The Paleo Manifesto


The_Paleo_ManifestoI have a last minute holiday gift idea for you if you’ve got anyone in your family or circle of friends who has decided to go Paleo. Or if you have started following the Paleo lifestyle, gift it to yourself. Grab a copy of John Durant’s The Paleo Manifesto and put it under the tree. Do it now, then read why below.

The start of the modern Paleo movement dates to the classic 1985 article by Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner, Paleolithic Nutrition: A Consideration of Its Nature and Current Implications, in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). Within a couple of years, these same authors along with Marjorie Shostak wrote The Paleolithic Prescription, a popular book expanding on the ideas outlined in the NEJM article. Since this book was published during the height of the low-fat mania then sweeping the country, it took a decidedly restricted-fat approach to the Paleo diet.  Which, as we all know now, was not the case with the real Paleolithic diet.

A few other books I’ll discuss later came along over the next 15 years but the real Paleo movement stayed pretty much limited to hardcore practitioners, who were immersed in the scientific literature, which was, and still is to an extent, pretty thin. During this time, the only book that really achieved bestseller status and served as an intro for many into the Paleo way of eating was, I’m proud to say, Protein Power, which had a chapter devoted to the scientific underpinnings of the ancestral or Paleo diet as an argument for low-carb dieting. After Protein Power, a few other books started appearing on the shelves but none really caught on. And since Protein Power was positioned as a diet book, it didn’t really get the Paleo ball rolling.

After showing pretty slow growth in the 1990s, the awareness of the Paleo, ancestral or caveman diet exploded in the early days of 2010 in large measure, I believe, because of John Durant. Now Paleo is everywhere and there are countless books on the subject with more being printed every day.

John Durant stumbled onto the Paleo lifestyle after a breakup with a girlfriend. He had been working hard in the consulting business in New York, had developed sinus problems, pimples, gained 20 extra pounds and felt like crap. He had studied evolutionary psychology with Steven Pinker at Harvard, so when his brother sent him info on the ancestral diet, John was primed.

He lost his excess weight, restored his health, and “discovered a small but growing group of people who were “eating Paleo,” when a chance encounter with a free lance journalist resulted in an article about John and his Paleo potluck group in the New York Times. A month later he was on The Colbert Report. He started a blog, and soon pulled down a book contract, which culminated in The Paleo Manifesto.

The New York Times piece and John’s appearance on Colbert gave a PR boost of inestimable proportions to the Paleo lifestyle, and, in my view, was a major impetus introducing Paleo to the masses.

And the masses have been eating it up. Why? Again, just my opinion, but humans are drawn to stories, and the whole Paleo movement is based on an easy-to-understand, back-to-nature story.

By contrast, most diet books are simply that: diet books touting a particular diet. Take Protein Power, for instance. The subtitle of the paperback says it all: The High-Protein/Low-Carbohydrate Way to Lose Weight, Feel Fit, and Boost Your Health–in Just Weeks! That’s a diet book, it isn’t a story. The hardcover is even worse. You Can Now Eat Your Way to Dynamic Weight Loss with the Clinically Proven breakthrough Plan That Defies the Food Myths. Say what?!?! Whoever wrote that should be shot. Who knows what that drivel means. Whatever it is, it isn’t a story. It’s a wonder the book sold five copies.

When John sent me a pre-publication review copy of The Paleo Manifesto, I assumed it was a rework of all the other Paleo nutrition books out there. I tossed it in a pile and intended to read it on my next plane trip, but it got moved around by my lovely wife, who gets tired of what she calls my GAP method of filing (GAP = great amorphous pile), so it was out of site, out of mind. Then the book got published, and John kindly had the publisher send me a final publication copy, which, sadly, ended up in another GAP.

I finally came across it again while looking for something else, and, since I had a plane trip coming up, I tossed it in my carry on to read in flight. I actually kind of dreaded reading the thing, because I almost couldn’t face another Paleo book going on about all the same stuff that has been covered numerous times in all the other Paleo books out there.

But, fortunately, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The Paleo Manifesto isn’t at all similar to all the other Paleo books. It’s a different beast altogether. And I quickly found myself captivated.

The book breaks down into three basic parts: the past, the present, and the future. And all revolve around the theme of evolutionary health.

Were I writing about the past, I doubtless would have dived into the anthropological literature and emerged with stories about the teeth or cortical bone thickness or mummified remains of our ancient ancestors and tied it all into the supposed diet they consumed. Not so John. He somehow wangled his way into the gorilla enclosure at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where he was able to observe the mismatch between gorilla physiology and the zoo diet. Gorilla physiology has been molded by the gorilla ancestral diet, and, it didn’t take too well to the diet of zoo-expert-designed gorilla biscuits. The gorillas looked forward to their biscuits and scarfed them down much the same way we humans love our junk food and go face down in it. And, as with us, gorilla health paid the price.

The story John describes of how zoos finally figured out how to keep their gorillas, along with the rest of their animals, happy and healthy by recreating their natural habitats and diet as closely as possible is an eye-opening one. One he uses as a metaphor for human health and happiness: Avoid the mismatch as much as possible.

An interesting side note to this story is that when the zoo switched it’s gorillas from a high-sugar gorilla biscuit diet to a more gorilla ancestral diet made of plants, the gorillas lost substantial weight. At their lower weights they were consuming about twice as many calories as they had been with their biscuit diets. When the news got out, the zoo team

received emails from complete strangers telling them with absolute certainty that they had to be mistaken, that their findings broke the laws of physics. Calories in and calories out is all that matters when it comes to weight gain or loss, right? But a gorilla metabolizes a hundred calories of lettuce differently than it metabolizes a hundred calories of gorilla biscuit.

Even zoos, it appears, are not immune from the ignorant outrage of the calories in vs calories outers.

John’s adventures at the zoo are just the first of many. Instead of reading about the science of the Paleo lifestyle, which he did a-plenty, John plunged himself into all of it. He took an experiential approach to Paleo and writes about it brilliantly.

If you want to know what it’s like to go to one of Erwin Le Corre’s MovNat fitness retreats, John can tell you because he went. He ended up bloody, bruised, tired, bug bitten, and exhilarated.

How about a three-day fast and a vow of silence at a Monastary? And not just any Monastary, but the very Trappist Monastery that was the home of Thomas Merton. You can read all about it from his firsthand experience.

Or what is it like to go on your first deer hunt? I found reading about the whole experience mildly hilarious because I’ve been hunting since I was a kid (remember, I grew up in Duck Dynasty country), so it never occurred to me what a virgin hunting experience might be like to an adult.

Want to learn what Crossfit is all about. It’s all in the book.

Unlike all the other Paleo books out there, The Paleo Manifesto doesn’t spend a lot of time laying out any specific regimen to follow. Instead of lashing himself to the mast of a particular diet program, John kind of covers it all in broad brush strokes. “Mimic a hunter-gather (or herder) diet.” “Eat the right food groups.” “Don’t be afraid of fat.” “Eat nose to tail.” That kind of stuff.

So if you want a book that gives you a specific menu, The Paleo Manifesto isn’t your book. Because it isn’t like any other Paleo book out there, but it is a worthy companion to every Paleo book out there. And if you’re contemplating the Paleo lifestyle, it’s probably the best overview and introduction there is.

Plus, if you, like me, are a writer or blogger, The Paleo Manifesto is a grand reservoir for wonderful quotes. And I don’t mean quotes from other people – I mean quotes from John’s own writing.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Talking about the typical low-fat diet…

It’s a meal fit for a serf, sold for a princely sum to slavish Whole Food shoppers.

Re the difference between plants and animals as food sources…

Killing an animal is hard; digestion one is easy. Killing a plant is easy; digesting one is hard.

Discussing the idea that maybe dietary fat is off-putting to many, especially females, because of the negative connotation of excess body fat…

Better terms for dietary fat would have been “lipids,” “triglycerides,” or “sexy” — as in, “Each spoonful of lard contains 13 grams of sexy.”

These just scratch the surface.

Between the covers of The Paleo Manifesto you can find a large vein of solid gold in terms of eye-opening statistics and intriguing studies and plain beguiling stories. It’s kind of like the I Ching. Just stick your finger in between some pages, start reading, and you’ll be rewarded with all kinds of insights.

I discovered a number of scientific studies I wasn’t aware of. My favorite has got to be the 2012 German study finding vegetarians to have a significantly greater likelihood of having mental problems than meat eaters. Knowing as many vegetarians as I do, and having been attacked by as many as I’ve been attacked by, I always figured this was the case. But I didn’t know it had been studied. I pulled the paper, and, sure enough, that was the conclusion. You can read the study Vegetarian diet and mental disorders: results from a representative community survey yourself.

This book has my five star rating. You’ll have many hours of rewarding, revelatory fun reading it.

It’s hard to believe a hirsute, hippy-oid kid from New Yawk City who had never hunted nor shot a gun could be responsible in great measure for popularizing the Paleo lifestyle. If you read this book, though, you’ll learn why.

Before I put paid to this post, though, I would be remiss not to mention some other more hardcore Paleo books you might want to read at some point. I’ve reviewed a few of the older ones in a earlier post. In addition, there is Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint, Loren Cordain’s The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Answer, Robb Wolf’s The Paleo Solution, and, in a shameless bit of self promotion, The Protein Power LifePlan (PPLP). When MD and I wrote  PPLP, it was intended to be a Paleo lifestyle book but our publisher wanted to try to ride the coattails of the enormous bestsellerdom of Protein Power. So the execs at the book house decided to go with PPLP. We had no choice in the matter. What most people don’t realize is that the authors of books have complete 100 percent control over what’s between the covers, but no control whatsoever over what goes on the cover. The cover is the company’s marketing piece. So instead of having the first real modern day Paleo book in print (that honor went to Loren Cordain with The Paleo Diet, published almost two years later), we are still relegated to the lose-weight diet section. But PPLP is really a Paleo lifestyle book.

As always, if you have a favorite Paleo book or if I’ve forgotten one of the standard bearers, or if you disagree with my choices, please let me know in the comments. Feel free to post your own mini reviews.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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49 thoughts on “The Paleo Manifesto

  1. “it took a decidedly restricted-fat approach to the Paleo diet. Which, as we all know now, was not the case with the real Paleolithic diet.”

    Since the paleolithic period lasted appx 2.6 million years please tell me exactly what is the “real Paleolithic diet”.

    • That’s about when we started hunting. The real Paleolithic in terms of diet lasted from the advent of anatomically modern man until the Neolithic. But as far back as Australopithecus there is evidence of hunting. But it really kicked in with Homo erectus.

  2. I don’t know if you object to mentions of other books; I haven’t read it yet anyway. A sports column discussed the low carb/paleo approach to eating of the LA Lakers, and consultant/author Dr. Shanahan. Are you hip to hoops? Do you like this doctor/writer?


    Tom C

  3. The anti-vegetarian crap makes me sick and make me feel like stopping reading this blog.

    I’m not a vegetarian but I respect them, and anyone with a brain should do the same IMO. Not only a vegetarian (not *vegan*) diet can be perfectly healty, but it’s a respectable point of view to start with.

    Sounds like in the low-carb / paleo blogosphere, only Denise Minger is not anti-vegetarian, and has the wisdom to reckon that we should.

    But maybe it’s because so many are too clueless to know the difference between veganism and vegetarianism.

    Vegans are nutcases maybe… not vegetarians.

    Stop insulting millions of hindus/indians and implying that they are mentally ill people…

    • If you have an issue with the data, turn your rage on the scientific journal in which this study was published. Go to the link, grab their address, and let them have it.

      The study makes the case that it’s impossible to say if vegetarianism causes mental illness or if those with mental illness are drawn to vegetarianism. The study was done in Germany, so I wouldn’t expect its results to apply to Hindus or Indians.

      Having said all this, if you would like to cancel your subscription to this blog, just let me know, and I’ll happily refund your subscription price.

      • That’s not the question of the data. That’s the way you introduced the topic, which showed a very clear anti-vegetarian bias.

        > “Knowing as many vegetarians as I do, and having been attacked by as many as I’ve been attacked by, I always figured this was the case” <

        So your reply saying I should turn my rage against someone esle, is of the strawman kind…!

        You don't even mention if YOU personally examined the data and found it actually compelling.

        But as it reinforces your negative prejudice against vegetarians, you're too happy to cite it in your blog without the slightest trace of your usual scientific skepticism.

        This is the very same attitude that makes pro-carbohydrates advocates cherry-pick data that suit their bias, and do everything to ridicule us low-carbers.

        "The study was done in Germany, so I wouldn’t expect its results to apply to Hindus" So what now, GERMAN vegetarians would be the agressive ones?

        I'm deeply disappointed both in the way you introduced the topic in your post, and the way you replied to me… do you have anything else than sarcasm and strawman to defend your opinion on vegetarians?

        I guess I had a far too high opinion of you after all. Bah, that's life.

  4. Re the connection between vegetarians and mental disorders (where it appears former stems from the latter) — there was an interesting study a while back that found a switch to vegetarianism in some women stemmed from a hormone imbalance, specifically estrogen deficiency (either from abnormality or from hysterectomy). To these women, meat actually smelled bad.

    Now, consider the high level of phytoestrogens in many plants, and that our sense of smell is probably more acute than we give it credit for… this might be nature’s way of trying to replace those missing estrogens.

    Also consider how hormone imbalances can affect mental health.

    I don’t think there’s any great mystery here.

    • According to the study, it doesn’t actually appear that mental illness stems from vegetarianism. It could easily be that people who are mentally ill or prone to mental illness seek out vegetarianism.

  5. Dr.Mike:
    I read PP when it first came out years ago and thought it was so much better than Atkins that I also snatched up PPLP when it first was published. I have been following the guidelines in that book ever since and always knew it was a Paleo lifestyle book. I work in the healthcare industry and everyone who knew some of my lifestyle and dietary choices thought I was crazy. It has been great to see item after item described in PPLP hit the mainstream press and be acknowledged as accurate and truthful. Many of those who used to think I was crazy are now trying to move to a more Paleo lifestyle of their own. I am 54 years old, am the only person at work who does not take a daily prescription drug, and weigh the same as I did 20 years ago. Thank God I picked up your books all those years ago and thank goodness you and MD did all the hard research and put it into a format that was easy for the reader to understand and adopt into their lifestyle. Please keep doing what you are doing!

  6. I wanted to tell you thank you for info you put out on low carb diet and statins. I first heard about you from “Fat Head” the movie. I purchased a couple of your books and really enjoyed them. Keep up the great job your doing.

  7. I think it’s very likely that the association between vegetarianism and depression is causal, and it runs from vegetarianism to depression. For people on random modern diets, omega 3 supplements alleviate depression(1), suggesting that some depression is caused by omega 3 deficiency. Most vegetarian diets are high in omega 6 and low in omega 3, so I would expect them to make depression more likely.

    (1) For example,

  8. One of the things that has kept me from totally committing to the paleo way of eating is that there are many of us who cannot obtain or afford grass-fed meats and grass-fed milk or cheese, or free-range chicken and eggs. I do get kerrygold butter which is fairly common.

    We know through research that all the chemicals that factory raised animals and chickens are exposed to (man-made or environmental) tend to settle in the FAT of the animal and will accumulate in the body of the consumer. I’m sure you, Dr. Eades, and many like you have ready access to the best food available, probably also incl. organic vegetables, etc. but this is not the case with a lot of followers of paleo eating. I’m worried about problems or cancer down the road.

    Many years ago when I wanted to try paleo, I mentioned my concern to Jimmy Moore and his answer was something like this: “well it’s of course better to get grass-fed meat and free-range chickens and eggs, but just do the best you can.”

    Dr. Eades, am I worrying needlessly? I don’t think so but would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. And thank you!

  9. Wow, I just saw that Dr. T. Colin Campbell is coming out with another book: “The Low-Carb Fraud”. Looks like each side is digging it further.

  10. I can’t wait to read your critique of Campbell’s new book; that man is a menace to civilized discourse, if nothing else (and there’s a lot “else”).

  11. There are so many different versions of Paleo. One says no beans, another says beans are ok, yet another says only certain beans are ok. Who to believe?

    When none of the “experts” agree it makes me wonder if they really know what they’re talking about.

    I’m WAPF myself since low carb gives me terrible leg cramps. Plus when I’ve been really LC for a long time and then indulge in something carby I get horrible chesty palps. Had a stress test done, a calcium score, and all is normal in heart area. So I’m actually afraid to LC again. *sigh*

  12. Dr Eades,
    I fervently hope that you familiarize yourself with (Ph.D) DR Art Devany’s work in this area, although he doesn’t like the term “paleo.” Much of his research is based on empirical observation. If you could speak with him, that would be even more informative.
    Joe Maffetone was on the carb-addiction track back before 1999 also.

  13. Went into a local Barnes & Noble store a while back looking for something on the paleo diet. I found the nutrition and cookbook sections so terribly organized that I left the store without even spending enough to pay for the wear and tear on the door hinges. It seems that there have been many books published but the marketing garbage (French – gar-bahge) on the covers was a turn off. Thank you for identifying the right pub for me.

  14. I hadn’t realized that Protein Power Life Plan was essentially a paleo book. Now I’ll have to read it, to see if I can start recommending it instead of $100 out of print copies of Neanderthin.

  15. I haven’t read John’s paleo book, but hope to in the future, nor been to his web sight in awhile, but remember in the past always enjoyed his sight, in particular the few articles he found on pro. weight lifters lifting successfully with out the aid of dairy products. That seemed to be an amazement to others I knew that lifted.

    Best gains I’ve made lifting have been dairy free, or nearly so.

  16. Dr. Eades,
    Thanks for recommending this enjoyable book, as well as an earlier one on the Basic Laws of Human Stupidity –very funny — and above all “Grain Brain.” As you can tell, I am a big fan of your site.

    If I may, I would like to your comment about current medical practice.

    After reading “Grain Brain” I selected a short list of blood tests (such as gluten sensitivity) from the many recommended by that book, and took them to my primary care provider during a recent checkup. Not only did she refuse to enter into a discussion of low-carb dieting (I brought “Grain Brain” to the checkup on the off-chance she might like to borrow it) but also immediately dismissed my little list — with some hostility. She said “Go see a naturopath.”

    I didn’t really argue with her (I don’t find argumentativeness to be much of a useful trait) but after she cooled down a bit she explained her reasoning.

    A) No matter what the tests show (i.e., C-RP, homocysteine, etc.) there is nothing to be done about them. Therefore, why test?

    B) Any test given under her orders makes her responsible. She did not want to be responsible.

    She’s a very smart woman (but rather overweight, which might explain the lack of interest in diet) and this rather categorical refusal to engage with me is surprising, since everything I read suggests most doctors relish patients who take an active interest in health issues.

    I didn’t ask her because I wanted to stay out of politics but I wonder if the onset of Obamacare has something to do with her not wanting “responsibility”?

    Anyway, what do you think about this?

  17. After reading your review, I ran out and bought the book. As it was damn cold here in Minnesota at the time, I read it in two sittings. Your review was right on. Very good book, well written and entertaining