I’m still in Vegas with my girlio, helping her apartment and job hunt. The mini-update is: it looks as if we have found her an apartment. It’s about 5 miles from the strip, is gated and secure, and we should get her moved in tomorrow or Tuesday. She’s begun the job application process by getting her Alcohol Card and Health Card, and all of the online applications filled out. She’s optimistic about getting work, and is really excited about getting settled into her little Vegas home!
However, I want to post today about nutrition. I’ve gotten a lot of response from folks since I posted about our experience with the Ancestral Health Symposium. A lot of the response has been from my friends in the skeptic community. I’m going to try to explain my position on this a little better, but it makes me so proud to be part of this group of skeptics who don’t accept information without evidence.
First, let’s work on the word. The issue over the word “Paleo” reminds me of the flame wars the secular community has over the word “atheist” versus “any-self-identification-word-other-than-atheist” (agnostic, freethinker, humanist). So many arguments against “Paleo” nutrition focus on this one word. These arguments make a valid point. I have a Portuguese friend who says that rules are divided into Theory and Practice (with his lovely accent those words are Teeory and Prrrractice).
In Theory, Paleo nutrition is a way of eating (and movement, and other things but we’ll focus first on nutrition) that is based on what we know about human evolution. There’s even an effort within the community to switch to the term Evolutionary Nutrition. The theory is that we base our eating on the way of eating that allowed our ancestors to have survived to reproduce and thrive. Paleo refers to the era when our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, before the Neolithic era of agriculture (Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel, is an awesome book (and Pulitzer Prize winner) that explains the history of human societies).
However, in Practice, almost nothing we eat modernly is the same food our ancestors ate. Not the bananas, not the brazil nuts, not the beasts. Unless you are harvesting wild mushrooms, or fishing pristine rivers, or hunting wildebeests, you are eating modern versions of all of those ancient foods. So I will agree with the “Paleo-busters” who assert that there can be no true Paleo diet because there is not true Paleo food.
There is a large part of this movement (and I don’t speak for anyone but myself) which is attempting to shift the focus from selecting our diet based solely on our ancestral heritage and more on what the food actually does when it enters your body. In studying the effects these different nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) have on our bodies, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of human physiology and anatomy, and how our systems function separately and in harmony.
You remember from high school biology that we have cells –> organs –> systems. Remember that we have 10 systems: respiratory, musculoskeletal, nervous, reproductive, gastrointestinal, integumentary, urinary, immune, endocrine, and circulatory. Each system is dependent upon the others, and the general health of the person is an accumulation of the health of each of the systems. The things we do with and put into our body affect the systems, and therefore the whole body.
The process of figuring out what different foods do in the body is a challenging task, because of the interconnectedness of all the systems and the unique physiology of each person. I have no scientific background, but even as a layperson I have found sufficient research to show that certain foods have a MORE healthy effect on the systems and certain foods have a LESS healthy effect.
So now here’s the rub. What is healthy and what is unhealthy? This is where the strength of skepticism comes in. Conventional wisdom has always been a big red flag for me, and never more so than in what is considered a healthy diet. Leaving aside for a moment that the government that provided us with the food guide pyramid is the same government that subsidizes corn, sugar, and soybeans to the tune of billions of dollars a year, let’s first look at the standard American diet with a critical eye: assuming that the average grocery store reflects what the average American eats, 75% of the items in a grocery store contain corn or a corn product. Even the beef, pork, and chicken from the grocery store are ultimately corn, as they are fed corn for all or most of their lives. In his pivotal book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan describes the history of the plant we know as corn, and how our industrial food supply is so dependent upon it, and how very unhealthy it is for humans, and the animals we eat, and humans again when we eat those animals.
Additionally, there is enough evidence to convince me that grains are inflammatory. Inflammation, in turn, is very damaging to our body (also here) (and here). There is a also syndrome known as leaky gut syndrome that results in increased intestinal permeability, and it is thought that grains contribute to this, which in turn leads to bad stuff getting into one’s bloodstream. Finally, there’s some research that suggests that processed carbohydrates can light up pleasure centers in our brain so strongly that it mimics an addiction for some people.
This post is going far longer than I intended, so I’m going to have to break it into several posts. I’m going to do it this way. In summary of what I’ve said so far, there are several components of what the Ancestral Health movement endorses. Over the next few posts, I’m going to personalize those factors according to what I think are the most important. In the movement we call this N=1, and there is huge focus in the movement on self-experimenting. This is because each of us has in our past a heritage based on climate and geography and the food that would have been available to our ancestors, and the digestive enzymes we would have evolved to accommodate that supply.
Here’s Gayle’s short version of How To Eat:
1. Eliminate grains, whole or processed.
2. Eliminate sugar.
3. Eat lots and lots of a variety of vegetables, particularly the green leafy kind, and a limited amount of low-sugar fruit.
4. Eliminate dairy.
5. Eat meat from grass-fed cows, pastured pigs, free range chickens and eggs, and wild-caught fish.
6. Eat healthy fat in the form of avocados, nuts, coconut, and olive oil.
While I’m working through all this, I may decide to change the sequence, or add to, the above list. Also, this is only the NUTRITIONAL arena of the Paleo movement, which is only a portion of what contributes to our overall health. So much more to come!
Thanks for reading!
August 28, 2013 at 3:35 am
I think you explained it well for the most part–your six items at the end will probably be what most people will grab, of course. Lists are so helpful. 🙂 I know you have studied this so much–more than I have, and I think I’m pretty well-read in the nutrition arena. I appreciate all you have to offer and love being able to discuss and learn with you!
August 28, 2013 at 4:47 am
Great piece. I did have to laugh at WordPress choice to place the McDonalds ad on your blog. Safe travels.
November 6, 2013 at 1:57 pm
“there is enough evidence to convince me that grains are inflammatory.”
the study cited concludes the opposite,
“it is possible that whole grain intake could be related to lower inflammatory protein concentrations by preventing weight gain, promoting weight maintenance, and reducing visceral adiposity.”
as do most other studies, by way of example
“Concordant with previous research, whole grain intake was inversely associated with obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation and elevated fasting glucose or newly diagnosed diabetes.”
“Epidemiological studies find that whole-grain intake is protective against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. ”
refined grains of course are mostly what we actually get to eat in the SAD (standard american diet), but grains as such are not necessarily bad..
ps. arrived here via a search for ‘no true paleo’, though I was thinking of it more in terms of ‘no true scotsman’ 😉