"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: 'The Paleo Answer' by Loren Cordain

Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, recently came out with a new book, The Paleo Answer. The subtitle is "7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young," so I was skeptical that this would be mostly a weight loss book and wouldn't tell me anything new. While it was almost exclusively on nutrition, I didn't think it was a weight loss book at all-- I'd say it was truer to the "Feel Great, Stay Young" part, with a "You'll probably lose weight in the process" idea as a side-note. For Paleo/Primal veterans, some of the information is repetitive-- it's probably all stuff you've read in Cordain's other book or any of the other literature (by Sisson, Robb, DeVany, Gedgaudas, etc.). However, I thought it was a nice refresher and has reminded me of some information that I had forgotten from the other books. Further, The Paleo Answer provided some fantastic research, many success stories and anecdotes, helpful charts and graphs, and was organized and written in a way that I think is accessible to all people.

The organization of The Paleo Answer reminds me of Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas, in that it devotes a chapter to each major topic (usually a specific food group), breaks the chapters down into sub-sections, and provides a short summary/wrap-up at the end of each chapter as well. If you just read the "Paleo Bottom Line" in each chapter, you'd probably have the basics of Paleo nutrition; I think this was a smart way to structure the book so people can quickly get the gist of his stance on a certain issue, just in case his writing was at all confusing or ambiguous (which, for the most part, was not the case). He also repeats himself a lot to remind the readers what a certain hormone, chemical, or scientific term is/means-- while sometimes I found this frustrating, I can see where it might be helpful to a person who has never read a book on nutrition before.
I also really liked that each chapter began with a Paleo success story to demonstrate how this lifestyle works for all different types of people; this was also stressed through Cordain's idea that the Paleo Diet consists of many Paleo diets, and each person's is unique.
I'm glad he provided a discussion about how to "Paleoify" your water; he gave a very clear argument about why we should avoid plastics. This chapter (12, "Paleo Water") is something that doesn't even just apply to Paleo-- everyone should read it!
Cordain has also changed his stance on a few issues since The Paleo Diet-- he is not as anti- saturated fat as he used to be, and he no longer recommends artificial sweeteners as "an acceptable replacement for high-fructose corn syrup sweetened sodas." THANK YOU. It always baffled me that he'd be okay with diet sodas as part of the Paleo lifestyle, and I am so glad he revised his opinion in this book. As for saturated fat, he now says, "The saturated fats you consume from grass-fed beef, poultry, pork, eggs, fish, and seafood will not promote heart disease, cancer, or any chronic health problem. In fact, these foods can ensure your birthright-- a long, healthy, and happy life." Amen!

My biggest critique of this book is that it doesn't cover many aspects of the Paleo lifestyle, such as the importance of sleep and heavy lifting. While he does stress the importance of sunlight/Vitamin D, The Paleo Answer is pretty much only on nutrition-- that's fine if you're looking for a book on what to eat/not eat, but I think there's a lot more to health than just food, and I wish he had discussed this in more detail than just the little "exercise and relaxation" and "health tip" sections in Chapter 10, "The Paleo Answer 7-Day Diet Plan." (However, I applaud his great overview of Paleo nutrition!)
I also wish he had talked about vegetable oils and why they should be avoided; actually, I'm quite amazed he never mentioned them at all (except in one sentence about staying away from saturated fat in processed foods), given all of his other discussions about inflammation. If I were someone new to Paleo/evolutionary nutrition, I'd think vegetable oils were okay after reading this book.
I also have to disagree with his idea that three non-Paleo ("cheat") meals are allowed. While I agree that eating Paleo 85% of the time (he has an 85/15 stance) will improve your health, I think that three non-Paleo meals a week is way too many, especially if you're starting out. (Then again, I know from past dieting experiences that if I had a "cheat" meal on a diet, I'd binge and go off the diet completely. That's why I don't advocate this approach to people who are new to cutting out grains, processed foods, and other non-Paleo foods. I think it's more beneficial to cut everything out for 30 days-- such as on a Whole30 or other 30-day challenge-- then maybe have a cheat once you have the sugar/carb/bread/whatever addictions under control.) People might also have intolerances to certain foods (e.g. gluten and dairy) or chemicals in processed foods (such as aspartame) that these "cheat" meals would aggravate... But everyone is different, and perhaps a few "cheat" meals a week are good for people in transition; I just don't agree with this based on my own experiences, and three seems way too many.

Overall, I think The Paleo Answer is a really good beginner's guide to Paleo nutrition. It is well-organized, well-researched, easy to understand, and provides a great overview of which foods to eat/avoid and why. Even if you're not new to Paleo, it's worth reading just for the most up-to-date research and information from around the world and by the "founder of the Paleo movement."

Quote of the Day:
"I am not suggesting that we abandon electricity, central heating, public sanitation, or clean water. We need to recognize our humble roots as hunter-gatherers and adopt the best of their world, while leaving the worst behind." -Loren Cordain, The Paleo Answer


  1. Thanks for posting the review - I think many people are still reading Cordain's first book, which causes huge amounts of confusion and has generated a lot of attacks on the paleo diet for misrepresenting issues. I'm glad he's come around on some issues.

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