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Mainely Tipping Points

Mainely Tipping Points 41: Part I, The Paleo Diet

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Mainely Tipping Points 41

The Paleo Diet, Part I

 

Loren Cordain, THE PALEO DIET COOKBOOK, is a professor in the Health and Exercise Science Department at Colorado State University.   Cordain focuses on the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health, and well being in modern humans.  Cordain is generally acknowledged to be the world’s leading expert on the Paleolithic diet.  He has analyzed 229 hunter-gatherer societies and published more than 100 peer-reviewed publications. 

 Robb Wolf, THE PALEO SOLUTION:  THE ORIGINAL HUMAN DIET, is Cordain’s student.  Wolf is a former research biochemist who now co-owns the NorCal Strength & Conditioning gym, ranked by Men’s Health as one of the top 30 gyms in America.  Wolf explains why grains are so hard for humans to digest and how they foster a “leaky gut” condition which, in turn, leads to an array of chronic diseases, including neurological diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

 

 Dr. Terry Wahls, MINDING MY MITOCHONDRIA:  HOW I OVERCAME SECONDARY PROGRESSIVE MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS) AND GOT OUT OF MY WHEELCHAIR, is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine.  In 2003 she was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) and soon became wheel-chair bound.  When mainstream medicine could not slow her disease, she started to research how nutrition could help the mitochondria in her brain.  Within eight months of starting a hunter-gatherer diet, she could walk again with a cane.  Today, she rides her bike, rides horses, and lectures worldwide on what she has learned.  Take a look at her short, informative lecture at a November 2011 TED (The Technology Entertainment and Design) conference, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc

Those promoting the Paleo Diet argue that humans are genetically wired to eat meat, foraged vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Paleo peoples, they argue, did not eat grains, legumes, or dairy. 

“Hunter-gathers, pastoralists, and agriculturalists have been extensively studied since the mid-1800’s,” notes Wolf.  Archeological evidence, he explains, demonstrates clearly that Paleo people were superbly healthy.  Their bones, explains Wolf, “looked like those of high-level athletes” (148).

Paleo peoples “were as tall or taller than modern Americans and Europeans, which is a sign they ate a very nutritious diet.  They were virtually free of cavities and bone malformations that are common with malnutrition.  Despite a lack of medical care, they had remarkably low infant mortality rates, yet had better than 10 percent of their population live into their sixties” (39).  (Remember Paleo peoples lived in very dangerous times.)  The Paleo peoples were “virtually free of degenerative disease such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.  They also showed virtually no near-sightedness or acne” (39). 

With the shift to agriculture, humans “lost an average of six inches in height” (93).  These early Neolithic farmers had about seven cavities on average per person.  Infant mortality rates increased:  “the most significant difference was between the ages of two and four when malnutrition is particularly damaging to children.”  These farmers had bone malformations typical of infectious diseases and did not live as long.  Deficiencies in iron, calcium, and protein were common (40-41).   

Wolf notes that if the timeline of human history is compared to a 100-yard football field, the first 99.5 yards comprises all of human history except for the last 5,000 years.  In the last 10,000 years most humans transitioned from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the settled agricultural lifestyle of the last 5,000 years.  Television, the Internet, and refined vegetable oils, notes Wolf, only take up the “last few inches” of this timeline (38-39).  Surely the last quarter-inch would include today’s fake, franken foods.

In essence, explains Wolf, humans “moved from a nutrient-dense, protein-rich diet that was varied and changed with location and seasons to a diet dependent upon a few starchy crops.  These starchy crops provide a fraction of the vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.  These ‘new foods’ create a host of other health problems ranging from cancer to autoimmunity to infertility” (41). 

Our health researchers, Wolf argues, lack a scientific framework from which to study and assess information on what we should eat, so their answers “change in response to politics, lobbying, and the media.”  I would add two other factors:  individual economic self-interest (paycheck scientists and those who personally benefit from promoting certain diets) and the presence of a personal belief system not grounded in science, such as “salt is bad.”  As a result, Wolf argues, “our `health maintenance system’ [is] more parasitic than symbiotic….After all, it’s hard as hell to make money off healthy people….” (34).  Now, writes Wolf, with regard to our health, “common” is being mistaken for “normal” (11). 

With some small exceptions, the following diets are closely related to the Paleo Diet:  Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet;  Gary Taubes’ WHY WE GET FAT, which advocates the diet used by the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at the Duke University Medical Clinic; Konstantin Monastyrsky’s FIBER MENANCE, which promotes a low-fiber diet; and Dr. Joseph Mercola’s NO GRAIN DIET.  (Except for Mercola’s NO-GRAIN DIET, these books have been discussed in earlier Tipping Points essays.) 

The above diets agree that grains are a problem.  Where diversity emerges is over whether or not to eat legumes and dairy and, if so, which legumes and what kinds of dairy. 

The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), which I really like because they are practicing good science, recommends raw/real dairy.  WAPF allows, cautions about, or discards legumes based on how hard it is to mitigate their anti-nutrient chemical packages.  Thus, soy is not recommended.  And whole grains are allowed if they are properly soaked or sprouted to mitigate their anti-nutrient chemical properties. 

For myself, I avoid grains, especially refined grains.  I pretty much avoid legumes, too, mostly because it’s clear my body does not like them and because they are an inferior protein source.  Dairy I love, especially fermented dairy like yogurt, kefir, and piima.  There are many peoples still present today who thrive on real milk.  The Laplanders (reindeer), the Masai (cows), and the grasslanders from inner Mongolia (sheep) spring immediately to my mind.  Granted, some of this milk is consumed in a fermented form, but we’re still talking healthy people who consume dairy products.

Whenever we attempt to adopt food ways from other eras or other regions, we inevitably bring our own belief systems into the mix.  Cordain is no different.  His emphasis on lean, grass-fed meat betrays the anti-saturated fat campaign that has permeated our culture since the 1970s.  Of course early people used animal fat; it was the only fat they had unless they lived near coconut trees or the sea.  Eskimos lived mostly on fat and were supremely healthy.  And, pemmican was made from a 1:1 ratio of fat and meat, with some dried fruit pounded in.  (Somewhere I read that some pemmican was found in a grave that was thousands of years old and that it was still good—which speaks to the power of saturated fats as a preservative.)  

Cordain’s anti-salt stance also betrays the presence of belief system, not science.  Healthy salt is essential for humans and for preserving food, as was discussed in Tipping Points 40. 

Cordain recommends using dried egg whites in smoothies as a protein source.  But, the scientists at the WAPF argue that powdered protein powders of all kinds have broken chemical structures and are dangerous.  Also, egg whites contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with protein digestion.  We need the egg yolk to digest the egg white, and for the body to obtain optimal levels of nutrition, the egg white needs to be cooked. 

Cordain gets into trouble with his “non Paleo” diet list.  He allows olive, coconut, walnut, macadamia, and flaxseed oils.  Yet, most nut/seed oils are highly refined and dangerous.  One needs to buy unrefined oils, and finding unrefined olive and coconut oils is fairly easy.  I did find some unrefined grapeseed oil in Portland recently; that’s a rare commodity.  

Cordain uses lemons and limes to season salad greens, but vinegar is not allowed.  Yet, wine is.  Vinegar and wine are the same thing essentially. 

Diet sodas, which are toxic chemical brews, are allowed.  Mercy!

Still, in general, I do believe the essence of the Paleo diet—grass-fed, free-range meats; wild fish; wild seafood; vegetables; fruits; nuts; and seeds—to be healthy.  Medically, this way of eating can heal and support the body. 

Just ask Dr. Terry Wahls. 

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