We are really happy to have the chance to interview one of the “fathers” of the Paleo movement and one of the most appreciated “autorithies” on the ancestral health field in Israel: Miki Ben-Dor!
Alessio: Can you give us a brief excursus of your career? We’d love to know how you became interested about ancestral nutrition and health.
Miki: I have always had great respect for hunter-gatherers (HG). The notion that we are but HG who are stuck in an environment that is alien to our genes helped me explain many phenomena in my life. At age 52 I retired from work because I felt that my HG genes have had enough of this unnatural activity. Some years later I wrote a book (in Hebrew) on early retirement, HG style. I started investigating the Paleo diet for the book and became especially astonished at the big mistake called the US Dietary Guidelines that is the cause for most human health problems in the last 70 years or so. I have decided then, some 8 years ago, to devote my life to help correcting that mistake. I started a blog in Hebrew since there were none at the time. It has today more than 250 posts. While working on the book I developed a hypothesis that the humans brain continued to grow because we had to obtain fat from scarcer and scarcer resources. A professor at the Tel Aviv University to whom I described the hypothesis (Ran Barkai) invited me to write a paper explaining recent teeth findings at their site (Qesem Cave). After publishing the paper he suggested that I do a PHD using a model I developed for the first paper, this time to explain the extinction of the Neandertal. So at the age of 61 I started a second career, studying archaeology from scratch and just recently submitted the finished PHD thesis for his (and another tutor, Prof. Avi Gopher) comments. During those years I worked to spread the Paleo word in Israel. I have a Facebook group (Paleo Israel) with close to 8000 members in which I mostly post nutritional research regarding Paleo. The Pשךקם movement is spreading quickly here and the top women group contain over 40,000 members.
Alessio: We appreciate your work because it’s evidence based and you have a great knowledge about archaeology and human evolution. In light of your research, what is your personal approach to diet and lifestyle?
Miki: I am pre-diabetic so limit carbs but otherwise it’s a traditional Paleo with avoidance of gluten, Industrial PUFAs and sugar. I eat cheese and some milk and make sure I eat plenty of fat.
Alessio Aside from running a really interesting blog (www.paleostyle.com), you already published some amazing papers like:
|Paleo Style – Evolution Compatible Nutrition and Lifestyle
The popularity of the Paleo Diet brings a slew of debunking attempts from dietitians and academics answering the call of their vocation to save the world from the big …
- Neandertals’ large lower thorax may represent adaptation to high protein diet
- Use of Animal Fat as a Symbol of Health in Traditional societies Suggests Humans may be Well Adapted to its Consumption
- Man the Fat Hunter: The Demise of Homo erectus and the Emergence of a New Hominin Lineage in the Middle Pleistocene (ca. 400 kyr) Levant
Your research suggests that although plants have been important in our evolutionary path, meat played a key role.It seems to me that lately there’s a huge interest in trying to push the “quasi vegan” perspective.
What’s your take on the alleged “veganism” among our ancestors and Neanderthals?
Miki: I hope you saw the respond in my blog to the ‘vegans’ in El Sidron (here).
Yes there seems to be a Pro-Plant group among the Paleolithic diet research community. Some, like Wrangham, may be vegetarians or vegans themselves but others just believe that we had to have had a varied diet in order to survive. Like all of us they have an opinion and it seems that they pay (like all of us) more attention to findings that support their opinion. Very few archaeological pieces of evidence can tell us what the plant:animal ratio was in the Paleolithic diet. Ancient dental plaque analysis may add some information on plant species that were consumed but their presence is in no way an indication of the amount of plants in the diet. Another method that is used to predict plant;animal ratios is micro and macro-wear of teeth. The trick is to compare Paleolithic humans to recent groups of which the plant:animal ratio is presumably known. I have followed their references and in my opinion the recent “mixed diet” groups that they chose actually consumed a high animal based diet. I intend to publish this analysis hopefully this year. So if archaeology is limited in its ability to provide a definite answer (Stable Isotopes are also problematic) where can we find more solid information? I have recently spent a lot of time looking at the human biology, in the form of genes and metabolism, because I believe that there lies a dependable record of our evolution. My findings so far are that there is strong support for a human evolution towards a fully carnivorous diet. Not that we didn’t consume plants but the evolution trended towards adaptation to consume a large portion of our diet from animal sources. In several instances the researchers themselves express a surprise when they find that we have a biological phenomenon that is unique to carnivores.
Alessio: Aside from the aforementioned shortcomings that leave a high grade of uncertainty, I wrote an article (here) that pointed out other issues that feed my skepticism about grains as staple food during pre-agricultural times (Cordain already had many good arguments about the issue). What is your thought?
Miki: I am pretty sure that somewhere, sometimes, grass seeds could be consumed but they are very seasonal and therefore unfit to be a food source for groups who are moving constantly in the environment and have no storage technology.
Alessio: What do you think about the future of the ancestral/paleo movement?
Miki: I think Paleo principles will prevail because they work. The guidelines will eventually stop demonizing fat and saturated fat and glorifying cereals. By that time many people will have already become Paleo to some degree or another. The future diet will not be called Paleo but animal and saturated fats will be legit and gluten and PUFAs consumption will be minimized. The last stage will take place when the food industrial complex come up with mass market products that include little to no gluten and PUFAs and little sugar.
Alessio: What are your planning to do in the future after your Phd?
Miki: I have already started working on papers from the PHD thesis. I will probably publish the thesis in a book and then I intend to further research and write papers and possibly a book about the role of dietary fat in human evolution. This will keep me going for few years to come. In addition I hope to teach.
Take care and lots of success with your blog and other ventures
Alessio: I really want to thank you for your time, I know you are very busy and I hugely appreciate your commitment and kindness.