For about a year Robb Wolf has hosted the excellent and extremely informative Paleolithic Solution Podcast. Despite publicly admitting to only having six listeners, the truth is that the podcast has been a phenemenon in the paleo diet community. Robb Wolf is a research biochemist turned trainer and paleo diet proponent, so he brings some formidable expertise to the paleo diet table. He knows his science, but his experience coaching others in paleo food and fitness is equally valuable. Finally he has a book that brings it all together, presenting paleo as a scientific solution that anyone can follow: The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.
I came to paleo from the anthropological side of things. I was won over by the health of ancestral bones and of tribes that continue to eat an ancestral diet. Paleo made sense to me because it was the diet we evolved to eat and the diet that brought us to our physical prime as a species. Robb writes a little about this, but mostly his book is dedicated to the biochemical basis of paleo. He shows why paleolithic eating, living, and moving make the biology of our bodies work properly and how neolithic agents can muck things up. Cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, infertility, IBS, colitis, and PCOS are just a few of the diseases of civilization addressed in the book.
His approach is multifaceted— from experience he knows that it's not just food that matters. He devotes chapters to exercise and lifestyle. For me, the lifestyle chapter was the most important, because it drove home the point that it's not just gluten that can mess you up. Poor sleep, constant stress, and overtraining are just as bad.
That's saying a lot, since one of the take-home points in the book is that gluten is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo evil.
A comprehensive solution to modern health problems
He makes a convincing case for not including gluten even in paleo "cheats." At his seminar he said to "cheat" with a gluten-free beer or a corn tortilla and not to wreck your immune system with bread. Because that's exactly what wheat does. Lectins in wheat are generally considered by researchers to be the most dangerous because of how they can disrupt the gut lining. In good digestion the gut cells have healthy microvilli (the brush thingys) rich in enzymes that help break things down in order to usher usable proteins into the bloodstream.
Yay, this steak is so nicely broken down, your microvili are very happy
Lectins in gluten assault the microvilli, potentially leading to poorer absorption of nutrients and increased gut permeability, which can allow poorly broken down proteins into the bloodstream. This can activate the immune system, leading to autoimmunity and inflammation.
W/ Gluten Ur microvilli R sad
Sound complicated? The Achilles heel of Robb's book is that it might not appeal to people who are intimidated by science. If you like watching NOVA and enjoyed biology class, this book is for you.
If the very thought of omega-3 fatty acids gives you a massive headache...maybe you need some fish oil and frankly you can skip the science-y chapters, because they make up only half of the book. The other half is practical implementation: how to get nutrients, when to supplement, how to exercise, and how to plan meals. One of the take home messages is that almost everyone has the ability to do paleo. If you can make scrambled eggs and saute chicken breast, you can do paleo. Paleo doesn't have to be complicated, it can involve foods you already eat and love! Furthermore, Robb tells you how to customize the diet based on your goals:
Another unique aspect of this book is Robb's writing style, which is hilarious like his podcast. You can tell he's been preaching this to a diverse group of people, some of whose stories he has included as case studies. Some of these seem miraculous, but as someone who was cured of autoimmune problems through paleo it doesn't surprise me.
For the more seasoned paleo dieter, the information on cortisol is particularly important. I didn't really know much about this stuff until his seminar when I realized that some of the stress issues I was experiencing were probably caused by this very interesting hormone. You can be eating perfectly, but still wreck yourself by staying up late, working a gazillion hours a week, and drinking excessive amounts of coffee (or all of the above). It seems like common sense, but many paleos are type-As who want to use the diet as a tool to support their super-human crazy overworked lifestyles. Seems to work for some, but for most of us burn-out is inevitable. Robb Wolf says to sleep for 8-9 hours a night in a very very dark room— like a bat cave. Apprently ALL your cells are sensitive to that stupid streetlight outside your window, so just an eye mask won't cut it.
If you live in NYC come get this book at our super-cool rooftop party on the 18th! If you can't make it, please do pick up a copy on Amazon via this link. It supports me and boy would it be awesome to see this in the top 10 list there!
*My major complainst about the book and what will likely give other design nerds an aneurysm are the fonts and typesetting. Robb, please never ever use Papyrus again. Or the paleo!design!nerds (all 20 of us) on Twitter will make fun of you.