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!

Primal Kitchen 7 Days, 7 Salads Challenge

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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41 thoughts on “2016 in Review: The Top 14 Developments in Ancestral Health”

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  1. I’d add that the whole paleo/primal/ancestral meme is receding as the much more obvious and demonstrable LCHF meme takes its place. Eat nutrient dense real food and keep your pancreas as quiet as possible.

    The 2017 issue is creating a critical mass of visibility/acceptance within the medical community to effect real change in the public health and medical care public policy arena.

  2. Legumes are back, good news. A couple spoonfuls of peanut butter is my desert (Smuckers no sugar version).

      1. I eat high oleic peanut butter. Its fatty acid profile rivals macadamia nuts, so I actually think it fits perfectly into a paleo diet. It’s also WAY more delicious than any other nut butter. I don’t think regular peanut butter is too bad from a paleo perspective, either.

    1. That sounds wonderful…that’s the version I like. Less crap in it!

  3. So much exciting stuff here…I always love year end reviews! I ate so many beans during my vegetarian days that I don’t have them too often, but just threw together some chili with kidney beans and it was really tasty. And a little PB from time to time is a treat. LOVE the Primal Kitchen Ranch (and mayo!) and I’m thrilled to be a part of the Primal Health Coaching Program. As so happy that non celiac gluten sensitivity is finally being accepted. I was told by a functional MD years ago that I had it, and it made perfect sense based on everything that was going on. Thanks for all you do, Mark, and for this great community. I’m excited to see what’s in store for 2017!

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. Grateful for your contributions this year. I’ll have more to come on 2017 developments just after New Year’s.

  4. Great list Mark. Here’s to a healthy and wonderful 2017 🙂

  5. Great post. And thank you so much for the #1 item…how did I miss it? Man, I’ve felt weird every time I touch any legume…I LOVE peas, pb and bean burritos, now no weirdness when I occasionally indulge.

  6. So Mark — are you personally adding back in legumes to your diet. You have been pretty strict with your opinion of lectins and anti-nutrients. Was this wrong? Can you please elaborate on this… thank you.

  7. I’ve been experimenting with adding back legumes, but only “traditionally” prepared (ie – soaking with water and an added acid like lime juice, etc to address anti-nutrients). Personally, I find it too easy to over-consume legumes 🙂 However, since eliminating grains/legumes made a huge impact on my asthma I’m being careful to test in smallish amounts and infrequent meals. Curious if anyone else had respiratory symptoms and was able to go back to eating them without care?

  8. My biggest takeaway from 2016 is to “let it GO” and to take all things lightly. Sometimes, when you focus too much of your energy on one thing (especially when that focus is a problem) you end up missing out on all the other good things that are available in this moment. Very excited to visit the first Primal Kitchen in 2017 Mark!

  9. For me, one of the top 2016 developments has been all the science on fasting and time restricted eating. Fascinating stuff! We are on Day 4 of a supported fast (i.e., not water-only; fat in our coffee and bone broth in the afternoon and evening), and our glucose and ketone numbers this morning were 64/5.6 and 67/5.9. We went into it already in nutritional ketosis, so it’s been surprisingly easy. We’re breaking it tonight for a Solstice party, because among all the other gifts Mark has provided me, balance is the most valuable, and connection with tribe seems more important than my somewhat goofy quantified self indulgences. Happy holidays to all.

    1. Naomi, I have done intermittent fasting before but stopped after I had a bout of adrenal fatigue. I have been considering doing a low calorie fat based fast (exactly your protocol actually!) and seeing your post was the inspiration I needed! 😉

  10. I’m not sure I understand the HDL one. So higher HDL could lead to cardiovascular issues, but higher HDL is a byproduct of a healthy lifestyle? I think I’m missing something. Does anyone understand this to explain it?

    1. Thanks for asking this, Matt. I had the same problem. And since my latest HDL reading was 133 (direct LDL of 28), I need to understand this!

    2. There are two issues here: First is to distinguish between “high” and “extremely high”. High HDL is correlated with better health than low HDL, but for extremely high HDL things get worse again.

      Second is that the HDL level is not necessarily causative of good or bad health. So you may have:
      (1) Someone with healthy lifestyle, which causes high HDL, and good health
      (2) Someone else with bad lifestyle, which causes low HDL, and bad health
      (3) Someone else with bad lifestyle, taking medicine to increase HDL, so has high HDL, but still has bad health. Because the good/bad health is caused by the lifestyle, not by the HDL.

    3. Really, really would like clarification too. My latest Total Chol. 240, HDL 120, LDL 110, Trigl. 51. Prior to Primal my numbers were Total Chol. 136, HDL 65, LDL 65, Trigl. 29. Am wondering if more exercise, more carbs, a multivitamin to cover the trace nutrients would help my latest numbers…or if my new numbers are good? The conflicting information is maddening.

        1. thanks for the info. sorry, not sure how to read this. I am a born-again Christian and do not drink alcohol whatsoever. no interest in it. no knowledge of it. just thought i’d clear that up. I think I will go back to my old eating routines. thank you thhough

  11. Good on you Mark. You’ve been a tremendous inspiration worldwide. You’ve been prepared to put yourself out there. So hope this information gains mainstream acceptance. Can anyone be a Primal health Coach or is it just for health professionals?

  12. I am still fairly new to PB; I stumbled across this community inMay-June of this year. I have some major takeaways from this change…
    Primal eating is everywhere. Paleo/Primal is becoming much more widespread, and even in mainstream health articles I’m starting to notice an emphasis on the importance of fats and proteins, in place of carbs. No “diets” ever made sense to me before. This makes SENSE.

    Also, I’ve learned to not fret so much over food, exercise, et cetera. And have FUN. That fun is a legitimate part of being (and staying) healthy. Thanks Mark and the PB community!!!

    1. I’m taking the Primal Health Coaching Certification course and I just started Key Concept #7 this morning, titled Exercise is ineffective for weight management. Imagine my surprise when I read #10 above: Exercise is important for weight loss. Looking forward to reading more about this and getting some resolution around this topic so that I have a clear message for my clients.

  13. Mark, I always look forward to your posts and read them carefully, and I want to thank you for all you do. Happy Solstice!

  14. Dear Mark and Team

    So excited to hear you will build a Primal Kitchen Restaurant in Culver City.
    Please invest the time, energy and finances to have a “Baubiologe” as your primary consultant right away and throughout the entire planning and building process. So you can have a building that is as healthy as can be for the people using it and the environment.

    Good Luck!

  15. Whoa, how did I miss that legumes are back on the menu?! And you didn’t put a link on that one, tell me more, please? What about the evil lectins? What about the evidence of farts, not to put too fine a point on it?

    That said…yes, please tell me more, I’ve miss lentils.

  16. I discovered that I have a leaky gut! I did a Whole 30 in September and found out that I have issues with gluten — likely have had it for years, since I always thought I suffered from undiagnosed IBS. Going without, I found out what feeling “good” is like. Also — my hands get stiff from inflammation due to gluten, and not from arthritis (for which my now-retired doctor was suggesting taking one of those 12-hour pain pills; did nothing to help, and now I know why).

  17. Legumes being back are like a big fat Christmas gift to me. I missed the original pronouncement and now am over the moon ecstatic. I’m pathetic.

  18. By far the most important variable in terms of health is how well and deeply you sleep, imo. So here are some cutting edge sleep tips:
    I swear if you combine these tools you’ll fall asleep in under 5 minutes and feel better than you ever have the next morning! So the tools are:
    1. Blue lights blocking glasses – https://amzn.to/2ifDMeY Wear these when you go to sleep or are working on the computer in the evening. Blocks out blue light so when it’s evening your brain actually thinks its evening.
    2. Taurine – https://amzn.to/2hZcc5 Use 5g before bed. Besides being GABAergic Taurine has some other nice benefits: Increases Testosterone levels before sleep by 180% (almost triples your T) – https://suppversity.blogspot.com/2012/07/up-to-180-increase-in-testosterone-w.html So not only are you going to fall asleep faster, you’ll be burning fat AND building muscle while asleep! Increases T4 to T3 conversion 2-fold – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3133948/ – again, higher T3=more fat burning. Increased thyroid activity (Higher T4/T3 conversion) is also often a marker for metabolic health.
    3. Glycine – https://amzn.to/2ijGc8z – 5g before bed. Being, again, a close GABA analog glycine also seems to be an antiinflammatory, immunomodulatory, and cytoprotective agent – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12589194 , as well as protecting against ischemic (reduced blow flow) injuries – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22044190 . 4. Niacinamide – https://amzn.to/2ijDvUa – in human doses of 1500mg – 3000mg daily is potent anti-anxiety drug similar in action to the benzodiazepine class of drugs like Diazepam, Valium, and Xanax. Here are some scientific studies on that:
    I can personally attest to the fact that anything above 1500mg dosage at once makes me the mellowest, nicest…and sleepiest person Combine all these tools and there’s no way you’re not going to fall asleep!

  19. So recent ancestral history sorta trump’s Paleo ancestry…by millions of years.

  20. On 13. Evolutionary biology needs reworking, BIGTIME.

    “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?”

    Darwinism is a LIE. The premise of natural selection aka survival of the fittest (or most adapted), the process leading to macro-evolution (evolving from one species to another), is false.
    Evolution in biology is in the epigenetics, adaptation to environment. No such thing as morphing from one species to another. ‘Small’ changes that benefit the species, is what happens as a result of adapting to environment stimulus.
    Species have survived by means of cooperation, that is where the plasticity/creativity/culture comes in (i would think).
    Its survival of the species, not of the strongest.

  21. Good article. Mark, any chance you or the worker bees could put up an update on what’s being done to fix the forums? Really disappointed how unusable they still are for searching and posting. I know you said recently this is a priority…