Book Review: "The Paleo Dieter's Missing Link" by Adam Farrah
As I have written before, the term paleo has become a catch-all for anything from simply eating gluten-free to consuming a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet consisting almost entirely of vegetables and animals. Rather than try to navigate this quagmire of ideas or fight the tide of public perception, author Adam Farrah has taken the idea of paleo to the next level. His position is that the ideal paleo diet is as individual and unique as your fingerprint.
The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link by Adam Farrah is now in its second edition. What was previously an eBook has been expanded and bound in hardcover with color plates and high-quality appearance. I had the pleasure of reading the new edition and also interviewing Adam about his book.
When not only modern medicine, but also a variety of alternative therapies and nutrition gurus failed to heal Adam’s ulcerative colitis and other health problems, he set about healing himself through diet. Incredibly, he had been told that his diet had nothing to do with his health problems. The book is the product of years of research and ultimately successful self-experimentation.
Part One: “Paleo, the Diet Landscape, and Defining a 'Healthy' Diet”
In part one ofThe Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link, Adam specifies his idea of a healthy diet. He lays out the tenets of said diet and gives a concise history lesson, starting with the nineteenth century, and mentioning every popular and obscure permutation, influence, and offshoot as well as the people involved. I’ve been in this game a long time, and there were people and data mentioned that I didn’t know I didn’t know. Anybody heard of Jordan Rubin? How about Vilhjamur Stefansson?
Tell Me, Adam, What Is a Healthy Diet?
In answering this question, Adam does something different than I’ve seen before, but it makes sense when you consider his background. Once upon a time, Adam was studying toward an MBA. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Connecticut. Where Adam is from, you work for a chemical company - that’s just what you do. Adam is a scientist.
Rather than write another book on how the “paleo” (also known as “ancestral,” “hunter-gatherer,” or “primal”) diet works and why grains are bad, he sets down a list of assumptions. Like a good scientist, he knows that new work rests on previous work. In order to progress, we need to accept something that came before as true based on the evidence at hand.
The assumptions made in The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link:
- “Healthy” means supportive of an individual’s physical and mental wellbeing.
- “Paleo” is a general approach that attempts to approximate a modern hunter-gatherer diet.
- The ancestral diet idea is solid.
- Meat is good for people.
- Grains are not great, but may be tolerable to some in limited amounts.
- Dairy is also questionable, but may have value in some forms for some people.
- “Modern, Processed Foods Suck” (direct quote)
Part Two: “Your Paleo Diet”
In part two, Adam spends a scant twelve pages explaining the nuts and bolts of paleo and states that it is “just a roadmap.” One of the most important ideas in the book is laid out in this paragraph:
As far as I’m concerned, the point of paleo – or any diet – isn’t to see how perfectly you can do the diet. The point is to build outstanding health and performance. If you find better health, performance, and quality of life with a non-paleo tweak here or there, that’s what you need to do. And if certain paleo foods don’t work for you, don’t eat them.
You might want to read that again if you didn’t have an “Aha!” moment.
Instead of food groups as we know them, Farrah divides foods into five categories:
- “Foundational Paleo Diet Foods”
- “Foods of Early Agriculture”
- “Paleo Foods to Use Sparingly”
- “Modern Foods (Avoid)”
Yes, supplements are one of the five food groups. Supplements are products such as coconut oil and protein powders. They provide calories you weren’t likely to come across in your hunting and gathering activities.
The book contains numerous departures from “classic” paleo thinking. One of these departures is suggesting the calculation of calorie needs and macronutrient ratios. Although Farrah doesn’t insist (as is the main idea of the book) that everyone should count calories, he does describe six populations that he feels would benefit from a weigh-and-measure approach, at least initially.
Part Three, “The Hidden Aspects of Paleo Success: Lifestyle”
“You’re going to have to let some things slide.” -Robb Wolf to Adam Farrah, 2010
“Paleo lifestyle” is where the second edition of the book builds on the first edition. The breakthrough that Adam had was that our minds, like our bodies, also need to operate as if in the Paleolithic age. Being present in the moment was a prerequisite to staying alive back then. If our body hasn’t evolved, why would our mind? Adam argues that the coping abilities and stress reactions we have today are not so different from 10,000 years ago.
The difference is the nature of the stress. We get constant stress from work, technology, cars, houses, loans, complex relationships, and so on. Is that serving us?
Through the use of various techniques, Farrah argues, we can simultaneously be successful, productive members of society and agents of our own best interest, all with less stress. He defines a process by which we can work to achieve “paleo mind,” doing for our mental health what the paleo diet does for our physical health.
Quiet and Boring – The Paleo Lifestyle Suits Me Fine
The Paleo Dieter’s Missing Link concludes with an extensive reading and resource list to help you apply the ideas and concepts discussed in the book. If you currently eat a paleo diet or are interested in trying it, then this book will be of interest to you. In addition to a concise history and overview of how the diet came to be and why, Farrah explains how to optimize your diet for peak health and performance. All in all, the book is a quick read with a couple fresh angles on the entire “paleo lifestyle.”
"The Paleo Dieter's Missing Link" is available for $18.14 at Amazon.com.
To learn more about Adam and his book, you can listen to my entire interview with him here.