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This Is How The Cavemen Ate? Uh, I Don't Think So!
on September 30, 2002
When I first heard Loren Cordain was finally authoring a book on paleo nutrition I was quite excited, for Cordain has conducted a lot of very insightful research into the eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. When I finally got to examine the book though, I was sorely disappointed.
Cordain evidently seems to have ignored much of his own research. The most alarming error is his frequent recommendation to use flax oil when cooking meat dishes. Recipe after recipe calls for marinating cuts of meat in flax oil before cooking - a very bad idea! For those who don't already know, you should NEVER cook with any type of polyunsaturated oil. Their high degree of unsaturation makes them extremely prone to oxidative damage, and this process is greatly multiplied by exposure to high temperatures (e.g cooking temeratures). Omega-3 fats, like those found in flax oil, are the most vulnerable polyunsaturates of all. When eaten, these 'healthy' fats trigger a chain-reaction of nasty free-radical activity in the body, leaving one open to the development of all sorts of degenerative ailments. Cordain should be well aware that liquid vegetable oils simply did not exist back in paleotlithic times.
Cordain also denigrates saturated fat in his book, which once again is rather pitiful considering his background. The anti-saturated fat doctrine is a product of agenda-driven 20th century researchers and beaureaucrats, eagerly supported by commercial interests and their cheerleading squad of ignorant nutritionists, health authorities, and authors. Cordain claims that a single experiment where saturated fat raised cholesterol levels in young men is proof that this fat is bad. Big deal! Such an assertion assumes that the cholesterol theory of heart disease is a valid one. Considering the numerous absurdities inherent in the cholesterol theory, that is a rather risky leap of faith. Hunter-gatherers ate lots of animal fat, which is around 50% saturated. And no, just because an animal is wild does not mean it is low in fat - I had the pleasure of sampling some camel steak last week, and you can be sure I enjoyed every bit of the backstrap fat covering the steak! Even the leanest animals have fatty portions of meat, and if observations of recent hunter-gatherer societies are anything to go by, these would have been the most valued and preferentially eaten cuts.
Cordain also jumps on the anti-low carb bandwagon, even though his own research shows hunter-gatherers were far more likely to consume a low carb diet than a high carb diet. In fact paleo nutrition, with its emphasis on animal foods and starch poor plant foods, and low carb nutrition are a perfect match.
The whole book reeks of an attempt to squeeze paleolithic nutrition into currently fashionable and politically correct guidelines. Only problem is, back in the stone-age there weren't any pompous cholesterol researchers who thought they knew better than mother nature, and there were no advertising campaigns to let people know of the 'heinous' health effects of saturated fat - so people ate it, and lots of it!
Paleo eating is still the ultimate nutrition in my opinion. It is the only eating plan that cannot even begin to be accused of being a 'fad'. Subsistence patterns that dominated for over two million years can hardly be considered a fad. Cordain's book does contain some useful info, but Neanderthin by Ray Audette is a far better, and cheaper, book on paleolithic nutrition. Buy that instead.