I am not usually a fan of anything “trendy”…”diet” or otherwise. Even as a nutritionist, you’ll rarely hear me say “diet” or even mention “calories” or “points”. I’ll talk instead about a supportive food plan, such as choosing low-glycemic index foods, identifying unknown food sensitivities, or offering supportive nutraceuticals.
There is one food plan however, that has caught my interest over the last few years and that’s The Paleo Diet.
In all transparency, I am now a moderator on rising paleo expert Robb Wolf’s site and was recently one of the first doctors listed on his new Paleo Physician’s Network. I was drawn to the Paleo Diet primarily due to its strong research background – led by Dr. Loren Cordain out of Colorado State University.
Paleo recommendations run a bit counter to conventional nutritional advice. it challenges or conception of what comprise healthy fats and what actually comprises a “balanced diet eaten in moderation” as nutritionists have advocated for the past 20 years, while of course, over the same time period, America became exponentially more obese…
The research behind the Paleo diet makes intuitive sense. Our genetics have been mapped out over time through evolution. Any insight as to the language of our genes, is a conversation worth listening to. What nutrigenomics and paleo researchers have found is that we depend on a synergy with our environment, particularly when it comes to food.
Many animals for instance, can produce their own Vitamin C, humans cannot. We depend on plants for their phytochemicals that trigger our own physiology. We eat meat and nuts that provide us other essential nutrients we cannot create on our own. Internally, we depend on healthy bacteria to facilitate proper digestion.
A Paleo Diet is comprised of a high intake of a wide variety of seasonal vegetables, moderate intake of seasonal fruit, and replete with high quality meat, seafood, and nuts. The Paleo Diet consists of minimal grains, dairy, and legumes (beans, peanuts, peas), with many advocates throwing them out completely.
The strictest may also be careful of nightshade vegetables like bell peppers, tomatoes (okay technically its a fruit), and eggplant. “Paleo” is also much more of an overall lifestyle than it is a specific diet. It’s about living in congruence with how humans were conditioned to live. It has even become somewhat of a cult-hit among exercise junkies.
As a clinical nutritionist, my opinion is that consuming healthy food really just meets baseline health needs. Superfoods and herbs have been utilized clinically for millenia to augment and support physiology.
Even with that in mind, the Paleo Diet has shown to be supportive for skin conditions, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If you question how this could be true…start reading the research abstracts. Read books like The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Solution, & The Primal Blueprint. Introduce yourself to some of the research topics in The Four Hour Body, Good Calories, Bad Calories, or Why We Get Fat and make your own opinion.
Most importantly, as Robb Wolf advocates, give a Paleo diet a 30 day trial, if it doesn’t work for you then continue what you’ve been doing. Some people just simply don’t know how good they can feel. As far as chronic disease is concerned, just simply having no symptoms tells you nothing about what may be brewing beneath the surface.
Chances are, you’re not likely to get much support from your regular doctor on eating this way. Many are skeptical – they’ll say “show me the research” or they may put obstacles in your way in getting the blood tests you want to look at.
With that said, its important that you consider any underlying blood sugar, hormonal, and adrenal imbalances that you may have and tread carefully when implementing a Paleo Lifestyle, this is where a clinical nutritionist and/or functional medicine specialist can be an important member of your Paleo team.
Standard American Diet, Standard American Results
The Standard American Diet is a far cry from the food plan our ancestor’s depended upon thousands of years ago. And the SAD diet is pretty sad at meeting even our minimal nutrient needs. The SAD diet is high in refined sugar and grains, little vegetables, and high in dairy.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of a paleo diet is that it’s comparatively high in red meat, which has been a target of many nutrition campaigns. I argue that red meat isn’t inherently bad, but can be inflammatory and problematic if not balanced by liberal quantities of vegetables.
Even the American Dietetic Association who we are supposed to trust for unbiased and research-based nutritional advice receives support from organizations like Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, and Pepsi. Historically, the ADA has spoken fairly conservatively about the potential impact food can have on chronic health conditions outside of traditional medicine (think about the stakeholders at play…).
Genetically speaking, the Paleolithic era was just blip of time ago. Just take a look around the grocery store and you’ll quickly find what people are eating. You’ll see that the ice cream section is as large, if not larger than the frozen vegetable aisle. You’ll see that corn, dairy, wheat and soy and all of the combinations therein, make up 90% of the products on the shelves. You’ll also see that the majority of “healthy” foods, are the same processed foods with just some of the nutrients added back in. The latest tactic? Add in a few trendy supplements or organic sugar and paste a misleading health claim on the packaging.
90% of the food in most grocery stores, I wouldn’t even touch, nor would they even have been available to our Paleo ancestors (or even found on our grandparents’ kitchen tables).
- 70% of Americans are now overweight or obese.
- 33% of kids born after the year 2000 are expected to have type II diabetes later in life.
- 1/100 kids have autism (conservatively).
- 1/100 also have Celiac disease (conservatively)
- 5-7% of Americans have food allergies and sensitivities (conservatively).
- 70% of adults are lactose intolerant, and Blacks and Asians are at even more risk.
I’m not here to get into a battle over statistics. Most research studies are frankly flawed both in alternative and traditional healthcare. For those interested, I am slowly putting together a detailed guide on the science behind food allergies.
Details aside, the elephant in the room is that American health problems are at the point of embarrassment. It’s bankrupting our nation, and very few leaders are offering workable solutions.
You can’t patent meditation, access to a farmer’s markets, a walking trail, or even something as basic as lighted streets in an urban area. What you can do is systematically guide individuals like yourself to an environment and lifestyle that involve those very things.
You eat the elephant in the room one bite at a time.
Urgent Concerns with the Food Supply
Conventional agriculture didn’t even begin until roughly 10,000 years ago. Livestock “feedlots” where most of our meat is now produced didn’t even exist until the 1850’s. Even if grains, milk, corn and oats were available to the later ancestors, they would surely not be the highly genetically-modified, antibiotic and hormone-laden versions we find in our grocery stores today.
It is believed that our shorter stature compared to our past ancestors is partly due to our species’ new-found love with grains. Grains have been long suspected to leech nutrients important for bone metabolism – and that’s just one of the many discussions on the potential health effects of grain consumption even for seemingly healthy individuals.
Would you believe me if I told you that carrots are naturally purple and white…and were actually purposely bred into the more appealing orange color they are today? Would you believe me if I said over 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soy, and 70% of our corn is genetically modified. Up for passing is a new law that would deregulate alfalfa (threatening organic milk and beef). Even more recent legislation just bypassed government mandate and further deregulated genetically modified sugarbeets. ::sigh::
We used to have thousands of varieties (or cultivars) of certain vegetables like broccoli in nature, and now we simply have a handful of varieties left. Our physiology depends on the wide variety of phytochemicals these plants provide us. We are incrementally removing nutrients from existence in our food supply.
If incremental augmentation is a strategy for enacting significant change, incremental degradation is a strategy for equally significant destruction.
Our food supply is becoming genetically weak, and arguably we are too…dangerously enough to be passing on those weaker genes to our offspring and possibly leaving humans more susceptible to chronic diseases or maybe contributing to outbreaks in autism, autoimmune disease, and related conditions (Connecting a few too many dots perhaps….but Science is just now starting to acknowledge this, and it’ll take 10-20 years for institutions to respond).
This has enormous implications on our future food supply, demands for pesticide/herbicide usage, and the viability of food supply globally, but I’ll save that discussion other posts. I will say that I do my part by donating a percentage of all practice revenue to Growing Power, Inc, buying organic when I can, and supporting local, organic Community Supported Agriculture programs (now’s the time to sign up so you don’t get put on a waiting list!).
A Public Committment
For now I am publicly committing to a Paleo Diet. With that said, I’m taking a lesson from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Body to allow myself a cheat day each week to ensure compliance. I’m also hoping to “experiment” with my body’s responses to various stresses. I’ll also utilize some techniques for “damage control” when I go off track. Why the sudden motivation? I’ve been really showing signs of hypoglycemia lately and disturbed sleep.
Hypoglycemia for those of you who are wondering is a form of poor blood sugar imbalance and insulin dysregulation. Hypoglycemic tendencies can be hidden in “healthy” individuals. These are the healthy, fit individuals who feel they can get away with eating an entire pizza or half-gallon of ice cream at a sitting and think it’s doing them little harm.
I’m human, and have the same cravings and time constraints as you. I work daily to identify triggers in my lifestyle, learn from setbacks, and incrementally systemize healthy habits.
Lifestyle change is about having incremental awareness about yourself, your food choices, and how they affect your health directly and indirectly. My job as a physician is to meet you in the middle and guide you safely to where you want to go.
I know you’re “only human” and that these changes can be quite challenging. Being human is no longer an acceptable excuse, because being human is precisely why you should consider turning to Paleo in the first place.
Do you have 30 days?