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

Dear Mark: Primal Blueprint Superiority?

Dear Mark,

If you’ll bear with me for 4 paragraphs, I’ll get to the question which is the purpose of this email!

My name is Greg, and I’ve followed your blog for a few months now. I’m grateful for the knowledge you’ve shared about nutrition. Thanks to you, I’ve eliminated virtually all white flour and processed sugar from my diet, and I’ve dramatically reduced my intake of carbs. I’m still relatively indiscriminate with fruits and dairy, so I wouldn’t say I’m a Blueprinter yet, but I’m significantly closer than when I first started reading your posts.

I came to your site with no “symptoms” from my previous lifestyle. I wasn’t carrying excess weight, my sugar intake wasn’t egregious, and I was a pretty fit 40-year old. Having said that, I was open to challenging my “default” food choices, and some of my fellow CrossFitters swore they saw performance gains after going Caveman (along with Paleo and Atkins).

My only reservation about the Blueprint was – and still is – the science. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the enormous lengths you’ve gone to base your system on above-board studies and peer reviewed literature. (I’m deeply impressed by the education you’ve amassed on your own.) It’s more that I wonder whether current science is sophisticated enough to unlock the potentially nuanced relationship between our bodies and our food. Yes, transfats are poison. And processed foods are certainly less nutritious/more harmful than whole foods. (Although no one seems to have a problem with supplements, which aren’t “whole”…)

But have we really unlocked the secret of how the body is “ideally” fueled? And is there only one answer? I don’t think so – but I do know that people thirst for the assurance that they are following “the one true way”. To me, that explains why certain diets attract cult/religious-like followings. For example, my wife works with people who swear by the blood-type diet. That’s absurd, right? But so is the literal narrative behind most religions – and that doesn’t stop people from having faith. As long as there’s no irrefutable way to isolate dietary choices from the myriad of other variables that affect a test population’s health, people will develop all sorts of (flawed) theories and support them with incomplete/misleading research. (I know how much that bugs you – since you love to tear apart poorly executed “academic” studies and papers.)

And this (finally!) brings me to my question: Why aren’t Italians all dying at 57? To be less cute: if the Blueprint is definitively superior to other modes of eating, why don’t we see populations that eat high levels of wheat-based carbs falling prey to illness and/or early death? We could single out Italians, Chinese (with their gluten), or many other long-thriving cultures that don’t eat Primal. My (totally unproven) hypothesis is that multiple foods interact with our system in ways we don’t fully comprehend. Maybe the dangers of that first plate of penne are counter-acted by the traditional second plate of animal protein. Or maybe it’s the salad, wine, olive oil, etc…

Anyway, I’m really interested in your reaction. (I’m not Italian, so don’t worry about insulting penne!) I find your Grok narrative/metaphor to be a very appealing and seemingly intuitive model for making food choices. But I can’t quite square that with counter-indicating models that don’t seem to be suffering from their “Grok ignorance”.

Thanks again for sharing your knowledge. I really appreciate the thoughtful and valuable contributions you make to this field of study.

Best regards,


Los Angeles, CA



1) There is no right answer – only choices. I just want to know the ramifications of my choices. That’s what drives me to look further.

2) Whether you eat Primally or Vegan, Mediterranean or SAD, you’ll still probably live a relatively long, relatively healthy life if you exercise. 80 years or 100. Who’s counting? The rest is more about nuances and small percentage changes in overall risk factors. Oh, and lean mass.

3) Italians may not eat as much pasta as you think (or as Italian Americans eat), they may eat more olive oil and healthy animal fats, they may walk more, they may handle stress better as a culture. Chinese don’t eat as much rice as you think. They eat a ton of vegetables and a fair amount of animal products. Having said that, they may both have a large percentage that react poorly to gluten, but who don’t report it. Who knows?

4) Anyone (including me) can find some research that supports their theory. Science is always full of holes. I love poking holes in other peoples’ science. Especially the China Study. Eat Right 4 was a neat concept that had no basis in reality after about 200 years ago. But it caught on with a bunch of people. Sometimes the scientists are so close to the method that they miss the big picture. Sadly, most of those who do the focused studies are not real visionaries. They are almost mutually exclusive concepts.

5) So MDA is my opportunity to put it all out there and see what people think. I may not be right (I think I am, though), but few people are in a position like me to combine solid experiences in endurance training, coaching, nutrition, research, drug-testing, supplement design and writing…and then synthesize those all into a world-view that makes pretty good sense in the context of evolution.

Take what you like from our posts, comment when you have a chance, disregard whatever doesn’t resonate with you, and tell your friends about MDA!!



I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, readers. Hit me up with a comment in the board!

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Don’t Call It a Diet

Dear Mark: Ketosis

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

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. Dr John, you’ve inspired me.

    Once I get through my beers, I’m going to join you.

    Christoph Dollis wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  2. Greg, excellent questions. The fact is science is very difficult to conduct and interpret, and hardly anyone who claims to know the answers knows what they are talking about. Stay skeptical.

    darya wrote on April 24th, 2009
  3. Cobalteffect — if you’re looking for science to back up the PB, try Gary Taubes’s book (“Good Calories, Bad Calories”). It has all the detailed science you could ever wish for, written by an award-winning science writer of national reputation.

    Anne wrote on April 25th, 2009
  4. Wow what a fascinating thread! The observational stuff from Riceball et al. is interesting. Backs up a quote I can’t attribute “in the Third World the poor are thin and the rich are fat, in the West the poor are fat and the rich are thin”

    More quotes I can’t attribute: Genes load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger

    Our funky genes had obvious survival factor, in times of food shortage we could probably outsurvive nondiabetics, or as yet someone else wrote “we survive famines, but feasts kill us” and currently we’re stuck in energy stashing mode. It’s probably a matter of degree, we’re the dietary canaries in the coalmine. Probably a third of the population carry a form of the “thrifty” gene set and our government is expecting a third of the population to become diabetic. No expense spent on prevention. :(

    Here’s another vote for Taubes (it’s called The Diet Delusion in the UK), a massive and hard to read book but well worth the effort, he ties together a wealth of stuff we used to know, but were instructed to forget, with modern research.

    Trinkwasser wrote on April 26th, 2009
  5. If you read any of Jeff Leach’s stuff, it appears that our gut microbiome has more to do with our health and that eating LOTS of plant matter is crucial to gut health….so if you consume 25 to 30 varieties of plants in a week, you should be good!

    Gypsyrozbud wrote on February 24th, 2016

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