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Discussions between members
Feb 2005: Cordain again

Melchior Meijer
Alice and Fred Ottoboni
Herbert Nehrlich
Anthony Colpo
Elliot Berry
Uffe Ravnskov

Anthony Colpo

Sally Fallon
Melchior Meijer
Charlotte Holmqvist
Herbert Nehrlich
Chris Allan
Anthony Colpo
Leib Krut


Melchior Meijer  
FYI. Loren Cordian (paleo adept but also fulltime cholesterolofobiac, wich sounds like a contradictio in terminis), reviews the new nutrtion guidelines for 2005.

Cordain keeps saying clever things, but it is hard to comprehend his lasting fear for saturated fat. Especially since his Swedish co-worker Staffan Lindeberg found the hunter gatherers in his Kitava Study to be free of CHD 'despite high intake of cocunuts and 'relatively high' serum lipids'.

Alice and Fred Ottoboni 
We just read Cordain's Newsletter on the Paleo Diet and the Food Pyramid.  We agree with you-all -- it is not the most useful paper on the subject.

 May we call your attention to a paper that we just published on the Food Pyramid, entitled: "The Food Guide Pyramid: Will the Defects be Corrected?"  It appears in the Winter, 2004 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.  It is available free on their website at the following address:

We think our views in this paper pretty well reflect the general views of the Thincs group.  We would like to hear your comments.

Melchior Meier
Needless to say that this a very sound résumé of how and where things went wrong and what the public needs to know to steer clear of further damage. I am surprised that you managed to publish this in a paper for physicians. What reactions did it elicit? And do you think that also the popular press in America (f.e. the New York Times or the Washington Post) would accept this view in their opinion columns? If a scientist (or a science writer) would manage to present this vision in a Dutch newspaper, a total war would break out. As a journalist I am curious as to how 'ripe' the atmosphere is in the various developed countries. Our media still vigorously boycot any argument or opinion that challenges the current nutrition guidelines. TV-journalist have the strongest impact, but sadly they are also the most stupid of us all. It might well be that this time only the Internet will be able to force a 'renaissance'.

Herbert Nehrlich 
I have had personal communication with Cordain at the suggestion of Ray Audette, whose book is quite interesting and who sent me a sample of his homemade Pemmican. Delicious ! Cordain is extremely helpful in providing links and answering questions but there is one overriding issue: 
The Bogeyman's name is Cholesterol ! He seems to have almost a phobia. Audette is more open, although he contradicts himself within his own book on the issue, so perhaps he can still be "educated'.

I am thinking of sending my Ancel Keys poem to Cordain.

Anthony Colpo  
last year I wrote a piece on my site speculating why Cordain, who has otherwise published some truly helpful material on Paleo nutrition, is so hung up on cholesterol and saturated fats:

I promptly recieved an email from a dedicated Cordain groupie in Sydney objecting to my comments. What followed was an extended 3-way exchange between myself, said groupie, and Cordain himself.

Anyone who is interested can check out the exchange at:

Elliot Berry 
Can anyone help me with logical flow and influences?
A         Does It neglect the effects of domestication and society leading to cooking and a change in dietary patterns (albeit with the dental evidence for caries - from the sugars released)?
B         Primitive man had a much shorter lifespan than to-day and therefore his diet might not necessarily have been optimal. However his exercise habits are to be copied.... remember "fat and fit is better than lean and lazy"
C         This may also be seen by the increase in height with time as evidence for improved nutritional status.
D         Therefore one cannot extrapolate from the ancestral diet to today's circumstances.

Uffe Ravnskov 
Anthony - An excellent rebuttal of Cordain's ideas. Should be read by everyone!

The problem with Cordain is that the basis of his theory has nothing with science to do as it is impossible to falsify. As I have said before (see Discussion section on our website: About the cavemen´s diet) we will never learn what our ancestors ate in the caves or elsewhere, in particular not how much. Neither will we learn if their diet was beneficial or harmful to their health. Said that, I think it is a good idea to stick to natural food undisturbed by the food industry.

The reason why Cordain is obsessed with cholesterol and sat.fat. may be that this is the price for being accepted by the establishment. Some of us know what it means not to be obediant.

At the Boulderfest 2005 in July Cordain is appointed as a speaker together with Frank Hu, Duane, myself and many others, go to 

I am looking forward to an interesting panel discussion 

A correction. I didn´t mean that Anthony has rebutted all Cordain´s ideas – I meant of course his allegation that our ancestors ate less animal fat and cholesterol. 

A short comment to Elliot. I just read a paper by a Swedish archeologist, Kerstin Lidén. She claimed that the mean length of male gatherer-hunterers was about 166 cm, for female ones about 156 cm, in support of your objection. One of her other arguments against Cordain is that paleolithic time was about 2 million years and that there (of course) was an immense variation in these people´s diet. This is also what has been observed among present days´ primitive people. Which of their diets should we choose?  

Anthony Colpo
the improvement in longevity we enjoy today has occurred primarily over the last century, and cannot be attributed to the abandonment of Paleolithic nutrition, which occurred some 10,000 years ago.

In fact, Cohen and a whole host of others (Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. Eds: Cohen MN, Armelagos GJ. Academic Press, New York, 1984.) have presented evidence suggesting that human health took a turn for the worse with the onset of agriculture.

Based on what we know, the major causes of death among primitive humans were infectious disease and violent death. This applies even to many recent hunter-gatherer/nomad societies. Mann's autopsy study of Masai men showed that the most common causes of death were "homicide" and syphilis. The Masai were well-known for their war-like attributes, raiding neighboring tribes, stealing their cattle and women…if you live that kind of life, don't expect to live to a ripe old age, no matter how fit you are or how much pristine free range food you eat!

What is most telling from Mann's studies is that the Masai were in far better physical condition and their cardiovascular systems were far healthier than age-matched Americans. "Age-matched" is the key word--if the Masai were able to combine the healthier aspects of their lifestyle with a more sanitary and civilized mode of living, then there is little reason to believe they would not live as long if not longer than the average westerner.

Many members of this group are no doubt familiar with the work of Weston A. Price, a quick read through Nutrition and Physical Degeneration should dispel the myth that "primitive diets" are somehow inferior to modern diets.

The longevity we enjoy today is primarily a result of improved sanitation and hygienic living conditions. Our control over microbes has progressed to the point where most of us are now living long enough to die from other causes.

The fact that this technology did not exist back in the Paleolithic is obviously no indictment of Paleolithic nutrition. In fact, if we were to take a large group of today's largely unfit and unhealthy westernized citizens and transport them back in time to the Stone Age to fend for themselves, sans their emergency medical care, prosthetics, visual aids, etc, etc, I think you would find that their longevity would suddenly be drastically reduced!

One very important point that is typically overlooked is that the Paleo era was also free of many other negative health influences--chronic stress (Stone Age man did not rush off every morning to catch the bus, did not have to work at a boring unrewarding job for decades on end, did not stress over meeting mortgage/car/college/alimony/widget-and-gadget repayments, etc, etc), drug use, and alcohol abuse. His kids were not stuck in the stupefying institutions we call schools, where they were pressured to confirm to a bizarre array of mind-numbing and often downright harmful trends adhered to by their peers.

He rose with the light and fell asleep soon after dark, rather than pounding down his melatonin levels by flicking on the lights and watching the replays until 3am. He exposed his skin to plenty of vitamin D-producing sunshine or, if he lived in colder climates, sought out fatty vitamin D-rich foods. Importantly, Paleolithic man had no choice but to be physically active.

As Uffe has rightly pointed out, there is no "one" true Paleo diet, as exact dietary composition would have varied widely from one geographic location to another. There were however, a number of common characteristics of Paleo nutrition, the major ones, IMHO, being;

--complete lack of refined, processed, nutrient depleted pseudo foods, which now comprise over two-thirds of our diet;

--lack of refined vegetable seed oils;

--a lower dietary ratio of omega-6:omega-3 EFAs;

--far higher concentration of beneficial micronutrients per ingested calorie of food;

--minimal to nil consumption of refined carbohydrates (honey was seasonally available in some areas);

--lack of calorie-containing beverages;

--absence of dairy products;

--absence of cereal grains and legumes;

While macronutrient composition would have ranged from hi-carb, low-fat to hi-fat, lo-carb, I firmly believe from reviewing the evidence that a far higher proportion of Paleo peoples would have eaten higher protein and lower carb diets than those typically consumed today. Cordain and his team have even conceded this point. Unfortunately, they propagate the low-fat Paleo myth by pretending that all Stone Agers lived off gazelles, caribou and kangaroos, ignoring the evidence showing that humans were also prolific hunters of Bison, Mammoths, Hippos, Rhinos, and other fat-rich game. They also ignore the mountain of evidence showing that saturates are not responsible for the evils they are frequently accused of--nor do they consider the evidence linking saturates to decreased free radical stress and thrombosis.

Sally Fallon  
For our review of Cordain's book, see

Melchior Meijer 
Nothing new to most of you, but this paper illustrates once more the fact that Cordain's science, although refreshing in many respects, is severely biased by the cholesterol myth.

Charlotte Holmquist
"What is most telling from Mann's studies is that the Masai were in far better physical condition and their cardiovascular systems were far healthier than age-matched Americans"

Just a reminder, though, the traditional Masai diet consisted of six foods: meat, milk, animal blood, animal fat, tree bark, and honey.

I think attention has to be paid to dietary products. The milk of domestic animals (cows, yaks, camels, goats, sheep, horses, zebu, buffalo, reindeer to name a few) has been part of human diet from the instant animals were domesticated.Therefore I feel skeptical about the statement:

" There were however, a number of common characteristics of Paleo nutrition, the major ones, IMHO, being….absence of dairy products;"  

Herbert Nehrlich
In defence of Anthony, another wanderer Down Under, may I quote Ancel Keys when confronted with the objection to his new-fangled cholesterol theory?

"The Masai? Well, err, uh, eh, well, now, that is to say, ahemm, uh, they must be, err, they ARE genetically different." 

This is not a direct quote but should work as a quick bail out.

Chris Allan 
Anthony, Herbert and others: Your comments are right on the point to dispel the myth that modern foods have increased longevity. The major factor is reduction of infant mortality, mostly due to infectious disease, which would play a huge
role in the reduction of the average age. In the US this is easily found on the CDC website. I used some of that information in "Life Without Bread" (US version) back in 1999.

Even when I have discussions with low-fat proponents, they still agree that the average age increase is due primarily to reduction in infant mortality. 

Anthony Colpo
it must be kept in mind that the consumption of dairy products began around the same time as grain cultivation, when humans began to domesticate animals--i.e. at the end of the Paleolithic.

 The Masai reportedly began cattle herding some ten milennia ago, their cattle are the primitive-looking zebu variety which yield A2 milk, the 'original' milk. The fat content of their milk is twice that of the western variety.

 As for the tree bark and honey, Mann reported that Masai warriors between the age of 15-30 had to adhere strictly to the meat and milk diet. Mann reported that cattle blood was used to supplement the diet mainly during the dry season when the cattle were not producing as much milk (nowadays they could just pump in some good ol' Monsanto rBGH and keep the white stuff flowing, mastitis be damned!). Others have also claimed that the blood aspect of the Masai diet has been overemphasized because of its novelty factor. According to Mann's autopsy results, the warrior phase seemed to be correlated with little progression of atherosclerosis.

 Along with consuming the A2 variety (which reportedly forms smaller curds in the gut) I also understand that much of the milk consumed by the Masai was in cultured form, as it quickly began to sour when poured into gourds in the hot African sun. 

As for the role of dairy in a healthy diet, there are many people who seem to do fine consuming milk and there are those who are clearly better off not consuming any dairy at all. I fall into the latter category, courtesy of food sensitivities I picked up during my hi-carb days. If, however, I was able to consume dairy, I would almost certainly consume butter, as I believe the literature shows dairy fats to be cardioprotective (plus it smells so damn good when its melting...sigh!). Butter's low protein and lactose content should also pose little problem to most people. If I was able to consume dairy, a little voice inside tells me that the occasional tub of ice-cream might just find its way into my house...purely for guests of course...seriously...truly...  

Leib Krut 
It is correct that domestication of animals, and with it the consumption of milk and its products, began with the cultivation of grains, about 10 000 years ago.

I want to point out that dairy products were not unique to the Masai. All manner of beasts were milked in Europe, as elsewhere. Like in the Masai in recent times, most of the milk was consumed after it had been allowed to go sour, a product we would identify as yogurt. This is not the same as the yogurt currently marketed in the western world. Cream taken from the soured milk was used to make butter, and butter has good keeping properties. Simple churning of fresh cream gives the equivalent of whipped cream, it does not give butter. Cream that has been allowed to "ripen" will show separation of fat and water when churned. This was practiced throughout the world until the advent of refrigeration at the beginning of the 20th century when food handling techniques were changed in the developed world.
There are a number of consequences in allowing milk to sour. One is that lactose is broken down so that this product can be consumed by people with a mild degree of lactose intolerance. I suspect that mild lactose intolerance is as common in the Masai as it is in other parts of Africa, but the Masai must be able to tolerate sour milk which is a part of their basic diet. Sour milk is commonly consumed to this day in many parts of Africa.  
Another consequence of leaving milk fat to sour is that the cholesterol contained therein undergoes some spontaneous oxidation, forming oxysterols. Oxysterols have the property of preventing crystallization of cholesterol from supersaturated solution. I believe it is the crystallization of cholesterol from the plasma lipids that are deposited in the arterial intima that renders that cholesterol atherogenic; and that adequate oxysterols in the diet could prevent that from happening.
I should add that meat has been preserved for millenia by allowing it to dry in the air.The same oxidative changes occur in the cholesterol in meat 
In my view, the critical change in the human diet with relevance to atherogenesis was the alteration in food handling techniques allowed by refrigeration, introduced in the developed world early in the 20th century. This inadvertently largely eliminated the spontaneous generation of oxysterols in foods of animal origin, removing these compounds from the human diet. 



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