2016 in Review: The Top 14 Developments in Ancestral Health

2016 review text on a napkin with a cup of coffee2016 is just about over. I’m not a big party animal, as you probably know. Instead of bashes and balls, what I look forward to most of all at the end of a year is the quiet reflection on what impacted me most. Which science developments, business achievements, and thought evolutions characterized my 2016 more than the rest?

Put another way, what were the most exciting developments of 2016 in the ancestral health world?

Let’s take a look (in no particular order):

1. Legumes went back on the menu, if you like them.

It’s become quite clear that legumes do not belong in the same category as grains, which is where they languished for over a decade. Legumes are rich in prebiotic fiber, provide many vitamins and minerals, and seem to improve glucose control, not worsen it.

Eat ’em if you want ’em.

2. A Primal ranch dressing finally came out.

You don’t know how many emails I got asking for a Primal-friendly ranch. Recipes have always been there, but a surprising number of ingredients go into ranch. Few people keep everything on hand required to make it right.

So I made one. It took months of development, but I made one.
Skeptical husbands, picky kids, vegetable haters will all lie prostrate before PRIMAL KITCHEN™ Ranch, see—nay, know—the error of their ways, and be welcomed into the fold.

3. Nina Teicholz was right.

In 2015, science and nutrition journalist Nina Teicholz penned an editorial in the British Medical Journal criticizing the failure of the USDA’s diet guidelines to “reflect much relevant scientific literature.” Establishment critics and academics went berserk, even going so far as to demand the BMJ retract her editorial.

Last week, after over a year of battles, independent reviewers finally gave Teicholz the win. The critics lost. Her editorial stands.

4. We settled the “meat problem,” if only until the next study comes out.

More than any other dietary component, meat has been the most consistently controversial. It clearly played an integral role in human evolution, particularly of our energy-hungry brain. It’s delicious, contains vital nutrients, provides the densest collection of essential amino acids, and yet hundreds of millions of people are convinced it will give you cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. How do we square these seemingly opposing factions? How much meat should we be eating? And how should we optimize our meat-eating?

5. The birth of Primal Health Coaching.

The PB Expert Certification was cool, but it wasn’t enough. Teaching is different than knowing. The latter is necessary but not sufficient to accomplish the former.

In June, I introduced the Primal Health Coach Program: an enhanced education course that teaches you the science behind the Primal Blueprint and gives you tools, tips, and tactics for disseminating that information to clients and for running a successful business.

6. Gluten sensitivity really is real.

The story of non-celiac gluten sensitivity has featured more twists and turns than your average long-running will-they, won’t-they relationship storyline of a late 90s sitcom. Skeptics claimed it was all just a collective delusion, and several studies seemed to suggest it might be psychological rather than physiological. Then in July, 2016, a new study confirmed what many people already knew to be true: gluten sensitivity is real, and those suffering from it have leaky guts and elevated systemic inflammation.

8. More HDL isn’t necessarily better.

HDL is “good” cholesterol, yet research shows that elevating it to extremely high levels results in greater cardiovascular disease. Instead of HDL actively “scavenging” damaged lipids, higher HDL levels may simply be a byproduct of healthy lifestyle practices, like eating more fat, exercising, and generally leading an anti-inflammatory way of life.

9. Recent ancestry matters.

On this blog, we’ve always looked at human ancestry from 30,000 feet. We are all humans with the same basic machinery. We all digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. We all secrete insulin (to varying degrees), require oxygen, and drink water. That’s all true, but recent research into human genetics shows that recent ancestry can determine how we metabolize nutrients.

Whether it’s fatty acid metabolism in the Inuit, the “thrifty gene” in Samoans, or vitamin D requirements, we’re beginning to understand and integrate the lessons of our recent ethnic ancestry.

10. Exercise is important for weight loss.

For years, I’ve said that weight loss is 90% diet. It’s true that how much and what you eat are the most important factors when losing weight, but exercise helps determine what kind of weight you lose. We’re not trying to lose muscle and bone. We want to lose fat while preserving muscle. If the net weight declines, so be it. But fat loss is the ultimate goal.

Exercise is really, really important for weight loss:

It empties out glycogen, giving us a place to store incoming glucose.

It improves sleep and glucose control, and makes stress less harmful.

Strength training prevents muscle loss during dieting—and can even promote muscle gain.

11. Men and women are different—and that’s awesome.

This isn’t a “new” development, of course, but its acknowledgment throughout the ancestral health community has certainly expanded. Back in May, I gave my 12 essential tips for Primal women, laying out the areas where men’s and women’s needs diverge a bit. There are plenty of others, too.

Stay tuned for more MDA articles geared toward women in the near future.

12. CRISPR looms.

I wrote about the implications of CRISPR, the gene-editing tool that researchers use to study genetics (and transhumanists hope to use to create super-humans). Now they’re even using it to target RNA in live cells, which could be huge for diseases like muscular dystrophy and neurodegeneration.

I’m cautiously excited about CRISPR.

13. Evolutionary biology may be getting an overhaul.

Earlier this year, evolutionary biologists descended upon London’s Royal Society to debate whether evolutionary biology needed reworking. Was the standard Modern Synthesis theory complete, with its focus on natural selection as the primary driver of evolution, or should it expand to include other mechanisms and inputs like plasticity, creativity, culture, and epigenetics?

14. We’re born to move.

This year, scientists strapped sensors onto Hadza hunter-gatherers and tracked them throughout their daily routines. Young, old, man, woman—it didn’t matter. Everyone studied engaged in at least 2 hours of moderate physical activity per day on average. Furthermore, even the eldest among them remained fit and healthy on into their 70s.

Sedentary living is often portrayed as a necessary consequence of success. When we no longer have to physically work for our livelihood, we move as little as possible. But the Hadza research shows that movement is in our DNA, and that we must resist the temptation to be still.

That’s it for me, folks. What were your biggest takeaways from 2016? What are you looking forward to most in 2017?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Take care and have a fantastic rest of the year!

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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