I’ve been excited about In Search of the Perfect Human Diet since I contributed to the project last year. I recently received my DVD copy, and while the film fell a little but short of my high standards for Paleo instruction, it was pretty darn good overall.
CJ Hunt is an incredibly polished story teller, due to his experience as a broadcast journalist. The impetus for the film was his own struggles with health as he literally died while running on a track at age 24. Over the next 22 years, he tried everything under the sun to control his health. Nothing worked, until he arrived at a real food prescription.
The film sets up the problem quite well: Americans are fat and are too confused to know what to do about it. Hunt’s own journey parallels the average American’s; that is live life until something catastrophic happens, then make a complete lifestyle change.
At the beginning of his search for the Perfect Human Diet, Hunt discusses the work of Weston A. Price. When I first stated a Paleo lifestyle, I was largely ignorant of Dr. Price’s work, but through AHS and people like Chris Masterjohn and Laura Schoenfeld, I’ve seen that they’ve had the right idea for quite some time.
Some other highlights:
• A visit to a vegetarian/vegan conference
• Interviews with Mike Eades, Robb Wolf, David Getoff, Boyd Eaton, and Gary Taubes (with some uncomfortable closeups)
• Excerpts from talks from Sally Fallon Morrell and Adele Hite
• A neat football field timeline demo with Loren Cordain
• Tours of various anthropological and archaeological sites and a discussion of what they found about our ancestors’ diet
• Caveman and cavewoman naughty bits
• A tour of a grocery store with Lane Sebring
One of the more interesting parts of the film was a visit to Mike Richards of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology where his group is looking at what the composition of our ancestors diet was, including vegetables and protein. Using some pretty advanced lab techniques, the group has been able to superimpose the diet data from other carnivores and herbivores to show that Neanderthals in Europe were getting all their protein from animal foods (not from dairy or legumes) and fish, and weren’t eating too much plant food overall. Of course, none of that can tell you what you should eat now for optimal health, but it’s still pretty interesting.
Overall, the film still emphasizes a low-carb Paleo diet, which we’re starting to realize may not be the right prescription for everyone, especially hard-charging athletes and people with thyroid conditions. And that’s a little bit in conflict with one of the experiments cited within the film, conducted by Kerin O’Dea, in which she had a group of aborigines who had become sick and unhealthy after consuming a modern diet for years, return to their hunter-gatherer roots. The group got healthier of course, and the macronutrient ratios that naturally resulted were 54-80% animal protein, 13-40% fat, and from 5-33% wild, fibrous carbohydrates. That data right there should be enough to tell us that a low-carb approach isn’t necessarily the most optimal, but unfortunately, Hunt misses the mark on explaining this.
While the film showcases a ton of really interesting evolutionary anthropology work, I view mostly as a prequel to a larger story. You already know that I’m not big fan of the “Caveman Diet” logical fallacy so I generally balk a little bit at articles and films that only address one side of health. My perfect sequel to this film would be a look at the biochemistry of how these foods make us sick, the power of real food to make us better, and some real studies, testimonials, and empowerment talk. Maybe after CJ gets done taking the film around the world he could get cracking on this next project. It’s a good film overall, and the story is told well without hyperbole or editorializing, and is definitely worth a watch.