I recently heard the sad news that Staffan Lindeberg, MD, PhD, lead researcher of the Kitava Study, has died.
Staffan was a dedicated researcher and physician at Lund University in Sweden whose work was inspired by the evolutionary health principle. After reading Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner’s seminal 1985 paper on Paleolithic nutrition, in Staffan’s words, “it gradually dawned on me that John Harvey Kellogg, a vegetarian zealot, had more influence on dietary advice than Charles Darwin had” (Staffan Lindeberg. Food and Western Disease. 2010). Long before it was en vogue, he adopted a Paleo-style diet and saw his own chronic disease risk factors, such as body weight and blood pressure, decline.
Shortly thereafter, Staffan organized the Kitava Study– an investigation into the diet and health of one of the few remaining cultures scarcely touched by industrialization. Although Kitavans weren’t hunter-gatherers by any stretch of the imagination, they did eat a starchy diet free of grains, dairy, refined sugar, refined oils, and all processed foods. In a series of papers, Staffan reported that the Kitavans showed undetectable levels of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and stroke– even in old age. He went on to conduct randomized, controlled trials on the Paleolithic diet, demonstrating that it can reduce chronic disease risk factors in a Western context. He published an overview his findings in a book, Food and Western Disease.
Staffan’s findings were an important counterpoint to the claim that high-carbohydrate diets are fattening and drive chronic disease. Here we had high-quality evidence that a lifelong diet of 70 percent unrefined carbohydrate and only 20 percent fat could be consistent with lean and often muscular bodies, and a low risk of the most common diseases that afflict us today.
Over the years, Staffan has been very generous with me, sending me photos of the Kitava Study for my talks, conducting an interview for The Hungry Brain and then reviewing chapter 1, and exchanging scientific ideas. I always appreciated his curiosity and skepticism.
I’m sure the circumstances of his death will be discussed ad nauseam inside and outside the Paleo community. I don’t find these types of discussions very informative so I won’t be participating. If Staffan were here, he would probably point out that what we need isn’t more anecdotal evidence, but more research into the connection between diet and health.