Eating the Way Nature Intended

The Paleolithic period, also known as the Stone Age, only goes back about two million years. Humans and other great apes have been evolving for the last 20 million years, starting back in the Miocene era. We hear a lot about the paleolithic diet, but that only represents the last 10 percent of hominoid evolution. What about the first 90 percent?

During the Miocene era, the diet “is generally agreed to have been a high-fiber plant-based diet…” For the vast majority of our family’s evolution, we ate what the rest of our great ape cousins eat—leaves, stems, and shoots (in other words, vegetables), as well as fruits, seeds, and nuts. I explore this in my video Lose Two Pounds in One Sitting: Taking the Mioscenic Route.

“Anatomically, the digestive tracts of humans and great apes are very similar.” In fact, our DNA is very similar. So, what do our fellow great apes eat? Largely vegetarian diets with high greens and fruit consumption. Just largely vegetarian? It’s true that chimpanzees have been known to hunt, kill, and eat prey, but chimpanzees’ “intake of food of animal origin is still at a very low level…with only 1.7% of chimpanzee feces providing evidence of animal food consumption.” This is based on eight years of work collecting nearly 2,000 fecal samples. So, even the most carnivorous of great apes appears to eat about a 98 percent plant-based diet. In fact, we may be closest to the diet of bonobos, one of the less known great apes, who eat nearly exclusively plant-based diets, as well.

Even our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors must have done an awful lot of gathering to get the upwards of 100 grams of fiber a day they may have consumed. What would happen if researchers put people on an actual Paleolithic diet? Not a supermarket-checkout-aisle-magazine paleo diet or some caveman blogger diet, but an actual 100-grams-of-daily-fiber diet or, even better, a mioscenic diet, taking into account the last 20 million years of evolution since we split with our common great ape ancestors.

Dr. David Jenkins and colleagues gave it a try and “tested the effects of feeding a diet very high in fiber.” How high? We’re talking 150 grams of daily fiber, far higher than the recommended 20 to 30 grams a day. However, 150 grams is similar to what populations in rural Africa used to eat—populations almost entirely free from many of our chronic killer diseases, such as colon cancer and heart disease.

The high-fiber diet didn’t mess around. Lunch, for example, could include Brussels sprouts, okra, green peas, mushrooms, filberts, and a plum. And dinner? How about asparagus, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, and honeydew melon? Surely, simply eating a lot of fruits, veggies, and nuts can’t be very satisfying, right? Actually, it got the maximum satiety rating from every one of the ten subjects, unlike the starch-based and low-fat diets which scored lower. Why? “All of the diets were designed to be weight-maintaining,” meaning the researchers didn’t want weight loss to confound the data. So, to get a full day’s calories of whole plant foods, the subjects had to eat about 11 pounds of food a day! Not surprisingly, this resulted in some of the largest bowel movements ever recorded in the medical literature, with men on the high-fiber vegetable-based diet exceeding a kilogram of fecal weight per day. You know how some people on weight loss diets lose two pounds a week? Well, in this study, the subjects dropped two pounds in one sitting.

That wasn’t the only record-breaking drop: A 33 percent drop in LDL cholesterol within just two weeks was seen. Even without any weight loss, bad cholesterol levels dropped by one-third within two weeks. That’s one of the biggest drops I’ve ever seen in any dietary intervention—better than achieved on a starch-based vegetarian diet or  a low saturated fat American Heart Association-type vegetarian diet. This was a “cholesterol reduction equivalent to a therapeutic dose of a statin” drug. So, we need to take a drug to get our cholesterol levels down to where they would be normally were we to eat a more natural diet.

We’ve been eating 100 grams of fiber every day for millions of years. This diet is similar to what’s eaten by populations who don’t suffer from many of our chronic diseases. Maybe this shouldn’t be called a “very high fiber” diet. Maybe what we eat today should be considered a very low, extremely fiber-deficient diet.

Maybe it’s normal to eat 100 grams of fiber a day. Maybe it’s normal to be free of heart disease. Maybe it’s normal to be free of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis, appendicitis, colon cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and all other the diseases of Western civilization.


How do we know our ancient ancestors ate more than 100 grams of fiber a day? We can examine their fossilized fecal matter, as I discuss in my video Paleopoo: What We Can Learn from Fossilized Feces.

For more evidence on what our natural diet is, see my What’s the Natural Human Diet? video.

Other popular paleo videos include:

Excited to share what you’ve learned about diet? Well, it turns out you can share more than my videos. Check out How to Become a Fecal Transplant Super Donor.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

How to Make Your Own CoQ10

Chlorophyll is the green pigment that makes green leaves green. If you search for chlorophyll in the medical literature, a lot of what you find is about fecal fluorescence, a way to detect the contamination of carcasses in the slaughterhouse with feces to reduce the risk of food poisoning from pathogens harbored within animal feces. Fecal matter gets on meat either “with knife entry through the hide into the carcass, and also splash back and aerosol [airborne] deposition of fecal matter during hide removal”—that is, when they’re peeling off the skin. If, however, the animals have been eating grass, you can pick up the poo with a black light. As you can see in my video How to Regenerate Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) Naturally, a solution of chlorophyll is green, but, under a UV light, it lights up as red. So, if you have a black light in a chicken slaughter plant, you can get a drop on the droppings. The problem is most chickens aren’t outside anymore. They’re no longer pecking at grass so there’s less fecal fluorescence. We could let them run around outside or we could save money by just adding a chlorophyll supplement to their feed so we can better “identify areas of gut-spill contamination” on the meat.

The reason I was looking up chlorophyll was to follow-up on the data I presented in my Eating Green to Prevent Cancer video, which suggests that chlorophyll may be able to block carcinogens. I found a few in vitro studies on the potential anti-inflammatory effects of chlorophyll. After all, green leaves have long been used to treat inflammation, so anti-inflammatory properties of chlorophyll and their break-down products after digestion were put to the test. And, indeed, they may represent “valuable and abundantly available anti-inflammatory agents.” Maybe that’s one reason why cruciferous vegetables, like kale and collard greens, are associated with decreased markers of inflammation.

In a petri dish, for example, if you lay down a layer of arterial lining cells, more inflammatory immune cells stick to them after you stimulate them with a toxic substance. We can bring down that inflammation with the anti-inflammatory drug aspirin or, even more so, by just dripping on some chlorophyll. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons kale consumers appear to live longer lives.

As interesting as I found that study to be, this next study blew my mind. The most abundant energy source on this planet is sunlight. However, only plants are able to use it directly—or so we thought. After eating plants, animals have chlorophyll in them, too, so might we also be able to derive energy directly from sunlight? Well, first of all, light can’t get through our skin, right? Wrong. This was demonstrated by century-old science—and every kid who’s ever shined a flashlight through her or his fingers, showing that the red wavelengths do get through. In fact, if you step outside on a sunny day, there’s enough light penetrating your skull and going through to your brain that you could read a book in there. Okay, so our internal organs are bathed in sunlight, and when we eat green leafy vegetables, the absorbed chlorophyll in our body does actually appear to produce cellular energy. But, unless we eat so many greens we turn green ourselves, the energy produced is probably negligible.

However, light-activated chlorophyll inside our body may help regenerate Coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 is an antioxidant our body basically makes from scratch using the same enzyme we use to make cholesterol—that is, the same enzyme that’s blocked by cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. So, if CoQ10 production gets caught in the crossfire, then maybe that explains why statins increase our risk of diabetes—namely, by accidently also reducing CoQ10 levels in a friendly-fire type of event. Maybe that’s why statins can lead to muscle breakdown. Given that, should statin users take CoQ10 supplements? No, they should sufficiently improve their diets to stop taking drugs that muck with their biochemistry! By doing so—by eating more plant-based chlorophyll-rich diets—you may best maintain your levels of active CoQ10, also known as ubiquinol. “However, when ubiquinol is used as an antioxidant, it is oxidized to ubiquinone. To act as an effective antioxidant, the body must regenerate ubiquinol from ubiquinone,” perhaps by using dietary chlorophyll metabolites and light.

Researchers exposed some ubiquinone and chlorophyll metabolites to the kind of light that makes it into our bloodstream. Poof! CoQ10 was reborn. But, without the chlorophyll or the light, nothing happened. By going outside we get light and, if we’re eating our veggies, chlorophyll, so maybe that’s how we maintain such high levels of CoQ10 in our bloodstream. Perhaps this explains why dark green leafy vegetables are so good for us. We know sun exposure can be good for us and that eating greens can be good for us. “These benefits are commonly attributed to an increase in vitamin D from sunlight exposure and consumption of antioxidants from green vegetables”—but is it possible that these explanations might be incomplete?


This blog post has it all: a mind-blowing mechanism, practical applicability, and poop. What more could you want?

Interested in learning more about the potential downsides of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs? I’ve produced other videos on the topic, including Statin Cholesterol Drugs and Invasive Breast Cancer and The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

How to Treat Chronic Kidney Disease with Food

“In the United States, approximately one in three adults aged 65 years and older has chronic kidney disease (CKD),” as I note in my video Treating Chronic Kidney Disease with Food, but the “majority of patients with CKD do not progress to advanced stages of CKD because death precedes the progression to end-stage renal disease…” Following about a thousand folks 65 years or older with chronic kidney disease for about a decade, only a few had to go on dialysis because most died. The scariest thing for many kidney patients is the fear of dialysis, but they may be 13 times more likely to die than go on dialysis. With heart disease killing more than nearly all other causes combined, decreasing kidney function can set one up for heart attacks, strokes, and death.

That’s why it’s critical that any diet chosen to help the kidneys must also help the heart. A plant-based diet fits the bill, providing protection against kidney stones, kidney inflammation, and acidosis, as well as heart disease. (See below for links to my videos covering these very topics.) That is, “blood pressure control may be favored by the reduction of sodium intake and by the vegetarian nature of the diet, which is very important also for lowering serum cholesterol,” which may not only help the heart but also the kidneys themselves.

In 1858, Rudolf Virchow, the father of modern pathology, was the first to describe the fatty degeneration of the kidney. In 1982, this idea of lipid nephrotoxicity—the possibility that fat and cholesterol in the bloodstream could be toxic to the kidneys directly, based on data showing plugs of fat literally clogging up the works in autopsied kidneys—was formalized.

Since the notion was put forth, it has gained momentum. It appears high cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream may accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease through direct toxic effects on the kidney cells themselves. Given the connection between cholesterol and kidney decline, the use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs has been recommended to slow the progression of kidney disease. Of course, “[s]erious adverse effects on muscle and liver must be kept in mind.” This is why plant-based diets could offer the best of both worlds, protecting the heart and the kidneys without drug side effects.

The two potential drawbacks are the amount of phosphorus and potassium in plant foods, which ailing kidneys can sometimes have a problem getting rid of. It turns out, however, that the phosphorus in meat is absorbed at about twice the rate, not to mention the phosphate additives that are injected into meat. So, eating plant-based can significantly lower phosphorus levels in the blood. The concern about potassium is largely theoretical because the alkalinizing effects of plant foods help the body excrete potassium, but it is not theoretical for those on dialysis or with end-stage disease who need to be closely followed by a dietician kidney specialist.

Special protein-restricted vegan diets have been used successfully to slow or stop the progression of kidney failure. One study showed the declining kidney function of eight diabetics for one to two years before switching to the plant-based diet, which appeared to stop the inexorable decline in most of the patients. This led the researchers to proclaim it as the treatment of choice for diabetic kidney failure.

Strictly plant-based diets may also help delay dialysis by one to two years and, after kidney transplant, may improve the survival of the kidney and improve the survival of the patient. Most of the papers, though, are just pilot feasibility studies. It doesn’t matter if it’s effective if we can’t get people to stick to the diet. But while we’re waiting for more definitive studies, existing data support offering these kinds of plant-based diets as an option to all patients with advanced or progressive chronic kidney disease.

“[E]ven if the effects of such diets on the progression of renal failure are still debatable, the unquestionably favorable effects [of plant-based diets] on some of the most deleterious cardiovascular and metabolic disorders usually associated with renal failure,” such as hypertension and diabetes, “provide rationale for recommending a predominance of proteins from a vegetable source” for patients with failing kidneys.

Yet, diet is still underutilized, in part because some people find changing their diet is difficult. Yet, we know foods rich in animal protein lead to metabolic acidosis. Our diets “are largely acid-producing because they are deficient in fruits and vegetables and contain large amounts of animal products.” So, what did doctors do? They gave people baking soda. Instead of treating the cause––the dietary acid load from too many animal products and too few fruits and vegetables––they treated the consequence by saying, “Oh, too much acid? We’ll just give you some base: sodium bicarbonate.” And it works. Neutralization of dietary acid with sodium bicarbonate decreases kidney injury and slows kidney function decline, but sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) has sodium, so doctors may be just adding another problem.

If patients are not going to cut back on animal products, they should at least be eating more fruits and vegetables. They tried that, and it worked, too, and did so without leading to too much potassium in the blood. In fact, it may even work better because fruits and vegetables have the additional advantage of helping to lower blood pressure. The study that examined this is important because it illustrated a simple and safe way to treat metabolic acidosis: with fruits and vegetables. So, the key to halting the progression of chronic kidney disease might be in the produce market or the farmer’s market, not in the pharmacy.


This is the last in an extended six-part series on the latest science on diet and kidney health. Check out the rest of the series:

You may also be interested in my videos How Not to Die from Kidney Disease and How to Prevent Kidney Stones with Diet.

You have to have functioning kidneys to keep you in balance. The problem for most people is not getting enough potassium, which I discuss in my video 98% of American Diets Potassium Deficient, but too much phosphorus in the blood can also be a problem. Thus, phosphate additives are something we should try to avoid. For more on this, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations: