Monday, May 21

What Is Paleo?

Paleo or Paleolithic Diet, also known as The Caveman or Stone Age Diet. There are several names for this type of diet that pretty much all mean the same thing, Evolutionary, Real Food, DNA and Natural Diet are also terms used to describe a move away from the western pattern diet to a cleaner healthier more nutritious option.
The basic premise is of eating only naturally occurring real foods. These being the plants and animals our great grandparents though specifically those before them knew as food. 

Why should we change? Well there are many foods we think of today as natural and healthy that are actually anything but. What are the foods we should eat? A very simple criteria would be to ask yourself a question before you put anything in your mouth. That is, could I eat this raw without cooking, not that we want to or would suggest eating raw meat, the idea here of course is merely to establish what's good and what's bad before we put it in our mouth.

Many so called healthy foods are only made digestible by cooking or processing. Note I said digestible as neither processing or cooking can make these foods healthy. Regardless of what we're told foods in this category include all grains, more on this later.

Before we can begin to really understand 'what is paleo' or what's behind a Caveman Diet we need to know a little about what has been going on. Since the advent of mechanisation and the development of machines to manufacture food, things have been getting progressively worse. The Neolithic or Agricultural Revolution as it's known was and still is heralded as a great milestone in the development of our societies.

Well, was it that great? What has it really achieved? The answer is it wasn't, and still isn't that great for the long term health of individuals who make up these societies. True it enabled mass civilisations to have "food a plentiful!" and grow to the huge populations we see today. This of course is great news if your (a) responsible for providing the food or (b) responsible for managing these populations. Though sadly it's not such great news if your an individual being fed on these foods and being told they are healthy so eat more.

What if you were told that the foods included on the NHS 'eatwell plate' are far from healthy. In fact they are decidedly unhealthy and will cause you to gain weight at the very least, but also increase the likely hood of disease. One would imagine that you may be a little alarmed and wish to know more about these claims, how could they be anything but 'off the cuff claims'? After-all it is official advice and so has to be right, right?

Hmm, ponder this for a moment...

Why are we getting Fat? Why so much Diabetes & Heart Disease?

There is certainly something seriously wrong with our current diet, obesity and it's associated diseases are at pandemic levels. Two governmental reports into the matter, a House of Commons Select Committee report and the Foresight Report concluded the cause of obesity to be 'Gluttony & Sloth' (Overeating and Laziness).

As a result official advice to resolve the issue is simply a matter of reversing the equation i.e. eat less and exercise more.  Is this right? Has it worked for you? Has it ever worked? Well with obesity, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, alzheimers and many more on the increase, it would be fair to suggest not.

You see it takes an extreme amount of effort for this method to work, much more than the average 'joe' has that's for sure.  To eat less and do more just doesn't equate, this is simply because when you do more it increases your appetite and makes you hungry (Read: Best Exercise For Fat Loss).  As you will learn willpower doesn't stand a chance due to the power of a chemical called Ghrelin (the hunger hormone) which gets produced in ever increasing amounts until you give in and feast.  OK more on this later but for now let's move on a little further and look at what else is going on.

You've heard it all before a thousand and one times, choose 5-a-day, low-fat, low cholesterol, low calorie, whole grain. Eat these type of foods in smaller quantities and exercise more to lose weight and be healthy.

These are the core principles of a healthy diet, being commonly accepted by almost all, this is what is known as Conventional Wisdom.

A Paleo Diet v All Other Diets

Yoyo Flow chartOn the back of this we've had quick fix pills , Atkins, Hollywood, Weight Watchers, Slimming World and Dukan, Dash, HCG to name but a few. All of which are short-term temporary solutions, which means once you stop doing as instructed by a particular program, you will almost certainly put all the weight back on plus some additional. These of course are what are known as 'fad' or 'yo-yo' diets due to their unsustainable nature and cycle of weight loss/weight gain. They actively disrupt the bodies metabolism, which is perhaps not the best route when we are focusing on our health.

In addition to add to the confusion over diet we have vegetarianism and even worse veganism. Both of these lifestyle choices focus on some sort of moral high ground at the expense of complete nutrition, long term exposure to these diets is detrimental to health due to the nutritional deficiencies and chemical imbalance caused by a high carbohydrate diet and the absence of essential fatty acids found in meat and fish. Vegetarians are particularly prone to Cancers of the nervous system and reproductive organs.

What is needed is a simple, sustainable, easy to understand that school children can follow and understand. One that stays with you for the rest of your life and doesn't require periodic renewal of diet club or gym memberships, visits and re-visits to clinics. restriction, lack and general misery.

“One of the unintended consequences of decades of terrible health advice (eat low fat foods, avoid red meat and saturated fat, do endless cardio on machines while indoors) is that being healthy becomes miserable drudgery.  Good health and diet should be joyous and life-affirming.  If it isn’t we’re doing it wrong” - J Stanton Gnolls

It is not our intention to point the finger of blame at anyone for the current situation in which we find ourselves. Further reading on this and the historic events that led to the present day situation can be found in the book Why we get fat (and what to do about it) by Gary Taubes, or if you prefer you can watch the shortened video summery below:

If we look at the biological evidence, we find that the cause of obesity to be directly associated to chemical imbalance within the body, causing production of key hormones to be disrupted. Therefore stabilisation of this hormonal imbalance is where we will find the real solution. 

So why should this happen? Why are so many people affected? Why are we getting fatter? Why are we getting sicker?

If you look at the rising numbers of overweight and obese people today and the volume of autoimmune and degenerative disease, Metabolic Syndrome, Cancer, Heart Disease,  Alzheimer's, Parkinson's,  Depression, Arteriosclerosis, Nephritis, Asthma, GERD, Osteoporosis, Stroke.  What you will find is a close correlation with high carbohydrate intake, in particular refined carbohydrates and sugar contained in processed foods which make up a significant proportion of the western diet.

Why is this so? This is the body's response to foods it does not recognise and thus is unable to process in the manner it was designed. We have evolved on a diet high in natural fats, protein with moderate fibrous carbohydrate, increasing seasonally with the availability fruits, you will all be familiar with the term 'fattening up for winter'.

Never in our history have we been exposed to the level of carbohydrate we are today, never in our history have we been in such poor health.

So It's Sugar not Fat making us Fat?

'Healthy' eating is making us fat!
Indeed! our bodies like to operate with stable blood sugar (glucose) and maintain temporary energy stores in our cells, liver and muscles for instant access should we need it. These stores get used up with moderate activity or exercise. When this happens, fat is released from the fat cells to be used as energy.  Consuming processed foods, HFCS, sugar, starchy vegetables and grains causes blood sugar to spike and high levels of insulin to  flood the system in order to stabilise rising blood sugar. Fat normally used for energy when our temporary energy stores are depleted is now locked away due to high insulin levels.

In short refined carbohydrates create an excess of glucose, far more than our temporary stores (muscles and cells) can take or use. High blood sugar is toxic and so it is insulin's job to get rid of it, the only place left is our fat cells where it is delivered via the liver and converted to triglyceride's to allow this to  happen.  Regular exposure to high carbohydrate loading will result in the condition known as insulin intolerance (Type II Diabetes).

But why does the body not recognise these foods as food? Why do they not satisfy our appetite? The fact is that when digested all carbohydrate is transformed into glucose (blood sugar).   The rate at which this happens is what is important as it has a direct impact on the level of insulin production.  Remember fat cannot be used as energy in the presence of insulin.  And insulin is caused to be present in response to eating foods that are high in carbohydrate (refined carbohydrates) which convert easily and quickly into blood sugar.

If you consider our exposure to sugar, fructose, sucrose, dextrose in our diet and compare this to what our ancestors ate, you will notice a huge difference. If you gave a caveman a Mars Bar do you think he would recognise it as food?  Then neither should you!

Our ancestors  matured fast to adulthood and independence, lived healthy active lives then died.  By contrast increasing modern societies spend ages maturing (some much longer than others, some never getting there), live a life of dubious health and well-being and then spend ages getting old and dying.

You Choose...

So how do we really resolve the obesity issue?

What's needed is another radical shift, only this time in the opposite direction. A diet that's aligned to and similar in principle to that on which we evolved, a natural diet of nutritionally dense foods we're genetically designed to eat. This is evolutionary nutrition and when you eat this way, body fat management becomes automated and normal.
You eat when you are hungry and because you're only eating real foods, your body is able to tell you when you've had enough and to process it without any fuss. However as we have learned so far, this is much more than just a diet. It is a sustainable lifestyle, a wise shift away from sugar, HFCS , starchy vegetables, grains & legumes meaning your general health and well being will be at a level you previously thought impossible.

"In the end, we subscribe to perhaps the most Conventional Wisdom of all – the time tested, naturally selected wisdom spanning hundreds of thousands of years, the wisdom, founded in the incontrovertible facts of evolutionary biology, that guided our ancestors. We may not ever change the minds of society at large, but we can make the small – or big – changes in our own lives that will ensure health, longevity, and wellness" - Mark Sissons.

So there you have it, you now know not only what is paleo but also the history, principles behind it and why we all you too should eat this way. Though of course that is up to you, but what is not in question is that Paleo is and always has been...quite simply the world's healthiest diet, it needs no promotion, no marketing, the proof is in the pudding.

Paleo Works!


Anonymous said...

If Paleo is so wonderful how come historians and archaeologists repeatedly inform us that the average age of stone age men and women was only about 30 years of age. It seems to me that that makes nonsense of the argument, not that the diet itself is over hyped but that the stone age comparison is ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

You probably wouldn't live very long either if you were being chased by a vast assortment of wild animals.