Back in Paleo days, we know they had it tough. Life spans were short, availability of food was short, and people were short. Makes you wonder…what could possibly be so great about the Paleo diet?
It has to do with one word…NATURE.
Diseases of Civilization
Since agriculture hit the scene about 10,000 years ago, things have changed a lot. But NOT our genes and how our bodies process food. Herein lies the problem. We now have what they call “diseases of civilization” that plague many of us but that some of us accept as normal. After all, we are living a lot longer than our ancient ancestors. And we are taller. On top of that, modern science has given us a bunch of ways to fight disease. Like supplements and medicines.
But let me make a list of the “diseases of civilization” that are a direct result of our UNnatural diet. Here’s the short list: Cardiovascular diseases (which includes all sorts of things), Type II diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, chronic inflammation, osteoporosis, vitamin deficiencies, cancers, intestinal diseases, reflux, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
What exactly is UNnatural about our diets? Aside from the fact that McDonald’s immediately comes to mind, there’s some very significant differences that come about because of the food processing that we can now do.
To cut a long story short, here’s an overview of what is different now. Fatty meats, baked goods, dairy products, margarine, butter, cereals, refined sugars, refined vegetable oils, snack foods, soft drinks, candy, ice cream, condiments, salt, and even alcohol.
Here’s another concept you can think about…many of these foods are fun. So, why would you want to give them up? Does it have to be a choice between highly palatable, fun, foods and your health? Um, yes. At least a great deal of the time.
The trick would be to find other ways to have fun. I would bet that Paleo people enjoyed each other’s company, did some dancing, and had fun sharing other activities. It would appear that being social is also in our genes. Without that, we could not thrive, on many levels.
Days of Yore
So here I would like to dive a little deeper and describe in more detail what they were eating in days of yore.
There would not have been one universal diet amongst the people living back then (that would be starting somewhere between 2 and 3 million years ago). People hunted and gathered whatever they could, where they could, and it would have been dependent on the season. But the theme would have been the same: minimally processed, wild plant and animal foods.
On the other side of the coin, we have what processed foods do to our bodies. There are basically 7 systems that are thrown off because we are not eating wild. I will do my best not to be too scientific here, but at the same time I am not trying to be alarmist! These things are all well researched.
- Glycemic load – the refined foods that we eat tend to spike our blood sugar and strain the system of insulin sensitivity. This is a whole can of worms when it comes to the effects on the body.
- Types of fat – the meat we eat has been bred to grow fast, have a higher percentage of saturated fat content, and less of the beneficial mono and polyunsaturated fat that our bodies need. Not to mention the invention of trans fats which clog arteries in brand new ways.
- Food categories – back in the day, our people ate fewer carbs, more healthy fats, and more protein than we usually do these days. Because we eat more carbohydrates, less protein, and more unhealthy fats, we are set up for obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease.
- Nutrients – simply said, refined foods have very few nutrients in them. The list of nutrients that we do not get enough of is quite long. Wild vegetables, fruits, and meats have higher levels of these nutrients.
- Acid-base balance – foods these days create a more acidic overall environment in our bodies than the more base (alkaline) environment that our ancestors would have had. An acidic environment causes problems with osteoporosis, age-related muscle wasting, kidney stones and other kidney problems, and hypertension.
- Sodium-potassium ratio – too much salt in our diets and not enough potassium underlies such problems as hypertension, stroke, kidney stones, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal cancers, and even asthma and insomnia.
- Fiber content – Yup. When things are refined, they lose a lot of their fiber. And, when you substitute refined foods for vegetables, fruits, and unrefined grains you lose even more chances to get good fiber into your gut. Lack of fiber can lead to intestinal distress and disease, reflux, and many problems related to poor bacteria in your gut.
One more thing…it’s about protein and meat, since Paleo seems to put a fair amount of emphasis on it. Paleo takes note that we used to eat LEAN, not fatty meats most of the time. Animals wandering around would not have had much in the way of meat with lots of saturated fat in it. Only during the relatively flush warmer months would animals have been able to store much fat. The rest of the time, their meat had mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated fats in them, which our bodies like. Note: We do need a certain amount of saturated fat, but only about 30% of our total fat intake.
It is evident that our ancestors also ate a higher percentage of protein in their overall diets than we currently do. Our lower levels of protein (and higher percentage of carbohydrates) is linked to inflammatory processes, reduced insulin sensitivity, a poor blood lipid profile, obesity, high blood pressure, and stroke.
The TRICK is to find wild, lean meats and other protein sources, and increase overall nutrients with judicious plant choices. Then, replace many refined foods with those choices. That is what we call “going wild with the Paleo diet.”
As you might imagine, however, going Paleo can be expensive, time consuming, and difficult. However, we can take the lessons we learn from it and do our best to go natural (a.k.a., organic), avoid processed foods, and go with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and lean protein sources.
To your health,
© 2019 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.