Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Paleo Diet – Getting Back to the [healthy] Basics

For thousands of years our ancestors in every continent on the planet found all of the nutrients their bodies had evolved to require in the things in nature that surrounded them. In this Paleolithic period of our history, they thrived and were very healthy. In most cases their brains were larger than ours, they were generally taller than we are, and they were far more physically fit than most non-athletes are today.
Most scientists agree that the diet that fueled their health and vitality was quite different from that of most modern westerners, although genetically we remain 99.99% identical to them. Around one-third of the food they ate was wild game they hunted and fish, and the two-thirds balance was derived from berries, seeds, fruits, melons, nuts, bulbs, stalks, roots, leaves, and flowers that they gathered. Meat and fish gave them the essential fatty acids and protein, and meat made up about 65% of their energy intake.
The domesticated, grain fed cattle we eat today is quite different from the wild game our ancestors ate, in that domestic cattle average around 30% total fat, in place of the less than 10% total fat average of wild game. In addition, domestic meat from grain fed animals contains mostly saturated fats, rather than the higher percentage of polyunsaturated fats found in wild game. This means that we now have four times less omega-3 fatty acids than our hunter gatherer ancestors had, and about one and a half times less monounsaturated fat. The human body needs a certain amount and quality of fat for certain processes. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, for instance, cannot be absorbed without it.
Nuts and seeds added other oils and essential fatty acids to our Paleo ancestors diet, and berries and fresh fruits gave them complex carbohydrates and other nutrients. A large part of their diet consisted of gathered vegetables and plants – leaves, flowers, stalks, bulbs, and roots. These were all consumed fresh and raw, which gave them the most benefit from the nutrient rich content and greatly benefited their immune systems.
Grains and small seeds, while they were around, were never ground into powder and cooked for consumption during this Stone Age period. That came only with the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals, two of the most prominent things that marked the beginning of the Neolithic period. These things also began our journey into the mechanized processing of grains and other foods, the addition of pasteurized dairy products into our diet, and our exorbitant intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates.
At the end of the day, one thing is certain. The diet of our Paleolithic ancestors is still the diet that is best suited for our metabolisms today. We thrived for countless centuries consuming only the things that were naturally available, and our bodies needs for maintaining health and vitality remain the same.