My friend Russ inspires me. He was the one who had the courage to choose to live life with out alcohol, and gave me the support to make the choice as well. It was the best decision that either of us has made, and it has allowed us a connection above and beyond our already strong friendship. So when he started talking about the Paleo diet, I was quick to listen. While I am by no means an expert, or professionally trained dietitian I wished to share some of the things I have found while researching this lifestyle change.
The Paleo diet's roots are bedded in the vision of what our ancient ancestors would consume. Agriculture has only been with mankind for the last 10,000 years, where humans learned to cultivate grains and other plants. Before this we as a species were a hunter/gatherer culture. We moved with the prey. We only ate seasonally available foods. Our diets consisted of free-range wild game, fish, and eggs. These animals only ate their natural fodder, instead of being force fed corn or animal products. Ancient man would also gather nuts, fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, and other wild edible plant materials. The Paleolithic man's diet was very low on carbohydrates, sugars, and nothing was processed. The only carbs came from the fruit and veggies they were able to eat.
Proponents of the Paleo lifestyle argue that the modern diet of grains, processed foods and meat from un-healthy animals has contributed to our epidemic-like rates of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, auto-immune diseases and obesity. Since the age of agriculture our diets have changed from one based mainly on protein and fats, to one of cereal grains. The seeds of grasses have built the basis of our diet, and seeds in an unprocessed state are un-digestible to humans. We must process them to make the parts usable to our systems. These parts of the grain when eaten are turned into glucose by our bodies, which is sugar. Our blood sugar surges, causing our pancreas to work to balance it out, and store the glucose in our fat cells. Within a couple of hours our blood sugar crashes, making us feel famished, and grumpy. All this sugar intake is addictive, some say as addictive as nicotine or heroin. This might seem crazy, but does your mouth water when you see a puffy, sugar coated cinnamon bun or donut, and you suddenly feel ravenous. That is an addictive response, your endorphins release while eating these sweets, similar to opiate based drugs. It seems so crazy but it is true.
I used to finish the my day at work and on the ride home I would get so un-believably hungry, I felt absolutly empty, I could eat everything and anything. It would make me miserable. I felt terrible. This went on for months on end. I could eat an entire bag of potato chips and still feel the urges. Finally when I began experimenting with the Paleo lifestyle, this urge has calmed. My addiction to glucose was so strong. I used to eat up to six slices of bread a day, sometimes add in oatmeal, pasta, quinoa, rice or cold cereal. That is most of my daily calories coming from carbohydrates. I had a bloated, distended stomach, that would get worse as the day went on. Gas pains and embarrassing flatulence would follow. All because of these dietary choices. Beans were also hard on my system, and now I know why. Beans contain lectins, which are carbohydrate binding proteins that are toxic and inflammatory. Inflammation is a root cause of much of our digestion issues, which in my research, goes hand in hand with the most common serious diseases. Gut health is number one in keeping us at optimum health. On the topic of beans. I should touch on oils. Healthy oils from plants should come from plants that have naturally oily characteristics. Coconut, olive and nut oils are good. Canola, corn, cotton seed and soy bean oils are no good. They are manufactured from the seeds of these plants, the same seeds that are not easily digestable, and these oils aren't recognized by our bodies as real food. Butter, animal fats and the above oils are the ones to use for cooking. Coconut oil is especially great for frying. It has a high smoking temperature, is flavor-less(the extra virgin) and is solid at room temperature. I really like it and am happy to be turned on to it.
Paleo eaters should choose to eat grass fed herbivours, free range chickens, pastured pork and wild fish. These protein sources contain the correct balance of Omega3/Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory and Omega 6 is inflammatory. The balance in beef from a common super market meat display comes from a C.A.F.O., a feed lot where young steers are brought to fatten on a mix of corn, grain and antibiotics, living in terrible conditions. If you have watched the movie Food Inc, you know what I am talking about. This diet has no grass in it, and the animals fats get out of balance from this un-natural feed. Instead of a 1/2 ration of 3 to 6, it changes to a ratio closer to 1/10, which again may cause more inflammation.
These factory farmed animals are not only un-healthy for the consumer, it is also bad for the planet. The high input of fossil fuels to make fertilizers, transportation, and the mono-culture annual crops that strip the land with no natural fertilizer or compost to re-build the soil., making the majority of the planets farm land soil nutrient deficient. The plant will grow, but when we eat it, there is very little in it to actually fuel our bodies. That is a reason that super market produce may have less flavor than an organic local equivalent The C.A.F.O.'s are enormous places of concrete and waste. No shade or cover from the elements. Hundreds of cattle packed in an area that a grass fed, free range cow would have all to itself. Eat, shit, get sick, and get slaughtered with in days of naturally dying because of the horrible food and conditions. It is a sad state and try to picture this when you order a fast food hamburger or a pack of steaks from the big grocery stores.
Healthy sleeping patterns are essential to good health. Shutting down the screens in you life, laptop, ipad or T.V. well before bed is a good move. Reading before nodding off, to me anyways, is a large part of my sleeping routine. I rarely am awake past 10 pm and if I am, a book is in front of me, not a screen. Trying to get into the natural rythms of sleep cycle is not easy, but if you can wake before your alarm and get out of bed, it will help get you day off with less stress. Waking every morning to an obnoxious sound, even if it is your favorite song, will begin the day with a high stress level. You may have to forgo some of your social life to meet your bodies demands for more sleep. Believe me it is worth it. Exercise is also vital. A strong body needs to be worked and if your job has you sitting all day, getting an exciting workout is key. My preferred sport for this is mountain biking. It challenges my heart, my legs, upper body and mind. It is explosive and anaerobic, intermixed with slow and sustained movement. I am not one to talk about different exercise programs, I have never been to a class in my life. I hear great things about Cross-Fit style of fitness. What every you prefer, just actually get out and do something.
My life has changed because of Paleo. Besides the ailments in my digestive system that I explained before, I also suffered from a problematic knee injury. It was brought on from cycling, running and work, activities that are pretty hard on my joints. I also had some un-explained ache in my shoulder that would come on and go away with no warning or noticeable injury. I did physiotherapy, massage, and chiropractic, as well as pharmaceutical western medicine treatments. Since reducing the inflammatory causing foods in my diet these ailments have been greatly reduced. I can now push up stairs with that knee that would previously give me grimacing pain. I feel like I have been freed from a depression causing prison. Not being able to participate in the activities that I love so much was very tough.
So it all comes down to the food. What do I eat? Well, pretty simply, what ever I like. As long as the food doesn't contain grains or beans. I have been off of dairy for the most part for a few weeks. I try to stay away from processed foods as much as possible. Looking at labels has never been so important in my shopping routine. If it has a corn product, it goes back. I have really made an effort to eat whole foods, cooking and preparing basically all components of my menu. The grass fed vendors at my local farmers market have been very happy with my decision the past month, spending a decent amount with them on my protein. I am enjoying the dishes that I make. Omelets for breakfast, and usually a salad for lunch with some leftover protein from the dinner before, and then some sausages, or chicken for dinner with either roasted veggies or another salad. I feel full and content after I eat. The meal lasts easily until the next one. I have pretty much eliminated snacking. I still enjoy sweets, like ice cream or chocolate covered almonds, and I do allow myself to indulge in them once in a while. The carbohydrates that I used to like so much are not interesting to me anymore, as they make me feel crummy. A feast of popcorn a couple weeks ago left me with uncomfortable gas pains that evening while trying to sleep.
The Paleo lifestyle is something interesting to educate oneself about. I have never been one to diet for weight loss, more interested in the health benefits and how our bodies react to different inputs. The internet is chock full of information on the subject and several great books are available. My biggest tip would be to avoid highly processed foods with names you can not pronounce. The less it looks like food, the less your body will recognize it at food. If you eat crap, you will feel like crap. That is my outlook on this ideology. Have fun and support your local farmers.
Have a look at these links to visit some of my favorite sites about Paleo
The Paleo Diet: Loren Cordain publish one for the first books on the Paleo lifestyle
Paleo Plan: This site has a large selection of recipes
Robb Wolf: A former research scientist turned personal trainer who uses the Paleo lifestyle to change peoples lives with weight loss and fitness. Author of the Paleo Solution and host of a podcast of the same name.
Paleo 101: an easy how-to, so one can get the idea behind the lifestyle.