“In order to go on living one must try to escape the death involved in perfectionism.”

Hannah Arendt

Segments two and three of Carl Lanore’s (Super Human radio) interview with Dr. Scott Connelly on the subject of insulin, insulin resistance, diabetes and metabolic syndrome, all for your podcast listening enjoyment. As was the case with part one of the interview (the subject of this post), there’s more information discussed here, and with that information expounded upon well past the point where any one mortal needs to go. The nutrition geeks out there, though (yeah, that’s me!), will find this stuff riveting. And for all you lesser nutrition geeks, don’t be put off by the bodybuilding/freak show lean these discussions sometimes take. Although I’m not a bodybuilder per se (though I did enter a few “tested” shows back in the early ‘90’s – a subject for a future post, if I can grub-up some of those pictures), I find the subculture fascinating in that it readily lends itself to being a crucible of dietary (and pharmaceutical) experimentation; and yeah, some of it is admittedly really bad, over-the-top experimentation. However, I can tell you that the bodybuilding community was well aware of the fat loss and muscle sparing potential of a high fat, restricted carbohydrate diet at least back to the mid 90’s. Not that anyone in the community thought that this was a particularly “healthy” to eat (nor was “health” ever a particular concern), just that it was an incredibly effective tool for shedding body fat and maintaining muscle mass. Much of my diet and fitness philosophy and knowledge has come, at least in its initial stages, from the bodybuilding and professional sporting communities. I’ve only toned-down and tweaked those ideas I’ve gathered from these subcultures to make them healthy and sensible. Much of the deleterious health concerns of these initial ideas/activities, as practiced by sporting and bodybuilding subcultures at least, is simply due to taking a sound theory and amplifying and twisting it to the point of that idea losing its initial healthful benefit. The difference between health and harm being a matter of degree, if you will. The trick is to look beneath the extreme for the underlying kernel of true, healthful benefit. I think that having once been a part of that “win at any cost” mindset lends me a special prospective on the subject, and an ability to effectively ferret this stuff out. Much of that has to do with not being repulsed by initial impressions, maintaining an open mind.

One thing that strikes me over and over again while listening to the subject of insulin being discussed in such depth here, is the sheer magnitude in the complexity of the human metabolism. How in the world the research community has been able to distill this complexity down to “a calorie is a calorie”, or that diet and/or obesity is a simple matter of basic thermodynamics, that “calories in minus calories out”, is the answer to the question, is beyond me. Now I’m no more intelligent than the average schmoe about town, but damn, I can look at the science and at least determine that there’s got a little more going on here than simple thermodynamics. It would seem to me, then, that the next logical question would be, well then, if not simple thermodynamics, just what the hell is it?

Apparently not, though. And we now find ourselves in the dietary and obesity fix we’re in currently. And I say “we” because we all ultimately pay the price – not only out-and-out monetarily, but in more subtle ways, like poor all-around food choices.

Another Super Human show I found equally fascinating was this episode on the longevity of the Hunza, inhabitants of a valley nestled between the mountain ranges of China, Tajikstan, and Afghanistan, in a distant corner Pakistan. The Hunza are rumored to be descendants of Alexander the Great, and (again, rumored to be) the lost people of Shangri La. Myth and rumors aside, what is known about the Hunza is that they seemed to have, as a people, cornered the modern market on longevity, regularly living long into their hundredth year. In this episode, Carl Lenore talks with Randy Roach, author of Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors, about the Hunza and their dietary habits, which, interestingly enough, happens to be high in grains and dairy products. Hmmm.

I have two thoughts when it comes to populations like the Hunza, who seem to be an anomaly to the TTP/Paleo premise, and those are:

(1) The longevity of a people is relative. In other words, we are comparing the grain and dairy consuming Hunza (and, as another example – albeit with a slightly different diet — the Japanese) with the western standard of longevity. I would argue that the western standard of longevity is as close to the nadir on the “longevity scale” as we’re likely to find. Just about anything – and, in the Hunza’s case, I’d say it’s the avoidance of highly refined carbohydrates, coupled with the minimal total load of the carbohydrates they do ingest – will improve the overall health, and as a correlate, the longevity of a group. What we really need to do is compare the Hunza, for instance, with a purely Paleolithic population (adjusting for accidental, non-dietary related deaths) to get a true idea, and representation of, “longevity”, and

(2)The total load of, and degree of refinement of, the grain source in the diet of a people is of enormous consequence. It’s not that the unrefined grains consumed by the Hunza is necessarily “good for them”, it’s just that the total load consumed is relatively low and, therefore, does not contribute to the detriment of the human physiology to the degree that the typical western diet does. We’re really just talking about minimizing the negatives, here. Your car will still run fairly well with a little bit of water in the gas tank (the Hunza diet); a few gallons in the tank, however (the western diet), will manifest in some serious immediate and long-term problems.

The discussion also turns towards Weston Price (who studied the Hunza, among others) and a few of the gurus from bodybuilding’s pre-steroid golden age. It does make for interesting listening, and I highly recommend it if you’ve got a bit of time.

In Health,

Keith

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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

11 COMMENTS

    • Jeremy,
      I agree. I don’t think Price would have suggested a Hunza-like diet for anyone; from what I’ve read, he was much opposed to any grain consumption, no matter how unrefined. He was rather fond of the unadulterated Eskimo diet though, for obvious (to the Paleo-minded, anyway) reasons.
      Thanks for the link.

  1. Wait, that is not true either. Price, in letters to his relatives with children, specifically advocated a diet composed largely of grains and dairy products. He was much taken with the dairy and rye diet of the mountain Swiss.

    Price advocated consuming animal products to get fat soluble vitamins and strongly warned against overly refined foods like sugar and white flour. But he was not get traditionally-raised grains.

    • Thanks for clearing that up, Jeremy. I must be getting Price confused with the fellow that lived with the Eskimo for a year,eating the traditional Eskimo diet. I thought they were one in the same, but…?

  2. The Hunza didn’t live anywhere near as long as thought. The people who first interviewed the Hunza took them at their word when they reported their ages. Among the Hunza, age was a sign of authority and of influence. In other words, they were lying about living past 100 to make themselves seem wiser and more virtuous than they were. If the Hunza really lived to advanced ages with regularity, the photographs from those early expeditions should have shown many generations living together, when in fact there were never more than three generations (the supposedly centenarian Hunza, their children, and young grandchildren) present – not good evidence for a 100+ year lifespan, much closer to what you’d expect for 50 or 60 year old individuals.

  3. Good call thats my thinking around it. The paleo diet is what we are evolved to eat there is no argument there. The bigger the deviation from it the worse off we are. There is probably some critical threshold that once passed all the negative health consequences come into play. Until then eating some unrefined grains and/or dairy products is probably going to be negligible. But its still a negative.

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