Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Nutrition Debate #19: The Archevore Way of Eating a la Dr. Kurt G. Harris, MD

I mentioned in my last column that I had a “peripheral interest” in Paleolithic Nutrition and in Dr. Kurt Harris’s Archevore Way of Eating in particular. It is peripheral because I have been a Type 2 diabetic for 25 years, and for the last 8 years have been eating (mostly) a Very Low Carb dietary. VLC is a very effective way to control blood sugar and lose weight.

If you are overweight, or have Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes, to improve your health Dr. Harris advises you not to eat the Archevore way. He recommends that you eat with special macronutrient ratios to address those medical conditions.

But, if you are not overweight or have Metabolic Syndrome or diabetes, Dr. Harris counsels that by emulating the “evolutionary metabolic milieu” he describes in his 12 step program, this “pastoral diet” can improve your health. He counsels the follower to “go as far down the list as you can in whatever time frame you can manage. The further along the list you stop, the healthier you are likely to be. There is no counting, measuring, or weighing. You are not required to purchase anything specific from me (him) or anyone else. There are no special supplements, drugs or testing required.”

Dr. Harris’s 12 step program is taken directly, verbatim, from his blog at

1. Eliminate sugar (including fruit juices and sports drinks that contain HFCS) and all foods that contain flour.
2. Start eating proper fats. Use healthy animal fats to substitute fat calories for calories that formerly came from sugar and flour.
3. Eliminate gluten grains (wheat, barley, rye, malt). Limit grains like corn and rice, which are nutritionally poor.
4. Eliminate grain and seed derived oils (cooking oils). Cook with Ghee, butter, animal fats, or coconut oil. Use no temperate plant oils like corn, soy canola, flax walnut, etc.
5. Favor ruminants like beef, lamb and bison for your meat. Eat eggs and fish.
6. Make sure you are Vitamin D replete. Get daily midday sun or consider supplementation.
7. Two or three meals a day is best. Don’t graze like an herbivore.
8. Adjust your (Omega) 6’s and 3’s. Pastured (grass fed) dairy and grass fed beef or bison has a more optimal 6:3 ratio, more vitamins and CLA (natural conjugated linoleic acid). If you can’t eat enough pastured products, eat plenty of fish.
9. Get proper exercise – emphasizing resistance and interval training over long aerobic sessions.
10. Most modern fruit is just a candy bar from a tree. Go easy on bags of sugar like apples. Stick with berries and avoid watermelon which is pure fructose. Eat in moderation. If you are not trying to lose fat, a few pieces of fruit a day are fine.
11. Eliminate legumes (beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, soy beans).
12. If you are allergic to milk protein or concerned about theoretical risks of casein, you can stick to butter and cream and avoid milk and soft cheeses.

“No counting, measuring or weighing is required, nor is it encouraged.” “Archevores typically range from 5-35% carbohydrate, from 10-30% protein and from 50 – 80% fat (mostly from animals) but wider ranges are entirely possible if you are not dieting and you are meticulous about the quality of your animal food sources. If you are trying to lose weight, really minimizing fructose and eating 50-70g a day of CHO as starch is recommended. If you are at your desired weight and healthy, 20% of calories as carbs are plenty for most very active people.” “Archevore diets tend to be lower in carbohydrate than the Standard American Diet (SAD) because you can only eat so much, and eating animals gives you lots of fat. But it is emphatically not a “low carb” diet as you do not count anything. You just avoid certain foods that happen to be largely carbohydrate. Note that “Fat” and “Carbohydrate” are macronutrient categories that each contains good and bad. Saturated and monounsaturated fat is generally good. More than 4% of calories from PUFA (whether n3 or n6) is bad. For healthy non-diabetics, starch (glucose polymers) is good. Excess fructose is bad. In wheat, the carbohydrate starch is not the major problem. It is the gluten proteins and wheat germ agglutinin that come along with the starch. So, forget “carbs vs. fat.” It is Neolithic agents of disease versus everything else. Most Archevores only know macronutrient metrics in retrospect, as they don’t target numbers just like wild humans didn’t target numbers. If you are not trying to lose weight and you like to eat potatoes and rice, EAT THEM. Sweet potatoes, white rice and white potatoes are well tolerated by most people, and starchy vegetables per se are not Neolithic agents of disease. Many active people without diabetes or metabolic syndrome feel and function better with a fair amount of starch in their diet. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary).” (end quotation from

So, if you are overweight, or have Metabolic Syndrome or pre-diabetes or diabetes, well…carbohydrates do count, as Dr. Harris makes clear. Woe is me. Next week we will start a 4-week series on “Know Your Fats.”

Dan Brown. 4/24/11

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Nutrition Debate #17: Michael Pollan: Pied Piper of Pseudo Paleo Prandial Principles

I’ve read Michael Pollan’s last four books and enjoyed them all; he’s a good writer. But he’s a journalist, as he often reminds us in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” He’s not a science writer, and that is my quarrel with him. He “gets” a big part of the message I write about in this series (archived at, but he misses a critical part of the science (just how he misses is muddled in mystery), and so he “misses the mark.”

The first book of his that I read, “The Botany of Desire,” I bought in a Garden Center! But his latest three, all best sellers, are for the most part about the food we eat. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” is the best read, but “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” is the most relevant to our discussion here. “Food Rules” is a compendium of “Defense” and just icing on the book sales cake. It is, however, a useful iteration of its predecessor for those with only an hour of free time or who want a quick reference for pocket or purse.

The mantra of “In Defense of Food” (recapitulated in outline in “Food Rules),” is “EAT FOOD, NOT TOO MUCH, MOSTLY PLANTS.” I completely buy in to the first two parts, both in overall concept and in virtually all the particulars. I also subscribe to his long prefatory rationale – the first two thirds of “Defense,” actually – almost in their entirety.

However, Pollan goes astray in the third part of his mantra when he buys into the government’s shift away from healthy animal fats (aka saturated or “solid” fats in the latest “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”) and towards a “mostly” plant-based diet. He ignores all the science in this area – even after lambasting all the errors of the last fifty years and apparently espousing the “alternative” hypotheses earlier in “Defense” – in order to align himself with the virtually vegan victuals point of view that our public health officials have taken up and are trumpeting to the masses.

Perhaps his virtual visits to the abattoirs of the industrial beef production industry, and his actual experience slaughtering a few chickens on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley while researching “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” affected him more than he realizes. Or perhaps it was the easy-to-fall-into trap of writing “to the market”, i. e., pandering to a perceived predisposed mindset of the reader. Even though he pulls his punches a bit with “mostly plants,” I think it is a miscalculation, if a calculation at all. Or, we could blame the pandering to the government line on his editor/publisher.

There is no doubt that Pollan has become a Pied Piper, though. He has put himself out in front of the lemming masses. To the extent his Pseudo Paleo dietary advice is followed, he will lead them over the abyss, after he stops at the bank.

Pollan himself, it should be noted, does not claim to be advocating Paleo principles of eating. His precepts initially resemble Paleo ideas, but in the final analysis they are decidedly not paleo (more on what Paleo is in the next installment). He correctly identifies all of the dietary errors for the last 10,000 years, suggesting that he is heading towards an evolutionarily informed way of eating. Then he doesn’t. After setting us up to follow him back to “healthy eating,” he takes us instead in the direction that our government, etc, etc, is currently leading us - the complete opposite of where we should be going. Avoiding animal fats, and cooking with Crisco and Wesson Oil (or any other polyunsaturated vegetable oils that are high in Omega 6 fatty acids), is not what we should be doing (more on this too in coming weeks). Again, we could blame this on his editors too. Maybe these two books, “In Defense of Food” and “Food Rules,” were their idea too, to capitalize on the enormous (and deserved) success of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

Philosophically, this lack of thematic consistency, which l attribute to his “journalist” grounding, both in the good and bad ways described, damages the force of his argument. And due to the lack of grounding in science, on his part or his editor’s, these books ultimately fail to give good advice in the “mostly plants” section.

This column was not meant to be a book review, but that is what is has become. In the next installment I will describe what is meant by “Paleo Nutrition” and how its principles can be used in guiding us forward in the present milieu. Why should we be guided by what our primordial ancestors ate and what they didn’t eat? Is there a scientific basis, anthropologically, physiologically and biochemically speaking? And should we use it to prescribe a way of healthy eating today? Let’s explore that next.

© Dan Brown 4/10/11

The Nutrition Debate #18: Paleolithic Nutrition and the Archevore Diet

“The modern dietary regimen known as the Paleolithic diet…is a nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various human species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic” era, according to the Wikipedia entry. A fundamental precept of this Way of Eating is that it “ended…with the development of agriculture” and animal domestication at the advent of the Neolithic era. Hence, the “contemporary Paleolithic diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots, and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils,” quoting from Wikipedia but with emphasis added.

“Paleolithic nutrition is based on the premise that modern humans are genetically adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors, and that humans have scarcely changed since the dawn of agriculture, and therefore that an ideal diet for human health and well-being is one that resembles this ancestral diet.” From the time of the onset of our hunter-gatherer stage of evolutionary development some 2.5 million years ago, hominids have been carnivorous animals. We ate whatever we could hunt or catch or forage. We fed, and then we fasted until the next kill or catch or gather. We also most likely ate the whole animal, including organs, blood, fat and bone marrow, before we put the hide and bone to use.

“The ancestral human diet is inferred from historical and ethnographic studies of modern-day hunter-gatherers as well as archeological finds, anthropological evidence and application of optimal foraging theory,” again quoting Wikipedia. Today, a Paleo diet would of course include cultivated plants and domesticated animal meat as an alternative to foraging and hunting. However, the Industrial Revolution led to the large scale development of mechanized food processing techniques for these cultivated plants. Refined cereals, refined sugars, and refined vegetable oils have become major components of Western diets [such as the Standard American Diet (SAD)]. Intensive livestock farming methods produce fattier (corn fed) meat (from cattle); while selective breeding has produced leaner pork and poultry with greater amounts of white meat. Selective breeding also resulted in larger, sweeter fruits. Modern transportation systems provide year round availability for almost every sort of food stuff. The Paleo diet rejects some of these newer foods as “Neolithic agents of disease,” in the words of Dr. Kurt G. Harris, author of the Archevore (formerly PāNū) blog.

These modern-day developments are described (and deplored) in Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” where he slams the industrial production of corn-fed feedlot beef and cooped-up chickens. He followed up with “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “Food Rules,” where he defined “real” food and enumerated some twenty-odd rules of thumb on how to identify it. I am in complete accord with Pollan, insofar as his definition of “real” food goes. However, to hone my approach to Paleo eating, on my blogroll at, I subscribe to the thinking of Dr. Kurt Harris. Dr. Harris developed his interest in health and nutrition after reading Gary Taubes’s “Good Calories-Bad Calories.” More recently, Taubes is the author of “Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It.”

“Archevory refers both to a dietary approach which strives to focus on essentials without superfluity, but also to the yearning to consume or learn about essential principles in general,” Harris says at Harris explains, “The Archevore diet and approach to health is centered on a simple idea – that the diseases of civilization are largely related to the abandonment of the metabolic conditions we evolved under – what I have called the “evolutionary metabolic milieu” EM2. “I believe we can make sense of many of the diseases prevalent now and relate them to some simple but profound changes that have occurred with the introduction of agriculture and the more recent industrialization of our foodways. These changes are related to how the food environment, including its availability, interacts with the metabolic environment of our bodies.”

Harris says his conception of the “evolutionary metabolic milieu” is “not derived from a single science or field of inquiry, but draws first on medical sciences like biochemistry and endocrinology, and only then looks back with history and paleoanthropology. It is becoming clear now that many of the diseases afflicting humanity are not a natural part of the aging process, but are side effects of technology and other powerful cultural changes in the way we eat and live that have occurred since the dawn of agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago. These changes seem to center largely on the sequential introduction of what I call the Neolithic agents of disease – wheat, excess fructose, and excess linoleic acid.”

Dr. Harris’s “12 step program to remove the Neolithic agents of disease in an efficient and practical manner” will be the subject of the next installment in this series. I have a keen, if peripheral, interest in this ascendant eating program.

© Dan Brown 4/17/11

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Nutrition Debate #16: Diets and Dieting: Had Enough? Ready to Move On?

Diets and dieting have been around forever. I started this series with a story about William Banting, a retired London undertaker who in 1863 published a pamphlet, “Letter on Corpulence,” after following a diet his doctor had heard about while attending a medical conference in Paris. Banting lost 50 pounds on the diet. It is not recorded if he gained it back.

These days, every few years we hear about a new diet that has caught the public’s imagination. Why is that? The answer seems to be that, for most people, we may lose weight on a temporary basis, but usually we gain is back before too long. So, we continue to look for “a diet that will work for us.”

A few years ago there was a flurry of interest in the Blood Type Diet, a “nutrigenomic” program based on your blood type (obviously) but that was also based on your ethnic-geographic origins and therefore presumably your ancestor’s primordial dietary. Other still-popular diets include the Mediterranean Diet and the South Beach Diet. However, it is the contrast between the establishment’s low-fat diet and the alternative low-carb diet that is of special interest to me.

Diets and dieting, of course, are for those who are overweight, obese or even morbidly obese. These days that includes about fifty percent of the US population. The incidence of morbidity as it relates to Type 2 diabetes and the lesser recognized Metabolic Syndrome is also increasing at an alarming rate. Associated co-morbidities include hypertension (high-blood pressure) and CVD (cardio-vascular disease). Other Diseases of Civilization, including Alzheimer’s dementia, many cancers and numerous lesser known diseases are also frequently associated and are increasing dramatically.

Paradoxically, at a time of plenty in the food supply for most of the developed world, especially the US, the relatively “poorer” classes demographically are fatter as a population than the economically “better off.” Although some of that can be attributed to poor education about food choices, it seems to me that it is simply the economics of the food choice dilemma that is causative. The less expensive foods (carbohydrates) are more fattening; the more expensive foods (protein and fat) are, well, more expensive. Sadly, the choice is simply, what can I afford to buy for my family?

Thus, the poor get fat because they can’t afford to “eat healthy.” Hence the recommendation in the latest “Dietary Guidelines” to eat a vegan diet to get your protein and fat from less expensive plant sources: “beans and peas, nuts and seeds,” as well as “fortified soy beverages.” It’s a clever device to promote both a meat-free diet and the vegan agenda. Our government has been snookered and swallowed it whole. They want you to as well, especially if you’re in the “poorer” demographic. That’s what Public Health does: prescribe a regimen for all that will accrue a benefit to a few. For my take on the “Dietary Guidelines,” see installment #14 archived at

But not everyone today is overweight and obese. Some of my readers, especially those who haven’t developed the damaged glucose regulatory mechanism about which Gary Taubes hypothesizes, will ask, “How have I managed to avoid getting fat?” Are these folks so precisely attuned to their metabolism that they eat exactly the amount of food their body requires, not a calorie more? Or do they attribute their metabolic balance to the amount of exercise they do, increasing the amount each year as they age? Or do they “eat right?” If you think it is the latter, I think you’re right.

If you need to lose weight, and keep it off, you would be well advised to change what you eat permanently, for life, (double entendre intended). If you are not overweight, you may already “eat right,” but would benefit from avoiding foods that may harm you in ways other than making you fat. The Diseases of Civilization, attributed to the Western Diet, are frequently independent of a tendency toward overweight. They are multifarious, and more are being identified by association and/or by causative agent in the literature with each issue of almost every medical journal. A search on any disorder will produce a vast amount of (often conflicting) research attempting to attribute association or even causality.

This suggests to me it is time for everyone to assess their own diet and consider what makes sense for them. I personally have “an interest in eating,” as the publisher wryly noted in an early introduction to this column. But I also have a special interest in eating well, both for my pleasure and for my health. I have lost a great deal of weight by adopting a Way of Eating that works for me. More importantly, my health is much better by all the metrics that my doctor uses: my lipid panel is now “to die for” (oops!) and my blood sugar is now under control, practically without meds. I have the fasting blood glucose and HbA1c of a non-diabetic! I feel great and am never hungry. My diet is very high fat, moderate protein and very low carbs. Your mileage may vary, but gradually eating fewer calories from carbohydrates is a good start.

© Dan Brown 4/3/11