groups that Price studied? In Price’s view, this protection resulted not simply by accident, but from accumulated wisdom. Indeed, he wrote the following:

“In my studies of these several racial stocks I find that it is not accident but accumulated wisdom regarding food that lies behind their physical excellence and freedom from our modern degenerative processes, and, further, that on various sides of our world the primitive people know many of the things that are essential for life—things that our modern civilizations apparently do not know. These are the fundamental truths of life that have put them in harmony with Nature through obeying her nutritional laws. Whence this wisdom? Was there in the distant past a world civilization that was better attuned to Nature’s laws and have these remnants retained that knowledge? If this is not the explanation, it must be that these various primitive racial stocks have been able through a superior skill in interpreting cause and effect, to determine for themselves what foods in their environment are best for producing human bodies with a maximum of physical fitness and resistance to degeneration.

“A very important phase of my investigations has been the obtaining of information from these various primitive racial groups indicating that they were conscious that such injuries would occur if the parents were not in excellent physical condition and nourishment.”

Indeed, Price stated that “some of the primitive races have avoided certain of the life problems faced by modernized groups,” not that all of them had. To Price, it was not primitiveness itself that proved protection, but the wisdom that the successful groups had accumulated over time. Presumably they had learned through trial and error processes that involved mistakes, or else they could never have had any consciousness about the types of injuries that would occur without proper nourishment.

So, perhaps we have reason to consider evolution not only on a level of genes and biochemical processes, but individual behavior and more: social behavior. I’ll save the rant about forcing social behavior and being willing accomplices to the forcing of others—in a quest to live at their expense—for another post…

For the time being, let’s focus on the wisdom of people who’ve never watched a TV show in their lives, listened to a radio program, nor read any of the classics…not to mention any recent thing I could reference in an instant on PubMed. I continue with Chris, citing Price’s finding, duly summarized (references are included in the link, above).

  • The natives often went to great lengths to nourish their soil. After heavy rains, the Swiss villagers would collect runaway soil by hand and return it to their pastures and fields. Their milk products were several times higher in fat-soluble vitamins than the equivalent milk products from most European and American sources, including lower Switzerland. The Gaelics of the Outer Hebrides collected the residue of the smoke of peat fires to fertilize their soil, which Price confirmed to be highly effective using a laboratory experiment.
  • The natives of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory knew of scurvy, and prevented it by using the vitamin C-rich adrenal glands of moose. These natives also had a plant product that they used for the prevention and cure of type-one diabetes. Price cited evidence that Canadian natives of the sixteenth century also knew that a drink made from the roots of spruce trees could also prevent scurvy. He cited another case in which a native cured xerophthalmia with vitamin A-rich flesh behind fish eyes.
  • The natives of the Andes, central Africa, and Australia all carried knapsacks with balls of clay that they would use to dip in their food to prevent “sick stomach.”
  • The natives he studied practiced systematic child spacing of two and one-half to four years, and used special diets for pregnancy, lactation, and pre-conception, always for the mother and sometimes for the father.
  • Many of the groups would wrap newborns in an absorbent moss that was changed daily but would not wash the baby until several weeks after birth, which prevented irritation and infection of the skin.
  • In some of the Pacific Islands, inland-dwelling groups relying mostly on plant products understood their need for shellfish and thus engaged in trade with the coast-dwelling populations to obtain these foods. This trade continued even during war time, although war was often started during famines when certain members of the inlanddwelling populations would turn to cannibalism and attempts to hunt coast-dwelling fishermen.
  • Price observed that the “knowledge of veterinary science is quite remarkable” among the Masai and that they knew of the protective effect of malaria against syphilis.
  • The Peruvian natives invented the antimalaria drug quinine.
  • Natives of the Andes knew of goiter, and used kelp to prevent it. Some African groups also knew of goiter and treated it with various iodine-rich plant foods.
  • Price noted that “probably few primitive races have developed calisthenics and systematic physical exercise to so high a point as the primitive Maori. . . . This has a remarkably beneficial effect in not only developing deep breathing, but in developing the muscles of the body, particularly those of the abdomen, with the result that these people maintain excellent figures to old age”. Price considered not only their diet but their “system of social organization” to be responsible for their development of “what was reported by early scientists to be the most physically perfect race living on the face of the earth.”

Now you know why I so often say that no matter what: you’re on your own. But when I say that, what I really mean is that you and yours are on your own and the foregoing ought to illustrate it well. You do it together and in small groups, where each member’s contribution is important to all. It’s a far cry from centralized authority over a population of millions.

So why in the world include Gary in all this? Isn’t he about carbs and only about the carbs? Maybe, maybe not, but what I intend to highlight is a little context. And frankly, he’s given many statements over the years to signal his willingness to go with the science (“maybe potatoes are fine,” as I recall, going way back). But he also gave an interview that was just published: FiveBooks Interviews > Gary Taubes on Dieting. Other than Sisson’s Primal Blueprint as a rather surprise recommendation from Gary, what other book do you suppose he recommended?

Do I need to ask? Hence, the synthesis, and the sense that when you are dealing with honest people, things tend toward convergence, and everyone’s better off. Quoting Taubes.

Weston Price was a great dental scientist and did some really important work. What I didn’t know when I read this for the first time is that Weston Price’s book was the culmination of a long line of dental research in the first half of the 20th century, demonstrating that high fat diets are required in childhood when teeth are developing, to protect against cavities. Weston Price travelled around the world with his wife – whom he refers to as Mrs Price – and did his 1930s equivalent of controlled dietary experiments. He visited populations that were so isolated that they didn’t have access to modern Western foods (ie refined flour and sugar or refined white rice) and he compared their teeth, gums and jaws to people of similar genetic stock that did eat Western food.

He began high in the Swiss Alps, in a village that is a mile above the nearest road, and he compared their teeth and jaws to the Swiss living in one of the major Swiss cities. He visited pygmies in Central Africa, and a variety of African tribes, Native American populations, Inuits and South Pacific islanders. Everywhere he went he took photos of their teeth and jaws. So you’ve got these populations that eat no sugar and refined flour with beautiful white teeth and perfect jaws, and other populations with the same genetic background, but living near Westerns outposts or cities or trading with the West. Not only were the kids’ mouths riddled with cavities, but their jaws were a mess…

You just look at the pictures. People who were eating refined flour and sugar were a mess, and people who weren’t seem to have been very healthy. It’s hard to tell with this kind of research, but as far as what was done in the era, Price did a pretty good job of convincing readers – he certainly convinced me – that there is something going on when you add Western food to any baseline diet. This is not modern science, it’s not something you can base public health recommendations on, but it is a book that can change your paradigm about what’s healthy and what’s not. And it’s a good read…

He’s a great storyteller. There are parts that I didn’t even believe could be true…You think this is crazy, and then you turn the page and there’s a photo of Mrs. Price, a dowdy-looking middle-aged woman in a pith helmet and a long skirt, standing next to two pygmies with two enormous elephant tusks towering above them.

Then, after some discussion of dental health vs. other health markers, Gary continues:

One of the fundamental observations that I discuss in Good Calories, Bad Calories is the absence of cancer in populations that do not eat Western diets. We think of cancer as inevitable. But the chief statistician of the Prudential Insurance Company, who later became one of the founders of the American Cancer Society, compiled the observations that populations that don’t eat Western diets don’t get cancer nearly as much.

One of the explanations put forward in the early 20th century was that the meat in Western diets was the cause of cancer. But people at the time pointed out that the same absence of cancer is true of the Inuit, the Native Americans of the Great Plains and pastoral populations like the Masai. These are people who live exclusively on animal products – so whatever is causing the cancer, it’s unlikely to be that.

There is now a growing body of research showing that insulin and insulin-like growth factor are cancer promoters. I actually have a five page article about this research in the journal Science today. The idea is that you avoid cancer by keeping insulin levels as low as possible, which means avoiding these same fattening carbohydrates we’ve been talking about, and arguably eating an animal product, fat-rich diet. It’s the same type of diet we’ve been eating for two million years, prior to agriculture, and the same diet that many of these indigenous populations were still eating through the early 20th century. Actually, while I was doing research for this story I interviewed the head of the cancer research centre at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School, as well as Craig Thompson, the president of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in Manhattan. Both of them told me they were effectively on the Atkins diet – very low carb, high fat, mostly animal products – not because they wanted to lose weight, but because they didn’t want to get cancer. [emphasis added]

It’s interesting to me how, over the years, if you look up my post record, I go back and forth. I’ll go long spaces of time where’s it’s all about the fat loss. But I have done a lot of posts on cancer and its relative absence amongst primitive peoples and how refined sugar is probably a big factor (and vitamin D deficiency—and epidemiology of dark skins living at high latitudes being my next interest), not to mention how intermittent fasting might help in prevention. But that ought to be easy to understand. Cancer is rare amongst animals in the wild. We’re animals, but largely domesticated. That makes a difference.

The thing about Gary’s book, Good Calories, Bad Caloeies, that most resonated with me was not, in fact, his position on the role of carbohydrates, per se, in obesity, but 1) his heroic effort in digging up pre-WWII research on obesity, demonstrating that that a World War shifted focus and lost knowledge, and 2) his slaying of the Hydra-headed monster of the dual saturated fat and cholesterol cons.

…So let’s find a way to try and synthesize all of this.

First, in deference to Gary, I do think that carbohydrate plays an important role in obesity, but that it’s possibly a downstream contributor, after malnutrition and subclinical ill health. And, of course, that the processed packages carbohydrate comes in is implicated in malnutrition by crowding out nutrients. Chris: paleo is absolutely a mere “given foundation,” and being at the top of the food chain, we can do better than the evolutionarily given. We can optimize, pass along wisdom, and thrive better. Stephan: I do think that food reward plays an important role in obesity, but I think it’s a modern aberration. Or, I’m sure that many H-Gs find their food highly rewarding on many levels, not the least of which is their satisfaction in being able to do it all on their own.

In short, all of these guys are doing exactly what they should be doing—pursuing a passion to gain more knowledge and put it out there, get feedback, and hit the lab or keyboard, as applicable.

In terms of carbohydrate as a contributor to obesity, in no particular order:

  • All carbohydrate is not created equal. Not only are some natural, and some manufactured, but the natural ones contain natural nutrients, anti-nutrients, toxins and even poisons. The manufactured ones contain far more unknowns in composition. And ancient wisdom has tended to separate out known nutrients from the others, or in various ways, contend with some of them.
  • All people—all individuals, populations and cultures—are not evolved equal. Not only do we have environment to consider—equator to arctic, sea level to high-altitude—but now, mass migration. Then gender, then fertility, and so on. In addition, we have to consider pedigree. An individual that never consumed processed food likely has a metabolism that functions in different ways and on different levels from someone who grew up eating crap-in-a-box. Or, how about modern migration, where dark skins are living at extreme latitudes and white skins at the equator?
  • Carbohydrate has been a valuable canary in the coal mine. That’s because carbohydrate is cheap-ass, compared to other foods and as such, has been exploited by clever marketing. Essentially, you can take the same wheat-based carbs, toss in some fat, protein and SUGAR (then the other 2-3 inches of ingredients on the label), and create a myriad of different enticing products to line shelves or to be served up “fresh” at fast food outlets. The textures and flavors can be as different as is a raw oyster to a too-tough steak, and even the macro-nutrient ratios of carb/protein/ fat can differ somewhat…but the micronutrient profiles will remain the same: crap.
  • Most modern, processed carbohydrate comes packaged with a plethora of “confounding variables,” because it’s processed, needs preservation…not to mention colors and textures to make it enticing and competitive contra all the other stuff you’re “hunting and gathering” into your shopping cart…quite unlike going for the venison buck with a 4-point rack vs. a 3-point.
  • When you restrict carbohydrate intake in modern society, that means you are typically replacing processed crap-in-a-bag/box/bottle with real foods like meat, fish, fowl, veggies, fruits and nuts that you have to “process” at home: cook & prepare. At least, it used to be that way, even with Atkins at the outset. Then they, too, fell victim to the profiteering of offering various dubious concoctions of processed stuff, only it was “low carb.”
  • When you restrict carbohydrate intake in a primitive society, particularly a more tropical one, you may starve, unless you move on. One presumes, logically, that they are exploiting their food resources in the most optimal way considering cost, risk, time, etc.

Concerning the foregoing….

I’m a big fan of Karl Popper and falsifiability. Over the years, many have objected, but my reply has always been that Popper applies only to scientific propositions and it always ends there, because I’m completely right about that. It’s simply not science if an actual formal hypothesis is advanced and there’s no way for a test to render it…FALSE. That ought to come as mere common sense. For example, if I hypothesize that every 1,000 times tossing of a coin will result in 500 heads and 500 tails, owing to some “law of large numbers” (and lots of tedious math), that’s testable, and of course, it’s false. It won’t always come down to that, precisely. The cool part is that’s certainty. The proposition is forever false, no need to revisit: done. You are CERTAIN!

And if I say that “all swans are white,” that’s equally testable, but other factors such as environment and context get introduced. For a long time, that’s what people believed, ’cause they never observed a counter-exapmple. …Until Australia was discovered, and their black swans.

That second example is materially different from the first, because in the context of knowledge at the time, while one could not say it was absolutely true, one could say that it wasn’t false so far as all knowledge and observation was concerned. The entire relevant context had not yet been explored (we knew there were unexplored lands in the world). But now we can say it’s false, absolutely. We can lay it to rest.

(Just one more thing: faith based-beliefs are not falsifiable, and thus, they are not science. It’s why they call them “faith based.”)

OK, with all that in mind, I have, for a number of years, considered the idea that “carbohydrates alone cause obesity” falsified. On point, with all lean and healthy populations:

Yes, this is an absolute; we’re done, nothing more to see here concerning an hypothesis that carbohydrate—as an independent variable—absolutely causes obesity amongst human animals. That hypothesis has been falsified. Nothing more to think about, and for God’s sake, wast time and money on.

So, are Gary’s ideas dead?

I don’t think so.

How many smart naturalists in all disciplines in the UK at the very dawn of excellent science figured that all swans were white? And owing to the disparity in time, distance and environment, had a disease cropped up specific to the white swan of the species, could that not have been dealt with competently, without reference to the as-yet undiscovered reality of black swans?

…Ah, so now we get down to it.

The obesity epidemic and all the downstream diseases are applicable only to “white swans.” This is what was largely known in a rather xenophobic, isolationist or even elitist burgeoning industrial society way back. You can fault them for that if you like, but it’s irrelevant to the science, much of which Gary unearthed in his first book (now unpack the metaphor: it was about obesity research in a similar vacuum, that being modern people eating modern food, much of it of poor nutritional value).

I haven’t asked him to weigh in on this idea—he’s a lot bigger than me and he played football—but how can you fault a guy for being totally honest about white swans and their hardships while being innocently ignorant of the confounding black swans and their experience?

In the end, all I have really heard Gary admonish is to please test it. While it’s hard enough as it is for him even to get that done, I have some thoughts along those lines.

But first, some observations about the state of the research, such as it is. It’s no secret that the state of current research focusses on macronutrients. Carbohydrate. Fat. Protein. Ratios. The most I see is some studies that separate out sub-categories of fat into saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (how about chain lengths within each?). There may be additional attention to detail, but I don’t know.

But unless I’ve been off grid, I just a can’t think of any studies that take into account micronutrients as a major role in obesity. No wonder. That would up the game substantially, owing to the introduction of quite a few more variables. So let us now go forth with a steam of consciousness, as to how we might get a better sense and idea of things—and even if never done, let it serve as a beacon against certainly until it is.

  • Imagine testing two isocaloric diets against one another, and even the same proportion of macronutrients. Let’s do 70% carb / 15% each of protein & fat. But, the kicker is that one group gets their food in boxes and the other, from wise people flown in from some isolated island. Test the markers over time, including body composition.
  • Then, make it crossover after a month or three, so each group of subjects shifts diets. Test again.
  • Then, reverse it: 70% fat, 15% each of the other two. Do a crossover as well.
  • Or, how about one group eats just real food and the other crap-in-a-box, no restrictions at all on caloric intake or macro-ratios? You object? That’s already been done! It’s already real reality! We already know how it comes out. Its life; it’s the white swan and the heretofore unknown black, because now we know about black swans. Indeed. It should be enough. It obviously isn’t. For you it is, but real people are stupid people, and until they know better, “just people.” …Until they know better. So, let’s do it in a metabolic ward. And crossover too. Let’s see how those natives’ health markers react to crap-in-a-box.

Obviously, I could go on and on. Designing the very basis or thesis of a study is pretty easy, but the point is, these are studies I’m pretty sure have never even been contemplated in the vaunted literature, much less ever conducted.

But it may surprise you to read me write that I get it, don’t expect them to, and it would likely be too hard and expensive; because to be sure, these would need to be metabolic ward studies of hundreds of people. Otherwise, any results will be criticized on various grounds: because there’s money, prestige, ivory towers, and political positions and appointments to consider.

So, you’re still on your own. That’s why I’m here and why I’ll stay.

Listen, the crap “food” producers aren’t going to fund them because, while they don’t know what the exact outcome will be, they know they’ll look like crap. The Alphabets (ADA, AHA, etc.) aren’t going to fund them because they get their money from the aforetrashed “food” producers. Government isn’t going to fund them because…well, the list is too big. See, whores only want money, and they’ll fake an orgasm or suck a cock they otherwise wouldn’t, to get it. Government has their whole-whore-on in too many places, and with too many variables, to say precisely why they won’t fund it. They just know, rightly, that it would be bad for them in many ways.

It’s been a long time since government said “we’re going to the moon”—damn the consequences being implied.

The United States never “goes to the moon,” anymore.

And it’s time we stopped pretending that America is anything like that country that once did. The whole world are whores, now. We spread metaphoric legs with the best of them.

…And a part of me regrets ending this post by insulting whores.


  1. julianne on January 9, 2012 at 17:37

    Here’s more:

    Malnutritive Obesity (‘Malnubesity’): Is It Driven by Human Brain Evolution?

  2. realLife on January 9, 2012 at 19:51

    we have all lost our ancestral diets and come here for inspiration on the journey.

    there is a video I cannot find on this.
    “Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial.”

    hopefully genome mapping will find a relationship or guidelines to ones optimum diet.


  3. Uncephalized on January 9, 2012 at 15:20

    I’m more convinced as time goes by that when the necessary micronutrients are insufficient in the food, the body attempts to compensate by upping hunger, trying to take in enough poor-quality food to extract sufficient nutrition to maintain survival. This is fine if your diet only occasionally consists of poor-quality food.

    But if that’s all you ever eat, your body is always in micro-starvation. And so you are always hungry. And once you eat the food, something has to be done with all those superfluous calories, which is where overweight and obesity enter the scene…

    • Rip on January 9, 2012 at 15:37

      This is one of the concepts in Jon Gabriel’s book, the Gabriel Method, that I agree with.

      • Keith Thomas on January 10, 2012 at 13:28

        Part of Gary Taubes’ perspective, too.

        BTW, great essay, Richard. You have a wonderful way of marshalling facts to make an interesting and educative story, and stimulating thought in your readers. Thanks, mate.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 13:48

        Keith, I thankfully recognized my best and true role a few years back as a synthesizer.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 15:40

      Mineral deficient horses chew on fences.

      • Matt on January 10, 2012 at 15:30

        When my dog was a puppy, she licked or chewed anything metal, including other dogs’ tags, lamp chord (plugged-in for maximum safety) and a metal stud which used to be behind a sheet of drywall. Multi-vitmamin took care of all of it. Nowadays I would just feed her different/better food.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 16:33

      Had an interesting experience a few weeks ago when I made liver pate and ate a few ounces at different intervals throughout the day.

      It became almost difficult to experience any hunger for anything, even scotch.

      • LXV on January 9, 2012 at 21:03

        Liverwurst is a constant staple in my fridge and that’s exactly why. Brunch for me anymore is three ounces of liverwurst, an ounce or two of cheese, and a few sweet pickles. That’s all I eat until about an eight o’clock dinner. Liver is cheap and surprisingly filling (and very tasty)

  4. Rip on January 9, 2012 at 15:36

    You’re right. I AM on my own. I have long since abandoned the idea of trying to find the best diet for everyone and focused on finding the best diet for ME. Would the diet of one of the groups you mentioned work for another? Maybe, maybe not…but we always have the founding concept that Westernised refined ‘food’ – flour, refined sugar, et al – is BAD. It’s a baseline clearly seen in the studies of Price, whereas grain-hawking trolls have no such evidence, only their ‘faith’.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 16:34

      Good for you for distilling the essential.

    • rob on January 10, 2012 at 05:08

      I also only concern myself with what is the best diet for me which is why I tend to ignore a lot of studies on diet. Recently I refined that to “what is the best diet for me NOW” because I realized that I was still approaching food as if I were 45 pounds overweight when in fact I haven’t been overweight for quite some time.

      I read Martin Berkhan’s post on the Sunk Cost Fallacy and realized that applied to diet, what is best for me is going to change over time, and a diet appropriate for the 45-pounds-overweight me isn’t right for the pretty-damned-fit me.

      Low carb worked miracles for me but it isn’t going to take me to the next level so I’m loving the rice and potatoes again.

      The only thing I’ll never be flexible about are the grains, eating that whole grain crap for 15 years had me headed towards an early grave.

      • Nathaniel on January 10, 2012 at 12:50

        I go back and forth with different ideas about macronutrients and particular foods but the two things I keep constant are avoidance of grains and avoidance of vegetable oils. I believe they’re inexcusably bad in any amount.

        I try to limit sugar but I can’t get myself to feel as strongly about it. I wish I COULD believe it is as bad as industrial n-6 seed oils, because I would probably lose more weight if I ate less chocolate!

        But, I will never compromise on grains and vegetable oils, no matter what else I do.

      • Primal Toad on January 11, 2012 at 13:55

        You bring up a very good point. Not only will we all thrive on different diets today but as an individual, I may thrive on a completely different diet in 6 months compared to today.

        With that being said, we can all thrive on a diet that avoids food that we can all agree is junk.

  5. tess on January 9, 2012 at 15:48

    Richard, that was the best thing you’ve ever posted! bravo.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 16:37

      Folks have told me that before, tess, but it has been a while. Thanks.

      • Andy on January 9, 2012 at 18:07

        It was! Just what I have been thinking myself lately, stringed together to perfection. All the important pieces.

        This needs to get out to more people.

      • Derek on January 10, 2012 at 07:31

        I second that, and I’ve been reading for at least 2 years. I was going to use the term EPIC, but I think WORDporn is more appropriate.

  6. Belinda on January 9, 2012 at 16:13

    I wasn’t scared off by the length of the post. I thought it was all very thought-provoking, and I love seeing all those great thinkers being brought together (in a theoretical sense).
    I know for a fact that I thrive best on low-carb, and even better on ketogenic, when I have the motivation to stay that low. I am my own experiment, n=1 as Robb Wolf says.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 16:39

      Absolutely no argument with that, Belmda. Some folks just don’t need it and though it might be difficult going forward, that’s the reality we deal with.

  7. John on January 9, 2012 at 16:53

    Excellent, excellent post. After following a paleo-primal eating plan for 2 years this is exactly what my body tells me. Eat real food, always and mix it up. I’ve never believed that the human design could not be so faulty that we needed big pharma in it’s current form. It really is all about what you put in your mouth. If you get that right everything else falls into place. Tonight was beef heart, spinach and yam. It’s ironic that until recently the so called poor people had diets that were probably more nutritionally dense than the “affluent”. They ate the offal, the liver and the cheap tubers. Now it doesn’t matter, both rich man and poor man have gone to nutritional hell.

  8. Remnant on January 9, 2012 at 17:02

    Fantastic post.

    I realize Richard’s list of people was not meant to be exhaustive, but I would just point out that the Jaminet’s obviously belong there as well.

    Part 3 of their diet (after getting macronutrients right and cutting out toxins) is “Be Well Nourished”. The idea there is that, in the modern world, even after you get macronutrients right and cut out toxins you may STILL (and likely WILL still) be malnourished. Changes in farming methods, changes in diet, tendencies to eat muscle meat rather than organ meat, etc. etc. have all resulted in a less nutritious environment.

    I’m glad Richard mentioned the “flesh behind the fish eyes” story. That always blew me away: the SPECIFICITY with which native peoples connected cause and effect without what we would call the scientific method is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

    Which brings me to one last point: faith vs. falsifiability. I would draw a distinction between faith based on experience (“the fatty flesh behind the fish eyes fixes this problem although we don’t know why it does”) and faith DESPITE evidence to the contrary (“Dinosaur bones, half-life radiactive decay tests and the apparent age of the universe based on expansion are decoys that God put out there to test our faith”) are very different things. In the first instance, the faith is a kind of wisdom that persists despite the lack of a sophisticated methodology of “proving it”. In other words, just because we don’t understand WHY something works doesn’t mean there isn’t a scientific explanation for it. I think modern scientific man has tended to ignore the wisdom of primitive peoples and the work of people like Price because it is “faith-based” in the “we don’t know why” sense. But I will take Price over Big Pharma any day.

    • gallier2 on January 10, 2012 at 02:36

      Excellent point Remnant.

  9. noah on January 9, 2012 at 17:04

    That was a great, nutrient dense read. Thanks Richard.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 9, 2012 at 17:31

      So we’re cool then. Noah. :)

      • noah on January 9, 2012 at 18:01

        All good. Timing was poor and comment dumb in reread. So I can take it.

  10. julianne on January 9, 2012 at 17:25

    An acquaintance here in NZ – an obesity researcher / Doctor has been saying that nutrient insufficiency is a problem, here is a link with references to her talk:

    Dietary supplements and alternative treatments promising weight loss have minimal or no effect because they cannot match evolutionary influences that cause the body to conserve energy in times of famine, Dr Anne-Thea McGill told the conference.

    McGill, senior lecturer in Population Health at the University of Auckland, said humans were designed to maximize their energy intake because their large brains used about one-quarter of their total energy expenditure.

    “Early humans sought energy-dense food with high levels of fats, starches and sugars. We are genetically programmed to find foods with these qualities appealing,” said McGill. “However, highly energy-dense Western diets have had many of the flavor and micronutrients processed out of them. The artificial replacements in starchy, fatty and sugary foods make them over-palatable and easy to eat quickly.”

    But too much processed food results in an excess energy intake deficient in micronutrients, producing a state of “malnutrition”, which in turn sees the body react to a “famine stress” by storing fat around the upper body, said McGill.

    “Many over-the-counter remedies such as concentrated herbal preparations, food extracts, minerals and vitamins are promoted as helping to decrease body weight,” she said.
    “However, they do not redress the nutrient imbalance from poor diets that produce obesity.”

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 15:04


      I’ll have to take a look later but, from your quote, what strikes me is this:

      “However, highly energy-dense Western diets…”

      Exactly. Highly dense in energy (macronutrient calories), deficient in micronutrients.

  11. Ryan Robitaille on January 10, 2012 at 09:17

    Great post. I definitely think we should keep striving toward some type of ‘truth’, as elusive as it may be.

    When I worked in the criminal justice data analytics field we had a saying, “I can’t tell you if its the truth, I can only tell you what the data seems to say.”

    However, I feel the need to mention, regarding the whole carb shitstorm going on lately in the “community” (which makes me cringe calling it that). Some of us who WERE obese in the past have (seemingly) permanently broken metabolic systems – which makes us unable to tolerate even “clean” carbs without rapid weight gain (including myself). Our circumstances are sub-optimal at this point. So even if further studies and research shed new light on nutrient ratios (micro or macro), my own personal experimentation tells a different story. Dr Eades actually just recently posted about a similar experiment and conclusion that he did over the holidays.

    I consider myself open-minded, but honestly, I can’t help but get uncomfortable when my own personal results being to diverge from the ‘current accepted theories’ (i.e. ‘paleo’ seems to be splitting completely off from the low-carb into its own sweet potato heaven)… Seems like rah-rah Pro-Carb cheerleaders are everywhere these days, and fuck, they may turn out to be right, but my personal data doesn’t seem to show that.

    Do you know what I mean, Richard? I know you’ve been there and back before. Maybe I’m totally off-base here.

    [For the record, I pretty much just eat meat, eggs and Jameson]

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 09:55

      Nope, Ryan. You have already done the science and no other science is really applicable to you invididually.

      In other words, you know you’re on our own and have dutifully undertaken your responsibility to yourself.

      Couple of days ago I got an email fom someone who had read my no-soap, no-shampoo posts, asking if I had any scientific references. I answered in the affirmative.

  12. Skyler Tanner on January 9, 2012 at 18:26

    TL:D…ahh fuck it. Fantastic post that I will read even more in depth tomorrow.

  13. Sharyn on January 9, 2012 at 19:42

    Now THIS is why I keep reading your blog.

    Gonna have to bite the bullet (so to speak) and start getting into that offal. Pate, anyone?

    • John on January 9, 2012 at 19:58

      I’m starting to love liver cold, Sharyn. Good the first day, better the second. You might try chicken liver as well… doesn’t seem to taste as strong as beef liver, and is still nutritionally solid.

  14. marc on January 9, 2012 at 19:47

    another educational/entertaining post that keeps building on all the knowledge you’ve given-out. Thank You.
    You mentioned in the post “(I have for years used that roughly same formulation to keep my teeth pearly white and smooth for years, with little need of brushing, no need of flossing…and this…after having two surgeries in the early 2000s for gum disease.) Would you please expand on that formula if you think there is anything that needs added.? just wanted to know if I missed it
    Thanks again,

    • Sharyn on January 10, 2012 at 11:08

      Marc – have a look at some of Richard’s posts on Vit K2 – there’s a good one on 30 Nov last year.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 11:20

        Yep, marc, search my blog for vitamin K2 and there’s a lot of posts going way back.

  15. John on January 9, 2012 at 19:56


    This is why you’ve become my favorite paleo blog, because you’re on a quest for what’s optimal (even if you never quite get there).

    Any time we make observations, we run the risk overlooking some important factor. You can take William Banting’s original diet. Yes, we know it was low carb. But it was also low fructose, low gluten, and completely free of soy, vegetable oils, and artificial sweeteners. The meat was probably all pasture raised and pure grass fed. Probably way more nutrient dense as well. Whose to say some or all of those things weren’t key to his success? And what about everything else that we’ve overlooked?

    I think micro-nutrients could be huge as well. Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, Magnesium, and Iodine could all play a huge role in obesity. For example, I’ve read that magnesium is essential for insulin to allow sugar into cells. If you are magnesium deficient, a low carb diet would probably help your condition (since you’ve become insulin resistant). But a low carb diet with magnesium supplementation could potentially cure you over a period of months (since that was the root cause of the problem in my little thought experiment in the first place).

    Thanks again for being on what I see as a quest for optimal. And for getting me to eat more liver.

    And I’ll say it again… Fucking great post. With apologies to the whores.

    • Aaron Curl on January 10, 2012 at 06:12


      This is why you’ve become my favorite paleo blog, because you’re on a quest for what’s optimal (even if you never quite get there).”

      You took the words right out of my mouth!!!
      Thanks Richard!!!

    • LeonRover on January 10, 2012 at 06:40

      You forgot low beer or zero beer intake.

      Alcohol and CHO damage have always been associated as per Lustig and Johnson.

      As an aside Lindeberg’s Swedish Paleo diet included alcohol.

  16. Karen on January 9, 2012 at 20:42

    I would like to weigh in on the “cold chicken liver” question (well, really, the answer) It’s the bomb. I’ve just placed a 5 lb order with Marin Sun Farms for pickup the day after my birthday bash in SF on the 14th. Really, if everyone just ate chicken livers the world would be a better place.

  17. David Csonka on January 9, 2012 at 20:48

    “It’s what you have available in any environment and if ultimately insufficient, you have to move on or suffer consequences.”

    I think that was a key point out of all of it. That was the problem inherent to agriculture, and what to some extent till affects us today.

    When in an environment, a habitat, a set of conditions for living (food, water, air, housing) that are not sufficient to support optimal health – instead of moving on to greener pastures, we persist. We put down roots, we build roads and walls.

    You distilled paleo in one sentence quite well Richard, bravo.

  18. Scott Miller on January 9, 2012 at 22:14

    >>> All carbohydrate is not created equal.

    Actually it kinda is. But when guiding people on what to eat, it’s quite difficult to explain the in’s and out’s of this, so we often take shortcuts that make it appear that some carbs are better than other. But, in the strictest sense, all carbs are basically poly-glucose chains, or fiber.

    For years I’ve differentiated good carbs as nutrient-dense high-water-volume carbs (or most salad-type carbs or small berry carbs), but this is cumbersome.

    Potatoes are a hot topic of paleo discussion because they have a relatively high carb density (versus water) compared to salad-type carbs, and are kinda low in nutrition unless you eat the skin, and even still not very impressive. I consider potatoes a cheat carb, not a mainstay carb. ALL carbs are pro-aging, because glucose is pro-aging. So, I only consider carbs a mainstay (versus a cheat) if the nutrient value exceeds what I consider the negative inflammation, insulin-release (insulin itself is pro-aging), glycation value minimal. Potatoes are a net-negative, IMO (too little nutritional value versus the pro-aging effects).

    I tend to think of all foods as either a net-positive or a net-negative. They all have both positive and negative effects. Even the healthiest food you can imagine causes at least a little metabolic damage and/or cellular waste accumulation. But, of course we have to eat, and we can make the best choices reasonably possible. Potatoes do not rank as a reasonable choice, assuming the goal is to maximize longevity. Potatoes are essentially a nutrient poor glucose bomb–entirely unnecessary to human survival, despite the evidence that numerous H-G groups ate them without experiencing Westernized diseases. They still shortened their lives eating potatoes, because glycation and inflammation (via blood sugar and insulin secretion) are a direct and unavoidable result of glucose consumption.

    • rob on January 10, 2012 at 07:48

      Maximizing longevity has never been enough to motivate me one way or the other, for one thing you will never know whether forgoing the potato actually contributed to your longevity, a host of other factors are involved … and then there is always the possibility that you will get run over by a truck.

      I see studies reporting that the group that ate A lived longer than the group B … so maybe group B lived on average another 5 months, that’s not a lot to hang your hat on.

      You run into the same problems with the superfoods and antioxidants, in theory if you eat them consistency you will at some undetermined point in the future reap some kind of benefit, in the meantime you have to eat blueberries for the next twenty years.

      People tend to be motivated more by concrete short to medium term results: Does eating this and not eating that make me more physically attractive? Does it make me stronger and faster? Generally they have to see results pretty quick or they move on to something else, it’s just the way we’re wired.

      Glucose is damned good fuel for physical exertion … in the long term it may shorten my life span (though I doubt that it will), in the short term it makes me faster.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 07:50


      But right after, I wrote: “Not only are some natural, and some manufactured…” the implication being that a potato in not the same as say, a Hot Pocket. I’m not looking at the carbohydrate, per se, but the whole package it comes in.

      Beyond that, while I agree that eating anything ultimately contributes to aging on a cellular level (just as fueling and combusting that fuel wears out your car over time), I remain skeptical of the idea that glycation vis-a-vis insulin in a real foods diet is any worse that doubtless many other biochemical processes that contribute to overall aging.

      I’m also not sure about tuber eating in H-G populations shortening their lives. Plenty of really old folks by by reading of various research—Lindburg comes to mind. And, you also have confiders that are impossible to overcome when you compare people in a modern society with all their medical interventions to those living in the wild.

      That said, I would no more eat a predominately potato diet than I would a predominately muscle meat diet.

    • Paul d on January 11, 2012 at 20:24

      you almost cost me my life laughing at your response while I was eating some yummy tubers.

  19. jon w on January 9, 2012 at 22:47

    Ditto, great post. Very un-dogmatic. Hope it’s bookmarked in many places as a go-to reference for people who ask about paleo.

    As far as chicken livers, wrap them in a half slice of bacon, secure with a toothpick, then grill or bake.

  20. David brown on January 9, 2012 at 23:43

    Well said, Richard. Have a comment regarding this:

    “Listen, the crap ‘food’ producers aren’t going to fund them because, while they don’t know what the exact outcome will be, they know they’ll look like crap.”

    Actually, the food manufacturing sector is working on improving the quality of the food supply, promoting sustainability, and protecting the environment. I suggest you read “Stuffed” by Hank Cardello. I’m forwarding this post to Hank with a suggestion that he contact you and offer to do a guest post.

    Realistically, manufactured, packaged, and prepared foods are here to stay. People the world over love the convenience. Sure, I grow peas and beans in my garden but I don’t have time or freezer space to preserve as many packages of peas and beans as we like to eat throughout the year.

    To be sure, Hank has the wrong idea about saturated fats and is only vaguely aware of the omega-6 hazard. However, I think he’ll “get it” once he’s exposed to the facts and ideas that you and I have incorporated into our thinking. Here’s a link to his website:

    • John on January 10, 2012 at 07:52

      The food manufacturing sector may be “working” on improving quality, sustainability, and protecting the envoirnment, but that doesn’t mean that grass fed or pasture raised foods won’t ALWAYS be superior in those three regards. After all, vegetable oils were supposed to be superior health wise than saturafated fats, but they now appear to be far, far worse.

      • David brown on January 10, 2012 at 13:36

        Right. Likely, about all we can hope for, in terms of improvements from the food manufacturing sector, is that the foods they fabricate will eventually be less unhealthy than the current fare. On the other hand, packaged animal products (meat, dairy, poultry) could eventually become nutritionally superior if the animals are fed intelligently and the is grown in mineral-rich soil environments.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 14:44

      I heard—I think—Jimmy Morre’s interview of him back when.

      Here’s the deal. I can and will applaud all efforts to improve. To date, I see no real improvement, only the equivalent of Q-Tips dressing windows.

      My advocacy is never, ever about the companies. My advocacy is about cutting their legs out from under them by getting people to think better and take charge of things.

      Make no mistake: I really don’t want the food giants to improve. Why? Because I don’t want them in charge. I want them all bankrupt with millions of their employees out of work because everyday people have taken _RE_ charge of their own health.

      Once they’re back in charge and that’s clear, then let companies rise up to make things easier in a real food paradigm.

      • David brown on January 10, 2012 at 15:12

        Richard, I would love to see the food companies scrambling to improve the quality of their products due to consumer demand for healthier food. Meanwhile, to me it just makes sense to educate everyone (politicians, academics, consumers, and food industry professionals) about what constitutes healthy eating. This means correcting misconceptions about saturated fats, omega-6s, and total fat intake. More and more, I’m seeing intelligent commentary regarding saturated fats. Still not much concern regarding the omega-6 hazard.

        Here’s a little hint as to what the dairy industry is up to.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 15:22


        In no way would I try to discourage you or anyone from taking steps to improve.

        How about look at it like this. Honest competition.

        You promote that and when I can, I’m promoting local, sustainable, organic, grassfed, and go out and meet your meat.

        Let’s see who wins.

      • David brown on January 10, 2012 at 16:42


        Hard to visualize our mutual efforts to rescue people from ill health as something competitive. And far from promoting what food companies do, I much prefer the local, sustainable, grass fed model. So you win, because anything short of the traditional food production ideal just has to be second rate.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 16:48

        Well OK, and I may have just gotten things crossed as things are coming at me constantly, but I was basing this reply on your—what i understood—as a defense of food giants, because they want to do better.

        I don;t see them going grass fed.

      • David brown on January 10, 2012 at 22:57

        Well, no. I’m not defending the food giants. But, like it or not, there they are and they control some important aspects of the food supply. I favor a “best practices” approach for every sort of human endeavor from housing to food production to waste recycling.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 11, 2012 at 01:03

        No argument there,

  21. anand srivastava on January 10, 2012 at 00:44

    Great article Richard. This is what attracted me to your site. Nothing but common sense.

  22. Jason Sandeman on January 10, 2012 at 17:10

    Richard, This is where I get lost and confused. I am 40-50 lbs overweight, T1 Diabetic… and it seems like the lifestyle goes in cycles… or a viscous circle. Do I go the paleo route? Since I am a T1 D, it is a bit different dealing with the needs of insulin. I do okay though, but I find a lot of the advice is geared towards those who are T2D. Do I follow Dr. Bernstein? That diet is fun for all of 2 seconds. No tomatoes, fruit, carrots, essentially anything that gives food a decent flavor – yet he has no problems with processed sugar-free foods.
    Then there is primal – but my access to grass-fed is non-existent here in Canada (Especially in the nanny state of Quebec!)
    So, I teeter-totter back and forth. Some days I say Fuck It, and jut have a burger! Not to bitch, (Cause that’s not how I roll!) but sometimes I just wish there was a diet that is for everyone. I know there isn’t, so isn’t that fun. LOL

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 17:43


      Well in terms of T1, I have to always defer to Bernstein. I don’t see how I could ever do otherwise as just a blogger.

      That said, if Dr. B allows processed foods but not tomatoes, perhaps you can switch things around and work out some VLC thning that works for you.

      Realize, my view is that Bernstein is a hero–actually, mentioned him in my book–but he’s not a paleo guy becaue they simply didn’t exist for the last 60 or so years while he was trying to figure this out on his own. Which he did, incidentally.

      He’s one guy I’ll always cut enormous slack too.

      So, see if you can find a Paleo millieu within his recos…But probably, always VLC as a T1. And sorry about that shit.

      Make sense?

      • Kim on January 10, 2012 at 18:05

        Well said, Richard.

        I don’t have a whole lot of heroes, but a hero is what Dr. Bernstein is.

  23. gallier2 on January 10, 2012 at 02:33

    Thank you Richard, truely one of the best synthesis. It was time that someone (with autority) stepped up to stop the Taubes bashing madness. I never had the impression that his main message was really about carbs or insulin per se. It has always been about the lack of quality of the nutrition science since WWII and that he used the emphasis on carbs because it is the most obvious where research went wrong (or was steered in the wrong direction).

    • David brown on January 10, 2012 at 06:13

      Good observation about the about research being “steered” in the wrong direction. To some extent, it’s the interpretation of research that gets steered in the wrong direction.

      • gallier2 on January 10, 2012 at 07:46

        Yes it’s my understanding that the sorry state of affairs in medical and nutritional science (in science in general in fact) is not a coincidence. I don’t communicate often on that subject though, as it qualifies one rapidly as “conspiracy theorists” even if the “coincidance theorists” don’t have a leg to stand on.

      • John on January 10, 2012 at 08:07

        I think the carbohydrate theory should evolve into either the hormone theory, or the processed food theory (depending on whether you want to focus on food, or what’s going on inside the body). Also, all the non-carb probamatic foods (seed oils, artificial sweetners, pure gluten bread, and such) are new compared to sugar and flour, and wouldn’t have factored into most of the research.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 09:16

        I think it’s neither conspiracy or coincidence.

        I think it’s people working towards common values and that truth isn’t on the top of anyone’s list.

      • gallier2 on January 10, 2012 at 09:25

        There are conspirational aspects (see Chris’ old article on the influence of eugenists like Rockefeller on research) but I concur that it can also happen only on the level of researchers personality.
        But on a more general level, there’s one question people should not forget to ask, and it’s one of your favorites, science research is good for whom?. What is the purpose of scientific research and who are the beneficiaries of the found results? It ain’t you and me.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 10:04

        Yep, I use that questin often, and thanks for pointing out: for obvious reasons.

  24. Jason Sandeman on January 10, 2012 at 18:33

    LOL. Love it Richard. Dr Bernstein is my hero, by and large. Because of him, I PWNed my “diabetes educator” and brought my A1C down from 16.1% to 6.3% in less than 3 months. The endo basically said, “Keep doing what you are doing.”
    It is your blog that keeps me going though. I love the trash talk, the actual thinking behind it too. While Dr Bernstein’s diet is a bit too restrictive for me, as a baseline it is cool. I haven’t lost weight that I want to, so I guess it’s just time to STFU and dial it down. Again, you are a huge inspiration in that respect!

  25. jehane on January 10, 2012 at 07:15

    Its worth pointing out that the diet required not to get fat in the first place, may actually be different in some ways from the diet required to lose weight.

    Though it might be fine to eat a diet high in natural carbs, and no processed crap, if you’ve never had a weight problem and still stay perfectly healthy, once you do have a weight problem, these types of carbs may be more problematic and need to be restricted.

    I think care needs to taken when designing research, to remember that staying lean and becoming lean (especially from morbid or super obesity) may require slightly different diets.

    just my opinion from personal experience.

  26. Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 08:30

    Note to those getting email notice:

    I just went through and did a quick touch up. Most edits are subtile, for better flow. Here’s one paragraph I added to substantively:

    “First, in deference to Gary, I do think that carbohydrate plays an important role in obesity, but that it’s possibly a down-stream contributor, after malnutrition and subclinical ill health. And, of course, that the processed packages carbohydrate come is implicated in malnutrition by crowding out nutrients. Chris: paleo is absolutely a mere “given foundation,” and being at the top of the food chain, we can do better than the evolutionarily given. We can optimize, pass along wisdom, and thrive better. Stephan: I do think that food reward plays an important role in obesity, but I think it’s a modern aberration. Or, I’m sure that many H-Gs find their food highly rewarding on many levels, not the least of which is their satisfaction in being able to do it all on their own.”

  27. Gary Taubes on Dieting on January 10, 2012 at 09:05

    […] Gary Taubes on Dieting Gary Taubes on Dieting | FiveBooks | The Browser Plus interesting blog by Richard Nikoley Malnutrition –> Health Degeneration –> Obesity & Other Diseases of Civilization | Free T… […]

  28. cbhunteress on January 10, 2012 at 09:19

    My husband and I live where we can hunt elk, and I do. We of course eat the heart and liver. We also help others pack their animals out, so I can take the heart and liver. Othewise they are get left for the forest animals. So few people will eat them. I usually score 2 or 3 that way. Lucky lucky us. The livers can be enourmous! I make liver pate. I would eat it everyday of the year but I dole it out, so once or twice a week so it lasts till we can hunt again. The greatest joy of hunting for me has become savoring the life giving food. I cry, I laugh, I rejoice. I eat.

  29. EMF on January 10, 2012 at 09:20

    Richard – This is one of your best posts. I seem to recall you stating that you had gained some weight recently after sustaining an injury. Sorry if I missed it but what do you attribute that to? Do you think adding back in too many paleo starches contributed to that weight gain? Thanks!

  30. Kim on January 10, 2012 at 09:23

    Richard, as jehane pointed out, it’s a good post but it really misses the point. Weston Price’s research doesn’t tell us if any given native way of eating would’ve helped someone with a broken metabolism recover. And Stephan is a (slender) twentysomething academic, and he approaches the field very much from that perspective: as a thought experiment, and a chance to be regarded as a thought leader.

    I suspect that that perspective is useless to 90% of your readership. It is certainly useless to me. I don’t want to know how heavy I would be if I’d been born on Kitava a century ago; I want to know how to lose weight now that I’m 50-something and 50 pounds overweight.

    I continue to find the writings of Michael Eades most instructive for me. He and his wife were both clinicians who between them spent decades dealing with middle-aged people like me and helping us recover. (And his current post deals with his own efforts on losing weight with a broken metabolism.). He is one of the few who can still tell the trees from the forest.

    I’m frankly getting bored to tears with all the bickering in the Paleosphere as all and sundry try to stake a claim to the unified theory of everything. Their career trajectories have nothing to do with my life. As the great philososopher R.Nikoley might put it, it’s all a gigantic fucking jerk off.

    I’m old. I’m fat. How do I fix that?

    Everything else is noise to me.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 10:01


      I encourage you to really understand what I meant about white swans vs. black swans as a metaphor for modern broken metabolisms vs. pristine H-G metabolisms in the last sections of the post. Perhaps your ears were closed by that point but I hope you give it another look.

      I’m also happy to consider adding additional clarification if you have anything in mind.

      • Sharyn on January 10, 2012 at 11:20

        That whole falsifiable topic – science vs dogma/religion, black and white swans – is worthy of its own post – please? Or point me at an existing post that covers it, in baby steps?

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 12:30

        I’ll consider that, Kim. It’s a good idea amongst a sea of ’em. :)

        In the meantime, here’s a search link for ‘falsifiability’

        you could also search ‘black swan’ ‘scientific method’ etc.

        Hey, good luck and always open to questions or clarification.

  31. Tyler on January 10, 2012 at 09:42

    Fantastic post, Richard.

    When it comes to the carbohydrate scenario, I’ve been a fan of approaching our needs from the framework of glucose utilization that the Jaminet’s use.

    While they admit that little research has been done in the subject, they propose that the body’s glucose needs (independent of infection and exercise as variables) is approximately 600cal/day, perhaps as high as 800cal/day, but likely not less.

    They also point out how the liver’s capable of converting approximately 400 calories of glucose from protein a day. This has lead to their recommendation of 100-150g (400-600cal) of carbohydrates a day so that we are not taxing out body’s conversion process. This was an interesting post on the subject:

    It was also discussed in Episode 8 of Chris Kresser’s “The Healthy Skeptic” (now Revolution Health Radio) podcast with Robb Wolf and Mat LaLonde that the Katavins have a lot of their carbohydrate consumption converted into short-chain fats in digestion. I offer that only as an anecdote, as I haven’t the sources on this information at hand. It should also be noted that Mat LaLonde expresses his distaste for the Jaminet’s work in this episode:

    With what we know about fructose, it seems obvious that limiting our intake of it is of benefit. With what we know about the pro-inflammatory aspects of almost all grains, it would be wise to seek out carbohydrates from other sources as well. If we have a framework to work with regarding the body’s minimum glucose needs, it seems wise to meet that (or fall short and rely on ketone to glucose conversion or gluconeogenesis to meet the needs, living with the possible stresses of this process) so that we don’t store excess amounts of carbohydrates as fat for later energy.

    So, for me, safe carbohydrates are vital in certain capacities.

    And unregulated hunger being a result of nutrient deficiency seems to be a very plausible mechanism our body has developed in order to signal more food consumption. Especially when we crave certain foods. I’m interested in more exploration of this concept.

    • Kim on January 10, 2012 at 09:49

      Read Chris Masterjohn’s latest post (a masterpiece) for reasons on why seeking out carbohydrates is unlikely to be as necessary as you seem to think.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 10:08


      While it may not change the landscape much, it does complicate matters. Check out Masterjohn’s latest post on how we really do manufacture glucose from fat tissue.

      Lots of implications. One I don’t think he mentioned is that VLC may not be dangerous from the standpoint of needing to use lean mass to make our small amount of essential brain glucose requirements.

      • Tyler on January 12, 2012 at 14:22

        Fascinating read. Thank you (and Kim!) for pointing me toward it.

        I suppose it’s an even better reason to do some n=1 jazz and test to find my optimal carbohydrate intake and where I look, feel and perform the best at.

        I must say, a pound of sweet potatoes every other day has been doing good by me so far. Tasty cooked with ghee, tumeric and cinnamon to boot.

  32. Ryan Robitaille on January 10, 2012 at 10:29

    Yup. That whole thing is becoming very complicated, but I think they keyword for this post is probably “optimal”.

    We all know that we don’t actually NEED ingested glucose / carbs to survive at all; short-term or long-term. I don’t think that would be contested here (hopefully).

    BUT (and that’s a big but), If you have a pristine metabolism (which excludes many of us), then maybe a bit might be more ‘optimal’ than none depending on a shit-ton of personal variables. Think of the metabolism we had as a teenagers – totally. fucking. invincible. I would assume that primal H/G people had that going for them their entire lives. Which is whole diff ballgame.

    I do agree with Kim in that for people coming into the fold with a “What do I do?” attitude – might get confused to all hell and frustrated. Shit, for 5 years now *I’ve* read all the sites, all the literature, all the published studies, and kept up with it all, and now *I’M* beginning to get frustrated with all the back-and-forth bullshit.

    The water is muddy, and there is blood in it.

    • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 11:09

      “That whole thing is becoming very complicated, but I think they keyword for this post is probably ‘optimal’.”

      Perhaps, but the main idea is that no matter what, you’re on your own—for getting optimal, near as you can.

      “Think of the metabolism we had as a teenagers – totally. fucking. invincible.”

      Up through about the 80s, when enormous sugar drinks and processed foods finally crowded out moms cooking and she didn’t cook much, anymore and grandam’s cooking was yuk, because she cooks liver and things and what the fuck is that?

      See where I’m going? This is fundamentally a problem of _authority_. There was a time when grandma knew best. Now, yuk, grandma, there’s fat in that. Ot it doesn’t taste like hot pockets or a microwave burrito, etc.

      And so, the food giants have succeeded in using the authorities to supplant grandma, and the pristine bodies of youth who were admonished that they’d “spoil they dinner,” are now almost just as fat, diabetic and suffering from fatty liver as all the rest of ’em.

      • Ryan Robitaille on January 10, 2012 at 11:14

        Thus the average person (American) has been indoctrinated to be completely “food retarded” AND is walking around with a crippled system to boot. Criminal.

        Speaking of, have you seen this sweet little animated gif?

        Completely and utterly terrifying. All within the past 25 years too….

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 11:19

        It’s referenced in my book. It has been criticized, by Tom Naughton and others as a moving of the goal posts because, apparently, the definition of obesity changed somewhere along the line. But still, absolute numbers are not as important as the clear trend. Just looking around, that’s obvious.

      • Ryan Robitaille on January 10, 2012 at 11:25

        Interesting. Well, it *is* based on BMI, which we know is mostly a pretty ridiculous and vague marker to begin with.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 10, 2012 at 12:31

        Yea, I think the deal was that they changed the BMI number that defines obesity, but not entirely certain.

      • Uncephalized on January 10, 2012 at 15:07

        Given that population BMI is nicely normally distributed AFAIK, with well-known mean and standard deviation, that should have been super-simple to correct for. But they probably didn’t bother. Sigh.

  33. Mike Hollister on January 10, 2012 at 10:56

    Richard, been reading your blog for a couple years and this is the first time I’ve been moved to comment. Great read. Great synthesis of GT/SG debate and why we can learn from both.

  34. Paleo Diet News – Wednesday Link-Love » Paleo Diet News on January 11, 2012 at 03:30

    […] Malnutrition -> Health Degeneration -> Obesity & Other Diseases of Civilization […]

  35. Jessica K on January 10, 2012 at 19:54

    Love this post! Pretty much sums up my intellectual journey into better health. Major food/environmental allergies—>friend suggests “Paleo Solution”—>joined a crossfit gym—>—>have you met Sarah Pope,local Westin a. Price chapter leader and blogger extraordinaire?—->the healthy skeptic podcasts, free the animal, the Perfect Health diet—>I actually give a fuck about my health. Yea I am on my own. With my own choices and my own struggles. However, I am so very glad for post like these to keep me intellectual company.

  36. jj on January 10, 2012 at 22:04

    This is why I keep coming back to your blog. I disagree with you on a bunch of stuff, but whatever, I’m fine with reading the opinions of people I disagree with. That’s life in a complex world. But when you talk about the stuff that brought me to your blog in the first place, you hit it out of the park! Well done. Just something so simple as looking for the synthesis among the bickering cuts through a lot of crap.

  37. Razwell on January 11, 2012 at 07:55

    Many people attack Gary Taubes constantly. They are missing the point. ALL Internet camps are barking up the wrong tree. The low fat, calorie counting people are just as wrong as those they criticize.

    Over a decade people’s body weight remain remarkably stable. NOBODY can consciously balance the MANY, MANY MILLIONS of calories taken in to expended over a decade. Our body has an INVOLUNTARY SYSTEM that does htis for us and FAR more accurateloy.

    Calorie labes are off by as much as 80 %! Regardless, it does not matter because nobody can balance many millions of calories…

    All we can “control” is to stay at the lower end of our set points.

    Obesity is as genetic has height. In both humans AND animals body weight is NOT under conscious control. Body weight is controlled by various gut hormones ( which are not well understood), gut microbiota , and and extremely hellishly complex neural circuitry which is also not well understood.

    Patients remain OBESE after bariatric surgey ( after only 1,000 calories) . This alone should tell us how COMPLEX AND DEEP morbid obesity is.

    The way the surgery actually works is that it interfers with body weight regulation circuitry and alters our gut hormones in a favorable way and this has an obesity fighting effect to SOME degree . The procedure is a super risk though. Many have died or have extreme complaications. it is limited and does not work SOO great. But it can be useful in some.

    Transplantation of gut flora from obese mice into thin sterile germ free mice INDUCES OBESITY in the thin mice with NO CHANE WHATSOEVER in diet or activity. Mice are VERY VERY SIMILAR to humans in amny ways ESPECIALLY weight regulation systems. They are SUPER VALID for obesity research. Another thing Internet gurus do not realize.

    People on the Internet in general are talking about relatively meaningless things.

    REAL research is delving into GENETIC, neural circuitry and gut microbiota and gut hormonecocktails to MIMICK the effect gastric bypass has on hormones.

    is Gary’s insulin hypothesis complete? No. But this is not at all a criticism. he is a science journalist. His job isnot to try and figure out morbid obesity.

    Gary deserves CREDIT for pointing out that “eat less move more ” is a 2,000 year long UNSCIENTIFIC approach to obesity. His attackers are even more incomplete.

    People like Dr. Jeffrey Gordon ( gut microbiota) are the guys who are going to solve obesity, not Gary Taubes’ attackers who remain UNscientific. They criticize him, but they are EQUALLY if not more wrong.

    Lyle McDonald et al are NOT AT ALL obesity experts. They are commercial dieting industry salesman. And the commercial diet industry is UNSCIENTIFIC PURE FRAUD.

    • Jessica K on January 11, 2012 at 20:29

      Interesting and well said, Razwell. Although micronutrients might play a role in obesity, gut microbia is on the front line interfering (and assisting.) It all starts in the gut.

    • anand srivastava on January 11, 2012 at 23:29

      Well Gary was the one who went to criticize Stephan. Not the other way. It was definitely unfortunate. But Gary is too fixed on Carbs causing insulin resistance and being the sole cause of obesity, which doesn’t really make sense. Constantly high glucose levels can increase the problem though, but they don’t start the problem.

      Nobody is saying that his contribution is small.

  38. Primal Toad on January 11, 2012 at 13:58

    One of the best reads on this blog that I have read! I agree with your thinking and have been thinking this way fora long time. I was always susceptible about the fact that all carbs are bad. I just haven’t really said it but I shall discuss this on my blog as well now.

    Long post but well worth the read. You got me thinking!

  39. Steve in Oz on January 11, 2012 at 14:06

    Richard, this post prompted some thinking re synthesis etc.
    The fact that Kitavans and other ethnic groups eat a largely carb diet without becoming obese does not necessarily refute Taubes’ thesis – rather it requires that it be modified.
    Various researchers have pointed out that many unrefined fibrous carbs actually deliver the bulk of their energy not as sugar or starch but as short-chain fatty acids. In a healthy gut, bacteria convert these carbs to butyrate and other short chain fats.
    Informed people no longer simply talk about “fats”. We differentiate between saturated fats, omega 6s, omega 3s, monunsaturated etc.
    Similarly, carbs are not just carbs. And it’s not enough to just differentiate between simple and complex carbs. Just as PUFAs include omega 6s and omega3s, complex carbs include carbs that once digested deliver their energy as sugar and starch, and carbs that once digested deliver their energy as short-chain fats.
    So, Kitavans et al, are actually eating a diet that delivers most of its energy as fat. This does not refute Taubes, it simply requires that his thesis be modified and elaborated.
    Synthesis, here we come!

    • anand srivastava on January 12, 2012 at 00:04

      Actually it does refute it. His thesis is that Carbs cause insulin resistance and there by weight gain.
      Since Kitavans do not gain weight despite having a very high carb diet, refutes this contention.

      This does not mean that carbohydrates is not bad once the metabolism is damaged.

      The carbs that Kitavans eat are very starchy or very sugary. They may have a lot of fiber, but our digestive system is not capable of digesting more than 15% (I believe) of fiber as energy. I am not sure how much of it really converts to fat and thereby provides energy. So a Kitavans eating 70% of carbs, even if 10% is fiber still makes it a very high carb diet.

      • Richard Nikoley on January 12, 2012 at 02:54

        Besides which, this whole thing is premised on dietary intake, not how the body may metabolize that dietary intake. When Stephan talked about byutrate with regard to Kitavans, I don’t recall the numbers, but it was simply that they end up with a few more percent of fat than people think, not that it completely turned the table .

  40. Razwell on January 11, 2012 at 14:15

    I wanted to add something I forgot to mention. The average BMI after gastric bypass is still 30 to 32, putting patients in the obese category still. Considerably less obese most of the time but still obese.This fact should tell us something about just how complex and deep true morbid and super morbid obesity is. The surgery is useful and necessary in some, but far from perfect and not a “cure”.

    For the future scientists are trying to identify the beneficial chemical cocktail of gut hormones which develop after the surgery re routes things . These drugs should produce what the surgery did – and it will be non invasive .

    Medications, such as Paxil, Procaz etc. can cause ENORMOUS WEIGHT GAIN. They are notorious for this. How? They act on the exact same neural circuitry that controls our weight. Damage to that part of the brain also can cause enormous weight gain.

    All the scientific evidence available suggests our body weights are controlled by sets of nerve cells talking to each other with different chemical mediators. This is what sound reputable science has found.

    As far as way of eating ? I remain a dietary AGNOSTIC. Is there a certain type of eating ( low carb, low fat, ) which pre- disposes us to obesity more than other ways of eating? The PRECISE answer to that question for people is UNKNOWN to science and may be unanswerable due to the difficulties of doing such studies. Typically you can get so few people to maintain the weight loss long term that you need ENORMOUS studies to show a difference between low carb and low fat diets. So ,the smug, clueless Internet gurus who attack Gary Taubes are ALSO WRONG! Do low fat or low carb ways of eating predispose us more than the other to obesity ? The answer is UNKNOWN.

    However , I will not discount the idea that there could be. There is no data currently that can address this.

    There are MANY, MANY VESTED interests on the Internet in fanning the flames of the obesity crisis, so they can provide the ( false and scamming ) ” remedy”. ( e.g. the various Internet salesman’s dieting books)

  41. […] Malnutrition –> Health Degeneration –> Obesity & Other Diseases of Civilization […]

  42. Ted Hutchinson on July 8, 2012 at 04:08

    Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity
    Free full text available for those who click Download Article link. Well worth reading.

    Do remember ancestral diets were consumed by people living ancestral lifestyles.
    Outdoors, wearing little clothing = higher anti-inflammatory vitamin d levels
    All foods prior to farming organic free range higher in anti-inflammatory omega 3 lower in pro-inflammatory omega 6.
    Prior to electric lighting limited light at night more anti-inflammatory melatonin secretion.
    Magnesium is anti-inflammatory, modern foods are faster growing/higher yielding spend less time in contact with soil and absorb less magnesium. Magnesium is water soluble hence sea water far higher in magnesium than river water. Ancestral foods would have been higher in magnesium.

    The foods they consumed would have been less refined and probably contained more dirt (sources of bacteria) So the range and diversity of gut flora would have been much higher.

    • Richard Nikoley on July 8, 2012 at 11:21

      Thanks Ted.

      You don’t comment often but you’re always value add.

      I haven’t read it yet, but it makes intuitive sense. This is why I make sure to get vitamin D (sups and sun), I take Mag (malate is my fav) and eat plenty of liver (food and pills) and other high nutrient dense stuff—like a plate of raw oysters last night for an app.

  43. […] are getting plenty of energy, actually in excess, and they exceed their energy requirements because they are essentially malnourished, which ironically goes all the bay back to a Taubsian idea in his descriptions of obese Pima […]

  44. […] …A while back, I wrote a post about how I suspect the root cause of obesity is malnutrition:  Malnutrition –> Health Degeneration –> Obesity & Other Diseases of Civilization. […]

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