In my last post, A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part I, I covered the odd eating habits of multi-billionaire/raw-juice enthusiast David H. Murdock, as well as the “all-meat” (in reality, “mostly grease”) diet of Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. Both men had a strong interest in health. My next subject is interested exclusively in taste, but is in good apparent health nonetheless.
PAUL RUDNICK’S ALL-CANDY DIET
Playwright and humorist Paul Rudnick, according to this New York Times article by David Colman, subsists on milk chocolate, pastries, ice-cream, and candy. In addition, he eats some simple unsweetened foods, like peanuts, Cheerios, and plain bagels. He abstains from meat, poultry & eggs, seafood & fish, whole-grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables. He’s been eating like this as long as he can remember. At fifty-two, he’s tall, lean, and in good health. Interesting.
I should note here that Paul Rudnick is in no way suggesting that anyone else should eat the way he does. He likes candy, he eats candy — end of story.
ANALYSIS: What do we take from this “case study”? Is Rudnick a freak of nature? Or does his all-candy diet suggest that eating whole, unprocessed food is less important than we think? Maybe it’s more important that we don’t overeat (according to the article, Rudnick doesn’t eat actual meals — he sort of grazes all day). If he’s not eating large amounts of candy at a time, and he abstains from soft drinks, it’s possible that his blood sugar doesn’t spike too badly throughout the course of a day. He’s not eating plates of pasta or potatoes with his candy — he’s just eating the candy.
- Driving philosophy: eat exactly what Paul Rudnick wants to eat, and nothing else
- Staple foods: Hershey’s kisses, Drakes Cakes Yodels, plain bagels, peanuts, ice-cream, dry cereal
- Not allowed: anything allowed, but Rudnick doesn’t seem to eat fruit, vegetables, or meat
- Supplements: unknown
- Importance of organic foods: none
- Health advantages: low in calories, some polyphenols from chocolate and peanuts
- Possible health risks this diet overlooks or does not address: scurvy, type-2 diabetes
- Ecological impact: low (no meat, some packaged/processed foods)
- Cost: low (no meat, no produce, organic foods not required, Rudnick prefers “low-brow” sweets)
Summary: Examples like Rudnick are important to keep in mind to avoid obsessing about food and what the “best” diet is. People thrive in all sorts of strange ways. Lamar Odom is another example. On the one hand, these men may possess unusual metabolisms that allow them to effectively process massive amounts of refined sugar without detrimental effects to their health. On the other, the rest of us might be underestimating the resiliency and adaptive powers of the human digestive system, or overestimating the negative effects of refined sugar.
My guess is that Rudnick is NOT a freak of nature, and that the health benefits of what is essentially a low calorie diet outweigh the negative effects of eating all that crap. I wouldn’t be surprised if he sustains his health into old age.
As an aside, Paul Rudnick has an incredibly cool office.
THE PALEOLITHIC DIET (AN INTRODUCTION)
The Paleolithic Diet (also known as The Caveman Diet) is an eating plan that, in its strictest form, includes only pre-agricultural foods. Grains, including pasta, bread, rice, oats — even fancy hippie grains like quinoa and amaranth — are OUT. So are all legumes; beans, peanuts, and, depending on the variant of the diet, even innocent vegetable legumes like green beans, snow peas, alfalfa sprouts, and clover sprouts.
Dairy products are out too — our caveman ancestors had not yet learned to domesticate cows, goats, or sheep. Nightshade fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, all varieties of peppers, tobacco, and even the antioxidant-packed goji berry are all considered to be Neolithic foods (products of agriculture), and are thus eliminated. Salt isn’t allowed, nor are alcohol and caffeine. Refined sugar is of course not allowed, nor are any industrially processed foods (basically anything you can buy in a package at the store).
What’s left? Quite a lot, actually. Most vegetables are allowed, including leafy greens and starchy tubers (the Paleolithic Diet isn’t necessarily a low carb diet). Less sweet fruits, like berries, are allowed, but sweeter fruits that have been pumped-up with sugar via years of selective breeding and/or genetic manipulation are not recommended (think of a large, juicy, sweet, store-bought apple vs. a small, gnarled, sour, slightly starchy example you might find on a tree in your backyard). Nuts and seeds are okay, and olive oil is usually allowed. So are fatty fruits like avocado and coconut.
Wild game and wild-caught fish are preferred foods on the Paleolithic Diet. Almost all animal foods are allowed, so long as they are wild or grass-fed. A real Paleo enthusiast might have an extra freezer or two in the garage, where they store a side of grass-fed beef, or a whole hog. Meats that some of us might consider unusual, like ostrich, venison, kangaroo, bison, crocodile, rabbit, goat, and springbok (antelope) might be considered regular Paleo fare.
The logic of the Paleolithic Diet is that our ability to produce novel kinds of nosh has far outpaced our ability to digest it. In other words, cultural evolution proceeds at a faster pace than genetic evolution, and as a result our health suffers. Human beings, and our hominid ancestors, evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years on simple fare like shellfish, antelope, mastodon, tubers, frogs, and berries, and that’s the kind of fare our digestive and metabolic systems are optimized to handle. We invented agriculture, which ensured us a more-or-less reliable source of calories, but our bodies didn’t change; we could only derive sustenance from grains at a cost to our health. Later, the negative effects of cheap calories were exasperated by the Industrial Revolution (and thus industrial food production, which gives us refined flour, low-fat pasteurized milk, and high-fructose corn syrup). Sure, we can survive on Yodels, bagels, and Planters salted peanuts, but we can’t thrive on such food (Paul Rudnick would of course disagree).
The biochemical Axis of Evil, according to Paleo science, consists primarily of lectins, gluten, casein. All three are substances that both interfere with digestion and muck with our hormonal profile. Fructose and sucrose are also considered problematic, as are excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
Lectins are proteins that interfere with digestion, prevent absorption of certain nutrients, and are associated with allergies and auto-immune diseases. Lectins seems particularly adept at tearing up the epithelial lining of the gut, resulting in something called leaky gut syndrome where whole undigested protein molecules are allowed to enter the bloodstream. The immune system, which only expects to encounter amino acids in the bloodstream (not whole proteins) mistakes the undigested food particles for invading pathogens. Auto-immune problems can then result if the protein entering the bloodstream happens to resemble some sort of human tissue; the immune system is tricked into attacking its host body. Yuck.
Lectins are found in grains, legumes, seeds, and to a lesser extent in other vegetables and nuts. If an organism does not have an evolutionary interest in being eaten (like fruit), it tends to evolve ways to defend itself. If you try to eat a zebra, you might find your jawbone shattered by a swift kick. Plants, on the other hand, have more creative (and sometimes insidious) ways of defending themselves. Nuts have tough shells. Some plants produce phytoestrogens, which negatively impact the species dining on them (sheep eating fields of red clover may find their fertility reduced). Grains and beans have lectins. If you doubt the effect lectins can have on your digestive system, gently simmer (don’t boil) some dried red kidney beans until they are soft enough to eat, then chew on a few. Just kidding, don’t try this. Really, don’t — you might die. Not all lectins (there are thousands of varieties) are harmful, but quite a few have been shown to have a negative impact on human and animal health.
Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley (including the refined varieties) and can wreak similar havoc on the digestive system, at least in sensitive individuals. Casein is a milk protein, and can cause health problems even for people who are lactose tolerant (casein is probably more of problem for people who consume high amounts of lectins and gluten — their torn up gut linings may allow casein to enter the bloodstream whole).
To most people, cutting out bread, pasta, cheese, milk, yogurt, ice-cream, candy, all desserts, beans, tofu, tomatoes, potatoes, grain-fed meat, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, salt, and all processed food sounds overly restrictive. You don’t say. In its strictest form, the Paleolithic Diet is as ascetic as raw-food veganism. Consider, though, Stefansson’s experience in getting used to (and eventually coming to enjoy) a diet consisting solely of raw frozen and boiled unsalted trout, with only fermented whale oil as a garnish. What a human being experiences as pleasurable is largely dependent on the available range of experience. We acclimate quickly; a diet of champagne, caviar, and rich desserts, day in and day out, quickly becomes boring, just as fermented whale oil rapidly becomes a “special treat” if that’s the only thing you have to put on your raw fish.
Are there health benefits? There seem to be, in spades. Practitioners report rapid fat loss, muscle gain, increased energy, improved immunity, better mood/attitude, reduced blood pressure, freedom from allergies, increased sexual vitality, and improvement in auto-immune disorders. Clinical trials indicate the Caveman Diet can improve glucose tolerance, potentially reverse Type 2 diabetes, and significantly improve body composition in as short a time as ten days.
Most modern practitioners of the Paleolithic Diet allow small to moderate amounts of salt, alcohol, and caffeine to be included, which instantly makes the diet about a thousand percent more palatable. Some modern cavemen further add in delicious foods like tomatoes, green beans, and even the occasional chunk of pastured raw cheese or very dark chocolate. This is starting to sound a little more manageable.
I’ll disclose here that my own eating style bears similarities to the Caveman Diet. Significantly cutting back on grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar (and adding in a few supplements) helped reverse moderate asthma symptoms I experienced for a good portion of my thirties. I’ll discuss this in detail in another post.
NEXT POST: There are three figureheads of the Paleolithic Diet I’d like to write about in detail, including Loren Cordain, Arthur DeVany, and Mark Sisson. All three are interesting characters, and each has a somewhat different approach and emphasis. I also want to put some of the ideological kookery behind some Paleo advocates under a magnifying glass.
I may also look at one or more of the hardcore raw-foodists — some of them are really extreme and therefore entertaining. Maybe I can discover exactly what they mean by the word “toxin.” Maybe they mean uric acid, which is a by-product of protein digestion. Or maybe they mean oxalic acid, found in extremely high levels in both raw spinach and raw parsley.