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.