After stumbling across some online posts from folks who were raving about the Paleolithic diet, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and it led me to a new eating experiment for myself.
The Paleolithic diet, as its name suggests, is a eating regimen based on the presumed diet consumed during the Paleolithic era, a 2.5 million year period that ended around 10,000 years ago. As the theory goes, humans ate exclusively wild plants and animals the Paleolithic era, and then with the development of agriculture humans began to eat farmed foods such as grains, which allegedly compromised the health of the human race. To continue reading this post, click here >>
The modern Paleolithic diet is comprised of up to 65% meat along with vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but excludes grains, legumes, dairy, salt, sugar, and any processed foods.
Support for the Paleo Diet
The argument for the Paleo diet stems from the theory that humans did not suffer from “diseases of civilization” such as heart disease and cancers until the beginning of the agricutural era. Supporters of the diet propose that humans were not and still are not adapted to handle the food that was introduced in the agricultural era, namely grains, processed food and starchy foods.
Avoiding these diseases is a primary justification for the diet, but it is also very popularity in the body building and weight loss communities because of the emphasis on high protein consumption, low glycemic foods and a low overall carb consumption.
Controversy Surrounding Paleo
The theory behind the contemporary Paleo diet is not bullet-proof. There is debate about the diet of Paleolithic humans since skeletal remains from that era have been found with grains in their teeth. Furthermore, even if the non-grain diet theory is accurate, Paleolithic humans only lived to 25-30 years on average, so they weren’t likely to live long enough to contract the diseases of civilization. To further complicate things, there is strong
evidence that prior to the Paleo era, humans were predominantly vegetarian and were equally free of the diseases of civilization which tends to defeat the rationale for the Paleo diet altogether.
There are a million good reasons to avoid processed foods and eat whole, low glycemic fruits and vegetables. Grains are a problem for people who have gluten sensitivity and those susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, but neither of those have ever been an issue for me. On the other hand, grains contain anti-nutrients such as phylates/phytates (which may inhibit the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese) and pyridoxine glucosides (which may prevent vitamin B6 absorption). Valuable useful fiber, vitamins and minerals are contained in grains, but if in fact they prevent our bodies from getting nutrients, then that might be a good reason not to eat grains.
I am not aware of any downsides from eating legumes. They are packed with great nutrients and fiber. Even Paleo enthusiasts admit that they are healthy, but not desirable because of the higher carb load. I am not a big fan of eating for vanity so as far as I am concerned there is no reason not to eat legumes, especially if you are exercising regularly and need the energy that they provide.
For a vegan, removing grains and legumes would be somewhat problematic because it reduces the opportunity to mix foods to attain complete protein consumption requirements.
Meat is a different story. We are certainly omnivores in that we can consume animal and plant based foods, but we have many more herbivore than carnivore traits. Just because we can consume meat doesn’t mean we should or need to. If humans were healthy eating a vegetarian diet prior to the Paleo era, then there is no evidence that meat is of any dietary value to us now and even worse, people are risking their health if they consume a diet of 65% meat from commercial farms feeding animals antibiotics, steroids, chemicals and other toxins. Furthermore, eating that much meat means consuming a mountain of saturated fat, putting you in the high risk category for heart and cardiovascular disease, which is fine by the way if you aim to die before your 30th birthday, but not cool if you plan to live to be the average age of modern humans.
My Latest Clean Living Experiment
Grains have always been a big favorite of mine, but I have an open mind and I am interested to see if I feel better or worse without it. The only real way for me to sort through the confusing arguments one way or the other is to try it. So for the next 30 days I will exclude grains from my diet (note – I will continue to supplement my diet with vegan protein powder which includes a small percentage of brown rice protein). Hopefully 30 days will be long enough to see a difference in my energy levels and the way I feel.
My wife is doing it as well. After 7 days without grains, I feel great. While I am burning through food at furious pace and am hungry every hour, my workouts and energy levels are all at peak levels. I will post my updates as they occur.
If anyone else has tried the Paleo diet or eliminated grains, I would love to hear from you.
UPDATE on April 27/2010: I have continued to dig for information on the topic of phytates and have found several interesting bits of information. First of all, phytates, on the one hand are considered an anti-nutrient because of their blocking qualities, but on the other hand they are considered a phytonutrient with anti-oxidant effects that help to prevent cancers. Secondly, if someone was afraid of the downsides of phytates, some and possibly all of the phytates can be eliminated from grains by soaking or cooking. Third, phytates are found in many foods including legumes, nuts and even some vegetables, so they it would be virtually impossible to eliminate from your diet even if you wanted to. Finally, most foods have some sort of “anti-nutrient” qualities and nutritionist consider them to balance each other out if one eats a wide variety of food. So….(aside from the Leptins) I tend to think this whole grain elimination thing is a bit of overkill, but I am going to continue with my experiment just the same to see how it feels to go without grain.