#133: Loren Cordain, PhD – The Real Primal Diet: Old and New Concepts

by Mike Mutzel


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About Loren Cordain, PhD

Dr. Loren Cordain is the world’s foremost authority on the evolutionary basis of diet and disease. Featured on Dateline NBC, the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, Dr. Loren Cordain is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts on the natural human diet of our Stone Age ancestors. He is the author of more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific articles and abstracts, and his research into the health benefits of Stone Age Diets for contemporary people has appeared in the world’s top scientific journals including the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the British Journal of Nutrition, and the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, among others. He is also on the Advisory Board of Paleo Magazine the first, and only, print magazine dedicated to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle and ancestral health.

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Show Notes

1:30 Paleo Diet Origins: The movement arose from there. In 1985 Boyd Eaton published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine called Paleolithic Nutrition.  Dr. Cordain read the paper in 1987 and found it profound and intriguing. He followed the references and has since dedicated his life to the concept.  Back in 2006, when Mike first met Dr. Cordain, Paleo was a concept discussed by researchers and intellectuals.

04:42 Meat Consumption and Heart Disease: The China study showing a detriment to meat consumption is flawed. Epidemiologic studies do not show that eating meat is associated with increased mortality. The two key studies, in 1999 and 2009 showed that vegan and vegetarianism does not reduce the risk for overall mortality in any regard. The 1999 study had 29,000 participants and the 2009 study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, had almost 40,000 participants. We can go to PubMed and type in “key vegetarianism” to see the results of the studies.

07:26 Returning to a Real Primal Diet: We have 7 ½ billion people on the planet now. There is no return to the diet to which we are genetically programmed to eat. It is a diet based upon wild plant and animal foods, roughly half/half.  The earth cannot support this many people without domesticated grains and legumes. In the western world, the major mortality from environmental factors is diet.

09:45 The Adverse Effects of Some Foods on Our Health: The concept that food groups can have an adverse effect upon health because of compounds they contain is not well documented. Gluten represents an antinutrient in a common food that is a health problem. The notion that gluten is a problematic food, with celiac and gluten intolerance is becoming well known. Almost 5% of the American population has food sensitivities.  With Robert Crayon and others, Dr. Cordain pointed out how certain antinutrients in food interact with our physiology to cause problems.

12:39 Antinutrients are a Trojan Horse: The concept is that if these compounds cannot breach the gut barrier, they cannot do damage.   Scientific literature now shows that foods that we commonly eat can breach the gut barrier. Once it is breached, they contain other compounds that intervene in our physiology and immunology.

14:09 Detriments of Dairy Consumption: Dr. Cordain’s group at Colorado State University was the first research group to reignite the idea that dairy may be problematic. In 2002, Dr. Cordain’s group wrote a paper for The Archives of Dermatology showing that dairy was “associated” with acne. Their data has been replicated by others.  Dr. Cordain’s group has delved into the mechanisms. Dairy is a food that breaches the gut barrier and seems to promote acne through hormonal mechanisms, igf-1(Insulin-like growth factor 1). Consumption of dairy products is unequivocally associated with elevation of igf-1, which is not only associated with acne, but various types of cancer. Men who consume dairy are more likely to get prostate cancer. This was pointed out by Dr. Cordain’s group over a decade ago.

17:51 Dairy’s Impact upon Insulin and Some Cancers: Dairy has paradoxically a low glycemic index, meaning that it does not elevate blood sugar, but it does elevate insulin levels. Insulin is a universal mechanistic hormone. Any compound that we eat that elevates insulin, seems to have adverse effects. Dairy contains bioactive substances that potentially interact with our own hormonal physiology. Milk has caused human growth to accelerate. Populations that consumed dairy products grew taller, and that was thought to be a good thing. Now we are realizing that growing taller might be a risk factor for epithelial cell cancers. During human growth, exposure to higher levels of igf-1 elevates growth, but throughout the lifespan, exposure to igf-1 seems to accelerate the risk for a variety of cancers, like prostate, breast, colon and ovarian cancers.

21:48 Acid vs Base:  All food reports to the kidney as either acid or base. Base producing foods are primarily fruits and vegetables. Acid producing foods are dairy, salt, meat and cereal grains. An over consumption of acid producing foods over the course of a lifetime, promotes a variety of diseases including osteoporosis and kidney stones. Epidemiologic evidence in hunter gatherer societies shows that they have diets that are net base producing, which tends to reduce the incidence of these types of diseases. The evolutionary basis for human diet guides us in the proper direction. Dr. Cordain’s analysis of hunter gatherer diets shows about 55% consumption of animal foods and the balance as plant foods. This is much more plant (non-grain) consumption than in the western diet, which is generally 35 to 45%.

24:56 Our Ancestor’s Carbohydrate Intake: Dr. Cordain refrains from making recommendations on any single plant food, but for the most part, the carbohydrates that were traditionally used by our species were those that could be consumed without maximal processing. Our ancestors were resourceful. They used plant foods in a manner in which they could be consumed without processing, like green onions and the stems. It was more of a challenge in those days to get carbohydrates when they didn’t have potato chips, grains or bread. You cannot eat all of the lean animal protein that you want, because it is toxic. You need a fat source or a carbohydrate source. Our ancestors were clever in finding plant food sources that are not eaten now. In Dr. Cordain’s studies of the Plains Indians, he found that they had 138 different plant food sources for carbohydrates.

28:08 Nutritional Ketosis: We do not have to be in ketosis to reap the therapeutic effects of a lower carbohydrate diet. If we do not consume refined sugars or cereal grains, we have to work to get carbohydrates into our diets. The carbohydrates of our ancestors were low glycemic load carbohydrates. Today, healthful, more concentrated fat sources tend to promote health.  

30:11 Negative Effects of Folic Acid: Folic acid, high doses of antioxidants and basically all compounds and foods that we consume as humans can be problematic.If we have too little it causes health problems and if we get too much, it causes health problems. That can be the case for vitamin c and beta carotene. Folic acid is a compound that no human on the planet ate, ever, until 1948 when it was created in a laboratory. Scientists wanted to create a compound that could be converted into folate. Folic acid can enter into human metabolism in our liver and be converted to folate. In 1948, it seemed like a great thing. By 2008, the scientific literature began to show that folic acid is not completely converted into folate by the liver. Folic acid forms pools in our body that represent a risk for a variety of cancers in animal models. Folic acid appears to be a toxic compound when it remains in our bodies. When you look for folate supplementation, you are getting folic acid supplementation.  At low levels, the liver may be able to convert it, but 400 to 800 mcg’s and beyond are problematic.

35:59 Grains Fortified with Folic Acid: The dose makes the poison. A pregnant woman supplementing with folate is good for preventing neural defects. Folic acid is added to all refined cereal grains. The only part of the population that needs folic acid to turn into folate are pregnant women, since a larger percentage of them do not eat leafy greens, nuts and organ meats. The incidence of neural tube defects has dropped, but 300 million people are now forced to take folic acid in their daily supplements and bread. Over the course of a lifetime, it is a problem.

39:14 Folate vs Folic Acid: The folic acid compound is stable. Folate is non-stable.

40:22 Antioxidant Supplementations and Cancer in the Elderly: As we age, we need increased antioxidants and antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin C, beta carotene, selenium, and vitamin E. Many of our elderly are taking these with the assumption that more antioxidant vitamins will promote health and prevent heart disease and cancer. Massive epidemiologic evidence suggests that elevated levels of antioxidants actually increase the risk of death and disease. This was shown in beta carotene, vitamin E and selenium. Taking single isolated antioxidants does not help to prevent disease, it encourages disease. With massive doses of antioxidants in your system and plasma, whether it is ascorbic acid, vitamin e or selenium, it prevents apoptosis from occurring. Apoptosis is a natural process by which our cells cause programmed cell death. Preventing apoptosis prevents the removal of cancer cells. Low levels of a compound cause disease and high levels of a compound cause disease.

45:43 Natural Compound Forms are Best: Consuming antioxidant compounds in their natural form to eat or drink, is probably good for you. We are all going to die. The trick is to maintain health and function throughout life. This happens most often when we eat real foods. There is not silver bullet to make you live to 110.

47:48 A Life That Encourages Longevity:  There is a wide variety of behavioral aspects to life that we can do to encourage longevity, health and wellbeing. A starting place is to eat real foods in their natural state and stay away from non-real foods. Populations that eat minimally processed plant and animal based foods that have a lifestyle where there is hope and the elderly have promise and function in society, are the situations that support longevity. Movement is critical to human health.  We have a lifespan that can be manipulated in one direction or another, but it cannot be expanded all that much.

54:33 One Health Tip for America: We would be better off by simply reducing the amount of high glycemic carbohydrates in our diets. The scientific data on risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer from high glycemic load carbohydrates is similar to that of smoking, yet we have no general recognition that these foods are not healthful to us. The government should not be subsidizing corn. We should be subsidizing healthful foods in our inner cities.

59:06 You Cannot Get Fat on Real Food: If you have salmon and broccoli for dinner, you can’t get fat. The obesity epidemic looks for a silver bullet, but is already here and we already know it.

01:01:03 Dr. Cordain’s Journey: Dr. Cordain’s journey began as a personal one. It translated into what people of the world can do to promote their own health. He looks at it from the simplistic hunter gatherer view. The evolutionary perspective holds a lot of power. The analogy he gives for his journey is of hopping from stone to stone over a running stream. He does not know where the next hop will take him.  Diet and acne, as well as diet and myopia came out of his work. Now there are diseases that he had once never heard of, in particular autoimmune diseases, and there is recognition in the immunological community that diets devoid of wheat, dairy and legumes seem to be therapeutic. The common thread is the gut. Intestinal permeability is the starting point for autoimmune disease.   


Related Podcast

Click here to listen on your mobile device in iTunes

Interview Overview

Dr. Eric Balcavage is a chiropractic physician who has been in private practice in Glen Mills, PA since 1996. He received his Bachelor’s degree in 1990 from Kutztown University and his Doctorate degree in 1995 from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Dr. Balcavage is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (C.N.S.) , a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, Board Certified in Integrative Medicine, along with being a licensed Chiropractor in Pennsylvania.

#91: Eric Balcavage, DC- Methylation, Histamine and Nutrient-Gene Interactions


Join the conversation

  1. Thanks for the overview. Listening to the long, long interview was not enjoyable as Dr. Cordain spoke slow slowly that it was boring. He did not want to give specific answers to the questions either. I appreciate your summary as listening to the talk was painful.

  2. Same as Kayla, this was excruciating. I’d think he’d be mad to see this online. It could have been cut in half at least. Questions were fantastic. I could tell you respect this man, so I kept listening. Made me frustrated though, cause you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I take tons of antioxidants and now it sounds like I’m making a mistake! My goal is to feel good and function well as long as possible.

  3. My thoughts are that dairy in itself may not be a problem as long as its cultured organic and raw. The milk and other dairy products in the store are full of chemical toxins hormones etc.
    Milk should be only consumed by calves. Humans shouldn’t drink milk they only need it in the first year or so from their human mother period. You don’t see cows drinking milk all their lives.

    • Hi again Susan,

      You maybe right. I think occasional cultured dairy in a post-workout window is probably OK. But if you have a strong family history of cancer, it maybe worth avoiding.

      Thanks for the note,


      • Culture, organic and raw is great. But we need to go one step further: it must also come from pastured cows. People are not aware that cows may get organic feed but one that is not appropriate for them, like corn, soy etc., even if it’s organic. Secondly, such cows may spend their whole life confined to a dark place and never see sunlight and green grass. Yet they will still qualify as organic. That is why organic is not enough.

        Another thing: Mayo clinic was able to cure diabetes successfully in the 1930s, before advent of Big Pharma and diabetic drugs. The emphasis is on CURE. So, no, milk does not cause cancer and does not cause diabetes and obesity either. But what is sold today as milk does.

  4. Is anyone doing studies on Glyphosate vs Gluten? DR Stephanie Seneff has dissected Monsanto’s studies and found some very interesting info on this and more, please interview her!

  5. I would also like to hear more about selenium, Dr Kharrazian says it good for us but it seems Dr Cordain does not?
    Please explain.

    • Hi there Susan,

      Selenium has some great data, especially for thyroid health. It’s a mineral, so slightly different biochemistry from traditional antioxidants. I think it’s safe in doses ranging from 200-400 mcg per day (but depending on where you live, you may find that you’re getting enough selenium from your soil/water).

  6. I will no longer subscribe to this podcast after listening to the interview with Dr. Cordain. The picture posted with this podcast shows a lot more about him than anything he had to say. He doesn’t look slim and healthy for someone supposedly promoting the best way to eat, and it was unpleasant listening to him eat while he was being interviewed. In my opinion, he is just another person out there misleading the public.

  7. I am a doctor with a functional medicine approach – my ‘conversion’ came after I developed a cluster of problems including food intolerances and then an autoimmune disease followed by getting too sick to work even tho the autoimmune disease was in remission. .
    What got me better (‘tho not perfect) was a bunch of supplements. Scary handfuls of vitamins and minerals. I’ve since embraced a low carb Paleoish style diet – and am disappointed that it hasn’t fixed the residual problems, which are no doubt linked with my gut. Something ain’t right in there despite doing as many of the right things as I humanly can.
    I disagree with some of the Paleo gurus that if you have a nutrient dense diet, you don’t need supplements. My experience both as patient and practitioner is that some people are so unwell they need supplements to get them moving in the right direction. In the long run, if they have an excellent diet and lifestyle, excellent digestion and excellent genetics/epigenetics they may not need the handfuls of pills. But not everyone has an excellent diet, digestion, genetics etc.
    I’ve learned a lot from reading people like Sarah Ballantyne and Loren Cordain. I continue to learn by reading widely, experimenting with my own health, and listening to my patients tell me about what works for them. (and listening to Mike’s podcasts)
    Lame conclusion – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. For me, the Paleo principles are a good general guide. And details have to be worked out for each individual.


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