Eat Like a Caveman: The Paleo Diet
We live in an era of information overload, especially surrounding nutrition. I personally have been overwhelmed and confused about food for most of my life. At times I thought I had the answer, after having followed a certain diet for months and months, only to be defeated by feeling sick and malnourished.
I’ve tried The South Beach Diet, the vegan Thrive Diet, a basic whole foods organic diet, and a raw fruitarian-vegan diet
After feeling highly unstable on my six month fruit kick, I began following a Paleo diet. Though it is just about the fourth month in, I can say that I feel the healthiest, most satisfied and grounded than ever in my entire life. I feel like my body is working better than it did ten years ago.
So what is this “Paleo” thing all about, and why should we bother?
It is essentially a low carb diet including lots of quality fat and protein. The theory is that humans do not actually need dietary carbohydrates. Any carbohydrate the body may require can be synthesized from fat and protein. Rather than carbs for energy, experts claim that our bodies prefer ketones: energy producing by-products from fat metabolism.
For the past 2.6 million years we have been hunter gatherers. Our bodies have not yet adapted to process grains and sugar (they likely never will). The agricultural revolution began just 10,000 years ago (perhaps as few as 2,000 in Europe). It takes anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 years for human DNA to adapt to an environmental influence. Therefore, our bodies would seem better equipped to work with the building blocks of our pre-agricultural ancestors.
Since the incorporation of grains in the human diet, anthropologists have discovered a marked decline in height, bone density, dental development, and overall health, as well as a rise in birth defects, malnutrition and disease. On the other hand, our grain-free ancestors were taller, healthier, and more robust. It’s no coincidence that these two groups ate differently.
The development of our grand human brain is likely attributed to the inclusion of omega-3 rich animal fat. Omega-3 is the dominant fatty acid in our brain, while in chimps and other primates it is omega-6. Studies of ancient fossilized human feces from hundreds of thousands of years ago were devoid of plant material. We subsisted for a large part of our evolution on animal derived nutrients. This food enabled us to develop and flourish as a species even through harsh deep freeze conditions. While our ancestors were evolving, there came a point when two different groups co-existed, Homo (our direct ancestor) and Australopithecus (Homo’s cousin). Australopithecus was a vegetarian creature, who ate alone while scavenging in the trees. These guys became extinct, while Homo continued hunting and thriving until this day.
No known primitive societies in history have chosen to abstain from animal foods. Weston A. Price was a dentist in the early 20th century who traveled the globe studying nutrition and physical degeneration in traditional peoples. He found a positive correlation between quality animal source foods and supreme health. Of the groups studied, those consuming the most animal products and no grains, were the tallest and usually enjoyed pristine dental health. Groups eating grains always had cavities.
Grain consumption has been linked to numerous health conditions, including allergies, autoimmune disorders, colon cancer, pancreatic disorders, mineral deficiencies, epilepsy, dementia, schizophrenia, nervous system degeneration, autism and more.
In addition, grains and legumes not only contain high levels of carbohydrate, they are also high in phytic acid, a digestive inhibitor. Glutenous grains also contain exorphins – an addictive morphine-like chemical. This is why it’s so hard to bypass the bakery in the supermarket. (Not to mention it’s all laced with another highly addictive demon, sugar).
If you like the possibility of burning fat for energy, it’s also a good idea to avoid very starchy root vegetables, namely potatoes. Basically all other veggies are okay, even squash, and other tubers, just don’t go crazy on them. Try to load up on greens, that way you will get lots of fibre and antioxidants, plus vitamins and minerals in your diet. (Seaweeds are great too!)
Although fruit is mostly composed of carbohydrate, there is usually a significant amount of fibre and other nutrients. Fruit can still be enjoyed in moderation, especially low sugar fruits like berries, grapefruit and of course lemons and avocados.
It is probably obvious that processed foods are a no-no here. Trans-fats (hydrogenated oils) should be removed completely. Healthy fats can be included and enjoyed until satiation is reached, such as coconut (its’ oil, butter, milk and flour), lard, tallow, avocado, nuts and seeds, fish oil, and vegetable oils such as olive/sesame/flax and walnut oils. Take note, that omega-6 rich vegetable fats need to be moderated. It can be detrimental to consume too much inflammatory omega-6 fat. The Paleo world actually embraces animal fat, including saturated fat, despite it’s vilification by certain groups.
Many Paleo dieters also choose to eat high fat dairy products (butter, cream, cheese and greek yogurt), avoiding high lactose items like milk, since lactose is a sugar. Although our ancestors did not always eat this food, some traditional societies seemed to fare very well on raw dairy products from free range animals. Sadly, the pasteurization process kills much of the nutrients as well as the enzymes required for adequate digestion. If you are unable to source high quality, raw, grass-fed dairy products, it is better to avoid them. Grain fed dairy is laden with omega-6 fat (the kind in a monkey’s brain, not yours).
All meat and fish products should be from free range or wild sources. The same goes for eggs. Free range chickens are healthier than organic corn fed birds. I have found lamb to be the most common grass fed meat on the market. Organ meats are also highly nourishing, rich in healthy fat and micronutrients. Local farms will carry the products you are looking for, and you can also order frozen meats online. Quality animal products will make or break your body. The few extra dollars go a long, long way.
Once you have the basic principles down, you’ll find it very easy to create delicious and satisfying meals. (A crockpot is a good investment!)
To get you inspired, check out a comforting recipe for Roasted Moroccan Chicken and Beets
Price, Weston A., Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Gedgaudas, Nora T., Primal Body, Primal Mind
Schmid, Ronald, Traditional Foods are your Best Medicine