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Dr. Loren Cordain Interview Part One

October 7, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Today I’m very happy to present part one of my interview with Dr. Loren Cordain of Colorado State University. Dr. Cordain is widely regarded as the preeminent authority on paleolithic nutrition – a dietary approach which aims to practically replicate the eating style of humans “prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago)”. A Paleolithic menu primarily consists of lean meats, seafood and low-glycemic fruits and vegetables. It’s naturally rich in antioxidants, dietary fiber, phytochemicals, omega-3 fatty acids and protein. As one might expect, it discourages the consumption of many of the controversial elements of modern diets including artificial flavors and sweeteners, dairy, grains, hyrdrogenated fats, processed foods, salt and sugar. The net result of adopting such a diet is often a dramatic improvement in conditions ranging from acne to osteoporosis.

JP – Your view of nutrition appears to put you at odds with today’s most popular diet plans such as those advocated by many low carbohydrate authorities, the USDA Food Pyramid and vegetarian advocates. How are you generally received by your colleagues in the nutritional field?

Dr. Cordain – First off, let me separate myself from your characterization of “popular diet plans” such as those you mention (the USDA Food Pyramid, low carbohydrate authorities and vegetarians).  The dietary recommendations for each of these three ways of eating have been synthesized by either charismatic individuals or governmental organization (e.g. Atkins – low carbohydrate; the USDA – The Food Pyramid; Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell and others – vegetarian/vegan diets).  Accordingly, they and their message are vulnerable to human biases, errors and frailties.  As the evolutionary biologist, Theodosius Dobzhansky stated “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”.  Hence, the basis for optimal human diet lies in the evolutionary history of our species and the consequent selective pressures which shaped our genome, rather than the opinions of individuals or organizations. Without consideration of these evolutionary and genetic factors humans will surely err in their recommendations for healthful modern diets. Hence, the optimal human diet was shaped by natural selection through eons of evolutionary experience and is not a function of either governmental policy or ever changing human perspectives on diet. I did not synthesize a new “diet revolution”, but rather (with numerous scientists worldwide) uncovered the original diet to which our species is genetically adapted. By analyzing the dietary characteristics and ranges of the world’s hunter gatherers, we have gained insight into how the current western diet varies from that to which we are genetically adapted.

From a logical perspective, your question lacks objectivity.  Clearly the USDA nutritional recommendations vary from those of low carb advocates as well as vegans.  None of these three groups are in agreement with optimal dietary recommendations, so it serves little function to point out that all three of these camps are probably not in agreement with the evolutionary basis for optimal human diet. Human and governmental policies are biased by our cultural and intellectual frailties. Evolution through natural selection knows no such biases. Hence to take Dobzhansky’s statement one step further, nothing in nutrition makes sense except in the light of evolution, as nutrition is an applied sub-discipline of biology. (1)

JP – You currently have three books in publication (The Paleo Diet; The Paleo Diet for Athletes; and The Dietary Cure for Acne). What are the primary differences between the three in terms of dietary composition?

Dr. Cordain – Basically, all are similar. The Paleo Diet for Athletes varies slightly from the other two books in its recommendations to increase dietary sources carbohydrate to fully top off intramuscular glycogen stores.

JP – How do you find the right balance between staying true to historically-based nutrition while still incorporating the latest scientific findings? Do you sometimes find the two are at odds with each other?

Dr. Cordain – History implies a written language. Hunter gatherers were illiterate, so our observations of their diets and nutritional patterns come from ethnographic and anthropological observations as well as the archaeologic record. Clearly, we cannot eat a pure stone age diet, as these foods (wild game and non-domesticated plant foods) are either unavailable or distasteful to our current dietary biases. However, having said this, it is entirely possible to mimic the nutritional characteristics of hunter gatherer diets with everyday foods available in the supermarket.

Skim & Whole Milk Raise Blood Sugar & Insulin Levels Considerably
Source: British Journal of Nutrition (2005), 93: 175-177 (link)

JP – I’ve been following the recent findings about so-called “alternate day fasting” and “intermittent fasting”. Do you think that moving away from a modern, three-meal-a-day menu plan has a place in the paleolithic model of nutrition?

Dr. Cordain – The available evidence suggests that there likely were two norms for meal patterns in foragers. First, a large single meal at the end of the day wherein the hunters brought their spoils back to the group and/or the gatherers brought their food back to the group for a central meal. Men almost always were the hunters, whereas women, children, the elderly and men were the gatherers. If food existed in camp then everyone stayed in camp and tended to nibble and snack all day long. Hence three formal meals were not the norm and intermittent fasting was a common pattern, particularly among the hunters.

JP – Can you please share your point of view about the relative merits of grass-fed meat as compared to conventional, grain-fed meat?

Dr. Cordain – I’ve written a paper on the topic which is available at my website.

JP – Is there any role or value in practicing stress management techniques as an adjunct to the type of traditional diet and lifestyle you advocate?

Dr. Cordain – This question is out of my area of expertise

JP – In 2004 and 2006, you co-authored two articles about the cardiovascular benefits of maintaining low LDL cholesterol levels. What is your current view on this issue?

Dr. Cordain – Similar, except that the LDL should be fractionated into small dense LDL and the fluffier, less dense LDL. Small dense LDL represents a greater risk for cardiovascular disease than does fluffy LDL. (2,3)

Just over a month ago I implemented an alternate day fasting (ADF) regimen into my health care program. I’m combining the ADF eating pattern along with a carbohydrate restricted diet. It’s my belief that integrating these two techniques will result in better results than either in isolation. In the coming months, I’m considering incorporating a Paleolithic bent to my dietary program. The preliminary and theoretical research I’ve seen on Paleo-style diets appear to offer a sound basis for doing so. In addition, it simply makes sense to me that many people would do better eating traditional foods with which our bodies are most familiar. I’ll make sure to keep you all abreast of the personal findings in my own nutritional journey. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you visit Dr. Cordain’s informative and well-referenced website (www.thepaleodiet.com) and consider his compelling point of view and research.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Food and Drink, Interviews, Nutrition

5 Comments & Updates to “Dr. Loren Cordain Interview Part One”

  1. JP Says:

    Update 05/18/15:


    Nutrition Research – May 13, 2015

    Paleolithic nutrition improves plasma lipid concentrations of hypercholesterolemic adults to a greater extent than traditional heart-healthy dietary recommendations

    Recent research suggests that traditional grain-based heart healthy diet recommendations, which replace dietary saturated fat with carbohydrate and reduce total fat intake, may result in unfavorable plasma lipid ratios, with reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and an elevation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triacylglycerols (TG). The current study tested the hypothesis that a grain-free Paleolithic diet would induce weight loss and improve plasma total cholesterol (TC), HDL, LDL and TG concentrations in non-diabetic adults with hyperlipidemia to a greater extent than a grain-based heart healthy diet, based on the recommendations of the American Heart Association. Twenty volunteers (10 male, 10 female) aged 40 to 62 years were selected based on diagnosis of hypercholesterolemia. Volunteers were not taking any cholesterol-lowering medications and adhered to a traditional heart healthy diet for four months, followed by a Paleolithic diet for four months. Regression analysis was used to determine whether change in body weight contributed to observed changes in plasma lipid concentrations. Differences in dietary intakes and plasma lipid measures were assessed using repeated measures ANOVA. Four months of Paleolithic nutrition significantly lowered (P < 0.001) mean TC, LDL, and TG and increased (P < 0.001) HDL, independent of changes in body weight, relative to both baseline and the traditional heart healthy diet. Paleolithic nutrition offers promising potential for nutritional management of hyperlipidemia in adults whose lipid profiles have not improved after following more traditional heart healthy dietary recommendations. Be well! JP

  2. JP Says:

    Updated 05/30/16:


    Diabetes Metab Res Rev. 2016 May 27.

    Effects of a Paleolithic diet with and without supervised exercise on fat mass, insulin sensitivity, and glycemic control: a randomized controlled trial in individuals with type 2 diabetes.

    BACKGROUND: Means to reduce future risk for cardiovascular disease in subjects with type 2 diabetes are urgently needed.

    METHODS: Thirty-two patients with type 2 diabetes (age 59 ± 8 years) followed a Paleolithic diet for 12 weeks. Participants were randomized to either standard care exercise recommendations (PD) or 1-h supervised exercise sessions (aerobic exercise and resistance training) three times per week (PD-EX).

    RESULTS: For the within group analyses, fat mass decreased by 5.7 kg (IQR: -6.6, -4.1; p < 0.001) in the PD group and by 6.7 kg (-8.2, -5.3; p < 0.001) in the PD-EX group. Insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR) improved by 45% in the PD (p < 0.001) and PD-EX (p < 0.001) groups. HbA1c decreased by 0.9% (-1.2, -0.6; p < 0.001) in the PD group and 1.1% (-1.7, -0.7; p < 0.01) in the PD-EX group. Leptin decreased by 62 % (p < 0.001) in the PD group and 42 % (p < 0.001) in the PD-EX group. Maximum oxygen uptake increased by 0.2 L/min (0.0, 0.3) in the PD-EX group, and remained unchanged in the PD group (p < 0.01 for the difference between intervention groups). Male participants decreased lean mass by 2.6 kg (-3.6, -1.3) in the PD group and by 1.2 kg (-1.3, 1.0) in the PD-EX group (p < 0.05 for the difference between intervention groups). CONCLUSIONS: A Paleolithic diet improves fat mass and metabolic balance including insulin sensitivity, glycemic control, and leptin in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Supervised exercise training may not enhance the effects on these outcomes, but preserves lean mass in men and increases cardiovascular fitness. Be well! JP

  3. JP Says:

    Updated 06/03/16:


    Nutrients. 2016 May 23;8(5).

    Cardiovascular, Metabolic Effects and Dietary Composition of Ad-Libitum Paleolithic vs. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating Diets: A 4-Week Randomised Trial.

    (1) BACKGROUND: The Paleolithic diet is popular in Australia, however, limited literature surrounds the dietary pattern. Our primary aim was to compare the Paleolithic diet with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (AGHE) in terms of anthropometric, metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors, with a secondary aim to examine the macro and micronutrient composition of both dietary patterns;

    (2) METHODS: 39 healthy women (mean ± SD age 47 ± 13 years, BMI 27 ± 4 kg/m²) were randomised to either the Paleolithic (n = 22) or AGHE diet (n = 17) for four weeks. Three-day weighed food records, body composition and biochemistry data were collected pre and post intervention;

    (3) RESULTS: Significantly greater weight loss occurred in the Paleolithic group (-1.99 kg, 95% CI -2.9, -1.0), p < 0.001). There were no differences in cardiovascular and metabolic markers between groups. The Paleolithic group had lower intakes of carbohydrate (-14.63% of energy (E), 95% CI -19.5, -9.7), sodium (-1055 mg/day, 95% CI -1593, -518), calcium (-292 mg/day 95% CI -486.0, -99.0) and iodine (-47.9 μg/day, 95% CI -79.2, -16.5) and higher intakes of fat (9.39% of E, 95% CI 3.7, 15.1) and β-carotene (6777 μg/day 95% CI 2144, 11410) (all p < 0.01); (4) CONCLUSIONS: The Paleolithic diet induced greater changes in body composition over the short-term intervention, however, larger studies are recommended to assess the impact of the Paleolithic vs. AGHE diets on metabolic and cardiovascular risk factors in healthy populations. Be well! JP

  4. JP Says:

    Updated 02/19/17:


    J Nutr. 2017 Feb 8.

    Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults.

    Background: Poor diet quality is associated with a higher risk of many chronic diseases that are among the leading causes of death in the United States. It has been hypothesized that evolutionary discordance may account for some of the higher incidence and mortality from these diseases.Objective: We investigated associations of 2 diet pattern scores, the Paleolithic and the Mediterranean, with all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the REGARDS (REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke) study, a longitudinal cohort of black and white men and women ≥45 y of age.Methods: Participants completed questionnaires, including a Block food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ), at baseline and were contacted every 6 mo to determine their health status. Of the analytic cohort (n = 21,423), a total of 2513 participants died during a median follow-up of 6.25 y. We created diet scores from FFQ responses and assessed their associations with mortality using multivariable Cox proportional hazards regression models adjusting for major risk factors.Results: For those in the highest relative to the lowest quintiles of the Paleolithic and Mediterranean diet scores, the multivariable adjusted HRs for all-cause mortality were, respectively, 0.77 (95% CI: 0.67, 0.89; P-trend < 0.01) and 0.63 (95% CI: 0.54, 0.73; P-trend < 0.01). The corresponding HRs for all-cancer mortality were 0.72 (95% CI: 0.55, 0.95; P-trend = 0.03) and 0.64 (95% CI: 0.48, 0.84; P-trend = 0.01), and for all-cardiovascular disease mortality they were 0.78 (95% CI: 0.61, 1.00; P-trend = 0.06) and HR: 0.68 (95% CI: 0.53, 0.88; P-trend = 0.01).Conclusions: Findings from this biracial prospective study suggest that diets closer to Paleolithic or Mediterranean diet patterns may be inversely associated with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 09/13/17:


    European Journal of Clinical Nutrition advance online publication 13 September 2017

    A Paleolithic-type diet results in iodine deficiency: a 2-year randomized trial in postmenopausal obese women

    Background/Objectives: Different diets are used for weight loss. A Paleolithic-type diet (PD) has beneficial metabolic effects, but two of the largest iodine sources, table salt and dairy products, are excluded. The objectives of this study were to compare 24-h urinary iodine concentration (24-UIC) in subjects on PD with 24-UIC in subjects on a diet according to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) and to study if PD results in a higher risk of developing iodine deficiency (ID), than NNR diet.

    Subjects/Methods: A 2-year prospective randomized trial in a tertiary referral center where healthy postmenopausal overweight or obese women were randomized to either PD (n=35) or NNR diet (n=35). Dietary iodine intake, 24-UIC, 24-h urinary iodine excretion (24-UIE), free thyroxin (FT4), free triiodothyronine (FT3) and thyrotropin (TSH) were measured at baseline, 6 and 24 months. Completeness of urine sampling was monitored by para-aminobenzoic acid and salt intake by urinary sodium.

    Results: At baseline, median 24-UIC (71.0 μg/l) and 24-UIE (134.0 μg/d) were similar in the PD and NNR groups. After 6 months, 24-UIC had decreased to 36.0 μg/l (P=0.001) and 24-UIE to 77.0 μg/d (P=0.001) in the PD group; in the NNR group, levels were unaltered. FT4, TSH and FT3 were similar in both groups, except for FT3 at 6 months being lower in PD than in NNR group.

    Conclusions: A PD results in a higher risk of developing ID, than a diet according to the NNR. Therefore, we suggest iodine supplementation should be considered when on a PD.

    Be well!


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