Diet Cults vs. Science-Based Healthy Eating

Diet Cults
This will be shorter than my usual book reviews and is something of an afterthought. I just finished writing a long article on “Food Myths” that Michael Shermer had asked me to write as a cover article for an upcoming issue of Skeptic magazine, and while researching the subject I read a book that someone had suggested to me (I’ve forgotten who you are, but thank you!). It occurred to me that since not everyone who reads SBM subscribes to Skeptic, it would be good to tell this audience about the book too.

(Note: if you subscribed, you could not only read my upcoming “Food Myths” article but also my regular SkepDoc column and my long article “On Miracles” in the next issue. And there’s lots of other great stuff in the magazine, including the Junior Skeptic section for your kids and grandkids. A digital subscription is available for only $14.99 and you can even get a trial issue for free, so you have no excuse not to check it out. End of commercial.)

The book is Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us, by Matt Fitzgerald, an endurance sport and nutrition writer. Not a doctor, but he understands science better than a lot of doctors who have written about diet and nutrition. His reasoning is persuasive and is supported by the scientific evidence.

One of his theses is that humans have a natural propensity to make moral judgments about others’ food choices. This probably developed because it was a practical way to encode trial and error knowledge about safe and unsafe foods, then it became hardwired into human behavior because of the survival advantage for group cohesion. Taboo foods and religious dietary laws like kosher and halal define “our tribe” and emphasize our difference from “others.” We can see a similar group solidarity, peer pressure, moral stance, and semi-religious zeal among today’s environmentalists and animal rights activists.

He argues that most people initially choose diets because of emotional and social factors, and then cherry pick the published evidence (if there is any!), using confirmation bias and rationalization to find post hoc reasons for their unreasoned choices.

Fitzgerald handily debunks the arguments for the Paleo Diet. There was no one paleolithic diet: our Stone Age ancestors ate a variety of diets determined by whatever they could get. Anyway, we couldn’t possibly eat like they did because their food sources are long gone. Today’s plants and animals have been drastically altered by selective breeding. The corn we eat is a far cry from the “natural” teosinte gathered by early humans. Arguments that we should eat what we evolved to eat are undercut by three facts: humans have continued to evolve since the Paleolithic (adult lactose tolerance is one of many examples), and humans evolved to be adaptable and to thrive on a wide variety of dietary intakes; and we evolved to have the survival advantage of intelligence and inventiveness to develop technology to improve our access to food (for instance, cooking). In other words, technology is “natural” for humans, and eating in a variety of ways is natural for humans too. If our ancestors had been less adaptable and if there was a single healthy diet, humans could not have spread to new continents or survived the climate changes of the Ice Age.

He says:

Science has not identified the healthiest way to eat. In fact, it has come as close as possible (because you can’t prove a negative) to confirming that there is no such thing as the healthiest diet. To the contrary, science has established quite definitively that humans are able to thrive equally well on a variety of diets. Adaptability is the hallmark of man as eater. For us, many diets are good while none is perfect.

I think he’s right. If science had identified one optimum diet for human health, all the fads and arguments could have stopped by now. Despite the uncertainty, the existing scientific evidence does seem to be converging towards certain principles that most experts can agree on. There is good evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is healthier than the typical American diet high in calories, red meat, and processed foods.

Fitzgerald provides a 10-item hierarchy of foods from more healthy to less healthy:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts, seeds and healthy oils
  • High quality meat and seafood
  • Whole grains
  • Dairy
  • Refined grains
  • Low quality meat and seafood
  • Sweets
  • Fried foods

He recommends that we eat more of the categories higher on the list, and less as we go down the list. No foods need be prohibited.

One could certainly argue with his list, and it hasn’t been tested to see if his plan will actually keep people healthier or make them live longer, but it seems to me that it is at least as reasonable as anyone else’s diet advice. Why not follow this plan while we are waiting for more conclusive scientific evidence? It is flexible, accommodates individual preferences, avoids extremes, and is consistent with the best evidence that we do have.

We don’t just eat for health, we also eat for enjoyment. Why deny ourselves some of the greatest pleasures of life on the basis of diet fads and recommendations that are based on uncertain evidence?

Fitzgerald covers a wide variety of topics such as superfoods, low-carb, protein supplements for weightlifters, sugar, grains, dairy foods, vegetarian diets, dehydration, weight loss, severe calorie restriction for longevity, and many more. The book is well-written, accessible, and a treasure trove of scientific study results and interesting trivia about diet. I enjoyed it, and I think you would too.

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Nutrition

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212 thoughts on “Diet Cults vs. Science-Based Healthy Eating

  1. Windriven says:

    I wonder what Fitzgerald means by low quality meat and seafood?

    1. stanmrak says:

      Animals fed an unnatural diet, like cows eating GMO corn and soy (They were meant to eat grass.). eColi is the direct result of feeding cows this diet. This leads to an increased use of antibiotics, which remain in the meat you eat. Feeding chickens GMO corn, more unnatural food for them. Wild chickens wouldn’t eat corn and soy. More antibiotics, hormones, even things like arsenic. None of this has to be on the label, either.

      I could go on and on, but I don’t think you would really want to know. 99% of the meat in the store falls into this category. You’re eating the flesh of diseased animals.

      1. Windriven says:

        Hey stan, I don’t think that is what Fitzgerald meant. If it is, he’s as full of crap as you are. That would be hard to believe.

        So what is unnatural about corn or soy?

        Who meant for cows to eat grass? Corn is a grass. Did you know that?

        E. Coli is a bacteria widely distributed in bovine digestive tracts whether grass or corn fed.

        If e. coli is present in cattle regardless of feed then your claim that corn feeding leads to more antibiotic use is false.

        What is unnatural about feeding corn to chickens? I don’t know about “wild” chickens or even if there is such a thing. Barnyard chickens however will, left to their own devices, eat almost anything. That includes corn. If you spend some time in the wild you will learn that chickens are not alone in this. A variety of birds happily dine on whatever grains and seeds they can find.

        “I could go on and on”

        Yes stan, and you do, don’t you? You drone on and on repeating the same tired nonsense as if repetition will make it true. I couldn’t find a single statement in your entire comment that is wholly and completely true other than lax labeling requirements. 1 out of … how many. Whatever, not a passing grade. I guess that makes you a flunky on top of everything else :-)

        “You’re eating the flesh of diseased animals.”

        And you are burdened with a diseased mind.

        1. stanmrak says:

          Cow stomachs are not designed to eat corn and soy, plain and simple. When we started to feed them this diet, cows began to get eColi like they never had before. This is not a conspiracy theory, but a documented fact. Wood pulp is natural too, but it’s not humans’ natural diet; what would happen if humans switched to diet of wood pulp?

          “A simple change in cattle diets may reduce the risk of Escherichia coli (E. coli) infections in humans, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Cornell University microbiologists have discovered.
          Research reported in the Sept. 11 issue of the journal Science indicates that grain-based cattle diets promote the growth of E. coli that can survive the acidity of the human stomach and cause intestinal illness. E. coli contamination is responsible for more than 20,000 infections and 200 deaths each year in the United States.”

          1. Greg says:

            From the cited article “Fortunately there is a workable solution to the food-safety problem, the scientists say. By feeding hay to cattle for about five days before slaughter, the number of acid-resistant E. coli can be dramatically reduced.”

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Wood pulp is natural too, but it’s not humans’ natural diet; what would happen if humans switched to diet of wood pulp?

            That actually argues against your point – it’s about what animals can eat and grow on, not what is “natural”. Cows can eat corn and soy, and can grow while doing so. Yes, there are problems, but they can still consume it and grow, if they have to. Humans can’t grow on wood pulp.

            E. coli contamination is not a concern for the cows, only for humans, which is why they recommend switching to grass for the few months before cows are slaughtered.

            And yes, this does indicate problems (for humans) about the raising and slaughtering of animals. That doesn’t mean the meat is diseased, or has some sort of magical, scientifically-undetectable taint to it. The cows themselves aren’t really bothered by the presence of E. coli. And even if they were – who cares as long as it doesn’t sicken humans? We are turning them into food after all.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              Oops, days rather than months. Thanks Greg!

          3. Calli Arcale says:

            “Research reported in the Sept. 11 issue of the journal Science indicates that grain-based cattle diets”

            If so, how does this support your contention that they shouldn’t eat soy? Or is that a grain to you?

            1. Mike says:

              In livestock diets, concentrates and roughages are separated. Concentrates include soy, grains and other nutrient energy or protein dense feedstuffs. Roughages include high fiber feedstuffs.

              1. Calli Arcale says:

                I know, but I rather think Stan does not. ;-)

        2. RoninChurchill says:

          Not to give credence to Stan or unsoundly reasoned arguments, but in this case, I too would make the argument that a feedlot diet is unnatural for ruminants and produces lower-quality meat (in terms of nutrition). Corn, the species, is a type of grass, but we don’t feed cattle the stalk, we feed them the seed. The seed is predominantly starch while the stalk is predominantly cellulose. The energy in the starch is extracted much easier, which increases the energy-density of the diet and produces nice, fatty cattle with marbled flesh.

          If you look at the fatty acid content of grass- vs. grain-fed cattle, it’s a pretty stark contrast. Depending on the cut, grain-fed meat has over 2.5 times as much fat. That’s the difference between a steak with 10 g of fat and 25 g of fat, or an increase of 135 kcal. The fatty acid profile is different as well, with grain-fed having larger amounts of the saturated fats typically considered to have a negative effect on cholesterol, like palmitic acid, and less of the saturated fats considered to be overall positive, like stearic acid.

          I can’t say what a wild chicken would eat, but we can heavily influence the health qualities of poultry by altering diet as well. In the case of poultry, total fat content is only affected to a minor degree, but the percentage of fat in saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated forms is highly influenced by feed. I don’t think corn or soy makes a large impact vs. what a chicken would forage on their own; it’s the fat content of the hens’ diet that is important, not the carbohydrate source.

          So, I think we can make an objective argument that grass-fed beef is a healthier choice, at least when all other things (such as cut) are equal. We can also argue that we could produce chickens with more desirable fatty acid profiles, though currently we have no sorts of labels that might help guide a consumer towards purchasing a “healthier hen” fed a better diet, so I’m not sure how you would gauge the quality of your chicken objectively unless you know the producer.

          1. Greg says:

            Yes grass fed beef apparently has as much or more Omega 3’s than salmon, however finding it in the grocery stores is impossible for me and I don’t like the idea of paying high prices for something I eat only once a week or less, so I’ll stick with the “conventionally produced” beef.

            1. RoninChurchill says:

              You’re better off with the salmon by far. Yes, grass-fed has more omega-3s than grain-fed, but the amount is still miniscule–about 74 – 119 mg per 4 oz. This is compared to the 726 – 1,725 mg per 4 oz in wild salmon and 3,360 – 4,722 mg per 4 oz in farmed salmon.

              In other words, salmon has anywhere from 7 – 64 times as much omega-3 fat as grass-fed beef.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                One tablespoon of flax seed has about 1.8 grams of omega-3s too.

                Many paths to the top of the mountain.

              2. Adrian Bank says:

                The whole omega 3 fatty acid thing is being debunked. it was based on a native tribe in iceland or demnark or something. They ate mainly fish and sea mamals and evidently had low heart disease and a study on that got the myth going. Turns out the low heart disease was based on very superficial autopsies when the examiner didn’t know or care what killed the guy. Also these tribes died of all causes much younger than Europeans. Just about every diet wisdom gets disproven most recently sodium and saturated fat. All that said I’m an Atkins guy because I find it the least painful way to reduce caloric intake so I can fit in my clothes. If my success is due to confirmation bias or something then great I’m happy to call it confirmation bias and not Atkins.

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                It’s not really confirmation bias – you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to if you want to lose and maintain weight loss. Calorie reduction. You appear to be one of the lucky few for whom a long-term diet high in fat and protein works. For most it doesn’t. You don’t seem to claim that it’s due to metabolic magic, or that the diet cures cancer, so you’re still on the rational side of things.

                It’ll be interesting to know if the long-term benefits of weight loss outweigh the possible detriments of such a meat-heavy diet. We don’t know yet, and it’s complicated.

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            I too would make the argument that a feedlot diet is unnatural for ruminants and produces lower-quality meat (in terms of nutrition).

            That would be a point of concern if we exclusively got these nutrients from cows, but there are other sources of all the ingredients we could get from grass-fed beef.

            I am curious if they feed the cows the whole of the corn, or just the kernels. If corn is ultimately grass, wouldn’t cows be able to eat it? Ronin, if I understand your point correctly, it’s a matter of efficiency of feed, not ability to digest?

            In the case of poultry, total fat content is only affected to a minor degree, but the percentage of fat in saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated forms is highly influenced by feed.

            Sure, but how do the levels and amounts of fats compare to, say the amount of fat found in a nut, or a seed, or a plant source of the poly/mono? Or olives? And since meat is best eaten rarely and in small amounts, is it wise to rely on it as your primary source of mono and polys?

            So, I think we can make an objective argument that grass-fed beef is a healthier choice, at least when all other things (such as cut) are equal. We can also argue that we could produce chickens with more desirable fatty acid profiles, though currently we have no sorts of labels that might help guide a consumer towards purchasing a “healthier hen” fed a better diet, so I’m not sure how you would gauge the quality of your chicken objectively unless you know the producer.

            I think the solution is either a) genetically modifying cattle and chickens so they fatten better and with more favorable health profiles on cheap sources of nutrition or b) vat meat.

            Who am I kidding, it’s always vat meat.

            Vat meat! Vat meat!

            1. DevoutCatalyst says:

              Let me get this straight, you want vat meat so you can be environmentally friendly AND a meat eater, eh, Bunkie ?

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                That is exactly my reasoning, yes.


            2. RoninChurchill says:

              In both cases, I don’t think it’s as much about the nutrients we do want as the nutrients we want to avoid. With beef, any nutrient we might obtain in worthwhile amounts (like iron or B12) is basically unaffected by feed, so any nutritional argument for eating more grass-fed beef will center around avoiding excess fat, excess saturated fat, or excess calories. If we can raise beef to produce less overall fat with a greater percentage of healthier fats, then it’s a “healthier” steak.

              Of course, you might have no reason to reduce fat in your diet, and maybe that steak is your one source of saturated fat in a day, and you are well within your caloric needs. Then the difference may be irrelevant, or at least not very important to your health.

              For both poultry and beef, purposefully driving their nutritional profiles would potentially allow individuals with medically-restricted diets to consume a wider variety of food, or to use food to influence their health stats in a more significant manner. A CVD patient who has always been a “meat and potatoes” sort of guy might have better compliance with a new diet if he could continue to eat red meat but without the consequences. If the chicken he eats has more PUFAs and less SFA, then perhaps he can improve his cholesterol faster. On a population level, perhaps we could reduce risk in general if we improve the nutritional quality of our meat.

              Then again, perhaps that’s fixing the wrong problem. Perhaps vat meat will save us all. My money’s on insects, though.

              1. Thor says:

                What an interesting, and highly pertinent discussion.
                It makes perfect sense to “purposefully drive the nutrition profiles” of meat and poultry. And why not? It is easily within our grasp, and health benefits would potentially be vast. We’ve come a long way in bioengineering plant food for nutrient profile – how about the marvel that is Golden Rice? – so why not put some serious effort into animal foods, as well.
                Can be done concurrently with vat meat and insect projects, of course (though if you’ve watched any Andy Zimmern, it’s quite apparent that not everyone has the gustatory open-mindedness that is needed for consuming bugs).

              2. brewandferment says:

                there was a fellow on Shark Tank that had accomplished a snack bar that overcame the insect parts and crunchiness gross out factor: he made a flour/meal out of crickets and then used that for the snack/protein/energy type bar. Apparently it was pretty tasty and he got funded.

              3. n brownlee says:

                My god, brewandferment, have you ever smelled a cricket? GAG.

              4. brewandferment says:

                n brownlee (cuz can’t thread any deeper)

                I guess they found some way to overcome that–probably in the meal-making process.

                yeah, I sure have because at least one of the creatures in the family zoo that lives in the younger kids’ room eats them. First it was a frog, but when it died it was replaced by a gecko. They are not allowed to keep the cricket cage in their room–the crickets live in the basement because they smell so bad.

                There has been campaigning for a snake but I have fended that off so far.

              5. n brownlee says:

                Oh, you’ve got kids in that ‘bedroom zoo’ age. What a good time that is. You’re lucky to have a cellar in which to keep the smellier incarcerees. I made #1 Son keep his stinky mice in the barn, then a copperhead ate them and almost bit the kid, and I had to dispatch the damn snake with the kid dancing around me yelling, “I wanna keep him! I wanna keep him!” What larks!

              6. brewandferment says:

                yeah, it’s down to 2 guinea pigs and a gecko in their room (plus one of the 3 cats is teaching the newest cat to eat the guinea pigs’ hay which they then barf randomly around the house) . Our xmas letters always include an update on the household menagerie because it changes yearly..

          3. Mike says:

            You are mistaken. Most of the corn that cattle are fed is in the form of silage which includes the stalk, leaves, cob and grains.

          4. Thor says:

            The adage, “You are what you eat”, really applies. In nature as a whole.
            And it seems fairly easy to accomplish. All that’s done to create an egg with a higher Omega 3 profile, for example, is add flax seed to the feed. Finito!

            1. Windriven says:

              If you really are what you eat, I have real concerns about the dietary habits of some of the commenters here.

              1. n brownlee says:

                You talkin’ to me?

              2. Windriven says:

                @ Nancy Brownlee

                Hah! No, I’m talking about those who are full of sh!t. It had to get there somehow.

      2. EBMOD says:

        $tan- I don’t get why you are so averse to providing any citations for what you believe. Do you seriously think that the best way to advance knowledge in an area is to consistently pull it out of your bum? Just how do you come to the conclusions you do when it is clear you don’t value any actual evidence, but apparently simply ask whether or not it conforms to a simple filter consisting roughly of ‘anti-oxidants good . . . everything else bad’…

      3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Ah, yes, they should only feed animals unmodified foods, like teosinte, with grains so hard you have to break them open with a rock.

        I could go on and on, but I don’t think you would really want to know.

        Stan, we already know that despite your protestations of expertise, you are actually grossly misinformed about vitamins and also don’t know a damned thing about eye health. Why should we believe you about farming as well?

        You’re eating the flesh of diseased animals.

        Hey, you know where the majority of cases of Trichinosis come from? Wild game. You know, animals living in the wild, on their native, natural diet. Not pork. Domesticated pork is now an uncommon source of Trichonosis because of food safety regulations. So animals living in the wild are literally more diseased than domesticated ones, in this case at least.

        But whatever – who cares about facts, right?

        1. David Drummond says:

          Also know as Trichinellosis, in wildlife science circles. it’s key vectors are small predators, and (oddly enough) arctic pinnipeds in particular Walruses.
          Another fun fact about parasites in food (my favorite subject), of the variety of ways to acquire a species of tapeworm the most common way is from “wild caught” freshwater fish.
          Funny thing about “natural” or “wild caught” food sources you need to be REALLY thorough with your cleaning and cooking , so many nasty critters live in and on fish. not so much in the grocery store

      4. Lytrigian says:

        Animals are not fed antibiotics because of “e. coli”, which naturally occurs in their gut (and ours) regardless of what they eat. They are fed sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotic because this leads to faster weight gain, enabling them to be brought to market sooner, and its primary deleterious effect is that it encourages the breeding of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

        Wild chickens wouldn’t eat corn? How would you know? Have you ever seen a wild chicken? Do you even know where they come from? Chickens have been happily eating corn — all of what we now call maize is GMO and always has been — ever since they tried it. They’re omnivores whose preferred diet includes seeds; they don’t much care what kind.

        1. Derek Freyberg says:

          A number of the ionophore antibiotics (monensin, lasalocid, et al.) alter the bovine metabolism and enable it to metabolize grain and corn (simpler carbohydrates versus cellulose) more efficiently, so they are effectively weight gain promoters. However, cows are not naturally adapted to eat high-energy foods such as grain and corn (their natural digestive flora are adapted to metabolize low-energy cellulosic materials like grass), so tweaking what is going on in their digestive system in this way has a number of side effects, some associated with the change in fatty acids produced (which also alters the meat). This also leads to the use of subtherapeutic quantities of other antibiotics to prevent infections, causing antibiotic resistance.
          As to chickens, I agree: in my experience chickens will eat almost anything.

          1. Mike says:

            Ionophores do not change the metabolism of the actual ruminants. Rather ionophores selectively inhibit the growth of methane producing bacteria. by slowing the growth of these bacteria, other bacteria which produce volatile fatty acids are enhanced. In this way more of the carbohydrate in the diet is absorbed by the ruminants as VFA’s and less of the carbohydrate is released as methane into the atmosphere.

            The primary change is that it takes 10-20% less feed to reach a given weight. Ionophores thus lower the environmental footprint of raising ruminants.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              That’s awesome, and you should write a guest post about it.

      5. Singapura says:

        If you’d even read the article you would have seen that all grain we eat today is genetically modified. There is no such thing as a natural diet, even for animals. Wild chickens would eat anything they could get their beak on so don’t kid yourself by believing the GMO myths.

      6. Bill E says:

        How can there be an unnatural diet for an animal that is itself unnatural? There are no wild cows. Humans spent thousands of years selectively breeding wild ox to create our modern day cattle. Their diets have changed during that 10,000 plus year period as well. Many of the wild plants no longer exist…why? Because humans have been genetically modifying almost all of our foods through artificial selection also for over 10,000 years. There are no wild seedless grapes, no wild seedless watermelon, even our modern day banana in no way resembles the original, inedible fruit it came from. It is far better to educate yourself about the facts of GMO foods, which have been tested by numerous groups of scientists around the globe and have been determined to be as safe as any other food. Fear cripples

      7. Brandon says:

        I agree with you on not feeding chickens and cows corns. But you did not have to play the GMO card. Feeding cows and chickens non GMO corn is just as bad. There is nothing wrong with GMOs but there’s is something wrongful with feeding livestock things they wouldn’t eat in the wild.

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Depends on your goal really. If you want to maximize the comfort of the cattle and have a strong, gamy flavor to the meat (and chickens), then yes – a “natural” diet and exercise is best. If you want to grow cattle and chickens quickly and cheaply to provide a ready source of inexpensive meat, corn is a great idea. Nature doesn’t care if cows grow fast or slow, or suffer or not (if nature cared, she would make sure predators killed the cow before eating its guts while still alive). Humans do, and the degree to which humans prioritize “natural” versus “cheap” is a judgement call.

          I’m rather firmly on the “cheap” side, because let’s face it – they’re food, not pets. I acknowledge that there is an ethical argument to be made about happy cows and whatnot, but it’s not one that I agree with. I’d rather have cheap meat.

          Actually, I’d rather have tasty meat that works well with the recipes I cook, and ideally it is also cheap.

          We’re damned lucky that a cow killed while calm tastes better than a cow killed while suffering. If the latter were the case, slaugherhouses would be even more horrific than they already are.

    2. Thor says:

      Processed and preserved like sandwich meats, salami, etc?

    3. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

      “Low quality meat and seafood”

      Processed meats? Chitlins? He may have examples in his book.

  2. KayMarie says:

    I read this book recently *checks digital copy*

    He does go for what some people may call the naturalistic fallacy, so sticking to more wild-caught or at least free-range/grass-fed usually leaner type meats over CAFO get it to market weight as soon as possible, usually fattier meats.

    FWIW (anecdote ahead) most people I meat from other parts of the world where animals usually grow up much slower and usually outside there is a different quality to the industrialized, grow it quick, meats here. Most find American meat less flavorful and way more tender than what they grew up with in other countries.

    But we want lots of meat and we want it cheap so we do feed them whatever it takes to get them market weight and if keeping them in a barn where they don’t get the exercise helps, we do that, too.

    1. Sean Duggan says:

      As I recall, All Natural, also reviewed on this site, took a stab at that, looking at the pork industry in particular. Yes, meat is much more standardized. Some of it is for producing more meat cheaply (standardized animals means standardized pens, boning machines, etc) and some of is a perceived desire for standardization (the pork industry believes that providing a cut of pork that doesn’t taste exactly like the others on the market will result in consumers assuming there’s something wrong with the meat). It unfortunately also provides a bland product and pork farms are prone to plagues killing vast amounts of their livestock because of a lack of genetic diversity.

      In defense of factory farming, it also means that the pork involved has a vastly lower risk of parasites and other contamination than just a few decades ago.

      1. Mike says:

        One other aspect about standardization is due to the slaughtering and processing done to the animal and carcasses respectively. For example, most poultry plants use mechanized equipment to stun, kill, defeather, eviscerate and cut up the poultry carcasses. If the birds are not standardized, the evisceration process goes wrong and potentially pathogenic bacteria can be spread over the carcass. Standardizing the weight and shape of the birds prevents this.

        Standardization is also done in the pork and poultry industries for biosecurity reasons. By having animals that grow similarly, the barns can be filled and then emptied all at once so that the facilities may be sterilized between drives pigs or flocks of birds.

      2. Windriven says:

        “In defense of factory farming, it also means that the pork involved has a vastly lower risk of parasites and other contamination than just a few decades ago.”

        Hmmm … this is counterintuitive – at least to me. I know that trichinosis has been absent from the US swine herd since the ’30s. But I don’t think that owes to factory farming. And I would expect lots of hogs in close quarters to be a breeding ground for parasites that would require intensive chemical control whereas small, free range pork operations (in my fairly limited experience) have few problems with parasites and disease.

        I wonder if you could point me to literature that supports your contention?

        1. Sean Duggan says:

          I will yield that I have no real basis for that statement. Arguably, it fits under the guidelines for hygenic pig farming in the idea of readily cleanable stalls and preventing the pigs from eating each other (hopefully, they also clean the meat-grinding equipment and dispose of contaminated meat, but that’s outside of the question), but other than that, I think I made assumptions that I lack the data to back up.

        2. n brownlee says:

          Windriven- I have a longstanding fondness for pigs. They’re very smart, funny, engaging animals, and they taste great. But there’s no getting around the fact that they eat almost anything, including the feces of other animals- and other pigs. Pigs on the ground- free-range pigs- eat just about anything at all, anything they can choke down. Ample feeding of clean grain and pellets doesn’t change that. Any pig kept on soil will almost certainly have parasites; it’s unavoidable.

          In fact, any “free-range” animal will have parasites; parasites are normal. If you’ve ever hunted, ever killed a wild animal or even a wild-caught fish, you will have seen a variety of parasites- sometimes two and three levels of hyperparasitism. Whether the parasites also infect humans is another question, but I pretty much count on it.

          1. Thor says:

            So pigs are more than simply omnivorous, they’re omni-eaters. Strange concept to grasp. Certainly gives them an evolutionary advantage. Food? No problem – whatever’s available, I’ll eat it. Wow.
            Do you think this may be one reason that, historically, people have had an aversion to pork?

            1. n brownlee says:

              I didn’t know people had a historical aversion to pork. Okay, in the Middle-east. But all of Asia and the South Pacific LOVES it. Above all other meats.

              And yep, pigs, like our friend the chicken, will eat anything, including each other. Bears are no slouches, either. Or, um, people. Yes, people. We are heroic omnivores. I mean, we prefer clean, fresh food, but if we’re really hungry, we can and will eat almost anything… and what’s more, we will probably live to eat another day.

              1. Derek Freyberg says:

                Yes, and though the average adult (at least in the West) will avoid foods that are even just a little “off”, it is widely reported that infants are far less fussy. I have to say I did not test this theory with my daughter, nor (as far as I remember) did my parents test it with me. But I will happily trim the mold off a piece of cheese (I’m talking cheddar or Swiss here, not blue vein – which is a whole separate deal) and eat the rest.

              2. Thor says:

                Yes, I meant the Middle-east. And there seems to be a lot of people in CAM who are against pork. Like Mercola. They site similar reasons, like pathogens, parasites, “unclean”, etc. One can use that as a barometer: Anything religion and Mercola and his ilk espouse and proclaim is probably wrong.

              3. Lacri says:

                “we prefer clean, fresh food”

                Not so sure about that. Scavenging was likely a significant source of the meat eaten by earlier humans, and modern humans tend to prefer meat “aged”, if not “high”. Foods and condiments that replicate the umami flavours of decaying protein are ubiquitous, and generally produced by fermenting or plain rotting – think Roman garum, Asian fish sauces, mouldy cheeses and fermented soya products.

              4. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                I mean, we prefer clean, fresh food, but if we’re really hungry, we can and will eat almost anything… and what’s more, we will probably live to eat another day.

                There’s a Cracked article written by a shipwreck survivor that talks about this. Apparently in starvation situations, fish eyeballs beat out fruit as nature’s candy.

              5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Foods and condiments that replicate the umami flavours of decaying protein are ubiquitous, and generally produced by fermenting or plain rotting – think Roman garum, Asian fish sauces, mouldy cheeses and fermented soya products.

                Decaying proteins, at least in beef, aren’t the same thing as the kind of spoilage most associate with molds and fungi. It’s really just taking the incredibly nutritious proteins in the meat and having them break down/cut up into shorter sections by enzymes already found in the intact meat cells. The putrefaction caused by microbes is totally different, it’s actively harmful because the bacteria/fungi is trying to protect it’s meal chemically. Fish sauces are left in the sun in sealed barrels and are probably sterile by the time they’re tapped, and the moldy cheeses are produced by specific molds (not to mention, probably not something hunter-gatherers would run around with).

                It’s probably complicated with a ton of science involved.

                Also, casa marzu. Just because any discussion of gross foods requires a mention of fly poop cheese.

          2. Windriven says:

            “there’s no getting around the fact that they eat almost anything, including the feces of other animals”

            Meh. So. My beloved Lab has a fondness for first quality cat poop. I just don’t let her lick me.

            Interesting observation about parasites. My neighbor’s pigs pretty much free range and I don’t recall having encountered parasites during butchering. I’ve never gone about it like a forensic pathologist but never encountered it casually. Game is another matter and it is kind of weird. Some elk have a pretty good load while others are fairly free of parasites. Deer too. Don’t know what that is about.

            But I share your love of all things porcine. There is not a part of the pig that I don’t use from the head (head cheese) to the trotters (add body to soups and stews – or pickle and enjoy). I don’t have much use for the tail.

            1. n brownlee says:

              Interesting, isn’t it- the differences in individual parasite load. It has seemed to me to correspond somewhat to the season, in wild animals – my granddad told us about hunting jacks for the stewpot, during lean times early in the twentieth century- but always said they stopped in early summer, because the bots got so bad. Deer seem to have more visible infestations in the Fall than winter. I’m sure it there are many factors to which I’m blind and ignorant. I’m always positive that there are parasites that I don’t- and can’t- see. I do eat game, but I’m careful in the preparation.

              1. Sean Duggan says:

                I know with rabbits, they say that you should only eat rabbit on months with an R in them. During the summer months, May, June, July, and August, the weather’s warm and the parasite load is high.

              2. normalcat42 says:

                I don’t know about wild game, but in sheep, goats, alpacas, and horses there are individual differences in parasite load that seem to be largely genetic. Removing the animals that shed the largest number of certain parasites eggs is one part of a parasite control program in small ruminant herds.

        3. daedalus2u says:

          Another advantage of monoculture factory farms is the reduced generation of new recombinant viral disease strains like swine and bird flu.

          When pigs and ducks are grown together, separate virus strains from pigs and ducks can co-infect the same cell and the DNA can recombine generating new never-before-existing strains. This random DNA recombination goes on all the time in nature, and is how new disease causing virus strains are generated.

          One way to prevent this is to not allow ducks and pigs to co-habitate and to not use fecal matter from one animal to fertilize crops fed to others. Another way is by limiting contact between wild birds and domesticated animals; as in not growing birds or pigs free-range. Most new strains of disease do come from regions where multiple species are grown together in free-range, as is typical by subsistence farmers in less developed regions, where many diseases remain endemic.

          Where animal diseases are endemic, subsistence farmers can’t afford biosecurity programs, which is what allows those animal diseases to remain endemic. Virtually all industrial farms have biosecurity programs that attempt to isolate each farm from every other farms. That is easier to do when every farm is monoculture. In a sense, farms being monoculture is a “feature” that reduces the time between exposure and when an infection is detectable within that farm. If that time is short compared to the time for infections to be transferred from one farm to another, then large scale infections leading to large scale ruin won’t happen. This is much like the concept of herd immunity due to vaccinations preventing disease outbreaks.

        4. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

          trichinosis has been absent from the US swine herd since the ’30s. But I don’t think that owes to factory farming.

          It stopped being a problem when feeding RAW meat scraps to pigs was prohibited … because a major source of infection was the raw pork scraps in kitchen waste.

          1. Windriven says:

            Domo arigato!

    2. Googler says:

      I don’t think I ever realized how much of a difference the lifestyle of the animal makes a difference in the flavor of its meat until:
      1) travelling to Latin America – the chicken was leaner/tougher but more flavorful than what I’m used to eating in the US. To me US supermarket chicken was more tender but bland by comparison
      2) Having wild boar. It tasted nothing like pork – far more gamey.

  3. Andrew says:

    Matt Fitzgerald is great. In addition to being a skeptic I am an extremely slow ultrarunner. I have read about half of this book and a few of his others. An extremely reasonable author and talented endurance athlete that is much needed in the pseudoscience that has infiltrated nutrition and athletics. Thanks for the good book review.

    1. stanmrak says:

      FYI, endurance activities are also pseudoscience. High-intensity interval training has been proven to be far superior. Endurance sports age you prematurely.

      1. Windriven says:


          1. Greg says:

            Mercola? Really? And you expect to be taken seriously?

            1. stanmrak says:

              The info does not come from Dr. Mercola. He’s just the messenger.

              1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Mercola is not a messenger, he’s a marketer. He picks his interviews and topics for a reason – usually because he can sell something or simply because it is iconoclastic (which drums up controversy, which leads to clicks, which lets him sell products).

                It is literally the case that if Joe Mercola is recommending something, you can almost completely discount it having any medicinal value.

          2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Mercola isn’t a citation, he’s a salesman out to get you to buy his products. I’m assuming he sells natually-sourced, grain-fed shoes that he’s colored using his proprietary tanning beds.

            But given Stan’s inability to understand how vitamins work in the body or how to appropriately support eye health, we should not be surprised that he gets citations wrong as well. He’s just uncritically passing along whatever nonesense he’s read in his industry trade magazines after all.

            1. stanmrak says:

              The link did not have any information attributed to Dr. Mercola – it came from Dr. Phil Campbell, who has trained 18,000 athletes over 35 years. What’s your expertise?

              1. EBMOD says:

                You are essentially saying that you believe this article due to an appeal to authority. Just as we have asked you HOW what you know was arrived at, that is what we are asking about Dr Campbell. He can claim whatever he wants, but if he wants to be taken seriously by rational people, he needs to explain his methods for gathering his information that he used to make his conclusions.

                Seeing 18,000 athletes over 35 years is of little consolation if he has been simply practicing the wrong things over and over. I’m sure there are many medieval doctors that performed bloodletting over a similar timeframe/patient load. Does that in and of itself prove anything? Of course not.

              2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Oh, I’m a medical doctor and PhD researcher in exercise physiology. Honest, you can trust me.

                Meanwhile you weren’t even aware that the vitamins you recommend are actually more poorly absorbed than ones costing a tenth the price.

                And the amazing thing is, you portray yourself as some sort of expert!

                Also, the very fact that Joe “Buy My Crap” Mercola is passing along the information suggests that he’s got a product he’s willing to sell you to match the article he’s hosting. And oh look at that, he does. Joe Mercola’s patented elliptical trainer, designed to help you hit peak fitness in only 20 minutes per day!

                I’ll also point out that Mercola seems to be mixing up muscle types, claiming there are three types of heart muscles. That’s skeletal muscles, broken into slow, medium and fast twitch. There’s only one type of cardiac muscle. Also, the heart is an aerobic muscle, it only relies on anaerobic metabolism during ischemia or hypoxia, at which point muscle begins to die. Anaerobic metabolism of cardiac muscle actually accelerates this death rate. So for Mercola to say “Duhr, you’re not effectively engaging the anaerobic process of your heart”, that’s a very good thing because it means you aren’t killing your heart muscle.

                Jebus, you really will believe anything Joe Mercola tries to sell you, won’t you?

              3. NumberGlutton says:

                Long time lurker, first time poster. Thought I should come out with a simple one. There are actually classically only two types of muscle fibers slow twitch and fast twitch. Fast twitch is divided into two sub-types based on primary energy utilization: oxidative (which is what I believe you mean by medium twitch) and glycolytic.

                But, yeah, only one type of cardiac muscle.

              4. Greg says:

                Don’t confuse the types of muscle tissue with the types of muscle fibers. There are three muscle tissue types – skeletal, smooth and cardiac. And there are 2 basic fiber types – slow (type I) and fast (type II), however type II has 3 subtypes – IIa, IIb and IIx.

      2. brewandferment says:

        citation needed

        1. Windriven says:

          Don’t you hate when that happens?

          1. brewandferment says:

            I know, huh? and I had just refreshed the page!!

      3. LadyAtheist says:

        Anaerobic exercise builds muscle mass, which needs more calories to sustain than fat or organs. Aerobic exercise is best for cardiovascular fitness and endurance but not for building muscles. Some citiations:

        1. Richard Abbott says:

          See this is how you make a point.

          A little obvious to those who know anything about exercise, but simply stated with relevant citations.

      4. Calli Arcale says:

        “FYI, endurance activities are also pseudoscience. ”

        Who said he was making health claims for them? Project, much?

        Most ultra-athletes I know do it not because of health benefits but because they enjoy it. And yes, athletes do get injured in a variety of ways routinely; as far as they’re concerned, that’s just part of the challenge and the price they pay to compete at a particular level. Heck, look at gymnasts. That’s not an endurance sport, but it can do considerable damage to a person’s body. Athletes keep at it, though, for the love of the sport.

        Meanwhile, there’s no real evidence high-impact interval training is any better for you. A lot of pseudoscience, naturally, but then, I don’t think you’d notice that, as you judge the validity of data by whether it conforms to your views.

        1. Greg says:

          My understanding of HIIT training is you burn the same amount of calories in about half the time it takes doing steady-state cardio, which is a huge benefit for time-pressed people, besides which steady-state is ultra-boring!

        2. mangrovewoman says:

          It’s high INTENSITY interval training. Or high intensity intermittent exercise if you read the original journal article (below). My 18-kilo weight loss thanks to doing it three times a week is proof enough for me, but I can add my girlfriend’s 19-kilos if you like. Yes, I was also eating pretty much according to the recommended pyramid seen in this book review, but that’s something I’ve tried before without actually losing much weight at all (and yes, I’ve tried other forms of regular exercise too).

          Steve Boutcher is the main man, not Mercola. Have a look here.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Nobody is arguing that high-intensity exercise isn’t good for you, but Mercola’s more extreme and above all inaccurate claims are what is objected to.

            Congratulation on your weight loss by the way, and keep up the exercise! It’s one of the best ways to keep it off. Generally exercise doesn’t work very well for people to lose weight, diet shows better research support – but you are proof there are exceptions for some.

      5. Marc says:

        Endurance sports are also fun. There’s nothing like a 100km bike ride on a late summer/early fall day.

      6. Andrew says:

        It’s not about pseudoscience. It’s an extremely difficult challenge. I never said running 100 miles was a healthy thing to do. I would argue that it is not. But I don’t care, it’s the challenge that I enjoy. And many ultra runners do include intervals in their training. I do one session a week.

        1. Greg says:

          I agree – after all the first guy to run a marathon, died at the end of it.

  4. nutrition prof says:

    While it is a sound bit, and actually kind of boring sounding, one thing I continually tell my students is “it’s not what you eat, but how much you eat” (and move your body). Or, as a wise person once said “it’s the dose that makes the poison.”
    I shall have a look at this book tho, and perhaps put it on my resource list.

  5. goodnightirene says:

    The author needs to talk to an anthropologist about food taboos. His reasoning seems lacking on that, although he may have some basis for it. If so, it’s only part of the picture. Not sure I need to read this as I’ve already been “eat(ing) good food, not too much, mostly plants” for a very long time already. I am happy to see anything out there debunking diet fads however!

    I had the same question as Windriven about the meat and presume he means that which is raised without many of the practices of the factory farm?

  6. stanmrak says:

    It’s clear that Mr. Fitzgerald has a misinformed perspective of the Paleo concept; witness the fact that the top 4 food groups on his own list essentialy define the Paleo diet! Eliminate 5 of the bottom 6 on the list, which he admits are less healthy, and you have what he claims would be a better diet, which could also just be called Paleo.

    Posing as a debunker is always good for book sales, tho.

    1. Sean Duggan says:

      Which paleo diet? The one where you eat mostly meat? The one where you avoid grains? The one where you favor wild game over domesticated meats? Or are you simply agreeing with him that the human diet incorporates such a wide range of foods (as evidenced by the wide variety of diets historically documented for paleolithic people) that humans thrive on any sort of diet?

      1. stanmrak says:

        Paleo diets are not inherently ‘mostly meat.’

        1. brewandferment says:

          define paleo diet, WITH citation

          1. stanmrak says:

            LOL… a citation to establish a definition for paleo diet? LOL. The author seemed to have picked his own narrow definition in order to make his book more salacious.

            1. n brownlee says:

              You dimwit. If you’re going to use big words, you should at least check the definition.

              1.Promoting sexual desire or lust.
              2.Lascivious, bawdy, obscene, lewd.

              1. stanmrak says:

                Controversy is sexy and sells books. If he took a rational view of Paleo diets, he wouldn’t sell as many books.

              2. n brownlee says:

                Hankering after cavemen, Stan? And here I thought it was crop-circling aliens…

              3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Pointing out the paleo diet is logically incoherent isn’t really controversial.

            2. KayMarie says:

              What is your definition, and is that one in common usage (citation needed) or just your imaginings of what that word means?

              One of the problems with paleo is it does vary depending on which axe someone is wanting grind (with another stone, no power tools allowed).

              1. stanmrak says:

                Here’s a Paleo cookbook by one of Paleo’s leading proponents. Notice that the majority of the recipes are not centered around meat. Paleo is about eating unprocessed foods and restricting carbs, especially grains, more than anything else, but is quite flexible within those guidelines.


              2. Harriet Hall says:

                Paleo is about trying to eat like our ancestors, when we don’t really know that much about what they ate and couldn’t eat what they did even if we wanted to. The paleo hypothesis ignores the fact that evolution did not stop in the Paleolithic and that what we do know about Paleolithic peoples indicates that they ate a great variety of different diets and gathered wild grains before agriculture originated.

            3. brewandferment says:

              You are the one who claimed something about paleo. What’s the source of your claim? it’s so we can all be sure we’re talking about the same thing. I thought it was mostly meat; you say it’s not. I’ve seen stupidities like “paleo brownies” so go ahead, define it with your source. And no, it’s not mercola, as has been told you already today (among many times)

        2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Paleo diets are not inherently ‘mostly meat.’

          Hey stan, is the form of vitamin E the human body prefers mostly a-Tocopherol?

          Also, please provide a link to the definitive definition of plaeo diet, because mostly I see a bunch of hand-waving whenever it shows up, with no real reference to the actual historical circumstances of the paleolithic era.

          1. Kultakutri says:

            Speaking of paleo diet and its purported health benefits, people tend to forget that paleo diet was eaten by paleo hunters-gatherers.

            Anyone who tried to gather enough stuff would know that picking enough berries, dead squirrels, eggs or slugs takes quite some walking and bending over. Which would make a decent cardio, especially compared to acquiring food by ordering a deep-fried takeaway. Those more adventurous urbanites who would go for prey which is meatier but also more German-shepherdy, would soon find themselves dead – or great athletes. This aspect of paleo lifestyle often gets forgotten.

            1. Windriven says:

              And here’s another question: any idea what the paleo lifespan was? I’m guessing that even with all that good cardiovascular exercise it probably didn’t much top 40. Of course I think if I had to eat slugs, 40 would be about right.

              1. AdamG says:

                My favorite question: which paleo people?
                Human history is long and spread across many continents. I’ve never encountered a Paleo adherent who was able to identify the specific group of humans or hominids that make up this supposed ‘paleo state.’ Paleo Alaskans sure had a hell of a different diet than paleo Africans.

    2. Bruce says:

      It is like you didn’t read the post.

      It is not about cutting foods out completely, it is about ensuring you get a balance of those foods, preferring the ones at the top, but not necessarily never having those at the bottom.

    3. Windriven says:

      Omnivore stan. Homo is an omnivore.

    4. Harriet Hall says:

      If his definition of Paleo is wrong, yet the top 4 groups on his list are consistent with your definition of Paleo, what difference does it make what he calls it? It sounds like you are agreeing with his recommendations.

    5. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      It’s clear that Mr. Fitzgerald has a misinformed perspective of the Paleo concept; witness the fact that the top 4 food groups on his own list essentialy define the Paleo diet! Eliminate 5 of the bottom 6 on the list, which he admits are less healthy, and you have what he claims would be a better diet, which could also just be called Paleo.

      Yeah, you eliminate the bottom four and you’ve got yourself the USDA-recommended diet there champ. If you eliminate the bottom five, you remove milk – which let’s not forget humans have evolved to drink. Just like we evolved to eat grains.

      How do “paleo” diets contend with the fact that humans didn’t stop evolving during the paleolithic era? Or the fact that the human population exploded once the world gained access to corn and potatoes, revolutionizing food production basically everywhere they could be grown? It’s almost as if humans can thrive on a large number of diets because of an unspecialized GI tract and the ability to modify our food through coooking.

      Also, how does the “paleo” concept mesh with the existence of things like paleo corn, or a paleo banana, or a crab apple, all basically inedible without heavy processing?

      1. RoninChurchill says:

        Let’s not forget that even if we could eat an exact replica of the diet our particular paleolithic ancestors would have eaten, we’re still making a rather large assumption that this diet is the healthiest diet for us and not just the diet of availability.

  7. stanmrak says:

    First, he “debunks” the Paleo diet, then he recommends it! – with the unhealthy additions.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Fitzgerald doesn’t “debunk” the paelo diet, he points out why it doesn’t make sense and is not a useful way to organize consumption.

      You’re the one who claims he promotes the paleo diet, but you are essentially aided and abetted by the fact that there is no coherent definition of what the paleo diet is. Some claim “unprocessed grains”, some claim “mostly meat”, some claim “vegetarian”, but it really comes down to “paleo means whatever the person talking about it wants it to mean. Which really means “paleo means nothing”.

      Just let it go champ, go back to reading up on vitamins, so hopefully next time you won’t screw it up as bad.

      1. Jeroen says:

        note: I’m not a Paleo follower, even if it looks like I’m defending it.

        By now there is no one Paleo diet anymore. Every Paleo dietary expert has his own version. I think that would make it hard to debunk it for Fitzgerald, unless he defines which version he’s debunking. He’s fighting a straw man, most like.

        I have read books about 2 versions of the Paleo diet and all points that have been made in the article are already in those books. I don’t see how that’s debunking. Also, there is no-one in the Paleo world(*) that is really claiming we can replicate a stone age diet. One of them also claims that adherence of 80% is enough. So, yes, as mentioned before: if you eat 80% of your food from the first 4 (in mostly unprocessed from), you already are eating according to a version of Paleo.

        (*)And, no, I’m not defending the Paleo nutters here, who are legion :)

        As far as I understand it, the common thread between all Paleo diets is:
        * eat whole foods instead of processed
        * Don’t make refined grains a staple and whole grains aren’t as good as people think.
        * eat dairy if you can digest it.

        Everything else is just details. I see only 1 controversial statement and that’s the whole grains business.

        The recommendations don’t differentiate between processed foods and whole foods. But, since I’ve only got the article to go on, maybe he does.

        1. KayMarie says:

          I think the main issue for a lot of us isn’t some of the end advice but the dressing it up in some grand theory.

          Eat whole foods because the data show eating whole foods is what works best.

          Avoid processed foods because the data show eating too many processed foods are bad for you.

          One of the problems with dressing it up in some grand theory is most of what we can eat today in no way resembles anything our paleo ancestors ate, especially if domesticated in any way shape or form. Also when people start trying to extrapolate from the theory they may stray very far away from the data, and we don’t know the effects of some of the odd choices people make when they start doing what ifs and using their imagination to see how far an idea will take them. They include and exclude foods mostly on what appeals to the imagination regardless of what the data may show.

          But people don’t like the science and love the woo, so they’ll eat an apple rather than some processed somewhat apple flavored extruded sugar snack not because science but because of a good fairy tale.

          I think what bothers me is highly processed foods made from almonds instead of wheat is still a highly processed un-natural food. But you can market it as paleo if you just play with what you throw in the extruding machine.

          And you do have the people who only want to eat meat and will glom onto any diet that might encourage avoiding all plants. I’m sure the Atkins guy who ate nothing but meat I used to know is now a Paleo guy who is even more righteous about avoiding plants.

          1. Jeroen says:

            I think the main issue for a lot of us isn’t some of the end advice but the dressing it up in some grand theory.

            Ah. OK. That’s definitively a problem with the whole Paleo thing. That’s true.

  8. rork says:

    I do like the idea that sinning, either about diet being healthy or environmental, is a matter of degree. For instance I don’t sweat factory vs. grazed cow – don’t eat enough of that for it to matter very much. I eat pig so little (my women don’t like it – inconceivable!) that I want to have the really fat stuff when I do. Modern pork chop is not as good as they used to be, except for your health perhaps.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      I’ve heard complaints (America’s Test Kitchen? Harold McGee?) that people who eat heirloom pork after being raised on low-fat pork tend to find it unpleasantly greasy and mouth-coating. Meanwhile those raised on low-fat and disgusted with modern lean types sigh contentedly and talk about how that’s what pork is supposed to taste like.

      I’m guessing with enough exposure and appropriate cooking, you could get used to either.

      1. n brownlee says:

        Probably. But remember- most flavors are fat soluble, and, as we learned during the low-fat lunacy, reducing fat in a food reduces flavor. That’s why fried chicken will always taste better than skinless, boneless, poached chicken breast. Austerity has its price.

      2. brewandferment says:

        it was ATK

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          Speaking of ATK, and linking to n brownlee’s comment just above – ATK published a recipe for poached chicken breasts not too long ago and they’re actually pretty good. They spike the poaching liquid with meat-penetrating molecules and it ends up being tender and flavourful as well as low fat.

          Which I then offset by adding a sauce that involves pretty considerable amounts of olive oil. Healthy fat – still fat.

          1. n brownlee says:

            Ahhh. Kleenex, in a poaching liquid with meat-penetrating molecules. Yum.

          2. n brownlee says:

            William, I know you love ATK, and I wouldn’t try to come between the two of you, not for anything in the world. But- what other, sexier and more adventurous styles and methods of cookery have you ventured? I mean, like, maybe Tony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook, or Pepin’s terrific country French cookbooks . You know, emphasis on technique, not ditzing around with thermometers and microns of ingredients.

            I just bought an enormous old Le Creuset pot on Ebay. Second hand. I plan a heroic Coq Au Vin when the kids visit next. Or if the weather is frosty, Pot au Feu. I will not measure one thing in either dish.

            1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

              I don’t cook often enough to develop sound technique – there’s only myself and Mrs. Utridge and I lack the time and experience to adapt 6-8 portion meals into single-portion meals nightly. And my word, I cannot improvise. So I must rely on those crutches of applied chemistry – thermometers, timers, and recipes built from ingredients readily purchased from my local grocery store. I produce palatable foods that don’t require a massive background and experience in cooking that I simply don’t have and now will never build up.

              I am very much a member of the “surprising number of…white, middle-aged men, who’ve approached [Cooks Illustrated editors] at public events to offer thanks for “teaching me how to cook,” voices froggy with emotion.”

              If I could live my life over again, I would get a minor in history, and pay much more attention to cooking during my youth. But given the unidirectionality of time’s arrow, I’m now stuck with my dear, sweet crutches that let me make things my wife will not merely eat, but eat on purpose.

              I envy, deeply, powerfully and bitterly, your ability to adventure in the kitchen. Sadly, I have to use the tour bus :)

              But you should try the poached chicken breasts, they are actually quite good. And not even “for poached chicken breasts”.

              I’m also crippled by the fact that my wife and I are diametrically opposed when it comes to tastes. She’s a strong taster, I’m a weak. She hates Indian, I love it. She chokes down meat, I gorge on it. I eat a 76-ounce box of vegetables every day (to offset my gorging), she will finish half of a sandwich container’s worth of vegetables perhaps twice a week. I love to explore, she ate the same dish at our favourite restaurant for five years straight. Marriage is about compromise :)

              1. n brownlee says:

                A shortage of enthusiastic eaters does affect one’s cooking habits- growing up in a large family means I “cook for a threshin'”, as one grandmother said. Too much food! Husband and I regularly have a leftover smorgasbord night: last night, ratatouille for me, buffalo meatloaf sandwiches for him. I’ve been lucky that he- and the boys- are happy to eat almost anything I cook, and both kids also enjoy cooking. (Husband is a terrible, terrible, Lovecraftian horror of a cook. We haven’t told him.)

              2. n brownlee says:

                PS I can’t stand Kimball, and I would be wiling to bet big money that he is a joyless, unimaginative, boring lover, lacking the necessary sense of timing. I bet he can’t dance, either.

              3. Windriven says:

                ” I love to explore, she ate the same dish at our favourite restaurant for five years straight.”

                When asked, my wife names her favorite flavor of ice cream as “white.” Makes me frigging crazy.

              4. Windriven says:

                “PS I can’t stand Kimball,”

                It might interest you to know that he was a hippy kid, a Dead Head, and plays guitar in a pickup band. Some books you can’t judge by the cover.

                On the other hand, Mrs. Windriven concurs with your assessment of him as potential bone machine material. Her actual words are unprintable here but involved an unflattering reference to something she’d sooner … enjoy an intimate interlude with.

              5. n brownlee says:

                Hah! I like your wife. Kimball has such an obsession with cooking “the RIGHT way”- like, god forbid you should add some garlic and take out the lemon… dull. No, no, passion. (Boy, that sounds stupid.)

                I’m still a Deadhead. Call me Sugar Magnolia.

              6. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Chris Kimball is probably the last person i would ever want to share a meal with (at least if i met steve or stan i could punch them in the dick). Kimball typifies the worst stereotype of a stuffy new Englander. But his staff write the recipes and the recipes work for me. So, year after year i buy subscriptions to both magazines, both websites and at least one book.

                The man could teach unethical market capture to Pfizer. He’s an evil genius, emphasis on the genius.

                Chris Kimball fhtagn!

              7. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

                Also, i bet he makes love with pedantic vigor. And a stopwatch.

  9. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Dr. Hall – bringing it back to the very first comment, how does Fitzgerald differentiate high vs. low quality meat?

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      I’ve already sent the book back to the library, so I can’t look up his definition, but I think what he’s getting at is that red meat and processed meats are less healthy and unprocessed chicken, fish, and lean beef are better for you.

  10. Tim Allman says:

    I think it would be hard to beat Michael Pollan’s advice – .

    1. Tim Allman says:

      Eat food. Not too much.


      1. nutritionprof says:

        I want like to like Mr. Pollan, but his anti-GMO agenda concerns me:

        It is also difficult for folks on a fixed income, with limited resources, to follow his advice. I agree with his recommendations, but I feel his appeal is to a limited (but vocal) audience, and I’d like him to address that.

        1. n brownlee says:

          I wanted to like him, too, but I think he’s a smug, anti-science self promoter.

        2. mouse says:

          In Omnivore’s Dilemma – the first chapter had a lengthy description of how concerning it is that our diet relies so heavily on corn products (corn syrup, ground corn, etc). At first it was interesting, then I found it totally messed with my OCD. It’s bad enough avoiding high sugar foods due to my son’s teeth, I can’t even imagine the time I’d consume trying to avoid corn products. Food concerns are not usually an issue for me, but damn he got me for some reason.

          Not sure how much this would effect others.

        3. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          I’d love someone on SBM to do a takedown on Pollan; his initial sane and sensible works seems to have become polluted with irrational antiscientific, anticorporate nonsense of late. Nathanael Johnson’s series on GMOs had a somewhat heartbreaking post where he discusses how Pollan, initially one of his idols, sells science down the river.

          1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

            Holy crap, I just read that Forbes piece on Pollan and watched the YouTube clip in it. Wow, what a condescending, paternalistic, smug asshole. Permit me to summarize:

            “It was great how I used to be able to present my opinions as if they were facts and science, but now it’s a total bummer that actual scientists and regulators have pointed out that most of what I say is bullshit and nonsense.”

            I guess it doesn’t matter if most people can afford to eat or not, so long as you can get your organic, grass-fed beef and heirloom tomatoes, right Pollan?

      2. Thor says:

        That’s the first two thirds of it – the last one is “Mostly plants”.

  11. Hilary says:

    As far as grass fed versus grain fed, isn’t it harder on the environment and resources to produce grass fed beef?

    I do wonder along with a few other comments here about what constitutes low grade meat and seafood, as in something inherently low grade about the food or is it more about how it’s prepared?

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Preparation is part of it. Fried fish is not as healthy as broiled fish.

      1. Hilary says:

        Right, that makes sense. This post was particularly interesting to me because my husband and I are expecting our first baby this fall (eek!) and I have really been starting to think about healthy eating habits and exercise so we can all be happy and healthy for this new little human we’ll be welcoming into our home. Super restrictive diets have never seemed very efficient to me, and I have never liked the Paleo fad. This book sounds interesting, I’ll have to check it out.

        1. EBMOD says:

          Congratulations on the little one, I have a 5, 3, and 1 year old and being a parent is a blast…

        2. n brownlee says:

          Congratulations! It’s a wonderful time of life.

        3. Bruce says:


          The birth of my first child almost 2 years ago now kicked a similar thing off in my wife and I. We started a lifetime commitment to being a bit more healthy in what we eat and once I lost enough weight I started running/playing rugby again and really feel very good about things and the future and being able to be an active dad to my two sons without restricting my diet too much.

          WARNING: Long personal story ahead!
          I have always been a yo-yo dieter, but I did something differently this time… I log my food religiously and have not cut any foods I liked out at all, just realised how many calories they were and then ensured I stayed within the daily and even weekly limits.

          The surprising thing for me though was not that most of my calories came from snacks (which a fair amount did… those pesky “healthy” nuts have LOADS of calories), but that they came from HUGE portion sizes and calorifically prepared food. A few tweaks to our diet which amount to:

          Sub some snacks with fruit (not all though because I love my chocolate too much)
          Add Veg to our meals to bulk it out for fewer calories (a few quick boiled frozen peas, sweetcorn and even carrots are easy to prep and much better than chips)
          At least at first measure out food religiously to get a proper idea for what a portion should look like.
          Recognise the calorie to enjoyement ratio in everything I eat… (those coconut macaroons someone brings in to work that I don’t really like but used to eat just because they were there are now a no no… but two dark chocolate smothered biscuits or even a half tub on B&J Chocolate Fudge sundae are in if calories for the day/week permit)
          I also allow myself not jsut one treat a week, but a few, and if i exercise, i almost always eat back nearly all of the calories spent because I worked for them!

          What does this amount to? Eating what I enjoy, and still losing weight. It is all about being conscious of what I eat and making sure I don’t waste those calories on crap I don’t like. Most of all, I am now honest with myself with what I eat. My body will respond and get fatter if i eat more calories than I use no matter how surruptisiouly I stuff my face, so there is no point sneaking a biscuit and not logging it.

          1. Bruce says:

            Of course, my whole assumption when you said “healthy eating” was to lose weight… but I realise on reading back that was a big assumption that might not actually be the case.

            Just because being fat has always been my measure of my (bad) eating habits, it does not mean it correlates with other people’s.

      2. Lacri says:

        If healthy oils are third on the list, what makes fried food unhealthy (assuming it is fried in healthy oils)? High heat? Old oil? Also, what is meant by “fried” – does it include sauteed mirepoix as well as deep fried potato chips?

        1. Calli Arcale says:

          AFAIK, it’s mainly the *quantity* of fats that makes deep fried food less healthy, not so much the quality. ;-) Hence a distinction between deep fried and sauteed or stir-fried. Sautee and stir-fry both use relatively small amounts of fat.

    2. KayMarie says:

      Probably depends. Much of the land used to graze cattle these days (as some cattle are just finished in the feed lot, they aren’t inside a barn their whole life) is land that doesn’t get enough water for raising corn. That lack of water also mean you can’t have a lot of cows per acre as you overgraze and damage the land from that.

      If you stop growing so much corn you could have a lot of very productive grassland for cattle. Most of the tall grass prairie that supported so many bison would support at least as many cows. Converting all that back to grass you save all the soil loss, the additional fertilizer (as I think corn takes more than prairie) and those ecological pressures. I do think I’ve read grass-fed would release more methane, so bad for global warming, and it makes sense as you have more bacteria food (that which the cow doesn’t absorb) in grass/hay than you have in more concentrated food stuffs.

      Then you have how much damage is the CAFO doing with the concentration of waste over a very small area compared to spread out over a large enough area the dung beetles and grasses will take care of most of it for you.

      In then end I suspect it is one of those 6 of one half dozen of the other but if you break even or are a bit to one side or the other will probably depend on how you cost things out.

    3. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

      “As far as grass fed versus grain fed, isn’t it harder on the environment and resources to produce grass fed beef?”

      Not necessarily … unless you insist on big, fat marbled slabs of beef from cows grazed in prime agricultural land.

      “Range fed” cattle graze where you can’t grow crops, and end up leaner and stronger flavored than feed lot fattened cattle. They are often “finished” with a couple of weeks of high calorie feed to get some marbling into the meat.

      Many people think it tastes “gamy” and that it’s “not tender” … I thin it tastes like BEEF and if you don’t overcook it, it’s tender.

      1. Hilary says:

        I see! Well I can’t say I personally know the taste difference between the two, and the environment issue seems rather complex.

        Also, perhaps I just don’t notice because I don’t buy steaks often, but I don’t recall seeing the choice between how the cows are fed. Usually just the cut or the fat content if buying ground beef is what I pay attention to.

        Anyhow, thanks for the information everyone. :-)

        1. KayMarie says:

          Some major chains may be carrying grass-fed beef, but usually around here it is more the co-ops and whole foods kinds of places.

          I ate a fair amount of bison growing up. My Dad used to go with a trunk full of dry ice and pick it up from a bison ranch the next state over. They grew up on grass-fed beef in Canada and really didn’t like the corn-fed as much. They thought the bison was much closer to the beef they remembered than the overly marbled tender stuff we could usually buy.

          1. n brownlee says:

            I just put a buffalo/turkey meat loaf into the oven. Excellent, excellent meat loaf- our favorite.

            1. Windriven says:

              Have you tried yak? I had some at a restaurant in the Idaho panhandle recently. Very lean yet tender and juicy. Excellent flavor.

              1. n brownlee says:

                Mmmmm… big hairy cow… No, I haven’t. Bison and water buffalo, yes.

              2. Windriven says:

                Water buffalo! Never tried it. But anything that produces the milk that leads to Mozzarella di Bufala has got to be good.

                We’re harvesting big, fat Celebrities right now. I’ve almost spazzed out on BLTs* so its time for Insalata Caprese.

                *The absolute only dish where iceberg lettuce is a possible component. Romaine and Boston Bibb are much better. But my grandma was first gen and iceberg was American lettuce. Also, I wasn’t allowed to play soccer as a child because that was a “DP” sport.

              3. Sean Duggan says:

                Mentioning milking the yaks for cheese and then saying that you’re “harvesting big, fat Celebrities right now” makes me feel like you’ve got Rosie O’Donnell chained up in your garage with a milking machine… I take it “celebrities” is some sort of food reference?

              4. Windriven says:

                @Sean Duggan

                You made my morning. I embellished the image of Rosie O’Donnell chained in my garage to include a ball-gag and a studded collar. Still has me smiling.

              5. n brownlee says:

                ‘Celebrity’ is a tomato- a very good tomato. I think that’s what he meant… never certain.

              6. Windriven says:

                Yes, Nancy is exactly correct. Celebrity is a large slicing tomato marketed in the New Orleans area as a “Creole tomato.” Great flavor and texture without too much gel. It is, in my estimation, the perfect tomato for a BLT.

                I was surprised to find I could even grow it in the PNW. It is late, but it is everything I could ask for. I actually had a tomato and mayo sandwich for breakfast this morning. A Celebrity of course.

        2. Windriven says:

          You can find grass fed (though not necessarily range fed) beef at some farmer’s markets. Agreeing with TDN above, grass fed beef actually tastes like beef and tends not to be loaded with fat. Grain finished (I’m not aware of any beef that is raised exclusively on grain – the cost would be, I think, prohibitive) beef has a less assertive flavor.

        3. Thor says:

          If you have a Whole Foods nearby, pay their meat counter a visit. They have on display a variety of flesh foods of all types, and grown in a variety of ways. I’m sure they’d be happy to go over the details with you.

      2. Derek Freyberg says:

        I was in New Zealand (home country) over last Christmas-New Year. On the Canterbury plains (central East coast of the South Island), they used to grow wheat, and the relatively dry summer was OK. Now, because the price of milk-based products (mostly milk powder and casein) worldwide is up, the wheat has been replaced by irrigated grass to feed dairy cattle. Beef cattle have historically been raised on poor (often hilly) land, dairy cattle on rich flat grassland.

        1. Kathy says:

          Yes, that’s the case here as well (S Africa). Most beef is raised on the veld … I don’t even know what feedlot beef tastes like. Dairy cattle live on pasture or indoors, or if they have to live on veld they get supplemented all year round to keep up production.

          Mind you, commercial beef farms have to supplement in winter as the grass is severely lacking in protein. Usually with a protein lick. Still, a lot of cattle just tough it out … they can get pretty thin by spring, especially those cows that are carrying calves.

          Something else that affects the flavour and fat content is that range-grown cattle get much more exercise. They hardly ever stand still for more than a few minutes … always walking up and down looking for grass.

    4. Mike says:

      There are trade off between grass fed and grain fed when it comes to the environment.

      Grass fed animals eat either grass from a pasture or hay from a hay field. These perennial fields have less runoff than do fields which are tilled.

      Grain fed animals usually reach market weight sooner, so there is less feed and excretion lost to those additional months it takes for a grass fed animal to reach market weight.

      Grain fed animals are usually fed ionophores. This reduces the amount of feed needed and reduces the amount of methane produced by the animals. Much of the grass fed beef is marketed as produced without antibiotics so grain fed may be better in this regard.

    5. Googler says:

      (First time poster here) My understanding is grass fed beef in general is better for the environment because grain-fed beef has the additional environmental impact of farming the grains. The environmental impact of grass fed beef depends on the farming method – not all grass fed beef is created equal. With overgrazed land at a certain point you can’t sustain your herd, and in places like Brazil, the solution after overgrazing is to move on and slash and burn for more usable land. If you’re rotating your grassland, giving older grazing areas time to recover their productivity, then you have a lessened environmental impact.

      The other piece of this is that large grazers such as bison (and cattle really aren’t that different) can actually have a positive environmental impact – they go into an area, graze, fertilize it, aerate the soil, and then move on to another area. The Great Plains was such a productive environment because of this cycle (and it offsets the methane impact because of how productive the grasslands are) – the caveat being these animals needed to have somewhere to move on to, and the environment needed to have time to regrow. A really ambitious solution would be to raise cattle in a way that mirrored bison migrations, but that’s a bit looney and unrealistic.

      1. SouthernAlbertan says:

        Actually, mirroring bison migration is neither loony nor unrealistic, though it is labour-intensive. A group of ranchers are doing just that along the eastern slopes of the southern Alberta Rockies, an ecosystem that is fragile, threatened by industry, unsuited to other agriculture (though that wouldn’t stop some from trying) and dependent on seasonal grazing by large herds of ruminants. The bison are gone but these dedicated folks move their cattle in their footsteps. On horseback, mostly.

        The meat is expensive but amazing, and since I try to limit beef to a couple times per week at most, supporting this initiative isn’t adding much to my grocery bill.

      2. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Part of the ecological impacts of bison and related animals is a bizarre mixture of history. Natives would practice the largest form of landscape modification in the world in the North American prairies, lighting them on fire with massive blazes that would obscure the sun in Europe. This consistently moved the herds to places useful to harvest, and ensured that the biome never really expanded beyond quick-growing grasses. Disappearance of the native groups due to the 90-99% die-off because of smallpox and related diseases meant less hunting of the bison, leading to massive herds of them sweeping across the prairie in probably unsustainable numbers. Then white folks showed up and started hunting them for their skins.

        Without all of this human intervention, which rather disproves the insulting and false “Indians never modified the terrain and were perfect stewards of a wild ecology” stereotype, what would the Prairies look like? I’d love to see a discussion of it – anyone know a good book?

        Most of my info is from 1491, by Charles Mann. Good book!

  12. Crider says:

    Paleo is just another about-to–fail low-carb diet in a long line of failed low carb diets. They sure do get popular, though! I remember back in the early 2000s, there were all sorts of low-carb products popping up in the grocery store. I did see the return of low carb tortillas at my local grocers recently.

    I gotta praise paleo this time because their gimmick puts a bit more fiber into the gut — that’s been a problem with previous low carb fads.

    Funny that they had to ignore the whole paleo meme to encourage the use of refined cooking oils, such as what they call ‘healthy oils’ in their guides — olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut. Real cavemen ate only the finest imported virgin olive oil from Tuscany. Eat fat to lose weight! I see the term ‘healthy oil’ all over the place even though there is no essential dietary lipid save for a paltry 1.4 gram of Omega 3 and 14 grams of Omega 6 fatty acid. We in the west eat way too much added fat, and it shows.

    These diets really cause weight loss because low-carb diets are very high in protein. So high in protein that satiety is a big factor in weight loss with those diets. But they’re so fu**ing unhealthy. Two colleagues went paleo hoping for health outcomes for their hypertension and borderline type II diabetes.

    While the simple act of losing weight can bring benefits to both of these problems, stuffing one’s face with fat and cattle carrion didn’t bring them any relief.

    1. Derek Freyberg says:

      Yep, my guess is that the paleo fats were the oils in nuts and the fat in whatever animal they caught.

      1. Kathy says:

        Did you ever read The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin? It’s a survival story of two young Germans who fled into the Namib desert with their dog, to escape internment during WW 2, and spent 2 1/2 years living off the land, mainly what they could hunt.

        It gives some interesting insights into one version of paleo diet, one based almost entirely on meat. How they longed for vegetables and, oddly enough, fat … the animals in the Namib have very little of that luxury, especially towards then of the dry season.

        the writer tells with feeling a local legend about heaven … it is a kraal in the wilderness, and outside on a tree hangs a gourd full of fat AND YOU CAN EAT AS MUCH AS YOU LIKE.

        In the end they had to surrender and return to civilization as Martin’s companion started to suffer some sort of paralysis due to lack of vitamins. He gives no details – he was a geologist not a doctor – but that’s what he thought was the problem.

    2. Mie says:

      Crider, fat intake (% of tot. E) is not an issue in determining whether a diet is healthy or not, unless you go to the extremes – so low that you can’t get the essential fatty acids or so high that it makes the diet virtually impossible to follow (and possible additional detriments to your health).

      In addition, there are low carb diets and low carb diets. If you go for the ol’ school “butter, cream and bacon”, then yes, you’re asking for trouble. But of course you can focus on eating more veggies and choose fish, nuts and dairy instead of bacon. To issue a blanket statement of the sort you just uttered is not supported by evidence.

  13. Seth Katzman says:

    Evil man. OK, I’ll resubscribe.

  14. Frederick says:

    Nuts, seeds and healthy oils
    High quality meat and seafood
    Whole grains
    Refined grains
    Low quality meat and seafood
    Fried foods
    As a primary Veggies eating guy ( well My wife and I), who eat meats ( meat include fish and seafood, I don,t see why people separate the 2, since meat = animal flesh) from time to time, love nut ans whole grains bread ( even was I was a kids! ) peanut and LOVE to eat sweet ( chocolat! ) and dairy. and of course good old fried whatever from time to time ( well poutine or fried chicken is mostly what eat when i want fried greasy stuff) . I don’t see any problem sticking to that plan! There’s no forbidden food in our house, only the guilt attitude about eating is forbidden. and turn out,the best way to eat healthy is to remove all the restrictions.

    Anyhow, good review Harriet, it look like a good book on food for once!

  15. Seth Katzman says:

    Er, woman. Sorry. Get Skeptic.

  16. Jane Santos says:

    There is NO science based healthful eating. Scientists are still unravelling how cells work. Further, all you have is DESCRIPTION. You have NO deeply explanatory THEORY.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Yes, that’s pretty much what the article said. What is your point?

    2. Angora Rabbit says:

      “There is NO science based healthful eating.” I guess you have never taken a nutrition class. We have lots of data and the advice hasn’t changed – eat moderate calories, aim for about 12-14% protein, <30% fat, and the remainder complex carbos. Don't forget the fiber. Piles of data – open up an issue of American Journal of Clinical Nutrition or related journals.

      And cells are fine, but you know, all our nutrition students understand that nutrition is actually the intersection of biochemistry and physiology. Cellular level is too reductionist – one must consider the complexity of cell-cell and organ-organ communication including hormones and homeostatic mechanisms. If you are thinking at the cellular level, no wonder you are confused, because that over-reduces the interrelationships.

      Regarding the book? Meh. I don't think he's saying much new that we haven't been saying for years. Though I don't get this "high quality" vs. "low quality" meat nonsense. I assume he's really talking about low-carnitine/lean vs. high-carnitine/high-fat meats. But hey, I love t-bones. I just don't eat them every day.

      1. Not sure now says:

        NAILED IT!!

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          I think you mean GUEST POST! GUEST POST!!

  17. Jen says:

    I think maybe when he refers to “high quality meat,” he means quality in the same way you’d refer to a “high quality apple” or any other food. You know when you’re dealing with low quality produce: it’s bruised, it’s mushy, lack of bright color, bad flavor, sourness or bitterness, etc. Same goes for meat. Prime is better than choice. Pasture-raised, grass fed is better than beef that was raised in a CAFO. Stress makes the meat tough. So the better the life the animal had, the better the meat will taste.

    That might be what the author meant, but I haven’t read the book yet so I can only guess.

    1. KayMarie says:

      I posted a bit about it from my reading of the digital copy of the book way up thread.

  18. Allison Falin says:

    As a healthcare provider, I cannot tell you how many hours I spend counseling diabetics and patients with preventable disease on diet and the importance of a balance that is realistic and attainable. My mantra to them is that it has to be realistic and a lifestyle that they can maintain and afford, otherwise it is a trend and disease processes do not typically respond to trends (the science bears this out over and over again).
    Thank you Matt for consistent information that is born out in evidence based fashion that I can point people to in my daily practice and in my own personal training goals and racing.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Sigh. HGH is not magical.

      1. Liz says:

        What do you mean?

        1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

          If you click on the link provided, the only thing of substance is about how it boosts your HGH levels, and how great that is.

  19. Jeff says:

    I would have said the same had I not have felt the totally TOTALLY obvious beneficials of the bulletproof diet. My energy levels are through the roof, unlike anything I have felt my entire 30 years of living. Drinking coffee blended with grass fed butter and MCT oil in the morning changes my entire day. Combined with no sugar, no grains, no dairy (other than grass fed butter) I feel a million £££.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      The bulletproof diet looks like bullshit there Jeff. Sure, it sounds sciency, with all sorts of wonderful citations (and meaningless prose – “Vitamin D affects more than 1000 genes in the body!” So fucking what, so does breathing). It’s meat-heavy paleo with the usual gloss of pseudoscientific cherry-picking. I hope you’re mocking it.

  20. Morton Leslie says:

    “He argues that most people initially choose diets because of emotional and social factors, and then cherry pick the published evidence (if there is any!), using confirmation bias and rationalization to find post hoc reasons for their unreasoned choices.”

    Reading the comments that followed this piece, the statement above is so well demonstrated. Witness the moral stances taken and semi-religious zeal of the commenters. Whether a carnivore, a vegan, an environmentalist, or animal rights activists its all about morality and “my way is the way God intended for us to eat.”

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Heh, have you seen Bob’s comments over at the ketogenic diet article? Not only is a ketogenic diet the only way to lose weight, it also cures cancer and there is a massive conspiracy/all doctors are too ignorant to realize that it is actually the best way to eat and guarantees immortality.

  21. Jen says:

    well, I’m glad to see vegetables, fruits, and nuts and seeds are on top of this list. The fact is that this is all I eat and my health has never been better.

    I really have bad feelings about meat and dairy, because when I stopped eating this stuff, my allergies went away, my headaches stopped, I no longer suffer from PMS, I have more energy and I generally feel a lot happier.

  22. cybergabi says:

    “Why not follow this plan while we are waiting for more conclusive scientific evidence?” Because what we eat shouldn’t only be the result of health considerations, but also consider environmental sustainability and ethical issues. Eating meat and dairy products at the current rate is destroying our climate and biosphere, consuming and polluting insane amounts of fresh water, deforesting the “green lungs” of our planet, and destroying wildlife habitat. Furthermore, killing animals for food is not nutritionally necessary anymore in a time where plant-based alternatives for all relevant nutrients are available in abundance and therefore ethically questionable. Instead of recommending “high quality meat and seafood”, the author should recommend sustainable and ethical plant-based alternatives to animal protein which are nutritionally equivalent, and can be just as tasty and pleasurable as eating dead carcass and dairy.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Environment, sure – that makes sense.

      Ethics? Meh. Animals taste delicious, and most wouldn’t exist for us to eat if it weren’t for the human desire for delicious, delicious pork. The fact that plant-based alternatives exist doesn’t make them palatable or appropriate for everyone. While I’m on board with the environmental arguments for meat, that merely means consuming less, or maximizing the inputs while minimizing the outputs (beyond the actual dead carcasses of course). The ethical arguments only hold if you place a premium on what functionally comes down to a series of thoughtless protein sacks that would otherwise not exist.

      On the other hand, a lovely solution would be economically viable vat meat, grown in factories and pre-flavored. Either that or painless edible tumors we could slice off of the cows/pigs/chickens, akin to how we currently milk cows. A third option is decerebrate clones whose muscles are exercised through electric shocks.

      It irks me when people bring up the ethical aspects of meat consumption as if they were fixed and universal truths rather than individual points to be considered within the context of one’s own values. And frankly – I value pork ribs more than I value pork suffering.

  23. Mark Thyme says:

    “We can see a similar group solidarity, peer pressure, moral stance, and semi-religious zeal among today’s environmentalists and animal rights activists.”
    Wow. What is this doing in your article? I think I detect a straw man bias here. I hardly think there is one cohensive group know as “environmentalists” and another known as “animal rights activists”. Rather, there are many, many people who are concerned about these issues and they exhibit a wide variety of opinion and behaviors. This is very poor and biased writing on your part.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      What part of the word “among” do you fail to understand? If I say I can see black jelly beans among the red jelly beans, that doesn’t mean I’m saying all the jelly beans are black.

  24. Mark Thyme says:

    I think the clear message is that you are attempting to paint a lot of hard working and sincere people as fanatics. Drop your own blinders and read between your own lines. You dealt it. Now is not the time to try to disown it via “cleverness” in the style of your commentary. I object to your all to obvious bias. Perhaps you should pay more attention to the red jellybeans.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      I think his message was that there are a lot of fanatics in those movements. If you deny that,you are the one wearing blinders.

    2. Windriven says:

      “I think the clear message is that you are attempting to paint a lot of hard working and sincere people as fanatics.”

      That message may be in the eye of the beholder. That was not the message that I got.

  25. Mark Thyme says:

    So if I just throw out a comment such as “there are many pedophiles among retired naval doctors” that makes it true. There’s nothing oddly editorial about the group I’ve randomly chosen to make my point
    And no I do not agree that “there are a lot of fanatics in those movements” and think your point is biased and non sequiuer. Perhaps yoy have data concerning your reactionary opinion?

    But, I can see you aren’t interested in an honest discussion so toodleoo and enjoy your biases. Eveyone has them and you are no exception. Often you can learn from them but first you have to recognize them. We call this scepticism.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      So are you denying that there is any “group solidarity, peer pressure, moral stance, or semi-religious zeal among today’s environmentalists and animal rights activists”? Are those qualities necessarily bad? Are they tantamount to accusing them of being pedophiles? Moral stance, solidarity, zeal? I’m guessing at least some of the people in those movements would feel flattered, not insulted, by that description.

  26. Scott L says:

    This doctor is changing the world of personal health:

    After watching the video, visit:

  27. Counterpoint says:

    Old thread so excuse my input. I personally got myself in great shape and health just following a “macros” diet which is a certain level of protein, fats, and then calorie restriction. Processed, unprocessed, organic, whatever, and it worked great.

    But, I am starting the Paleo diet. Not because I think its somehow magical but for my wife who wants to lose weight and basically NEEDS a structured plan. I can’t see anything unhealthy about the paleo diet though the book for someone with a evolutionary biology degree and a lot of nutritional research is painful to read.

    So in two weeks (vacation first) we will start an N=2 study on the paleo diet. Being I’m already ideal weight I’m not sure what I expect, but I already eat about a pound of salmon a day (farmed, deal with it Paleo people) so it shouldn’t be to hard for me.

    1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

      Why not count calories using one of many smartphone apps? That’s structured. Follow the my plate guidelines emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables. Learn to cook and make most of our meals from whole ingredients.

      There’s really not much reason for paleo to be better than any other diet, bar perhaps increased satiety brought about by eating so much fat and protein. And you’re really hoping that there are no long-term adverse effects from such a high macronutrient blend. Plus, can you really spend the rest of your lives avoiding all the things that are (or aren’t, depending on your flavor of paleo) forbidden? Because if you can’t, then you’re basically setting yourself up for yo-yoing on and off the diet. Meanwhile calorie counting forbids nothing but excesses, which are held in check by tracking what you eat.

      Not to mention, we have no idea what the actual paleo diet looked like, and when we do have some inklings through things like coprolites, the diets are impossible to follow because they use ingredients that basically don’t exist anymore, or are incredibly difficult to acquire like einkorn wheat.

      Good luck, but paleo really doesn’t seem to be defined, let alone a miracle.

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