My next two posts will be the Q & A with Paul Jaminet. I asked him to pick whichever questions he found most relevant, and he apparently found them all relevant. We’re talking about 17 pages of answers, so I decided to break it into two posts.
That whole safe-starch issue is obviously controversial among low-carbers — just read the comments on my last few posts – so I expect some readers will be inclined to resist what Jaminet has to say. Hey, I’m all in favor of healthy skepticism, but I’m also in favor of being open-minded and logically consistent. So before I post his answers, I want to engage in a little exercise in logical consistency.
We low-carb and paleo types have gotten pretty good at replying to all those “your diet is going to kill you!” challenges from friends, family members, doctors, nutritionists, government officials, and of course our good pals the vegan zealots. They say this, we know to say that. Cool. We’re fully armed, locked and loaded.
But now let’s make sure we’re being logically consistent when we consider whether safe starches are good for us, bad for us, necessary for some people, not necessary for anyone, only necessary for “sick” people, etc. Here are some of the challenges the “meat kills!” and “arterycloggingsaturatedfat!” crowds toss around and our usual replies — followed by how the logic of our replies might also apply to safe starches.
All that meat and saturated fat is bad for your health. It’s going to kill you.
We don’t believe that because the evidence shows that humans have been eating meats, organs and animal fats for hundreds of thousands of years. We evolved eating those foods. It is, as John Yudkin pointed out during the McGovern Committee hearings, ludicrous to blame modern diseases on the foods we’ve been eating forever. The foods we’ve been eating forever are the foods that are good for us.
The evidence also shows that humans have been eating tubers and other starchy plants for hundreds of thousands of years, as I learned when I read Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. We evolved eating those foods – not as the dominant feature of the diet in most areas, but certainly as part of the diet. So once again, it’s ludicrous to blame modern diseases on ancient foods. Foods we’ve been eating forever are the foods that are good us.
Don’t eat egg yolks. You should avoid cholesterol as much as possible.
We answer that by pointing out that cholesterol is so important for human health, our bodies will make the stuff even if we don’t consume any. Our bodies aren’t stupid and wouldn’t have a backup system for producing a health hazard if we don’t consume the health hazard. Cholesterol is necessary nutrient for our skin, our hormones, our sex hormones, and our brains. So eating some of the stuff is fine and probably beneficial.
Glucose is likewise so important for human health, our bodies will make the stuff even if we don’t consume any. Our bodies aren’t stupid and wouldn’t have a backup system for producing a health hazard if we don’t consume the health hazard. Glucose is a necessary nutrient for our red blood cells, brains, tears, saliva, mucous and intestinal lining. So eating some of the stuff is fine for most people and probably beneficial.
And yet what I keep seeing in comments is that since our bodies can make glucose, only a sick person would need to actually eat any of it. Everybody everywhere ought to be able to produce sufficient glucose without eating any starches. If they can’t, it means there’s something wrong with their metabolisms.
Okay … so what would you say if some vegan pointed out that our bodies can make cholesterol, and therefore nobody should ever have to eat any? I think I can guess. The answer would be something like:
But if you force your body to produce all the cholesterol it requires for basic biological functions, you could eventually end up becoming cholesterol deficient, and that would be bad for your health. Better eat an egg now and then to be sure.
Right. And if you force your body to produce all the glucose it requires for basic biological functions, you could eventually end up becoming glucose deficient, and that would be bad for your health. Better eat a tuber now and then to be sure.
Humans are natural vegetarians. Eating meat is just a bad habit we picked up.
I can guess the answer to that too:
If humans are natural vegetarians and aren’t meant to eat meat, why did people in almost every so-called primitive society hunt for meat and fish? And why were they so healthy?
Well, guess what? Humans in almost every so-called primitive society also sought out foods that would provide them with some dietary glucose. In most of the world, paleo people gathered roots and tubers. In the arctic regions, paleo people hunted animals and sea animals that contained glycogen in their meats, organs and fats. And as I pointed out in comments, there’s a tuber known as the “Eskimo potato” that grows waaaay up north.
So if ancient diets are the template for what’s natural for us to eat, the template would include some starchy plants in addition to meats, organs, nuts, vegetables and fruits in season.
I haven’t eaten meat in five years and I’ve never felt better!
My usual reply: Good for you. I hope that continues working for you. But most people who go on a vegan diet eventually quit, and the number one reason they cite for quitting is lousy health. I’ve also known several vegetarians who ended up with health problems. So clearly it’s not a healthy diet for everyone.
Lots of people feel great on a ketogenic diet that includes very few carbohydrates and no starchy foods at all. I wish them well and hope it keeps working for them. But some people end up feeling lousy on a very-low-carb diet – so clearly it’s not a healthy diet for everyone. Insisting that the inability to thrive on a no-carb diet proves they’re sick or metabolically damaged sounds exactly like a vegan insisting that anyone who doesn’t thrive on an all-plant diet is metabolically damaged.
So let’s be logically consistent. When people like Lierre Keith or John Nicholson (author of The Meat Fix) finally drop their dietary dogma and declare that a vegan diet was making them sick, we cheer them for coming to their senses and reclaiming their health by returning to the diet of their ancestors. We laugh at the vegans who insist that Keith and Nicholson just didn’t do it right. We’ve read their books. We know they tried very hard to “do it right.”
So when someone like Paul Jaminet declares that a very-low-carb paleo diet was making him sick, we should cheer him for having the good sense to drop the dogma and return to the diet of his ancestors – who, since they didn’t live in the arctic, almost certainly ate some starchy plants along with their meats and seafood.
If you prefer to insist that Jaminet just didn’t “do it right” when he was on a VLC paleo diet, be my guest … but if you’re logically consistent, you should laugh at yourself immediately afterwards.
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