Kurt G. Harris MD

PāNu means paleonutrition. The "paleo" here signifies "old" and not necessarily paleolithic. The PāNu approach to nutrition is grounded on clinical medicine and basic sciences disciplined by knowledge of evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology. The best evidence from multiple disciplines supports eating a pastoral (animal-based) diet rather than a grain-based agricultural one, while avoiding what I call the neolithic agents of disease - wheat, excess fructose and excess linoleic acid.

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John Hawks Weblog

I've had several email requests to give a list of what I've been reading lately. Let me start by recommending a blog written by John Hawks, who is an associate professor of anthropology at UW Madison. He focuses on paleoanthropology, genetics and evolution. This is probably the most widely read scholarly blog on these topics.

John's blog is very well written and not littered with pointless debate. This at least partly due to the fact that there are no blog comments at all. That is actually where I got the idea to limit blog comments here to non-anonymous "friends and family". Many blogs would be much better with no comments, as the blogger could spend more time thinking and reading and less in pointless argument. The experience is then more like when I sit down to read the Atlantic or Harper's and less like watching some staged cable TV slugfest.

I've given you the link to his 3 page lsit of diet-related posts, but you should specifically read his reaction to the famous NYT article on "cavemen" here.

Peter of Hyperlipid directed me to that post, and I agree with Hawks' take on the article, as my reaction was almost exactly the same as his. I had the same reaction to the "caveman" article in Der Spiegel where Art DeVaney man-hauls his Range Rover (!) in his suburban Utah driveway.

Cavemen, vibrams, bloodletting, raw foodism,, "paleo" exercise (people tossed rocks back and forth in the paleolithic, are you serious??) - all these topics are trivial sideshows compared to the issue of what is right or wrong with modern diets and why. Also, I am sure it reflects my bias as physician, but 20 years experience watching people die of cancer and metabolic diseases make it very hard for me to care much about the optimal post-workout meal for body-sculpting.

I think Hawks is attacking the eye-rollng idiocy of the article more than attacking paleo diets (Or our good friends and bloggers John and Melissa), but what it indicates for me is how easy it will be to make "paleo" or ancestral diets popular quickly by cooperating with co-option and bastardization by the main stream media, at the expense of its serious consideration as a critique of current dietary practice. What I like about Hawks is precisely that he has no dog in this hunt. That he is not trying to "prove" this or that dietary hypothesis is what makes him so valuable. We should listen carefully to what he has to say, even if he cares or or knows little about our specific dietary ideas - like the neolithic agents of disease meme.

FWIW, if the New York Times called to interview me, I would refuse to speak with them without some kind of final cut on what they print - alternatively, I would happily write a complete essay for any mainstream publication at no charge. This is the luxury I have and cherish, and I know not every one has the same luxury. I am selling absolutely nothing and thus risking nothing with this stance. If I can't have 100% creative control over my message, what is the point? For me, there would be none.

To my mind, killing the lipid hypothesis and exploring what might be the neolithic agents of disease take precedence over everything else. Exploration of paleoanthropology comes after modern medical knowledge, but will be a valuable adjunct. Any side trails into unsubstantiated, unscientific dietary or lifestyle nonsense (unless they are identified as such - as harmless entertainment) will likely diminish the penetration of our critique into the Kuhnian normal science that must be overcome if there is to be a new dietary paradigm.

As far as books on paleoanthropology, you can use Hawks' booklist as a reliable screen (Buy them through his amazon link or mine, your preference).

I am not going to list every book I have read and especially not the ones I have only partially completed, but will list those I have read enough of to endorse (endorse in the "worth reading" sense, not the "I agree with it all" sense.

The Human Career by Klein 750 pages with hundreds of references

The Dawn of Human Culture by Klein A condensed more narrative version of Human Career

Before the Dawn by Wade Readable account of human evolution with emphasis on genetics

The 10,000 year explosion Cochran and Harpending debunks the idea that evolution ended 10K ya

Evolution The first 4 Billion Years Ruse et al Good collection of essays

The Third Chimpanzee Jared Diamond By the author of Guns, Germs and Steel


That should make a good start.

Reader Comments (4)

Haha, I was just about to post about John Hawks' blog. I've linked to it several times, but the last couple of posts there have been very good.

I hated the NYTimes article...and I was in it. I really felt like the reporter fleeced us for his own benefit, but whatever, I guess it got people to think about things and both John and I have gotten emails from people who discovered healthy eating because of it. John and I were very naive at the time and didn't know how to deal with reporters. We've since wised up and have often refused to be part of stories or have insisted on being a larger part of their development. Though admittedly we've made mistakes even there.

Another anthropology person to recommend is Wenda Trevathan, both the Intro to Physical Anthropology Textbook she helped write and Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives.

"To my mind, killing the lipid hypothesis and exploring what might be the neolithic agents of disease take precedence over everything else. Exploration of paleoanthropology comes after modern medical knowledge, but will be a valuable adjunct. " This quote is sooo good and I believe it will be quoted extensively.

January 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterMelissa McEwen

Thanks, Melissa. I meant no disrespect to you or John Durant at all. It would be very hard to turn down being in a national newspaper and the exposure does have upside. I am just very leery of the press as I've had several experiences being interviewed in relation to papers I've written or in relation to my now-closed imaging center. In medicine, the message is always hopelessly mangled or distorted in service of the writer or editor's needs.

So I usually insist on being both the writer and the editor :)

I am really rather torn about the value of such articles. Perhaps it is unavoidable that there is a trade-off between getting a memorable message out that will help people now and sacrificing helping more people in the future by distorting the message that carries into the future? I suspect Dr. Atkins has saved more dietary souls than I ever will, whatever his motivations.

I'll check out Wenda Trevathan.

January 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

The mainstream press is a mangle - it is so very hard for rational and scientific knowledge to pass through it unwrung. But for the vast majority of people that is the only place they will hear about these ideas. Keep putting them out there in as much as you can!

January 9, 2011 | Registered Commenterscotlyn s

I would definitely second the recommendation for "Before the Dawn" by Nicolas Wade. Very readable and fascinating.

January 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterGreg E

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