Monday, November 9, 2009

Part 3: Interview Series with Aaron Blaisdell of UCLA

The much anticipated Part III ... and the plot thickens.

KP: In what ways does your research shape your perception of human foraging behavior in a modern ecology?

AB: The research I do in my lab doesn’t effect [it] too much. My research focuses on one omnivorous species, rats, and one granivorous species, pigeons (although they don’t just eat grains--they eat other stuff like meat, but they are primarily granivores). They are very different species than humans.

What's interesting is to read the medical literature that uses rats or rabbits to establish the diet research, like the lipid hypothesis for heart disease. I recognize that even an omnivorous animal like a rat still is very different. It's like a Venn diagram--there is some overlap because we are both omnivores to some extent, but rats are a very different type of omnivore. Rats don’t eat nearly as much animal product as humans have during their recent evolutionary history. They aren’t necessarily going to be the correct animal model--if there is any animal model for humans. I am more cognizant of that now. Two years ago, I would have looked at a rat study that said, for example, “Rats that consume more sunflower oil have more heart disease, giving evidence for the lipid hypothesis," but now, I have grown much more critical of conventional wisdom. I am much more aware that there is so much out there that we assume blindly. It's humbling.

KP: How do you weave the concepts of the paleo/primal community blogs into your public health message to students or to family?

AB: Well, with my family--I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old--I have tried to change their diets. I have only been embarking on this adventure for two years. At that time, my four-year-old was two. We had already gone through the progression of introducing foods like rice cereals, then other cereals, then some vegetables and fruits--meat came a little later--and then whole grain crackers, whole grain cereal. And now she is addicted to all that stuff.

Now, I have given all this stuff up, and I feel ten times better, but try arguing with a four-year-old that she should have an egg instead of her gold fish crackers. It's very difficult because there is an addictive quality to the carbohydrates.

My wife gets on my case about preaching too much, so there is a balancing act between being happily married and how far we are going to go. Raw milk was a battle for awhile. I was able to get her to allow me to drink it myself and give it to my four-year-old. So there are some strides. I hide fish oil--fermented cod liver oil that smells and tastes terrible--in the kids' yogurt with some chocolate powder. At first, my wife was skeptical, but she has finally come around on it.

I have also been starting to bring this stuff up in my classes. I have been talking about it in my laboratory for a long time. Last fall, a year ago, I thought I really needed to get this message across. My students, to a large degree, are pre-med. I figured that I have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to at least open their minds against the conventional wisdom and clamped dogmatic mindset. I will keep doing that.

I have actually toyed with the idea of teaching a seminar on the paleo lifestyle approach. We would go through the blogs and pick key examples, maybe even use the Primal Blueprint as the text, and dig into the primary literature here and there. It would be an initial starting point to help students navigate and make their own decisions.

I have lab meetings once a week--I still bring donuts. I still have one [donut] once a week. I figure it's like Mark Sisson's 80/20 rule. It might be sacrilegious in some circles, but that’s OK.

Again, thanks to Kai and Aaron for this wonderful series.

Stay tuned ...

Leave questions for Aaron in the comments section of this post; he will respond.

To good health,


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