Far be it from me to dis any of our diet books or discourage you from the hyped-up diet plan you decided to pursue in this new year, but, yeah, I guess that’s what I’m doing. Or at least urging research, temperance, that kind of thing.
The fad that’s irritating me of late is paleo dieting, partly because we have a goofy new book by Pauli Halstead called Primal Cuisine, which is chock full of photos of elaborate culinary concoctions which have even less to do with how those old paleo people actually ate than Peter Jackson’s films have to do with The Hobbit.
Anyway, to quote the publisher’s blurb for Loren Cordain’s 2011 book The Paleo Diet, Revised Edition, it is a “breakthrough nutrition program based on eating the foods we were genetically designed to eat.” I’m not challenging his less-grains, more-low-fat-meats beliefs per se; it probably works for many people. I just don’t accept that when it comes to food there is a genetically designed “we.” There is only me. Or you. Your genes, and my genes and the genes of the woman down the block whose ancestors came from Africa and Japan are not exactly the same genes. When it comes to handling food, they may be significantly different.
Cordain has been quoted as saying “the human genome has changed relatively little in the past 40,000 years since the appearance of behaviorally modern humans.” But in 2013’s The Story of the Human Body, Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman emphasizes that not only has evolution never stopped, but human culture has accelerated it. Also, the diversity within the genome is something that has allowed our species to evolve and flourish under many different conditions of food availability over millions of years. What’s good for most of us is not necessarily what’s good for others of us.
Maybe Cordain’s advice is better for most people than that in certain other diet books, and better-grounded. But it’s still telling us what to eat based on some core “breakthrough” idea. To me, it makes more sense to read widely about diet and get as much information as you can about your own body’s makeup and metabolism as you decide what to eat, perhaps in consultation with your doctor and a nutritionist.
And, yes, sigh, exercise. Even, ugh, lift weights. You can pretend they are rocks.