Podcast

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Robb Wolf: The Science Behind Healthy Diet & Fitness

And how good health takes less time than we think
Wednesday, October 30, 2013, 11:36 PM

This podcast puts the focus on practical behaviors that can materially improve physical health. Our guest is Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist who ended up playing founding roles in the creation of both the "paleo diet" and CrossFit training regimen.

Robb's principal warning is that the modern mainstream lifestyle has drifted concerningly far from the one our physiology evolved for. On average, we are too sedentary. Our diet is much too full of foods that we aren't designed to eat. The combination of these two factors is literally killing us.

But Robb's overall message is a positive one. There is a pretty clear path for those looking to pursue better health. Pretty much anyone can do it, and it doesn't cost a lot of money nor make you feel miserably deprived of life's joys. In fact, you'll look, feel, and actually be much better.

The key tenets are pretty intuitive:

  • Eat a healthy diet (this includes being mindful of the importance of maintaining healthy gut flora)
  • Getting enough good sleep
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting fit

And, of course, the how is the critical component for success. Robb explains the science behind the most effective practices, and much of it may surprise you. Reaching a high status of health actually requires much less work than most expect. However, it does require discipline – which ultimately must come from within (though our new weight-loss support group can help).

On Diet

This paleo diet concept – I actually call it a paleo template, because it really goes beyond simply food – we're just taking this evolutionary biology perspective, looking at the way that human evolved as hunter-gatherers, and using that to inform some decisions about food, sleep, exercise, community, and trying to bring this all into a coherent way to make some informed decisions.

From an exclusion standpoint, which is the easier way to explain it, in a paleo diet, we start with the assumption that some of these Neolithic foods – grains, legumes, and dairy – might be problematic because they're what we would call an ‘evolutionarily novel’ food. The fact that they newly arrived on the scene with regards to our genetics means that there might be some problems there.

Most people are familiar at this point with this idea of gluten being problematic. There's an autoimmune condition called celiac disease, in which a protein in gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the gut lining. That can lead to system inflammation. Inflammation is a process that’s kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We don't want too little; we don't want too much. We want just the right amount.

When we consume irritating foods – and I would also put in gut-irritating pharmaceuticals like acetaminophen and ibuprofen and some others (we don't want to overuse those) - but when we create an inflammatory response in the gut, then that inflammation can then lead to what we call ‘systemic inflammation’ or problems throughout the whole body. I would put wheat, specifically, or gluten-containing items – wheat, rye, oats, barley – at the very far end of this problematic spectrum. I would put other grains like corn and rice as much less problematic, but depending on the individual's makeup, they may respond very negatively to them, or not so much. And then, grains I would put in that same kind of somewhat middle-ground category are those from which many people notice gastric reflux/GI irritation.

There is some interesting linkage with legume consumption in autoimmune disease. The dairy piece? I put dairy in what I would consider a ‘B Level’ food category. It's unrelated to the lactose intolerance. Folks are usually familiar with lactose intolerance being an issue for many, but there are actually proteins in dairy which are very similar structurally to proteins in gluten. If somebody is cross-reactant to gluten, and they end up with an inflammatory response to gluten, it's very common for them to have a cross-reactivity to at least cow dairy.

On Fitness

For our ancestral norm, we should be walking, we should be lifting some weights, we should stretch. We should do as much novel activity outdoors with the sun shining on our skin as we can. It's not to say that if you want to become a competitive athlete, don't do that. But I think that many people assume that the level of activity necessary to become really legitimately competitive athlete, that they assume that that is going to be beneficial for them from a health and longevity standpoint. Our data on that clearly indicates that that's not the case.

Like, it's better to maybe be a middle-of-the-road athlete and focus a little bit on health and longevity, if you're really wanting to get the maximum return on investment from exercise. But exercise is just what's called a ‘hormetic stressor.’ Hormesis is this process where we're exposed to a stress, the body is given some time to adapt, and when it adapts it comes back stronger from that initial stress.

I think a nice variety of activity – doing some walking, doing some circuit training; either with body-weight activities, or a mix of body-weight and weight-related activities; doing some stretching and yoga; if you like swimming, doing some swimming. I really like as broad of an activity base as we can get folks doing. This is great from an orthopedist’s standpoint! It's great because when we do new activities, it stimulates the brain. When we're learning new activities, it stimulates the release of a substance called ‘brain-derived neurotropic factor.’ And so we actually grow new neurons and new connections in the brain. So it's very helpful in that regard.

I guess that the main take-away is for folks to find something that they really like and they are going to stick to over the long haul. That’s really the most important piece to this. In my own idealistic situation, I would love to see people lift weights, either in a classic weight-lifting format, or in a circuit weight-training format a couple of days a week. I'd love to see people out walking daily and covering as much ground as is reasonable for them to cover in their busy lives. And then from there, just some more mellow open-ended activities – doing some yoga, doing some martial arts, or something like that, to just keep them stimulated and make the fitness-process fun.

Click the play button below to listen to Adam Taggart's interview with Robb Wolf (32m:54s):

Transcript: 

Adam Taggart: Hello, and welcome to the Resilient Life podcast. Resilient Life is part of PeakProsperity.com. It's where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I'm your host, Adam Taggart.

Today's guest is Robb Wolf. A former research biochemist, Robb worked with Loren Cordain, creator of the best selling book, The Paleo Diet. Robb has since authored his own New York Times bestseller, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. He now focuses on educating people on how to achieve better health through nutrition and fitness. As many listeners know, my business partner, Chris Martenson, lost over 30 pounds a few years back following many of the practices Robb advocates. I should also mention that Chris has remained at this new weight ever since.

So as we look at the likely trends in store for the future, remaining fit and healthy will take on heightened importance, especially when we look at factors like Peak Cheap Energy, which will require humans to do more by hand. With a continued escalation in medical costs, health care will likely be less affordable and possibly less available in future decades.

I've invited Robb on the program to discuss the practical side of staying in good health. What are the specific practices we, as individuals and as communities, should be adopting in our daily lives?

Robb, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.

Robb Wolf: Adam, it’s a huge honor to be on the show. This is the most excited I've ever been to be on any show, honestly. I absolutely love the work you guys do.

Adam Taggart: Wow! Well, thank you very much. It's an honor to hear that. I'll tell you, flattery will get you everywhere here.

Robb Wolf: Perfect.

Adam Taggart: For those who might not be that familiar with the paleo framework, could you just give a brief overview of the framework as you see it, and what you think that the average person should understand about it?

Robb Wolf: Sure. This paleo diet concept – I actually call it a paleo template, because it really goes beyond simply food – we're just taking this evolutionary biology perspective, looking at the way that human evolved as hunter-gatherers, and using that to inform some decisions about food, sleep, exercise, community, and trying to bring this all into a coherent way to make some informed decisions.

So there are all kinds of opinions about how we should eat, what type of exercise is beneficial for us, whether or not we actually need sound sleep, or how much sleep we need. I think that using this kind of evolutionary template provides some really great information in that regard.

From an exclusion standpoint, which is the easier way to explain it, in a paleo diet, we start with the assumption that some of these Neolithic foods – grains, legumes, and dairy – might be problematic because they're what we would call an ‘evolutionarily novel’ food. The fact that they newly arrived on the scene with regards to our genetics means that there might be some problems there.

Anything that's new doesn't necessarily mean that it's immediately problematic. If we see problems like obesity, neurodegenerative diseases, increased cancer rates – which we definitely see in our Westernized populations – then maybe looking at our dietary factors and some of the factors related to our diet might inform some things, both for more effective medicine and some basic lifestyle interventions, that we can do to improve our health.

Adam Taggart: Great. You mentioned a couple of new entrants there to the human diet. We've had a pretty active discussion on the site recently about – I guess “evil” probably isn't the right word to use, but – the evils of gluten and some of the grain-based diets in terms of irritation, inflammation, obviously raising your glycemic index, and storing more food as fat. Help me understand what legumes do, and also what the issues can be with dairy, too, besides just the regular lactose intolerance.

Robb Wolf: Most people are familiar at this point with this idea of gluten being problematic. There's an autoimmune condition called celiac disease, in which a protein in gluten causes an autoimmune reaction in the gut lining. That can lead to system inflammation. Inflammation is a process that’s kind of like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. We don't want too little; we don't want too much. We want just the right amount.

When we consume irritating foods – and I would also put in gut-irritating pharmaceuticals like acetaminophen and ibuprofen and some others – we don't want to overuse those. But when we create an inflammatory response in the gut, then that inflammation can then lead to what we call ‘systemic inflammation’ or problems throughout the whole body. I would put wheat, specifically, or gluten-containing items – wheat, rye, oats, barley – at the very far end of this problematic spectrum. I would put other grains like corn and rice as much less problematic, but depending on the individual's makeup, they may respond very negatively to them, or not so much. And then, grains I would put in that same kind of somewhat middle-ground category [are those from which] many people notice gastric reflux, GI irritation.

There is some interesting linkage with legume consumption in autoimmune disease. The dairy piece? I put dairy in what I would consider a ‘B Level’ food category. It's unrelated to the lactose intolerance. Folks are usually familiar with lactose intolerance being an issue for many, but there are actually proteins in dairy which are very similar structurally to proteins in gluten. If somebody is cross-reactant to gluten, and they end up with an inflammatory response to gluten, it's very common for them to have a cross-reactivity to at least cow dairy. But then many people find that they can consume some goat or other types of dairy, particularly the raw, unfermented varieties, which changes the protein a bit just from being a different species. And then, also, the fermentation process tends to make the proteins a little bit more accessible to our digestive tract.

Adam Taggart: All right. What, exactly? What kind of toll does too much inflammation exert? What type of damage does it do to the human body?

Robb Wolf: Gosh! That's a $1-million or $1-billion question right now. It appears that just about everything that we see from a Western degenerative-disease state appears to have an underpinning of systemic inflammation as a root cause – neurodegenerative disease like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, dementia, cardiovascular disease, is a slam-dunk element in this regard. We really understand that the inflammatory response and the endothelial lining of the vasculature is a key step in the propagation of atherosclerosis, and also potentially having a stroke or a heart attack, various types of cancer, particularly breast, colon, and prostate cancers; glioblastomas. Astrocyte brain tumors appear to have a very tight linkage with both elevated insulin levels and systemic inflammatory response.

And then getting into autoimmune disease like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, etc., there’s a clear linkage with inflammation. It's still unclear whether or not the inflammation is the cause or it's the effect of a disease state. But it's pretty clear that when we do things like get our vitamin D levels elevated, sleep better, remove gut-irritating foods, and we contract via blood work – like a reduction in C-reactive protein, which is an indicator of systemic inflammation – if we reduce those blood markers, then we tend to see an amelioration of the disease states. So it's still unclear whether the inflammation is the cause or exactly what's going on. Definitely fixing that problem seems to go a long ways towards helping people.

Adam Taggart: Okay. And it certainly sounds like that problem is correlated with a whole host of pretty scary diseases that we're aware of, that you just listed.

Robb Wolf: Yes.

Adam Taggart: What is it about wheat in particular that puts it so far out on the “bad” spectrum?

Robb Wolf: The type of protein that's in wheat, most grains and pseudo grains – if people think about this a little bit, in biology, everything has thorns or horns or teeth or venom or something. It's really not this benign Walt Disney kind of story out in ecology. Either things are being eaten, or they are doing the eating, and all critters or plants have some sort of an anti-predation strategy. Part of the anti-predation strategy that grains employ are anti-nutrients, which inhibit the digestive process of critters that eat them, and also some things that also cause direct inflammation to the organism that eat them.

And so wheat, in particular, has some just very-difficult-to-digest proteins. And there are some proteins which are what we would call immunogenic. They cause an immune response, whether it's the innate immune response, which causes systemic inflammation, or an autoimmune response, in the case of celiac disease.

It's also worth mentioning that the people who are particularly reactive to gluten, which tends to be Northern Europeans, there appears to have been an adaptation somewhere early in the transition from the hunter-gatherer life ways to the agriculture way of life. When people started living in close proximity both to each other and to animals, we started getting exposed to a very high bacterial and viral load. One of the adaptations that occurred in this time was that folks who now show the tendency towards celiac disease, these people – interestingly, one of the genetic adaptations that they have is that they tend to be more robust, more resilient with regards to gut pathogens. They tend to be more immunized against the effects of, say, food-borne illnesses. The tradeoff with that – there are always tradeoffs in biology and ecology and economy – and one of the tradeoffs for the people who have celiac disease is, even though they may be more resistant to gut pathogens, they are more highly reactive to gluten proteins.

And peanuts are another good example. Many people are familiar with how immunologically reactive peanuts are. When you look at the proteins that are in peanuts and these things called ‘lectins,’ which are part of the peanut makeup, when you look them on an electron micrograph, they're very complex structures. They're kind of pointy and pokey, and they really just irritate the immune system. Whereas if we were to look at the proteins that we find in rice, or the ability to break down proteins that we would find in, say, meat or chicken or fish, these things tend to be easier to digest, and they just tend to be less immunogenic.

Adam Taggart: Hmm. So basically, you're mentioning that during my teenage years, when I pretty much subsisted on peanut-butter sandwiches, I was probably doing about the worst thing for my digestive tract that I could have done.

Robb Wolf: It was Russian roulette, or hooker-and-cocaine games.

Adam Taggart: Oh, great!

Robb Wolf: It was a dangerous activity! Yes. [Laughter]

Adam Taggart: Wow! What an analogy. So when people go off wheat diets, or remove wheat from their diets, or more largely try to take gluten out of their diets, we have a lot of reports – and certainly amongst our own site readership – that people tend to lose weight pretty quickly once they've made that slight change. I say slight meaning they're just removing something from the diet. I know that going off of those foods once you're used to eating them in your diet is not necessarily an easy thing to do. But what is it about the body's biochemistry that results in that weight loss when you're removing gluten from your diet?

Robb Wolf: There are a couple of different factors there. Honestly, I don't think that we're at a point where we fully understand what the mechanisms are. We do understand on a base level that if the body is under a stressful situation – say, if the gut is irritated – we tend to elevate a hormone cortisol. When cortisol is elevated, we are just in kind of a “fight or flight” scenario, and the body really likes to hold onto calories during that time. Sleep deprivation, overactivity, and, actually, overtraining can cause this effect. This is where some people will do aerobics classes all day. Or they spend hours and hours and hours on their bicycle, but they still have a pretty good jelly-roll through the mid section. So that's a piece of the story.

Another piece of the story: There has been some really fascinating research where they look at the gut endobiome; the bacteria that lives symbiotically in our gut. There has been some fascinating research where they will take, say, a lean variety of mice and an obese variety of mice. They will remove some bacteria from both of the strains of mice and expose them to antibiotics, basically wiping out all of the gut flora in both strains. They'll take the skinny mice gut bacteria and put it into the fat mice; take the obese mice gut bacteria and put it into the skinny mice. We end up seeing a switch in the phenotype in the way that these two critters express their genetics. The skinny becomes overweight. The overweight becomes skinny. There appear to be some issues with certain foods causing a change in gut bacteria. There is another layer to the story, which is, I would say, maybe the last five years, we just had an explosion in misunderstanding. Honestly, it makes my head spin trying to figure out some of that stuff.

There's a really amazing project called the Human Gut Project where these anthropologists are going out and cataloging these intestinal bacterial content of humans all over the planet. They're in Africa right now studying the Hadza, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer groups, and looking at how they live, and the bacteria on their skin, the bacteria on their mouth, and the bacteria on their gut, and what that looks like. So I think that we could definitely be comfortable saying that there is an element of this related to gut bacteria. There's also an element of this related to systemic inflammation leading to hormonal changes that prime us for being prone to storing body fat.

Adam Taggart: Okay, and then by cessation of eating these foods that cause the inflammation and whatnot, we bring the cortisol levels down, and the body just stores fat at a lower level. That's why people are dropping weight?

Robb Wolf: Exactly, yes! That's another thing. There are lots of fascinating studies in sleep research where people will change nothing about their food intake, nothing about their activity level, but they simply sleep more or less. And the people who sleep more are more rested, have lower systemic inflammation, better hormonal profile, and they tend to store less body fat at a given caloric intake. Whereas, the people who are sleep deprived, they will actually gain more body fat at a given food intake. So this stress element becomes really important. We can get this stress vector coming from a variety of areas: overtraining, lack of sleep, cognitive, and then also food-borne stress via gut irritation.

Adam Taggart: Right. Interesting. So we've talked about diet, and related to diet, we've talked about the importance of your gut flora, which is probably something that the average person really doesn't give much thought to, but it sounds like it's something that's very important to become more mindful of. We've talked about getting more sleep. We've talked about the importance of managing stress; at least not letting stress levels get above a certain level where they're creating health issues. Now fitness is a whole other part of this that we haven't even touched on yet. Can you talk about how that plugs into the other suite of elements I just mentioned?

Robb Wolf: Yes. Humans. I really like that you guys talk about resiliency, and I love the resiliency concepts. I guess an extension of that is a guy who I follow a lot, Nassim Taleb, and he talks about anti-fragility, how living dynamic systems go beyond even resiliency but go into an anti-fragile state. His description of that, which really resonates with me, is that if we were exposed to a stress, but stress that's not overwhelming, something that we can adapt to, we become stronger in response to that. Humans are definitely – wired into our genetics is this expectation for us to be active, for us to move our bodies, to be challenged on occasion. It's interesting.

Our society, particularly Westernized cultures, seem to fall into two disparate camps. The one camp, we have folks who we literally need to douse with gasoline to get them off of the couch. The other group are a bunch of folks who want to emulate the life athletes – the Tour de France competitors and whatnot. And so we have some people who are doing far too little activity. We have another group of folks who are doing far too much activity.

For our ancestral norm, we should be walking, we should be lifting some weights, we should stretch. We should do as much novel activity outdoors with the sun shining on our skin as we can. It's not to say that if you want to become a competitive athlete, don't do that. But I think that many people assume that the level of activity necessary to become really legitimately competitive athlete, that they assume that that is going to be beneficial for them from a health and longevity standpoint. Our data on that clearly indicates that that's not the case.

Like, it's better to maybe be a middle-of-the-road athlete and focus a little bit on health and longevity, if you're really wanting to get the maximum return on investment from exercise. But exercise is just what's called a ‘hormetic stressor.’ Hormesis is this process where we're exposed to a stress, the body is given some time to adapt, and when it adapts it comes back stronger from that initial stress.

Adam Taggart: All right. Well, let's get practical here, then. Let's first talk fitness and activity, and then let's talk diet. Let's say that somebody is listening to this podcast. They're middle-aged. They're professional. Meaning they've got likely a desk job that they have to go to during the day. What type of activity should this person be looking to integrate into their life to be, in your definition, not exercising too little, but not exercising to much either.

Robb Wolf: I think a nice variety of activity – doing some walking, doing some circuit training; either with body-weight activities, or a mix of body-weight and weight-related activities; doing some stretching and yoga; if you like swimming, doing some swimming. I really like as broad of an activity base as we can get folks doing. This is great from an orthopedist’s standpoint! It's great because when we do new activities, it stimulates the brain. When we're learning new activities, it stimulates the release of a substance called ‘brain-derived neurotropic factor.’ And so we actually grow new neurons and new connections in the brain. So it's very helpful in that regard.

I guess that the main take-away is for folks to find something that they really like and they are going to stick to over the long haul. That’s really the most important piece to this. In my own idealistic situation, I would love to see people lift weights, either in a classic weight-lifting format, or in a circuit weight-training format a couple of days a week. I'd love to see people out walking daily and covering as much ground as is reasonable for them to cover in their busy lives. And then from there, just some more mellow open-ended activities – doing some yoga, doing some martial arts, or something like that, to just keep them stimulated and make the fitness-process fun.

Adam Taggart: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. It jives a bit with what Mark Sisson was talking with Chris about ,when Chris interview him about a year ago or so, sort of the importance of play in the activity, so making sure that you get some enjoyment that you're going to want to do it again. You've also mentioned some elements that sound somewhat familiar to me, too. The whole CrossFit mentality, which is trying to keep things mixed up so that your body is not just getting routinized by doing the same activity again and again and again. Would you say that both of those two elements are a part of what you recommend?

Robb Wolf: Yes. Absolutely! And Mark is actually a great friend of mine. We get to hang out a lot. I just got to speak at one of his conferences recently. I was actually one of the early, I guess, founders in the CrossFit scene. I helped to start the first and fourth CrossFit gyms in the world, really early on. I actually had a bit of a parting with those folks. I really liked the concept; early in the development of CrossFit, they had a very economic spaced view of fitness. They were trying to figure out what's the minimum investment I need to do to get the maximum return on my fitness? These brief body-weight and weight-implement circuits, sprint intervals, and stuff like that, I think that we understand the exercise physiology sufficiently to say that that really provides a remarkable return on investment. Like, it really beat long-low-steady cardio, pounding away on a treadmill or whatnot.

Where CrossFit has gone a little bit problematic for me is, it's become a sport, and so they call it the ‘sport of fitness.’ So now instead of trying to figure out what's the minimum that you can do to get the maximum return, now folks are trying to figure out, what's the maximum that I can do and not kill myself in this process? It's really a very cool sport, if that's what you want to do.

So I'm not running it down in that regard. But from this kind of performance-health-longevity standpoint, if people were to look at the early iterations of CrossFit, where you were trying to just think about what's the minimum effective dose that I can do to get what I need the base level of cardio and strength and mobility, and then that's enough. So it's trying to figure out, what's the absolute minimum you could do to affect the body-composition goals, to be able to allow you to do the work that you want to do? I think that that's the orientation to take on that.

Adam Taggart: All right. Well, let's help people understand that just a little bit better. So it sounds like you would say, look, rather than going out for a five-mile run, go out maybe for ten minutes of hill repeats or wind sprints or something like that. Or if you're lifting weights, maybe, a short, intense-burst workout would be better than an hour-long workout. How do you help people conceptualize what's enough time to get what they want to get out of it?

Robb Wolf: That's a great question. A nice way that you can break that stuff up – let's take that example of some hill sprints or something. So versus the long, five-mile run that may take 45 minutes, we could say, clearly, you warm up – and this is assuming people are orthopedically sound and ready to go with this – but they might do a brisk sprint up a hill. At the top of the hill, maybe they've rigged up a pull-up bar. Maybe they just do some pushups or some air squats or some sit-ups or something. They walk back down the hill at a pretty brisk pace, and they see how many rounds of that activity they can get done in 10 minutes or 15 minutes. And then the next day they do something quite different, or maybe the next day is their easy recovery day, where they just go on a walk.

If somebody just has access to, say, a 24-Hour Fitness or something like that, they might just cruise through the weight machines. Or if they're familiar with free weights, they might figure out a loading of weights where they could do, say, eight to ten reps pretty comfortably with a bench press or a lat pull down or something, and maybe some leg press. And they just create a circuit of that. And they try to get as many rounds of that as they can, anywhere from like 5 to 10 reps, and try to get a leg press, a lat pull down, a bench press, and they try to get as many rounds of five to ten reps as they can get again in five to ten minutes or ten to fifteen minutes, something along that line. You could really try to push hard and redline on those workouts occasionally. Or you can take about a 70% to 80% effort, where you just have a steady breathing pace, your heart rate is elevated, and you're breathing certainly above what you would be doing if you're just sitting down or even walking at a brisk pace.

So it's challenging, but you can really meter the dose in that way, and 10 to 15 minutes of that is remarkably effective on both a calorie-burning standpoint but also the hormonal response that we get from that. We release some growth hormone and some testosterone, and that’s good for both men and women. It's challenging, it's pretty fun, and it's short enough that you don't really lose focus and you're kind of like, oh, man; this is really becoming boring. And to the degree that you can round that out with some nice long walks or maybe an easy swim or a bike ride to cool down, I think that's a great way to break this stuff up!

Adam Taggart: Great! Well I think that that's really helpful directive guidance for folks. Hopefully this is good news in the sense that folks realize that even if they have busy lives and don't have a lot of time for hours of exercise, that they can actually pack most of what they need into a much shorter time frame.

Robb Wolf: Absolutely.

Adam Taggart: Robb, I'd love to have you back on again, because I have a whole bunch of questions here that we're just not going to have time to get to this time, but would certainly love to bring you back on in the future if there's interest on your end.

Since we're approaching the end of our time here, I do want to close with a topic that I believe is of interest to you, which is the integrity of our food-distribution systems. Can you tell us about your interest there and what changes you're working to effect in that area?

Robb Wolf: Oh, man, yes! That's possibly a whole show in and of itself. I'll try to be concise on that.

Adam Taggart: Maybe let's consider this a preview, and then we can really delve into in the future show.

Robb Wolf: Absolutely. Early in this whole story, I was a research biochemist, years ago. I actually got exposed to this Paleo diet concept in 1998. As an extension of some serious health problems that I had, I started researching this stuff, went and did a fellowship with Loren Cordain, and started working with people implementing this paleo diet concept.

But early in this story, I realized that the sustainability of our food, and our ability to access quality food, grass-fed meat, sustainably harvested fish, fruits, vegetables, and whatever it is that you're eating, a lot of this stuff was in danger of going away, and that we were going to become very dependent on a very fragile mono-crop system; a very fragile just-in-time delivery scenario with our fruit supply.

So I started working initially just out of our own gym in Chico, California, encouraging some of the local farmers and people who produce food in that area to produce grass-fed meat, and two start shifting more towards organic. It's been fascinating, the explosion of this process. In Chico, California we created this template for encouraging people to produce grass-fed meat; shifting from conventional to pastured meat and really developing a network of CSAs interacting with our gym. Because I've had access to just thousands of gyms around the world, I've been promulgating that message that people need to look towards a decentralized, more stable food-supply story.

Again, to keep this concise, we started doing some work with Allan Savory of The Savory Institute, who has been instrumental in developing a reversal of the desertification process using permaculture, using grass-eating undulates, and a rotation of these animals with other animals to reverse desert area in Africa.

We've been working with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, who uses a very similar permaculture technique and water-management technique to invigorate his Polyface Farm and make it both very economically successful but also one of the most calorically and nutritionally successful farming stories on the planet. That's been the background story where I've really focused a ton of my effort.

Everybody wants to look good. They want their cardiovascular to be improved. They want to live a long, healthy life. All that is fantastic, but all of that is moot if we don't have a stable food supply. I think that, as you guys have talked about so much on your shows and your writing, the way that our energy story is playing out, the way that our environmental story is playing out, we really need to think about some kind of fallback measures or some alternate ways of approaching our food-distribution system so that we have some resiliency in store and we have some alternative if we have hiccups in the general food supply.

Adam Taggart: That's exactly true. I'm just so thrilled to hear that we've got minds and leaders like yourself out there continuing to help blaze that trail. As we mentioned, I'd love to have you back on again and really dive in more deeply into the actual solutions that you're trying to put in place there. But for now, I'll just say thank you for your focus on that really important issue.

And with that, I'll guess I'll end with one last question, which is, for people who are listening and interested in learning more about you and what you're up to and the programs that they're running, where can they go to learn more?

Robb Wolf: Robbwolf.com. We have everything that anybody would need to do a paleo template for free. You just go to the website, and there's a big giant red button that says, start here. It will walk you through shopping and food guides, 30-day meal plan, everything that you would ever need to know and to understand paleo and to be able to do it. That's on there. There's some workout information on the site as well. I have a podcast, also, called The Paleo Solution Podcast. We have three years of archived material on that. So if people have specific health concerns, there's a pretty good chance that I've covered it in that show. So you can just use the search engine on the site. If you have polycystic kidney disease, or Type II diabetes, or whatever, we've probably talked about it and then provided some theoretical strategies for how to tackle that.

Adam Taggart: Excellent! I know that the iTunes podcast that you mentioned is one of the more popular podcasts on iTunes. It really is an excellent production. So for folk who are interested in learning more, yes, definitely go check out Robb's site. But listen to the podcast as well.

With that, Robb, I'll thank you so much for joining us today.

Robb Wolf: Huge honor being on the show. Again, I just cannot thank you guys enough for the work that you're doing. Before I found you guys, I knew these topics that you're talking about – energy, the environment, and the economy – were so important. I had not found anybody who had provided the treatment and the integration that you guys have done. You're really doing amazing work.

Adam Taggart: Well, thank you. If that integration can involve integrating more of your content and knowledge into the experience, we certainly want to do that.

Robb Wolf: I would love to help in any way I can. It's just very exciting.

Adam Taggart: Great, Robb. Well, hey, thank you so much, and I look forward to having you on again.

Robb Wolf: Thanks, Adam. Take care.

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11 Comments

kevinoman0221's picture
kevinoman0221
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 25 2008
Posts: 144
Great interview!

I'm glad you interviewed Robb. He and Chris are on a short list of my heroes. Great interview.

Sterling Cornaby's picture
Sterling Cornaby
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 6 2012
Posts: 152
Fermentation as a Solution

By Sherilee Cornaby

There's one key piece of information missing that we need to address as far as why grains, legumes and milk can be problematic.  If you go back two to three generations, how did our grandparents prepare their grains, legumes and milk?  In my search for an answer to why so many people have become gluten intolerant is the fact that we have gone away from how our ancestors prepared their grains. 

This year I have learned about the fermentation process in sourdough bread.  The old fashioned way of making bread was to use a sourdough start, a mixture of water and flour which 'feeds' the wild yeast and good lactobacilli bacteria within the mixture.  The sourdough starter 'predigests' the wheat over a period of time so that when we eat the wheat, our wimpy stomachs can handle it and can also absorb the nutrients easier.  The wild yeast breaks down some of the gluten and breaks down the phytic acid which then releases the nutrients for easier absorption in our digestive tracks. 

Our modern day store bought yeast raises bread in a fraction of the time it takes sourdough starter to raise bread.  That means bread makers can make and sell bread faster than they used to.  This is great for bread companies but not so great for our health. 

Now, about milk.  Can you think of fermented or predigested versions of milk which are easier on human stomachs that have been around for years?  That's right.  Yogurt and cheese.  Sure, legumes, grains and milk came around much later evolutionarily, but we big-brained mammals figured out solutions to eating these 'new' things in a safe and healthy way.  In our fast-paced world, we have lost the benefits that come from doing things slowly, like fermentation. 

Here's a great list of benefits to eating sourdough bread: http://www.cheeseslave.com/top-10-reasons-to-eat-real-sourdough-bread-even-if-youre-gluten-intolerant/    Here's a great book that got me started on this whole journey and includes source-backed research: http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Baking-Natural-Yeast/dp/1462110487  

RogerA's picture
RogerA
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2009
Posts: 106
Agree about fermentation

Very important aspect, much more used earlier. And a very good way to store food. I have bought 1 of this.
Remember the wheat our grandparents were eating was totally different from what you get today, its created by genetic research in the '60s and '70s.

Weston A. Price wrote a book which would be impossible today. He was a dentist who travelled around the world before ww2 to find healthy people and why they achieved such amazing health. 

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html


FIG. 91. The excellence of skeletal development of the jungle Indians as expressed in the faces and dental arches, is illustrated in these views. Their foods were selected from the animal life of the streams and the bush together with native plants.

 

 


FIG. 92. At the point of contact of these jungle Indians with modernization where it included a change from their native diet tooth decay became rampant as shown. A marked change in facial form occurred accompanied by crowding of the teeth in the new generation.

 

I just have to include this story from the book.

Another illustration of the wisdom of the native Indians of that far north country came to me through two prospectors whom we rescued and brought out with us just before the fall freeze-up. They had gone into the district, which at that time was still uncharted and unsurveyed, to prospect for precious metals and radium. They were both doctors of engineering and science, and had been sent with very elaborate equipment from one of the large national mining corporations. Owing to the inaccessibility of the region, they adopted a plan for reaching it quickly. They had flown across the two ranges of mountains from Alaska and when they arrived at the inside range, i.e., the Rocky Mountain Range, they found the altitude so high that their plane could not fly over the range, and, as a result, they were brought down on a little lake outside. The plane then returned but was unable to reach the outside world because of shortage of fuel. The pilot had to leave it on a waterway and trudge over the mountains to civilization. The two prospectors undertook to carry their equipment and provisions over the Rocky Mountain Range into the interior district where they were to prospect. They found the distance across the plateau to be about one hundred miles and the elevation ranging up to nine thousand feet. While they had provisions and equipment to stay two years they found it would take all of this time to carry their provisions and instruments across this plateau. They accordingly abandoned everything, and rather than remain in the country with very uncertain facilities and prospects for obtaining food and shelter, made a forced march to the Liard River with the hope that some expedition might be in that territory. One of the men told me the following tragic story. While they were crossing the high plateau he nearly went blind with so violent a pain in his eyes that he feared he would go insane. It was not snow blindness, for they were equipped with glasses. It was xeropthalmia, due to lack of vitamin A. One day he almost ran into a mother grizzly bear and her two cubs. Fortunately, they did not attack him but moved off. He sat down on a stone and wept in despair of ever seeing his family again. As he sat there holding his throbbing head, he heard a voice and looked up. It was an old Indian who had been tracking that grizzly bear. He recognized this prospector's plight and while neither could understand the language of the other, the Indian after making an examination of his eyes, took him by the hand and led him to a stream that was coursing its way down the mountain. Here as the prospector sat waiting the Indian built a trap of stones across the stream. He then went upstream and waded down splashing as he came and thus drove the trout into the trap. He threw the fish out on the bank and told the prospector to eat the flesh of the head and the tissues back of the eyes, including the eyes, with the result that in a few hours his pain had largely subsided. In one day his sight was rapidly returning, and in two days his eyes were nearly normal. He told me with profound emotion and gratitude that that Indian had certainly saved his life.

smarsman's picture
smarsman
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 10 2008
Posts: 2
And...

The hybridized grains we see today are a far cry from the ones raised even 100 years ago which is a large part of the gluten problem.  Whether our ancestors from 10,000 years ago ate them or not, the human body is incredibly adaptable and as a species, we had plenty of time to adapt our digestive systems to grains.  However, 50-100 years is NOT enough time and that is a major component.

 Another issues is the fat profile of dairy and meat.  The vast majority of what people consume is from cattle that has been raised on grains which produces fats that are not recognizable to the human body.  The grass raised and grass finished beef and the dairy from those cows can be quite beneficial to the body.  Those fats can actually act with an emulsifying effect and lower cholesterol for instance.  The whole nonfat craze in the US has done nothing other than to distract people from the real issues that cause obesity--refined grains and corn based sugars permeating the vast majority of people's diets.

The Eskimos for instance have an extremely high percentage of their diet that is fat but heart disease is almost unheard of in their communities.  The real problems stems from the massive amount of money that is used by corporate interests to further their profits with things like the food pyramid and other such nonsense.  In one of Michael Pollin's books (Ominore's Dilemma?) he brings up the fact that in a chicken McNugget, there are 14 separate corn products.  And that is just one example.

Eat natural, organic, local and as fresh as possible.  Read the labels of those foods that come in bottles and cans and if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it.

Woodman's picture
Woodman
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 26 2008
Posts: 1028
I think the attitude to take

I think the attitude to take about exercise and activity is its fun and enjoyable, not  something to get through as efficiently and fast as possible.

Are there some good science based studies on the impact of wheat in the diet?  I'm not doubting there may be adverse effects, but it's not something I've studied yet, since don't seem to have an issue with wheat personally.

A simple way to eat well is just cook with basic, original ingredients not prepared or processed foods.  A baked potato tastes way better than a tater tot anyway!

RogerA's picture
RogerA
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Jun 18 2009
Posts: 106
Wheat

Some links

http://www.lef.org/news/LefDailyNews.htm?NewsID=11842

http://preventdisease.com/news/13/052213_Modern-Wheat-Is-The-Perfect-Chr...

If this is science based or not I do not know, I do know Me + severale others do not eat wheat and we all have increased our wellbeing very much.

grandefille's picture
grandefille
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 11 2010
Posts: 36
science re. wheat & carbohydrates

I haven't yet looked at his references, but there are many to the primary medical literature in Perlmutter's recent book "Grain Brain".  It's a damning indictment of carbs, including and especially gluten.

Julie

kevinoman0221's picture
kevinoman0221
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 25 2008
Posts: 144
"Paleo" diet

The main, most direct support for the "Paleo" diet has nothing to do with theories of evolution. Evolution is how people like Robb Wolf try to make sense of it. It does not have to be how you make sense of it.

It might be helpful not to think of it as the "Paleo" diet (I think it is a somewhat unfortunate name, and don't much care for all the "caveman" branding and marketing) but to think of it as an "anti-inflammatory" diet instead. This is the approach at deflame.org, a very neat site - http://deflame.org/deflaming/diet

There is a lot of current, modern, verified, scientific data about the affects of gluten, lectins, adiponectin, and other harsh substances and the negative impacts they have on the digestive system and the rest of the body, such that it is not necessary to try to go back in time hundreds of thousands of years and imagine what people were like and what they ate and how they behaved. All of that is just kind of an addon; it's an attempt to explain "why". It does not have to be your explanation for "why". The scientific data is the "what" part, and it is far more important than "why".

But there is something that supports the Paleo/anti-inflammatory diet even more powerfully and more directly than the scientific data and observations. That "something" is your own, personal experience when you try it. At the end of the day, the theories don't matter, research findings about gluten, lectins, auto-immunity, leaky gut syndrome, methods of causation, etc, don't matter. 

What matters is what happens after you give the diet an honest try for a month or two. Pay attention to how you feel and how the health markers in your blood tests respond, and if everything changes favorably after a month or two, you have your answer. It doesn't matter why it works. What matters is that it works. And if for whatever reason it does not work for you, then you can go right back to the way you were eating before. You aren't making a lifetime commitment, or implicitly stating that you believe in evolution, or even agreeing with the present-day scientific data. You are just running a brief, self-experiment. Treat it like an experiment. You might even set out with the attitude that you will disprove it. Some of the best science is done by people setting out to disprove things. Just follow the "how" part strictly and observe what happens.

People tend to get so bogged down in the theory and philosophy part of nutrition. Don't let that paralyze you. You don't have to be fully convinced to just give it a try. In 30 days (the blink of an eye, practically), you will have all the info you need.

DadzMad's picture
DadzMad
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 7 2013
Posts: 5
Glad to see Robb on board,

Glad to see Robb on board, I've been following him since before his falling out with the Crossfit crew years ago.  I've since moved on from Crossfit myself after achieving unbelievable fitness along with a long list of overuse injuries (knee, costalchondro separation, ganglion cycsts).  I now follow a slightly watered down version of the functional fitness programs with a focus on weightlifting simply because I enjoy it and will stick with it, not because it's the be-all end-all of fitness.  After the cool-aid wore off I realized it wasn't entirely for me.  I remember the pissing match between Robb and CFHQ.  If I recall, Robb wouldn't play along and buy in to the whole Barry Sears Zone diet thing.  To say Robb won the intellectual back and forth is an understatement.

DadzMad's picture
DadzMad
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 7 2013
Posts: 5
I've been following Robb for

I've been following Robb for years and have had great success following his recommendations.  I'm just one person, but I know a lot of Crossfit people who still secretly follow him even though he was shunned for not buying into the Zone diet that Crossfit was pushing. 

troup's picture
troup
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 28 2013
Posts: 1
Diet and health

My supposedly bullet-proof diagnosis as a celiac was overturned a year ago, and so I went back on gluten after being off it for five years or so. Surprisingly with no noticeable ill effects in my case. I do find the argument against modern quick-acting yeasts persuasive though: I never eat mass produced bread, only artisanal.

Partly too I avoid mass produced bread because of the added sugar burden it generally comes with, which seems to be spreading across the globe from the US. (Along with added sugar in other savoury foods where it has absolutely no place or benefit, like peanut butter)

And that leads me to an interesting point: What has made a marked difference in the efficiency of my metabolism and my feelings of well-being recently has been giving up on foods with added sugar - I no longer feel ANY inclination to eat between meals, or when bored or depressed.

I have struggled hard (but effectively) all my life not to overeat, and weigh the same as I did in my prime, but I decided to ditch sugar after noting the beginnings of a spare tyre and love handles. (I'm in advanced middle age). It's only been a couple of months and I've not noticed a reduction, but I'm eating 30% less and feeling NO hunger between meals, so if I still have them in a year, they are probably something my body wants me to have. At least it hasn't plumped for tits!

In late childhood, I had a mercifully brief ownership of "busty substances", and it put me off the idea for life. (I'm a bloke, BTW, and I've nothing against them in their place)

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