John Durant: “The Paleo Manifesto” | Talks at Google

John Durant: “The Paleo Manifesto” | Talks at Google


JOHN DURANT: Today I
wanted to talk about paleo as bio-hacking, which may be a
little bit different than how it’s currently
portrayed in the press. A lot of the pieces on the paleo
diet, or the cave man diet, in the press are a
little bit cartoonish. I’m a little bit
responsible for that. But it often gets portrayed as
the macho man eating raw meats straight off the
bone wearing a loin cloth, which is pretty silly. But that’s sort of the way
that a lot of journalists portray it. My book, and this approach,
is actually about something much bigger than paleo or
the paleolithic or even just diet, which is starting to take
evolution, human evolution, seriously when we think
about human health. The current state of
health recommendations in this country and
the world is awful. So many people
want to be healthy, but are confused by
conflicting advice. You know, should I do Atkins? Should I go vegetarian? Health issues, ethical
issues, environmental issues. For weight loss or
autoimmune conditions? Should I count calories? Is fat evil? Are there types of
fat that aren’t evil? There’s a lot of mass
confusion out there. And there are a lot of eating
disorders, clearly obesity, type 2 diabetes. People are living a long
time, but the question is, are they thriving
and being healthy? So the broader concept that
I want to talk about today isn’t just diet or isn’t
just the paleolithic, but starting to use
our evolutionary past to generate really smart
heuristics that are probably pretty close to being right
in pretty short order. I’m sure you guys are very
familiar with some principles of hacking or bio-hacking. And I just sort of want to do
a comparison between principals of hacking or bio-hacking,
and what this broader paleo sphere is doing in
the health world. So trial-and-error
is very important– hands-on, do-it-yourself,
self-experimentation, n equals 1, experiments. And speed– move fast. Embrace failure– break things. 80% solutions–
don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Resourcefulness–
repurposing old features for new uses,
accidental discoveries. I’m moving very
quickly over these because I feel like this
audience is probably very familiar with
this type of stuff. Simplicity– keep
it simple stupid. Decentralization. All these hacking principles. What’s also cool
about these principles is it’s actually have evolution
by natural selection works. It’s an amateurish
process without any overarching authority. It isn’t concerned with theory. Organisms are always
using whatever a bits are lying around as
material for new functions and features. It’s sort of a blind,
trial-and-error search process. So when you actually look at
this broader paleo movement, whether you call it that word. Maybe another word is
better– ancestral health, evolutionary health,
evolutionary medicine. Again, you have a lot
of similar features. You basically have a lot
of amateurs out there who have said a lot
of the top-down advice that we’re getting from
health officials at the USDA or in the government or my
corporate health program or my health insurance policy
don’t seem to be working. And so maybe it’s time to
start treating your own health as a do-it-yourself activity. Because if you want to prevent
chronic health conditions, there’s no magic
pill you can take. There’s no surgery
that you can conduct to prevent the onset of
obesity and type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s and
things like that. You actually have to take
day-to-day in your daily life to prevent all these things. So in a sense, we’re
all bio-hackers if we want to be healthy. We have to do it yourself. Over the last few years,
this sort of paleo approach has been pounding the pavement
on things like saturated fat. And that a lot of the
science on saturated fat has been distorted,
or poorly conducted, publishing biases to make
saturated fat look bad. But over the last couple
years of iteration of people experimenting with
their own blood work, with different levels of
saturated fat in their diet, people have very
quickly realized, wait a second, saturated
fat is not this evil thing. 40% of all fats in human
breast milk or saturated. About 40% of all the fats in
the human body are saturated. We’ve had saturated fat in
our diet for millions of years from bone marrow and brains. So our metabolism is
well-adapted to metabolizing, to harnessing it as
an energy source. So you see issues
like that where this bottom-up, open source
community is moving much faster than the conventional
health authorities. Embracing failure. There are folks in
the paleosphere who get into fights about
whether eating a legume is going to kill you or not,
or give you kidney stones. Or rice or wheat. A lot of people are
talking about gluten-free. Is having a little bit of gluten
going to cause stomach problems and digestive
problems in any one? Is this overblown? So there may be some areas
where this burgeoning movement is wrong. That’s OK. People are moving fast. They’re experimenting. And they’re going to see
whether it works or not. We don’t have to go through
all the rest of these. So much my book actually isn’t
mostly about the paleolithic, even though it uses
the word paleo. And so I want to
introduce the structure that I use to think about human
evolution and any health issue that you want to deal with–
not just food, not just movement or anything. So this is a typical
singularity chart from Kurzweil from life to today, the
growth of complexity or major transitions
over that period of time. And so I sort of
structure my thinking into five main
buckets, as we think about human evolution from the
beginning of life to today. What I call the Animal
Age, or basically from the Cambrian explosion to
the beginning the Paleolithic, pre-human essentially. We can learn a lot from other
species and our common ancestry with other species about how to
be healthy, whether it’s food, whether its movement. Then you get the Paleolithic
for about 2.6 million years. That’s when you get hominids
and humans emerging. Then you get the
Agricultural Age. After the agricultural
revolution, we domesticate
plants and animals, start living in cities. Our lifestyles
change dramatically. The industrial age. And the information age. And we can use this simple
five-age, five-era framework to in really quick fashion get
a handle, 80% of the way there on pretty much any health issue. And start to cut through
a lot of noise that’s out there about
how to be healthy. Should we eat saturated fat? How much sun exposure
should we get? How much should we move? And in what ways are the
best ways to exercise? And all of these questions
that just fill the bookstores with diet books and health
books and all this nuttiness. It doesn’t have to
be this complicated. So some of the
heuristics that we can learn when we
look at other species is any health dynamic you care
about– thermal regulation, diet, movement,
anything– the best way to learn about it is to
completely forget human beings and just look at other species. And compare that dynamic
across different species. Because as soon as you
start talking about humans, everybody has preconceived
notions about how to do it. People have a lot of–
particularly in food, food is like religion– people
have all these identity– it’s a source of identity
for a lot of people. And so you can’t have an honest
conversation about what should I eat or what should I not eat? So if you look at our common
ancestry with other species, you can be like, OK, well
there are herbivores. There are carnivores. There are omnivores. And if you go to a
zoo, the basic approach that the top zoos
in the world take, is they use modern science
and medical technology to keep the animals alive. But then they mimic the
natural habitat and lifestyle of the species in relevant
ways, in the most relevant ways. And so it just depends
on the species. You want to feed red
meat and whole prey feeding to the lions
and the carnivores. And you want to feed
grass to the herbivores, or whatever plant species
they’re adapted to. And omnivores have more
dietary flexibility. Immediately you can start to
realize that, first of all, there’s no particular food
out there that is necessarily inherently unhealthy. It depends on whether that
species is adapted to it. Plenty of species are
adapted to eating grass. And they have the microorganisms
in their extensive stomach to digest it all. We don’t. A second thing that you can
learn very quickly about health from looking at other
species– and again looking at zoos, because that’s
where we often have the best access to them– is the
importance of habitat. And starting to
think about health in terms of a
holistic habitat-based approach to keeping
species healthy. I talk about, in my book,
a trip to the Cleveland zoo where they had some
obese gorillas. Heart disease and heart failure
is the number one killer of male gorillas in captivity,
just like heart disease is the number one killer of
male humans in civilization. And so they were
trying to figure out ways to reverse or halt the
progression of heart disease in these Western
lowland gorillas. And it’s kind of like,
OK, so what should we do? They don’t really have
any fat in their diet, so low-fat doesn’t work. I guess what they could try
to restrict their calories, but that didn’t
seem to make sense. So what they did was they
were like, oh wait a second, maybe we shouldn’t be feeding
these Western lowland gorillas wheat, corn, and soy-based
fiber bars that are essentially reformulated dog food. Of course it’s
not even dog food, because that’s not what
dogs and wolves eat. So they switched the gorillas
to a bunch of leafy plants and vegetables that they bought
in the local Cleveland grocery store. McCullough lost 70 pounds. Beback lost 35 pounds. Their blood work improved. Behavioral problems went away. All sorts of things like that. But all of these zoos
realized that you can use modern
medical technology to keep the animals alive
for a long period of time, but if you want to prevent
the onset of chronic health conditions to help
them thrive, you have to take a
habitat-based approach. Because there’s no
pill, there’s no surgery that can be done to
reverse these conditions, or at least not
terribly effectively. So that gives you your
first-pass approach at, OK, how does this dynamic work? Forget human beings. Then the next step
is to say, OK well, if we’re talking
about diet, now how does this feature
manifest in human beings during a long formative
period in human evolution? During the paleolithic, this
2.6 million year period. It’s not the end of the story. But it really is sort of
the beginning of the story. I don’t think that paleo diets,
and paleo this and paleo that is the end of the conversation. It’s more like it’s the
appropriate beginning of the conversation. So if you were talking about
diet, that’s where you realize, you talk to paleo
anthropologists and realize that
humans have been eating meat for 2.6 million
years or longer. There are cut marks
on bones that we have going back that long. And so right off the bat,
you’re just immediately skeptical of claims that
veganism or vegetarianism are the optimal ways for humans
to be healthy because it’s like, wait a second,
we’ve been omnivores for millions of years. There are no known vegan
or vegetarian indigenous populations. And the introduction of
meat into the human diet is, does appear, to
be related, in part, to the expansion of our brains. And so the paleolithic gives you
this first-pass approximation of what might be a healthy
lifestyle, healthy diet, temperature changes, circadian
rhythms, sleep patterns, all of this. It gives you a
first-pass approximation of what might be a healthy
pattern for human beings today. It doesn’t guarantee
that there aren’t new ways of doing
things that are better, new foods that might
be healthier or better. But for the amateur
trying to quickly arrive at good heuristics, it’s
the right place to start. Then after the
agricultural revolution, people start living in cities. We become farmers
and herders instead of hunters and gatherers. And so, then you take into
account recent adaptations. So just because a
food is novel doesn’t mean it’s bad or unhealthy. So, for example, most
people’s favorite foods come from fermentation, whether
it’s alcohol or cheese or bread or a lot of things the
harness microorganisms and the process of
fermentation to be created. So we can take into account
recent cultural adaptations. We can also take into
account genetic adaptations. You look at alcohol,
and populations that have been drinking
alcohol for 5,000 years handle it better than
indigenous populations that have been drinking alcohol
for three generations. They’re just not adapted to
metabolizing alcohol well. If you come from European
or Middle Eastern ancestry, our ancestors went
through a process where there were probably lots
of people dying of alcoholism. But it happened 5,000 years ago. And I won’t go too
much into this, but one of the heuristics
that’s very important is realizing the
importance of culture, both culture in the forms
of ideas and microbes to human health. So then you get
the Industrial Age. And the Industrial Age and
the Industrial Revolution over the last
couple hundred years is pretty much a warning
of what not to do. This is the simple heuristic. The British Navy sends a
bunch of sailors out on ships. And they alter their food
so that it doesn’t perish, and don’t realize that these
guys are going to get scurvy because there’s no Vitamin
C in what they’re eating. Or people move indoors and
they don’t get any sunlight. And then people get rickets. So we started changing
things in human lives so quickly during the
Industrial Revolution that we weren’t able to adapt
culturally or genetically. Rickets, pellagra,
scurvy, even explorers going in novel habitats
during the Industrial Age, a flight going undersea. This industrial
technology was literally pushing human beings in
habitats that we had never experienced over eons of
genetic and cultural evolution. And we learned how
to kill ourselves. We killed ourselves at the
beginning of the Industrial Revolution through lack of
sun exposure and rickets, through missing micronutrients,
changing our diet so quickly and shifting to a diet of
refined flour and sugar and alcohol that we were
missing key micronutrients from our diet. And then by the end
of the Industrial Age, we figure out that we need
to add certain things back in and fortified foods with them. But we were just solving
problems of our own creation. So the big lesson from
the Industrial Age is learning how to
not die basically. And then today in
the Information Age we’re now in a position
to– the last piece of this is personal experimentation and
customizing solutions to you. Because everybody has a unique
genome, unique gut bacteria, allergies, injuries, tastes,
preferences, budgets, so we’re all unique organisms. We all live in a unique habitat. We’re all going to end up
with somewhat unique diets or lifestyles that work for us. So let’s take food. A lot of people that hear
about the paleo diet, they just think of
the paleolithic. And the basic
prescriptions are– all the conventional health
authorities pretty much agree that too much industrial
foods is bad for you. So all their advice,
from the Mayo Clinic to Doctor Oz to Michael
Pollan to everybody is basically avoid
industrial food. Processed food–
Twinkies and Coca-Cola and refined sugar and all that. So it basically
boils down to, eat like we did before the
Industrial Revolution. Eat like you sort of
grew up on a farm. You had whole grain bread and
milk and cheese and organic. Everything was organic. We were still poor. But everything was organic. So all of that health
advice basically boils down to eat like a farmer. Eat like a herder-farmer. And that may be enough
for a lot of people. Avoiding industrial food for
a lot of people, particularly young people, may be
completely fine and sufficient. But it’s not for a
lot of other folks. And so what paleo adds
to the mix is saying, OK well, the Agricultural
Revolution introduced two huge food groups
into the human diet they basically
hadn’t been consumed before– grains and legumes
and domesticated seeds, basically, and dairy from
domesticated animals. I don’t know if anybody here
has milked a wild animal. It’s not easy. It’s possible, not easy. So what this adds, a
little more perspective, and says OK, well people
four hundred generations ago, only started to eat
tons of wheat and corn and diets shifted from
being very diverse, lots of different
animal species, lots of different
parts of the animal, lots of different types
of plants depending on the geography and the season,
to a diet heavily concentrated in a few staple cereal crops–
wheat, corn, barley, oats. And then products made from
that, bread and beer and things like. So paleo adds that piece
to the puzzle in food. So what I recommend
people do is– first off, if you feel fine with
your health and the way that you’re eating, there may
be no reason to change anything. If you feel fine and there
aren’t any issues, then what’s the problem? However, if eating
an agricultural diet isn’t working for you, then
what you might want to explore is diets that were more common
during this prior period in human evolution– so
removing grains, removing dairy for a time, and trying to mimic
an approximation– we realize it’s an approximation. And then add back in
novel modern foods and see how you feel. I know many people who are very
strict on gluten and grains. Many have to be. Many just want to be. And I know more people
who are flex on dairy, and when they eat
it it’ll be more like full-fat traditional dairy. And then just see how you feel. And this is sort of the
bio-hacking part of it. You’ve got to experiment. And based on your ancestry
and your genome and your gut bacteria and what
you like, you just have to craft your own diet. Let me give you
one more example, and then maybe we
can go to questions. I don’t know what time it is. AUDIENCE: It’s about 3:30. JOHN DURANT: 3:30? The paleolithic doesn’t
help you with all areas. And this is why I get a little
frustrated with the term paleo, even though I use
it and promote it. So take sleep, as an example. The big change in
human sleep patterns didn’t happen between
the paleolithic and the agricultural revolution. People still lived with
their extended family in fairly close quarters and had
no indoor lighting and things like that. The big transition in sleep was
between the Agricultural Age and the Industrial Age when
you get indoor lighting, you get more stimulants
like coffee and tea to keep people up,
more alco– well I guess alcohol was way before–
clocks, things like that. And then people increasingly
sleeping in isolation from others, in their own rooms,
on softer and softer bedding. So most of the big
key transition, most of the key changes,
when it comes to sleep, have nothing to do
with the paleolithic. And you can actually
get an approximation of a healthy way of
sleeping and sleep patterns from looking at our
agricultural era ancestors. So the paleolithic
doesn’t always hold the solutions
to everything. We don’t always need it,
depending on the issue. But people focus on
diet so much that that’s what it gets associated with. Do I have anything else? No. So if people now have
specific questions, let’s open it up to questions. AUDIENCE: What do you mean
exactly by [INAUDIBLE]? JOHN DURANT: By what? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]? JOHN DURANT: So people would
sleep near a fire, usually. There were lots
of people around. There wasn’t very much privacy. There are a lot
of folks who think that sleep was less less of a
single uninterrupted stretch of seven or eight hours and
more broken up into two periods. Or you’d sleep for a
while, wake up, have sex, go to the bathroom, chat
with someone by the fire, go back to sleep
for a few hours. Night was a long time. And you couldn’t do
much when it was dark. So that’s sort of
what it was like. But it didn’t change too much
when people started farming. And then they were
living in little huts with extended family
scrunched together around the fire for all night. Other questions? AUDIENCE: From on VC behind you. You can’t see me
actually, I think. JOHN DURANT: Hi. AUDIENCE: When I was at
[INAUDIBLE] from Hamburg, Germany. And thanks again
for doing all this. Paleo has done a lot for me. Listened to you recently
on Robb Wolf again. It’s just amazing stuff
that you guys are doing. JOHN DURANT: Thanks. AUDIENCE: So my question
is– so [INAUDIBLE] a lot of people around
you there as well. I have a lot of
people, when you say, you know when people say they
are fine with what they’re eating and they way they’re
feeling, then [INAUDIBLE]. So the two questions that I have
around that is, you know, A, how do they know
that they couldn’t feel much, much better, right? I feel like we’ve been
doing that sort of stuff for a long time. We don’t even know. [INAUDIBLE]? JOHN DURANT: Right. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] basically. All their lives. So, that’s the one question. The other one is, I
feel like– so you say a lot of young
people especially, I think what you mean is
that a lot of people, their their metabolism is much more
forgiving than, for example, later in time. JOHN DURANT: Right. AUDIENCE: What is
[INAUDIBLE] that is accumulating over this
period that sort of, you know, lifestyle, that
could be prevented, and would not even lead to
issues in the 30s, 40s, 50s, whenever. JOHN DURANT: So, thanks
for your questions. For the first
question, yeah, people tend to accept their
lives as normal. They confuse the word
normal with common. I do it. Everybody here does it. Just because it’s
common in North America to live a certain
way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily species
typical in a biological sense. So they have the
same problem in zoos. They run studies on the health
of all the captive gorillas in North American zoos. But they actually can’t conclude
very much because they all lead very similar lives and
very similar circumstances, eating very similar food. And so if you actually want to
see real differences in gorilla help, you have to compare them
with their wild counterparts. But the reason why I say,
however you’re eating, if you feel great, fine
is partly because I don’t want to push
people too much. And we can eat novel foods,
and we can live in new ways and that’s fine. So I’m just trying to do more
of the soft sell, I guess. But I think people
would be surprised about how many conditions
they accept as normal that don’t necessarily have to be. You get teenagers that
accept it as normal that they will need braces
and to get tons of acne. And this causes like a
lot of social anxiety, and like self-esteem issues. And we treat it as this
normal rite of passage through adolescence. But the reason why
our teeth are crowded is because our jaws
have gotten smaller over the last some thousands of
years because the food we eat isn’t very tough. It’s very soft. And so our jaws
don’t grow as large as they do when we
had tougher foods. And so our jaws aren’t large
enough to fit all of our teeth. And some of those
strong bite forces are what the body uses to help
your teeth come in straight. When you look at these
hunter gatherer skulls– and I’ve gotten to examine some
of them– 80,000 years ago, beautiful set of teeth. Not perfect, but
wisdom teeth came in, there was enough room in
the jaw for the wisdom teeth to come in. No cavities. And straight. So that’s– AUDIENCE: I’m sorry. Are you saying that’s an
evolutionary change over 80,000 years, or is that
a specific change over the lifetime because
an individual is chewing less, that their jaw grows less. JOHN DURANT: Individual
chewing less, though there are some
lines of evidence that maybe the human
had has actually gotten a little bit smaller
over the last 10,000 years. Our brains actually used
to be a little bit bigger than they are today. Near the end the paleolithic. I don’t know what that means. Your second question was about–
what was your second question? Oh youth, youth. So definitely young
people can– there’s very interesting evolutionary–
the evolutionary biology of aging is a very
fascinating area. There’s a guy named Michael
Rose at UC Irvine who’s probably the preeminent
guy in this field. And a lot of people think of
aging as sort of simply just damage accumulating,
like a car rolls off the lot at wherever
they sell cars– AUDIENCE: Dealership. JOHN DURANT: –at a dealership. And then from then on
out, it sort of just accumulates damage. But during the period of time
before the typical first stage of reproduction, we’ve basically
evolved incredible repair mechanisms. So let me put it this way, if
you get a genetic defect that causes you to die when
you’re four or five, your genes don’t get passed on
to the next generation at all. Kaput. You’re out. You’re out of the gene pool. But if you get that same
genetic defect when you’re 50, you still have time
to have offspring. So basically, depending
on the first typical age of reproduction of
a species, evolution selects for incredible
robust health. We grow stronger
as we get older. We become more robust
from birth to adolescence, and then we start to
accumulate damage. So young people are
actually pretty well adapted to some aspects of
an agricultural diet. Young people are
probably better adapted to some of those foods than
those same individuals later in life. It’s a very
counter-intuitive concept. But there’s been selection
pressures for young kids to be able to survive
on these diets, to make it to the age
at which they reproduce. There has not been the
same sort of selection, or as strong of selection,
for older people. So there are a lot of
people, for example, who end up getting
Celiac later in life. There was some traumatic
event, or childbirth, or just getting older. Either Celiac or not being
able to digest lactose. They become lactose
intolerant later in life. You start to notice
it among folks. My grandmother developed
Celiac late in life. And it’s possible that for
some of these more novel foods, we’re better
adapted to them when we’re young and less adapted
to them when we’re older. So it may become
more important to eat more of a paleolithic
diet the older you get. Some of that is hypothesis. AUDIENCE: Can I jump in on that
just really quickly, sorry. AUDIENCE: Well let– OK. AUDIENCE: Just because
it’s a very tangible thing. [INAUDIBLE] a lot of
money into keeping Googlers healthy, right? JOHN DURANT: Right. Like free M&Ms and
stuff like that? AUDIENCE: They’ve reduced those. AUDIENCE: And we get massages,
and adjustable tables and gyms and that sort of stuff. And we have a lot of people
that started around age, I don’t know, 20, 25 here. And then as they
continue working here, they get out of
shape, but they think that’s the natural
course of life basically. So what would you tell Google
as a company to say, hey, look, your people just don’t have
to get sick and fat, right? [LAUGHTER] JOHN DURANT: That’s right. Well, you could start
to model workplaces on little hunter
gatherer tribes. Less clothing and things like. When you look at traditional
people, indigenous folks, living in traditional ways,
they have health problems of their own– infant
mortality, things like that– but they tend
to live into their 60s, 70s, and even the 80s in some
cases in robust health. The 70-year-olds, they’re
not bed-ridden with arthritis and have Alzheimer’s. There like carrying pails
of water into their 70s and hiking up hills
and things like that. And if you were a
hunter gatherer, you had to, at a minimum, be
able to move with your tribe whenever it migrated. And so it gives you a new
sense of what’s normal. What I like about the way that
Google thinks about health is really thinking
about the habitat. Saying OK, your habitat has a
big influence on whether you eat something or don’t. If we put a cover on it
and make it less visible, fewer people eat the candy. I think that’s one of the
changes that happened here. And what’s good about
re-engineering your habitat is it doesn’t require as much
willpower and discipline. So many people, when
they get into dieting, they think they’re
changing themselves. Like I have to change myself. And I have to become
a better person. And I’m going to do this through
willpower and discipline. And that’s part of the reason
why everybody fails at it. Because you can’t– nobody
is perfectly disciplined over a long period of time. You have to find ways
of using discipline in a short period of time
to change your habitat so that it makes it
easy to be healthy even when you’re
not disciplined. Or the way that you lead
your life, the food you eat and how you move, it has to be
meaningful to you in some way. Calories are not
meaningful to people. Most people are not
motivated by calories. Going to hunt a wild animal
to bring back a lot of meat to try to impress the girl
in the tribe that you like, that motivated people. So you have to think about ways
to either change your habitat or make a healthy lifestyle
meaningful to people so that’s it doesn’t
require discipline. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
when you said there was a lot of danger in
doing agricultural industrial. And I’m asking but now I’m
five days in [INAUDIBLE] all the things that can
happen if you make a switch from the
Information Age, where I’ve been eating
processed foods, breads, but then I just stop. Right? And I just stop and
start eating meant and vegetables and some fruits. And are there dangers
going the other way? Like, I read [INAUDIBLE]
so there’s obviously a lot of fear factors,
but like how real are they for doing an abrupt
change in diet? JOHN DURANT: One
thing people will notice with abrupt changes
is particularly around sugar. People eat a lot of sugar today. And if you eat a lot of
sugar, and then you cut it out of your diet, you’re
basically going through withdrawal of a drug. And it’s not pleasant. Lightheadedness,
shaky hands, inability to concentrate, anxiety. So that can be difficult. Unless somebody has some sort of
specific, severe health issue, I do tend to think that trying
to go more or less whole hog, for a short period of time,
is the best way to do it. And you just got a
monitor how you feel. You’ll see better results. Or you’ll have a
better validation of whatever results you get. And you can harness that
period of discipline. A lot of people
can be disciplined for a week or two weeks. Few people can just be
disciplined for two years. So rather than trying to go
sort of 5p% for a long period of time, just going 100%. Other risks– with diet I don’t
think there are as many risks. With exercise, yeah. If people just like immediately
jump into a hard CrossFit workout without
learning Olympic lifts, you can injure your back. But for most people, sugar is
the biggest immediate obstacle. AUDIENCE: So I’m vegan. And I actually agree a lot
with the paleo mindset. I think there’s a lot
more in common than– JOHN DURANT: I agree. AUDIENCE: –as far as focusing
on whole foods, et cetera. And I think it gets overblown
in the media how much meat you do have to eat. I think too much is bad. I don’t think
necessarily [INAUDIBLE] the only way to do things. So I was just
curious, kind of, I guess you thoughts on diet,
maybe your day-to-day diet. JOHN DURANT: Well let me talk
about the vegan/ paleo thing for a second. In the press, it’s often
portrayed as polar opposites. I do tend to think of paleo and
vegan as more like yin yang. I have no problem with
people eating however they want to eat. And I respect vegans
and vegetarians a lot for being
conscious eaters. Where it does grate on me a
little bit is if people then turn around and say, this
is an optimal human diet. That’s where I become a bit
more combative and disagree. And here’s the thing. Any dietary approach–
Atkins, vegan, paleo, whatever– that gets people
to eat less industrial food, is going to work to some extent. Less refined sugar, refined
flour, high fructose corn syrup. Any approach that gets
people to reduce that will have some success
at least for a time. And then, I have much more
in common with how vegans eat than probably the
average Western diet. What was the last piece? How do I eat on a daily basis? AUDIENCE: Yeah what’s
your day-to-day? JOHN DURANT: I often
don’t eat breakfast. I don’t wake up terribly hungry. Sometimes, if I do have
breakfast, I’ll have some eggs and spinach. Or I’ll have a bowl of
heavy cream, because I eat some dairy, and a sliced
up banana, which is delicious. Lunch– sushi. I don’t worry about a little
bit of white rice or anything like that. Sushi, sashimi, Mongolian
barbecue, meat and vegetables, a Cobb salad,
something like that. And then dinner would be a
piece of fish, sweet potato, and a side salad. I mean, it’s not that radical. But it is radical over
an extended period when you realize that
gluten and wheat and corn are in everything
in the grocery store except for a few things
around the outside. AUDIENCE: Question
from VC behind you. JOHN DURANT: Hi. AUDIENCE: So you
mentioned white rice. And I eat white rice
myself because I think it doesn’t– at least it doesn’t
feel as bad wheat does. So, and I also read some studies
saying that among grains, you might actually
be better off eating white rice than brown
rice even, in moderation. So thought on that. And I’m going to throw in
a second question, which is you mentioned metabolism as
the damage analogy for aging. So the simple logic is that
the faster your metabolism the faster you’re going to age. But then again, I
find, for instance, if I sleep on a cold, hard bed,
I feel better in the morning, and logically I feel like that’s
the better things to be doing. But then part of me is
thinking, isn’t my body trying to burn more fuel to
stay warm during the night. So I don’t know if you
have any thoughts on that. JOHN DURANT: Well,
on rice first. In my mental model of
grains, wheat is the worst. And rice is the least
worst, or the best. Let me give you the
10,000 foot view seeds. And when I say seeds, I
mean the reproductive organ of the plant, and I’m including
grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Seeds, as the reproductive
organ of the plants, have many nutrients
in them because it’s to feed the next generation. They also have
defense mechanisms. Sometimes a shell, which
is nature’s way of saying stay out. Or chemicals, toxins or
naturally occurring pesticides. Plants can’t run
away from predators. They are not mobile. So they have to use
other mechanisms to defend their offspring or
the reproductive interests. And they usually
do that by making seeds or the entire plant
toxic in some way to insects or herbivores. They might be OK–
I’m giving them agency metaphorically– they
might be OK with an herbivore coming along,
eating their seeds, and then not digesting
them and then letting them come out in their feces. But they’re still then
covered in a casing to prevent them
from being digested. Wild almonds contain
cyanide in them. Apple seeds also
have cyanide in them. Many fruit pits are poisonous. And every year some kid
will eat like a peach pit or a nectarine pit and have to
go to poison control or die. You basically go
through seeds, and it’s a huge list of things that
can irritate the stomach or the reproductive
system of the animals that are consuming them. Sheep in New Zealand
and Australia, you have to keep them away
from certain pasture legumes because if the ewes
eat too many of them, they have higher rates of
miscarriage or become fertile, which is an adaptation. That’s exactly what
the legumes “want” to do because any ewes
that have a taste for them don’t have offspring. So there’s a general
concern with eating diets that are high in seeds,
particularly the same seed over and over, because they can
cause a lot of health problems in concentrated qualities. And if they’re not prepared
in traditional ways. Traditional ways of preparing
nuts and seeds and grains and legumes– soaking,
fermenting, baking, sprouting. All of these traditional
methods of preparing seeds were ways of deactivating some
of these problematic toxins in them. And we’ve sort of
forgotten that. And now we eat tons of
wheat, corn, and soy prepared in untraditional ways. And so that’s the main reason
for being skeptical of them from the outset. White rice is
basically carbohydrate. If you want more carbohydrate
in your diet, eat it. If you want less, don’t. I like the texture of it. So I eat it. And I can handle
the carbohydrate. What was your other question? AUDIENCE: It was about
whether increasing metabolism by wearing less clothing
or exposure to the cold is a good thing because then– JOHN DURANT: Yeah
I’m not sure I have a very good answer
to that question. I don’t know how much trying
to slow down your metabolism is feasible, and how much
it might or might not add to your longevity
at the end of your life. Is it an extra 20 days
when you’re 87 years old? I don’t know. So I would do whatever. If you get better sleep
on a harder surface when it’s chilly, then
I would do that. And yeah– AUDIENCE: I’m personally
really glad I do paleo, and I feel fortunate that
I can, because there’s a farmer’s market
that I can go to. And I have the wherewithal to
buy expensive grass-fed beef. And I live in a country that
gives me an internet where I can go and I read your
blog and listen to podcasts. Is there a future for paleo in
Africa or in Southeast Asia? Is there a future where billions
of people around the world are eating paleo? And can be sustain that? Is it just sort of like a
fad that upper middle-class people in America
are going to embrace? JOHN DURANT: Well, we can learn
a lot about human health even if everybody in the world
does not adopt this diet, which they won’t. Even if everybody had the
capability to do so, everybody wouldn’t. So first, the benefit
of some people experimenting with
this is simply learning about human metabolism
and what makes folks healthy. Right now, the early
years of paleo– people are painting with broad strokes. Grains are bad. Well maybe it will turn
out, over years of research, that gluten grains
are the worst. But if you’re dealing with
non-gluten grains, quinoa or something else, many
people can digest that better. Or maybe we’ll
learn that you just need to introduce certain
types of gut bacteria into people’s
stomachs and then they have fewer negative reactions
to a particular grain. So, there may be changes in
how we think about paleo, or how we think about
different grains that make it more
accessible to people. Or make aspect of
paleo irrelevant. You mentioned the insect
company– or the cricket protein bar company
that I’m helping out. Insects are eaten as a
nutritious and inexpensive source of protein
all over the world, except for the Western world. But even crickets,
grasshoppers, and locusts are fine under kosher
and halal rules. And there’s really
no good reason other than a sense of
discuss and tradition, recent tradition, to avoid
eating insects and taking advantage of them. The amino acid
profile of insects is beautiful, most of them. You don’t have to sort of mix
and match protein sources. They require fewer resources
to raise, water in particular. And for ethical reasons, they
have a less well-developed neurological system,
and are adapted to living in very
close quarters. So that’s an area where
paleo could actually, in some respects, make healthy
eating more sustainable. But is everybody going to
live off of grass-fed beef? No. But you have a small group
of people making innovations, and it also incentivizes
the big players, the big agricultural
companies to start to make changes to
how they do things. And they can make small
tweaks in their supply chain, or in their
treatment of animals, that can have a huge
difference on the environment and on ethical issues, simply
because they’re now responding to a 2% of the market, 3% of the
market, 5% of the market that is profitable and growing
that they want to get in on. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. JOHN DURANT: All right. AUDIENCE: When you look
at the line from paleo up, the idea agricultural
societies fare better because they made
cheaper [INAUDIBLE]. That’s why. It’s an evolutionary
process also– JOHN DURANT: Right. It’s growth. AUDIENCE: –but And
so I guess like, do you think the cricket
thing is like– I mean, those calories are going
to be more expensive. It’s more expensive
than simple grains. So it’s less efficient,
more expensive calories. Is that the right
thing to do when throughout all these periods,
and we’re thinking about, how are we going to get enough
calories to feed everybody? Like throughout
these times, there have been a hundred
people who’ve been like, oh my
god, we’re not going to be able to feed
all these people. And they come up
with some new way of breeding some kind of
corn, and then OK cool– JOHN DURANT: Right,
well right now, there are enough calories
to feed every one, and the main impediments are
institutions and infrastructure and growth in poor
parts of the world. But if more people
continue to eat meat, that does take more resources
and things like that. The problem with
corn or soy or any of these grains
as protein sources is they’re not very
good protein sources. They’re incomplete. And eaten in large
quantities, they can cause health problems too. So I don’t know all the
details of the ins and outs of the resources
required to grow insects. We’re sort of exploring
that right now. But it’s worth
exploring, I think. AUDIENCE: What’s
[INAUDIBLE] hacking that this is predicated on. I was wondering– let’s
say my real estate for my grandchildren
[INAUDIBLE]. What about [INAUDIBLE]
cheaper diet with fast food? Then you move back
towards an expensive diet of very good quality food. Wouldn’t we want, a
million years from now, everyone to just
get refined sugar and be perfectly fine with it,
and go on with their lives, rather than everybody
going back to– JOHN DURANT: Well that
will never happen. AUDIENCE: How do you know? JOHN DURANT: Well, I mean– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]? JOHN DURANT:
–evolution takes time. It takes many, many generations. AUDIENCE: I’m just wondering
about the direction. Why not move– AUDIENCE: Bioengineering
is faster. AUDIENCE: Yeah, why
are we not moving in that direction [INAUDIBLE]
perfectly fine [INAUDIBLE]? JOHN DURANT: Well this is
an area where I’m probably in a little bit of tension
with some of the folks here, or the tech world. Throughout history,
you have engineers who are very hubristic and think
that they can centrally plan and design things
better than nature does, or a better than a
decentralized process does. And many times they can,
then occasionally they fail magnificently. So yes, we can produce more
calories with wheat and corn, and feed more people. And we can adapt to that
somewhat over periods of generations. But it also exposes
you to famine. You basically didn’t have
famine until we became heavily dependent on a few cereal
grains, and in a sense, we put all our
eggs in one basket. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
famine throughout recorded and unrecorded history
and various cultures going back tens of thousands of years. JOHN DURANT: Hunter
gatherers tend to have more diverse
diets than other people. And they’re nomadic. So when you have a
more diverse portfolio, you’re less likely– you’re
less dependent on any one food source. If it fails, it’s
not catastrophic. And if you’re nomadic, you
can quickly up and move. So it’s well established
among anthropologists that– it’s not to say
there weren’t periods when people ran out of
food or went hungry. But famine shot
up when we started betting on a few cereal grains. And if you didn’t
get enough rain, or if you didn’t store enough
grain, boom, you’re done. You’re wiped out. AUDIENCE: There was a lot more
people to starve. [INAUDIBLE] population controlled
through agriculture. But the Inuit, for example,
starved regularly up until they integrated
into the modern day, into the rest of the world. JOHN DURANT: I don’t
know details on that. But I bet I would
disagree with you on that. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. JOHN DURANT: Like soylent,
like than just raised– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]
eventually the human organism is going to adapt to it. JOHN DURANT: No, no, no, no, no. So you only get
adaptation if people– if there’s differential
reproductive success– if some people are having more
babies and other people aren’t. So you would need, over a
very long period of time, you would need the people
that are thriving best on heavily industrial diets to
also have the most children. I mean, maybe the Chinese are
willing to do an experiment like that. But not in like a
democratic society. And it requires– even lactose
tolerance is only in about 30– it’s one gene that
had enormous benefits. One gene, enormous benefits,
and it only moved to about 35% of the population in a
6,000 or 7,000 year period. That is like the
most rapid example that we have of
something with one gene that needs to be flipped,
enormous benefits and even over 7,000 years or whatever. It’s 35% of global population. So it’s not feasible
to think that we’re going to change through– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. JOHN DURANT: Well there
are other mechanisms. Bill Gates has been investing
in artificial meat sources. There are bioengineers
working on– there may be ways of
engineering bacteria, or harnessing bacteria to
basically digest inedible food sources for us, and then
we can digest the output. So I think that’s where the
innovation will happen, not so much in whether we
change our own genome or anything like that. AUDIENCE: So we’re
actually overtime now. Can you stick
around a little bit? JOHN DURANT: Sure,
yeah, I can hang. AUDIENCE: He’ll stick around if
you have any extra questions. Thanks for coming, John. The book’s in the back.
$10.00 subsidized by Google. Check it out. It’s an awesome book. Thanks John. JOHN DURANT: Cool. Thank you.