Loren Cordain '74 Promotes 'Paleo Diet'

WANDA LAUKKANEN | WRITER

Loren Cordain ’74 has become something of an international celebrity.

His lifelong interest in health and physical fitness has led him to become an advocate for the Paleo Diet, considered to be the ancient diet of wild plants and animals consumed by humans in the Paleolithic era.
He’s the author of five books about the diet: The Paleo DietThe Paleo Diet for AthletesThe Dietary Cure for AcneThe Paleo Diet Cookbook and The Paleo Answer.

Cordain said he first became interested in an evolutionary basis for the human diet in 1987, after reading a paper by Dr. Boyd Eaton in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“I began writing scientific papers on the topic in the 1990s, and my wife eventually convinced me that I should write a popular book on the topic,” he said in an email interview with Pacific magazine.

The idea, he explained, is that early humans existed as hunter-gatherers until just 10,000 years ago. Before that, he said, humans didn’t eat dairy products and rarely ate grains.

“Today, about 70 percent of the calories in the typical U.S. diet comes from refined sugars, cereal grains, vegetable oils and dairy foods,” he said. “Hunter-gatherers rarely or never consumed these foods. Hence, the basis for contemporary Paleo Diets is to mimic the food groups our ancestors ate with everyday foods (meat, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, nuts) that can be obtained at the supermarket.”

These days, Cordain is a professor at Colorado State University’s Department of Exercise and Health Science. But he started his academic career at Pacific University in 1972, after being accepted into the optometry school.

“I very much enjoyed my optometry school professors and classmates, the home sporting events and the beautiful campus,” he said. In particular, he enjoyed Professor Jurgen Meyer-Arendt, who taught at the optometry school for many years. Now deceased, Meyer-Arendt was named a Distinguished University Professor of Biophysics and Pathology Emeritus upon his retirement.

“I was impressed by his knowledge of the subject and enjoyed his kind, humanistic personality,” Cordain said.

After his two years in the College of Optometry, Cordain decided to change courses.

“A number of factors were involved in my decision to change my career direction, but mainly it came down to my passion which has always been health, fitness and nutrition,” he said.

He went back to the University of Nevada at Reno, where he had been an undergraduate from 1968 to 1972, and earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology in 1978.  He then went on to earn a Ph.D. in health sciences from the University of Utah in 1981.

Cordain noted he still maintains contact with his former roommate during his years at Pacific, Clark Jensen '74 O.D. '76, and coauthored a scientific paper with him related to juvenile-onset myopia. (An evolutionary analysis of the etiology and pathogenesis of juvenile-onset myopia. Acta Opthalmologica 2002, 80:12-135.) 

“I took great pleasure in publishing this paper, as it was my opportunity to reconnect with the optometry community,” he said, adding that he has lectured to many different optometric groups worldwide.

Cordain, his wife Lorrie, and their three boys, Kyle, 20, Kevin, 18, and Kenny, 14, live in Fort Collins, Colo.

A former triathloner, his wife is a special education teacher. 

“All of my sons are avid skier, fishermen and skateboarders,“ he said.

“I still enjoy swimming and bike riding but after three knee surgeries, I mainly walk,” Cordain said. But, he added, “From the international interest in my research, I have had the luxury to travel the world.”