When Robb Wolf wrote "The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet" in 2010, he attracted attention for his scientific exploration of what many then regarded as a temporary diet fad. Now it's clear that the caveman diet is here to stay, and Robb has become one of the world's leading experts. We asked Robb about his views on the growth and benefits of the Paleo diet in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
A research biochemist, Robb is quick to shoot down the "fad" dismissal of detractors. He points to the "exponential growth" of the Paleo diet since 2009, tracking the origins to 2001.
"No other eating/lifestyle template in history has logged that type of growth or success," notes Robb. Moreover, he feels the movement has only begun.
But Robb also emphasizes the irony of the situation. "This 'success' is annoying as hell to me because it represents nearly 200 years of failure on the part of medicine and dietetics. The Paleo template is just Evolutionary Biology applied to food and medicine."
We recently interviewed Dr. Stephen Phinney, a leader in low carb diets, about why the starch-heavy food pyramid prevails despite evidence that sugar and starch rather than saturated fat and animal protein are the culprits when it comes to the obesity epidemic and associated conditions such as diabetes. Co-author of "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable," Dr. Phinney echoed Robb's frustration.
"It is, or at least should be, criminal that this information about sleep, food, exercise, gut biome, socialization etc. is not the foundation of medicine and nutritional science," stated Robb. As a result, he feels that the Paleo diet success "is merely shining a light on the systemic failure of our current systems."
And although those systems can do triage and "are quite adept at dealing with acute injury and infection," Robb feels that the medical world in general has failed " miserably at preventing chronic, degenerative disease. I’m proud of the work I and many other people have done in this area, but I’m also appalled that this is at all a controversial topic."
Some registered dietitians attack the Paleo diet because they contend that it eliminates food groups (i.e., grains and dairy) and hence is unhealthy. Yet they typically hail vegetarian diets as the greatest thing since sliced whole grain bread. The inconsistency of these views makes no sense, says Robb.
"Does that not strike you as at best odd? I find this position interesting also in that the implication here is that 'all food is equal,'" he adds.
For decades, consumers have been told that moderation is the key to health and weight loss. And that moderation mantra has resulted in escalating rates of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol, notes Robb.
"A cupcake is apparently equal to an apple. Can that possibly be correct? I certainly do not think so," he states.
In reality, some foods are better (i.e., healthier) than other foods, Robb declares. As for the mainstream medicine view that moderation is best?
It's been preached for 50 years "and it has been a complete failure," says Robb. For those who want to feel better, enhance their health or lose weight, "I can’t spin this yarn that all food are created equal."
Robb questions the notion "that some kind of mystical nutrient deficiency will emerge if one builds their diet built around fruits, veggies, lean meats, nuts and seeds. My research associates have published papers demonstrating not only that a Paleo diet provides all the nutrients for health, but that the Paleo diet is, calorie for calorie, the most nutritious way one can eat."
No definitive studies exist proving that removing grains and dairy from the diet is inherently healthy. Therefore, asks Robb, why do so many nutritionists proclaim that the Paleo diet is unhealthy because it excludes those food groups?
With a strong background in biochemistry, Robb feels his education "has been incredibly helpful in reading the literature and synthesizing that into the material I share via my books, blog and podcast." In addition to his initial Paleo book, he has contributed to a wide range of guides, such as "Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle."
One of the hot topics in the Paleo world: Resistant starch. Robb feels that it is "actually pointing towards the bigger topic of the human gut biome."
With the "trillions of bacteria that inhabit our digestive system and which appear to be one of the most important factors in our health," resistant starch appears to play a role in maintaining healthy bacteria. It is "one substrate that is used as food by these gut bacteria, and it is used specifically in the colon," explained Robb.
"We have bacteria all throughout our digestive tract, but for health and wellness it appears we should have certain amounts and types in specific places," he added. The Standard American Diet (SAD), which contains high levels of refined carbohydrates such as white flour bread and pasta, feeds bacteria and results in "small intestinal bacterial overgrowth."
The latest research links that bacterial overgrowth "to a remarkable number of health issues, from cardiovascular disease to autoimmunity," notes Robb. And while fiber has been touted for health for decades, "it has only been recently that we have understood the mechanism to be that of feeding our beneficial gut flora."
A twist on the Paleo diet involves combining a high fat ketogenic plan with the Paleo principles. Robb feels that for a jump-start to weight loss, it has advantages.
In addition to being used for weight loss, ketogenic diets "can be particularly helpful for a number of medical conditions ranging from epilepsy to Parkinson’s to Alzheimers. The military is even researching the benefits of a ketogenic diet for traumatic brain injury, so I see the KD as a fantastic tool to have in our tool-box," Robb stated.
For example, "Ketogenic Diets" is authored by four Johns Hopkins experts and offers guidance for those with epilepsy. The newest edition has help for those with other neurological illnesses.
But Robb disagrees with those who proclaim ketogenic diets to be the ultimate panacea. "It is not appropriate or even helpful for everyone, and may or may not be the best route to take as a weight loss strategy."
In contrast to those who have very rigid Paleo diet rules, Robb believes that customizing the caveman plan provides the best way to achieve your own goals. For that reason, he says he highly recommends Chris Kresser’s book "Your Personal Paleo Code: The 3-Step Plan to Lose Weight, Reverse Disease, and Stay Fit and Healthy for Life."
"I feel that diet is a very individualized process. Chris’ book is all about making paleo work for your individual needs," praised Robb.