|A modern-day hunter gatherer. Looks pretty healthy to me...|
To start things off, here's a little Paleolithic timeline simile for you. We started eating the Paleo way about 2.5 million years ago and we drastically changed our diets about 10,000 years ago when we began cultivating grains and legumes. For a 40 year-old man, that's equivalent to a little under 2 months of his life, or .4% of his life - not very much.
So, what do you eat on this diet? Here's a sample day:
-Eggs, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and kale
-Sauteed and scrambled in coconut oil
-Tossed green salad with tons of veggies (spinach, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.)
-Grilled chicken marinated in wine, olive oil and spices
-Olive oil and lemon juice dressing
-Cantaloupe, blackberries and pecans
Leftover baked salmon, almond butter and banana
-Steamed summer squash with lemon juice and sunflower seeds
-2 or 3 dates
See, that's not so bad is it? There are tons and tons of nutrients in there and no fillers. It does take some getting used to - more for some than others. Most people go through a "transition" period, we'll call it, where your body is learning how to efficiently use fats instead of carbohydrates as energy. Most people's diets are made up of a lot more carbohydrates than necessary (breads, pastries, sweetened drinks, pasta, cereal), so your body gets used to using that as energy - or storing it as fat, as the case may be...
It took me almost 3 weeks to not feel like I was walking through oatmeal all the time when I first started eating like this, and I'm not even strict Paleo. And then one day, I just felt better. I felt great, actually. Some people's transition period lasts only a few days. It depends on how much your body dislikes grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy - the more it dislikes those things, the harder you detoxify and the worse you feel. Once you're done detoxing, though, most people end up with fewer cravings, more energy, leaner bodies and clearer heads.
Here's the approved foods list, according to Loren Cordain, one of the most influential and well-respected Paleo researchers:
Eat as much of these as you want:
Vegetables except most tubers (ie potatoes)
Nuts (peanuts are not nuts)
Seeds (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower)
Oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, canola, coconut)
As a recap, if you were to follow the Paleolithic diet, you would eat the foods above and remove grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugar from your diet. I know in my last post I said that Paleolithic people didn't eat potatoes and sweet potatoes, but actually some of them did eat some tubers. So sweet potatoes are fine sometimes, especially if you're very active. Potatoes contain a high amount of lectins, though, so they're not quite as acceptable. More on that below.
If you're interested in taking this way of eating on, I strongly suggest you buy Cordain's book. Two things I disagree with in Professor Cordain's book are 1) he does not approve of coconut oil and 2) he condones the consumption of aspartame and other fake sugars. He has since changed his stance a bit on coconut oil here, and he may have amended his views on fake sugars, but I can't find evidence of it.
Here are 3 reasons you might want to think about going Paleo:
Lectins are found in large amounts in grains, legumes (especially soy), and nightshades (potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tobacco, eggplant). One theory is that lectins are a natural defense mechanism for plants, in that they make plants very difficult for animals like us to digest. They are sticky, so when they enter your digestive tract, they glom on to your intestinal walls and wreak havoc there. They can contribute greatly to leaky gut syndrome, which is when you essentially develop holes in your gut that allow food particles to get into your blood stream. Basically, it's when your poop get into places in your body that it's not supposed to go. Your immune system attacks it and any kind of inflammation (food sensitivities) can happen from there, including autoimmune diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis. Leaky gut has much to do with your basic gastrointestinal complaints like gas, bloating, and indigestion, which often lead to fatigue, headaches, etc.
The sad part is that we could be disarming some of the lectins by soaking, sprouting or fermenting our foods, but that's old fashioned and only old hippies in Boulder do that anymore. So we choose to make up the bulk of our diets with plants that evolved to thwart us - and then we wonder why we feel like crap.
Along with lectins, phytates are considered anti-nutrients by the Paleo camp. Phytates are not digestible by non-ruminants (read: non-cud-chewers) because we lack the enzyme phytase. Phytates are found in (guess what) grains, legumes, corn and some nuts. Phytates actually bind to the magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron and take them OUT of our bodies. We do not want that to happen. Cordain and others believe that this alone is greatly contributing to the worldwide epidemic of iron-deficiency anemia. Many people are deficient in magnesium as well, which can contribute to everything from muscle cramping to PMS. And zinc? Well, it's just SUPER important to our immune systems and for our reproductive abilities. No biggie.
And calcium - let's go there, shall we? Americans are scared to death of not getting enough calcium and I think it's a scam. I believe it's another ploy by Dairy Management Inc to get us to buy America's surplus of factory farmed cheese. People, bones are not just made up of calcium. I repeat, your bones are not just sticks of calcium. You need a lot of minerals to build them, plus protein and a bunch of other things. Here's the funny part - cheese is HIGHLY acid forming in your body, and when you have a net acid diet (lots of dairy, meat, and grains and few fruits and veggies), calcium gets leached from your bones to try to neutralize the acid. Yes, dairy can contribute to osteoporosis. Here's some research on that one.
3. It's satisfying.
Have you ever gone on a low-fat diet? Do you have low-fat products in your kitchen right now? I thought so. We're all just as afraid of eating fat as we are of not getting enough calcium. There are groups of Eskimos who live predominantly on fatty fish, seal oil and fish eggs who have no signs of heart disease, obesity or cancer. Fat carries flavors and it makes us feel full and satiated. It gives us the sensation that we've eaten something hearty (because we have) so we don't need to eat again for a while. Dense protein (meat) has a similar effect on us. An ample amount of protein and fat together create balanced blood sugar levels so we don't crash and burn all day, all week, forever... So when the bulk of your diet is coming from those two macronutrients instead of refined grains, you get a sense of satisfaction every time you eat.
In other words, if you started eating this way, you may not feel the need to shove something into your sugar hole every 2 hours like you do now. Think about it.