February 19, 2013

The Paleo Diet v. "Paleofantasy"

Raquel Welch in 1,000,000 B.C.
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, U. of Minnesota evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk promotes her upcoming book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live:
Newspaper articles, morning TV, dozens of books, and self-help advocates promoting slow-food or no-cook diets, barefoot running, sleeping with our infants, and other measures large and small claim that it would be more natural, and healthier, to live more like our ancestors. A corollary to this notion is that we are good at things we had to do back in the Pleistocene, like keeping an eye out for cheaters in our small groups, and bad at things we didn't, like negotiating with people we can't see and have never met. 
I am all for examining human health and behavior in an evolutionary context, and part of that context requires understanding the environment in which we evolved. At the same time, discoveries like those from Sverrisdóttir's lab in Sweden make it clear that we cannot assume that evolution has stopped for humans, or that it can take place only ploddingly, with tiny steps over hundreds of thousands of years. In just the last few years we have added the ability to function at high altitudes and resistance to malaria to the list of rapidly evolved human characteristics, and the stage is set for many more. We can even screen the entire genome, in great gulps of DNA, looking for the signature of rapid selection in our genes. 
To think of ourselves as misfits in our own time and of our own making flatly contradicts what we now understand about the way evolution works—namely, that rate matters. That evolution can be fast, slow, or in-between, and understanding what makes the difference is far more enlightening, and exciting, than holding our flabby modern selves up against a vision—accurate or not—of our well-muscled and harmoniously adapted ancestors. 
Recognizing the continuity of evolution also makes clear the futility of selecting any particular time period for human harmony. Why would we be any more likely to feel out of sync than those who came before us? Did we really spend hundreds of thousands of years in stasis, perfectly adapted to our environments? When during the past did we attain this adaptation, and how did we know when to stop? 
If they had known about evolution, would our cave-dwelling forebears have felt nostalgia for the days before they were bipedal, when life was good and the trees were a comfort zone?

Yeah, probably. There's some evidence that older pre-pubescent children feel relatively strong urges to practice climbing trees. If you are, say, 10 years old and a big carnivore is coming your way, climbing a tree is a particularly good way to escape if you are old enough and competent enough to not fall, but light enough to climb well, but not strong enough yet to stand and fight. So, kids like to practice climbing on monkey bars and jungle gyms, which were a popular staple of playgrounds until liability issues got in the way.

Maybe this is all just a just-so story, but there's been a modest amount of research on what kinds of landscapes are most attractive at different ages and to different sexes and the results seem to fit to some extent with reasonable surmises about the past.

In contrast, the appeal of mountain climbing draws upon some basic human urges (e.g., get up high to see the view). But it also requires a vast cultural apparatus, including a huge mountain climbing literature going back to the poet Petrarch 700 years ago, the first European we know of to climb a mountain (a small Alp of 6000+ feet) for the sake of climbing a mountain.

This helps explain why mountain climbing is such a literary sport -- it appeals most to those who read books about other mountain climbers. In contrast, wrestling doesn't require a giant literature. If there were no more books published about wrestling, boys would still try it spontaneously.
... If we do not look to a mythical past utopia for clues to a way forward, what next? The answer is that we start asking different questions. Instead of bemoaning our unsuitability to modern life, we can wonder why some traits evolve quickly and some slowly. How do we know what we do about the rate at which evolution occurs? If lactose tolerance can become established in a population over just a handful of generations, what about an ability to digest and thrive on refined grains, the bugaboo of the paleo diet?

A few decades ago, heavily carbohydrate-based diets were widely advocated by scientists on the grounds that East Asians who ate mostly rice had low rates of heart disease. 

But, my ancestors weren't East Asian, so it turned out it was easier for me to keep my weight somewhat in check when I started eating less starch and more meat and butter. (My problem is that when I'm hungry, the first bowl of breakfast cereal just increases the hunger pangs, so I would eat two or three more bowls.)

I think the general lesson is that everybody's different, so you should consider solutions that may have worked for your ancestors and try some of them to see if they work for you. Sure, maybe some exotic diet imported from Laos or wherever is ideal for your individual genome, but it should be lower down your priority list of what to check out. In particular, talk to your close relatives about what works for them. 
Breakthroughs in genomics (the study of the entire set of genes in an organism) and other genetic technologies now allow us to determine how quickly individual genes and gene blocs have been altered in response to natural selection. Evidence is mounting that numerous human genes have changed over just the last few thousand years—a blink of an eye, evolutionarily speaking—while others are the same as they have been for millions of years, relatively unchanged from the form we share with ancestors as distant as worms and yeast. 
What's more, a new field called experimental evolution is showing us that sometimes evolution occurs before our eyes, with rapid adaptations happening in 100, 50, or even a dozen or fewer generations. Depending on the life span of the organism, that could mean less than a year, or perhaps a quarter-century. It is most easily demonstrated in the laboratory, but increasingly, now that we know what to look for, we are seeing it in the wild. And although humans are evolving all the time, it is often easier to see the process in other kinds of organisms. ...
It's common for people to talk about how we were "meant" to be, in areas ranging from diet to exercise to sex and family. Yet these notions are often flawed, making us unnecessarily wary of new foods and, in the long run, new ideas. I would not dream of denying the evolutionary heritage present in our bodies—and our minds. And it is clear that a life of sloth with a diet of junk food isn't doing us any favors. But to assume that we evolved until we reached a particular point and now are unlikely to change for the rest of history, or to view ourselves as relics hampered by a self-inflicted mismatch between our environment and our genes, is to miss out on some of the most exciting new developments in evolutionary biology. ...
Steve Jones, a University College London geneticist and author of several popular books, has argued for years that human evolution has been "repealed" because our technology allows us to avoid many natural dangers. But many anthropologists believe instead that the documented changes over the last 5,000 to 10,000 years in some traits, such as the frequency of blue eyes, means that we are still evolving in ways large and small. Blue eyes were virtually unknown as little as 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, when they apparently arose through one of those random genetic changes that pop up in our chromosomes. Now, of course, they are common—an example of only one such recently evolved characteristic. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending even suggest that human evolution as a whole has, on the contrary, accelerated over the last several thousand years, and they also believe that relatively isolated groups of people, such as Africans and North Americans, are subject to differing selection. That leads to the somewhat uncomfortable suggestion that such groups might be evolving in different directions—a controversial notion to say the least.

A big reason there's so much confusion on this topic is that we aren't supposed to think about genetic differences between people based on their ancestry. So, a couple of decades ago Tooby and Cosmides came up with the idea that everybody's ancestors 50,000 years ago were paleolithic hunter-gatherers, and thus we've all inherited the exact same human nature. But, of course, humans have continued to evolve over the last 50,00 years, often in radically different environments. 

Thus, we see major differences based on ancestry: Italians and Jews suffer less from binge drinking than Scandinavians because their ancestors had alcohol many generations earlier. In the Olympics, high altitude-adapted Ethiopians make better distance runners than sprinters, while West Africans and their diaspora make better sprinters than distance runners. 

That doesn't mean that everything is racially determined, just that it will probably be worth your while to think about what your ancestors were like and what worked for them. If, say, you have a lot of alcoholics in your family tree or it's a stereotype about your ethnicity, be careful with the booze. In contrast, whoever your are, probably none of your ancestors evolved successful adaptations for hitting the crack pipe only in moderation, so avoid cocaine altogether. 

I don't give much in the way of diet or exercise advice for two reasons:

- I could stand to lose a few (?) pounds myself.

- I don't think there's One True Diet that's right for everybody. 

Most diet books are written to give the impression that all previous diet books were Wrong. But, no doubt some worked well for some people. 

So, I mainly advise people to experiment, but try to prioritize what you will experiment with based on the likelihood that it will work for your genome. At family gatherings, talk to your blood relatives. Pay more attention to how your slender aunt keeps the pounds off than how your slender sister-in-law does it, because what works for your aunt is more likely to work for you. Think about your ancestors and your racial group(s). Everybody tends to be descended from people who were reasonably well adapted to their environments as opposed to misfits, so think about their nutritional and exercise environments. 

As Gregory Clark pointed out in A Farewell to Alms, most Englishmen today are descended from successful farmers of 1200 to 1800, as opposed to wretched farm laborers. The landowners probably ate a fair amount of the roast beef of merry olde England.

If your ancestors ate a lot of roast beef, try a Paleo diet and see if your weight goes down or up. And so forth. If your ancestors ate a lot of olive oil, try a Mediterranean diet. If these first tries don't work, move on to something else ancestrally plausible before trying a longshot ancestrally exotic diet.

104 comments:

DaveinHackensack said...

And if none of your relatives are particularly slender, maybe revise your expectations accordingly. An athletic 5'5", 200lbs might be more your speed.

Anonymous said...

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Frackers and hackers. 21st century.

William Boot said...

"If lactose tolerance can become established in a population over just a handful of generations, what about an ability to digest and thrive on refined grains, the bugaboo of the paleo diet?"

How can a person with a doctorate in this field seriously pose this question?

Certain populations developed the ability to digest lactose very quickly because dairy is a really efficient source of calories in marginal farmland, and people who could use those calories profitably (once this was discovered) were able to greatly out-reproduce those who could not. Hell, many if not most of the people who could not make use of dairy calories never managed to reproduce at all.

We could obviously create societal tolerance to nearly unlimited consumption of refined carbohydrates if we forced everyone to eat them and then prevented the vast majority of people who got fat from reproducing. But I'm guessing that we're not going to do that.

a very knowing American said...

Or maybe if your ancestors got along on a diet of oats, peas, beans, and barley you should figure your body is pretty good at sucking every last calorie from these foods, and figure that you won't manage to get as fat on rice, coconuts, and sweet potatoes (and vice versa).

Anonymous said...

If you are, say, 10 years old and a big carnivore is coming your way, climbing a tree is a particularly good way to escape if you are old enough and competent enough to not fall, but light enough to climb well, but not strong enough yet to stand and fight.

Bears and big cats are really good climbers though.

Anonymous said...

A few decades ago, heavily carbohydrate-based diets were widely advocated by scientists on the grounds that East Asians who ate mostly rice had low rates of heart disease.

The pro-carb diet recommendation is based on Ancel Keys' work in the 1950s which looked at 5 European countries, the US, and Japan.

Anonymous said...

The more knowing paleo diet writers acknowledge the notion of specific adaptation by specific peoples.

I come across "Eat like your culture ate" or some variant frequently enough.

The argument is more overt when non-whites are the victims. I've read how African Americans have higher rates cardio-v disease and diabetes because they are poorly adapted to eat the Western diet they eat.

I think there are many honest scientists in the Paleo diet movement but one must be careful how one says things in a polite society.

Anonymous said...

The carbohydrate theory of obesity seems to be incorrect:

http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/08/carbohydrate-hypothesis-of-obesity.html

"Finally, let's take a look at my country, the United States of America. Total energy intake has increased since the 1970s, and the excess energy came from carbohydrate (primarily refined). But what happens if we go back further, to the turn of the 20th century? Here's our per capita macronutrient consumption in calories per day from 1909 to 2006, according to USDA data*:"

"If we take the long view, the only thing that has consistently increased is fat, not carbohydrate. The prevalence of obesity was very low at the turn of the century (36), yet our diet was 57% carbohydrate by calories, much of which came from white flour. These USDA figures account for food produced and consumed on farms and in home gardens, in addition to what passed through commercial sales (37). Why would carbohydrate promote obesity today when it didn't 100 years ago, and it continues not to in numerous high-carbohydrate cultures around the world?"

Anonymous said...

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Steve Sailer said...

Leopards, yes. Lions, no. Tigers, no. Adult bears, not good climbers. Wolves, no.

Anyway, if you were a predator, would you really want to climb a tree to get a 10 year old kid who could break off a stick and poke you in the eyes with it? The risk of falling out of the tree while trying to subdue your prey is not trivial.

My 2-year-old son was absolutely riveted by the scene in Disney's "The Jungle Book" where Mowgli is cornered by the evil tiger, so he picks up a stick to defend himself. "Mowgli got a STICK!" he shouted maybe 100 times over the months he watched that scene over and over.

The Next to Last Samurai said...

What do you do if some of your ancestors were white and some were American Indians?

scottlocklin said...

Your advice is more or less what I tell people. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't eat wheat, but other grains are fine, and the "paleo" ideas on beans or dairy are nonsense for me. I suppose there is some value in a baseline diet of meat and vegetables, and telling people to move around more is helpful.

One of the interesting things about the subject is the inability of modern medical researchers to sort it out, due to all the confounding variables inherent in very long term studies on large groups of people. It's relatively easy to figure out that vitamin-C is necessary. It's not so easy to figure out what an optimal diet is.

Steve Sailer said...

"What do you do if some of your ancestors were white and some were American Indians?"

Like Jim Thorpe?

Stay away from alcohol. American Indians and northern Europeans both have trouble with firewater.

Watch out for sugar.

Anonymous said...

I've honestly never heard that Scandinavians are prone to alcoholism.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

If evolution works as advertised - and it seems to - certainly one of the first things to evolve would be the ability of a gene pool to evolve quickly, or at least as quickly as it needs to evolve.

OT - the captcha may help evolve a more capable breed of commenters....

Karen said...

My ancestors lived in the Scottish lowlands and probably ate a great deal of sheep offal. Even if that diet would make me look like a supermodel it wouldn't be worth it.

Karen said...

My ancestors lived in the Scottish lowlands, eating mostly sheep guts. I don't care if eating that diet would make me a supermodel, it wouldn't be worth it.

Ex Submarine Officer said...

Stay away from alcohol. American Indians and northern Europeans both have trouble with firewater.

True dat. The stereotype among WASPS was that American Indians and Irish were boozehounds, but that was only by comparison with themselves.

WASPS were/are prodigious consumers of alcohol on a more inclusive scale.

IMO, that is a big reason, if not the reason, why they don't run the U.S. anymore, losing out to others who didn't tipple all day.

This is coming from the scion of a long line of intelligent/capable but chronically tippling WASPs.

Anonymous said...

Ok Steve thanks. But what about me? What should I eat to stay healthy?

Anonymous said...

what about this theory:

when God made Man, he took blue from the sky to make his eyes;

he took yellow from the sun to make his hair;

and he took white from the clouds to make his skin.

Anonymous said...

Sailer's point, "eat like your ancestors of a few centuries ago", is an excellent one. However, it's a pretty universal thing of all sedentary societies, that the most calories in their diets come from carbs. Wheter it's potatoes, corn, bread, rice, oats, it's carbs, carbs, carbs that fuel all civilizations. So, if you have to eat like your Neolithic age ancestors, it means carbs.

The Paleo arguments against grains are easily debunked. For instance, they claim that lectins are a problem, but lectins are deactivated by cooking.
Also, contrary to Paleo claims, there's no evidence at all that peope in the Paleolithic and/or at the hunter gatherer stage never ate grains. In fact, there's plenty of evidence that they did.

http://donmatesz.blogspot.it/2011/06/gathering-wild-grains.html

Loren Cordain, the founder of the Paleo movement, is fat. Noticeably overweight. So are many long term Paleo eaters. Whereas I've never seen a single long-term low fat eater who is overweight. Not even slightly. Not even one.

ironrailsironweights said...

OT: any thoughts on the Orange County shooting spree? The shooter sounds Arab.

Peter

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Obesity may be caused by gut bacteria rather than carbs:

http://majorityrights.com/weblog/comments/chinese_scientists_link_obesity_to_gut_bacteria

Anonymous said...

"My ancestors lived in the Scottish lowlands, eating mostly sheep guts. I don't care if eating that diet would make me a supermodel, it wouldn't be worth it."

Sheep's guts. What are you, a Haggis sceptic?

Gilbert P.

Whiskey said...

The Ancient Greeks recorded frequent attempts to climb both mountains and volcanoes. People were fascinated by it. So mountain climbing goes farther back than we'd think Steve. And of course ... Moses. Mount Sinai.

hadley said...

You should get out and read some more.

Anonymous said...

"In particular, talk to your close relatives about what works for them."

I remember being shocked when I mentioned my sleep troubles to my mom, and she mentioned "you know, I have that too, and so did my mom."

Unfortunately, she never figured out a way to fix them (just how to cope), but at least if I figure something out the odds are good it'll work for her. (Grandma, unfortunately, is no longer with us.)

Orlando Gibbons said...

It's believed that hunter-gatherers often suffered iron deficiency due to intestinal parasites. And so iron-rich foods, such as meat, were very valuable to prevent deficiency diseases.

Modern people, however, are in greater danger of iron overload than iron deficiency, so mimicking the hunter-gatherers is ill-advised.

I'm not saying that meat is bad for you, just illustrating a general point: Life is all about trade-offs. Your ancestors did what they had to do to survive and multiply, but that says little about what you must do to be healthy and happy.

Your ancestors might have exercised vigorously in hunting or fighting, but that doesn't mean you'll waste away unless you hunt or fight.

They might have eaten foods that were rich in aluminum and evolved defenses against it. But that doesn't mean that aluminum is good for you.

Likewise, just because your ancient ancestors rarely did something, doesn't mean you mustn't do it. Most of your ancestors didn't eat chocolate, but that doesn't mean you can't.

The genome isn't omnipotent; it seldom makes stress into nutriment, or toxins into vitamins. Instead, it determines the range of circumstances in which normal function is possible. And that range is often surprisingly broad.

The striking thing about evolution is the adaptability it yields. For example, in experiments, animals can recover from surgical wounds which never occur in nature. I think this shows that evolution tends toward general, broadly-applicable mechanisms rather than a patchwork of jury-rigged, duct-tape adaptations.

Anonymous said...

The Ancient Greeks recorded frequent attempts to climb both mountains and volcanoes. People were fascinated by it. So mountain climbing goes farther back than we'd think Steve. And of course ... Moses. Mount Sinai.

I've been to Mt. Sinai. It's not a mountain. It's like a hill.

Anonymous said...

Ironrails,

There is a picture of the Orange County shooter in the Daily Mail. He is a chubby brown fella. Syed is his name so the story will disappear into the wind as if it never happened.

Anonymous said...

It does not appear to have occurred to you how Harpending and Cochrane blow this speculation up.

agnostic said...

No one has an allergy to meat, whether muscle, organs, or the surrounding fat.

Celiac disease affects between 0.1% to 1% of Americans, and that's after thousands of years of agriculture. Celiac is just the extreme right-tail of a distribution. Closer to the mean, they might just have a "gluten sensitivity."

There are also allergies to legumes (peanuts), not to mention the less extreme forms where you just get a lot of gas from eating legumes and pulses. Your stomach doesn't bloat out from eating a muscle, organs, or animal fat.

That's pretty simple evidence that we still aren't very well adapted to agricultural foods. Starchy root vegetables probably aren't as bad as other forms of carbs -- still a lot of glucose, but not all of that other stuff that we aren't used to.

The main mistake that people make when dismissing the paleo approach is to think that as long as you're clear of the far-out extreme reactions, you're OK. But you're probably just getting smaller-sized dings from loading up on bread, pasta, beans, and peanut butter.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

I maintained a really radical diet a few years ago which saw me lose so much weight that my family, who hadn't seen me very much recently, kept asking me if I was horribly ill.

I called it "Just Eat a Little Bit Less, You Fat F--k" diet.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty simple evidence that we still aren't very well adapted to agricultural foods. Starchy root vegetables probably aren't as bad as other forms of carbs -- still a lot of glucose, but not all of that other stuff that we aren't used to.

Yes and humans are by and large still tropical primates. We survived non-tropical environments by devising things like clothing, not physiologically by growing thick layers of fur. These kinds of "artificial" adaptations like clothing and agricultural products are nonetheless adaptations.

Anonymous said...

and small children have a natural proclivity for finding and crawling into small hiding places. THose who did not over the eons were eaten.

Also, when it rains you find it easier to sleep because that is when the predators are not out hunting, so it is beneficial to be sleepy when you hear the sounds of a heavy rain/thunderstorm.

Those who slept during the storms were not preyed upon and were rested later.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

The Next to Last Samurai said

Penultimate Samurai.

Anonymous said...

Would be nice to have the genetic condition myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy

Anonymous said...

I think it's likely we evolved to be flexible omnivores - as long as we don't eat too much, pretty much anything is fine for the vast majority of us.

I think the modern preoccupation with the composition of our food comes from a wish to void facing up to the need to eat less of it.

In ages when we were thin, we never thought of the composition of our food. In countries where everyone is thin people don't think of that either.

I think the American obsession with the composition of food has a mostly psychological significance - it is a device that distracts attention from eating less. If we could just find that magic formula that lets us eat less without pain or hunger....

The dirty little secret of thin countries, like France and Japan, is that hunger cannot be banished - people feel hunger all the time - and instead of trying to banish hunger one evolves cultural mechanisms for tolerating hunger. In Japan, for instance, everyone is on a diet pretty much all the time and people are absolutely merciless in policing fat - if you gain even a bit, your friends and family will comment harshly, often with mockery. The shame is greater than a small amount of hunger. The reason this is done is because in Japan being thin is thought of as essential to looking sophisticated and elegant, and these are major elements of the Japanese aesthetic. The American aesthetic, needless to say, prizes other qualities except in the upper classes - which are, surprise, thin in America.

The sooner Americans forget about the macronutrient composition of their food and agree on the importance of developing cultural mechanisms for dealing with hunger - such as, say, serious fat shaming of the kind practiced in Japan, say - the sooner Americans will become thin.

But to institute fat shaming and to begin to prize a sophisticated look, America would have to go through a massive transformation and would have to give up egalitarianism and become elitist - in other words, America would have to no longer be America, but would have to move towards an aristocratic world view, such as obtains in Japan.

As a hint for individuals trying to lose weight, forget about food composition and eat less of anything - accept the necessity of hunger and develop mechanisms for dealing with it. The best - only? - mechanism for dealing with hunger is to find a strong motivation for doing so, and the strongest motivation is probably social. Search out on the web communities of thin people who value thinness and find it beautiful and who are harshly critical of the piggishness of modern Americans, and spend some time each day in such web communities, as well as exposing yourself to pictures of thin people to "re-norm" your perception of what is normal, as that is completely out of whack in America.

Anonymous said...

ALL diet books are wrong it is just that some are right for some people.

An example of them being wrong would be once you get overweight your body desires to be that weight because it reckons it had been storing up for a famine and the famine came so that the weight lost in the famine needs to be regained.

Anonymous said...

Watch out for sugar.

Fructose is the sugar that needs to be avoided like the palgue.

Samson J. said...

For example, in experiments, animals can recover from surgical wounds which never occur in nature. I think this shows that evolution tends toward general, broadly-applicable mechanisms rather than a patchwork of jury-rigged, duct-tape adaptations.

I take it one further and believe that the fact that organisms are so capable of thriving under "evolutionarily novel" circumstances is great evidence for special creation.

Your stomach doesn't bloat out from eating a muscle, organs, or animal fat.

But meat consumption does leave a lot of people feeling quite poorly, myself included. There are days when I feel "in a meat mood", but not very often. Too much of it makes me feel sick. Hence, I don't want to be unfair, but it always seems to me, on the face of it, that the paleo people are picking and choosing their data points; they all seem to rave about how much better they feel on a paleo diet, but what about the equal number of people I've known who claim a vegetarian diet makes them feel better? What about the people who feel sick when they eat meat?

But you're probably just getting smaller-sized dings from loading up on bread, pasta, beans, and peanut butter.

I always laugh, or shake my head with incomprehension, when I read this sort of thing... in my mind, I always get this mental image of a plate without any bread, pasta, beans, peanut butter, or potatoes on it - and the plate is always empty. What else is there?!? The list of stuff you're not allowed to eat on the paleo diet is basically: everything.

Anthony said...

"Italians and Jews suffer less from binge drinking than Scandinavians because their ancestors had alcohol many generations earlier."

What do you mean "suffer"? Besides, binge drinking is a *positive* social indicator.

Truth said...

"What do you do if some of your ancestors were white and some were American Indians?"

Stop lying.

Anonymous said...

I would guess that with the exception of a few taboo foods, hunter-gatherers ate pretty much everything they could get their hands on. Hunger is a fantastic motivator.

Neil Templeton

Puerto Joe said...

Judging by Raquel Welch, they were pretty healthy (and busty) in ancient times....

Helios III said...

"Steve Sailer said...

"What do you do if some of your ancestors were white and some were American Indians?"

Like Jim Thorpe?

Stay away from alcohol. American Indians and northern Europeans both have trouble with firewater.

Watch out for sugar."


Euros have had alcohol for a long time. Its more a problem for Am. Indians.

Anonymous said...

"American Indians and Northern Europeans have trouble with firewater."

My father worked in his youth as a bouncer at a dive bar near an Indian reservation. He confirmed this from experience. Ethnic Northern Europeans (like my family) may drink a lot, but at least we can hold our liquor reasonably well- it takes a heck of a lot of whiskey to get an Irishman to start staggering (my cousin was still semi-functional on an average of 40 beers per day, before he got himself to rehab and turned into a productive citizen). Indians, my father said, get drunk on very little, meaning they make more trouble for the bouncers yet provide even less revenue to the establishment. On more than one occasion, my father and his fellow bouncers were threatened by handgun-toting Indians who didn't want their boozing interrupted by any of those pesky paleface "liquor laws".

Hugh said...

For all these evolutionary changes to take place, Darwinists would want to see natural selection in action.

That would entail people with the new gene configuration breeding more successfully than those with the old genes. If this doesn't happen, the new genes would just get bred out in a few generations.

Frankly I am not seeing any natural selection going on in our modern society, so I do not expect to see much in the way of genetic change.

Anonymous said...

"I've honestly never heard that Scandinavians are prone to alcoholism."

This is a very solid stat. The Norwegians apparently have just about the worst alcoholism problem in the world.

Anonymous said...

A few decades ago, heavily carbohydrate-based diets were widely advocated by scientists on the grounds that East Asians who ate mostly rice had low rates of heart disease.

I think the idea that our ancestors ate a mostly meat-based diet doesn't make a lot of sense. Prior to the modern era, meat has always been a food of the relatively wealthy. It wasn't until the 20th century, when agricultural productivity ended hunger in all but the most dysfunctional economies, that meat became a part of everyone's daily diet. As late as the Great Depression, a chicken in every pot was felt to be a soothing political slogan.

praguestepchild said...

As William Boot comments, it is pretty silly to compare lactose tolerance to wheat tolerance.

Mammals have had a few million years to adapt to milk (and vice versa), even if most of them lose this ability (to produce lactase) in adulthood. Turning that back on is a simple mutation.

Adapting to eating seeds that have their own defense mechanisms is another thing altogether. There has no doubt been selective adaptation as cultures adapted agriculture and husbandry, how much so is really anyone's guess but it's probably safe to say few if any people are adapted to optimally thrive on grains, especially troublesome ones like wheat.

As for the person who linked to Don Matesz on anti-nutrients, this is a guy who was a paleo fanatic, then turned overnight into a vegan fanatic. He then wrote some garbage about how modern physics and shamanism are equally valid paradigms for viewing the Universe. If that's your cup of tea you might want also to consider becoming a Scientologist.

Anonymous said...

I always laugh, or shake my head with incomprehension, when I read this sort of thing... in my mind, I always get this mental image of a plate without any bread, pasta, beans, peanut butter, or potatoes on it - and the plate is always empty. What else is there?!? The list of stuff you're not allowed to eat on the paleo diet is basically: everything.

Right. And vegetables and fruits provide so few calories that you have to basically eat meat all day to get adequate calories.

Anonymous said...

I watched Gary Taubes' lecture at Dartmouth Medical School on YouTube and it convinced me to try to low-carb approach. I lost 25 or 30 pounds over several weeks.

I was pretty strict. The hardest part was cutting out milk, which is about 1/3 carbs.

Then I got married, started eating carbs again, and in a year gained all of the weight back. I got back on the wagon last month and have taken off 5 pounds so far. I'm not going back. I hate the blubber more than I like ice cream.

To Taubes' credit, he doesn't make any sweeping evolutionary claims about why carbs are the likely culprits behind the obesity epidemic, but he does make (to my mind) a convincing case that they are the likely culprits.

Spike Gomes said...

I'm lucky. I got the Portuguese penchant for drinking only expensive high quality booze with large meals and the Hawaiian (in)ability to process alcohol, meaning I get pretty intoxicated after only 3-4 drinks. In other words, I drink in moderation, yet it gets me to fun mode quickly and keeps me there for awhile, without much hangover the next day.

Kiran Wagle said...

agnostic said... "No one has an allergy to meat, whether muscle, organs, or the surrounding fat."

Sadly, this is not true. An allergy to mammalian proteins does exist, and is thought to be spread by ticks.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/11/21/165633003/rare-meat-allergy-caused-by-tick-bites-may-be-on-the-rise

Anonymous said...

- Another point. It's likely that most ancient European peoples lived with domestic dogs and to a lesser extent cats over countless generations from pre-history.
Hence we have the generalized sympathy of white people toward these animals. A trait that is perhaps not seen in other ethnicities.

Anonymous said...

As an ethnicity, the Irish are absolutely fascinating to study.
In their island fastness in the Atlantic, the outer most periphery of the Eurasian landmass, the belief is that the Irish preserve most relict charcateristics of neolithic survivors, who were gradually displaced outwards by waves of invaders from the Eurasian landmass.
The implications on certain behavioral characteristics would be churlish for me to dwell on.

Anonymous said...

"We could obviously create societal tolerance to nearly unlimited consumption of refined carbohydrates if we forced everyone to eat them and then prevented the vast majority of people who got fat from reproducing. But I'm guessing that we're not going to do that."

Actually, this program is underway in the white population. Fat white chicks usually end up spinsters. Unfortunately, in other carbohydrate binging ethnic groups, fat women have no trouble getting action at the club and are uninhibited about whelping litters of fatty babies because, hell, pregnancy can't ruin their already oblate spheroidal figures.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the calories, Jack. Go on any diet you like, but if energy input exceeds energy burned, you are going to expand.

nooffensebut said...

There is a difference between dieting that works and a diet that is healthy, long-term. The research that I have seen shows that all diets work, and I believe motivation is the determining factor because controlling hunger urges is a sort of psychological sacrifice. Obesity has spread because people have felt increasingly comfortable letting themselves go. Paleo-diet advocates basically have two arguments: insulin drives compensatory hunger and published research is worthless. The research isn't worthless, and it shows that a long-term protein-heavy diet is bad for the cardiovascular system.

Simon in London said...

"In particular, talk to your close relatives about what works for them."

For us north-west Europeans, I think this could be the most important message of the whole of isteve: "pay attention to your relatives before you listen to experts - experts don't know YOU!" Our whole culture is based around weakened family bonds, abstract thinking, and deference to experts. This has worked well for us in the past in many ways, but as my old Irish mother says: "All extremes are pathological!"

Simon in London said...

Ex Submarine Officer:
"True dat. The stereotype among WASPS was that American Indians and Irish were boozehounds, but that was only by comparison with themselves."

I get the opposite - southern English WASPs telling me what a terrible alcohol problem the English have, whereas I grew up in Northern Ireland and compared to the Irish, the southern English seem to hold their beer very well(southern Irish young men are the worst, practically suicidal). Southern English 'pub' culture is a result of men who can drink without a fight breaking out. Scottish, Irish, or US Southern/Western 'bar' culture is a result of men who cannot drink without a fight breaking out. IME. Northern England is clinal; dunno about Wales or SW England/Cornwall but I suspect they might be clinal too.

Of course the southern English don't hold their beer (without fighting) as well as the Germans, never mind the wine-drinking Mediterranean cultures. It's all relative. My impression of the Scandies is that they do suffer badly from alcoholism, unlike the Germans, but don't tend to get violent while drunk, unlike the Irish.

dearieme said...

"As Gregory Clark pointed out in A Farewell to Alms, most Englishmen today are descended from successful farmers of 1200 to 1800, as opposed to wretched farm laborers."

My wife likes genealogy, so I can tell you the date when a British paternal ancestor promoted himself from "farmer" to "farmer and landed proprietor".

Anonymous said...

Seriously, I sure don't hope all of Tarantino's movies really are a glimpse of the future.

mediakrig said...

I don't think climbing is so much about escaping predators, but rather about children being able to reach food sources adults can not.

You mostly need to climb to find honey, fruits and bird's eggs.

As for Scandinavians becoming alcoholics, it is partly true, but alcoholism is a far bigger problem among the Sami, Russians and the Finns.

As for who get's to become an alcoholic, it is from my experience, the Scandinavians who don't get sick the day after. Evolution might use a different strategy for other ethnicities, for instance they might not like alcohol that much.

Cail Corishev said...

The carbohydrate theory of obesity seems to be incorrect:

The carbohydrate theory isn't that simple. A few things:

1. Today's carby foods aren't yesterday's. Our great-grandparents didn't have high-fructose corn syrup added to everything they ate. Their carbs were much more likely to be unrefined -- potatoes rather than processed potato chip shapes like Pringles, corn bread from ground corn instead of Wonder Bread. Even the grains themselves have been altered considerably, so even if you buy whole wheat berries and grind your own flour, you aren't getting the same thing your ancestors got.

The process by which carbs are fattening is well understood. Any hog farmer knows how it works: if you want to fatten a hog, feed it more grain; to make it leaner, back off on the grain and add more protein. The body produces insulin to handle excess blood sugar, by moving it to the muscles and organs for burning or to fat cells for storage. That's not complicated.

What's not as well understood is why some people are sated at that point and push away the cake, while others are still hungry. Or why the one person's body self-regulates fine at age 20 but not at 30. It does seem like something else messes up the metabolic balance so that the body wants to store excess fat, at which point carbs are an efficient way to do that.

There are many suspects: refined carbs, fructose causing liver problems, inflammatory industrial seed oils (something else our ancestors never had), epigenetic damage caused by the mother's diet or lifestyle during pregnancy, even "food reward" -- the theory that our processed food is so tasty that it overrides the satiety system. That's a short list; there are more.

The thing is, even if it wasn't the carbs themselves that started making you fat, and your great-grandparents ate bread and potatoes every day without getting fat, that doesn't matter. Once your fat cells take charge and demand more and more energy, eating a lot of carbs will make you fatter. You have to restore the balance somehow -- which paleo addresses by cutting out as many of those other factors I listed above as possible -- before you can go back to eating a "balanced" diet without gaining weight again. In the meantime, cutting carbs, especially grains and anything refined, gets the ball rolling on the weight loss -- or at least keeps you from getting fatter.

Cail Corishev said...

A favorite quote of mine, from Dr. Kurt Harris: "Favor food that is defenseless when dead."

The point is that animals horns, hooves, claws, and other defense mechanisms, but they can only use them while alive. Most plants have no such defenses, so they have evolved/been given defenses in the seed itself. Many of those can be removed by soaking, fermenting, or cooking, though usually not 100%. Potatoes are pretty harmless if you peel them, for instance. Ditto white rice. Others like gluten or the estrogen-like compounds in soy, are just in there and there's not much you can do except avoid them.

Anonymous said...

"Frankly I am not seeing any natural selection going on in our modern society, so I do not expect to see much in the way of genetic change"

Bro, natural selection is ALWAYS going on. Even if nobody dies early, some people reproduce more than others. The people with 10 kids are more fit than the people with one or two kids.

Currently we are evolving to be more religious. Additionally, we are evolving to produce women who are shorter, fatter and who have a greater window of fertility (start earlier, stop later). Those are the uncontroversial examples. When you start thinking about the controversial examples, crimethink occurs.

And remember, hybridization between two populations that evolved separately is a form of evolution, a form that can produce big changes fast.

Anonymous said...

http://landing.newsinc.com/shared/video.html?freewheel=91082&sitesection=sunsentinel_hom_non_fro&VID=24447369

What passes for culture.

Anonymous said...

"Bears and big cats are really good climbers though."

Not Grizzlies, tigers, and lions.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKVgnJgbA8Y

Rohan Swee said...

The dirty little secret of thin countries, like France and Japan, is that hunger cannot be banished - people feel hunger all the time - and instead of trying to banish hunger one evolves cultural mechanisms for tolerating hunger.

But you do sound so American in the way you make the "tolerating hunger" thing out to be so grim and purgatorial, instead of simply the discipline that is an essential part of pleasure. And I don't mean just "the pleasure of being slender", which of course is part of it, but the pleasure of eating in itself.

It's no mortification of the flesh to be hungry in the hours between meals, if you know there's a leisurely meal of varied, tasty foods and wine (in prudent but perfectly satisfying amounts) in the near future, rather than some penitential skinless chicken breast with plain veggies, or a bloody rice cake, or some fussily restricted, "must eliminate whole categories of even non-junk food from my diet" plate of sorrows.

Americans need to change their culture of eating, but this existing culture seems to me to be just one aspect of our tendency to turn everything, including what should be normal grown-up self-restraint, into a big weird competitive holy-rolling chore and bore, an eternal deprivation, rather than see it as just the normal, necessary adjunct of good living. Nobody's going to stop stuffing his face if that's the alternative.

Matt said...

Frankly I am not seeing any natural selection going on in our modern society, so I do not expect to see much in the way of genetic change.

Natural selection is about differential rates of reproduction. This might be accomplished by certain traits resulting in being eaten by tigers, but it isn't usually so dramatic.

Can you think of any examples of differential reproductive success in our society? Think real hard.

agnostic said...

"The list of stuff you're not allowed to eat on the paleo diet is basically: everything."

Don't be hysterical. There are dozens of ways each to prepare beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs. Not to mention all the dairy products you can work in, and the nearly infinite variety of not-so-sugary fruits and non-starchy vegetables.

Depending on what you buy, you may have to slather some fat on it and sprinkle some salt on top, since they tend to remove those necessary nutrients these days.

Aside from the great variety of stuff to it, it also tastes better. Something as simple as bacon and eggs tastes way more satisfying than bread, pasta, or potatoes. Those things are painfully bland and need to be smothered in something fatty and salty to have any taste at all (fettuccine alfredo, french fries, etc.).

agnostic said...

"Eating what your ancestors ate" can get tricky if they were a heavily agrarian society. For example, should Mediterraneans eat a grain-based diet than Celtics? After all, the Roman Empire ate a lot more calories from wheat than the Picts did.

But the data are in, and all that grain shrunk Roman heights by an inch during the Empire, when they stopped herding cattle so much and began turning that land into wheat fields (see PDF pages 40 and 42):

http://www.ub.edu/economiaempresa/jobmarket/papers/koepke/Koepke.pdf

During the Kingdom and Republic, Romans averaged 5'6.3. However, during the Empire they averaged at best 5'5.6 and at worst 5'4.6. They didn't recover until the Empire fell apart, and all those extensive wheat fields began to be reclaimed by herding animals.

The Central-Western and North-Eastern groups of the same ancient period averaged around 5'6.5 to 5'7, which is a bit taller than the Romans under the Kingdom/Republic, but not towering over them.

Most of those Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic groups back then were not agrarian societies, but mixed agro-pastoralist or primary pastoralist economies.

Now that meat and dairy have become cheaper in Europe after the industrial revolution, Italians are eating a lot better than their stereotypical pasta and polenta, and their heights are reaching more European levels, especially in the northern parts where they don't look short compared to other Europeans.

So even for Italians, we have a dilemma about whether they should imitate their ancestors who were Imperial wheat-worshipers or barbaric she-wolf sucklers. From the data we have, the choice is clear.

Anonymous said...

"At family gatherings, talk to your blood relatives. Pay more attention to how your slender aunt keeps the pounds off than how your slender sister-in-law does it, because what works for your aunt is more likely to work for you."

The one caveat I'd suggest, if I may, is choose from blood relatives who are morphologically similar to you. My dad's family (Scotch-Irish and Saxon stocky and muscular) is pretty distinct from my mom's (Danish -- all "long and talls"), and as I have gotten older I've gravitated much more towards my dad's diet -- lot's of meat and complex carbs, and been the better for it. Not surprisingly I'm built much more like my dad. My mom's people can eat simple sugars all day long it seems, and never gain any appreciable weight. I probably eat more raw or lightly cooked vegetables than either of them.

Anonymous said...

"American Indians and Northern Europeans have trouble with firewater."

I don't think the problem was firewater per se as lack of discipline. White folks saw alcohol as recreation drug. Indians saw it as spiritual stuff aka powerful medicine. So, Indians respected its power and drank it good.
Also, Indians had a warrior culture, and warriors liked to feel the power, and alcohol made them feel strong and carefree. So, they kept drinking it. If Indians had more of a sober culture, they might have resisted the power of alcohol better. East Asians might not be able to take alcohol well either, but there are social forces that remind everyone to maintain their appearances in public.

Anonymous said...

Junk food not good for Samoans.

Anonymous said...

@Rohan Swede - I couldn't agree more. Self-discipline with food actually makes food taste better and meals infinitely more enjoyable. But it's a compensatory effect. The fact is, restricting food means there WILL be suffering - I am so stark and grim about this precisely because most Americans just don't want to fast this fact with their ridiculous discussion about carbs and Paleo and what not. In this context, trying to pander to the American desire to avoid facing the necessity for self-discipline by "selling" it to them as "really not that bad" is not a good strategy and feeds into the same psychlogical dynamic that creates retardations like low-carb and paleo.

@Agnostic - did it ever occur to you that Romans during the Empire were shorter because there was a massive influx of Near Easterners into Rome during the Empire? Indeed, Rome was over 90% non ethnically Roman in the latter days of the Empire. And I suppose the greater height of Romans after the break up of the Empire had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with the Barbarian influx into the genetic pool. Must have been all those grains. Yup. But I shouldn't complain, really - historically illiterate cherry picking of the evidence is pretty much par for the course from the proponents of paleo and lo-carb. Carry on, then.

Re evolution -

Evolution also takes place through random mutations, not just selection for specific traits. If a random mutation occurs and is not specifically selected against, it will survive.

Anonymous said...

"Aside from the great variety of stuff to it, it also tastes better. Something as simple as bacon and eggs tastes way more satisfying than bread, pasta, or potatoes. Those things are painfully bland and need to be smothered in something fatty and salty to have any taste at all (fettuccine alfredo, french fries, etc.)."

I am afraid most of the world disagrees with you. Although people say tastes differ, the vast majority of the population seems to completely disagree with this. People seem to absolutely love their bread and bagels and pasta and to vastly prefer it to meat.

It's no use telling people these things taste better - it's not like we haven't tasted these things. We have, we've compared, and we strongly disagree.

Unseasoned eggs and meat are just as tasteless as unseasoned bread and pasta - maybe more so (fresh baked bread is better than a plain egg, by far), which is why no on ever eats eggs or meat without spices, salt, seasonings, and people have invented tons and tons of creamy and spicy sauces to make them palatable. Whereas it's relatively common to eat a crusty fresh piece of break on its own, no one eats chicken unseasoned.

But no, it's only pasta that needs embellishments - such is the cherry picking "logic" of the paleo thinker. Blind spot after blind spot after blind spot after blind spot.

And if pasta and bread DID need embellishments and meat could be enjoyed on its own, what difference would it make??? Who cares what tastes better on its own if I have the option to eat things in combinations? Is a food "superior" if it tastes better "on its own"? What if the other food tastes better with seasoning and sauces, why should that make a difference, is the pleasure any less real? Is it a less "virtuous" food? Sometimes I think this whole carb and paleo thing has nothing to do with rationality and whats good for the body but taps into the human need for sacrament, ritual, and religious purification.

If pasta with Alfredo sauce tastes way better to me than bacon and eggs, then I shouldn't eat it because without the Alfredo sauce it would taste worse? What kind of logic does this make? Oh, it's "paleo logic" :)

This really has more to do with deep seated religious notions of purity and holiness than it does with science.

Weird, weird, weird, the arguments of these paloe-ers.

Jeeves said...

Steve, re your eating multiple bowls of breakfast cereal because consuming but one only increases your craving, to paraphrase Brody's advice to Hooper in Jaws: You're going to need a bigger bowl.

Cail Corishev said...

fresh baked bread is better than a plain egg, by far

How often do people eat a slice of "fresh baked bread," though, compared to how often they eat an ordinary bland slice of sandwich bread or a tasteless hamburger bun? No one's eating the bun at McDonald's for the flavor; it's there to hold the sandwich together. But if you eat it without the bun and then have a craving that you're missing something, is it the flavor or the blood sugar?

If you routinely eat bagels without anything on them, you're a better man than I.

Fortunately, unlike the anti-fat crusaders, there's no chance that paleo or low-carb fans will get to use the power of government to force their diet on others in places like school lunches. So you can continue to eat your plain bagels without fear.

Anonymous said...

Rome was over 90% non ethnically Roman in the latter days of the Empire.

Those claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. One can't trust ancient authors implicitly when it comes to large numbers of anything whether it be soldiers or foreigners in Rome. The data in support of such an extravagant claim may also be an extrapolation from a relatively small data set. It is not as if a full Roman census has survived from any part of the classical Roman period.

Alice said...

There is a much, much simpler explanation for why the Japanese and French are thin: they still smoke constantly.

ben tillman said...

"Rome was over 90% non ethnically Roman in the latter days of the Empire."

Those claims need to be taken with a grain of salt. One can't trust ancient authors implicitly when it comes to large numbers of anything whether it be soldiers or foreigners in Rome. The data in support of such an extravagant claim may also be an extrapolation from a relatively small data set. It is not as if a full Roman census has survived from any part of the classical Roman period.


Yes, but it's reasonable to suppose that Rome went through something similar to what we're going through.

The British governent has invaded England, with London now majority non-White. The US government has invaded the US, with the DC metro area about 48% White (and just 25% Black), with almost a quarter of the population from recent immigration.

Why would we expect that the Roman goevernment did not similarly invade its own territory and collapse becaause of the concomitant growth of the central government?

Anonymous said...

"But to assume that we evolved until we reached a particular point and now are unlikely to change for the rest of history"

If the idea behind paleo is valid i.e. that most people's ancestors would have been adapted to it, then it follows that different populations could have evolved further *adaptations* to the local diet that *followed* afterwards

i.e. if one group of people had the paleo diet and then lived on certain kind of agricultural diet for 6000 years then they might have a different *combined* set of adaptations to a second population who did exactly the same but 4000 years later so they only had 2000 years to develop the new adaptations or a third population which also had 6000 years of agriculture but a *different* kind of agriculture.

so you'd get
Group 1) paleo + 6000 years of agricultural diet A
Group 2) paleo + 2000 years of agricultural diet A
Group 3) paleo + 6000 years of agricultural diet B

If so then it may be the case that paleo isn't optimal for *anyone* - because everyone *also* has extra adaptations to their ancestral agricultural diet. However if everyone went throught he paleo phase then it seems likely to me paleo would be a good baseline to start. So start at paleo and then add in ancestral agricultural foods and see what feels best - especially if your particular ancestral group had agriculture for the longest times.

.
"What do you do if some of your ancestors were white and some were American Indians?"

Experiment. You might have white genes for one thing and amerindian genes for something else.

.
"I've honestly never heard that Scandinavians are prone to alcoholism."

There's a pretty clear cline from SE to NW Europe. It could be something to do with climate e.g. sunlight, or it could be something else e.g. that the climate slowed the spread of agriculture and so NW and NE Europeans have a different reaction to alcohol than southern.

.
"Obesity may be caused by gut bacteria rather than carbs:"

What effects gut bacteria?

.
"Your ancestors did what they had to do to survive and multiply, but that says little about what you must do to be healthy and happy."

Except it *might* say a massive amount.

.
"I would guess that with the exception of a few taboo foods, hunter-gatherers ate pretty much everything they could get their hands on. Hunger is a fantastic motivator."

And therefore they'd eat more of what they could more *easily* get their hands on - and therefore adapt more to those than things that were harder to get their hands on at the time - like Southern Comfort.

.
"Euros have had alcohol for a long time. Its more a problem for Am. Indians."

Southern euros had it longer.

.
"It's all about the calories, Jack. Go on any diet you like, but if energy input exceeds energy burned, you are going to expand."

1) Diet in the sense of weight yes but not diet in the sense of minor food allergies or adverse reactions etc.

2) Also, energy input from the same food may vary because of adaptions.

.
"The research isn't worthless, and it shows that a long-term protein-heavy diet is bad for the cardiovascular system."

Or that there is a correlation between long-term protein heavy diets and low temperature winters and a second correlation between low-temperature winters and heart attacks.

http://jaymans.wordpress.com/

.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isosorbide_dinitrate/hydralazine

"reduced mortality by 43%"

43%

If ancestral differences can make that much difference in a medical drug then i think they could make dietary differences on a similar scale.

primal build said...

Hard to argue Mat Lalonde though!

http://primalbuild.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Afro-centric chemistry.

Sto said...

"Asians might not be able to take alcohol well either, but there are social forces that remind everyone to maintain their appearances in public."

Not really. A lot of Asians, especially men, like to drink quite a bit of the hard stuff. And I'm not talking about westernized Asians. I'd say its probably only the fact that A fair percentage of Asians lack the ability to efficiently metabolize alcohol, that prevents drinking like what you see in the west. The rest like to get pickled.

ben tillman said...

In ages when we were thin, we never thought of the composition of our food. In countries where everyone is thin people don't think of that either.

Meat makes you taller. People very much cared about the composition of their diet 200, 500, 1000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

"Southern English 'pub' culture is a result of men who can drink without a fight breaking out. Scottish, Irish, or US Southern/Western 'bar' culture is a result of men who cannot drink without a fight breaking out."

I doubt that this says much about these respective peoples' tolerance for alcohol, per se. Alcohol reduces inhibitions; it is probable that Scottish, Irish, and Northern English people are just plain more violent than Southeastern English people, whether sober or drunk. There is good historical precedent for this view- during the Wars of the Roses, and into the early Tudor period, English kings collected tax revenue in Southeastern England, and recruited their armies from Northern England and Ireland.

Southern England is relatively flat, very arable country, where it is easy to build roads. It has historically been populated by middle-class yeoman farmers, accumulating capital and improving their land, trusting the government and the seas to keep them safe. Northern England, Scotland, and most of Ireland are rough, rocky country, best suited to animal pasturage, supporting (until modern times) a lower population density, and with poor roads and coastline well-suited to smuggling, piracy, and other lawbreaking (even today, drug smugglers seem to like the rugged west coast of Ireland). Cattle are an easily-stolen form of capital, and isolation leads people to depend on kin-networks for defense- hence endemic cattle-rustling and clan warfare along the "periphery" of Britain. Think of the stark difference between contemporaries Gráinne Ní Mháille and Elizabeth I, for a vivid example. Not for nothing did the British Empire's Highland Regiments have a reputation for toughness and ferocity, and the same can be said of the many Irish Brigades in French and Spanish service.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, I have a dilemma then. One part of my family ate lots of fattening food and lived into their 90s with no heart problems or strokes. On the other hand, they were very prone towards alcoholism.

My other side drank alcohol frequently but mostly moderately, with little sign of addictive tendencies. But despite overall less-fattening diets, they tended towards heart attacks and strokes.

If my genes shuffled right, then I can eat lots of butter and drink hard liquor. If not....

Anonymous said...


"I've honestly never heard that Scandinavians are prone to alcoholism."

As a part-Scandinavian who grew up in a Scandinavian-settled region, I can say that this is true. In my own family, they tend to be either teetotallers or alcoholics. And the other local nordics seem to have the same problem. Whenever I read about something tragic in the local paper involving a nordic surname, alcohol is usually involved.

The Scandinavian reserve may be part of the problem; some people are barely capable of socializing when sober. The joke is that it takes 8 beers to make a Swede as uninhibited as a sober Mexican (or Italian, or whatever).

Cail Corishev said...

If my genes shuffled right, then I can eat lots of butter and drink hard liquor. If not....

There's a problem with your assumption. Butter is a fat, it's not 'fattening.' Fattening foods, as everyone who had plenty to eat understood until the radical vegetarians got hold of the issue in the 70s, are mainly sugars, starches, and beer. (Though as I said in my earlier comment, it may be that some other trigger has to throw off the person's metabolic system before those foods become especially fattening.)

So eat all the butter you want with your hard alcohol.

HAR said...

What works for me is a sense of pride. I count my calories, and if I'm unhappy with my weight I adjust downwards. I don't give in to temptation, because if I did and became fat I would know that I was a disgusting failure and wouldn't be able to live with myself.

My advice is that the best way to lose weight is to truly understand what moral failures fat people are. Once you have some pride and face this fact honestly, that every time you are stuffing your face you are just proving what a revolting person you are, you wouldn't even be able to enjoy the fatty foods.

HAR said...

"Pay more attention to how your slender aunt keeps the pounds off than how your slender sister-in-law does it, because what works for your aunt is more likely to work for you. "

No, because if you're thinking like this you are already "medicalizing" the problem instead of seeing it as a matter of honor, identity, and self-respect. There is no "secret." It's how many calories you take in minus how many you burn, and that is a result of will power.

A Muslim doesn't need tips on how to avoid eating delicious pork. It's unthinkable to him because being a person who doesn't eat pig is part of his identity. A person who has a genuine appreciation for beauty and truth will likewise find overeating unthinkable.

I'm speaking as a person who went from 90th percentile of BMI to the 30th percentile and who has a family that is overweight.

Anonymous said...

Meat makes you taller. People very much cared about the composition of their diet 200, 500, 1000 years ago.

"Behold the mighty Englishman,
He rules the Indian small,
Because he is a meat-eater,
He is four cubits tall."

Cennbeorc

Anonymous said...

I agree, the Scando's are big boozehounds. Right in there with the worst of the Celtic fringe - maybe one half-step more respectable. But they sure are fun to drink with. All that reserve and introversion converts wonderfully to insight and humor under the catalyst of alcohol.

Neil Templeton

Anonymous said...

@HAR

You're 100% correct, but the whole culture is against your way of thinking (which is my way of thinking). One hopes that as we try fad after fad and each one fails people will finally understand the centrality of valuing thinness as beautiful in order generate the necessary social pressure to provide motivation for the average person to become thin.

But such a cultural shift can take generations. Although we Americans pay lip service to the ideal of thinness and beauty, the fact is that this is considered the domain of the few - if you are a male concerned with beauty and thinnness, you are a "fag" and "pretentious", if a female, you are buying into the patriarchy and trying too hard to please men.

The result is the rise of flip-flop and sweat pant culture among women and baggy pants and loose t shirt among men - in short, a total disregard for beauty and elegance among both sexes in America that goes along with an attitude of democracy and egalitarianism that is hostile to elitism, and that pays mere lip service to the thin ideal.

How can anyone truly care about being thin, and make the necessary sacrifices, if they don't care about beauty? In a culture where it is acceptable for women to go outside every day in flip-flops and sweat pants how can anyone expect women to make the sacrifice needed to be thin? It's an absolute impossibility!

The American de-emphasis of beauty and elegance is strikingly evident whenever you return from a trip to Europe, where people dress so much better.

In order for Americans to become thin they have to care how they look, but in the face of so many cultural messages telling us that caring how you look is pretentious, how can anyone care? If it is OK to wear sweat pants outside, WHY should you try so hard to be thin?

The problem of obesity in America is simply that of priveleging pleasure over spiritual values like beauty, elegance, and pride.

Just yesterday I was talking to my roomate who was telling me how beauty and dressing well are not just things he cares nothing about, but are actually bad because they represent "materialism" and are "pretentious" - I tried - in vain! - to explain to him that beauty and elegance are precisely spiritual values! But I could see it just did not resonate.

How can a society where personal beauty and elegance is seen as materialistic and pretentious EVER make the necessary sacrifice to be thin?

It just won't happen. Americans will NEVER be thin, at least not in the foreseeable future. We have to give up the dream. Maybe after many generations, when America breaks up and becomes once again aristocratic - in other words when America ceases to be America, Americans will be thin. But for the next few hundred years, thinness will be for the cultural and intellectual and aesthetic elite, and even not widespread there, while idiots like agnostic will go around babbling nonsense about paloe.

Anonymous said...

"How can anyone truly care about being thin, and make the necessary sacrifices, if they don't care about beauty?"

It's not just about weight. It's about minor allergies and such-like from not having adaptations to specific foods.

(Although i think it will probably connect indirectly to weight somehow as well.)

HAR said...

Anonymous, absolutely brilliant comment. It almost perfectly reflects my thinking on the matter. I only wish you would go by a consistent name so I can be sure to read all your posts.

I wouldn't despair too much, as if you have the IQ and work ethic to be among the wealthier and more educated you can go through your regular day without seeing too many fat people. The upper class is also usually well groomed too, even if they may not dress as nice as Europeans. I don't mind the dressing down part as much, since a man or woman with a decent body and a nice fitting t-shirt can be a very nice sight. I agree on sweatpants though. I couldn't imagine wearing them in public.

Seeing how fat the American lower class is has made me lose most sympathy I would otherwise have for them. If you allow your body to be a walking testament to your failures and contempt for everything noble, I have a hard time caring if your job is shipped off to China or taken by Mexicans.

Anonymous said...

"Americans need to change their culture of eating, but this existing culture seems to me to be just one aspect of our tendency to turn everything, including what should be normal grown-up self-restraint, into a big weird competitive holy-rolling chore and bore, an eternal deprivation, rather than see it as just the normal, necessary adjunct of good living. Nobody's going to stop stuffing his face if that's the alternative."

Exactly!

Anonymous said...

no on ever eats eggs or meat without spices, salt, seasonings, and people have invented tons and tons of creamy and spicy sauces to make them palatable. Whereas it's relatively common to eat a crusty fresh piece of break on its own, no one eats chicken unseasoned.

Not the impression of this Northwest European...

Although enhancing an expensive food item like meat, that probably happens often compared to enhancing bread (which is actually usually salted to fuck anyway). Bread's cheap crap, so who cares if you eat it without getting the msot out of the flavor?

...

As to the general topic, I really, really think the paleo diet folks underestimate the flexibility of the human dietary system to varying food intake, overrate its meaninful variation between populations and underrate the pervasive nature of the food industry's manipulations.
Europeans, North or South, are composed of at least 50% of incoming Middle Eastern early farmer, and the barriers to gene flow are fairly porous. I think it's likely they're better adapted to carb intake than e.g. East Asians, not worse.

Anonymous said...

The flour that exists today is very different than the flour used at the turn of the century. The amber waves of grain are now genetically modified 18 inch dwarf wheat.