Primitive Wisdom, Raw Dairy & Why We Are Not What We Eat

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By Rob Archangel, staff writer

Back again with today’s Real Food Summit Roundup.  I listened to part two of superstar Chris Masterjohn’s talk about Weston A. Price and what his research can tell us about how to live today. I like Chris because he’s a man of science, and measures his words and conclusions deliberately.  And while he certainly is on board with the Weston A Price Foundation, I never get the sense that he’s twisting data to meet his (or the Foundation’s) preconceived dogma.

A couple quick comments from today’s talk:  Price never said that it all “primitives” had the wisdom to avoid modern ills, though some did. So it’s wrong both to assume primitives are necessarily dumb, and to adopt a hard-line paleo stance that always valorizes them.  Chris points out that we can’t really establish that traditional diets are what kept people heart-disease or cancer-free, for example. It could be that the natives stayed healthy despite their diet. There is a role for new research and understanding beyond a “traditional foods are always better” mantra. And while it makes sense to err on the side of what we see to be consistent with population-wide freedom from disease, there’s room for experimentation.

As Matt likes to say, we’re not what we eat, but what our bodies do with what we eat. In a low metabolic state, it might just be that modern rather than traditional foods are better for getting us back into high gear, into the robust health we want that the natives had. Maybe those diets are good maintenance diets but not good therapeutic diets.

And on the topic of it’s not (just) what we eat, I also caught Mark McAfee’s talk about raw dairy and its benefits for the immune system. I like Mark, I like what he does, I think Organic Pastures has a lot of integrity as a company and good stewardship practices. But I’m just not convinced raw milk is the sort of cure-all he implies. Just eating probiotic rich food, whether raw milk or yogurt or sauerkraut or kombucha is no guarantee that out bodies will re-balance our internal gut bacteria and optimize our immune systems. (He also mentions prebiotics, which feed beneficial gut bacteria, though curiously avoids mentioning that starches more than fruits and vegetables are effective sources.) It seems the bigger issue, again, is getting the body into a high-functioning state, and while raw dairy might help that, I don’t think it’s necessary or sufficient for most people.

Anyway, all good, fascinating stuff. Surely worth pondering.


  1. I think I will always trust what Chris has to say over anyone else. I agree that he is all about science first, as opposed to WAPF ideology.

  2. Hey, I want to check and see who all is going to AHS 2012. I just realized this is Aug 9 to 11. I would love to head out and see everyone again. Possibly an extra day or two on either side to hang out. Matt? Rob? Deb.. I mean hag? Who’s going?

    • This year it’s at Harvard, so a bus ride away from me. But it looks like spots are full already unless you already have a ticket. Will look into it more- I’d be down.

      EDIT- Holy crap, it’s $250 bucks. Probably can’t swing that. But if you come out east, Aaron, maybe we can meet up either in Boston or NYC.

      • I’m down for a general get together, especially if we can plan it out. $250 for a conference, plus airfare, plus trying to arrange. Yeah, let’s do our own thing. I’m down with that. Me, you, Matt, and the hag. Debbie… you following this thread?

        • I can play NYC tour guide if it’s here.

  3. Rob, I’d love to learn more about starches being good sources of prebiotics–do you have any good links?

      • Thanks Rob! Looks very interesting. I came across a post by a woman who blogs at thelovevitamin. She tried GAPS for a few days to heal stomach issues, but ended up with extreme pain and discomfort. She then tried RRARF for 2 weeks and it disappeared completely or at least greatly improved.

  4. I have a question for whoever may have some answers….I had previously been on GAPS for 4 years, with a low carb/candida approach for the last two years. I had initially seen lots of healing on GAPS, but lately not so much. Anyway, since encountering 180 degree health a little over two weeks ago, I have been reintroducing carbs pretty quickly, including fruit, honey, rice, potatoes, some chocolate, a small amount of caffeine, and wheat. It has all been remarkably smooth and painless. Sleep issues have been fine, considering that I used to be up all night after eating a bit of fruit. Some fogginess with the wheat initially, but now fine. My temps have ranged between 97.0 and 97.5 (aux). Anyway, my cycle has been like clockwork on GAPS, but since reintroducing carbs I have started menstruating 14 days early, with no apparent signs of ovulation between the last cycle and this. Has anyone else experienced anything similar to this, or know if it could be related to carb-reintroduction?

  5. Hi Rob, After dramatically increasing starches after a period of low carb my lipid profile was a bit disappointing. My Hdl went down and all the bad boys like trig’s, ldl went up. However, blood counts and glucose improved. My doctor was not too happy to hear about the HED when she noticed the lipid profile and the 20 lb weight gain ! She wanted to me to move to a lean meats, fruits/veggies and a smaller amount of whole grains diet.

    I think Chris has written about the value of meats and egg yolks etc for Hdl. It is all very confusing! I guess balancing things out is important rather than letting one food group dominate.

    • Hey Narrain,

      Matt has more of a biochemistry background than me, and when he’s back on the comment pages, might have some ideas for you. I will say that short-term changes in biomarkers are often different from the long-term changes, though. Starving yourself is a good way to see improvement in hypertension or insulin sensitivity, for example, but those gains don’t last and come at a cost. Sometime folks getting better will show short term declines in biomarkers, which later improve in the long term. Which is to say, sometimes it takes time.

      • Sorry to hear about that Narain. Rob is correct that short term changes do not equal long term changes. Analyzing the lipid profile is a bit nebulous. I think Chris Masterjohn has some better info on this. You may actually want to try shooting him a message if you have specific questions. Or Matt can help you out too. I’m in the confusion zone as far as lipid profiles are concerned now.

        When I was low carb, I had high HDL and LDL (high overall cholesterol), pattern A LDL, and low triglycerides. According to the more significant risk factors I was very low risk. I eat more whatever I want higher carb now. My HDL isn’t as high and my overall cholesterol is over 200, but my Framingham risk score is less than 1%, meaning I have basically no risk for heart attack according to established medicine.

        When I came off low carb though my blood glucose was going all over the place. I got much worse for a week or two before it started getting better. I know that for overall health things like thyroid and metabolic function are much more important and help determine a lot of the other health markers. That’s why Matt focuses on eating the food. If you’re coming out of a dietary or starvation state (and low-carb can count even if it’s not low calorie) the body may have a long interim healing period such as with the men in Ancel Keys’ Starvation Study. It took them over 30 weeks to start losing the diet-related fat gain.

        Anyway… what I’m trying to say is if you’ve just started doing this, don’t get worried about your lipid profile just yet. Send specific questions to Matt or Chris and they should be able to help you out.

  6. Fascinating about the need for prebiotic starches for good gut bacteria. I recently had a comprehensive digestive stool analysis done after a period of severely low carb, low dairy (except butter), and it showed 0 lactobacillus growth, despite supplementing with therapeutic doses of probiotics and eating a crap load of kimchee every day. Of course, my naturopath (somewhat anti-dairy) speculated that since most probiotics are grown on a dairy based medium, maybe it was necessary for gut health – but she didn’t seem to think the total lack of grains and carbs was a problem ;)

  7. I have heard that fermented foods are not good replacements for probiotics because the beneficial bacteria they contain is killed by stomach acid, whereas probiotics capsules are protective against that. Thoughts?


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