Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
28 Feb

In Search of the Perfect Human Diet

PhD one sheetI was recently given the opportunity to watch a pre-release copy of CJ Hunt’s long-awaited documentary, “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet.”  Honored and delighted, I accepted. This is a big film, guys. I wouldn’t expect to see it on any Oscar lists or anything, but it’s big nonetheless. You may have heard of it already. Robb Wolf’s been championing the cause since way back in 2010, when CJ was trying to raise funds for production. Erwan Le Corre drummed up some support, too. I gave the trailer’s release some Weekend Link Love last year, and now, on the eve of its release, I’m reviewing the film. I couldn’t be more excited.

This film was a labor of love on the part of CJ. It kinda had to be, since its premise isn’t blockbuster material. It doesn’t tug at heartstrings, nor does it present a harrowing, gripping narrative full of conflicts and conflict resolutions that rival the best feature films. No, “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet” is exactly what it sounds like: the chronicling of one man’s quest to figure out what humans should be eating. It’s not a sexy premise that sponsors would fall all over themselves to get in on. It’s not selling anything (but the film itself). It’s not even promoting any particular paleo or Primal eating book. It appears, on its surface, to be a niche title, with a limited audience, but consider the subject matter. It’s about you, me, your friends, that guy across the street whose name you don’t even know, billions of strangers scattered across the globe, and billions more scattered across time. In short, this movie is about humans, about real people, and the diet we evolved eating. That sounds like a massive target demographic to me. But because the ancestral health community, while growing, is still relatively small, the film had to funded almost entirely by donations from individual humans who love this way of life and believe in it, have garnered benefits from it, and who want it available on a larger, different stage for all to see. If you were among the donators, I thank you, because you made this very important documentary possible.

That said, let’s talk a bit about the contents of the film and why I liked it so much.

First, CJ Hunt is a natural in front of the camera. He has over twenty years of experience in broadcasting, voice-overs, and television, and it definitely shows. The guy has a smooth voice and just comes across really well. No sign of loincloths, spears, scraggly beards (although I have no doubt he could pull one off), or toe shoes that might scare off Grandma.

Second, it tells a great story that should be pretty familiar to most of you. CJ was a seemingly healthy, lean 23-year old doing the right exercises and eating the right food when he had a heart attack. A full cardiac arrest – while jogging, no less. Now, this was due to a birth defect, not a poor lifestyle, but it made him think about health in a different way. He resolved to find the “perfect diet,” if such a thing existed at all. It’s what many of us have gone through, whether personally or vicariously: a catastrophic health event strikes, early in life when everything is supposed to be all peaches and roses; bouncing from diet to diet in his search for absolute dietary truth (complete with forays into veganism and raw foodism), never really finding it; discovering a promising lead on yet another dietary path; following that one, bumping into Paleolithic anthropology, and everything just clicking. Is that your story? It’s mine.

Third, although CJ’s been eating this way for over five years now, he doesn’t assume that the viewer knows what’s going on. He doesn’t gear this movie to you, the faithful Mark’s Daily Apple reader. He aims it directly at those who actually need the help most, as well as the skeptics who think the ancestral lifestyle is nonsense, a “just-so” story steeped in the naturalistic fallacy with zero evidence in its favor. All those common complaints and “debunkings” get smashed to pieces. Best of all, the film’s science is extremely approachable, made all the more so thanks to CJ. When an expert on neanderthal and early human genetics at the Max Planck Institute throws around talk about isotopic dietary analyses that might confuse some folks, CJ asks the right questions to get at the real-world dietary implications of these findings. So instead of jumping out with standard Primal eating prescriptions or suggestions from the start, the film is a gradual exploration of human evolution, including the dietary pressures that shaped and informed that evolution. The diet arises organically out of the scientific groundwork. CJ makes no prescriptions, instead letting the evidence and the experts speak for themselves.

The most moving scenes take place at the dig site and with the Max Planck geneticist. I talk about this stuff all the time, and I and many others write about how meat eating shaped our evolution, but there’s always a sense of distance and abstraction. Links to journal articles are helpful and all, but there’s really nothing like seeing the dig site with the layers of animal bones and tools, hearing the anthropologist with dirty knees from kneeling in the ancient, ancient earth say that the diet of the humans who lived there was “primarily reindeer,” or listening to Prof. Michael Richards discuss how his team has yet to find evidence of a vegan human via isotope analysis. These are the people who actually do the hard labor, write the papers, and run tests talking directly about the implications of their work. Rather than me or Robb or whoever else writing blogs or books about our interpretations of the work, the people who produce the work are stepping out from academia and giving their honest summation of the evidence for ancestral eating. If they’re coming to similar conclusions as us, that’s huge.

Professor Loren Cordain has a great scene where he uses a football field to illustrate just how far we’ve come as a species, how long we were eating wild plants and animals exclusively, and how recently – in the big picture – our lifestyles have drastically changed. It’s a great visual that will resonate with a lot of people.

Overall, “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet” presents a great introduction to and justification for ancestral eating. It’s hard to get someone to read a book or even check out a blog, but if they can sit reasonably still for an hour and a half while an entertaining, engaging movie plays, they’ll get the general idea behind this stuff and want to learn more. It presents a compelling case for the evolutionary foundation of the diet we prescribe.

The movie has been made and released to DVD, but the battle doesn’t stop there. The more copies they sell and the more people watch it, the larger our community will grow. If you want to support a great movie, a great cause, and (in my opinion) the answer to the obesity epidemic that’s showing no signs of reversing, pick up a copy of “In Search of the Perfect Human Diet.” Copies begin shipping tomorrow.

Let’s see how big we can make this! It’s important, guys, real important!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I found this post after looking around for a review of The Perfect Human Diet. Now I’ve just watched the film myself and wow… where to begin…

    First of all the way the film presents the theory of evolution as a proven scientific fact is an insult to logical thought and common sense. If anyone is wondering why I would say such a thing, it’s because the evolution theory is just that – it has not been proven. You’ve got to ask yourself how scientific it can be if scientists themselves can’t even agree on it?

    The other big thing to consider is that the film does not really mention health and longevity. Yes, obesity is a big problem in modern society, but trading body fat for other health problems is not a very good solution either. Just because someone is lean does not mean they will live a long and healthy life. The film seems to idolise tribal/primal humans who lived on a diet high in animal protein. But how many of them would have lived to 90, even 80 years of age? So just because people ate a certain diet for such a long period of time does not mean that we should as well.

    To top it off – near the end of the film Loren Cordain states that the fundamental tenant of the diet (presumably the Paleo diet) will not ever be shown to be wrong… it never ceases to amaze me when someone like him (a person who is involved in some aspect of science) makes such an unscientific statement like that. Someone who was truly scientific in their reasoning would say that they will update and revise their conclusions if and when new information is discovered. But no, stop your research everyone because Paleo is 100%, beyond a doubt the correct way for everyone to be eating.

    If people would focus on nutrition it would go a long way to solving their health problems. It’s as simple as that.

    Mugget wrote on January 6th, 2013
  2. Low fat whole foods plant based diets are superior for so many reasons. It is ridiculous to look at all of these nutty diets; Paleo, low carb, etc. Just eat well planned whole foods organic plant foods. The healthiest people I know, some in their 80s and 90s and still active, eat this way. Leave the meat and dairy alone. Read Drs McDoughall, Barnard, esselstyn…etc.

    John Mooter wrote on January 7th, 2013
  3. I bought the movie on cable, watched it, then bought my own copy on line. I bought it to watch again, but also to give it to all my family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. I think every human should see this. Then if they still choose to continue to keep non-human foods that’s fine. At least they are educated on what a human diet should consist of.

    Star Marie wrote on March 14th, 2013
  4. *mistake, not Dr. ornish – i meant to say Weil and also Taubes….mental slip…
    Taubes is overweight and an Atkins sympathizer – Atkins died rather young and fat.
    Dr. Ornish was not featured in the documentary.

    Rick C wrote on June 22nd, 2013
  5. it is now streaming for free on Amazon Prime. this is in USA, I have no idea how works in other areas. likely also streaming for fee on Amazon if do not have Prime.

    matthew wrote on June 23rd, 2013
  6. The film is available to watch instantly on Netflix. Enjoy!

    Stacey wrote on July 1st, 2013
    • Um… looking now… as of 6/30/13, it is NOT available on Netflix at all, neither streaming nor DVD.

      Milburn wrote on July 1st, 2013
  7. I watched the documentary last night and was anxious to read some reviews. I am a 66 yo physician prone to gain weight. Like Hunt, I have been searching for a healthy diet for weight control and have been frustrated by the conflicting recommendations by qualified scientists, distorted in many cases by private interests – people selling books, supplements, etc, etc. When I was 45 my 40 year old wife, also a physician, developed bilateral inflammatory breast cancer and was given little prognosis to live 5 years, and none for 10 years survival. After enduring her bone marrow transplant, bilateral mastectomies, and radiation therapy, she became totally obsessed with diet and supplements in an effort to stay alive and see our kids grow up. She was on a mission. We went from low fat to low carb and everything in-between. On the Dean Ornish low fat diet, avoiding even olive oil, and eating grains and vegetables, especially beans,e we both gained weight and our colesterol and triglycerides went up. Then she discovered the Sears low carb, low fat, higher protein diet and our cholesterol and triglycerides fell like a rock, as did our weight. I lost 35 pounds. I had stuck with this for decades while she experimented a bit more. To conclude her tragic story, she lived 18 years after her breast cancer diagnosis, and saw our kids grow up, dying not of breast cancer, but of radiation-induced lung cancer, a result of her treatment. We knew that there were great short and long-term risks from the high dose chemotherapy and radiation – but risks she was willing to take as an alternative to a young death – and would have done again even knowing the outcome. Her diet and supplements may well have helped her survival… we will never know. But, there is more.

    As I aged, the Sears approach seemed not to be working, and I gained weight with every decade, as some men tend to do. Taube explains the impact of decreasing testosterone on fat distribution in his books. Then there was the breast cancer risk that my daughter inherited from her mother and grandmother. When I heard about the book, China Study, and the documentary, Forks over Knives, I was open to it. For the last two years I adopted a vegan diet and was totally convinced by the argument. I enjoyed the change from meat, the opportunity to buy new cookbooks and explore new vegetables, such as heirloom beans, and I think I could have continued it indefinitely, although I did sometimes eat fish when travelling and there was nothing other than pasta as an alternative. My daughter was/is still totally into vegetables, but not completely vegan. After 2 years I stopped vegan eating just over a month ago because I was gaining weight – again. I found my way to Gary Taube’s books and am now again eating low carb. In just over a month I am down 16 pounds as of this AM, am less hungry, and I see no end in sight. I think the Sears version of low carb eating isn’t low enough as some men age. In my 66 years I have now lost substantial weight now 3 separate times switching to low carb eating – there will not be need for a 4th lesson.

    So about paleo. I liked the documentary and will show it to my obese son and his obese girlfriend tonight after I serve them a steak and greens dinner tonight. I understand evolution and buy most of the argument. However, I want to make several point.

    1. For the most part, early man did not have to deal with advanced aging. They died early mostly, as the film says, of accidents that were part of being a hunter gatherer, and of warfare. Ours has been a violent evolution. Evolution primarily selects for traits that take you through reproduction and child rearing, not necessarily through old age, although the argument for a survival advantage of elders, before they become a burden to the clan, is attractive. It could be that the paleo diet has selective advantages for the first 20-40 years, but could have negative long-term consequences since living to 80 or more was rarely possible in paleo times.

    2) Most diet theories don’t seem to acknowledge human variation. Sears does. Look around and we see endless variety in body size, height, features – including those of us who can eat with abandon and not gain weight and others for which body weight is a lifelong battle. Some of us are more insulin sensitive – more prone to store calories – a tremendous survival advantage in times of scarcity – and an equally large disadvantage in times of food excess. Those without that trait might not have survived times of privation, but are thriving now. There is data, for example, that Type O blood tracks with carbohydrate/insulin sensitivity. So our paleolithic evolution has not been monolithic exactly, although our similarities as a species far outnumber our differences. Some of the carb-loving bloggers here are no doubt less carb sensitive than those of us who have learned, relearned, and re-relearned that grains make us fat and unhealthy. There seems to be broad consensus that greens are healthy.

    3) It may be that many of us do have metabolism that leads to better health eating a low glycemic carb diet, but if so, that presents a huge global problem in terms of food security for the planet, environmental deterioration, and yes, even ethics in terms of animal cruelty where meat is mass produced. We need to use our evolved, meat-fed ingenuity to address how to provide good nutrition to the entire globe, not just the wealthy, with equity and justice. It may also be that as a species we may need to compromise optimal health because of the impact of animal-based diets on our fellow human beings. These are difficult questions to contemplate. It is hard enough to figure out what to eat to be healthy personally, and actually do it, much less take on the burden of the world’s nutrition and sustainability, but ultimately, we must.

    Thanks for reading this long blog.

    Ed

    Ed Nardell, MD wrote on July 3rd, 2013
    • Ed- Excellent points. I too worry about how the paleo diet could be sustainable with our population. Food security is a serious issue that must be considered!

      Jacob wrote on July 14th, 2013
  8. This “documenatary” is poorly made, regardless of what health ideas underlie it, true or false. It has the cheesy feel of a late night infomercial, especially because of its melodramatic references, anecdotes, and presentation style. This makes its claims seem dubious, even if the science were in fact sound (and it might be). I’m not criticizing the science, I’m criticizing the show itself. It also commits the cardinal journalistic sin of cherry picking interviews and videos that only support an agenda. Regardless of whether we agree with that agenda, this lopsided approach leads only to group-think and is exactly the wrong way to teach critical thinking to the public.

    bob wrote on July 28th, 2013
    • “documentary”

      bob wrote on July 28th, 2013
  9. It worked for me.. what else can i say.

    C.S wrote on December 21st, 2013
  10. I have friends that have lost weight on the paleo diet.
    I have friends that have lost weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising.
    I have friends that have lost weight by going vegan.
    I have friends that have lost weight by juicing everything.
    I have friends that just eat whatever they want, exercise moderately and are healthy (by every medical measure).

    For every example of people living healthy paleo lifestyles, I can show you plenty of people living healthy via other means. And here’s the key: I don’t doubt them… it worked for them, their doctors confirm it, and that’s that.

    What’s with the obsession about creating a one-size-fits-all diet plan for humanity? That isn’t the purpose of nutritional or evolutionary science. Science has no agenda.

    Find what works for you. Again, I have nothing negative to say about the Paleo Diet. Let’s just not turn this into a cult (and if you read a lot of comments… it sure sounds like ppl want to push this as the Gospel).

    And I have no idea why any of the above should rile anyone up. So please take no offense.

    Carboholic wrote on December 30th, 2013

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