FX Medicine

Home of integrative and complementary medicine

The Premise of Paleo - Q & A with Professor Loren Cordain

editor's picture

As the world's leading expert on Paleo, how exactly would you describe The Paleo Diet to any readers who know nothing about it?

The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. This is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The aim is to optimise health, minimise risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.

When did you first become interested in nutrition?

I first became interested in nutrition during my childhood – my mother would always encourage me to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and my father would give me books about Stone Age people and how they lived off the land from wild plants and animals. 

At a young age I competed in intercollegiate athletics, and this really peaked my interest in diets that had the potential to improve performance. 

I was a big reader too – I read a variety of popular, and now classic, health books on vegetarian dieting by authors such as Frances Moore Lappe, Norman Walker, and Paavo Airola.

What prompted you to start studying the paleolithic diet?

After  finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Utah, I became involved in research involving body fat measurements and exercise performance during my first few years as a young professor at Colorado State University. I was first introduced to the Paleo Diet concept in about 1987 when I read Dr. Boyd Eaton’s seminal New England Journal of Medicine paper, “Paleolithic Nutrition.” At the time it made perfect sense to me, and I read everything I could about the concept and related topics. A number of years later, I gave Dr Eaton a call and invited him to speak at Colorado State University. We hit it off after a meeting together, began writing alongside each other, and the rest is history!

Can you tell us about some of the biggest transformations or healings you've witnessed as a result of people adopting the Paleo Diet?

A few years after I wrote my first book in 2002, I received a letter from a law enforcement officer from a small town in Georgia who was on the verge of losing his job because his excessive obesity prevented him from physically performing the duties required as a police officer.  He weighed nearly 400 lbs (181.5kg) before his physician prescribed my book.  After 18 months of faithfully following a modern day Paleo Diet, this man lost nearly 200 pounds (91kg). He said that his weight hadn’t been this low since his high school days almost 20 years earlier and was so impressed with the diet that he convinced at least half of his entire police force to follow suit.  
I have also received a letter from a woman who successfully battled breast cancer and  came into full remission from this life threatening disease after about a year on the Paleo Diet.  Her story and symptoms are fully outlined in my book, The Paleo Answer, 2012.

I have received numerous letters from Crohn’s disease patients who have completely come into remission after following the Paleo Diet for as little as 2-4 weeks. These success stories and more are fully documented at my website.

You've written extensively about the link between diet and acne — can you share with us the top three diet culprits causing bad skin? 

High-glycaemic load carbohydrates: May cause long-term hyperinsulinaemia and insulin resistance which in turn cause a cascade of other hormonal effects resulting in blockage of the pore, increased sebum production and inflammation. All of these physiological events are fundamental steps in producing acne

Milk and dairy products also elicit an exaggerated insulin response similar to high glycemic load carbohydrates. They also contain bovine hormones which are suspected of eliciting acne.

  • The pores become blocked by skin cells that adhere to one another
  • Sebaceous glands in the skin produce excessive oil
  • Bacteria colonise and infect the oil filled, blocked pore
  • The oil filled, blocked pore and surrounding tissue become inflamed

Many would argue that going without dairy will lead to bone degeneration — what's your counterpoint?

No mammal on the planet requires the milk of another species to produce strong, healthy bones. Primates and humans are no different. Our genus (Homo) has resided on planet earth for about 2 million years, and none of our ancestors ever consumed the milk of another species until about 10,000 years ago when cows, goats and sheep were first domesticated. The fossil record indicates our ancestors maintained robust, fracture resistant bones without ever consuming the milk of another species.

65% of the adults on earth lack the enzyme (lactase) necessary to breakdown the sugar (lactose) found in milk and suffer from digestive upset if they consume milk.  This is powerful evidence that most humans have not experienced any evolutionary adaptations to consume milk as adults. Accordingly, humans like all other primates build strong, fracture resistant bones by consuming the foods normally found in their native ecological niche (hunter gatherers).

For anyone looking to start eating Paleo, where's the best place to begin?

The Paleo Diet is based upon eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era. If you’re getting started with the Paleo Diet, these foods include fresh meats, preferably grass-produced or free-ranging beef, pork, lamb, poultry, and game meat, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and healthful oils including olive, coconut, avocado, macadamia, walnut, and flaxseed.

Foods to avoid include dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, refined sugars, and processed foods.

And finally, what does your own 'day on a plate' look like?

A typical day goes like this:


Two poached free range eggs and whatever fresh fruit is in season (grapefruit, blue berries, strawberries, cantaloupe, melons, blackberries, peaches, cherries etc.  I frequently replace the eggs with a bit of last night’s meat or fish dish.


I frequently skip lunch altogether as I am not typically hungry in the middle of the day.  If I do eat lunch, it may consist of a salad with just about any and all fresh veggies you can imagine (lettuce, tomatoes, purple onions, avocados, green onions, parsley, grated carrots, red cabbage, radishes, bell peppers etc).  My favourite dressing is extra virgin olive oil with either lemon juice or red wine vinegar.  Tossed into the salad are usually some meat or fish.  Crab and shrimp are favourites, but so is thinly sliced beef, lamb or pork.


The central feature of all dinners is fresh meat or fish (beef, lamb, pork, poultry, organ meats, game meats, fish, shellfish or seafood).  We almost always have one or two steamed vegetable side dishes (see The Paleo Diet Cookbook for example recipes (www.thepaleodiet.com) and a big salad or fresh vegetable trays.  Hors d'oeuvres might be fresh oysters, mussels or peel and eat shrimp.  Dessert is almost always some kind of fresh fruit or mixture of fresh fruits (again see The Paleo Diet Cookbook for example recipes). 


Throughout the day consist mainly of water and spring water.  

However, in order to help with compliance we have developed the 85:15 rule which allows people to “cheat” a little by eating 3 (15 % of all meals) non-Paleo meals per week.  

Accordingly, coffee, tea, wine, spirits and gluten free beer are permitted in moderation.  Greater adherence to The Paleo Diet can be achieved with 90:10 % compliance (two non Paleo meals per week), 95:5 % compliance (1 non-Paleo meal per week) or 100 % compliance.  I typically run between 95:5 % to 90:10 % compliance over the course of a month. 


Prof. Cordain is a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis is the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well-being in modern humans. 

Prof. Cordain’s scientific publications include the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets and nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods (see www.thepaleodiet.com)

Prof. Cordain’s international research team has uncovered previously unrecognised dietary triggers for acne and myopia and has shown how certain nutritional characteristics of the western are responsible for these and other ubiquitous “diseases of civilization”. 

Currently, Prof .Cordain is exploring the connection between dietary elements that increase intestinal permeability and the development of autoimmune diseases. 
Prof. Cordain is the author of more than 100 peer review publications, many of which were funded by both private and governmental agencies. He is the recipient of the Scholarly Excellence award at Colorado State University for his contributions into understanding optimal human nutrition as well as the American College of Medicine’s Denham Harmon Award for the most influential scientific paper in 2004. 

He has lectured extensively on the “Paleolithic Nutrition” concept world-wide, and has written five popular books (The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons; The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Rodale Press; The Paleo Diet Cookbook, John Wiley & Sons; The Paleo Answer, John Wiley & Sons and The Dietary Cure for Acne) summarising his research findings.

Share / Print: 

editor's picture
This was brought to you by the FX Medicine editorial team.