J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Tag: paleo diet

Sci-Fi Level Medical Advances, Part I

Thin, tan, and horny.

Ten years ago, in 2002, I read an article in WIRED magazine about an experimental drug called Melanotan. Early test results indicated that the drug could make a pale person tan, without sun exposure. Side effects included reduce appetite and weight loss, and a high frequency of spontaneous erections.

Thin, tan, and horny … WIRED dubbed Melanotan “the Barbie drug.”

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Overstimulation and Desensitization — How Civilization Affects Your Brain

Your brain on civilization.

One way to think about our own brain, personality, and physiology is to consider our sensitivity levels to various neurotransmitters and hormones.  Being desensitized or oversensitized to various aspects of our own chemical control systems will drive our behavior and emotions.  This happens whether we’re aware of it or not, so we might as well try to understand what’s going on in our brains and endocrine systems.

Most people who live with artificial light, electronic devices, internet connections, abundant food, processed foods, and other conveniences of modern life will eventually experience some degree of being “out-of-whack” in terms of neurotransmitter and hormone sensitivity.

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3 Idiotic Nutrition Myths That Won’t Die

The most fattening graphic in the history of the universe.

The other day my wife came back from a PTO meeting at our local school and noted (with a bewildered look on her face) that “The low-fat thing is alive and well, isn’t it?”  Since the nutritional thinking in our household is more along the paleo/Weston Price lines of thinking, it sometimes comes as a shock that the rest of the world still thinks that Wheat-Thins and fruit juice is a “healthy snack.”

Poorly designed and haphazardly analyzed studies like The China Study reinforce the conventional thinking that has led to a national obesity epidemic.  Food alone isn’t to blame, so are too much sitting, too much driving, not enough exercise, and environmentally pervasive chemicals like bisophenol-A.  But poor food quality and misinformation about food are mostly to blame.

Here are a few dietary misconceptions that annoy the hell out of me:

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To Bean Or Not To Bean, That Is The Question (Legumes, Lectins, and Human Health)

With apologies to Shakespeare.

These days, many people across the world are wondering if they should eat beans, or not.

Right now, this very minute, there are two powerful, but opposing, dietary trends speeding towards a potentially explosive head-on collision.

On the one side the paleolithic (or “Stone Age“) style of eating, a dietary/lifestyle system that eschews grains, legumes, sugar, and all processed foods in favor of quality meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, and healthful fats.  This is the anti-bean side.

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A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part III — PALEO!

This post is a continuation of A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part I and Part II.  In this post I’ll discuss three proponents of the so-called Paleolithic Diet.  In Part II I introduced the Paleolithic Diet and discussed its core concepts — if you’ve never heard of it you might want to read that post first.

Meat. Not required as part of the Paleolithic diet, but not discouraged either.

In short, the Paleo Diet is a method of eating that excludes foods that were not widely available or consumed by our pre-agricultural ancestors, such as grains, legumes, dairy products, refined sugar, oil, and salt, instead favoring non-starchy vegetables, less-sweet fruits, meat, fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, nuts, and seeds.

Personally, I no longer find this way of eating to be “kooky” in any sense.  When I first heard about it, it seemed both radical and silly.  Sure, it’s reasonable to cut back on white sugar and white flour, but to also cut out whole-grains?  Wholesome oats and brown rice are out?  Whole-grains are good for you, aren’t they?

Whole-grains may be good for you when compared to eating refined grains, and that’s what most of the research examining the health benefits of whole grains has looked at.  For whatever reasons, few researchers have compared a diet including whole grains to a diet including no grains.  Those that did found that a grain-free diet led to rapid weight loss, improved glucose tolerance, faster muscle gain, and a number of other benefits (please see Part II for links to clinical studies).

The Paleolithic Diet has been around since the 70’s, but more recently a number of Paleo evangelists have been spreading the word; grain-free is the way to go.  I’ll introduce three of these health nuts and you can draw your own conclusions.

Arthur De Vany

I first became aware of Arthur De Vany after reading an interview with him about nutrition and exercise, and seeing the picture on the right.  A guy approaching seventy who looks that ripped?

Arthur De Vany, at age 68, going for a quick sprint.

There are plenty of meatheads in their twenties or thirties can develop a ripped physique, even if their diet includes Pop Tarts and pasta.  Decent genetics, lots of working out, maybe some steroids, and BAM! there you go — comic book muscles.  But Art De Vany — he seemed to defy aging.  It got me, and a lot of other people, very curious.

I began reading Arthur De Vany’s blog at http://www.arthurdevany.com.  I learned about his system of health dubbed Evolutionary Fitness, based on a “Paleo-Med” eating plan (a cross between Paleolithic diet and Mediterranean diets) and short, irregular bouts of intense physical exercise, with an emphasis on weight-lifting, sprints, jumping and leaping, and no distance running or jogging (the latter two being actively discouraged).  He also blogged about more personal things, including his beloved wife passing away, his frustrations with his incompetent softball team, and his occasional trouble with insomnia.  His blog included a wide range of intellectual ideas; he shared his opinions and theories about teaching, Hollywood economics, evolution, climate change, and a number of other topics.  I use the past tense because he has since made his blog private — its popularity was resulting in excessive bandwidth fees and occasional outages.  Art De Vany himself is still going strong — and you can still read his blog if you don’t mind paying the subscription fee.

One interesting feature of his previous public blog is that he would occasionally post a picture of a meal.  At first Art seemed a bit baffled — why were those simple posts so popular?  His readers kept requesting more pictures of his meals.  The fact is that it’s hard to imagine what a grain and starch free meal looks like if you’re used to eating cereal and milk for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner.  Seeing pictures of Art’s breakfasts (maybe an omelet with fruit on the side, or a pork chop with half a melon, usually with a cup of black coffee), and lunches and dinners (colorful salads, grilled vegetables, sizzling steaks, racks of ribs, slices of avocado, olives, sometimes a glass of wine or a beer) helped me and a lot of other people think more creatively about our meals.  That’s what a diet is, after all, it’s meals.  You’ve got to put food on the table three times a day, and like it, in order to stick to any kind of eating plan.

There was an ad I saw about ten years ago (I forget what for), a picture of a juicy steak like this and the caption was “the new health food.” No longer so shocking …

At the time I was reading his blog on a regular basis, Art De Vany’s version of the Paleolithic Diet included lean meat, poultry and eggs, seafood, nuts, non-starchy vegetables (both raw and cooked), and fresh fruit.  Olive oil and olives were included, as well as some wine and cheese (the “Med” part of “Paleo-Med”).  De Vany, at least at that time, limited his saturated fat intake by trimming the fat off of his steaks, and preferring low-fat cheeses such as Jarlsberg.

For supplements, Art De Vany takes (and recommends) cod liver oil and l-glutathione, the first for its Omega-3 and vitamin A content, the second for its antioxidant and anti-aging properties.  He also recommends Mark Sisson’s supplement pack, which is how I came to learn about Sisson (who I’ll discuss next).

Art De Vany is an interesting character.  His writing style can come off as over-authoritative, but at the same time he’s obviously well-educated and extremely knowledgeable.  I heard a radio interview with him, and was surprised by how soft-spoken he was … somehow I expected a more macho or at least enthusiastic tone.  How to put this … he’s like a nerd-athlete hybrid.

Art De Vany’s views around climate change have generated some controversy.  His opinion, as I understand it, is that most models of climate change are bunk; there is too much randomness and there are too many variables that influence climate to be able to generate a reliably predictive model.  This opinion has somehow “rippled out” among the “Paleo community” as it is; there seems to be a large of number of “climate skeptics” or “global warming deniers” — whatever you want to call them — among Paleo diet enthusiasts.  Maybe it has to do with people who identify themselves as bucking the status quo and thinking differently from the mainstream.  Or maybe it’s the macho thing, eat meat and drive a big car?  I really don’t get it.  The logical approach to environmental issues if you are a skeptic of global warming models is extreme conservationism, as outlined here (see entry #120) by Nassim Taleb (the author of The Black Swan, and also a follower of Art De Vany’s Evolutionary Fitness program).

I’m glad I discovered Art De Vany’s site … it influenced me to eat more healthfully and helped me imagine what a meal without a “pile o’ starch” could look like.  But it wasn’t until I started reading Mark Sisson’s blog, marksdailyapple.com, that the Paleolithic Diet really came together for me.

Mark Sisson

Mark Sisson is a former professional athlete (distance runner and triathlete) who now writes a popular blog at marksdailyapple.com.  He’s written a number of books on diet and exercise, and also runs a supplement company called “Primal Nutrition.”

Mark Sisson doesn’t seem to own any shirts.

He’s 56 and in very good shape.

His blog is an abundant (and sometimes overwhelming) source of information.  He’s not kidding about the daily part; there really is a new, detailed post every day.  Topics are centered around what Sisson calls the “Primal Blueprint” — his holistic plan for total health that is based on his version of the Paleolithic diet — but also branch out to cover a vast array of health-related topics.

Sisson’s version of the Paleolithic Diet is comparatively easy to follow.  He recommends cutting out grains, legumes, potatoes, and refined sugar almost entirely, but moderate amounts of coffee, tea, wine, beer, salt, dark chocolate, and even cheese are not discouraged.  Sisson comes right out and says that a Paleo Diet should be a high fat diet.  The first time I read that, I remember feeling skeptical, but those two words turned out to be the key for me to personally adopt a Paleo eating style.  Before I started using more olive oil, butter, coconut oil in my cooking, and eating fattier cuts of meat and more fatty fish, I would just get too hungry if I wasn’t eating breads and cereals.

Sisson also recommends supplementing with fish oil.  In fact, he recommends supplementing with just about everything.  Check out the ingredient list for his top-selling supplement “Damage Control Master Formula.”  If those doses are

If I ate like this every night I wouldn’t have to take any fish pills.

supposed to be daily, some of them strike me as too high.  The water-soluble vitamins aren’t a problem, but trace minerals like zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese can build up in the body and have toxic effects.  This article references symptoms of manganese toxicity occurring in individuals drinking water with levels as low as 2mg/liter (each dose of Damage Control Master Formula has 10mg).  On the other hand, the same article points out only one case of manganese toxicity from supplement use, and none from food, so maybe 10mg/day is a reasonable dose.

Questions of dosages aside, Sisson gives the impression of genuinely caring about the health of his readers and customers — I don’t doubt his claim that his supplements contain fresh, high quality ingredients.

There is definitely a sense of community among the readers of Sisson’s blog — people supporting each other in a lifestyle choice that many people view as radical (for some reason people are more threatened by the idea of the Paleolithic diet than they are by vegetarianism).  Sisson often shares reader testimonials — like this one which I found to be quite moving.  It parallels my own experience — feeling that my body was somehow permanently damaged or broken (with adult-onset asthma and allergies in my case) and then experiencing a total cessation of symptoms within days of changing my diet.  A “second chance,” a “new lease on life,” — those phrases don’t do the feeling justice.  Here’s a brand new bodyone that works! That’s more what it felt like.

Mark Sisson’s blog is a great source of information, and his tone is friendly, non-dogmatic, and nonjudgmental.  If a friend or family member expresses interest in changing the way they eat, I usually refer them to marksdailyapple.com

Loren Cordain

Dr. Loren Cordain is a professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, and is the author of The Paleo Diet, a popular book published in 2002.

Dr. Cordain, rockin’ the center part.

Cordain’s take on the Paleolithic diet is similar to both Art De Vany’s and Mark Sisson’s.  He suggests that genetically, human beings are poorly adapted to eat grains, beans, dairy products, alcohol, and salt, and recommends eating fruits and vegetables, lean meat, seafood, poultry, nuts, and seeds instead.

In the Paleo community, Cordain’s view that saturated fat intake should be limited is controversial.  In The Paleo Diet, Cordain clearly puts saturated fats in the “bad fats” category, along with trans fats and polyunsaturated fats like corn oil (as opposed to “good fats” like Omega-3 fish oils and monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocado).  In the same book he argues that wild game is quite lean as compared to domestic cattle.

Since then, it seems that Cordain’s view on saturated fats has become more nuanced.  If you carefully read the FAQ on his website you’ll see that Cordain no longer recommends reducing saturated fats.  He seems to consider them more “neutral” than “bad” at this point, and concedes that prehistoric humans probably preferred fattier meat when they could get it (this coincides with the Inuit’s warnings regarding the overconsumption of lean winter caribou as discussed in my previous post A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part I).

Cordain still holds to the view the eating lots of bacon, sausage, and other salty, fatty meats is no good for health and may raise the risk of heart disease.  To me this seems reasonable, despite the fact that it overlaps with conventional dietary wisdom.

Cordain has some interesting views regarding tomatoes.  Unlike other Paleo advocates, he considers them a neolithic food (my wife Kia challenged this assumption when she heard it — tomatoes had to grow in the wild somewhere and someone must have been eating them since pre-agricultural times.  The Department of Horticulture at University of Wisconsin-Madison agrees with her — early inhabitants of what is now Peru probably dined on wild tomatoes.)

Beautiful, delicious, and … evil?

In any case Cordain consider the lectin in tomatoes (which, by the way, is impervious to heat) to be harmful to human health.  He views the peanut lectin, the protein casein in milk, and grain lectins with equal disdain, but we already knew those foods were not allowed for wannabe cavemen, didn’t we?  But the delicious and healthful tomato?  Packed with vitamin C, potassium, lypocene, and glutathione?  Really?

If you have the time, and can stomach it, watch Cordain’s hour long lecture on lectins and multiple sclerosis.  It’s fascinating (and disturbing).  He explains in great detail how various lectins make their way into the bloodstream and interact with the immune system, essentially tricking your own body into attacking itself.  I used to use a great deal of tomato paste in my cooking — I don’t any longer after watching the video of his lecture.  I still sometimes eat fresh tomatoes though, as long as they’re ripe.  (Did you know green tomatoes have a poison calls solanine in them?  Yes, fried green tomatoes = poisonous snack.)

SUMMARY

There are a number of criticisms of the Paleolithic Diet, but most of them are quite weak.  The low-fat diet recommended for the past several decades by official sources in the U.S. has been largely debunked; in practice it has led to massive weight gain, greater instances of Type 2 diabetes, and no appreciable reduction in heart disease or cancer.

Sometimes the Paleo diet is lumped in with Atkins, but this doesn’t make sense; unlike Atkins the Paleo diet is rich in antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables, is low in salt, and very low in processed foods of any type.  It is generally low-carb, but far from zero-carb (Sisson recommends keeping carb intake between 50 and 100g/day if you want to lose body fat, up to 200g/day depending on your size and muscle mass in order to maintain).

One criticism that I consider to be at least semi-valid is the fact that humans have evolved biologically in the 10K years or so since we invented agriculture.  Some of us have genetically adapted to our “new” neolithic diet, at least to some extent.  I, for one, have no problem digesting lactose.  I’m lactose tolerant — I inherited the “right” genes from my European ancestors who co-evolved with cattle (less than 25% of humans carry this gene, and yet we talk about “lactose intolerance” as if it were some kind of rare disorder!).  People whose ancestors evolved in agrarian societies tend to have more copies of the gene that helps produce amylase, the enzyme in saliva that breaks down starch.  This is one example, discussed in this NY Times article, of how culture and the human genome co-evolve.

That’s the big picture — we push against our environment, our environment pushes back, and we either adapt ourselves, or change our environment, or both, or we perish.  Human beings haven’t stopped evolving genetically.  In fact, we’re changing faster than ever.  Still, genetic change happens slowly, over many generations, and it’s obvious that the modern industrial diet of highly processed, high-carb fake food is not the ideal fuel for the human body and mind.  Paleo diet advocates (myself included) would go further and say that the relatively “new” foods like grains, legumes, dairy products, and nightshade vegetables, while they may not be harmful in small amounts, are not ideal staples (and for most people in the world they are staples).

Another possibly valid criticism is that not everyone in the world can afford to eat a diet that is high in protein and low in grain.  This might be true — we know that the world’s fisheries are overburdened, and also that it takes a great deal of water, pasture and/or grain to raise a cow, but these facts must be weighed against the following counter-arguments.

  • The collapse of the world’s fisheries has as much to do with poor ocean resource management (a lack of protected areas, poor enforcement of existing protections, wasteful and destructive fishing practices, etc.) as it does with how much fish we eat.
  • Growing grains and beans takes up an enormous amount of land and water and fossil fuel fertilizers and pesticides; intensive polycultural farming techniques that produce meat, vegetables, and eggs might give us more food in exchange for less land and water, and improve the soil quality while we’re at it.
  • The number of overweight people in the world (not just the U.S.) has reached epidemic proportions.

Some of use may be better adapted to “modern” foods, but most people would probably experience health improvements if they switched to a diet that more closely resembled what our distant ancestors ate.  I think groups who would most benefit from a Paleolithic diet, in order, would include:

  1. Anyone with a direct intolerance of gluten, anyone with celiac disease, anyone with IBS, anyone who has noticeable trouble digesting grains and/or dairy products
  2. Anyone with an autoimmune disorder of any kind, including multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus, asthma, or allergies.
  3. Anyone with (or at risk for) Type 2 diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome/Syndrome X
  4. Anyone who wants to reduce their risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia
  5. Anyone who wants to gain muscle, lose body fat, have more energy, have clearer skin, not get sleepy after meals, sleep better at night, have a higher sex drive, and feel happier.

Did I leave anyone out?

A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part II

In my last post, A Meta-analysis of Kooky Diets, Part I, I covered the odd eating habits of multi-billionaire/raw-juice enthusiast David H. Murdock, as well as the “all-meat” (in reality, “mostly grease”) diet of Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.  Both men had a strong interest in health.  My next subject is interested exclusively in taste, but is in good apparent health nonetheless.

PAUL RUDNICK’S ALL-CANDY DIET

A Drake's Yodel

Playwright and humorist Paul Rudnick, according to this New York Times article by David Colman, subsists on milk chocolate, pastries, ice-cream, and candy.  In addition, he eats some simple unsweetened foods, like peanuts, Cheerios, and plain bagels.  He abstains from meat, poultry & eggs, seafood & fish, whole-grains, beans, fruit, and vegetables.  He’s been eating like this as long as he can remember.  At fifty-two, he’s tall, lean, and in good health.  Interesting.

I should note here that Paul Rudnick is in no way suggesting that anyone else should eat the way he does.  He likes candy, he eats candy — end of story.

ANALYSIS: What do we take from this “case study”?  Is Rudnick a freak of nature?  Or does his all-candy diet suggest that eating whole, unprocessed food is less important than we think?  Maybe it’s more important that we don’t overeat (according to the article, Rudnick doesn’t eat actual meals — he sort of grazes all day).  If he’s not eating large amounts of candy at a time, and he abstains from soft drinks, it’s possible that his blood sugar doesn’t spike too badly throughout the course of a day.  He’s not eating plates of pasta or potatoes with his candy — he’s just eating the candy.

  • Driving philosophy:  eat exactly what Paul Rudnick wants to eat, and nothing else
  • Staple foods: Hershey’s kisses, Drakes Cakes Yodels, plain bagels, peanuts, ice-cream, dry cereal
  • Not allowed: anything allowed, but Rudnick doesn’t seem to eat fruit, vegetables, or meat
  • Supplements: unknown
  • Importance of organic foods: none
  • Health advantages: low in calories, some polyphenols from chocolate and peanuts
  • Possible health risks this diet overlooks or does not address:  scurvy, type-2 diabetes
  • Ecological impact: low (no meat, some packaged/processed foods)
  • Cost: low (no meat, no produce, organic foods not required, Rudnick prefers “low-brow” sweets)

Summary: Examples like Rudnick are important to keep in mind to avoid obsessing about food and what the “best” diet is.  People thrive in all sorts of strange ways.  Lamar Odom is another example.  On the one hand, these men may possess unusual metabolisms that allow them to effectively process massive amounts of refined sugar without detrimental effects to their health.  On the other, the rest of us might be underestimating the resiliency and adaptive powers of the human digestive system, or overestimating the negative effects of refined sugar.

My guess is that Rudnick is NOT a freak of nature, and that the health benefits of what is essentially a low calorie diet outweigh the negative effects of eating all that crap.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he sustains his health into old age.

As an aside, Paul Rudnick has an incredibly cool office.

THE PALEOLITHIC DIET (AN INTRODUCTION)

The Paleolithic Diet (also known as The Caveman Diet) is an eating plan that, in its strictest form, includes only pre-agricultural foods.  Grains, including pasta, bread, rice, oats — even fancy hippie grains like quinoa and amaranth — are OUT.  So are all legumes; beans, peanuts, and, depending on the variant of the diet, even innocent vegetable legumes like green beans, snow peas, alfalfa sprouts, and clover sprouts.

Paleo-fitness helps with the ladies

Dairy products are out too — our caveman ancestors had not yet learned to domesticate cows, goats, or sheep.  Nightshade fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, all varieties of peppers, tobacco, and even the antioxidant-packed goji berry are all considered to be Neolithic foods (products of agriculture), and are thus eliminated.  Salt isn’t allowed, nor are alcohol and caffeine.  Refined sugar is of course not allowed, nor are any industrially processed foods (basically anything you can buy in a package at the store).

What’s left?  Quite a lot, actually.  Most vegetables are allowed, including leafy greens and starchy tubers (the Paleolithic Diet isn’t necessarily a low carb diet).  Less sweet fruits, like berries, are allowed, but sweeter fruits that have been pumped-up with sugar via years of selective breeding and/or genetic manipulation are not recommended (think of a large, juicy, sweet, store-bought apple vs. a small, gnarled, sour, slightly starchy example you might find on a tree in your backyard).  Nuts and seeds are okay, and olive oil is usually allowed.  So are fatty fruits like avocado and coconut.

Wild game and wild-caught fish are preferred foods on the Paleolithic Diet.  Almost all animal foods are allowed, so long as they are wild or grass-fed.  A real Paleo enthusiast might have an extra freezer or two in the garage, where they store a side of grass-fed beef, or a whole hog.  Meats that some of us might consider unusual, like ostrich, venison, kangaroo, bison, crocodile, rabbit, goat, and springbok (antelope) might be considered regular Paleo fare.

The logic of the Paleolithic Diet is that our ability to produce novel kinds of nosh has far outpaced our ability to digest it.  In other words, cultural evolution proceeds at a faster pace than genetic evolution, and as a result our health suffers.  Human beings, and our hominid ancestors, evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years on simple fare like shellfish, antelope, mastodon, tubers, frogs, and berries, and that’s the kind of fare our digestive and metabolic systems are optimized to handle.  We invented agriculture, which ensured us a more-or-less reliable source of calories, but our bodies didn’t change; we could only derive sustenance from grains at a cost to our health.  Later, the negative effects of cheap calories were exasperated by the Industrial Revolution (and thus industrial food production, which gives us refined flour, low-fat pasteurized milk, and high-fructose corn syrup).  Sure, we can survive on Yodels, bagels, and Planters salted peanuts, but we can’t thrive on such food (Paul Rudnick would of course disagree).

The biochemical Axis of Evil, according to Paleo science, consists primarily of lectins, gluten, casein.  All three are substances that both interfere with digestion and muck with our hormonal profile.  Fructose and sucrose are also considered problematic, as are excess amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.

Grains -- they're EVIL

Lectins are proteins that interfere with digestion, prevent absorption of certain nutrients, and are associated with allergies and auto-immune diseases.  Lectins seems particularly adept at tearing up the epithelial lining of the gut, resulting in something called leaky gut syndrome where whole undigested protein molecules are allowed to enter the bloodstream.  The immune system, which only expects to encounter amino acids in the bloodstream (not whole proteins) mistakes the undigested food particles for invading pathogens.  Auto-immune problems can then result if the protein entering the bloodstream happens to resemble some sort of human tissue; the immune system is tricked into attacking its host body.  Yuck.

Lectins are found in grains, legumes, seeds, and to a lesser extent in other vegetables and nuts.  If an organism does not have an evolutionary interest in being eaten (like fruit), it tends to evolve ways to defend itself.  If you try to eat a zebra, you might find your jawbone shattered by a swift kick.  Plants, on the other hand, have more creative (and sometimes insidious) ways of defending themselves.  Nuts have tough shells.  Some plants produce phytoestrogens, which negatively impact the species dining on them (sheep eating fields of red clover may find their fertility reduced).  Grains and beans have lectins.  If you doubt the effect lectins can have on your digestive system, gently simmer (don’t boil) some dried red kidney beans until they are soft enough to eat, then chew on a few.  Just kidding, don’t try this.  Really, don’tyou might die.  Not all lectins (there are thousands of varieties) are harmful, but quite a few have been shown to have a negative impact on human and animal health.

Fried gluten balls

Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley (including the refined varieties) and can wreak similar havoc on the digestive system, at least in sensitive individuals.  Casein is a milk protein, and can cause health problems even for people who are lactose tolerant (casein is probably more of problem for people who consume high amounts of lectins and gluten — their torn up gut linings may allow casein to enter the bloodstream whole).

To most people, cutting out bread, pasta, cheese, milk, yogurt, ice-cream, candy, all desserts, beans, tofu, tomatoes, potatoes, grain-fed meat, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, salt, and all processed food sounds overly restrictive.  You don’t say. In its strictest form, the Paleolithic Diet is as ascetic as raw-food veganism.  Consider, though, Stefansson’s experience in getting used to (and eventually coming to enjoy) a diet consisting solely of raw frozen and boiled unsalted trout, with only fermented whale oil as a garnish.  What a human being experiences as pleasurable is largely dependent on the available range of experience.  We acclimate quickly; a diet of champagne, caviar, and rich desserts, day in and day out, quickly becomes boring, just as fermented whale oil rapidly becomes a “special treat” if that’s the only thing you have to put on your raw fish.

Are there health benefits?  There seem to be, in spades.  Practitioners report rapid fat loss, muscle gain, increased energy, improved immunity, better mood/attitude, reduced blood pressure, freedom from allergies, increased sexual vitality, and improvement in auto-immune disorders.  Clinical trials indicate the Caveman Diet can improve glucose tolerance, potentially reverse Type 2 diabetes, and significantly improve body composition in as short a time as ten days.

Most modern practitioners of the Paleolithic Diet allow small to moderate amounts of salt, alcohol, and caffeine to be included, which instantly makes the diet about a thousand percent more palatable.  Some modern cavemen further add in delicious foods like tomatoes, green beans, and even the occasional chunk of pastured raw cheese or very dark chocolate.  This is starting to sound a little more manageable.

I’ll disclose here that my own eating style bears similarities to the Caveman Diet.  Significantly cutting back on grains, legumes, dairy, and sugar (and adding in a few supplements) helped reverse moderate asthma symptoms I experienced for a good portion of my thirties.  I’ll discuss this in detail in another post.

NEXT POST: There are three figureheads of the Paleolithic Diet I’d like to write about in detail, including Loren Cordain, Arthur DeVany, and Mark Sisson.  All three are interesting characters, and each has a somewhat different approach and emphasis.  I also want to put some of the ideological kookery behind some Paleo advocates under a magnifying glass.

I may also look at one or more of the hardcore raw-foodists — some of them are really extreme and therefore entertaining.  Maybe I can discover exactly what they mean by the word “toxin.”  Maybe they mean uric acid, which is a by-product of protein digestion.  Or maybe they mean oxalic acid, found in extremely high levels in both raw spinach and raw parsley.

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