Seth Roberts on Arithmetic and Butter

At the last Bay Area Quantified Self Show&Tell, Seth Roberts presented new findings on his “Arithmetic and Butter” experiment. Seth does arithmetic problems every morning as a measure of his brain function. He found that eating half a stick of butter every day shaved 30 milliseconds off his time to solve the problems. Does butter improve brain function, or is Seth endangering his life, as a cardiologist in the audience worried? Catch the excitement in the video below.

Seth Roberts from Gary Wolf on Vimeo.

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17 Responses to Seth Roberts on Arithmetic and Butter

  1. haig says:

    I’ve been following a high-fat, low-carb whole (unprocessed) foods diet with a lot of pastured butter and can confirm improvements in my lipid profile, blood pressure, mood, and cognitive function. The incredulous reactions on the part of the audience, especially the doctor who smugly warned of a pending stroke, is unfortunately all too common. The whole point of the quantified self movement is to have this unprecedented access to data tracking inform us where, for example, we previously would have had to just believe in what the medial establishment tells us to do based on specious epidemiological studies.
    There are theories based on evolutionary/anthropological evidence which show that our hominid ancestors, though omnivorous, have adapted to and thrived on a mostly animal foods diet high in fat up until ~10k years ago before agriculture displaced hunting and gathering. The ‘paleolithic’ diet movement that is gaining momentum seeks to emulate this pre-agrarian human diet and though butter wasn’t consumed until fairly recently, the fat profile of pastured butter is almost identical to that of animal fat, which was the most prized nutrient source. Seth’s data seems to provide evidence in favor of this model, and only seems counter-intuitive and laughable if you’ve been bombarded with low-fat government propaganda for 30 years, which most people have been.
    I don’t have a bias either way, I just want to be as healthy as possible, but I can say that based on my experience, and the experience of a growing number of others eating a similar diet including Seth Roberts, there really is something to this and those dismissing it with a knee-jerk reaction of disbelief are failing at the whole quantified-self endeavor in a fundamental way. If you already have your minds’ made up and are beholden to your current beliefs, then why even care about any further quantification of data?

    • Halim says:

      Great presentation of the paleolithic diet. Thank you for a very insightful comment.

    • Ladonna says:

      Sadly, the doctors are trained to believe that fat is the cause of cardio problems. My research has led me to know that sugar is the culprit and fat is needed to keep the brain and arteries functioning.

  2. Answer says:


  3. C.L. says:

    “…evolutionary/anthropological evidence which show that our hominid ancestors, though omnivorous, have adapted to and thrived on a mostly animal foods diet high in fat up until ~10k years ago before agriculture displaced hunting and gathering.”
    This is an interesting point. It may also prompt the idea that modern humans pursuing similar kind of high fat diet should also aspire in physical activities similar to early hominids, especially those who led the ‘hunting and gathering’ lifestyle, which is hardly feasible for the member of our species leading modern lifestyle.
    Another consideration is the average life expectancy of early hominids, which was very likely shorter than modern humans due to a variety of factors, such as hostile environments, poor hygiene and (high fat?) diet. Is it possible that modern humans trying to single out and replicate high fat diet similar to early hominids may also increase the risk of approaching the life expectancy of early hominids?

  4. haig says:

    How do you explain the positive improvements in blood work and body composition on high fat, low carb diets among typically sedentary modern people then (myself being in that group)? I agree that it is hard to know exactly how hunter-gatherers ate and what they died from, but we can get a general idea and let that inform, though not necessarily dictate, how we eat. Quantified-Self provides us with exactly the tools and methods we need to do just that. You can try out a ‘paleo’ inspired diet for a month, track the data, and see for yourself.

  5. G Scott Lyman says:

    I think the early hominid “life expectancy” arguement is a red herring, as its author mentions himself. High infant mortality among primitive peoples accounts for the greatest reduction in the “average” life expectancy. When most infants die before 5 years of age, and an upward limit of 70 to 80 years is the maximum attainable, well, you get my drift…

  6. JohnC says:

    As someone who has been adhering to the “primal” diet and exercise for years now I was amused to read the comments here, I thought you guys were a little more ahead of the curve than you are.
    The whole paleo eating and exercising movement is so prevalent now it’s approaching main stream acceptance.
    See here:

  7. kleer001 says:

    Double blind
    Control group

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