“It takes a certain determination and willingness to take responsibility for one’s own wellbeing.” – Gedgaudas
What’s all this Paleo talk about?
The genetic makeup, and therefore, nutritional needs of modern mankind are identical to those that existed more than 40,000 years ago. Shaped by roughly 100,000 or more generations of interaction with our habitat on earth, the human body has achieved an optimal biological design, calculated to thrive in the most challenging of environmental realties. However, with the industrialization of the human diet within the past 10,000 years or so, mankind now faces a new challenge that is much more problematic than challenges experienced by our human successors who survived by means of hunting, gathering, and regular physical labor. Today, factory farmed animals are raised for consumption in stressful, unnatural environments where they are given pesticide-laden feed, antibiotics, and hormones. Fruits and vegetables that were once a seasonal treat are now engineered to grow year around. Today, the human diet is highly processed and contains harmful ingredients that are manufactured in a laboratory. As we lose touch with the primitive nutritional needs that our biochemistry has evolved to require, disease and chronic illness continue plague modern mankind.
So, what did primal humans eat?
Protein; Then and Now. Our primitive ancestors evolved on a diet rich in complete proteins necessary for normal biochemical functioning. In fact, the modern concept of a vegetarian diet would have stirred up a big laugh by hunter-gatherer communities who consumed high-quality organic, unaltered, and free-range meats, eggs, insects, and seafood. Protein is made up of amino acids, 8 of which are essential and must be consumed in the diet. The human body has evolved to utilize amino acids in vital functions that repair, regenerate, and maintain DNA protein structures in the body.
Unfortunately, modern protein vastly differs from the wild animals and insects that fed Paleolithic humans. Today, factory farmed animals, pasteurized dairy, and eggs from caged hens make up the bulk of protein consumption. Harmful hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics that disrupt normal biochemical functioning are used to fatten up the caged animals living in conditions that promote stress and disease. When consumed in excess, toxicity occurs in the body.
Fats; The Prime Commodity. Fat is the efficient, dense, and prolonged burning fuel our bodies used to keep us alive when the world was a very different place. Through extensive permafrosts and droughts, where other food sources were unavailable, our primitive ancestors coveted the nutrient and energy value of this prime commodity. In fact, our extended dependence on fats for survival allowed for the enlargement and development of the human brain. Ketones (compounds produced in fat metabolism) became the preferred energy source to fuel our biochemistry. To this day, relying on ketones instead of glucose for energy will encourage a long, healthy life, starve cancerous cells, and improve cognitive function.
Sadly, decades of industry propaganda surrounding fat consumption have demonized this essential macronutrient for those more concerned about their waistlines. Modern low-fat, no-fat diets promote deficiencies in micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA, and DHA; All important for brain health and cognitive function. The introduction of highly processed, rancid vegetable oils, grain-fed meat, farmed seafood, and hydrogenated fat sources have greatly impacted human wellbeing.
Carbohydrates; A Modern Dietary Phenomenon. Carbohydrates have played a very minimal role in the survival and evolution of mankind, yet they make up the bulk of the human diet today. Did you know that it takes roughly 40 to 100 thousand years for genetic expression to adapt to such a major change in diet? This helps to explain how excessive carbohydrate consumption is closely related to modern disease.
Prior to the agricultural revolution that took place roughly 10,000 years ago, our ancestors thrived on fatty animal proteins and ate limited carbs in the form of fibrous vegetables and greens when seasonally available. As a result the human body evolved to manufacture glucose from dietary protein and fat, deeming carbohydrates virtually unnecessary for the human diet. As we know, most cells in the body prefer to use ketones produced in fat metabolism. Biologically, small amounts of carbohydrate provide glucose to fuel our red blood cells, but too much will lead to toxicity in the body. The modern diet incorporates addictive, refined sugars and nutrient-devoid grains into each meal of the day, often as the main component. Sugar toxicity encourages a myriad of health problems including: cardiovascular disease, elevated triglycerides, obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, cancer, and more.
How is your diet impacting your health?
Hormones: Your Windows to the World.
Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels by guiding glucose into the cells for use by the body. Modern carb consumption provides the body with too much glucose, leading to spiked insulin levels and as a result, spiked leptin levels.
“The functioning of our hormones, specifically insulin and leptin, to a very large extent influence the way we focus on and interpret the world around us and the events in our lives.” – Gedgaudas
Leptin is often referred to as the master hormone. Through the hormones of the metabolic, endocrine, and behavioral systems, leptin controls the body’s response to starvation. Leptin regulates mechanisms that promote appetite and fat storage. However, too much leptin causes the brain to stop responding to this hormone and individuals feel hungry more often, gain weight, and feel fatigued after meals. Elevated levels of insulin and leptin are common side effects the chronic consumption of carbohydrates in the modern diet, leading to over arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. Unhealthy hormone patterns encourage unhealthy arousal patterns and therefore, unhealthy emotional and behavioral propensities like anxiety.
Brain Health: Garbage in, Garbage out.
The human brain developed during the Paleolithic Era with the help of a nutrient-dense diet that was high in healthy fats and low in refined carbohydrates. As wild game is replaced with factory-farmed protein and seasonal fruits and vegetables are replaced with processed grains and engineered crops, the human brain has begun to shrink along with cognitive function. Excessive carb consumption has also left the brain vulnerable to glycation, a condition where glucose sticks to proteins and fats in the blood and hinders blood circulation.
“The brain and body need certain raw materials [nutrients] in order to function – period.” – Gedgaudas
Today, psychotherapy and medications have taken the place of nutrition in an attempt to ameliorate symptoms of various mental disorders. However, these artificial drugs act on the cellular receptors that are designed for our naturally produced chemicals, and diminish our sensitivity to them overtime. Aside from diet, toxic stressors including sugar, starch, gluten, alcohol, heavy metals, excitotoxins, xenoestrogens, GMOs, contaminants, and pollution continue to hinder the human brain.
Questionable Conditions that Characterize the Modern Diet
Grains & Legumes are a main component of the modern diet that did not play a role in human evolution. These modern food sources encourage increased insulin levels and inflammation in the body. They also contain enzyme inhibitors that interfere with their digestion in the stomach and cause digestive issues. These plant-based foods also contain anti-nutrients called phytates. Phytates are substances that bind with minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc and encourage their excretion before they can be properly assimilated for use in the body.
Gluten is a combination of proteins found in modern wheat and grains. One of the proteins, gliaden, is indigestible by human. While most individuals go undiagnosed, gluten sensitivity is very common and disrupts many systems in the body other than just the digestive system. Modern diseases including diabetes, leaky gut, obesity, food sensitivity, autoimmune diseases, autism, colon cancer and epilepsy are often linked to gluten consumption. Gluten also causes inflammation of and reduced blood flow to the brain.
Soy: Today, soy is touted as a high-protein, vegetarian, health food. Most processed, packaged foods in the United States contain genetically modified soy that did not exist in the Paleolithic human diet. Like grains, soy has high levels of phytic acid. Similarly, the trypsin inhibitors in soy actually interfere with the digestion of protein. Soy contains phytoestrogens and goitrogens, harmful compounds that contribute to modern hormone imbalance, thyroid conditions, and disruption to normal endocrine function.
Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids are essential components of the human diet and should be consumed in balance. However, modern diets contain dangerously high omega-6 ratios in the form of hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans-fats, and grain-fed meats. The overabundance of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids has caused a deficiency in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. As a result, inflammatory diseases, mental disorders like ADD, depression, and anxiety, as well as lowered immunity and skin conditions are on the rise.
Trans fat: In order to extend shelf-life, unstable vegetable oils undergo the process of hydrogenation. Unfortunately, hydrogenated oils are designed to mimic naturally occurring saturated fats and are toxic to the human body. Trans-fats increase insulin production, decrease insulin sensitivity, increase harmful free radical activity and raise lipoprotein levels in the blood. Trans-fats should be avoided at all costs.
Cholesterol has many important functions in the body and was a regular part of Paleolithic diets. However, cholesterol has been demonized in the modern diet although research shows no actual link between cholesterol and heart disease. Many extremely important body compounds, like bile acids, sex hormones, adrenal hormones, and vitamin D, are made from cholesterol, which also acts as an antioxidant in the body and is used as a raw material for healing.
Digestion: In order to properly obtain vital nutrients from the diet, one must have sound digestive health. A major component of digestion is hydrochloric acid (HCL), or stomach acid. Without HCL, food lingers and ferments, causing damage and inflammation of the small intestine. HCL deficiency can be caused by carbohydrate rich diets, hyper functioning of the thyroid, or deficiencies in vitamin B1, zinc, vitamin C, overeating, acid blocking medications, chronic stress, and anxiety.
In order to reclaim our primitive health, we must revert to our primitive ways.
- Factory farmed meat, fish, eggs, dairy.
- Genetically engineered foods.
- Rancid, processed fats and oils. Fast food, processed food. Trans-fats.
- Sugars, starches, grains, soy, legumes.
- Organic, free-range, antibiotic and hormone-free animal products. Wild-caught fatty fish. Full-fat, raw or fermented dairy products.
- Organic, seasonal, non-starchy vegetables. Limited seeds, nuts, and fruit.
- Stable saturated, monounsaturated, and balanced omega-6:omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
- Regular physical activity and water.
Sources: Koehler, D. (Professor) (2015, December). Nutrients. Lecture, Nutrition Therapy Institute, Inc. Denver. Primal Body, Primal Mind: Beyond the Paleo Diet for Total Health and a Longer Life, Nora Gedgaudas, ISBN 13: 978-‐159774133, 2011