Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto

As someone whose diet broadly (in an 80:20 way) reflects paleo principles, I consume the occasional book on the subject. The latest is John Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health, which (thankfully) didn’t just repeat the same information you’ll hear over and over again if you dip your toes into the paleo literature.

I won’t offer a blow-by-blow of the account of the book, but it has some nice elements.

My favourite is a story about a Western lowland gorilla called Mokolo in the Cleveland zoo. Fed a diet of salad, fruit and fibre-fortified gorilla biscuits, Mokolo was overweight, had high blood pressure, showed indicators of heart disease and was on two blood pressure medications.

The zoo switched Mokolo’s diet to one more closely resembling a wild gorilla’s diet. Mokolo lost 70 pounds, which was about 15 per cent of his body weight. But to do this they did not fly in plants from Africa, but instead they bought vegetables from the local grocery store. The diet was not the same as Mokolo would have eaten in the wild, but it was a lot closer to the natural diet than gorilla biscuits.

This story is a nice illustration to give to those who state “You can’t eat what our ancestors ate. Most vegetables in the shops weren’t even available then.” A paleo diet is not an attempt to re-enact history. Rather, evolutionary theory provides a guide to what types of foods might be more conducive to health.

The other point to the story is that Mokolo consumed twice the calories on the new diet. Diets are not simply about calories in-calories out.

There are plenty of other interesting parts to the book. Durant gives a novel review of cultural practices as adaptations – particularly religious practices relating to health and disease. He also provides a case for experiencing extremes in temperature, although I am not sure I buy his argument to the extent he does.

One point this book made clear, however, is that I still haven’t read a decent critique of the paleo diet or lifestyle. If critics such as Marlene Zuk responded to this book instead of to random blog comments, we could have a more interesting debate. Instead Zuk continues to wheel out arguments that Durant and others have already dealt with. There’s actually some interesting points that could be debated here – I provided a list a couple of years ago – but the paleo-critics don’t seem to have invested enough time getting across the literature to make it interesting.

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