I am going to cover the whole ‘ancestral eating’ movement with what it’s all about, how it can be tough to eat an exact paleo diet but show what benefits may come from choosing this style of eating.
THE PALEO DIET IN A NUTSHELL
The word ‘paleo’ comes from the Greek adjective palaios meaning very old. And thats what the paleo diet is; a very, very old diet.
The paleo diet or ancestral eating is simply eating a diet that our paleolithic ancestors would have eaten from 2.5 million years ago up until roughly 10-12000 years ago or before the agricultural age began, roughly around the time Larry King started high school.
That means essentially no grains, rice or dairy.
Archeologists will report that at the introduction of grains into the diet the human species started to decline. Our foods have changed but our bodies have remained genetically the same. Read more on the effects of wheat and gluten here
The fossil record reveals the changes between the paleolithic population and the agricultural populations: Height changed, Bone density changed, tooth enamel started to break down, even a rapid decrease in average brain size and loss of brain volume. Also along with this is the fact that agriculture led to developed communities allowed for easier spreading of disease
Simply put people were no longer eating what was part of their natural ecosystem.
The paleo movement has sprung up rather recently with a lot of the attention coming from Loren Cordain and his book The Paleo diet. But an earlier book from 1984 called “Paleopathology at the origins of agriculture’ by George Armelagos and M.N Cohen got the ball rolling.
More controversial at the time, the book looked at more than 20 studies to describe an increase in declining health and nutritional diseases as societies shifted from foraging to agriculture
According to this research no matter where it is was in the world and regardless of the type of crop, around 10,000 years ago when populations started turning to agriculture their height and health began to decline
This age of agriculture has lasted up until only 100-200 years ago or so to the industrial revolution. The advent of machinery and processing has introduced us to foods and products that have never existed before.
But these “new” products of say your grandparents era, would almost be considered superfoods compared to what we have today.
Populations of 7000 years ago would not have the foods of our grandparents and great grand parents such as canned foods, crisco or refined sugars. And our grandparents were not exposed to things like high fructose corn syrup, aspartame of trans fats like you and I are today.
You can see how there has been a slow decline over time as the quality of our nutrition decline and then it takes a rapid nosedive down coming into the late 1800s and early 1900’s then plummets like a rock into the mid late 20th century.
We are clearly eating foods today that your great grand parents let alone our ancient ancestors would never have been exposed to. We are no longer eating the foods we find in our ecosystem, mainly because we have totally converted our ecosystems.
When we put an animal into a zoo like a zebra, we don’t fill its cage with pop tarts, twinkies or oreos. We include the same things it would find in its natural habitat.
This is what has happened to us, we are no longer eating the things that our ancestors would have found themselves surrounded with. This would be primarily animal proteins, vegetables and fruits and things like nuts and seeds
TOXINS IN OUR LIVES (NOT JUST THE KARDASHIANS…)
As I mentioned before our paleolithic ancestors would not even know what to think of the things we are exposed to today let alone our great grandparents. Just in the last 50-60 years look at some of the things you and I are being exposed to:
- Artificial sweeteners
- depleted soils
- Toxic halogens
- Heavy metal toxicity
- microwaved food
- Irradiated food
- 24 hour “daylight”
- Chronic 24/7 stress
This is only just scratching the surface. The point is how in the world can we expect to be healthy with all these toxins bombarding us on a daily basis?
The one thing we can do is take control of our diet and not eat modern, processed, packaged foods. At the same time when we start incorporating in fresh, organic vegetables we help equip our body to begin to eliminate toxins. The fresh natural food allows organs like the liver and kidneys to function more efficiently so it can begin to deal with the mess of pollutants we are all exposed to.
Based on your location and circumstances there might not be a lot you can do as far as environmental concerns. A lot of us live in major cities so things like pollution and car exhausts etc are a part of daily life.
Where we can take back control is choosing to eat those things that benefit us rather than just dumping more toxins into a potentially toxic body.
This is what the paleo movement is. It is centering your diet around meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts and seeds. The foods are ancestors would have found themselves surrounded by and not Cheetos, Oreos and Dr. Pepper.
ARE WE STILL AROUND THESE TRUE PALEO FOODS?
All niche communities can have their holier than thou types: vegetarians, vegans, Apple vs Android, even the macrame community…They tend to look down on others who might not follow exactly what they are following..
Here’s where the paleo movement gets a bit muddled-
A majority of the fresh, natural food we have today simply didn’t exist in paleolithic times.
Take for example bananas.
Bananas are technically giant herbs rather than trees. All modern edible bananas are hybridized from the varieties musa acuminata and M.balbisiana. And they have been hybridized many times over several thousand years.
Their origins come from Southeast Asia and early wild forms have been noted from almost 14,000 years ago These early forms of bananas were smaller, more fibrous and so full of seeds most people today would find them inedible compared to our large, bright yellow, sweet and virtually seedless types.
Natural hybridization has occurred for thousands of years as humans have enhanced the traits they want in certain foods while eliminating the ones they don’t to favor sweeter and fattier versions..
The point is the bananas we are eating today are nothing like what our ancestors would have consumed.
The same way we have bred a variety of dogs out of a single species so it happens with food. An example being Brassica Oleracea : From this one variety we have cultivated
- brussel sprouts
None of these plants had ever existed and in eating all of them thinking we are getting a variety we are essentially eating the same species.
Some other examples:
- Tomatoes used to be small berries
- corn was a ratty, straggly grass called teosinte
- paleolithic fruit would be smaller, harder, quite tart and bitter
- ancient apples would have been more similar to crabapples
- root plants such as carrots or potatoes were dense, thick and starchy compounds almost inedible
These are just a few examples. The point is there are a wide variety of plants that have only existed in our modern era.
WHERES THE BEEF??
As of 2010 the world’s most consumed meat was goat.
70% of the world consumes it and its is eaten by all cultures and religions. I had the chance to eat it for 3 days when I spent time on a cattle ranch in the Australian outback and have to say it was a lot better than I had anticipated. (the gun had blanks and was used to scare off dingos that would try to attack the goats. Yes REAL dingos!)
But for most people the average consumed meat is probably beef. And tends to be the cornerstone of the paleo diet.
All forms are embraced; ground beef, steaks, roasts you name it.
The problem is the modern cow is an animal that never existed in paleo times. The ancient ancestor of the cow is the Auroch descended from the Bos acutifrons.
More bull like with longer, outward facing horns, the Auroch dates back to around 2 million years ago and survived to quite recently when they went extinct in the early 17th century.
Compared to modern cows the Auroch was vastly different with longer legs, a bigger head and a much leaner and almost athletic type body.
Another staple of the paleolithic diet would be the Gnu or Wildebeest, which you would observe in the ancient cave paintings
WASTE NOT WANT NOT
The issue with eating the modern cow or other sources of meat is that paleo dieters are not taking the same approach that their ancestors did. Paleolithic people would have been eating nose to tail. Today our consumption of meat is limited to the muscle meats such as steaks, roasts, ribs, ground beef etc.
There is a whole lot more to animals that is not being made use of such as organ meats, cartilage, brain and so on. Organ meats would have been a valuable nutrition source to paleolithic societies as they contain high amounts of vitamins specifically the liver which has an abundance of vitamin A, B vitamins, Folic acid and iron. It is also the number 1 food source for copper and contains Coenzyme Q10.
Our ancestors would have also made use of the kidneys, heart, tongue, brains, intestines and stomach lining (also known as tripe).
Even the indigenous populations of North America are known to not waste any part of the buffalo that they hunted. Clearly very few people today are taking advantage of all that animals have to offer.
Organ meat will always outshine muscle meat for nutrient content.
One whole other issue is that of grass fed animals. Our modern hormone treated, feedlot confinement animals are producing beef that is hard to even classify as beef. Especially with ground beef, it is more like fat disguised as beef.
If you’re not consuming grass fed and finished meats you are really not consuming the purest form of that animal. The grass fed issue is a whole discussion it itself to be devoted to in its own blog.
A typical paleo meal might contain a variety of ingredients that have origins in all corners of the globe.
A hunter/gatherer in Western Europe would not have had access to avocados from Mexico and Central America, pineapple from South America, almonds from the Middle East or blueberries from North America.
These foods can all be a part of a paleo friendly diet but are only available today due to modern industry and transportation. Each region of the world would clearly only be able to eat the local foods. Consuming these wide ranges of worldwide products can not be a true paleo diet.
ICE ICE BABY
The last glacial period or ice age finished up around 12,000 years ago. During this time there would have been little vegetation available and the majority of the diet would have had to center around animal protein
This is all relative to where you lived in the world as the majority of the last ice age covered North America and Eurasia. If you were a person living in that location during this time period your diet was going to be drastically different than areas in the Southern Hemisphere.
This ice age diet is still being undertaken today by modern Inuits who live in climates pretty much devoid of fauna and rely on animal protein and fat for the majority of their nutrition.
WHAT REALLY MAKES THE PALEO DIET BENEFICIAL
I am not wanting at all to dismiss the paleo diet but just want to point out what people are really undertaking is more appropriately called “Modern Paleo” or even
“New Age Paleo” if you want to go that far.
It’s not entirely what this diet does contain but what it DOES NOT contain.
The paleo diet focuses on eliminating all modern foods. Foods that have caused a great downfall in our modern society leading to modern diseases.
In the paleo diet there are no refined flours, breads or cakes. There is no potentially hormone and antibiotic filled dairy. No transfats, chemical sweeteners or high fructose corn syrup.
It introduces foods more familiar to our body and eliminates those that our body does not recognize and I am all in favor of that. This is the way I choose to eat as I have found it to improve energy as well as things like focus and concentration. I will add in a little dairy from time to time and will include a little more starchy carb in the form of sweet potatoes and yams depending on how active I will be.
WRAPPING IT ALL UP
So you might choose to take on a modern paleo diet, or even go all the way to eat food found only in your direct local area that you find at farmers markets etc.
The truth is whichever way you go with it you are looking at introducing some great changes into your lifestyle by cutting out all the detrimental modern food that has caused us literal heartache and strife.
Keep feeding your body the food it was designed to eat and cut out the food that had to be designed.
And yes feel free to tweet that!
If you want to get started I want to make you aware of the best resource online for the paleo diet. My friends at PaleoPlan.com have an amazing resource that I and a lot of other people use. They provide weekly recipes and shopping lists for delicious paleo meals right to your inbox.
To me this is an invaluable service that takes the guess work out of what should make up each meals, what you need to buy and it gives you a break in something all people stress over each week: what am I going to eat..
With the paleo plan you know you will be getting real whole foods as the meals are designed to be free of processing, gluten, dairy, refined sugars and chemical laden ingredients detrimental to your health.
They’re even offering you a free 14 day trial
I highly recommend checking it out 14-day free trial at PaleoPlan.com
So do you paleo? How have you found it? Comment below
P.s who was the first person who went up and tried to milk an auroch?? May they rest in peace…..