The Archevore Diet - A pastoral whole foods diet that can improve your health by more closely emulating the evolutionary metabolic milieu (EM2) and avoiding the hazards of industrial foodways.
Kurt Harris MD
"An Archevore is someone who eats based on essential principles, and also someone who hungers for essential principles. Take your pick."
(Last revised as of 9/13/2011)
This diet is a practical framework using whole foods easily available in the 21st century. It is designed to be as universal as possible. The average person who adopts it in preference to the standard american diet should be healthier in every respect, and will usually settle at a more optimal body composition spontaneously.
The diet minimizes putative neolithic agents of disease (NADs) and ensures adequate micronutrition.
The diet is designed to be healthy and sustainable as long as you are alive and to offer plenty of satisfaction, while minimizing food reward effects that lead to overeating.
Historically, many find this diet results in spontaneous reduction in caloric intake and in health-improving fat loss, with no measuring, weighing or special supplements. I eat this way myself, of course.
Although this diet is a framework designed to work well for as many people as possible who are starting with a western diet, it will not necessarily work well enough, or completely enough, for everyone who needs to lose fat or for anyone afflicted with any particular disease. For fat loss, more radical maneuvers might be necessary, depending on the etiology of your obesity.
This information is offered as a free piece of educational information to anyone who finds it useful and is not to be considered individualized dietary or medical advice.
Your health is your responsibilty. If you have any doubts about the advisability of any dietary maneuver that might affect your health, consult a competent physician.
Go as far down the list as you can in whatever time frame you can manage. The further along the list you stop, the healthier you are likely to be. Earlier steps, in my clinical experience, will give more bang for the buck.
There is no counting, measuring, or weighing. Calories count, but why bother counting?* (Hat tip Nigel)
1. Get plenty of sleep and deal with any non- food addictions.
Laird Hamilton sleeps 9 hours. Can you surf Teahupoo?
If you're drinking a 12-pack a day, or chain-smoking, diet may help but is hardly your first priority.
2. Eliminate sugar and all caloric drinks.
Drink water, tea or coffee. No sodas, sports drinks, juices, or milk. Don't add sugar to your food or eat things made with sugar or high fructose corn syrup.
3. Eliminate gluten grains and wheat flour.
No cake, cookies or pastries. No bread or pasta, whole grain or otherwise.
This rule and rule #1 pretty much eliminate anything that comes in a box.
White rice and whole meal corn products are reasonable sources of starch if tolerated, but not as nutritious as plant storage organs (root vegetables).
4. Eliminate seed oils - grain and seed derived oils (cooking oils) Eat or fry with with ghee, pastured butter, animal fats, or coconut oil. Avoid temperate plant oils like corn, soy, canola, flax, walnut, etc. Go easy on the nuts, especially soy and peanuts.
5. 2 or 3 meals a day is best. No snacking. You're not a herbivore. Whole foods prepared at home should be the rule. Low meal frequency is a powerful tool if you have weight to lose.
6. Whole foods from animals. Eat them for the protein, the micronutrients and the fuel.
Favor grass-fed ruminants like beef and lamb for your red meat. These meats have excellent n-6/n-3 ratios and their saturated and monounsaturated fats are a great fuel source. Wild game is good if you can process it yourself- but commercial venison and bison is too lean and is expensive.
Eat fish a few times a week and pastured eggs if you like them.
Eat offal for the vitamins and choline- some fresh beef liver 1-2 times a week is plenty. Mix it with your ground hamburger if you prefer. Pastured butter is good source of K2.
7. Choose fuels from the EM2. Both animal fats and starchy plant organs are time-tested fuel sources for humans.
Animal fats are an excellent dietary fuel and come with lots of fat soluble vitamins. It can work very well to simply replace your sugar and wheat calories with animal fats. If you are not diabetic and you prefer it, you can eat more starch and less animal fat. A low carb diet can rely more on ruminant fat and pastured butter.
Plant storage organs like potatoes and sweet potatoes are nutrient laden and well tolerated by most people. Bananas and plantains are convenient starchy fruits. The soluble fiber in all these starchy foods is very likely beneficial, unlike the insoluble fiber in bran.
If you are not diabetic, there is no reason whatsoever to avoid either animal fats or starches in whole food form.
8. Make sure you are Vitamin D replete. Get daily midday sun in season or consider supplementation if you never get outside.
9. Vegetables and fruits - Besides starchy plants for fuel and micronutrients, eat a variety of different colored plants of whatever you like and tolerate. Think hormesis. Some is better than none, but neither big salads nor fruit to excess will save your life. You're not a gorilla, you're an omnivore
10. Get proper exercise - both resistance and "aerobic" exercise have benefits, including mental. Think hormesis again- the recovery periods are where you get the benefit. Lift weights every day or run marathons for "fun", but not for your health.
11. You won't get too much fructose eating reasonable quantities of fruit, but don't make it your staple. Most modern fruits aren't really just bags of sugar. That was hyperbole, folks, a rhetorical technique. Bananas rich in starch and citrus fruits are preferred. Don't go nuts with watermelon and agave, which are nearly pure fructose. Beware stone fruits like peaches and apricots if you have IBS - the polyols are fermented in your colon.
A diet based on beef and potatoes is healthier than one based on granny smiths or 30 bananas.
12. If you are allergic to milk protein or concerned about theoretical risks of casein, you can stick to butter and avoid milk, cream and soft cheeses. Aged cheeses 6 months and older may not have beta-casomorphin and are good sources of K2.
No counting, measuring or weighing is required, nor is it encouraged.
I am agnostic on macronutrient ratios outside of very broad parameters.
Archevore eaters typically range from 5-35% carbohydrate, from 10-30% protein and from 50 to 80% fat (mostly from animals) but wider ranges are entirely possible if you are not dieting and you are meticulous about the quality of your animal food sources.
If you are trying to lose weight, really minimizing fructose and eating 50-70g a day of carbohydrate as starch is recommended. Skipping breakfast or at least no carbs for breakfast can be very helpful.
If you are at your desired weight and healthy, 20% of calories as carbs is plenty for most very active people.
It is perfectly acceptable if you don't gain fat with it to eat more starch and less animal fat.
Note that the 19th century categories called "Fat" and "Carbohydrate" are each broad macronutrient categories that contain both good and bad.
Saturated and monounsaturated fat is generally good. A lot more than 4% of calories from PUFA (whether n-3 or n-6) is likely bad.
For healthy non-diabetics, starch is good. Excess fructose (added sugar) may be bad.
In wheat, the carbohydrate starch is probably not the major problem. It is the gluten proteins and wheat germ agglutinin that come along with the starch that are suspect.
So forget "carbs vs fat".
It is neolithic agents of disease versus everything else. And consider that the way food is prepared and its cultural context (food reward) may itself prove to be a NAD.
Most Archevores only know macronutrient metrics in retrospect, as they don't target numbers just like wild humans didn't target numbers.
Your mileage may vary!
So eat what you want. This is simply free advice that has worked very well for me and at least hundreds of patients and readers. I'm not trying to save the world, as I find it generally does not want saving.
Note: The order of the steps is arrived at by balancing my best guess at the noxiousness of each neolithic agent or food with the prevalence of each agent in the north american diet and the effort/reward ratio of the step. If your culture has a different diet the order of the steps might change. For instance, Chinese who fry everything they eat in soybean oil and don't eat much wheat would move step three up to the step two position.
* If you prefer to suffer with a calculator and scale without trying this first, knock yourself out, but why not try it first? If it doesn't work, go to 70g of carbs a day and take out whatever foods you are "enjoying" the most. If that doesn't work, then you might indeed have to count calories. You might have lost the genetic lottery or it may just be too late.
But I did just spend several hours doing a needed update. I think this is about version 3.0 since the original back-of-the-envelope diet I first put on the web in June 2009. That was a diet I had been using successfully clinically for more than two years.
The emphasis on animal products remains.
The emphasis on real whole foods - kill it or dig it up with a stick - remains and is enhanced.
Macro ratios had already been de-emphasized in v 2.0, but that has now been made even more explicit in the steps, and not just in the coda.
Things which in my mind were "givens" but had been pointed out to me were not clearly emphasized have been made more explicit, like sleep and eating some offal.
I've deleted references to legumes other than avoiding soy and peanuts, as other legumes seem more and more benign to me.
It remains congruent with, and is perhaps now more so with other whole foods diets that I consider "Paleo 2.0" approaches, like that of Chris Kresser, Paul Jaminet, Chris Masterjohn (he won't force you to eat wheat) and J Stanton, and with more potatoes and less steak, Stephan Guyenet.
I've not had a chance to do big blog posts about food reward yet. Those who might have seen some comments of mine elsewhere will see I find merit in the idea, but I don't know its ontological status yet.
Whether reducing food reward is restoring the EM2 or whether it is just a useful fat loss maneuver I am not sure. Either way, I think that is part of how diets like mine and maybe all diets may work, so I have emphasized that a bit more in the rank ordering.
There is also a notable but not strictly scientific bias I have used for this re-write.
It could fairly be called data mining or reverse engineering, but I've tried to write the steps such that most of the weight optimization failures that I know of would have not been following the new steps.
For example, I know of people who failed despite eating very low carb, but I cannot think of many that actually ate only twice a day with no snacks, never ate from a box, avoided restaurants and never ate ANY liquid calories, including milk and cream. So this has resulted in modifications that make my own current diet noncompliant in a few ways (I still add cream to my coffee), but I think these changes make it more universal.
This does seem to work well for many people, but nothing works for everyone. If it optimizes your weight and health and you are satisfied, you can always break a few rules and see what you can still get away with.
I'll try to do a re-write of "how to lose weight" sometime soon and add more therapeutic tricks for when the whole foods low-NAD idea is not enough.