I hope to answer a lot of questions on this one post. I will address questions about "wheat" products, why I'm against milk and hopefully I can convince a couple more people that I'm a raging tree hugger. I will be saving a bone health post for next week and gewilli, I'll hit on Baking Soda as an ergogenic aid later, and although it works, don't try it.
Johnny D asked about exercise and then not being hungry for lunch. Exercise is an appetite suppressant (in the short term), but will increase eating hours later.
So the principle behind the Paleo-diet is that our bodies have evolved to consume certain foods, and since the industrial revolution food choices have been changing faster than evolution can keep up with. This Western diet is therefore leading to chronic disease because we haven't had time to evolve. Our bodies are designed to eat like the cavemen, so that is how we should eat.
The paleo diet is meat, fruits and vegetables and that is it. You eat like the cavemen. No grains, dairy, or processed foods. If you look historically at people who ate this way they didn't suffer from many of the chronic diseases that we face today (they also lived an average of ~40 years before being eaten by a wildebeest).
I'm going to start with what I like about this diet. yes, there is a lot that I like about this diet. First off, the focus on fruits and vegetables. If you really understand the Paleo-diet you will recognize that the Dole 5-a-day thing won't get you anywhere. We're talking several servings of fruits and vegetables with every meal. I see no better way of getting the nutrients that you need. Most people should be eating way more fruits and vegetables than they currently consume and this diet will certainly get you there.
Fluids... The cavemen drank water. That is what we should drink. We should get way from fruit drinks, alcohol, coffee, milk, etc. Can you imagine a caveman trying to milk a buffalo? Our body doesn't deal well with liquid calories, so why give it to the body? Someone asked about alcohol in a recent post. First I will tell you that I'm biased, I've seen people close to me have REALLY bad experiences with alcohol, I will never touch the stuff. I know that there are studies showing benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, but I don't think it's worth it. Alcohol contains lots of calories, and alcohol calories are a poison to the body that the body burns first before any other calories in the body. This may sound good, but it leads to the body storing all the other calories... many of those calories go to the "beer belly". I don't see alcohol as part of a healthy diet, but you will find many who disagree with me.
Back to the Cavemen. Exercise. The cavemen were a transient group that got lots of exercise. Although that is not the emphasis of the caveman diet, it should be a part of it, as it should be a part of everyone's healthy lifestyles.
Meat consumption. The focus of the paleo-diet is on good meat sources. The cavemen didn't eat corn fed salmon or feedlot beef. The animal products consumed by the cavemen was wild game that is nutritionally superior to most things you will find at the local grocery store. Anyone who consumes meat should seek out the types of meat consumed by the cavemen. For a quick test, imagine what the animal that you are about to consume did before it was slaughtered. What do cows do? stand and eat. What do elk do? Run, jump and graze.
I think that it's possible to eat a pretty good diet by following the paleo-diet, but the number one thing that I don't like about it is (here comes the raging tree-hugger): It will NOT support a population! America can't continue to consume their current level of meat consumption and switch over to eating wild game, there just aren't enough elk and deer to go around. The paleo-diet recognizes that (sort of) and says that you can eat lean beef, although it's not preferred. Well, even "lean" beef has saturated fats and lacks the omega-3s that are the reason we should focus on wild game. Additionally, if everyone in America started consuming more beef, I don't think the country could face the ecological consequences (water demand, manure runoff, wheat and corn demands to feed the cows, etc.)
The paleo-diet does not allow the consumption of grains. The cavemen didn't eat grains because they didn't have a good way of breaking the kernels and cooking the grains for a sufficient times. Additionally cavemen were hunter-gatherers who didn't stick around to grow a crop so they would have had to find large fields of wild wheat. The data used by the paleo-diet to suggest that grain is bad comes mostly from after the industrial revolution when we started over-processing grains (think white flour). To the defense of the paleo-diet, they also argue that grains contain a high proportion of n-6 fats which are pro-inflammatory (that is true, but grains really don't contain very much fat). The paleo-diet also contests that grains are very acidic, contributing to an acidic diet and bone loss (we'll discuss this more next time). They're right, grains (especially highly processed grains) are acidic, but not nearly as acidic as meat, which is a primary component of the paleo-diet.
I agree with the paleo-diet that we shouldn't consume highly processed grains. In my house we bought a grain mill (its an electrical appliance about the size of a breadbox) and we grind our own wheat. Wheat will store almost indefinitely in its whole kernel form (we're currently using wheat that someone gave us that they packed in 1972). After ground the wheat will go rancid after a couple weeks if not frozen because it contains all the parts of the wheat. My family also tries to use various kinds of grains, such as rice, barley, oats, rye, quinoi, spelt, and millet. We also have been known to grind beans to be used as flour in a variety of breads. We currently use a lot of wheat (because we received it for free and we're still poor), but do get a variety of grains in our diets daily. Like the paleo-diet, I think that we should eliminate highly processed grains from the diet, but whole grains have the greatest potential of feeding a growing society without destroying the environment we live in.
If you are buying grains in the store, you need to watch out for marketers. Of course white flour is made with wheat. So you can call white bread, wheat bread (it's highly processed wheat). In order to be called "whole wheat" the product must contain a certain percent whole wheat flour (which means that most of the original wheat berry was used). So if you're buying products in the store, look for "whole wheat" products and then turn the package over and make sure that "whole wheat flour" is the first ingredient and any other types of flour are much lower on the list.
I agree with a lot in the paleo-diet, but I choose to get my protein from beans, lentils and grains rather than meat. I still get all of the amino acids that i need, I get more fiber than you would get on the paleo-diet (although with the vegetables, the paleo-diet gets plenty of fiber). A paleo-diet guru would argue that I get too many n-6 fats and not enough n-3s. That is why I eat salmon and tuna (even though it's not really environmentally friendly) and take fish oil pills. I also get some short chain n-3s from walnuts, flax seeds and other nuts and vegetable oils.
I can also argue (with a good study by McCarty in 1999 to support my claims) that the high quantities of animal protein in the paleo-diet actually contribute to chronically elevated insulin levels (which is one of the pieces of evidence that the paleo-diet uses to refute the use of grains in the diet... but it only occurs in highly processed grains). A plant based diet (that is not highly processed) has been shown to minimize insulin perturbations and thereby promote health.
I agree completely, that we need to go into the past to find a good diet. i don't think that we have to go back to the cavemen. Go back to the 1700s, what would have been on the shelf then? If it wasn't on the shelf then, you probably don't need it. I realize that meat was abundant on the shelves then, but it was all free-range, grass fed meat rather than the feed-lot stuff we have now. Abstaining from meat will not create any great deficits in the diet (vitamin B12 can be obtained from nutritional yeast or eggs). And abstaining from meat and limiting animal product consumption will maximize health.
I left out a lot about dairy today, it deserves a post of its own. That will be coming next week. A couple of people have asked for recipes for bean dishes that we used for our month of vegan, but didn't leave an email address (which I understand). You can send me your email at sansauto at gmail and I'll get you the recipes.