The “paleo” way of eating explained

I eat a paleolithic diet. “What the hell is a paleolithic diet?” you might ask. You wouldn’t be the first. Suffice to say, this way of eating has changed my life. I can say, without hyperbole, that I feel a billion times better than I used to. I’ve been eating this way since 2007.

Kidding aside, this way of eating really did help in a big way. When eating a grain heavy diet, I would experience wild mood swings that I thought were normal, but left me very tired (and depressed!) at the end of the day. I will never go back to the Standard American Diet (note the acronym). Why would I be an idiot? …no really; why would I be a lazy, incurious, unassuming maladroit and go down the tubes, complaining all the way but doing nothing about it except perhaps stuffing pharma drugs down my gullet to control the symptoms of bad health that could probably be attributed to my irresponsibility?

I’m not trying to motivate by ridicule, but despite my instinct to want to see people get better, I do tend to be a happily impatient and judgemental bastard. Just a bag of contradictions I guess… Okay, I’m trying to motivate by ridicule.

If one is depressed, I can’t emphasise this way of eating enough. It really does help people.

~The premise is simple: if one wants to discover what our diet really should be, one must look to the past, to the dictates of our genetics. If we consider archaeology, paleoanthropology and other fields in this context, we discover that man ate a much different diet up to 12000-7000 years ago, before the advent of agriculture. Before this, we were hunter-gatherers, with an emphasis on either the “hunter” or the “gatherer” aspects, depending on the latitude and environment.

We ate like this until the neolithic (agricultural) revolution radically altered the way we procure food. We began to grow cereal crops, legumes and practice animal husbandry. We began to cultivate roots, tubers, vegetables and fruit, and grow nuts and seeds; we started mining or dehydrating salt. We started growing grasses and beans for size and starch content; we began to breed animals for food and milk production; all cultivated plants were bred for size, and in the case of fruit, sugar. The anti-nutrients in seeds and nuts (indeed, all plants) were bred out as much as possible; oils and fats were easily pressed from olives, oil palm fruit and coconuts. Within the last centuries (and in some cases, decades) we began to refine food. Wheat was processed to obtain the starch; we began pressing seeds into omega 6 rich oils; pure sugar was extracted from plants. Eventually with industrial technology, oils were hardened via hydrogenation to produce cheap saturated trans-fat; high fructose corn syrup was produced as a cheap alternative to sugar; plant hydrolysis became a cheap way to give a rich “umami” flavour; this technology facilitated the cheap and easy production of ubiquitous modern comfort foods. By this time, animals in the Western World were increasingly fed grains and processed soy feed instead of being raised on grass, browse and hay (ruminants,ungulates etc) or pastured (pigs, poultry etc).

Before agriculture, we didn’t eat grains and beans to any real extent, if at all. We did not consume dairy products; elk milking is painful. When we first adopted omnivory, we hunted bugs and critters, gathered shellfish along the shores, and caught fish when we could. We ate eggs when we found them. We ate roots, leaves and wild fruit (though in the northern latitudes only when we could find them); we gathered nuts and seeds when possible, and searched out other fatty plants like coconut and oil palm fruit. We had a sweet tooth and would go to great lengths to procure honey when we could. We scavenged and discovered with tools a wealth of fat within the bones and skulls of carrion that animals left behind; we began to hunt larger game, as fatty as possible with no guarantee that the animal would be fatty. We didn’t eat tubers until fire was harnessed, and even so, only in some areas (there is evidence of ubiquitous, regular use of fire 50,000-100,000 years ago, and controlled use of fire in some areas 250,000-400,000 years ago).

So there you have it. A bit of a dietary history lesson. I eat as closely to paleo principles as possible.

Carbohydrate

One of the first things you might notice is the lack of familiar starch sources. During the Paleolithic, in many areas, carbs were not eaten to the extent they are today, though closer to the equator, in certain areas, they made up a large part of the diet; and the carbs available were different from the ones we eat today. Starch was an iffy thing for much of the world. Grains and beans were rarely eaten because wild grasses were very small and hard to gather in any significant amount and beans were not easy to find. Also, these were avoided due to the necessity of cooking to make them palatable and non-toxic. Starchy tubers were not eaten until fire was controlled (from that time on however, they made up a large percentage of calories in certain parts of the world). Wild roots, shoots and fruits were easier to consume (they could also be eaten raw, which was natural and convenient; though, being wild, they were quite fibrous, small, and the fruit and berries were more tart than sweet.

Because the diet was mostly hypoglycemic and paleo man was in motion much of the time, he did not get the diseases of modern civilization. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, other “syndrome-x” diseases and intestinal diseases were/are very rare in 20th century and modern hunter-gatherers.

Some do well with a carb-heavy diet, and some don’t (particularly those with broken metabolisms). If you do well with starch, experiment with different tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava, taro, yam) and maybe other sources like plantain and squash.

Fat

The myth that saturated fat and cholesterol contribute to ill-health is largely responsible for the disease epidemic we are experiencing today. In the context of a proper diet, low in refined starch and free sugars, fat and cholesterol are your best friends. They are indispensable for hormonal regulation and good mood. Eat your animal fat (including lard and tallow) and don’t trim your meat. As well, coconut oil, palm oil (particularly red palm) and olive oil (a mainly monounsaturated oil) are great plant sources. However, modern industrial oils (corn, sunflower, canola, soy, cottonseed, other seed oils) high in omega 6 are junk; not that o6 is bad (in fact, its essential) but we’re looking for an essential fatty acid ratio of 3-1 to 1-1 omega 6 to omega 3. We eat too much o6 and the balance is out by a ratio of up to at least 15-1, and much higher. …want to get old fast because of inflammation? Seed oil will accommodate this.

Get a good o6-o3 balance by ditching the seed oils, eating grass-fed meat when you can, and eating lots of fish/seafood. Of course, hydrogenated trans-fats are killers that contribute to artery diseases in any dietary context.

…one more thing: fat does not make you fat by virtue of it being fat.

Protein

Protein is a no brainer (for most). It doesn’t mess with our physiology like fats and carbs can in a refined/perverted diet, though some don’t do well with a high intake. Protein more or less self-regulates; most bodies won’t allow too much or too little. The best sources are wild-killed game, wild-caught fish and seafood, and pasture-raised and grass-fed livestock, poultry and eggs. Avoid grain-fed/finished, because the fatty acid ratio isn’t ideal. And grass-finished tastes better anyway. The cost is worth it… though it’s cheaper than retail if you hunt it or buy the animal from a producer and kill it yourself. The protein quality in beans and grass seeds isn’t worth eating them; the lectins, enzyme inhibitors, other antinutrients and empty energy just don’t make the case for them. And meat doesn’t spike insulin and promote inflammation like these can.

~So that’s pretty much it. Again, I can’t stress enough how important proper nutrition is, regarding depression. I believe that knowledge of- an industrial diet, lack of or inappropriate exercise, and modern mental stressors- things we didn’t deal with in the past, can help us in ways we can’t imagine at the moment…

…let’s do something about it.

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Dennis Davidson
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 13:38:04

    Hi there. I went completely Paleo for one month and felt like shit after two weeks (carb withdrawal), but then a change occurred…there was an energy and alertness I have not felt other than during fasting, which isn’t of course a sustainable course of action. Currently I am not completely dedicated to this diet because I am an endurance geek and just feel the need for carbs prior to, during, and after a long training session….and I am weak.

    I have just discovered your blog and find your writing and ideas refreshingly intelligent and down to earth simultaneously. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Regarding depression and anxiety: have you ever considered that perhaps we really do have something on a grander scale than currently knowable to be “depressed” about…I mean beyond the brain connection. Separation from our true selves in the spiritual sense which could possibly be due to some catastrophe that occurred beyond our historical grasp…in a sense a separation from God as in the book of Genesis. This would be an unendurable melancholy similar to losing a child or a mate only we might have lost our ultimate Lover.

    This is I think an avenue you have yet to stroll down. Apologies if I am mistaken.

    Reply

I want some of what's in your head...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: