Book Review – ‘The Paleo Solution’ – Robb Wolf

Paleo SolutionThe Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet

I’ve been listening to Robb Wolf’s podcast as a regular part of my podcast rotation for a while now and really enjoy what he has to say.  He is extremely knowledgeable and doesn’t hesitate to call someone an idiot or drop an ‘f-bomb’ here and there.

I figured, since his book was one of the seminal books in the whole paleo movement, it was somethingI should check out.  I’ve heard people mention that at the time it was published there were only 2 or 3 books TOTAL available on amazon on the subject of a paleo diet including this one.

I know there are plenty of reviews already on amazon and that I’m late to the game since this book was published over 3 years ago, but it’s actually a helpful way for me to process what I’ve read, and you are all welcome to come along for the ride.

The basic premise of the paleo diet is that our genetics are essentially unchanged from those of our early ancestors for more than 120,000 years who mainly subsisted on a hunter gatherer type of lifestyle.  It wasn’t until 10,000 years ago that the development of agriculture came about which introduced a steady source of carbs, wheat, corn, vegetable oils, and doritos.  Our genetics are not suited to handle these changes, hence the prevalence of many modern day diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity, autoimmunity, cancer, etc…

His first chapter details his own compelling personal history with his horrible experiences on a vegan diet and how things changed completely once he discovered the paleo diet.  His background in biochemistry really shows and he does a good job of not only explaining the basics of macronutrients and the role of insulin and glucagon, but he goes into detail about other players such as leptin, ghrelin, adiponectin, and peptide YY.

There are even a few pages dedicated to ketosis!

Despite my own science background, there were a lot of pearls of knowledge I came across that I had never heard before, and was surprised to learn.  He also succinctly and eloquently puts into words ideas that I’ve been thinking about but couldn’t quite get my mind around.  Here are a few examples:

  • “… there are no “essential carbohydrates.”  Our bodies can make all the carbohydrates it needs from protein and fat.”
  • “as a stand-alone item, it is impossible to overeat protein due to the potent satiety signal sent to the brain.”
  • A diet too heavy in carbs can cause oxidative stress that can kill the pancreatic beta cells responsible for secreting insulin AND kill GLUT4 transporters in cell membranes.
  • Fructose is 7x more reactive than glucose in forming advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which is one of the main reasons high fructose corn syrup can be so toxic.
  • Carbs can raise blood pressure by increasing circulating insulin which can cause secretion of a hormone called aldosterone which tells the kidneys to keep more sodium.
  • Carbs can cause osteoporosis by increasing circulating insulin which increases secretion of cortisol which can leach calcium from bones.
  • He equates gluten consumption to a pack-a-day smoking habit.
  • While quinoa is not a grain, it contains a chemical called saponins which can punch holes in intestinal cells
  • Lectins, such as wheat germ agglutinin, are a type of protein found in wheat, and can be transported directly into our blood, and through molecular mimicry incite an autoimmune response.
  • Grains also contain something called phytates which act like antinutrients binding up important minerals such as magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and copper so that the body can’t absorb them from the diet.
  • “You only need to be exposed to things like gluten once every 10 – 15 days to keep the gut damaged.”
  • Eating fat, does not make you fat.  This is something that isn’t very new to those of us eating a ketogenic diet.
  • Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory, while Omega 6 fats are pro inflammatory.
  • Our ancestors ate a diet that was a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s
  • Our current diet has an Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio of 1:10 to 1:20.

He also dedicates an entire chapter on the importance of sleep… and of using blackout curtains (which I currently use).  This is something that definitely affects me since I have a wonky schedule that involves some shift work.  Two alarming facts he presents are that:

  • “Just one night of missed or inadequate sleep is sufficient to make you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic.”
  • “The Centers for Disease Control recently announced that shift work (aka—lack of sleep) is a known carcinogen… that means shift work, similar to cigarettes, asbestos, nuclear radiation, and certain talk shows can give you cancer.

Regarding stress, one of the best things he says to summarize the differences between the types of stress we currently face vs those of our ancestors is:

The key difference between the stressors our ancestors faced and our modern stressors can be described thusly: frequency and duration. Paleo stress tended to be acute: short in duration and infrequent in occurrence. Modern stress, by contrast, tends to be constant and unrelenting.

He even lightly broaches the subject of materialism and how it increases stress:

  • “Ok, here it is: Having more shit (cars, TVs, houses, shoes… you know, crap) does not make you happier. In fact, it makes you unhappy and whittles away your life and causes you stress.”
  • “I also think people get easily swayed into thinking a big house, fast car, or the latest gadgets, will make them happy. I see people doing more work than they want so they can buy crap they worry about and must maintain”
  • “These folks are crushed by stress born of poor financial choices. These choices are driven by one of two compulsions: Trying to fill a void that tangible items will never fill, or by ego: I want more stuff so people will respect me.”

The last few chapters are dedicated to the implementation of an exercise program as well as a shopping guide and recipe list for trying this diet and way of living.

Overall I really enjoyed this book, especially with it’s scientific focus delving into all the biochemistry and physiology behind why a paleo diet is optimal.  I know some people are put off by his tone (which is pretty much identical to how he speaks), which some people find condescending, since he refers to the reader as ‘buttercup.’  This didn’t bother me as much since I knew what to expect after listening to his podcast.  The science is sound and is backed by a long list of references at the end of the book.

This book is great for people who want to know the ‘why’ behind the paleo lifestyle as well as the ‘how.’

I’m not sure this is the sort of book I’d recommend to someone without a reasonable background in science or nutrition since it does go pretty deep into the rabbit hole.  I can see how all this information can be overwhelming for people like my parents.

If you’re interested, you can pick a copy here.
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10 Responses to Book Review – ‘The Paleo Solution’ – Robb Wolf

  1. Aisha says:

    Sounds like a copy cat of the Atkins diet really. The basic premise being, ” carbs bad”

    I have a couple of contentions concerning a few points he made, or rather you reinterpreted. My major is in bio medical science, so I have studied this area before.

    You said, “Our bodies can make all the carbohydrates it needs from protein AND fat.”

    I think you mean,energy. Unless my British major has failed me, I believe that only protein can be converted into carbs in the absence of a certain amount of glucose. Fat can not be, but can be used as a direct source of energy.

    ” “as a stand-alone item, it is impossible to overeat protein due to the potent satiety signal sent to the brain.”

    This is not quite true. Though a satiety signal is sent to the brain, often the initial absence of carbs can give a false sense of hunger leading to the overeating of protein on a low carb diet. So protein intake must be monitored, at least until the person is accustomed to the diet.

    Overall, it looks like it could be a good read. However, in ‘moderation’,( like most things) carbs have been shown to have many good effects that a diet of just protein and fat can not give. Genetic variation among humans also plays a huge role in what works better for some people.

    Nice post

    • BJJ Caveman says:

      Good points.

      I remember thinking the same thing about the carbs, but then I remembered that the body can actually convert the glycerol backbone of triglycerides into glucose. I think this is what he may be referring to in terms of the body synthesizing carbs from fat… not so much the fatty acid part of the triglycerides as it is the glycerol molecule.

      Regarding the satiety point, I think everyone can agree that carbs by themselves aren’t very satiating… or if they are, it is only temporary.

      In my own experience, protein sources gave me the strongest sense of satiety. If I ate a steak… well, I’d be satiated for the majority of the day… I couldn’t eat more even if I wanted to!

      If I ate a predominantly fatty meal (ie bullet proof coffee) or something like that, I never really experienced the prolonged satiety that others described. I’d still get hungry in 2-3 hours. This was actually something I ran into early on in my nutritional ketosis experiment. It wasn’t until I started adding in protein to my fatty meals that I started experiencing prolonged satiety. So what Robb said rang true with me… but everyone is different, so this may not apply to everyone else.

      I know Jimmy Moore reports that he can eat a predominantly fatty meal and be full for almost the rest of the day.

  2. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  3. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  4. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  5. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  6. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  7. […] the same time, use paleo and primal principles (eating whole foods, avoiding wheat products, legumes, vegetable oils, […]

  8. […] I’ve felt this when I’ve encountered the works of folks like Tim Ferriss, Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, John Kiefer, Dave Asprey, and Jimmy […]

  9. […] Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution (here is my review), podcaster, BJJ blue belt, and one of the founding father’s of Paleo recently wrote a long […]

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