Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Exactly is this "Paleo Diet"?

To those of you who know me, you've probably noticed I am rather particular in my eating habits, and my food choices tend to deviate from what conventional wisdom tells us is "healthy" or "correct". For the most part I follow a "paleo diet", and I truly believe (and to an extent, know) that this is the optimal diet for the human organism. The paleo diet replicates the metabolic environment that our bodies evolved under and are genetically adapted to- it works in sync with our bodies and removes the bases for many of society's modern afflictions. In this post I will attempt to explain the paleo diet in scientific and evolutionary context.

The Paleo Diet is predicated on the fact that humans evolved for millions of years consuming only that which be could hunted, foraged and gathered; a diverse and seasonally-changing diet of wild game, fish, shellfish, eggs, tree nuts, vegetables, roots, fruit, berries, mushrooms.  Only in the last 10,000 years or so, with the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry did we begin making grains, dairy (sort of a gray-area; a bane for some, a boon for others), legumes and other crops, and more recently, refined vegetable oils staples of our diets. These "neolithic foods" are truly incompatible with our biochemistry and may even pose a significant hindrance to our health and wellbeing, especially considering the extent to which we have refined and processed and allowed them to pervade almost every corner of our food supply. More specifically however, even in their whole forms, the gluten, lectins and anti-nutrients in these foods work antagonistically to our bodies, and can disrupt otherwise healthy function (even whole, unrefined grains may not be as healthy as you think...).
We've spent much of our time on Earth like this.

Wheat and grain products also impose other, less cryptic banes upon society. Over-consumption of wheat and starchy grain products- large quantities of refined carbohydrate (pasta, bread, etc)- combined with our sedentary lifestyles is likely the main cause of metabolic derangement, obesity and diabetes. The dramatic increase in refined sugar consumption has contributed greatly to this as well.  These are habits that would otherwise be impossible before the advent of industrial processing!  (Humans have always been able to grab a spear and kill a fatty, protein-rich animal!!) Finally, the amounts and types of fats we eat have changed dramatically as well, having wide-ranging implications on health and disease.  We are vehemently told to favor unsaturated vegetables oils over animal and other saturated fats, and we have complied.  But these oils are extremely high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, and combined with a diet lacking in omega-3's, may actually be the main culprit in heart disease.

I highly encourage you to watch this video (Thank you Pay Now, Live Later):

When viewed in this light, it becomes intuitively clear that this is the way humans are intended to live and eat. We live in an artificial food-abundant environment that allows us to instantly satisfy the slightest urges; we can eat things and eat in ways that humans have never been able to do in the entire history of our species' evolution. As you start analyzing all the discordances between modern society and humans' "natural habitat" you can see how deep this concept goes. (I mean really down to the nitty gritty).

Paleo Diet: the Basics

In short, paleo eating is:

  • Complete elimination of all processed, packaged foods, preservatives, artificial ingredients etc
  • Elimination of all refined sugar and flour
  • Minimization with aim of elimination of grains (gluten-grains especially)
  • General reduced carbohydrate consumption; carb sources in order of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, roots/tubers; sweet potatoes, yams, squash (Paleo does not have to be extreme low-carb necessarily)
  • Ample protein from high-quality animal sources
  • Increased healthy fats; fats should make up majority of calories: mostly mono-unsaturated from olive oil, avocados, animal fats and saturated fats from organic butter, milk/cream (if deciding to include dairy) coconut oil + milk. Increased consumption of saturated animal fats (Yes, that's what I said)
  • Minimizing if not eliminating vegetable oils (Soy, corn, canola, etc)
  • Getting ton's of Omega 3's, through supplementation if necessary (I eat a can of sardines almost every day)
  • Lot's of different colors of vegetables, fruits; focus on nutrient density.

For me, I get the bulk of my food volume from vegetables; salads & cooked veggies, fruits, the occasional sweet potato or squash, and the bulk of my calories from healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocados, nuts, olive oil, ghee, and grass-fed tallow. I also include ample amounts of high quality protein from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, wild salmon, sardines & other seafood, free range chicken, organic eggs etc.

For a much more comprehensive list of how to eat and live according to the Paleo Diet/lifestyle, peruse this page by Diana Hsieh of Modern Paleo. I agree 100% with everything she outlines on that page, and I think it is the ultimate resource for both newcomers and anyone trying to deepen their knowledge of health and nutrition.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Grains Are... Not So Great

Evidence increasingly suggests that the consumption of gluten and gluten-like substances as well as the lectins and anti-nutrients found largely in grains and legumes (and subsequently the animals we feed them to) are behind most if not all inflammatory and auto-immune conditions. So no, you can't eat bread, pasta, or bean burritos, or eat a hamburger or glass of milk from a cow stuffed with soy and corn (yes, corn is a grain). Well, you can, just don't complain if you develop arthritisasthmaintestinal disorders, or lupus. And these are the foods we rely upon- they form the base of our food pyramid!

Further reading:

  • Damn Dirty Grains by Robb Wolf
    • A former research biochemist and expert in paleolithic nutrition. Also a former California State Powerlifting Champion, and current co-owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning, one of the Men’s Health “top 30 gyms in America. Likewise, his emphasis is on improving athletic performance and tackling general health problems through paleo nutrition coaching. Article Highlight: "Most of the problems related to grain consumption can be lumped into one of two categories: those related to hyperinsulinemia and those related to irritant/toxicant properties inherent to grains."
  • Against the Grain: 10 Reasons to Give Up Grains by Jenny of Nourished Kitchen
    • Co-founder of large Colorado Farmers' Market, advocate of high-quality, local foods; Nourished Kitchen’s goal is to promote sustainable agriculture and nutrient-dense, whole foods in everyday kitchens. Article Highlight: "Grains aren't good for your gut...or for your joints, teeth or skin... they cause inflammation..."
  • The Awful Truth About Eating Grains by Joseph Mercola 
    • Controversial but extremely informative and impassioned... love him or hate him. Advocate of health and nutrition strategies contrary to established doctrine, heavily trafficked website is an excellent resource. Article Highlight: "If you have digestive problems or suffer some of the classic autoimmune reactions (e.g. allergies) consider the possibilities that grains may be problematical."
  • Should More of us Steer Clear of Wheat? by Jerome Burne
    •  "...the immune reaction to gluten that damages the gut in [celiac's disease] can also cause problems almost anywhere else in the body...while the gluten antibodies can damage the bowels, they can also cause problems elsewhere."
  • Why Grains Are Unhealthy by Mark Sisson
    • Founder of Mark's Daily Apple and author of The Primal Blueprint, Mark has garnered a huge following, improving the lives of thousands through his "primal lifestyle" - a version of the paleo diet combined with smart exercise and lifestyle habits. Article Highlight: "the fundamental problem with grains is that they are a distinctly Neolithic food that the human animal has yet to adapt to consuming... a diet very low or entirely without grains (low-carb) has been shown to decrease risk for problems associated with diabetes, to lower blood pressure, alleviate heartburn symptoms, and shed abdominal fat."

  • Going Against the Grain: How Reducing and Avoiding Grains Can Revitalize Your Health (Book) by Melissa Smith
    • [from]: "Diets high in grains can lead to a host of health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, and more...'Smith has courageously and accurately tackled what has emerged as America's primary food-related health problem: disease and obesity attributable to the regular consumption of high-calorie, nutrient-poor, immune-disruptive grains.' -Kenneth D. Fine, M.D., gluten sensitivity researcher and director of The Intestinal Health Institute, Dallas"
  • Dangerous Grains: Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous To Your Health (Book) by James Braly, M.D. and Ron Hoggan, M.A.
    • [from]: "The authors, leading experts in the field of food allergies, and celiac disease, present compelling evidence that our grain-centered diet is to blame for a host of chronic illnesses..."
    • "Contains more than a dozen case histories of people who have recovered from a wide variety of chronic conditions - back pain, chronic fatigue, the auto-immune disorder lupus - simply by following a gluten-free diet."