Category Archives: Paleo Diet

Gary Taubes’ Typical Low-Carb Diet, And Lab Results

SteakEggs3Gary Taubes, author of “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” and “What If It’s All Been A Big Fat Lie?” is an advocate of low-carbohydrate diets. He posted the results of his blood test on his site about 3 years ago, along with this description of his usual diet:

“Keep in mind as you go through these that I do indeed eat three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, typically a couple of cheeseburgers (no bun) or a roast chicken for lunch, and more often than not, a ribeye or New York steak (grass fed) for dinner, usually in the neighborhood of a pound of meat. I cook with butter and, occasionally, olive oil (the sausages). My snacks run to cheese and almonds. So lots of fat and saturated fat and very little carbohydrates. A deadly diet, according to Dr. Oz.”

I don’t want to post his lab results here; I feel that’s invasive, even though he made them public. The only values that fell out of the lab’s “reference range” were his total cholesterol (204 mg/dl) and carbon dioxide (19 mmol/L, should be below 21). His LDL was 116.

This is the diet he purports will turn around the epidemics of obesity and diabetes. It is the diet he recommends for avoiding heart disease and cancer. Keep in mind that over 100 million people in this country have diabetes or prediabetes, more than a third of the entire US population. Can you imagine how things would change if suddenly millions of people started eating mostly animal food? No grains, no beans, no potatoes, no fruit?

Taubes’ foundation NUSI has already raised $40 million and is on track to raise $190 million. There’s a lot of funding behind this diet. I think that’s one reason we’re seeing it advanced more in the media.

Some Thoughts On Dr. Perlmutter’s “Grain Brain”

GrainBrainCover2I finally went to yesterday and skimmed through the book Grain Brain. The author, Dr. Perlmutter, is an award-winning, practicing neurologist. The book was a number one New York Times bestseller. Perhaps he has something to say.

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers, by David Perlmutter and Kristin Loberg, September 2013

With “grain” in the title, I assumed the book was about avoiding gluten, a protein found in some grains. Was Perlmutter going to argue that gluten impacts neurological function? The full title, which I just saw now, is telling me it isn’t about gluten, not exclusively. It’s about carbohydrate.  So, is he arguing that dietary carbohydrate impacts neurological function? Any food with carbohydrate in it? Quinoa? Rice? Beans? Apples? Carrots? Lemons? Potatoes? Just about all plant foods contain carbohydrate.

Here’s what I found from Amazon’s “Look Inside”

Modern grains are silently destroying your brain. … I’m referring to all the grains that so many of us have embraced as being healthful – whole wheat, whole grain, multigrain, seven-grain, live grain, stone-ground, and so on.

I will demonstrate how fruit and other carbohydrates could be health hazards.

… An extremely low-carbohydrate but high-fat diet is ideal (we’re talking no more than 60 grams of carbs a day – the amount in a serving of fruit). This may also sound preposterous, but I’ll be recommending that you start swapping out your daily bread with butter and eggs. You’ll soon be consuming more saturated fat and cholesterol and re-thinking the aisles in your grocery store.

In the days leading up to your new way of eating, you’ll want to take an inventory of your kitchen and eliminate items that you’ll no longer be consuming. Start by removing the following … All forms of processed carbs, sugar and starch: corn, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes.

The following can be used in moderation (“moderation” means eating small amounts of these ingredients once a day or, ideally, just a couple times weekly):
– Carrots and parsnips.
– Legumes (beans, lentils, peas).
– Non-gluten grains. (Avoid oats entirely.)
– Whole sweet fruit: Berries are best; be extra cautious of sugary fruits such as apricots, mangoes, melons, papaya, prunes, and pineapple.

I’m going to rescue you from a lifetime of trying to avoid eating fat and cholesterol and prove how these delicious ingredients preserve the highest functioning of your brain. … Our bodies thrive when given “good fats,” and cholesterol is one of these. And we don’t do so well with copious amounts of carbohydrates, even if those carbs are gluten-free, whole grain, and high in fiber.

Eating high-cholesterol foods has no impact on our actual cholesterol levels, and the alleged correlation between higher cholesterol and higher cardiac risk is absolute fallacy.1

You will be starting a daily supplement regimen for life. [Perlmutter sells supplements on his site.]

Yes, Perlmutter is saying that any intake of carbohydrate, beyond the 60 or so grams in a piece of fruit, impairs brain function. It’s evident that Dr. Perlmutter’s food journey and mine have led to drastically different diets. (At least he allows small amounts of beans. On a Paleo diet, you have to avoid them at all costs, even fresh green beans.)

Here’s a comment by srj, who claimed to be a physician. It’s representative of other comments which call into question Perlmutter’s treatment of the evidence:

“I quit reading about half way through the book because in almost every case he badly misinterpreted the studies he quoted. As an example, reference 25 in Chapter 4 (Title: Effects of Dietary Composition on Energy Expenditure During Weight-Loss Maintenance) compared people on a high glycemic diet, a low glycemic diet (whole grain) and a very low carbohydrate (high fat/meat) diet. This study did show a slight improvement in metabolic syndrome components in the low carb diet over the low glycemic diet, but the low carb diet raised cortisol and CRP (C-Reactive Protein) levels considerable. Previous studies have shown a 5-fold (that’s 500%!) increase in cardiovascular mortality with the higher levels of cortisol and CRP and thus the conclusion of the study authors was that the low carb diet was too dangerous to recommend. The only part of the study reported by Dr. Perlmutter was that that the metabolic syndrome parameters were better – nothing about the cortisol and CRP elevation which was far more important.”

I’m surprised at the assurance with which Perlmutter advances his ideas. Dr. David Katz, founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, criticized Grain Brain, saying many of its claims were “wildly preposterous,” particularly the one where Perlmutter says the ideal diet “is close to that of the Paleo diet: 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.” Katz, citing work of researcher and “The Paleo Diet” author Lorin Cordain, said that humans during the Paleolithic Era ate mostly plants with a scattering of seeds and nuts. … “What the hell could they possibly have eaten that would be that fatty?”2

Maybe we’re all a little guilty of focusing on science that supports our preconceptions and glossing over that which challenges them. It’s our prerogative. Most of us aren’t writing books, selling products, and collecting consulting fees. Don’t you think that someone who is presenting himself as an authority, who claims to be science-based, who is urging millions of people to adopt a controversial diet, would be more even-handed with the evidence? I do. The reason I support eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is because I’ve read the studies, not because I’ve read a book by someone claiming to have read the studies for me.

1 This particular claim has been exhaustively researched by a blogger who goes by Plant Positive. He refers to people who reject the lipid hypothesis, as Perlmutter does here, as cholesterol deniers. He’s amassed a trove of evidence that defends the lipid hypothesis, that defends the correlation between serum cholesterol and heart disease, i.e. the lower your cholesterol, the lower your heart disease risk.
2 James Hamblin’s skepticism is wholly transparent in his Atlantic article, “This Is Your Brain On Gluten.“)

Proposed Warning Label For Meat: “Eating Meat Contributes To Insulin Resistance And Diabetes”

SodaWarningLabelThe California Senate just passed a bill requiring warning labels on sugar-sweetened beverages:

“Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay.”

It’s a shame that sweetened beverages are being singled out. I would like to see a similar label on meat:

“Eating meat contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes.”

Why? Because meat-eating is a risk factor for developing diabetes:
Meat Consumption As A Risk Factor For Type 2 Diabetes, Nutrients, February 2014

Researchers evaluated studies that examined different amounts and types of meat consumption and the risk for developing diabetes. They found that meat-eaters had a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes compared with non-meat-eaters. Here’s a chart summarizing the results of one of the included studies, Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care, 2009:


Mechanisms for meat’s effect on diabetes risk:

  • Effect on body weight – “Nearly all observational studies comparing meat-eaters with those who avoid meat show higher body weights among the former group, a finding mirrored in the results of intervention studies using meatless diets.”
  • Effect on visceral fat (fat around organs in abdominal area) – “Visceral adipose tissue is associated with insulin resistance as a result of increased proinflamatory cytokines.”
  • Effect on intracellular lipid (fat inside cells) – Impairs insulin action. This would involve, in part, the glucose transporter (GLUT4), which I discussed here.
  • Effect on iron balance – “Meat provides a substantial quantity of heme iron … a prooxidant that encourages the production of reactive oxygen species, which may damage body tissues, including insulin-producing pancreatic cells.” Even moderately elevated iron stores are associated with insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Nitrates in processed meats – Nitrites and sodium are both linked to elevated diabetes risk.
  • Systemic inflammation – “A 2014 Harvard study reported that as total red meat consumption increased, so did biomarkers of inflammation.”
  • One they didn’t mention was presence of persistent organic pollutants (POPs): Animal Fat Is A Natural Reservoir For Environmental Pollutants. “There is now solid evidence demonstrating the contribution of POPs at environmental levels, to metabolic disorders … such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Do you think a meat label could come to pass? There certainly is enough justification for it.

Taubes: 10,000 Calories Can Leave You Hungry (If It’s Mostly Carbs). Really?

In the video below, Gary Taubes tells the story of prisoners who were given additional carbs on top of their baseline diet (of about 3000 calories). They ate a lot, “as many as 10,000 calories a day.” “And then they said they’d go to bed hungry.” But when fat was added to their diet instead of carbs … no, they couldn’t add fat to their diet, the prisoners’ eating urge prevented it. (He doesn’t say, but I assume the “baseline” diet was composed of a mix of carbs, protein, and fat in something like the typical American diet: 55/15%/30%, not itself a “low-carb” or high-carb” diet.)

I like this point he raises about appetite. Appetite is a crucial component of our body’s weight management system.

“You can’t divorce the regulation of appetite from the regulation of energy storage. … If you try to force someone to overeat it’s going to feed back on appetite and energy expenditure, in such a way that they’re not going to be able to do it.”

In his example above, Taubes said that carbohydrate doesn’t feed back on appetite, but fat does … that when the prisoners ate fat, their appetite waned, but when they ate carbohydrates, their appetite was sustained. But 10,000 calories and still hungry? I’m having a hard time with that…


Photo of the actual food participants ate during The Evo Diet Experiment. From BBC.

Remember the Evo Diet? A group of volunteers were housed at a British zoo for 12 days and fed “the sort of diet our ape-like ancestors once ate.” Each morning a cooler containing 11 pounds of fruits, vegetables, and nuts was delivered to each participant (see photo). It was a very high-carb, low-fat diet that provided enough calories so that participants wouldn’t lose weight. Well, participants lost weight. Many couldn’t finish their 11 pounds of food.

After just 12 days on the Evo Diet:

  • Cholesterol dropped 23% (e.g. From 210 to 162 mg/dl)
  • Blood pressure dropped from 140/83 to 122/76
  • Weight dropped 9.7 lbs

Barnard et al. found the same thing when he told his study participants, who were not in a zoo but were free-living, and who had diabetes no less, to eat unlimited amounts of whole plant food (cooked or raw).1  That included … potatoes, squashes, corn, rice, oats, wheat, beans, legumes, and all manner of fruits and vegetables.  It was very high-carb, over 70% of their food energy came from carbohydrates.

After 6 months on the whole food plant-based diet:

  • Weight dropped 14.3 pounds
  • HbA1c fell 1.23 points (HbA1c is a measure of blood glucose)
  • LDL cholesterol fell 21.2%

They also experienced reductions in BMI, waist circumference, total cholesterol, had improved kidney function, and many reduced their diabetes medications. They were eating unlimited amounts of food.

It is simply not true that a diet of mostly carbohydrates is not satisfying or cannot contribute to weight loss.

1A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control And Cardiovascular Risk Factors In A Randomized Clinical Trial In Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care, August 2006

Michael Pollan Says Going Gluten Free Is More Fad Than Medical Necessity

Michael Pollan:

“Gluten, I think it’s a bit of a social contagion. I think that the number of people who are genuinely gluten-sensitive cannot be growing as fast as the market niche is growing.”

“There are a lot of people who hear from their friends, ‘I got off gluten and I sleep better, and the sex is better, and I’m happier,’ and then they try it and then they feel better, too. It’s the power of suggestion.”

I also like what he says about the Paleo diet, how we’ve evolved since then to digest starches and dairy, how we are not the same. I agree. You can’t pluck something out of context, put it in another context, and expect it to act the same.

Study: Paleo Diet Worsens Cholesterol


Many in the CrossFit community follow a Paleo diet.

In this new study, researchers put 44 healthy men and women (age: early 30s) on an unrestricted Paleo diet for 10 weeks. The diet included lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. No grains, beans, or dairy. No processed food, sugar, soda, or coffee. It is meant to mimic perceived food consumption of humans during the Paleolithic Era, a time before cultivation and domestication of animals. Participants also engaged in a CrossFit-based, high-intensity circuit training program:

Unrestricted Paleolithic Diet Is Associated With Unfavorable Changes To Blood Lipids In Healthy Subjects, International Journal of Exercise Science, 15 February 2014

After 10 weeks, cholesterol measurements worsened:

HDL (baseline optimal): Pre 82, Post 68
LDL: Pre 93, Post 106
Total Cholesterol (TC): Pre 169, Post 179
TC/HDL, Pre 3.0, Post 3.3

HDL is “good” cholesterol.  You want it to go up.  It went down.  LDL is “bad” cholesterol.  You want it to go down.  It went up.  These changes reached a level of statistical significance (so, not due to chance) and were, to use the authors’ term, “substantial.”

Triglycerides also increased slightly. The worst outcomes were seen among the subgroup that had been the healthiest before starting the diet.

“Subjects with optimal initial blood lipids were unable to maintain their ideal blood lipid values after adhering to the Paleo diet for 10 weeks.”

Interestingly, subjects also decreased body weight (about 7 pounds) and body fat (from 24.3% to 20.7%), two changes that are often accompanied by improvements in cholesterol levels, not detriments.

“Our results demonstrate that an ad libitum unrestricted Paleo diet intervention is associated with deleterious changes to blood lipids in healthy subjects, despite concurrent improvements in body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness.”

You may exercise and appear fit, but what you eat matters. This reminds me of the runners who develop atherosclerosis and die prematurely. Being lean, muscular, and aerobically fit may not be enough to counteract effects of a poor diet.