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If you are a faithful follower of my blog, you may have started to notice my occasional references to eating like a caveman or hunting for your food. Well it turns out someone else shares my sentiment. Enter the Paleo(lithic) Diet.

Now the first part of the diet involves learning to hunt and gather your own food. You can buy an axe here for chopping through big roots and finishing off that deer you accidentally shot in the hind legs, or if you prefer a machete, that is also a great option....ok I'm kidding. You don't have to hunt your food, but you do have to act like you hunted your food (I dare you to tell everyone you did). All jokes aside, the general premise of a Paleo diet is to eat unprocessed, mostly raw (except for meat), organic, grass fed or free range type foods. So what's the difference between this and all the other diets I've discussed? Good question. The answer really is always going to be that it's not that much different, but this one has some special characteristics that make it stand out. 

Grass Fed and Free Range Meat: 
Let's face it, there are a lot of athletes out there that just won't listen to you any more after you suggest a vegetarian diet, no matter how well you can explain that the combination of amino acids from a diverse plant based diet will create plenty of protein to support their muscles and cells. This is why Paleo diets have been so popular among athletes. Paleo suggests meat with pretty much every meal based on research that states that as much as 65% of a hunter-gatherer's diet came from animal products. Granted, early man was not eating corn fed Angus beef from the supermarket, but he was eating the meat, the organs, and the bones of his wild prey. They recommend 4-8 oz of lean protein such as chicken, lean beef, turkey, pork loin, or seafood. But the Paleo guidelines are very specific about where you get your meat.

One of the greatest deviations away from our ancestral diet is the amounts and types of fat found in modern grain fed animals vs. the amounts and types of fats found in grass fed or wild meat, birds, and fish. Studies have observed that wild meat is remarkably lean, and has relatively low amounts of saturated fats (omega -6), while supplying significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The National Institute of Health suggests anywhere from a 4:1 to a 1:1 Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio, and says that anything above that begins to cause an increase in coronary artery disease, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, and other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Asthma. A cut of grass fed beef typically has a ratio around 3:1, where a "grain finished" (all cows are fed grass for the first 6 months) cow is typically around 20:1, in addition to the hormones and antibiotics it contains. Free Range Eggs and chicken follow this same pattern due to the high nutritional content of the insects that they typically eat.

On the topic of essential fatty acids, fish typically makes it's way into the discussion due to being marketed heavily for it's good fat content. Unfortunately, due to the fact that over half of the US burns coal to provide electricity, we dump 80,000 lbs of mercury into our oceans each year. All fish contain mercury, and there are unfortunately not many options of getting around it at this point. So it is recommended to avoid fish entirely unless you are certain that it has been laboratory tested. 

Here's another way of thinking about it: we've all heard the "you are what you eat" phrase. Well the same rule applies that "you are what your food ate" and I recommend that you be made of grass and insects as opposed to sugars and starches. 

Organic Everything
As a general rule, any farmer that will take on the extra cost of "raising a cow right" will be practicing mostly organic agriculture. But what about your plants? There has been a lot of debate over whether or not an organic plant is more nutritious than its modern or "conventional" counterpart. It amazes me that this has continued to be a debate at all. In general the argument from the proponents of conventional agriculture has been that studies have shown there is "no difference" in nutritional value. A simple taste test or even looking at a picture of two tomatoes is enough to make anyone wonder. Not to mention the obvious problem of pesticides.

I highly recommend taking a look at this amazing article on soil depletion in the United States, but it is relatively long so I will attempt to summarize some important points. The basic premise is that nutrients in soil do not come from nowhere, and there is not an infinite supply in soil. Plant removal or harvesting can be thought of as the removal of nutrients from the soil. Whatever that plant took with it is gone from that soil unless it is physically added back. Most fertilizers contain N-P-K or (Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash) which only accounts for the "Macro nutrients" in the soil, giving the plant enough to make itself look like it's reasonably healthy, but starving the plant of "Micro Nutrients" creating something called "hidden hunger." This is similar to feeding a person McDonald's all day and arguing that it is the same as a nutritious diet because they continue to get out of bed every morning. The implications of these deficiencies are enormous. This is fairly complicated example from the article referenced above:

"Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Copper are often called the metal micronutrients. They are responsible for the extraction of energy from high energy biomolecules like sugars and starches (electron transport chain). They are also heavily involved in the regulation of enzymes that mediate cellular biosynthesis and metabolism. Soil minerals include pyrite, limonite and olivine (iron); manganite, pyrolusite and rhodonite (manganese); franklenite, smithsonite and willemite (zinc); Chalcopyrite, chalcocite, and bornite (copper)."

In the case of organic farming, a common fertilizer would be cow manure, which is much more aligned with the natural cycle of mineral replacement in soil. i.e. the cow eats grass, steals what nutrients it needs, and the rest are put back into the soil. This cycle would lead to a deficiency as well if the cows limited to eating grass from the soil that you were attempting to fertilize, but that is not the case in modern organic farming. Even transporting the cow's milk away from the farm will contribute to nutrient depletion in the soil. 

In the end, there are a number of environmental factors that contribute to soil depletion, and overpopulation creates a significant problem as well, but if you're looking to be healthy yourself there are enough sustainable organic products available to you as long as the entire world doesn't go organic overnight.

Ditch the Starches and Sugars
No surprise here. The Paleo diet suggests you cut out all cereal grains and legumes from your diet. This includes, but is not limited to, wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, brown rice, soy, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas. As you may have heard, America has a sugar problem. The fact is that paleolithic man just had a hard time gathering much of these things, and cooking them was even more difficult without pots and pans. As a result, we developed physical mechanisms that allow our bodies to require small amounts of sugar to survive, and we simply don't do well when we get too much. As you have read in my previous posts, cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to diseases caused by too much sugar. 

In the spirit of keeping this post within a reasonable length, I suggest you check out this link if you're looking for a simple summary of the rules of the Paleo Diet. But as always, let's put it to my diet criteria test:
  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories): Leans more toward protein and fats, but could make it work.
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients: Yes, definitely.
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful: Yes, definitely. It is a specific criteria of the diet.
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition: Yes, definitely. Once again, specific criteria of the diet. 



Conclusion
All in all, you are very likely to find yourself having success if you stick to this diet. The unfortunate part is that this diet will actually have the opposite effect if you aren't getting your food from the prescribed sources. Grain fed meats have in fact been shown to increase risk of cancer and heart disease along with number of other detriments due to the fatty acid ratios. Pesticides on non-organic vegetables are undoubtedly toxic to our bodies, and hormones and antibiotics in non-organic meat are equally harmful. But if you do follow the diet as prescribed, you are successfully seeking out the best nutrition available in today's world and making sure that you get all of it in a balanced and safe manner. Other than the effort, research and cost involved in this diet, I definitely give it my stamp of approval.

 


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