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Turkey Tracks: The Traditional Food Movement Defined

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Turkey Tracks:  May

The Traditional Food Movement Defined


Here’s another quote from Jennifer McGruther in her new cookbook, The Nourished Kitchen:



A Traditional Foods Movement:

Traditional foods are the foods of our great-great grandmothers–the foods of gardens and of farms.  They represent a system of balance, emphasizing the value of meat and milk, grain and bean, vegetables and fruits.

There is a movement afoot to restore this way of eating The movement honors the connection between the foods that we eat, how we prepare these foods, and where they come from.  In this way, the traditional foods movement celebrates the connection between the farm that produces the food, the cook who prepares it, and the individuals who eat it.  Traditional foods is a system of connection, emphasizing support for time-honored ways in farming, cooking, and eating, and finding a place for fat and lean, animal and vegetable, raw and cooked.

Where other diets and philosophies of eating emphasize good and bad, black and white, a message of balance exists within the traditional foods movement.  Unlike vegan and vegetarian diets, which restrict animal foods, the traditional foods movement emphasizes their importance while encouraging the purchase of locally produced meats, milks, cheeses, and fats from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals.  Where the Paleo diet restricts grain, pulses, and dairy, the traditional foods movement embraces them, focusing not only on how the food is produced, but also on how it is prepared to maximize the nutrients it contains.  While the raw foods movement restricts cooked foods, the traditional foods movement embraces the, honoring the place of cooking as one of balance in partnership with raw foods, and fermented foods, too.

Emphasizing whole and minimally processed foods, the traditional foods movement calls you back to the kitchen, to real home cooking, and offers you an opportunity to weave the connections between the food on your table, the time you take to prepare it, and the farms that produce it (1-2)


Join a CSA.  Hold a community supper featuring wholesome, local foods.  Celebrate the beauty of your foodshed, and support local farmers practicing sustainable agriculture.  Support nutritional advocacy groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation and the Savory Institute, as well as the work of farmer and consumer rights organizations like the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund (5)

I am old enough that I can tell you that the generation referenced here is not my great, great, but my grandparents.  I remember these food practices well, especially from my rural Georgia grandparents, as well as the fact that few were sick, cancer and heart disease were rare, and food allergies were not rampant like today.  Both my grandmothers lived long, fruitful lives.  They ate traditional foods.



Books, Documentaries, Reviews: Denise Minger’s DEATH BY FOOD PYRAMID

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews AND Interesting Information:  March 26, 2014

Death By Food Pyramid:

How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Ruined Your Health…

…and How to Reclaim It

Denise Minger


Denise Minger’s book is a very useful book in so many ways and is, in my not-always-so-humble opinion, a really good addition to the ongoing discussion about food knowledge, food history, and food safety.


Minger, as you may recall from earlier posts on this blog, is the young woman who took on T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study by digging deep into his research data and showing that, likely, because his belief system about veganism was so strong that he missed what the data was telling him.  Indeed, in the middle of the movie lauding vegetarianism and veganism, Forks Over Knives, the Chinese doctors Campbell worked with in China announced that health seemed to be determined by “meat and vegetables.”

In addition, Minger has an absolutely wicked sense of humor.  But, more importantly, she has a kind of research worldview that looks objectively at what happened and what is, not what gets driven by belief system so that it becomes “truth” when it isn’t.  Despite the grim title, Minger ends her book with a powerful plan of attack on how to win back, as Chris Masterjohn notes in his forward to the book, “the right to a healthy future.”

Minger begins the book with the tale of her 16 to 17th year of living after falling prey to a raw food diet comprised mostly of fruit.  A trip to the dentist revealed SIXTEEN cavities and the dentist’s observation that he had never seen ” `teeth like this on someone so young’ ” (5)  Later she realized that her “teeth had likely fallen victim to a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins” (5).  Those are the crucial vitamins that live, you know, IN MEAT FAT.  And here’s an example of a typical Minger bit of humor:  “Although the doctor insisted I’d had low levels of iron and vitamin B12, my most deadly deficiency, I would later learn, was in critical thinking” (5).

Here’s another:

Contrary to popular belief, America’s dietary guidelines aren’t the magnum opuses of high-ranking scientists, cerebral cortexes pulsating in the moonlight as they solve the mysteries of human nutrition.  What reaches our ears has been squeezed, tortured, reshaped, paid off, and defiled by a phenomenal number of sources.  And as my own story proves, the USDA’s wisdom, pyramid and beyond, isn’t the only source of misguided health information out there.  But it is some the most pervasive, the most coddled by the food industry, the most sheltered from criticism, and–as a consequence–the most hazardous to public health (7).

Like I have done in the Mainely Tipping Points Essays, Minger goes back to the history of the USDA Food Pyramid and surfaces the swarmy political history of the early 1980s where Luise Light, hired by the USDA to come up with a good food guide, puts together a team of eminent scientists and nutritionists–only to find their recommendations (especially about grain consumption) undercut and overturned by industry shills in the upper regions of the USDA.  (Science-based food policy needs to be removed from the USDA–their interests are in conflict.)  She goes on to identify other players in how our farm policy got so far off track–if one is trying to grow healthy food.  And, how political theater instituted policies out of belief system (with help from the industries who would profit), so that we wound up with the deadly one-size-fits-all low-saturated fat, high-carb diet that is advocated today.  Look around you to see how well that’s all working for a lot of us.  In any case, Minger does a good job of pulling together the important highlights of this history in a readable, interesting form.

One of the arguments Minger makes is that the current “one-size-fits-all” USDA dietary information is “rubbish.”  (The same should be said for one-size-fits-all medicine, school curriculums, and on and on.)  Minger goes to some length to show that we do not all relate to foods in the same way.  We have genetic differences that control how our bodies take up, or don’t, the nutrients in foods–which explains why some folks can tolerate a vegetarian or vegan diet better than others.  Like me, a vegetarian diet made Chris Masterjohn profoundly ill.  (I am still trying to recover from my vegetarian years.)  But all of us likely know people who don’t eat meat or, even, nutrient dense foods, and they are not visibly sick, have reasonable amounts of energy, and so forth.

But, who should one trust?  To answer that question, Minger notes that “our understanding of diet and health is still too young for anyone to have all the answers.”  So, she writes, “Anyone who’s certain they’re right about everything in nutrition is almost definitely wrong.”  And we should not confuse “certainty” with “an evidence-backed opinion that seem reasonably correct.”  Look for people who keep an open mind and who are willing to “consider and integrate new information.”  None of us should be so certain that we lock all the doors.  Rather “a well-reasoned argument with a dash of humility is an open” door (53).

Minger also cautions that despite their white coats, “doctors tend to be some of the least educated health professionals on matters of nutrition.” Doctors don’t, too often, get their ideas on nutrition from “nutrition journals or other scientific literature, but from profit-driven industries with products to push” (57).

To buttress how to find the “well-reasoned argument,” Minger explains at some length how to vet the myriad number of studies out there claiming to hold truth.  She walks readers through what to look for in a study and what to throw into the nearest trash can.  I personally think that we all need to understand what comprises a genuine, useful study and what is fake science.  Of course she takes on the issue of causation versus the simple correlation that pervades much of today’s government, media, and industry hype about “food science.”  I can’t reproduce this whole section of the book for you, but I can urge you to read it so you can begin to understand how to vet information for yourself.  Just because something comes from a place like Harvard does not mean it has any value whatsoever.  One has to look at the nature of the study and WHO HAS FUNDED IT.  Minger also looks at what’s wrong (or what has been misreported) with the key BIG studies, like the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study–which was never able to prove the high cholesterol, dietary saturated fat, and heart disease theory.  Moreover, “multiple papers spawned by Framingham also link low cholesterol levels with greater risk of cancer….” (146).  And it is fascinating to me that in the news recently is the revelation that a blood test that measures lipids (fats) in the blood is 90% accurate as a prediction for Alzeimers:  LOW lipid levels point toward getting or having Alzeimers.

One really important section of the book walks through the history of Ancel Keyes and the lipid (fat) hypothesis.  Unknown to me was the fact that a competing theory was circulating at the same time arguing that sugar was the leading cause of heart disease.  Since sugar lost this battle in the political arena, the name of the scientist, John Yudkin, also got lost.  Other scientists adopted one or the other theory, but the real problem (and what turns out to be a problem with many of the studies) is that trying to blame illness on one single macronutrient does not consider the bigger, more complicated picture.  (Trying to understand the complicated “whole” of things by viewing one of its parts is the curse of modernity AND the producer of bad science.)  I think it was useful to see Keyes and Yudkin within the CONTEXT of their times–an analysis which makes Keyes less of a “demon” who left out information that didn’t fit his hypothesis and more of a scientist who just tried to simplify a cause (fat) too much.

Of course Minger addresses the rise of the use of trans fats and the PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) with high Omega 6 levels and chronic illness.  And she notes how major organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA) produce studies recommending the PUFAs that are written by people from industry.  For instance, William Harris the author of such a paper for the AHA “received significant funding from the bioengineering giant Monsanto, in addition to serving as a consultant for them.”  Monsanta is pioneering currently a GMO soybean supposedly enhanced with Omega 3’s while also providing Omega 6 (177-178).

Minger discusses the “modern Trinity” of diets (Paleo, Mediterranean, and Whole Foods/Plant-Based)–showing in the process where these diets deviate from their origins.  Modern Paleo, for instance, calls for the use of lean meats and low fat intakes, though ancient peoples ate a lot of animal fat and gave lean muscle meat to their dogs.  Paleo peoples also likely included some legumes and grains in their diets.  And some ate a lot of dairy.   The original Mediterranean diet was adopted from the island of Crete.  Yet those folks fasted almost 180 days a year for religious reasons and foraged for a lot of wild greens seasonally.  The success of the plant-based diet is unclear as it is always compared to SAD, the Standard American Diet, and not to either Paleo or the Mediterranean diet.  This diet needs longitudinal study as to the impact of the lack of fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients on fertility and bone development, among other things.  It would be wise to note as well that there is no known primitive culture that has lived for some generations entirely on a plant-based diet.

Where do these diets intersect?  They ALL EXCLUDE  industrially processed vegetable oils; refined grains and sugar; “chemical preservatives and lab-produced anythings”; and “nearly any creation coming in a crinkly tinfoil package, a microwavable tray, or a McDonald’s takeout bag.”  They ALL INCLUDE tubers, low-glycemic fruit, and all non-starchy vegetables (225).

There is a lovely discussion of the work of Weston A. Price, who searched the world for healthy groups of people, to see what kinds of food they ate to produce optimal human health.  Minger highlights many of Price’s groups and concludes that while eating patterns could vary enormously, what they all had in common was the presence of nutrient dense foods.

Minger’s takaway:

Eliminate or drastically reduce intake of refined grains, refined sugars, and high-omega-6 vegetable oils.

Secure a source of the precious fat-soluble vitamins.

Stock your diet with nutrient-dense foods.

When choosing animal foods, limit muscle meat and favor “nose to tail” eating.  (Yes, that means the organs, like the liver and bone marrow which is full of gelatin.)

Respect your genetics.(Some of us thrive on high-fat, low-carb diets and others of us do better on a high-starch diet and it all has to do with genetics that dictate how we process fats and starches.)

Acknowledge that health is about a lot more than what you put in your mouth.

Above all else, stay anchored in your own truth–as long as you have not become ensnared in a “psychological trap that prevents you from following your body’s instincts.”  Remember, “you are not low-carb, or lowfat, or plant-based…” (242-243).

Again, Minger’s book is very useful.  I highly recommend it for a no-nonsense detangling of what we do and don’t know about food.






Mainely Tipping Points Essay 43: Part III: Paleo Diet: What’s Wrong With Legumes?

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Mainely Tipping Points Essay 43:  November 16, 2012

Paleo Diet, Part III:  What’s Wrong With Legumes?


To recap from Parts I and II, Paleo Diet advocates 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 and were superbly healthy.

 But, what’s wrong with beans and peanuts, also known as legumes?

 Rob Wolf, in “The Paleo Solution,” puts it simply:  “dairy and legumes have problems similar to grains:  gut irritating proteins, antinutrients…protease inhibitors, and inflammation.”  Antinutrients, like phytates, bind to metal ions, like magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and copper, which make them unavailable for absorption by our bodies.  Protease inhibitors prevent the breakdown of proteins which means your body cannot “effectively digest the protein in your meal” (98-99, 93).  In other words, antinutrients and protease inhibitors cause malabsorption and disease.    


Nora T. Gedgaudas, C.N.S., C.N.T., in “Grains:  Are They Really a Health Food?:  Adverse Effects of Gluten Grains” (“Well Being Journal,” May/June 2012), notes that “legumes typically contain 60 percent starch and only relatively small amounts of incomplete protein, and they also contain potent protease inhibitors, which can damage one’s ability to properly digest and use dietary protein and can also potentially damage the pancreas over time, when one is overly dependent on them as a source of calories.”  (Gedgaudas’ web site is http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com.) 

 William Davis, MD, in “Wheat Belly,” notes that the carbohydrate in legumes contains amylopectin C, which is the least digestible of the amylopectins—which leads to the chant “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat ‘em, the more you…”.  Yet, the reality of the indigestible matter is not so funny:  “undigested amylopectin makes its way to the colon, whereupon the symbiotic bacteria happily dwelling there feast on the undigested starches and generate gases such as nitrogen and hydrogen, making the sugars unavailable for you to digest” (33).

 Davis goes on to note that amylopectin B is “the form found in bananas and potatoes and, while more digestible than bean amylopectin C, still resists digestion to some degree.  Remember that wheat has amylopectin A, which is the most digestible form of the amlopectins and, thus, can raise blood sugars more than eating a sugar-sweetened soda or a sugary candy bar.  The lesson here is that “not all complex carbohydrates are created equal….”   And Davis cautions that as the carbohydrate load of legumes “can be excessive if consumed in large quantities,” it’s best to limit servings to about a ½ cup size (33, 213). 

 Wolf is less compromising when it comes to combining plant-based foods, like beans and rice, to obtain essential amino acids—which we must eat as we cannot make them on our own.  The eight essential amino acids are “plentiful in animal sources and lacking to various degrees in plant sources.”  Wolf notes that “many agricultural societies found that certain combinations (like beans and rice) can prevent protein malnutrition.”  But, relying on the work of anthropologists who have compared them, Wolf notes that “most vegetarian societies…are less healthy than hunter-gathers and pastoralists.”  That’s because “plant sources of protein, even when combined to provide all the essential amino acids, are far too heavy in carbohydrate, irritate the gut, and steal vitamins and minerals from the body via anti-nutrients.”  Wolfs’ final assessment:  “Beans and rice, nuts and seeds, are what I call “Third World proteins.’  They will keep you alive, they will not allow you to thrive” (208-209).

 Wolf cautions that unless you are lean and healthy, don’t eat fruit.  He adds, further, that “there is no nutrient in fruit that is not available in veggies, and fruit may have too many carbs for you” (214)

 Dr.  Natasha Campbell-McBride expanded on the 1950s Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) of Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas and created the “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS) diet.  (That history is in my Mainely Tipping Points Essay 31 on my blog:  https://louisaenright.wordpress.com.)  Haas recognized the connections between diet and disease, especially in the debilitating digestive disorders, and put patients on a diet that eliminated dairy, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, like potatoes.  (Dairy is slowly added back after healing has started, beginning with cultured forms, like yogurt.  But, some patients are not able to tolerate dairy permanently.)  Haas’s SCD diet emphasized bone broths, meat stews that included animal fat, vegetables, and some fruits.  The results were, and are, amazing. 

 Dr. Campbell-McBride was one of many now, like Wolf and Davis, who made the further connection that too many starchy carbohydrates foment conditions in the gut that allow out-of-control yeasts to degrade the gut lining—which allows food particles to escape into the blood stream and trigger autoimmune reactions.  Campbell-McBride is one of the first to realize that these out-of-control yeast populations produce toxins that affect the brain and create problematic behavior.  Conditions like autism, for instance, might not really be autism, but effects of inappropriate diet and malfunctioning body systems. 

 Sally Fallon Morell and Mary G. Enig, Ph. D. of The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) hold a place in their 1999 “Nourishing Traditions,” for most legumes—if properly soaked and cooked so that phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are destroyed and difficult-to-digest complex sugars are made more digestible and if legumes are cooked and eaten with at least small amounts of animal protein and animal fat. 

 Morell and Enig write that soybeans, however, should only be eaten sparingly and only after fermentation into miso, tempeh, and natto because the chemical package in soy is so powerful and so dangerous (495-496).  A  commercial method has never been fully developed that renders soy completely safe.  But, more on soy in Mainely Tipping Points 44 .  (Note that tofu is not a fermented soy food.) 

 Morell and Enig are careful to caution that “vegetable protein alone cannot sustain healthy life because it does not contain enough of all of the amino acids that are essential.”  Indeed, “most all plants lack methionine, one of the essential amino acids” (495-496).  Further, both Morell and Enig have made clear repeatedly in the WAPF journal “Wise Traditions” that the current government support for plant-based diets is dangerous and unscientific.          

 In the end, what Paleo diet advocates are asking is why, in the first place eat foods with such high carbohydrate loads, inferior protein, and so many dangerous chemicals —especially when a diet of meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds supplies nutrients in dense, safe, satisfying forms. 

 This Paleo question is especially good to contemplate if one is overweight and experiencing the attendant health issues that accompany that condition and are trying to make changes.  Or, if one has ongoing digestive disorders which really must be addressed. 


Books, Documentaries, Reviews: WHEAT BELLY

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  July 21, 2012



William Davis, MD

William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist in Wisconsin, published WHEAT BELLY in 2011.  The book became a New York Times best seller (No. 5) right away and continues to sell strongly.  Davis has put more than 2000 patients on a wheat-free regimen and claims he has seen “extraordinary” results in their health.  Many of these patients were really sick with a wide range of health problems, including neurological problems.

Davis defines a “wheat belly” as “the accumulation of fat that results from years of consuming foods that trigger insulin, the hormone of fat storage” (4).  This wheat belly fat is “visceral” fat that is “unique” in that “unlike fat in other body areas, it provokes inflammatory phenomena, distorts insulin responses, and issues abnormal metabolic signals to the best of the body.  In the unwitting wheat-bellied male, visceral fat also produces estrogen, creating “man breasts.”  Wheat consumption can “reach deep down into virtually every organ of the body, from the intestines, liver, heart, and thyroid gland all the way up to the brain” (4).  Wheat consumption “is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States” (56).  And the fat of the wheat belly lies over organs that have, themselves, become abnormally fat, which makes the body struggle.

Davis argues that modern wheat is the root cause of much of the chronic health conditions people are experiencing today.  Modern wheat, he claims is NOT wheat at all–but “the transformed product of genetic research conducted during the latter half of the twentieth century.”  Two ancient forms of wheat were crossed hundreds of years ago, and that wheat has been eaten by humans without many of the health effects that today’s wheat produces.  (The Paleo diet folks would disagree with this premise on, I  think, good historical and medical grounds.)

Wheat has the rare, in the plant world, ability to transfer ALL of its genes when crossed–unlike other plants which might only transfer some of the genes from each parent.  When scientists started to breed wheat to increase its yields and to make it shorter (so it would not blow over as easily), they created a “law of unintended consequences”–in that they produced a product that is “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes apart from the original einkorn wheat that bred naturally” (22).  (Like modern corn, modern wheat cannot grow on its own in the wild.)

Assumptions were made:  “With wheat it was likewise assumed that variations in gluten content and structure, modifications of other enzymes and proteins, qualities that confer susceptibility of resistance to various plant diseases, would all make their way to humans without consequence” (25).

Modern wheat has a higher carbohydrate component than ancient wheat, which has more protein.  The specific carbohydrate in wheat is amylopectin A, which is so easily digestible in our bodies that eating “two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different ,and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar”–information that has been known since 1981 when the University of Toronto “launched the concept of the glycemic index” [GI] which compares “blood sugar effects of carbohydrates” (33-34).

Davis posits that many people today are dealing with what he calls “immune mediated gluten intolerance,” and celiac disease would be a subset of this condition.  Because this response can damage the gut so that it leaks food particles, the body forms antibodies that began to circulate in the blood stream.  If these antibodies lodge in particular organs, they can produce problems in that arena.  These antibodies can also breech the blood-brain barrier, so that some neurological conditions that seem like MS or Parkinson’s actually can be effects of this disorder.  This array of conditions has served to mislead doctors from the true cause of the problem:  immune mediated gluten intolerance caused by modern wheat.

Davis uses Denise Minger’s analysis of T. Colin Campbell’s THE CHINA STUDY to show the correlations between wheat and human disease.  Minger showed, by recrunching Campbell’s data, what Campbell missed because of his belief that consuming meat produces disease.  Minger’s analysis shows the “astronomical correlations wheat flour has with various diseases”–prompting Davis to ask if the “staff of life” is really the “staff of death” (160-165).

Davis discusses how addictive wheat is and how it is an appetite stimulant–along with many other seriously bad effects of wheat on the human body.  He illustrates his argument with case studies from his practice and with clinical studies.  The picture Davis draws of the downsides of wheat are much more involved, serious, and intense than I can repeat at length here.

So what grains have gluten?  Rye, barley, triticale, spelt, bulgar, and kamut share a genetic heritage with wheat.  Oats can cause some people problems as it “will cause blood sugar to skyrocket.”  Quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, chia seed, and sorghum “are essentially carbohydrates without the immune or brain effects of wheat.  While not as undesirable as wheat, they do take a metabolic toll.”  Eat them in moderation only after weight has been normalized (212).  Avoid “gluten-free” foods as “the only other foods that have GIs as high as wheat products are dried, pulverized starches such as cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch”–all used heavily in “gluten-free” products (63).

There are critiques of WHEAT BELLY.  As near as I can tell, they are coming mostly from the Paleo folks.  The book’s cover pitches it as a “diet” book–“lose the wheat, lose the weight”–and the Paleo folks argue that cutting out wheat won’t do that trick and that eating wheat has far more dangerous implications.  The Paleo folks aren’t wrong, but Davis does a good job of showing that wheat consumption–especially in the amounts Americans are eating it–is very dangerous–and something Luise Light, who was hired by the USDA to create the 1980 food guide, cautioned against, saying we should only eat 2 to 3 servings of grains a day.  ( A serving is 1/2 cup, and women and children should only eat 2 servings.)

I can tell you that since I cut out wheat, I have lost my own “wheat belly.”  I can also tell you that like Davis, when I eat wheat, the impact on my body is immediate and not very nice.

So, do you have a “wheat belly”?  Most Americans I see out and about today do.  If so, you may want to take a longer look at what Davis has to say about losing the wheat and regaining your health.

Interesting Information: Dr. Terry Wahls

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Interesting Information:  March 11, 2012

Dr. Terry Wahls

I pulled out this paragraph from Tipping Points 41:  Part I, The Paleo Diet.

I wanted to highlight how Dr. Terry Wahls has used the Paleo diet to stop the degenerative nature of her MS and to heal her body.

The video embedded in this paragraph is a “must see.”  It’s about 19 minutes.  Please take the time to watch it.

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

Written by louisaenright

March 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm

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.