Since there are relatively few Objectivists, the Objectivist community is pretty small. When one person learns of a new idea, gets excited about it, and starts talking about it, it doesn't take long for a lot of other Objectivists to hear about it as well. Combine that with the fact that Paleo diet is backed by good scientific evidence (which appeals to the reality-oriented nature of the philosophy), and it's not surprising that the Paleo diet has become fairly popular among Objectivists.
answered Jan 24 '11 at 03:20
Andrew Miner ♦
Clearly Diana Hsieh has strongly supported "paleo eating" in the past, and she has been very active in prommoting it. I had never heard of it myself before Diana started emphasizing it. It was primarily her initiative that brought it to my attention. But she has also said more recently (as I understand it) that she is currently using an "elimination diet" to find out if there is a nutritional component in her current personal health issues. The "paleo" approach apparently received a very big boost since 2008 from Gary Taubes, with the publication of his book, Good Calories, Bad Calories.
From my own readings and experience over the years, I am very aware that there is a real alternative to both "SAD" (Standard American Diet) and "paleo" (natural meats and fats, but greatly reduced carbohydrates). The alternative I'm referring to can be described as "ancestral neolithic" -- a vegetarian diet that emphasizes obtaining most of one's energy calories from complex carbohydrate (starchy) foods that are relatively low in calories per gram of total food weight, allowing one to eat a lot of it without consuming excessive calories. It emphasizes starches that are as minimally refined as possible. Foods in this category include whole grains (which must be used with caution initially to find out of one has any intolerance to gluten), potatoes (without high-calorie toppings), rice (preferably brown), beans, and so on. For essential micronutrients, the diet should be supplemented with an abundance of vegetables and fruits. Paleo eating minimizes many fruits, as I understand it. The "ancestral neolithic" approach to fruit is to consume it in reasonable but largely unrestricted moderation in relation to one's consumption of starches and vegetables. It is not a primary source of calories in the diet, compared to the starches, and it is very hard to "overeat" on vegetables and fruits if one is getting most of one's calories from starches.
There is an article in the most recent issue of Reader's Digest reporting on an interview with Gary Taubes regarding his new book on eating which he just published very recently. The interview reiterates what I see as some significant flaws in Taubes' version of the paleo approach. First, it is claimed that "paleo" is more consistent with human evolution than "neo" (rise of agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago), on the grounds that 10,000 years is too short for the human species to have evolved the capacity to consume grains and similar starches, as against the older "paleo" pattern of more meat and fat. The alleged flaw that I read about in this regard is that man evolved from apes, dating back to about 25 million years ago (if I remember correctly). This means man always was a plant eater in the first place, and the adaptation that allowed man to eat more meat is what made the "paleo" approach in human nutrition possible. In becoming able to eat more meat, however, humans never lost the capacity to live entirely on plants. "Homo" did not transition from plant-eater to animal-eater. He only transitioned from primarily plant-eating to omnivorous.
There is also great dispute about the actual human experience with plant eating during the past 10,000 years, prior to the increased refining of carbohydrates (roughly 200 years ago) that has led to SAD. This is another apparent flaw in the "paleo" view (as offered by Taubes, at least) -- i.e., whether or not the arguments against the carb content of SAD also apply to "ancestral neo," i.e., refined carbs versus older, less refined, more natural kinds of carbs (minimaly refined starches).
Yet another potential flaw concerns fat. Gary Taubes has thorougly debunked the "fat hypothesis" of coronary heart disease, but that doesn't necessarily mean that fat isn't harmful in other ways. In my own experience, for example, I've noticed a possible correlation between low fat consumption (either animal fat or fat from nuts) and improved respiratory health, although "paleo" defenders might simply say that my problem with fat consumption was eating the wrong kinds of fat. I see the idea that one should condition oneself to function primarily in a fat-burning mode instead of carb-burning for one's daily energy needs as highly dubious for overall long-term health.
I learned about the "starch based' approach to nutrition from a medical doctor whom I have gradually become reluctant to cite publicly because of certain political views that he has expressed (supporting environmentalism and Al Gore's fears of "global warming", and endorsing "Obama-care"). He has also been slow to revise his thinking about the "fat hypothesis" of coronoary heart disease, which Gary Taubes has so thoroughly debunked. But he has nevertheless been very good about providing references to document his nutritional recommendations, and has accumulated several decades of highlly successful clinical practice guiding his clients to improved health through his "ancestral neo" (my terminology) nutritional guidelines. Here is a link to his website. I've found his on-line archive of past newsletters to be especially helpful, along with his published books. Someday I want to do more reading in the "paleo" literature, as well, but it's lower priority for me than keeping up with the growing Objectivist literature (and studying important works such as those by Tara Smith on the foundations of ethics). I already went to considerable effort to read Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories in detail, along with a few other commentaries on the "paleo vs. neo" debate.
Update after comments by Greg
I would like to thank Greg for the weblinks that he provided in his comments on my answer. After some relatively quick perusal, I am finding the website of Loren Cordain to be particularly helpful, with a wealth of useful information readily accessible to anyone, without having to register or subscribe, and organized for ease of locating answers to specific questions. Evidently I have been mistaken to think of Gary Taubes as a major exponent of the paleo approach. It certainly appears that Loren Cordain is a far better reference on which to rely for an understanding of what paleo eating does and does not refer to, and why. If there is any noteworthy reason why I should not regard Cordain as a definitive reference for the paleo approach, I hope someone will offer further explanation of any areas were Cordain should be regarded as deviating from "true" or "mainstream" paleo.
I was particularly intrigued by the following observations from Cordain's FAQ webpage.
1) What the Paleo Diet is:
With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago) [2 million years vs. 10000 years, a 200:1 time ratio]. These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables -- foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.
2) Disavowing low-carb, high-fat diets:
The Paleo Diet is the unique diet to which our species [omnivores] is genetically adapted. This program of eating was not designed by diet doctors, faddists, or nutritionists, but rather by Mother Nature's wisdom acting through evolution and natural selection. The Paleo Diet is based upon extensive scientific research examining the types and quantities of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. This nutritional plan is totally unlike those irresponsible, low-carbohydrate, high-fat, fad diets that allow unlimited consumption of artery-clogging cheeses, bacon, butter, and fatty meats. Rather, the foundation of The Paleo Diet is lean meat, seafood, and unlimited consumption of fresh fruits and veggies.
3) Indirect, reluctant acknowledgement of the great value of agriculture, and the superiority of paleo for health:
There are more than six billion people alive on the planet in the 21st century. Cereal grains provide more than half of the energy required to feed the world's people. Without cereal grains, there would be massive starvation of unprecedented proportion on the planet. We have walked down a path of absolute dependence upon cereal grains -- a path that cannot be reversed. However, in most western countries, cereals are not a necessity, particularly in many segments of the population that suffer most from Syndrome X and other chronic diseases of civilization. In this population [Western affluence], a return to a Stone Age Diet is not only possible, but highly practical in terms of long-term healthcare costs.
It would seem, then, that SAD (Standard American Diet) is the least beneficial; a "neo" diet based on cereal gains (minimally refined) is far better ("far" is my evaluation, not necessarly Cordain's); and full "paleo" is best. But this is only my initial impression from limited study of the "paleo" approach so far (no longer to be confused with the Taubes-Atkins approach).