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The New Cavemen Lifestyle (nytimes.com)
66 points by rglovejoy on Jan 10, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

This looks like nothing but BS to me, there's a reason this is in the NYT's Style section.

The most telling quote from the article is “I didn’t want to do some faddish diet that my sister would do,” Mr. Durant said. This just reeks of pathetic insecurity, I'm not surprised the conclusions he came to were ridiculous.

Apparently, there's not even much of a consensus about what people used to eat back then. According to Wikipedia: However, there is little direct evidence of the relative proportions of plant and animal foods.[94] According to some anthropologists and advocates of the modern Paleolithic diet, Paleolithic hunter-gatherers consumed a significant amount of meat and possibly obtained most of their food from hunting.[95] Competing hypotheses suggest that Paleolithic humans may have consumed a plant-based diet in general,[58] or that hunting and gathering possibly contributed equally to their diet.[96] One hypothesis is that carbohydrate tubers (plant underground storage organs) may have been eaten in high amounts by our pre-agricultural humans.[97][98][99][100] However, the relative proportions of plant and animal foods in the diets of Paleolithic peoples probably varied between regions. For instance, hunter gatherers in tropical regions such as Africa probably consumed a plant-based diet, while populations in colder regions such as Northern Europe most likely obtained most of their food from meat.[101] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic#Diet_and_nutrition

This whole thing smacks of a silly trend among a small group of NY hipsters to sound cool and eat a shit load of meat.

I think the "paleos", as it were, are quite serious and don't think of this as just a "silly trend".

That said, whether or not there truly is any nutritional benefit over eating, say 80% vegetables, and going to the gym is probably hard to prove. I'm willing to bet that most of the benefit these people see is from the commitment to a regimented diet and exercise program, and not the specific diet they are eating. But that's just my uninformed, naive guess.

Well, there are two issues in my post. 1.) Is the Paleo diet legitimate, and 2.) Is it attracting some douche bag followers.

The answer to the question of whether the movement is attracting idiots is, as evidenced by this article, a clear yes. This is shown in silly comments like: “Another caveman trick involves donating blood frequently. The idea is that various hardships might have occasionally left ancient humans a pint short.”.

The answer to whether the diet is legitimate is I don't quite know. My suspicion is there are things to learn from it, but let's not forget, we aren't cavemen anymore.

The big question for me is does the caveman diet (and there are more than one at this point) work without the caveman lifestyle, and that really would require long term studies, not anecdotes, which is all we see so far.

That being said, it's almost certainly better than the highly processed food most Americans eat right now, but that hardly makes it a first choice for a diet.

As for #2, imho, the article is deliberately written to caricaturize, which may well be appropriate for a mainstream lifestyle section of a newspaper. IIRC, an earlier article in the same paper on the crossfit exercise plan was quite alarmist (implied neophytes would by dying like flies) and dismissive. Vegan and yoga are the accepted modes of the NYC healthy lifestyle :-)

> we aren't cavemen anymore

In behavior and lifestyle, no. But in terms of the evolutionary stage of our digestive systems? Lactose tolerance [Lactose], for example is quite new (and beneficial enough that it spread rapidly).

The mechanisms described in the "Expensive tissue hypothesis" still apply. [Eades] has a nice description.

[Eades] http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-library/are-we-m...

[Lactose] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090827202513.ht...

Regular blood donations? Yep, that's crazy. People who lost a lot of blood tended to get infections, then die. Which is why the average life expectancy was about 30.

There is some evidence that high blood iron levels increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. So donating blood regularly may actually be good for you.


"Average" life expectancy is deceiving. Much of the gains in human life expectancy have come from reductions in infant and childhood mortality, which alters the average substantially.

Regular blood donations? Yep, that's crazy.

I'm up above nine gallons donated, lifetime, and I'm ready to give more as the occasion allows. I'm much above the age of thirty, considerably above the model age of most readers of HN.


Jared Diamond drew an analogy between New Guinea tribes and paleo diets. If modern hunter-gatherers are similar to paleo hunter-gatherers, the women gather most of the calories (tubers, some fruits, grain) and the men hunt a little meat if they are lucky.

Colder regions might have had more meat consumption (look at modern Inuit), but those were the last holdouts of the Neanderthals (by some accounts). Humans won the cold regions by becoming smart technical hunters, not Spaaaartans.

New Guniea tribes are post agricultural. They indicate nothing about "paleo" tendencies.

There are no living or even especially recent hunter gatherer models to look at. People sometimes point to african bushmen, but they're stunted refugees scraping by on marginal wasteland. They don't match up with the consistently strong and healthy native american hunter gatherer skeletons.

Presumably Jared Diamond was talking about the New Guinea tribes in the lowlands that are in fact rather "paleo" and not about the inhabitants of the mountain ranges of the interior who practice agriculture and where the men don't, in fact, hunt very much.

What about the Amazon? They've remained untouched for a while.

So you're saying human evolution (what our bodies have evolved to digest and process over the past half million years) should have no bearing on what we eat today? I think that's the silly part.

We are omnivores like raccoons, we can and did eat just about anything from plants and fresh kills to rotting meat and insects. We gorged on fruit when in season and starved when we could not find anything. We even eat each other and feces like dogs from time to time. Which is why we can still eat just about anything for long periods of time and survive.

I like to say that the fact that humans are omnivores is descriptive, not prescriptive.

That we can use alternate food sources in times of hardship is a survival mechanism. IOW, omnivory is not a preferred mode of eating (genetically/evolutionarily speaking).

Individually of course, we may prefer omnivory, frugivory, x-vory.

Yes we can digest fructose. And when people found honey (basically pure fructose) I'm sure they gorged on it. But as a few links on the front page of this site have explained in recent days, fructose is borderline toxic.

Anthropological research in conjunction with modern medical research convincingly indicate several foods cause disease. The fact that we can digest all kinds of things is irrelevant.

It pretty much all boils down to avoiding sugars, grain products, and certain oils. It's a very easy case to buy if you read into it.

Whole grain bread is the foundation of western civilization for a reason. It contains a huge assortment of what the human body needs as a single food source. Combined with a little meat and a little fruit and a human go go from a child to live a long and healthy life eating nothing else. However, you can also make a healthy diet by completely avoiding it. A large part of a healthy diet is variety and while that can be a pain in our modern society blaming any single highly refined food as horrible while ignoring the other components of your diet is missing a large part of the story.

The less verity in a persons diet the closer to perfection what they do eat needs to be. When you consider the quantity of fructose in the average American diet of course there is a problem, but mainly because of what it replaces and not what it is. If you burned 4k calories a day and drink 1k worth of sucrose water you can still have a healthy if unusual diet. However, when you are only consuming 2k worth of calories a day 50% of which provides zero nutrition your body is probably missing out on important things.

> bread is the foundation of western civilization

Yes, and there is a panoply of diseases only people eating grain get. They're referred to as the "diseases of civilization."

Do your own reading. I did mine and concluded bread intake should be minimized, whole grain or not.

I don't think that this appellation is correct ; iirc, at a time, homosexuality too was considered a disease of civilisation.

Wow, you completely misread what I wrote. I wrote that these particular people are eating what they believe is a caveman diet, though in fact it is no more than their own wishful food fantasy, with almost no grounding in history or science.

Do you think paleolithic man researched their own distant ancestors to figure out what to eat? I personally doubt it. Why should we?

Precisely because paleo man was more animal-like. Less cerebration was involved in deciding what to eat. Animals don't synthesize textured protein from soybean, they eat what is natural (instinctive) for them to eat, to the extent that Amazonian parakeets (and many other species) eat a particular kind of clay to neutralize the toxins they ingest in their fruit-based diet.

If we do synthesize our food, and process it more than any other animal, we should consider whether what we're doing is good for us.

I'm sorry but there is no way I would subscribe to this diet. According to the article being "paleo" means excluding bread and I'm going to assume cheese, beer and wine as well. Well that's where I draw the line. I don't think they realize how amazing those creations are. Cheesemakers, winemakers and beer brewers are gods among men.

> cheese

Cheese is OK as long as you have no casein allergies, which you probably don't.

Wine is low on the list of things to eliminate. This article painted a picture of some wacky lifestyle built around a paleo canon. I suppose with this sort of thing a lunatic fringe is inevitable. That stuff in the article about giving blood was just nonsense.

It's really just a short list of diet recommendations. Eliminate sugars & sweeteners and cut grain & potato products as low as feasible and you're doing 90% of it and getting 90% of the benefit.

Meat and Potato diets should be separated, especially.

Starches mixed with proteins (animal proteins in particular) stimulate the stomach to over-produce digestive acids which strain it, and as a result bile needs to be produced to neutralize the acids which strains the small intestine - it often results in very little nutrition actually being absorbed from the food because the acids produced for the two different types combine into an acid that doesn't digest either starches or protein very well.

Meat and Potato diets are highly stressful on the body, also keep in mind that the fasting aspect of this "paleo" diet is very important, without the fasting, your colon won't have enough time to eliminate all of it and it can end up compacted in the colon.

Consistent and high animal protein diets are unhealthy, but animal protein diets spaced with fasting and vegetables (fibers and nutrients) are great for the body.

I find this type of a diet rather off-putting due to the high amount of meat you have to eat.

Now I'm not a vegeterian, nor am I a PETA campaigner, but I do believe in animal rights. And the idea of promoting a diet that makes people eat copious amounts of meat sounds .... unkind (for the lack of a better word). It creates a grown in the demand to rear and kill animals.

I'm not trying to draw on a vegeterian vs meat-eaters debate here, but does anyone else feel this way when they read about this diet?

Not at all, but I personally put animal rights pretty low on my priority list. Dif'rent strokes for dif'rent folks, I guess.

Seems I've been marked down without a reason. Is there a way to delete comments on HN? I have no objections to removing this. I can't seem to find a "delete" link anywhere.

People who are interested in upper Paleolithic lifestyles will be fascinated by the book The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie, my favorite read of 2008.



The author is a paleozoologist who specializes in upper Paleolithic megafauna (which occasionally are found as frozen specimens with soft tissue preserved in the part of Alaska where he conducts his research) and is also an experience bow-hunter and expert visual artist. The book has an astounding bibliography listed literature in English and other languages about all aspects of human life in the Pleistocene epoch.

The topic is very important but the article was really bad. A few no-nonsense links for the interested:






I very much like Dr Harris (PaNu blog) position: is not about blindly replicating cavemen lifestile, but studing their metabolism (which is ours) in the light of modern science.

So, I'm actually both a geek and a Paleo eater. And I did create a site called www.paleoplan.com because after eating this way for a while, I was amazed at how healthy I felt.

Could this be a fad diet? of course... to some people. Could this be a bunch of bullshit? sure. However, after 30 days of completely eliminating wheat, dairy, complex sugars, and starches, I was blown away by how good I felt. I'm still surprised at how I feel, and at my energy levels and general weight loss. So, as I said, I started a site (because that's what geeks do) and now this is how I eat. There's lots of people who follow Paleo eating for a variety of reasons. Some are purely performance driven, and have found Paleo to be a great diet plan to help their athletic performance. Some people are celiacs and have wheat allergies and/or lactose intollerant, so eating Paleo is a natural decision. I've also met people who are just interested in eating whole foods, versus processed foods, and have found this diet makes them feel better.

I have to leave it to people like Scott Hagnas, Robb Wolf, and Loren Cordain for the science of it, but for me, I feel great, look great, and am just in a better mood all the time after giving up a few things. Call it hocus pokus, call it a fad diet, I don't care, it works for me and I plan to stick with it. The actual article is what you'd expect; media grabbing on to the "story." It's not exactly a true representation of the people I know following this diet.

Has anyone heard if this has some proven health benefits? I wonder how much of the benefits can be attributed to a cut in processed foods and less sugar intake.

I was surprised to see Nassim Taleb show up in the article as well.

I read Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" 4 months ago, which had me curious enough to experiment. http://www.amazon.com/Good-Calories-Bad-Controversial-Scienc...

The book is a meta study of the research done on the so-called metabolic disorders (obesity, diabetes, heart disease). The research doesn't talk about evolution and cavemen, but rather health markers, hormones, and metabolic processes.

I've been eating a less -ahem- tribal version of this for 4 months, and the results have been pretty remarkable (if entirely anecdotal).

I have lost a large amount of weight, my skin and hair are much improved, my digestive functions have normalized after a lifetime of trouble, and I'm no longer tired all the time.

I haven't been sick since I started, but 4 months isn't exactly long enough to suggest anything in that respect.

What I do differently from the tribal version in the article is 1) I don't exercise (yeah, I know, evil, but I just don't feel like it yet) 2) I eat tomatoes and cheese and cream 3) I don't fast; I eat whenever I'm hungry. Interestingly, I'm only hungry about twice a day now, rather than 5 or 6 times a day which was the norm for me before I started this experiment 4) I'm super relaxed (pragmatic?) about the whole thing. I haven't seen the light or anything like that, I've simply had some really good results with very little effort.

There is a blog at http://www.marksdailyapple.com which has plenty of interesting articles, as well, but the Gary Taubes book is the closest thing I've found to proven health benefits.

Hey, I just picked up that book, and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Taubes' also has a video up.. I may post a link.

Anecdotes are not evidence, but for me, it's been 13 months. Triglyceride count is 40mg/dl, and I seem to have avoided four serious flu epidemics, the last around christmas (so my white blood cells are low). I do very little exercise, tomatoes once a week (bloat afterwards), eat cheese and cream, but no milk. I also noticed the reduction to being hungry only twice a day.. imho, that counts as basic intermittent fasting though (if you skip the morning meal).

Unlike the caricatures in the article (and Taleb, from another somewhat sardonic writeup) I don't take it very seriously.

As for the digestive part, this is quite remarkable, and I can only explain it by saying that everyone (or at least me) is borderline coeliac/lactose-intolerant.

Interesting.. I went from eating 2 meals a day to 5-6 for weightlifting. I eat a lot healthier (rarely go out), and have a high protein diet.

I've gotten sick twice, but my immune system took care of that rather fast. I barely experienced any symptoms and made recoveries within a day or two, something that never happened before

Eating 2 meals a day was bad for me because I'd feel a lot groggier eating over a 1000 calories/meal to meet daily requirements

Interesting! When I was eating 5-6 meals a day it was perfectly healthy - all home-cooked, organic, with good (free-range, grass fed) meat. I was exhausted all the time, and hungry every few hours, and was thinking about food all the time.

I speculate that maybe I eat less now than the daily requirements on occasion. I have a large amount of fuel stored, which seems to be easily accessible these days (to judge from the rate at which it is being consumed, anyhow).

Perhaps when my weight has normalized I'll get hungry more often.

At least in the UK it's recommended that the average male consume 2500 calories per day. I have a really hard time coming up with something close to that without carbohydrates - am I just being unimaginative? How do you solve this problem? How much fat is it reasonable to eat? (I'm sure this is covered in detail in Taubes' work - unfortunately I haven't found a short summary of his ideas).

I can't remember the percentages that Taubes suggests.

Personally, I solve it by replacing carbs with fat - but without actually measuring. I just eat plenty of flavorful food (and drench my veggies in butter).

Mark Sisson has written about fats in the diet here: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/saturated-fat-healthy/

The general idea floating around on his forum seems to be "when in doubt, eat more fat".

I would find it almost impossible to eat low carb without dairy. But it's fairly easy with whole fat yogurt and half & half.

Do these "cavemen" concern themselves with hygiene? Or practice safe sex? Or take medicine? Or live to see 40? Those should be among many decidedly non-Paleolithic habits which these "cavemen" should be very much against.

This article borders on tabloidesque shock-value, but the "Paleo diet" concept, at least, has a reasonably logical basis. But I would recommend this instead of googling "Paleo" immediately:


The link is down at the moment, but the above is a 4-paper written debate between T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) and Loren Cordain(Paleo Diet). They each advocate widely different approaches to diet, but agree on a few things, most notably that dairy's nutritional benefits are suspect.

I haven't read that yet (though I definitely will later) but that's interesting about the dairy findings. West Price found the exact opposite of that in his book (http://bit.ly/4MIoVe). Can you elaborate a bit more on what they found suspect?

Food for thought, Dr Eades on the issue.


I also read somewhere (probably Eades) that the China Study (the book/Campbell one) was a survey, iow, not an intervention study.

Lastly, when I read the China Study book about 3-4 years ago, it started off with an impressive anecdote about feeding extra protein (peanut butter) to filipino children to improve their diet and wham! cancer.

Blame protein, or aflatoxin? Campbell chose the former. Now that I know a bit more about animal vs. nut (soy, peanut) protein, I'll take the former, thanks.

The Panu weblog puts it in the simplest terms: choose a food whose defense is to run away from you, not one that will cook up chemical defenses to being eaten.

Lots of great info from Robb Wolf's site: http://robbwolf.com/

And The Paleolithic Solution podcast by Robb Wolf and Andy Deis [iTunes Link]: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcas...

Robb Wolf runs Norcal Strength and Conditioning in Chico, California: http://www.crossfitnorcal.com/ http://www.cathletics.com/

"eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture..."

"...I didn’t want to do some faddish diet that my sister would do."

Well, he is almost doing Atkins/South Beach/Low Carb but just gave it another name.

From the standup I've seen:

The reason the caveman were skinny is that before they could eat meat they had to chase it for few days and kill it with a stick.

Well, you know: that is exactly the point.

> Mr. Le Corre, 38, who once made soap for a living

Tyler Durden?

Or someone who read/saw the book/film and became obsessed with it.

They must be missing out on the amazing number of antioxidants founds in vegetables. I wonder if they replace them? Personally I think it's a bit silly to assume that the first nutritional habits of man were somehow the best but it definitely meets all the criteria for an interesting fad which is probably what they care about more than anything else.

Art De Vany, at least, doesn't recommend not eating vegetables. His meals are typically simple, involving raw fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.

It's got quite a lot in common with approaches like "Clean Eating", but no bread or pasta.

From what I've read they don't avoid vegetables aside from nightshades.

Thought experiment: people who don't eat vegetables must get scurvy, right?


You can get vitamin C on an all-meat diet, and various people have (of necessity, typically by living in or travelling through areas where agriculture is impossible and storing vegetables wasn't possible) done just fine that way.

A friend of mine, influenced by CrossFit, just launched a startup of his own: http://www.paleoplan.com/

I love the concept, and want it expanded to other things (how many people have tried vegetarianism only to end up eating nothing but pasta?) but I don't eat enough meat to really consider Paleo.

I was a vegetarian for 5 months. Not nearly as long as other people I know, but I think it was long enough for me to get an idea of what the diet is like. Anyway, I didn't have much of a problem finding interesting things to eat. Pasta/rice is often the base or filler of a meal, but there's multitudes of different vegetables and ways to prepare them to keep it interesting. I particularly like Asian and Mexican food, and it's fairly easy to make a number of dishes that contain no meat.

I felt healthier, slept better, and had more energy. I think the value in these diets is cutting out large amounts of sugar and processed foods.

My roommate and I, who are both paleo, were just looking at this. We were wondering how profitable it was, do you have any idea?

This reads like an Onion article.

If they toned it down just a bit, it would be as hugely funny as the Onion!

Damn. I thought this was going to be an article about programmers.

Me too. I said: "sweet, I'm officially a New Caveman now. I wonder what New Dawn of Man awaits me after this."

Once again, it seems someone has successfully trolled the lifestyle writers at the NYT with something so fringe that it could possibly be simply made-up. If this was on the front page of Reddit, we'd be calling the people trolls and saying that was fake.

The Paleo diet is actually quite well known amongst people with an interest in nutrition.

This is real. I know several people who practice this lifestyle.

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