In the midst of an increasingly health conscious world, diets are born, and just as fast as they spring up, many of these same diets die out. But there is a diet that was born thousands and thousands of years ago, died, and is now making its way back into modern times. What diet, you may wonder, am I talking about? It is the diet of our ancestors from the Paleolithic era, also known as the paleo diet. So what’s all the rave about this diet? Why would anyone want to eat like a caveman in the year 2014?
The answer lies with the improvement of symptoms experienced by those who suffer from autoimmune diseases such as Celiac’s Disease or Type 1 Diabetes. This alternative diet can also benefit those who just want to achieve a healthy lifestyle in general, and contrary to popular opinion, can even be practiced by endurance athletes.
The paleo diet consists of those whole foods eaten by our ancestors in the Paleolithic era including fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts. This diet avoids grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars and salt, and processed oils as these foods contain antinutrients such as gliadin, gluten, lectins, lactose and casein.
Antinutrients, as the name suggests, can be harmful to our bodies. Certain amino acid sequences of the antinutrients mimic amino acid sequences in human tissue. These mimicking molecules get into our circulation, confuse our immune system, and generate an autoimmune response whereby our tissue with the similar amino acid sequence is attacked. The immune attack usually involves cell death, as in the case of pancreatic Beta cell death in diabetes, or inflammation, present in many other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Stacking evidence shows that the introduction of farming and sequentially cereal grains and cattle raising was detrimental to the human diet and ultimately their health. The etiology of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 Diabetes, and Celiac’s Disease may be traced back to certain molecules in cereal grains and dairy.
The argument can be made that literally all foods we eat today have been farmed to fit human taste buds. Blueberries are twice the size they used to be, bananas we eat today have been genetically selected and bred over many many years to produce less seeds, as is the story of many other farmed fruits and veggies. Most of the lean meats (grass-fed included) and fish eaten on the paleo diet are farmed and not living in a natural setting like they were in the Paleolithic era.
So, it would be extremely difficult to follow the exact diet of our ancestors, yet it may be healthy to approach our diets similar to how they did—no processed foods, eat seasonally, lean meats, lots of fruits and veggies, and many nuts and seeds.
But overall, it would make sense to avoid the antinutrients that trigger the self-destruction occurring within your body, right? If gluten in wheat is wrecking havoc on your intestines or in your bloodstream, an easy fix is to cut it out of your diet. If something in your diet is causing you discomfort, eliminate the common culprits like wheat and dairy and slowly introduce them back into your diet to see where the problem lies. You may find that cutting out certain antinutrients is the healthy fix you’ve been searching for!
An important question that arises is whether or not the paleo diet can provide adequate energy for endurance athletes who rely on complex carbohydrates to fuel their bodies for long workouts. Since carbohydrate-rich foods like grains and legumes are eliminated in the paleo diet, athletes may wonder if they can continue their regimen while on this diet.
The answer is YOU CAN! New research shows endurance athletes do not need to carb overload all day like they have in the past, as it does nothing for performance. We do know that Recovery Nutrition is key and performance is enhanced when you consume a snack or meal 15-60 minutes after exercise. This is the time to replenish your glycogen stores with carbs! Aim for a 2:1 ratio of carb to protein snack. Carbs from the paleo diet come from fruits, veggies, and nuts, so make sure to incorporate these foods post-workout. Once your stores are replenished, any excess carbs will be either used up or stored as fat, so it is not necessary to over do it on the carbs.
The rest of the day, athletes can eat clean and nutritious meals/snacks. Organic/free range/hormone-free poultry, meats, and eggs provide essential lean protein and nutrients. A common misconception about the paleo diet is that it is mostly meat-centered. While fish and meat are an integral part of the diet, attention should be focused around fruits, veggies, and nut intake as well. Fruits and veggies give us the fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants we need to ward off disease and keep our digestive system running smoothly. Nuts contain good fats such as omega-3 and 6 necessary for proper brain and heart function. Athletes are prone to decreased immune function after long workouts, but eating nutritious, antioxidant-rich foods like those found in the paleo diet can keep an athlete in tiptop shape.
Interested in giving the paleo diet a spin? You can begin by familiarizing yourself with the foods allowed on the diet. Look over the ingredient lists of foods in the grocery store. A tip is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is where most of the whole foods are found. The inside rows usually contain boxed and processed foods that contain ingredients and chemicals unheard of in the days of the cavemen. Get into the caveman mindset.
After a little bit of mind and kitchen preparation, you may find yourself eating like a caveman, enjoying meals you most likely already eat, such as, beef stir-fry or shrimp and roasted veggies. The diet is quite tasty and the fat and protein keeps you full so that you can go about your day hunting and gathering—er, working and playing, whatever it is we all do in 2014 A.D.
Some good websites:
Please call my office at 312.255.8308 if interested in setting up a customized paleo nutrition program.