Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop any names, but I was at a little soirée on Madison Avenue recently, hosted by a celebrity physician, and to my surprise the hors d’oeuvres included wine and cheese. Not low-fat cheese, either. It was the 100 percent whole milk variety.
“What gives with the snacks?” we asked.
“You guys are so behind the curve,” the doctor said.
“What are we missing?”
“Haven’t you read The Paleo Manifesto?”
Things sure are changing in the world of health. It wasn’t long ago that your doctor would warn you to stay away from fat. In fact, most doctors still routinely give that outdated warning to their patients.
But in case you haven’t met him yet, it would be my pleasure to introduce you to John Durant, author of The Paleo Manifesto (Random House 2014), a modern throwback to the hunter-gatherers who are our ancestors. You’ve got to love what he does because he has a sense of humor about it, and even more importantly, he’s got the science right.
His book is a breezy summary of why so many people today are embracing the Paleo approach to diet and exercise.
The most important point the book makes—the same point that Time magazine hammered home with its June 23, 2014 cover story “Eat Butter”—is that Americans have been misled by doctors, the media, and food manufacturers for the past sixty years. We have been sold a bill of goods by people that we were supposed to trust. The lie they fed us is the idea that fat is bad for you. The truth is the exact opposite. Durant’s book explains why saturated fat—including butter, eggs, meat, and coconut and palm oil—is good for you.
Atkins told us the same thing in 1972. Nutritionist Mary Enig made the same case in 2005 with Eat Fat, Lose Fat. Gary Taubes provided 640 pages of science to back up the value of eating fat in Good Calories, Bad Calories (2008) and in his latest, Why We Get Fat (2011).
The counterintuitive case that The Paleo Manifesto makes is based, in part, on the work of the Jaminets in Perfect Health Diet (2013). I mention these previous researchers to highlight the fact that The Paleo Manifesto was not published in a vacuum. It is part of what you could call a modern-day about-face in health science, a realization that we’ve been led down the garden path by well-meaning but misinformed doctors, not so well-meaning food manufacturers, and downright sloppy media coverage.
The fact is that there are only three food groups you can eat: fats, carbs, and proteins. And the only one that you can eat all you want and not suffer negative consequences is fat. Excess carbs raise insulin and cause type-2 diabetes, a modern epidemic produced by the mistaken advice we’ve been receiving for decades from doctors and food manufacturers to eat low-fat diets. Excess protein is also a problem. But according to the latest wisdom, if you eat fat you’ll lose fat because you’ll avoid the insulin spike that packs on the pounds. Naturally we’re not talking about eating trans fats or vegetable oils like corn, soybean, canola, or partially-hydrogenated oils, all of which are harmful. Durant advocates eating butter (not margarine), coconut and palm oil, and the healthy omega-3 oils found in fish and grass-fed beef.
Another important point in the book is that dermatologists are giving bad advice when they warn people to avoid the sun and use sunblock. Humans evolved to absorb sunlight. It not only makes vitamin D but also confers other significant advantages, raising endorphin levels, and producing antimicrobial peptides, for example. As Mark “The Primal Blueprint” Sisson, another Paleo advocate, advises, we should get some sun every day. Even five or ten minutes is sufficient, provided we don’t burn. People who have the most sun exposure, like lifeguards and construction workers, experience the lowest rates of melanoma, the most fatal skin cancer.
Exercise is also something our Paleolithic ancestors got more of, and Durant encourages us to avoid modern shoes with artificial arches. He recommends that we shy away from the monotonous use of treadmills. “Want to be healthier?” he says. “Move more.” Even walking is good exercise, and this is precisely what our Paleolithic ancestors did a lot more of than we do today.
Durant’s book is premised on the idea that modern humans eat food that we did not evolve to have in our bodies, that is, too many carbs and too much sugar and processed food. While modern humans have longer life expectancies than Paleolithic people, that is due to factors other than diet, such as modern surgery and sanitation. But if we moderns act a little more like cavemen and cavewomen, by adopting a Paleo approach to diet, exercise, and sun exposure, then we can expect to live even longer, healthier lives.
The beauty of Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto is that you can read it while eating cheese and feel absolutely no guilt. In fact, you just might feel like a caveman or cavewoman—and that’s the point.