The low-down on Paleo
There’s no secret the world is facing a nutritional crisis of astounding proportion; quite literally our modern diet is killing us. Today more people die of obesity than starvation, and the obese are also often malnourished. This is a confusing time in human evolution.
Figuring out the optimal diet is a minefield and an often-emotive topic as so-called experts all claim to have the answer. As one study seems to debunk another how can we truly trust constantly conflicting advice? You do not have to be a health expert to look around the globe to see that mainstream nutritional guidelines have led us down the wrong path.
And you don’t have to be an expert to use common sense – if the ‘supermarket diet’ is killing us, then don’t eat the standard ‘supermarket diet’. Much of what we’ve been told about nutrition has been wrong and it’s time we all truly questioned why.
As you begin to understand food politics, you get a clear picture that nutritional advice is not based so much in science as it is engineered to support agriculture, the processed food and supermarket industry. Dieticians are bound by rules that force them to promote the official dietary guidelines which is a grain/carbohydrate rich, lower fat diet, which originated at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
When we reduced our fat intake and increased our grains, we have become fatter and unhealthier than ever before. Apart from the dramatic increase in processed sugars, modern health issues are said to be due in part to the fact that grains also convert to glucose (sugar), and a diet high in glucose-producing foods such as grains can cause a myriad of health complaints as these foods are pro-inflammatory, and inflammation can lead to chronic disease and early preventable death.
I am shocked to see one of our country’s ‘leading dieticians’ on television promoting a highly processed grain-based cereal as a healthy breakfast for children, when it has a glycemic index of 76 which means the body basically converts this instantly to sugar. But hey, it contains whole grains and has been fortified with nutrients (only because they were stripped out during processing to begin with) so it must be good for you. The diet industry has brainwashed us to think low-fat grain-based cereals will make us slim. They do the opposite. Just look around you.
The first supermarket opened in the 1940s. Before that we grew our own organic vegetables and fruits, we had access to organic pasture-fed meat, our milk was raw and unpasteurised, and we had a fraction of the sugar that we do today. Importantly our body did not have to navigate the thousands of chemicals approved for agriculture and as food additives.
With the tidal wave of the ‘supermarket diet’ we’ve seen a rapid increase in food intolerance, digestive complaints, mood disorders, obesity, heart disease and cancers, and because of this, more and more people are turning to traditional diets and are avoiding the ‘new foods’ that are being blamed for the current health and obesity crisis.
The good news is global health crisis is reversible. Clinically I have never seen a patient who hasn’t had dramatic health improvements when they embrace a diet before the industrial and agricultural revolution. Health simply transforms and we are literally able to wind back the clock and often undo the damage that the modern diet created. Your body is a miraculous thing; given the right environment it is capable of healing the seemingly irreversible.
What exactly is the paleo diet? Otherwise known as ‘Ancestral Eating’, or the WAPF diet (Weston A Price Foundation), Paleo has become and umbrella term for traditional diets. There are many alternatives and approaches to this style of eating however the foundation of these diets is all the same;
Avoid all processed foods and food additives
Eat only grass-fed free-range meat, nose to tail including organ meats
Eat eggs from chickens that are free to roam and forage outdoors in the sunlight (important for the development of omega 3 and vitamin D)
Enjoy plenty of vegetables especially dark bitter greens
Eat some fruit mainly berries but not too much
Avoid unnatural and refined sugars and only use natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup sparingly
Only consume traditional fats such as coconut oil and animal fats (yes saturated fats are a big part of traditional diets!)
Enjoy nuts and seeds
About the Paleo diet
Traditional dietary approaches can have differing opinions about what foods humans ate. The strict Paleo diet is based on what they believe humans ate 10,000 years ago and suggests we avoid all grains, legumes, fermented foods and dairy, claiming that humans didn’t eat these foods back then. Others argue evidence to prove indeed we did eat these foods 10,000 years ago. Yet a more important argument to me is how far back should we actually go in history to find the optimal diet? If our recent relatives thrived eating unprocessed foods just 100 to 200 years ago, is that type of traditional diet more in line with human evolution and genetics today as opposed to 10,000 years ago? The reality is humans evolve and adapt to their diet and will continue to do so. However the crisis we currently face is that food has evolved dramatically faster than the human genome has had time to adapt, and that’s the key issue. Eventually we may evolve to cope with a chemical laden, high-grain, high-starch, high-sugar diet, however currently that diet is killing us.
What about grains and legumes?
What we do know about traditional dietary grains, legumes, seeds and nuts is that they were prepared in ways making them more digestible to humans. Traditionally these foods were soaked, fermented and or sprouted. Compare that to today where our grains are commercially grown and processed without this traditional preparation and it becomes easy to see why 1:3 people suffer with digestive complaints. This is why many people avoid commercial grains but enjoy small quantities of properly prepared grains, such as traditional fermented sourdough bread, sprouted flour products, and well-soaked legumes. When it comes to grain all traditional diets would agree, that humans are not designed to tolerate the high quantities of commercially processed grains they are consuming today. Low to no grain and higher fat intake is primarily what makes traditional diets stand apart from what is promoted as healthy by our so-called diet experts today who promote the opposite.
What about fat?
Traditional diets do encourage adequate protein and traditional fats, including animal fats and other saturated fats such as coconut oil. These fats have been demonised for the best part of the last century however the scientific community is beginning to take a dramatic U-turn on this stance that many considered the biggest diet blunder in history. Fat intake could be anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of calories on a traditional diet as opposed to the recommended 20 percent that has been promoted to us.
What about dairy?
Dairy is in itself a controversial topic. Many nutritionists believe no one should consume dairy, however evidence would prove we should take this on an individual basis. What we do know is that raw unpasteurised dairy is said to be far more tolerated and nourishing than processed dairy, so again we see that food is better for us in its whole unadulterated form.
The lowdown on biodiversity
Another key consideration is that traditional diets consisted of far greater biodiversity to what is available today. Globalisation has induced a tendency towards uniformity in eating habits. A report prepared for the United Nations Environment Program states that although about 7000 species of plants have been used as human food in the past, only 150 crops are now commercially important, with rice, wheat and maize accounting for 60 percent of the world’s food supply. Genetic diversity for each crop has been drastically reduced as agriculture has become monoculture farming, for example only nine varieties of wheat make up 50 percent of the crop in the USA and the number of rice varieties has dropped from 2000 to less than 100.
The problem with this, is that the human body is designed for food diversity. So one important aspect of eating a traditional diet is to enjoy as many heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables you can possibly obtain. This means visiting farmers markets, growing your own heirloom vegetables and purchasing fresh food outside of the supermarket, as supermarkets offer the same foods all year round and lack the biodiversity our body and the environment requires to be healthy. So is the Paleo diet a fad?
Well if you call how humans ate for thousands of years a fad then yes. But the reality is it’s a commonsense intelligent way of eating that intuitively feels right and no one can argue about. Humans will evolve to the modern diet but we need thousands of years of progressive evolution for adaptation to occur. In the mean-time eating nutrient-dense nourishing and healing foods makes sense. But we must also be real; we aren’t cavemen, we aren’t hunter-gatherers, and even our whole foods including fruits and vegetables differ from even 100 years ago, so we need to take the principles, but be flexible and realistic as to what we can achieve, and it’s okay not to be perfect, nobody is. We are what we eat so why be cheap, fake or easy? Convenience foods are inconvenient in the end.
While a traditional diet may sound restrictive, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Real food is incredibly tasty and satisfying, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer a meal cooked from scratch over a frozen TV meal. There is no need to miss out on any of your favorite foods, it’s simply a case of knowing the alternatives. When you know how to prepare healthy bread, nourishing crackers, delicious cakes and slices; the world of Ancestral Eating becomes a wonder world of new flavours, tastes and culinary experiences. So get experimenting and open your kitchen to a whole new world of foods.