Phood Philosophy: Nutritional Relativism


An Inconvenient Truth



People love to subvert the dominant paradigm. These days, “conventional wisdom” is virtually synonymous with “small-minded” and “outdated”.  Initially, CrossFit was an underground, unconventional fitness program that left even seasoned (often shirtless) athletes gasping on the ground. Then, as CrossFit, Inc. grew to the enormous company that it is today, the exercise protocol has become common, accepted, even “normal”.  Shoot, with more than 2,000 gyms worldwide, it’s certainly not “underground” anymore. The larger and more mainstream it became, the more pleasure people took in taking shots at it – some well-deserved, and some simply out of spite.

Recently, I’ve seen some of the same behaviors in the nutrition realm. At first, Paleo was novel (oh, how we forget our history) and underground… and certainly unconventional. But as it gained traction and credibility within the huge online community in and around CrossFit, naysayers have sprung up to undermine specific Paleo guidelines.  This does not surprise me.  Nutritional relativists, I call them. The win/win for these folks is that they can recommend eating whatever they think is “right for you” –  without having to risk taking a position that might be disproven by science, or overwhelmed by collective experience to the contrary.

In our postmodern, relativist world, it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy (think hearts and flowers and ponies) to say that everyone can find their own way, and that “everyone’s personal truth is equally true”, even as it applies to nutrition. Except… our bodies aren’t relativist. Or even modern. Which means that fueling a Paleolithic body using a modern ideology is a recipe for sub-optimal health. It’s a mismatch. Our genes don’t buy relativism. And what is sometimes portrayed as “healthy skepticism” is simply nutritional postmodernism in disguise. G.K. Chesterton wrote in “Orthodoxy”,

“But the new rebel is a skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything.”

It’s easy to stand back and poke holes in other people’s positions if your position is to not have a position.  We (Whole9) have made a point to take firm positions in most of our nutritional recommendations… which means sometimes, we’re not the most popular folks on the internet.  However, we are not here to win a popularity contest. We share our version of the Good Food Gospel (that’s a joke, people), however un-fun or unpopular it might be, because we believe these positions lead to optimal health.  And people look to us, and others, for exactly that reason.

Dr. Cordain, founder of The Paleo Diet, did not invent the concept of “Paleo”, but he did make the information accessible to folks in his book. Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution, has done an extraordinary job of sharing Paleo nutrition principles with tens of thousands of people worldwide. Experts like Dr. Cordain’s and Robb’s dietary recommendations include avoiding Neolithic foods which are at odds with our genetic heritage, and in general, make us less healthy. My Whole9 partner (Melissa Urban) and I present our Foundations of Nutrition workshops nationwide, making similar nutritional recommendations.  Our advice is founded primarily on our education and experience – though for us it’s less about history than health. We have specific beliefs, and make specific recommendations, based on the science of some very smart people, feedback from our consulting clients, experiences from those in our community and the testimonials of thousands of Whole30 participants. Nonetheless… the nutritional relativists tend to mistrust (or flat out dislike) the specific beliefs of people who aren’t afraid to take a firm position.

While we readily acknowledge that there are some minor variances between individuals, we believe that there are some concepts that are pretty much universal.  We believe that health-conscious people, in general, should avoid the following foods, even if the Weston A. Price Foundation thinks raw milk is healthy, and others argue that some cultures have survived for millenia eating grains. (By the way, simply surviving is not the same as optimizing health.)

  1. Sugar – in any form – detracts more from health than it adds, leaving you with a net loss. Thus, foods with added sugar are not your best choice, and are tough to justify as “healthy”.
  2. Processed foods are no good. The more you process something, the less healthy it becomes. (Even if it’s “fortified”. Real Food needs no fortifying.)
  3. Alcohol, like fructose, has physiological consequences that aren’t awesome. Less is generally better. Sorry.
  4. Grains, while perhaps tolerated better if fermented, are not a healthy food choice. Gluten especially sucks. There are many highly nutrient-dense foods that don’t have grains’ downsides.
  5. Legumes are not a healthy food choice for reasons similar to those of grains. This goes double for soy.  Ick.
  6. Milk, while being delicious and convenient, contains dairy proteins (casein, whey, and protein hormones like IGF-1) that we think make you less healthy. Dairy fat from butter (absent the problematic milk proteins) is good stuff.

“Pretty much universal” means that this applies to you… yes, YOU. Let’s put this in a biological context – we’re all the same species, right? And even though we have significantly different cultural histories, our genetics – that which makes us human – are common, and shared. If you had two dogs – say, a German shepherd and an English bulldog – would you think that one breed should eat a processed, grain-based diet and one should eat a raw meat diet? That doesn’t make much sense, given they’re both from the same species. All canines, like us H. sapiens, share a nearly identical set of genes, even though their (and our) wildly different phenotypes suggest otherwise. We think a dog is a dog, even though Paris Hilton’s Chihuahua would just be a (very unsatisfying) snack for a Rottweiler. What I’m getting at is that some nutritional universality within a species makes sense to us. We’re all cut from the same cloth – or at least the same type of cloth. (Sorry to steal your flowers and ponies.)

Let us clarify, though – we are not trying to tell you what to do. We’re not judging you or your behavior, or your own recommendations. If you make your living doing personalized consultations, then I can understand why you say everyone needs a different nutritional plan.  If you’re hooked on beta-casomorphins, we get why your cheese is untouchable. And if you simply disagree with our positions, feel free to choose to consume oatmeal or tempeh or raw milk or “Paleo brownies”. But if you’re reading this, it might be because you trust our extensive experience and education, and that of the science-y folks that we’ve learned from (like Robb).  If that’s the case, then our positions might not seem so arbitrary or authoritarian. And if you disagree with some (or all!) of what we write, we’re totally fine with that, too. We write to share our perspective on Good Food, and if you think we’re fascist because of it (we’ve been called worse), there’s good news for both of us: whatever you choose to eat only affects you.

Like everyone else in this world, we continue to learn as we live our lives – learn, teach and gather experience. Ultimately, what we share is simply our opinion, and is not infallible. We are far from omniscient. But don’t let nutritional relativism fool you into thinking that you should simply eat whatever “works for you”. Your genes say otherwise.

Author’s note:  Chocolate cookies and brownies are still not health food, even if you put “Paleo” in front of them. (Beware the doublespeak.) And Tucker, beer is still booze, even if it’s “Zone beer”.

Categories: Paleo/Low Carb


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    First of all, while we share quite a lot of genes, any scientific worth their stuff will tell you that very small genetic differences do matter. And humans do not share the same genes. There are significant differences between people and populations. I believe that science will continue to refine how these matter for our health, but there is strong evidence that they do matter and it’s just political correctness that is keeping the “we share our genes” kumbaya alive.

    And you assume those 6 points are based on untouchable science, but I challenge anyone who is truly interested to pull those studies up and analyze them for themselves. Many are small, heavily contested, or poorly done. I also believed a lot of them held unshakable truths, like this gluten one. More science needs to be done. I just enrolled as a biological anthropology student. I hope others do the same, but as a student I don’t want my professors Googling paleo and finding us parading speculation as truth. Too many of us paleos live in an unchallenged bubble. Being in academia and being close with people who are part of WAPF has really injected a new level of desire for rigor into my life. THe fact we don’t have consensus is a sign of intellectual health.

    Otherwise, this post has some great points and I mostly agree with it. I will comment further on my blog after work.

    • says

      Hi Melissa,

      While there are very small genetics differences that have large effects, most express themselves phenotypically (like eye colour). While eye colour (or any other phenotypic trait) may be different, the genes responsible for making the iris of the eye are intact in a vast majority of humans.

      The “genetic” differences you may be referring to are probably more epi-genetic than anything. There has been a large body of literature built up around the effects of epigenetics (the poor old agouti mouse can’t catch a break these days) that reveal it’s far reaching effects in what would generally be considered diseases with “genetic predetermination”.

      I believe one of the points made by Dallas’ post (please correct me if I’m wrong) is that they specifically *aren’t* saying that their science is untouchable, just that from the work they’ve done and information they’ve read, it seems those are some pretty solid guidelines.

      If some well done research comes out of the woodwork proving that certain ideas are wrong, well then the intelligent thing would be to evaluate it, and make adjustments accordingly. As of yet, there has been very little evidence to convince most of the “paleo” world that grains are good for you. Dairy on the other hand is in a bit of a grey area. I admire your enthusiasm to ensure that the research has been properly addressed.


      • says

        Well, you just strengthened my point :) Genes are just the tip of the iceberg here. Like you pointed out, there are epigenetics. There are also the differences in bacterial populations in everyone’s microecosystem. Differences between people are significant. You know there are people who are allergic to beef (AKA the best food ever)???!

        “Pretty much universal” is a pretty strong statement.

        • says

          Agreed. It is a strong statement. However, I think that you’d agree that simply because there are some unfortunate folk who are allergic to beef, that doesn’t mean it’s not “pretty much… the best food ever”. There are exceptions to every rule, but that doesn’t mean the general concept is wrong – it just means there are exceptions.

        • Dana says

          Food allergies are not genetic, though. You don’t inherit an allergy to a food. You might pick up an epigenetic tendency to *become* allergic to a food but it is not a sure thing.

      • says


        You nailed it: “…they specifically *aren’t* saying that their science is untouchable, just that from the work they’ve done and information they’ve read, it seems those are some pretty solid guidelines.” The other point worth making, since the literature on this topic is “completely incomplete”, is the concept of consensus experience. There are few folks, in our experience, that have not done much, much better on a grain- and legume-free diet, and we’ve found dairy to be problematic in a smaller percentage of people. So… experience counts for something, too. It’s the beautiful synergy of science + experience that, in my opinion, counts for more than either individual factor ever could. Thanks for weighing in.

    • says

      Melissa, I for one, can only wait with bated for you to further expound on this on your blog.

      I’m not a student, I’m not close to any WAPF people, and I almost certainly live in an unchallenged paleo bubble.

      My rigor sucks, but I thought Dallas wrote a great article, and I liked that he employed something called humor.

    • says


      Thanks for your comment. I think I might not have done a good enough job of stating my general position. I was not claiming that I speak the One True Paleo Truth, that everyone should eat exactly the same, or that we have identical genotypes. However, I think you might be trivializing my position with your “kumbaya” comment. All I was saying was that the concept that we can all figure out our optimal diet exclusively by personal trial and error (fully ignoring our ancestral heritage) is likely to lead us down a not-quite-right path. I know *I* am not capable of knowing everything there is to know about how food effects me, even if I pay close attention. The devil is in the details, so to speak. Hope my comment on the WAPF didn’t get you too riled up. 😉 Best,


      • says


        Why be fawning and apologetic from a few throw-away comments? If we are going to celebrate “THe fact we don’t have consensus is a sign of intellectual health.” Then why don’t we celebrate with some healthy skepticism or at least standing behind articles we just wrote?

      • says


        I think you made a number of good points in this post. Most importantly, opposition to post-modern relativism. Certainly there is such a thing as objective truth.

        Nevertheless, I think there are a few important flaws here, some philosophical and others in your interpretation of genetics.

        On the philosophical, first, there is something radically different between scientific caution, which involves properly interpreting data and acknowledging uncertainty, and believing that there is no such thing as objective truth. Failing to engage in scientific caution results in numerous conflicting premature claims about objective truth, and thus, if anything, undermines the concept of truth and drives people to relativism.

        Second, if there is inter-individual variation in the response to diet, it needs to be acknowledged. Acknowledgment of the fact of variation, which is an essential part of both evolutionary theory and statistical analysis, is necessary to use the scientific method objectively and is not in any remote way post-modern relativism.

        Regarding genetics, I completely agree with Melissa’s point and I would like to expand on it and add a few more. As she pointed out, you cannot infer the magnitude or importance of phenotype differences from the magnitude of genotype differences. This is partly because not all genes are equally relevant to our topic, but it is especially because there are regulatory sequences that are not technically “genes” but contribute an enormous overarching phenotype difference with a very small change in sequence. To give a clear example, the genetic differences between humans and chimpanzees are much smaller than what you would expect to need to produce such massive phenotype differences, and this is believed to be because there are important differences in the regulation of gene expression that are coded into our DNA and fixed in our species.

        This is, of course, only one part of the regulation of gene expression. The expression of our genes is regulated in response to environmental cues by numerous different mechanisms that range in time span from seconds to generations. For example, phosphorylation and other types of covalent modification of proteins can regulate the activity of proteins coded by our genes on a scale of seconds to minutes in response to the environment. Our vast network of transcription factors can regulate genes on a scale of minutes to hours to days, in some cases perhaps weeks or months. Epigenetic modifications can regulate gene expression on this scale and extend it for generations.

        Finally, we exist in a symbiotic relationship with trillions of microorganisms that line our entire digestive and urinary tracts. These play an enormous role in our metabolic phenotype, and they can change over time in response to their environment.

        To ignore all these differences seems to me to be a sort of “genetic fundamentalism.” Certainly genes are an important part of who we are, but they do not unilaterally dictate who we are and their contribution to who we are cannot be measured quantitatively.

        This came at an opportune time as I was actually about to post my first post in a series of genetics over at The Daily Lipid tonight.

        Thanks for bringing an important part of the discussion to the table and I hope that these types of conversation can generate much-needed respectful and open dialogue.


        • says


          Thanks for your intelligent and thorough commentary. First, I was not minimizing the importance of scientific caution – in fact, I was underscoring the importance of further investigation and growth – mine included! The relativists I was speaking of are not folks who exercise that “scientific caution”, however. They’re the folks are simply opposed to the fact that there is, as you say, an absolute nutritional truth – we simply don’t know all of it yet. Second, your academic training clearly outstrips mine in the area of epigenetics, so I can’t intelligently respond in detail to your comment. However, I think my generalizations were taken to be more concrete than I intended them to be. I don’t view myself as a “fundamentalist”, though I (and I’m sure you) have been called worse. Thanks again for your comments, and I’m looking forward to your genetics series.


          • says

            Hey Dallas, Cool. I look forward to posting it. I wasn’t
            trying to call you names, just to describe a paradigm on genetics
            that seems to be very common, but tends to reduce the human being
            being to a pile of genes, and tends to increase the authority of
            genes to the point of determinism, when neither are true. My
            favorite is when I get hate mail from vegans accusing me of being a
            stooge for the pharmaceutical industry, trying to get everyone’s
            cholesterol high so they all have to go on statins. I’m sure you
            have some amusing ones. :) Take care, Chris

        • says

          Hi Chris, Great comment, and you’re absolutely right
          there’s a lot more to the puzzle creating phenotypic variation than
          purely the sequence of our genes. I don’t think the argument is
          that our genes are unchangeable in their expression and that
          affecting them is impossible. While epigenetic changes can last
          generations, those changes CAN be reverted via diet and lifestyle
          intervention (which I’m sure you know well). I think the goal is to
          live and eat in a way that best provides our body, it’s genetics
          and all it’s supporting actors/actresses the stimuli it needs to
          express health. So while there are differences to be acknowledged
          in an individuals dietary needs…. no individual NEEDS to consume
          cyanide, and as far as most would be concerned gluten could fall in
          the same category (poison). On my way to check out your post/blog.

          • says

            Hey Adam,

            Thanks! I certainly did not mean to suggest any “epigenetic determinism” in my attempt to point out that genes should not be seen as deterministic. My point was not that genetics are not important to health. Indeed, they are. My two overarching points were 1) we cannot estimate that importance based on a quantitative comparison of genes (e.g. we share mostly the same DNA) and 2) our requirements and tolerances are subject to change over time, not only genetic and epigenetic change, but also change mediated by symbiotic populations of microorganisms that play an enormous role in our health.

            I agree that no one needs to consume gluten. I think it is a stretch to call it poison at this point, but probably something that is best either avoided or kept below a certain threshold and neutralized with fermentation when possible.

            If you wish to avoid cyanide, however, I bid you good luck. I think trying to comply with paleo restrictions AND avoid foods containing cyanide would drive one to either insanity or starvation. Nevertheless, I agree with your overarching point, that there are limits to variation.


    • says

      Melissa and Chris,

      Genetic variance is a fundamental principle of Neo-Darwinian evolution. As such, you’ve teamed up to make a complex argument for something we can already take as simple a priori knowledge within the context of conversations about dietary recommendations based on a Darwinian framework. It leaves me wondering whether you’ve simply “blinded [some] with science.”

      Most of scientific claims you’ve made are correct, which gives your arguments the added persuasive air of being commonsensical, but they remain a non-sequitur with respect to what we should do about it. To my mind, you’ve happily stepped under the umbrella of postmodern relativism and taken a position to not have a position – as Dallas originally argued against. He’s been more generous than my interpretation allows. The claim that this step was taken in service of scientific rigor doesn’t add up for whatever reason.

      Beyond that, invocations of epigenetics, exposomics, nutrigenomics, microbiomics, and toxigenomics strike me as quasi-religious arguments in that they fundamentally seek to move conversations beyond the observable and/or measurable world. I grant them a “quasi” upgrade because they have real theoretical scientific validity. However, at this point in time, their predictive value with respect to dietary recommendations for any individual X approaches zero even in a laboratory; and crosses over to negative value with respect to health professionals and application in what some call the real world. Epigenetic findings seem as likely to damn grains, dairy, et cetera as vindicate them. Given that epigenetics (etc.) are also subject to Darwinian pressures by means of genes’ ability to be selected for resistance to such factors, I’d posit that it’s more likely that paleo (read: evolutionary) predictions are more likely to be vindicated. It’s no coincidence that these “spooky science” arguments are being raised more frequently to claim we’ve broken the shackles of our genes.

      Efforts to open the door to gluten consumption based on questions about (take your time with these 23 others) seem strange through the lens of scientific rigor.

      Given the fact that a significant number of people don’t do well with gluten, and the evolution-based predictions of it’s deleterious effects, the reasonable null hypothesis is the hypothesis Dallas offers. Deviating from that exposes individuals to the selection pressures of the experiment known as evolution. While self-experimentation is currently en vogue, it’s not necessarily wise to throw oneself into the grist mill of natural selection. The overwhelming biases of the human mind are bad enough for trained scientists; tossing laymen into the role of scientist and guinea pig is a perfect recipe for confounding variables, flawed correlative extrapolations, and self-justification.

      In that light, I don’t find the goal of not offending PhDs with internet access compelling when set against the health of the vast majority of humanity.

      • says

        I DO think it’s interesting (not scientific, but interesting) that Dallas an myself make 100% of our living based on how effective our nutritional recommendations are. And, we both seem to find problems with dairy and grain consumption in our clients.

        Great piece Andrew.

    • Deanne says

      I really tire of this young gal with few credentials who at every opportunity likes to promote her website. She wants to be known as the anti this or that to get attention and thinks folks really care what she thinks. She tries very hard to stand out in some way and to get noticed and she uses lame arguments to keep the conversation going. She is arbitrary and capricious on Paleo Hacks. She closes posts if they do not follow her ideas on what is ok and not ok. It is ok for her to have an opinion but not others? Hypocrite big time. She lost all credibility with me. She is what all of 24 with no credentials but the fact she likes to talk about herself in nauseam is some how cool? I wished she would get a life and move on and spare us from promoting about her narcissistic blog. She wants to be the online pundit for Paleo and has about as much credibility as Fox commentaries. She does not seek the truth, she wants to promote herself once again. I think replying to her posts is just a total waste of time since her aim here is just to find some minor issue and try to make something of it/exploit it and refer folks to her blog. I think folks here have bent over backwards to try to find common ground and her. Her goal is not to find common ground at all. It has nothing to do with Paleo it has to do with her need to try to control the conversation and draw attention to herself not the issue. Melissa go back to school get some real credentials and then get a life and then come back and maybe we will see if you have learned much. Until then I find you a total waste of time and a total irritant and counter productive. Nothing we say will satiate her hunger for attention.

          • Jack Kronk says

            yes. he is right, deanne. and your comment is inappropriate. robb should not have approved that crap. how can you sit and type up all that smear that you wrote about her and feel ok with yourself? i cannot respect that.

  2. Jules says

    I love the fact that at the bottom of this post there’s a picture of Mark Sisson’s PB book, a Fred Flinstone-like character hitting a computer, and Jared of Subway eating a turkey sub. HAHAHAHA.

    Awesome stuff, Dallas. I just wonder when the “whole grains are good for you and you are less healthy if you don’t eat them” sentiment from the health and medical world will dissipate? One can only hope…

  3. Brad says

    Can you comment on the topic of nutritional tolerance? My girlfriend and I have been making paleo influenced food choices for some time and we are noticing that she is more tolerant of dairy than I am. My feeling is that as we experiment with optimal nutrition we become more individually self aware and intelligent in the food choices we make. Doesn’t that awareness provide me with a greater understanding of what works and doesn’t work for me?

    • says

      It certainly does, yes. That’s actually a big part of our Whole30 program, built on the foundation of Robb’s elimination recommendations. Once you’ve completely eliminated some potentially problematic foods from your diet for long enough (30+ days) to let most of the short-term effects quiet down, reintroducing them may have startling consequences. THEN you learn stuff about how different foods affect you. But burying your head in the sand like some folks do (not saying that you do) is no way to be honest with yourself about how your food is affecting you. It’s the glorious synergy of science + (personal) experience. You just can’t ignore either one.

  4. says

    I understand the proposed mechanisms by which dairy products cause harm, but the weight of the human evidence (which is what I’m most concerned with) suggests that full-fat dairy promotes health in several different ways. People like the Masai and traditional Swiss (whom Price studied) obtained a significant percentage of their calories from raw dairy, and enjoyed excellent health – including low or nonexistent rates of modern degenerative disease. Study after study shows that full-fat dairy promotes fertility and benefits people with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

    I think dairy tolerance is a very individual issue. Some people thrive on it (I am one of them), while others do not. I treat patients ever day and I see a wide variation in how people respond. There is also a vast difference between pasteurized and raw. I, for example, can’t tolerate pasteurized dairy very well but can eat/drink raw dairy all day long with nothing but positive effects. I have done extensive experimentation myself and with patients (i.e. removing dairy for long periods, and adding it back in) so I have quite a bit of experience with this.

    And while I think humans are probably better off without grains, it’s also true that there are examples of healthy cultures that ate them. It’s all to convenient to write them off with some imaginary explanation that suits our framework, but like Melissa, I prefer a more rigorous approach. The “inconvenient truth” in the Paleo world in my opinion is that the guidelines aren’t quite as black & white as some people suggest.

    • says

      Something that is consistently overlooked when considering dairy is the A1/A2 beta casein issue. I I’ll be damned if I can keep them straight, but the traditional cultures referenced tend to be from the less inflammatory variety in addition to being grass fed, raw etc.

      So, when I’m trying to get people to clean up their act I find conventional dairy almost uniformly a problem, likely stemming from the issues mentioned above. I also find that explaining the nuances of those differences is best left for a day when folks really have all the other pieces of the puzzle working well.

      • says


        I agree that the A1/A2 issue is probably relevant. Also, the Masai milk is significantly higher in fat than North American cow milk and that may play a role.

        When I work with people I put them on a 30-day strict Paleo diet, and then have them add dairy back in (if they want) in a sequential fashion: ghee, butter, cream, fermented dairy (kefir & homemade yogurt), hard cheese and finally soft cheese & milk.

        This way we get a chance to see how they feel without it completely, and then determine what effect it has when added back in, and when in the context of an overall Paleo approach.

        • says

          Out of curiosity, how many symptoms do you allow to reappear before you “draw the line” with dairy for each person? Do you stop at cream if it makes them bloated, or at hard cheese if causes sinus congestion? What if yogurt makes them gain weight (back)? It’s just so hard to get sliding down that slippery slope and put in a definite “anchor” when you need to stop. At least in my experience.

          • says

            I stop them if they have any symptoms at all with dairy. If
            it’s causing symptoms, it’s not working for them. We might try to
            reintroduce after several months of a gut healing protocol, but
            basically if they’re reacting at all I take them off.

          • says


            It’s a minimal issue, in my opinion. Of course, if you are lactose intolerant and consume dairy anyway, you won’t FEEL like it’s “minimal”, but in the big picture, it’s a small issue. Our biggest concerns (both from a science and experience perspective) are with dairy proteins. There’s a variance in how well people tolerate those dairy proteins, though, so an individual “trial” is recommended – AFTER you’ve removed other ugly stuff like processed sugars, gluten grains, and legumes.

      • says


        I totally concur. The raw vs pasteurized, whole vs part-skim, A1 vs A2, and conventional vs pastured issues are, in my opinion, totally moot until you’ve got the other (more major) stuff corrected. Proponents of whole, raw, pastured, A2 dairy are pretty passionate about their cause (and I can’t fault them for that), but it seems to me that since that very specific product is minimally available to most of our readers, it only serves to muddy the waters when arguing so passionately for the inclusion of dairy in one’s diet. In New Zealand, there’s a company called the A2 Corporation that is trying to label milk A2 to sell more based on the health claims (or anti-health claims against A1). Ahh, the sweet smell of money. It never fails to disappoint.

          • says

            Cheese is generally concentrated casein, and we don’t like it for most people. But… I’m sure you can find folks who would argue otherwise. Best bet: try going without for at least 30 days, then drop it back in – and pay attention.

        • Derrick says

          I’m no scientist, i have just been reading all that i can
          get my hands on concerning evolutionary nutrition for the last nine
          months or so and doing that time shedding 50+lbs, and losing 8%
          bodyfat for the last 6 months. So my comments are all anecdotal.
          I’ve been doing lacto-paleo since last July- heavy cream, half %
          half, butter and cheese- and have had pretty stunning success. Only
          recently- like 2 weeks ago- did i start making sure the cream and
          butter are pastured. I followed Kurt Harris’ recommendations on his
          getting started program and it’s been a boon for my health and
          performance and he’s all about the aforementioned dairy products.
          In fact, his comments concerning dairy and the pros and cons
          convinced me to use it for fat intake

          What is your take on his logic on this subject?

          • says


            Dr Harris is a smart, smart dude, and I really like his critical comparisons of “Paleo” vs “healthy”. We, too, think high-quality dairy fat is great stuff, but consider conventional milk/cream/butter and most of the milk protein-containing stuff (cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc.) less good. Personally, we avoid it altogether. We do use copious amounts of organic, pastured, clarified butter, and have have nothing but positive experiences. So… I guess my take on Dr Harris’ perspective is that he and I agree on the goodness of dairy fat, but he is less convinced on the downsides of small amounts of dairy proteins, which we tend to avoid. I’m pretty cautious on the inclusion of food that has some evidence against it (even if it’s not completely damning evidence). I feel differently than Chris Kresser (below) who says the burden of proof is to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that dairy is harmful. I prefer a more conservative stance, because after all, it’s that same “burden of proof” argument that let so many people think that smoking was totally fine for you for so many decades, even though there was early evidence that it wasn’t awesome. (Funny how we fight for our vices, eh?) If I see evidence suggesting that smoking might harm me, I’d rather quit smoking now than insist that the evidence against smoking is incomplete and inconclusive. An extreme example, perhaps, but I prefer skipping out on stuff that has serious potential to be harmful, and adding it back in later if it’s proven totally safe. GMO food is another example – no one has ANY idea how it might affect our health or the planet in general, so I’ll steer clear… I’m not going to wait until the “burden of proof” has definitively shown that GMO food is harmful. Sorry for the tangent. Thanks for your comment, and I’m glad you’re making such awesome progress.

        • Derrick says

          thanks for the thoughtful reply, dallas. i love this
          dialogue that you’ve sparked with this post. for me, dairy isn’t a
          particular vice, it’s just much more convenient a way for me me to
          get saturated fat into my diet and pretty inexpensive. at the
          beginning of the year, about 20 people who have inquired what i was
          doing to lean out decided to go primal with me and knowing that
          most of these people are like me so 1) they’re on a pretty tight
          budget being that we live in a very expensive city, 2) they have
          pretty tight schedules and cooking all the time is going to make it
          even tighter and 3) we don’t have too many convenient or reasonably
          priced choices for grass-fed and organic everything. so i gave them
          the paleo basics but didn’t stress grassfed/organic everything and
          i told them if they didn’t have problems with dairy that they knew
          of to use it to get a good amount of saturated fat into their diet.
          as someone mentioned further down, for many of us, it’s trying to
          balance the optimal with the pragmatic. i think that’s what dairy
          inclusion does for many people. Thanks again for the post and reply

      • says


        We can get (at a premium) oure A2 milk here in New Zealand and it seems to be well-tolerated. Our main milk source comes from a national dairy herd that is a mix of A1/A2 – as no typing is done of the main herds, nobody really knows the proportions. I’m guessing that this could lead to fluctuations within the dairy products we find on our shelves, making it an even more difficult task of nailing down whether there is an intolerance there. For me, I am A-OK with goats cheese, but cannot do dairy products from a cow without having my sinuses feel like they are getting filled with concrete. I’m fortunate I guess that I have a clear indicator to go on.

        As per Robb, I think the dairy thing can become a bit of a side show distraction for people. I have worked with individuals who battle & angst over whether or not to have a small amount of milk in their coffee when I know that they still aren’t totally grain free, haven’t pulled their fat intake, still aren’t getting to bed early enough, aren’t thinking about strategies in whcih to build stress resiliency, and are inconsistent with their exercise & activity.

    • says


      I completely agree that there is significant variability between populations, though I find it interesting that the populations that truly thrive on dairy are small, isolated examples. I think it’s worth mentioning, too, that there are a TON of confounding factors with observational studies of specific populations (like those of the Inuit, Masai, Kitavans, etc.), and I think it’s unwise to overlook the confounding factors in favor of justifying ongoing behavior with a single variable. I think you and I would agree that dairy is one of the grayer areas, but I think it’s a dark grey… 😉 Best,


      • says

        I agree that it’s grey area. I just think it’s possible (and probably better) to determine where people fall in that spectrum through experimentation – as I described in my reply to Robb.

        I’m aware of the influence of confounding factors, but there are high quality observational and prospective studies that have controlled well for these and still show benefits for full-fat dairy. In any event, the burden of proof is on those who claim that dairy is harmful. I haven’t seen any such studies in humans that convince me it is.

    • Dana says

      If you go to the Price-Pottenger Nutritional Foundation’s website and read about Dr. Price, and go to this page:

      …you will find a chart indicating the average number of dental caries occurring per group that Weston Price studied.

      Note who had the greatest number of caries amongst the traditional groups.

      You are, of course, free to write this off with some imaginary explanation that suits your framework…

      Price’s seminal work, incidentally, is available on the ‘Net for free. You can go check the numbers yourself.

  5. says

    Melissa (of Hunt Gather Love) makes an awesome point. I’ve learned much from reading Robb’s and her stuff, especially about the contention that there are plenty of poorly done “pro-primal” studies to rival (though probably not equal) the garbage “pro-SAD” research.

    Familiarizing myself with WAP’s research, views, and history has been enlightening. While I still follow a Paleo approach and always will, I think the first stop for any Paleo devotee looking for more should go directly to Weston A. Price’s work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. It’s revelatory. And it sheds light on the differences between peoples and cultures who evolved in different parts of the planet and the way they achieved & maintained health for centuries until corrupted by “western” foods. I don’t understand Sally Fallon’s dislike of Cordain. I think they are the Power Rangers of the Real Food Revolution.

    Dallas and Melissa’s guidelines are a perfect place to start, and a great place to stay. But there’s definitely more to know! I hope their work inspires people to push forward in their own journeys and learn more about their own “real food” heritage.

  6. says

    Beauty of a post, Dallas. It’s easy to be a critic but still baffles me how some people will fight tooth and nail to keep doing what they’re doing (usually while also still complaining about their problems).

  7. Michael says


    Great article! Although, I do have to take exception to, “whatever you choose to eat only affects you.” I think those that choose to make poor choices or live an unhealthy, uninformed lifestyle affect all of us in terms of rising healthcare costs, insurance costs and even safety of our population.
    I recently heard the percentage depressed college students is at an all time high. I have just read that serotonin is produced in the stomach. If your gut is all jacked up due to poor diet, your brain loses out on serotonin.
    It all kind of makes sense; America has turned into a majority of depressed obese people. This affects all of us.
    Thank you for all the wonderful work that you do.
    I am working on getting to one of your upcoming seminars.


    • Heather says

      I am a pregnant parent of many offspring. I am the daughter of a cheese + toast addicted mother and a father with hardened arteries. What I eat, how I cook it, and my attitude about the relationship between eating, nutrition, and joy has a profound impact on everyone who ever talks to me for a second.

      We ought not sell ourselves short.

      What we “choose” DOES impact more than just us. That’s why vegetarians who don’t eat meat because “I love animals” are not really having any impact on the industrial animal productions that they are against. They have silenced themselves.

  8. Jason Clark says

    This is great Dallas thanks for your work here…
    When I have tried to explain Paleo for the reason I won’t eat bread and drink Blue Moon (wheat Beer) to a friend of mine, I can hear Robb’s voice ringing in my head saying “Everyone wants to be a delicate snowflake..”
    Because his response is always that won’t work for me…
    albeit he wants to be a 250lb delicate snowflake but to each his own i guess..i’ll continually outperform and look better thanks to people like you..

  9. says

    Great points, but I had some differing thoughts when I read “…whatever you choose to eat only affects you.”

    Sure, that makes perfect sense, but one of my motivating factors for the way I eat is how it affects my family.

    I’m blessed with 4 kids, and I know they appreciate the fact that I can mountain bike, ski, play handball, and do just about anything physicaly they want to do!

    Furthermore, I like thinking I’m greatly increasing my chances of being an active grandfather, and as my oldest is now 22 that day is getting closer and closer. My fingers are crossed that it hasn’t happened already. 😉

    The way I have been eating and the impact it has had on me has spread outwards. My parents began paleo in March of last year, and have lost a combined weight of more than 100 pounds! And they’re just one example.

    So while each bite you take is affecting only you, the overall approach you’re taking to eating, exercise, and life impact those around you greatly.

    Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all parents and grandparents felt comfortable and capable doing the same sports and activities their kids and grandkids enjoyed? That would be a quite different world!

    • says


      Great to hear from you. It was an oversimplification on my part to neglect the psychological influence of your behavior. I was just addressing the vehement naysayers that would rather eat my flesh than give up their Paleo desserts or raw milk. THEIR dietary habits can’t harm you or me, that’s all. We’re thrilled with how you and Becky have led your entire family into a “new era” of health, longevity, and performance. Keep it up!

  10. says

    Nice post Dallas! I especially like “simply surviving is not the same as optimizing health”

    Maybe it is covered in “Processed foods are no good”; however I would appreciate your thoughts regarding vegetable oils.



  11. J says

    All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
    Arthur Schopenhauer

  12. Victoria says

    Ok- I’m going to stand up for the drinkers in the room…

    I find your declaration that alcohol ‘has physiological consequences that aren’t awesome. Less is generally better’, misinformed. I think that most people who do drink would immediately say that alcohol has some pretty great physiological consequences (getting drunk is fun, or people wouldn’t do it). However, happy feelings aside, alcohol can affect a number of physiological conditions in ways that ARE awesome. In fact, if the decades of research on alcohol consumption has shown us anything, it is that ‘moderation is generally better’. The ‘J-shaped curve,’ with alcohol consumption on the X-axis and mortality (or cardiovascular health) on the y-axis has been shown over and over again. Obviously overconsumption is a problem, but limited amounts are, indeed, healthful. The mechanisms by which this occurs is complicated and only just starting to be elucidated. Interestingly, recent research suggests that acute alcohol may activate autophagy, much like fasting (something many paleo people promote). To suggest that alcohol is bad, and that less is more, is to unfairly simplify the situation. To me, it’s another gut-wrench reaction much like the ‘saturated fats are bad for you’ CW that most of us abhor.

    Here is a fantastic compendium of alcohol references:

      • Victoria says

        I do sound a bit like a defensive alcoholic, don’t I? In
        truth I’m just a skeptical graduate student that studies alcoholic
        liver disease… I’m a fairly equal opportunity drinker, though my
        preferences trend towards tequila if I’m drinking liquor or wine.
        I’ve significantly cut back on my beer consumption since exploring
        paleo. Everyone likes to jump on wine (especially red wine) as ‘the
        healthy alcohol,’ however, it does appear that any form of alcohol
        can provide benefits in moderation. As someone that studies the
        science of it, I can honestly say ‘the more I know, the more I
        realize I don’t know’, and as with many things in science, nobody
        knows. What the vast accumulated knowledge suggests, however, is
        that at the population level, some consumption of alcohol offers
        health benefits. Plus- it’s fun!

        • says


          That’s a totally fair comment. Booze IS fun – but so is heroin (I hear), but that’s not even close to a good enough reason for me to use it. On the red wine bit, I don’t buy the resveratrol argument – it functions as an estrogen agonist in some tissues, so could have an estrogenic effect (like soy’s phytoestrogens) and thus explain the purported “heart healthy” observational study results. In contrast, I’m well aware of the ergogenic/anabolic effects of testosterone, but T can increase thromboxane (clotting agent) activity (i.e. testosterone can be heart UN-healthy), but that’s not a good enough reason for me to try to decrease my T levels. You have to keep everything in context. For me, knowing the downsides of both soy and an alcohol/sugar blend (wine), I’ll (mostly) steer clear… though sometimes, a glass of good syrah is totally worth it. I just don’t tell myself it’s healthy.

  13. says

    Nutrition is arguably the most publicly debated discipline
    in modern science. There is also a lot of money flowing through the
    health and fitness industry. This leads to rigid positions that
    almost always extend just a little (or a lot) beyond the best
    available evidence. The incentives line up to push people to either
    a) overcommit or b) stand back and become a relativist- “See, all
    these people squabbling over your health- the answer is in you”.
    Walking the middle path is hard, but is required. That is,
    committing to the best available information, hold it humbly, and
    be willing to publicly adjust your position when the evidence
    requires it. Otherwise you’re not helping anyone. The humble part
    is vital, I think, because ultimately we do want to empower
    everyone to engage with their health. We have an epidemic of people
    who want to give their power away in this area, so it is a bit
    dangerous to step into that role of “expert” without demanding that
    our clients themselves think critically.

  14. says

    At the risk of being somewhat pedantic, you write the
    parenthetical comment “By the way, simply surviving is not the same
    as optimizing health.” By that logic, the line can certainly get a
    lot fuzzier. Avoid tomatoes and other nightshades to minimize
    alkaloids? Or spinach for the oxalates? Or nuts for their high
    omega 6 content? Or broccoli and cauliflower for the goitrogens? If
    we eliminate all foods that may negatively affect our health, we
    could be down to a pretty short list! To me, the issue with dairy
    seems to be not so different from these foods. Can dairy be
    problematic for some people? Clearly. Are there benefits from
    non-industrial dairy that may make them worth including in one’s
    diet? For now, I’m leaning towards yes. That said, there’s also
    what I’d call pragmatism rather than relativism. The diet that
    works is the one your clients will do every day for the rest of
    their life. You could be right that they are optimizing their
    health avoiding dairy. But I doubt you want their experience to be
    the paleo equivalent of The Biggest Loser — they go all hard-core
    while working with you, but who knows what happens longer term? Me,
    I think that paleo is heading down the path of vegetarianism, with
    Cordain/Wolf-style paleo essentially as our “vegan” diet. But I’m
    not sure that everyone needs to be (or wants to be) that hard-core
    in their approach … especially since it’s likely that *any* diet
    that avoids wheat, added sugar/fructose, and veggie oils will be a
    magnitude level healthier than the SAD.

    • says


      I’m not sure I’d agree that Robb’s version of Paleo is the equivalent of veganism. I’m assuming you’re saying it’s extremist, and I don’t think it is. I think Robb (and I) seek the best case scenario for people, and then try to help them implement that into their own lives in a sane, sustainable way. Sure, some people consider it restrictive or narrow, but I think we’d be doing folks a disservice if we significantly softened things simply to make it more palatable for people unwilling to make sweeping changes. If an individual chooses to only to implement some of the recommendations, that’s their choice, but as educators, it’s our job to share what we’ve learned through education and experience, and let YOU decide how big your steps toward sustainable healthy habits are going to be.

      P.S. There is definite value in providing a highly-accessible, user-friendly framework for making the most important shifts in one’s life. As an example, Mark Sisson does an extraordinary job of reaching a huge number of people with a solid message. We do something a bit different than he does (which is okay with both of us), but we still consider our program accessible, sustainable and sane.

      • David says

        “lectins destroy the cells that line your intestines,
        leading to small “microperforations” or tiny holes in your
        intestinal lining.) These holes allow intact or nearly intact
        proteins, bacteria and other foreign substances to cross into the
        bloodstream.”- The Grain Manifesto Dallas would you please include
        a hyperlink to published research showing this effect being
        deleterious in normal healthy adults? Thanks.

      • says

        Sorry, my bad. I didn’t mean Robb’s paleo is extreme, only that of the current paleo/primal/ancestral approaches (or the ones I’m familiar with), it is the most strict. And just as vegetarians typically describe themselves by what the eat that’s different from a vegan), I could imagine something similar in the paleo space.

        • says

          Actually, you know what, the more I think about it, the more I think paleo folks need to accept/embrace that a strict paleo diet *is* extreme in much the same way that a vegan diet is.

          I suppose that extremism is in the eye of the beholder (just like beauty), and if you’re starting from a real food/whole food diet, then you have one view. But viewed from the lens of a standard American diet (and/or the USDA pyramid view), a paleo diet eliminates grains, legumes, AND dairy. How is that not extreme?

          Why not own that?

  15. says

    I just wanted to comment specifically on the topic of genes we humans do or do not share.

    If you haven’t read Environmental epigenomics and disease susceptibility, the 2007 Nat Rev. Genet article, and you’re committed to understanding how/why nutrition is important, then you owe to yourself to do so.

    Contact me if you have trouble accessing the paper.

  16. says

    Excellent Post. As a researcher and author of several books
    on nature-based illness prevention, I am a strong proponent of an
    eating plan that is in alignment with our evolutionary heritage.
    One of my books, “The Original Diet” describes what is arguably the
    most stringent of paleo diets, backed by hundreds of references. My
    book “Nature’s Detox Plan” extends the paleo concept to removal of
    toxins, as gleaned from research in the field of zoopharmacognosy
    (animal self healing). Roy Mankovitz, Director A research organization

  17. says

    I agree with most of what you have said, Chris. And Most of
    what Melissa is saying as well. A few comments: Casein can cause an
    allergy. You know it when you have it – it is usually a rash –
    eczema. Children that have it often outgrow it with time. The idea
    that casein in the human diet causes cancer is nonsense no more
    credible than Campbell’s assertions about animal protein. This is
    my opinion based on everything I have read. To equate the risk of
    milk to wheat is ludicrous, in my opinion. So I go with off-white,
    not grey. Some of the same folks afraid of casein think whey powder
    is fine. How many of them know that there is almost as much allergy
    to whey as there is to casein? If you think you have a milk protein
    allergy, you’d better be careful of beef – beef has bovine serum
    albumin (BSA) and milk allergy is predictive of allergy to BSA. So
    ground round is a “grey area” too, then. Better advise we not eat
    it, just to be safe. Then there is seafood allergy which can be
    fatal via anaphylactic shock. Better stick to fish oil pills and
    add that to the forbidden list as well. No scampi or lobster
    allowed. As far a A1/A2 is concerned, one paper I read showed no
    beta-casomorphin in aged cheese made from A1 milk. The aging
    process reduced the proteins to shorter peptides that are harmless.
    As far as the essay, I grade it A for writing style but C for
    rhetorical quality. I do not think being rigorously critical of
    paleo dogmas (including mine) constitutes some kind of postmodern
    relativism a la Derrida, where all values are tossed to the wind.
    Maybe just a little Foucalt in a good way ; ) The reason I bother
    to comment is that the NO DAIRY proscription makes compliance with
    the important parts (eliminating liquid sugar and bread) much,
    much, much harder. As Richard Rorty might say, though, it’s good to
    keep the conversation going.

    • says

      Dr Harris,

      I’ll accept your “C for rhetorical quality” – shoot, I’m just stoked you took the time to write. My comments were not intended to be Gospel (that’s why it’s a joke), but I concede that the general statements have some exceptions… which is why they’re general statements. There are folks that do “just fine” on full-fat, raw dairy, and some that can’t even tolerate heavy cream (poor lads). And while it’s not fun to give up dairy (proteins), we’ve not generally seen that as a deal-breaker for folks in our community. (For clarity, we use and recommend pastured butter as a good fat source.) I’m not trying to promote nutritional paranoia by any means, just to give a framework for our particular recommendations.

      Thanks for chiming in – conversations like this bode well for nutritional recommendations for our grandchildren. My take-away from all this: Kurt Harris gives me a B average : )


      • Trish says

        Dallas – I can add grass-fed butter and full fat whipping
        cream back in to my diet? Or is that after the Whole30? I suppose I
        can wait a few more days. Trish

        • says


          Since a huge part of the Whole30 is self-awareness, you need 100% exclusion of the “usual suspects” (i.e. common poorly-tolerated foods) to allow a more honest/accurate assessment of how each of these foods affect you (with reintroduction). So the short answer is, yes, after your Whole30, assuming they don’t cause you any trouble. Personally, I do totally fine with most dairy, but don’t “need” it, so I just skip all of it except for clarified pastured butter, which I use a LOT of. Melissa, on the other, doesn’t tolerate even small amounts of dairy, so she uses the clarified butter but won’t even “cheat” with other dairy since it “cripples” her (her wording). Ultimately, reintroduce only the potentially problematic foods if you really want to. If you don’t miss grains, don’t even bother adding them back in – you’re not missing out on any critical nutrients that you can’t get elsewhere (i.e. veggies and fruit). Review our Whole9 Guide to Eating Dirty posts for hints on how to “cheat smart” after your Whole30. Good luck!

      • says

        Hey Dallas

        C may have been a little harsh, I suppose; ) Thanks for being a good sport. I do see things that qualify as unmoored relativism sometime (everyone is different, blood type diets, etc.) and they make me tear my hair out, too. I just want to make sure we can criticize all of our dogmas (Crickian or greek usage, not religious) without being accused of being reactionary or relativistic. Even the wheat proscription should be questioned and we should stand ready to defend any proscriptive rules we put forth.

        The Dairy thing is just exasperating because I see it offered even in otherwise well-referenced books, with little or very superficial scientific justification. I honestly think it is just paleo-re-enactment reasoning that makes the DAIRY meme so persistent. Dr. Cordain’s arguement seems to be accepted without much looking at the evidence independently. Or perhapst, maybe some are looking at all the evidence and just not discussing some of the important facts I just mentioned. These facts are easily discoverable with a few minutes on pubmed.

        • says

          Dr Harris,

          Thanks for your comment, and willingness to keep the dialogue pleasant and open. I’m quite willing to examine my own dogmas/opinions, and (much to my chagrin) have changed my opinion (based on my then-current knowledge) multiple times. I’m sure, at points, you’ve done the same. I did want to clarify, though, that I was not writing about folks like you that critically examine the literature and formulate evolving hypotheses to explain the stuff in our world. You take a clear, educated stance on things, even when that stance is “we don’t totally know yet”. For me, the combination of science background/education, ongoing research, the opinions of intelligent folks, and (most important to me) positive experience with clients is enough to sway me in a general direction that, as I mentioned, is perpetually up for review.

          I’m not commenting on or defending Dr Cordain, and certainly have no interest in Paleo re-enactment. I’ve simply experienced that the majority of our clients that have eliminated or reduced their dairy intake have seen improvements in various (subjective) indicators of general health. Admittedly, that makes me a pretty poor scientist. But ultimately, we’re consultants, not scientists. I’ll gladly continue to learn from academics, and revise my position as my experiences change me, as they do all of us.

          • says

            I should do a proper blog post, but here’s a short comment on the subjectivity of diet.

            I am actually deeply skeptical of the n=1 “see how you feel on it” mode in the paleo movement…

            It is grossly unscientific and you will not see me mention it on my blog.

            Many practicing physicians will instantly understand my skepticism, as will students of human consciousness and anyone who understands the radical subjectivity of human experience.

            I had a patient once who claimed she was allergic to every food except skinless chicken breast and oatmeal. She ate nothing else for years. I have had patients with back pain claim that their backs were ruined by lifting a UPS package 5 years previously. I had a male patient present with a golfball-sized tumor his testicle, and when I told he and his young wife that it was a tumor, they both swore it had only appeared a few days ago. She was actually incensed at me, insisting that she was frequently and intimately familiar with her husbands anatomy, as there is NO WAY she would not have noticed such a thing…

            One of the things I am concerned about is creating an army of people with real but essentially psychosomatic (created by the brain) reactions to possibly harmless foods, at the same time you are reassurring them that if they “feel fine” eating something, then that means it is harmless.

            I felt absolutely fine drinking up 4 coke classics a day in my youth, no lie. I was in good shape and not obese.

            Conversely, a true coeliac can have no symptoms whatsoever until they have hashomoto’s or neuropathy or cancer.

            So might the fact that your clients feel so much better without “dairy” or even wheat be related to the rhetoric used to teach them?

            It might be best to emphasize objective measures of health like blood pressure, waist size, glucoregulation, etc. and base food avoidance on science, not grossly subjective symptoms.

            The n=1 concept is dangerous when used as the litmus test of what to eat.

          • says

            I hear you, but when I am “selling” people on this concept I recommend the “best” course of action (as far as I understand it) and I recommend that folks be aware of how they:
            Look, Feel and Perform. I also recommend a strong battery of biomarkers to ascertain what is happening “under the hood” and likely beyond the subjective landscape. Then i recommend that folks “tinker” and keep an eye on the above…and it works shockingly well. Not just from the results standpoint, but from the buy-in and adherence standpoint. The interesting with this also, is that the folks who were “asymptomatic” consuming things like grains DO feel better. If we never establish a baseline without many of these items we are generally just comparing bad with different bad.

            Now I am all ears on a better way of selling all this. Better buy-in, better results, better long term adherence, but I want it to have as good or better results and to be as simple or simpler than what I’ve described.

          • says

            Hey Robb

            Just to be clear, I am not saying one should not pay attention to how you feel with dietary changes. Far from it.
            The subjective n=1 idea is just one part of the assessment as you agree. I am really just taking issue with two things:

            1) Using the subjective experience as “proof” that a salutary change was made. This is especially difficult when you are changing a huge number of dietary variables at the same time and, in the case of what you trainers are doing, altering the physical culture the person experiences in big ways. It is part of a package in your gym, and arguing that if x felt better without “dairy” (especially something as benign as ghee – which is virtually pure fat and has no potentially immunogenic proteins or lactose) is highly unreliable. In the case of both wheat and “dairy”, we should make our arguments based on plausible science first, as the “feeling” may be absent or misleading and hard to separate from the other variables in either case.

            2) The contradiction between telling people to “suck it up” if they are suffering without their wheat or sugar or straches or milk, at that same time they are being told to use how they feel as a gauge to what to eat.

            I am not in any way criticizing the totality of your program, I am arguing that one can’t pull out a single variable and claim that one was right to alter it when one is altering so many at once.

            It is interesting that you invoke adherence as a goal. I would invoke the same goal in being more conservative about what is proscribed, as in my experience, adherence is better without more rules.

            Perhaps the difference is context. You and Dallas have clients and you are, literally, selling them a whole package of dietary and physical culture advice. Maybe in the “lifestyle package” environment the proscriptive approach – no wheat, sugar, linoleic acid AND no dairy, or legumes and low carb -works best.

            Maybe in my context – free advice limited to diet, not necessarily those ambitious for wholesale change, the fewer rules (just limit the 3 NAD) the better. That has been my experience for sure.

            It is a big tent and I have no doubt you and Dallas are helping a great deal.

  18. says

    i have something to add to this and hopefully it will remain somewhat constructive and less incendiary. though i really don’t want to be a power ranger.

    most importantly i find that you glazed over your point of the body/genes not buying relativism…to get to what you were more concerned about…accusing anyone who disagrees (or takes a non-stance, stance, as you say) of relativism and by extension, of being wrong. in doing this you must assert a universal “truth” (your word) so that you can then cast a relativism shadow on anyone who disagrees with your truth. the problem here is that the only thing we can ever do is describe what we “think we know” based on an interpretation of the data. you assert that this is a weakness and give quotes to back it up. i think taking an orthodox stance as you describe it is simply foolish. and i have quotes as well.

    “In order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.” – Eric Hoffer

    “…when you sail out in a boat to the middle of an ocean where no land is in sight, and view the four directions, the ocean looks circular, and does not look any other way. But the ocean is neither round or square; its features are infinite in variety… It only looks circular as far as you can see at that time. All things are like this.” – Dogen Zenji

    i think you spun relativism into enough ambiguity to use it to promote yourself in this post and defend yourself against critical thinking that you call incorrect non-stance, stances. this ambiguity to me seems like the exact doublespeak you are supposedly trying to dismantle.

    i have always thought Robb gives the evidence as he sees it and then offers a “try it and see how you look/feel/perform” as it applies to grey area stuff. is Robb’s stance a non-stance, stance? i mean no disrespect to RW, by the way.

    your entire concept or relativism in this sense implies that your concept of what is significant is correct and everyone else’s is false (ie relative to something insignficant or wrong). it really takes pretension to do this. and that tone comes across in your writing.

    excerpt from above:
    “Let us clarify, though – we are not trying to tell you what to do. We’re not judging you or your behavior, or your own recommendations. If you make your living doing personalized consultations, then I can understand why you say everyone needs a different nutritional plan. If you’re hooked on beta-casomorphins, we get why your cheese is untouchable. And if you simply disagree with our positions, feel free to choose to consume oatmeal or tempeh or raw milk or “Paleo brownies”.”

    TRANSLATION: we’re not telling you what to do or judging you. except we are…because we will now spend the next few sentences making passive-aggressive statements to cut you down.

    this is one part that really chaps me. to gaff a nutritionist for selling something when it seems to me this entire post is meant to help you do just that. i find that this supposed recalcitrance from you actually serves to try and pigeonhole or monopolize what “is” healthy or “is” paleo as it suits you to sell something “unique” and “hard-core” (sounds similar to that nutritionist). after all, this whole post was pretty much just a Whole9 advertisement. i can’t blame you for that…the market decides…if you can sell it then sell it. but do understand that some of us you’re advertising against do have a real stance. looks like you’ve already heard from a few.

    and, i, like Dr. Harris feel (though my comment will be taken several orders of magnitude less respectable) that taking these kinds of obstinate positions…which have been reduced to “generalizations” in the comments…likely to resonate with those who already have things in order and deter or hurt everyone else.

    we’ll probably have to agree to disagree on this one. we really don’t have to/need to agree on this…but you come across as very condescending to others who have different, mindful, reasonable approaches. you’ve lumped all into a camp of wafflers. and that’s simply not true. btw, i’m not posting my link to get views. i’m doing it to own up to what i’m saying.

    • says


      You continue to grossly over-generalize our positions, including those Dallas took in this particular opinion piece. He (and we) aren’t criticizing those who hold an opinion unlike our own – taking a different stance and taking a non-stance are two very different things. As far as I can see, you are the only one attempting to lump those two together. I’ve seen no “non-stances” from those who have posted before you; all have very clear views on the topics discussed, and while we disagree on a few minor points, the discussion has been nothing but healthy and we all continue to learn from those who contribute.

      You have simply extracted a few quotes that support your bias – in no small part, that our essay is designed not to spark dialogue or state our opinion, but to sell our “hard core” program. (We’re not sure what’s so “hard core” about passing on the sucrose, but so be it.) In the process, you’ve omitted a large portion of the rest – the parts that say this is just our opinion, that we’re not infallible, that we’re always learning.

      To write this essay off as an advertisement is offensive. To assume we were “advertising” against YOU is, to be nice, assumptive. You’ve taken public, angry stances against us personally on a number of occasions, and made incorrect (and slanderous) accusations about our business on at least one. Knowing the background, it’s clear why you’d post something like this in a venue this large.

      We appreciate the learning experience from those who have commented on this post – even those who have stated opposing positions. We don’t appreciate a reactionary, opportunistic diatribe simply because we say that Paleo Double Chocolate Chip Cookies aren’t health food. You are free to continue to wage this personal vendetta (thinly disguised as a “response” to our article) on your own site, but out of respect for Robb, we will not continue this discussion on his platform.


      • says

        for the record: i do have tremendous respect for Robb and i tried to make this clear.

        i don’t have a personal vendetta. i know that you guys help folks, and i have stated that publicly as well. i simply stand up for those out there who do have other opinions than yours…that have been written about so condescendingly by grossly over-generalizing, much akin to what i am accused of here.

        you take offense to what i write but expect me not to given the tone of this “opinion” piece in a “venue this large”; as Dallas poses passive-aggressive insults but then encourages healthy debate. these are just a few of the contradictions i have highlighted that you slough off as petty.

        i have already stated that my problem is not in the difference of opinion but in the disdainful rhetoric full of contradictions.

  19. Dave says

    To Robb, Dallas and Melissa(from Whole9)-
    Thank you to Robb and Dallas for leading this uncensored discussion on what I’m sure will become a world class blog. Also, I’m sure that Dr. Cordain would be proud that his students are leading progressive discussions about his original research.–Dallas thank you for the links earlier. What I think bothers some of us outside of the Paleolithic Nutrition movement is the absolute and unequivocal terms that you and others within your movement tend to speak in, maybe not in this post but most certainly in others about grains being “poisoness” or leading to “bacteria invading ones blood stream”, (putting aside the argument of weather an experimental model, as with the first link you posted or research on cell lines, in regards to the second, rises to the level of proving that whole grains are detrimental to normal healthy adults) when the researchers you point to are carefull to use qualifiers like “might, may” or “could”. If hyperbolic language like the examples I’ve given aren’t reconsidered it will continue to appear, to those outside your circles, that it is intentionally being used to stoke irrational fears in order to sell lecture tickets, books, gym memberships, etc. Thanks again for responding.

    • says


      Your comment is fair enough. While we feel pretty strongly about some of these food choices, hyperbole is not always the best way to express a point. I have used words like “poison”, such as when describing vegetable oils above, but that’s not generally my M.O. (And I’d stand by that word choice, in this case.) I will respectfully counter that the folks that promote whole grains use words like “heart healthy” and “cancer fighting” to describe their product, and that seems extremely overstated to me, too. So while “poison” might be hyperbole, the idea that grains confer a net positive effect is, in my experience, a vast distortion. On gut permeability: It is my position that any increase in intestinal permeability due to microscopic damage/inflammation is a bad thing. My gut (and yours) functions best intact, and while one cigarette a week probably won’t kill me, I think it’s more prudent to steer away from stuff shown to do tissue-specific damage, even if it’s not wide-spread, immediate cell death. Thanks for your responses.

  20. says

    I had a few beers last night. Got really itchy a couple hours later. No more of that for me.

    I have to wonder about legumes though. Tim Ferriss says they’re pretty safe if you soak them to remove the lectins. What’s your take on this?

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