I was out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant a few nights ago with some friends for a Christmas gathering and gift exchange. When it came time to crack open our fortune cookies, I admit, I listened to all the others fortunes with a bit of skepticism. Then it came time to read mine:
“You could make a name for yourself in the field of medicine”
I started thinking…I was the only medical person at the dinner, so what are the odds that I would be the one to get this fortune. Maybe there is a little bit of truth to the myth of fortune cookies (but fortune cookies have gluten, so of course I didn’t eat mine. Does that mean my fortune won’t come true?!?). Let me start by saying, I don’t care about making a name for myself in the field of medicine. My biggest concern is making the paleo diet known to the masses to improve everyone’s health. This simple fortune got me thinking about the history of the modern paleo diet and those individuals that have made names for themselves in this movement. Since this blog is all about paleofying healthcare, I thought a brief history of the modern paleo diet would be a good place to start. Understanding a little about the history is important to truly appreciate a paleo lifestyle as we know it today.
There have been thousands of people, including anthropologists, scientists, physicians, and others that have helped to create the modern paleo diet. There is no way I could list all the contributors so below is a brief history including some of the most well known contributors.
I’ll start with Weston A. Price, a dentist who published a book in 1939 called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, A Comparison of Primitive and Modern Diets and Their Effects. One of the most important trends Price noted was that whenever modern diets were adopted by non-westernized cultures, their health declined. His book was mostly based on observations and did not attempt to explain what about the modern diets would cause the health decline. Thirteen years later, in 1952, Arnold DeVries wrote a book called Primitive Man and His Food.
Some say the paleo diet originated another 20 years later by a gastroenterologist, Walter Voegtlin, when he started recommending a diet like our Paleolithic ancestors ate to improve the health of his patients. He published The Stone Age Diet: Based on In-Depth Studies of Human Ecology and the Diet of Man in 1975. Throughout his career he was able to document positive health outcomes for gastrointestinal conditions such as colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion.
Fast forward another ten years to 1985. Dr. Boyd Eaton published an article called Paleolithic Nutrition: a Consideration of its Nature and Current Implications in the New England Journal of Medicine. Many people consider this publication the beginning of the paleo diet as we know it today. Even though many consider Eaton’s work the beginnings of the paleo diet, a Swedish scientist by the name of Staffan Lindeberg, was doing similar research on nutrition at the same time as Eaton by studying the Kitavans in Papau New Guinea.
In 1987, Loren Cordain, an evolutionary nutritionist, came across Eaton’s article when researching nutrition to improve his own health. Cordain collected over 25,000 scientific articles, all starting with the citations in Eaton’s original article. After completing years of research, Cordain contacted Eaton in 1994 and they started writing scientific articles together in the mid 1990’s. Eaton then invited Cordain to lecture at a fitness and diet conference in Athens in 1997. The organizer of the conference, Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, encouraged Cordain to write an article on the nutritional shortcomings of cereal grains. In 1999, he published his first article on paleolithic nutrition called “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double Edged Sword.” Cordain then went on to write one of the first books on the Paleo diet appropriately titled The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat in 2002. The book did not become as popular as expected at first but Cordain attributes this to the lack of an efficient way to distribute information (pre-internet era). As the internet became more common place and user friendly, individuals started doing their own research and started to discover the paleo diet as an answer to their health conditions and the paleo diet started to take off.
The paleo movement really started to gain traction in 2009 / 2010 when two well known books were published. Mark Sisson published his first book The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy in 2009. In 2010, Robb Wolf, a student of Loren Cordein, published a book called The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. It seems like there has been no stopping the momentum of the paleo diet since that time. There are now conferences dedicated to the benefits of eating a more paleolithic diet including the Ancestral Health Symposium and Paleo(fx) which occur yearly. The Paleo diet was the most searched diet term in 2013 and 2014 on Google. There are now hundreds of books and cookbooks on the paleo diet. Some of the most well known books include:
The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young by Loren Cordain (2013)
Your Personal Paleo Code by Chris Kresser (2013) which has been reprinted in soft back with a new name, The Paleo Cure: Eat Right for Your Genes, Body Type, and Personal Health Needs.
The Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killer by Dr. David Perlmutter (2013)
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz (2014)
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo (2014)
It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig (2014)
The Paleo Approach: Reverse Autoimmune Disease and Heal Your Body by Sarah Ballantyne (2014)
Although many people think this diet is a fad, I don’t see how a diet based on evolutionary biology and so much scientific research could fade away. Hopefully, it will actually be the Paleo Diet (and not me) that makes a name for itself in the field of medicine. I look forward to a day when paleo becomes the main prescription for healthcare providers across the world.
Proof that this fortune actually exists