Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where Are We Today?

When I started this blog back in 2005, in my second post, Hunter-Gatherers, I looked at a review by Loren Cordain et al, about the maronutrient estimations in worldwide hunter-gather diets.

I noted,

Their findings included

  • Most (73%) of the worldwide hunter-gatherer societies derived >50% (56–65% of energy) of their subsistence from animal foods, whereas only 14% of these societies derived >50% (56–65% of energy) of their subsistence from gathered plant foods.

  • This high reliance on animal-based foods coupled with the relatively low carbohydrate content of wild plant foods produces universally characteristic macronutrient consumption ratios in which protein is elevated (19–35% of energy) at the expense of carbohydrates (22–40% of energy).

So, most of the hunter-gathers are eating 56-65% of their energy from animal foods, providing 19-35% of their calories as protein and just 22-40% of their calories from carbohydrate.

In a "real world" 2000-calorie a day diet, what does such a macronutrient mix look like?

19-35% of calories from protein = 380 to 700 calories or 95g to 175g of protein, with most coming from animal foods

22-40% of calories from carbohydrate = 440 to 800 calories or 110g to 200g of carbohydrate

The remaining calories, from fat = 500 to 1180 calories, or 25-59% or 55g to 131g of fat

And continued by stating that "[t]hese ratios are very much in line with controlled-carbohydrate nutrition ratios, which generally holds that carbohydrate is limited to 40% or less for daily calorie intake. The mix of fat and protein calories in a controlled-carb approach is highly individualized and the goal is to include quality protein in adequate amounts and only include quality fats and oils."

Six years later, I still hold the opinion that today, controlled-carb nutrition can model the diet of our ancestors; typically called Paleo and/or Primal eating. In fact, I'd say it would be difficult to consume a diet high in carbohydrate (greater than 40% of calories from carbohydrate) without specifically focusing on eating a high level of carbohydrate each day.

Has this become clearer in the years since I started this blog?

Not really.

In truth, time has created a variety of differing opinions that leave many confused; worse is that some seek to create divisions where none need be.

Recently Jimmy Moore posted AHS12: A Dichotomy Of Differing Interpretations Of What Paleo Is. In it, he writes, "However, when it comes to starchy carbohydrate sources of nutrition such as white potatoes, sweet potatoes or white rice (the toxin-free “safe starches” identified as such by Paul Jaminet), there’s a definite divide between those who avoid them because they raise blood sugar and insulin levels as well as lipid numbers to unhealthy levels (...) and those who believe these starches provide the adequate glucose your body needs to perform and function as it was intended to. That’s quite a division within the Paleo community that doesn’t have an easy answer to bridge the chasm."

Is this really a division within the Paleo community? Is this really a chasm that needs a bridge?

Honestly, I don't think so.

As I noted in my comments on his link to the blog on Facebook, "Paleo is a guideline to the types of foods one can eat, not the amount one *should* eat of any particular macronutrient; low-carb is one dietary approach which fits in with a paleo diet. Both focus on quality protein, good fats and nutrient dense carbohydrate. What level of carbohydrate you consume is your business, Paleo is basically just the framework for what foods to choose from. I don't think paleo has to be low-carb to be effective. It really is dependent on the individual."

One of the things I've learned over the last decade is that nothing is set in stone when it comes to macronutrients - the diets of healthy, normal weight individuals, around the globe vary greatly, what matters most is the micronutrient composition in the overall diet; it's habitually meeting or exceeding essential fatty acids (EFA), essential amino acids (EAA), essential vitamins, minerals and trace elements. The Japanese do that by consuming copious amounts of fish and pork, but their overall diet is lower in fat than those in France, who also do that with a wide variety of meat, full-fat dairy and a boatload of non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Both diets also have starchier foods too, yet these populations are not, nor have they ever been, suffering alarming rates of obesity.


If you look at diet quality, both Japan and France are eating serious quality foods, real foods, compared to the US and other nations with exploding obesity rates.

Quality matters; it is the heart-and-soul of Paleo, it is the heart-and-soul of Primal. The focus of ancestral eating (Paleo and Primal) is real food, shunning the processed and choosing quality. It defines no specific level of macronutrients by gram or percentage, but does point to nutrient density and meeting essential nutrient requirements. While one can follow a low-carb diet and eat Paleo-Primal style, that does not mean Paleo-Primal is low-carb per se; although, as noted i the paper by Cordain et al, Paleo-Primal diets are lower in carbohydrate than the Standard American Diet (SAD).

I do not think we have this deep divide, I think what we're seeing is a wide variety of approaches to reach the same goal - eating healthfully for the long-term. For some that includes soaked and fermented grains (Weston A. Price Foundation), for others eliminating grains is important, but dairy and legumes, along with other foods that are newer in our history may be included (Primal), and still there are those who hold that those foods, eaten by others in the spectrum of eating "real food", are simply unacceptable, just say no (Paleo). At the end of the day, the common theme amongst all - eat real food!

As one commenter noted on Jimmy's blog, "We do not currently understand everything about the variation in individual response to carbohydrates, such as sex differences, or dependence on history of metabolic dysfunction. We also do not completely understand how an individual’s dietary needs may change as a function of time depending on external
conditions. In addition, how much carbohydrate a person will do best on will depend on their goals (performance, longevity, reproductive health), but once again we do not understand the complete picture!"

I concur! Many things factor into weight loss and long-term health, eating real food is the one thing that continues to be the most important aspect of a healthy diet.

Chris Kresser nailed it last year, in his post Beyond Paleo: Moving from a Paleo Diet to a Paleo Template.


  1. Jimmy Moore is always going to emphasise low carb. He is always going to believe this is the only way to health even though it didn't really work for him. It works but its temporary.

  2. Hi! Great site! I'm trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I'd really appreciate if you could email me back.

    Thanks and have a great day!

  3. Emily - post the link to your site in comments and I'll review to add to my sidebar!