Thursday, July 12, 2012

Go Paleo!

Are you eating right? That’s a question that many people ask themselves, and it’s a question that feeds many industries making billions of dollars every year. It’s a question that forces its way into your conscious and sub-conscious brain, day in and day out. News reports, medical studies, books, magazines, commercial advertising and word of mouth all creep their way into your information bank. There are countless claims as to what constitutes a “healthy” diet, and almost all of them conflict on some level, leaving the average guy with more confusion than enlightenment. So with such an itching, burning question just begging to be addressed, what is the official Hall of Manly Excellence take on the matter? The most reasonable one of course: The food you should be eating is the food that humans are designed to eat.
It’s so simple that it’s almost stupid, and yet it’s unfortunately something that needs to be said. Just like every other biological species on the planet, humans have a set of foods that are natural for consumption and another set (everything else) that isn’t. And guess what? The daily consumption of the average human is mostly getting drawn from that bad set.

You’re Eating Like a Cow

You’ve heard it many times in your life…in fact, you’ve heard it so many times by now it almost seems like you were born knowing it: a healthy diet is high in grains. The USDA puts it right in your face from the time you enter school: grains are not just edible and healthful in a human diet they say, but should literally be its foundation. Really? You wouldn’t think so if you were out in the wild, hungrily scanning the horizon for something to consume and spotted a patch of wheat sprouting towards the sky. Why not? Because it’s fucking grass! Some people might not have ever given this much thought, but as it turns out, humans can’t actually eat grass. Which brings up a couple of interesting questions: what exactly would a human being in a natural setting without the aid of modern industry actually be able to consume, and from that selection, couldn’t we call that set of foods the humans’ natural diet in the same way that we observe other species’ consumption and do likewise? Well, the hard work of answering those questions has already been done for us and its theory has a name: The Paleolithic Diet.

Stop Eating Like a Cow

Paleo DietSo the theory has a name, the Paleolithic Diet (AKA the Caveman Diet), but what does it mean? Its premise is very simple, elegant and straight to the point: human beings developed their digestive faculties for nutrition throughout the Paleolithic era, a period which covers 99% of our entire history of development as a species. The foods we ate then, are the foods we should be eating now because they’re native to our biology. The last 1% of our time on Earth has not only been an aberration in our nutritional intake, but has gone seriously beyond even the wide berth that our generalist, omnivorous nature provides.
Simply put, our ability as a technological species to extract digestible nutrition from grass has introduced an exceptionally unnatural food source into our gullets, and that very food source is making us fat, stupid and degenerate. How is it doing all that you ask? Grains contain chemicals in them that we call anti-nutrients, a name we give them because they are just that, against nutrition. These chemicals aren’t just in the grains for the hell of it, they’re there because they don’t want us to eat them! Within the bran casing which protects the germ from being digested, the grain stores phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of many key micro-nutrients including calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium. Also contained in the grain are enzyme inhibitors, which are designed to directly stop the digestive tract from breaking down the product.
Once you get past the nasty chemicals and actually extract nutrients from the grain, it encounters hard to digest (for humans anyway) proteins which cause mild to severe allergies. These chemicals can only be neutralized partially during the extensive processing phases which prepare the grain for market and human consumption. The cumulative effect of digesting this unnatural and poisonous material over the course of a lifetime is, as you might imagine, not good. Almost none of the degenerative diseases found in the Western world are seen in people who still eat Hunter-Gatherer diets: osteoporosis, macular degeneration, diabetes, arthritis, tooth decay, Alzheimer’s. Modern indigenous people that have been recently had grains introduced into their diet have seen their incidence of diabetes go from practically zero to as high as 50% within just one or two generations.

Eat Like a Caveman

raquel welch cavemanSo we have a theory: eat what a human is supposed to eat. We also have a name: the Paleolithic Diet. So what is the substance of the theory? We know some of the foods we didn’t eat, but how can we know what we did eat in the Paleolithic era if we weren’t there? Well, without getting into the arcane world of archaeological anthropology (which really is telling but we don’t have time for that now), we have a much simpler and more powerful method of determining what our bodies have been adapted to consume: if you can eat it raw, then you can eat it. That doesn’t mean that you have to eat food raw, it only means you have to be ABLE to eat it raw. If you have the ability to pick a handful of wheat grass and munch away happily then congratulations, grains are natural to your diet. If that’s you, then I’m certain I’m wasting my time writing this because in all likelihood you’re a multi-stomach possessing cud chewing ruminant and aren’t on the internet.
So what kinds of things can a human eat in their raw state? Contrary to misconception, meat is extremely edible and digestible for humans in the raw state. In fact, our digestive efficiency for meat is similar to a wolf, the absolute poster-animal of carnivory. Nearly all of the potential danger from raw meat comes from industrial contamination, but in nature, meat is the ultimate food source.
Other foods that are on the menu are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, berries. The list is long, so there is no shortage of flavors and food combinations that can be enjoyed. Paleo isn’t low carb by default, so you don’t need to worry about how much you eat from each category. Some people feel better on a high protein diet high fat diet, and some people feel more energetic when they get more carbs. As long as you’re meeting your nutritional needs and eating natural human foods like fruits and vegetables, carbs are not going to plague you like they do when they come from dense grains and corn syrup. Eat what you want within the parameters of the the diet, and you’ll be on track.

Where Does Dairy Fit into the Picture?

There is some controversy about dairy and how natural it is for human consumption. Technically it’s only been on the menu for adults for as long as we’ve been herding animals (which is certainly longer than we’ve been cultivating grain), but on the other hand it’s been on the menu for babies for as long as we’ve been mammals, so we can’t say it isn’t natural on the whole, only that perhaps it isn’t natural for adult humans. The original versions of the diet were strict about not eating dairy products. This makes especially good sense for most people on Earth, who are lactose intolerant. But a certain percentage of people, especially in northwestern Europe, have a fortuitous genetic mutation that produces lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, into adulthood. The proteins in milk are certainly not foreign to our digestive system, so if you don’t have a problem with lactose, then by all means, eat dairy.

Oh My God, Where am I Going to Get All My Fiber?

As a side note, quite a lot of people I’ve talked to have come to associate whole grains with the magical substance we all refer to as fiber, but one that could also be accurately described as “that indigestible non-food stuff”. It’s not like the wheat grows long strands of cellulose so as to ease the digestion of its consumer. It’s just “stuff” that you can’t digest. If humans were inefficient at digesting animal tissue, meat would serve as source of fiber too. In any case, humans don’t need fiber to be able to take a crap because we have a fully functioning digestive tract and could gloriously and healthfully survive on an 100% carnivorous diet (just like those pesky carnivorous Inuit that have been fucking up vegetarians’ theories for decades). That being said, if you’re still concerned about getting fiber into your diet, don’t be. Pound for pound and calorie for calorie, no fiber source is as rich as the foods that really ARE on the natural menu for humans: fresh fruits and vegetables. Just one large apple has about 100 calories and 5.4 grams of fiber. You would only get about 3 grams of fiber from the same calories worth of whole wheat. And veggies? A hundred calories worth of spinach would yield about 10 grams of fiber! Leave grains behind and fiber is definitely not going to be one of your problems.

The Breakdown

If you’ve made it this far and think this all makes sense, you might want to give it a shot. Even though the tenets of the diet are simple, some people like it REALLY simple, so here is a list of things to eat and things to avoid eating:

Do Eat:

Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables/greens. Don’t eat: wheat, corn, rice, potatoes, beans/legumes, peanuts and cashews (these are not nuts, they’re legumes), refined sugars (our bodies are not equipped to handle pure sugar in a refined state, an advent of the Neolithic era along with grains).

One Last Lingering Issue:

It might have occurred to you during the reading of this article that it’s not manly to have a “diet”, that the manly thing to do is to simply eat whatever the fuck you want and give everyone, including me, the finger. Well my answer to that is 1) the term “diet” is not all that good, but it’s entrenched already in the discourse on the subject, so I’m sort of stuck with it…I prefer “nutrition plan”, 2) you could dress up in a skirt and apply lipstick and give me the finger too, and it wouldn’t be manly. And neither is eating a big plate of pasta with a loaf of bread on the side. When I speak of health I don’t mean longevity, I mean vigor, which is the cornerstone of manliness…the Caveman diet will give that to you, but it will also give you the longevity as a bonus.

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