Friday, July 20, 2012

The Paleolithic Diet and Lifestyle

One thing I have not touched on in this blog is the subject of food and diet. I'm sure I don't need to explain the phenomenon of how many women, if not MOST women, in western society are very conscious of their weight and waistlines- how even the most of beautiful women obsess over their eating habits. There is also an obesity epidemic spreading across the western world and no one seems to agree as to what's causing it or how to stop it.

The reason I hadn't touched on this until now is that healthy eating was something I did not fully understand. I was confused and frankly annoyed with all of these untangible words like "carbs","calories", "glucose". I had a BASIC knowledge of them, but I didn't really pay attention to what foods they pertained to. When I started to research them a bit, the information overwhelmed me and I quit. There is so much contradicting information out there about what you should eat and what you shouldn't eat. My search for the truth behind healthy eating habits was too frustrating, and I gave up. (And this says something because I love learning)

It wasn't until recently when I, perhaps at the back-end of the bell curve, learned of the paleolithic diet, that I finally found information rooted in fact and common sense, that is so simple, it's beautiful.

The paleolithic diet, aka "the caveman diet", follows the simple idea that up until very recently in human history, humans have been hunters and gatherers of the land and our bodies have not evolved away from those ancient eating habits. What many people fail to recognize is how incredibly young the human race really is ans how incredibly long evolution takes.

Just glance at these quick facts to get a perspective of how young humanity is and how long evolution takes...
  • The Earth is approximately 4.55 billion years old.
  • Dinosaurs lived 245 million years ago and existed for about 180 million years
  • Whales originated from an amphibious jungle mammel resembling a crocodile called the ambulocetus. Primitive whales first took to the sea about 50 million years ago and became fully aquatic about 5–10 million years later
  • The modern homo sapien is only 50 thousand years old
  • Bread become a staple food in Europe 10 thousand years ago
  • The dawn of Ancient Egyptian civilization was 5 thousand years ago.
It took whales 5-10 million years to adjust from semi-aquatic to fully aquatic. Bread has only been around for 10 thousand years. Keeping these facts in mind, it makes sense that our bodies are still equipped for the hunter/gatherer diet rather than that of breads, cheese, and processed foods in general. We just have not had enough time to evolve our bodies to handle the diet change.

The Paleo Diet suggests that the closer the food is to nature the better. Our bodies and system of nature are so complex that we do not have the means to substitute the natural nourishment that come from the Earth. And even though the system is complex, our needs are simple: eat meats, vegetables, nuts, and berries. Be the omnivores we are. Of all the theories I've heard about healthy eating, this is the simplest and it makes the most sense... it really does.

The biggest misconception I had prior to my research was on the subject of grains. I thought grains to be healthy. They were at the very base of the food pyramid that was ingrained in me as a kid! I'm not an expert, by any means, but here is my understanding of it. Breads contain grains, and it's the glucose in the bread that hold the grains together and give it that fluffiness when it rises. When bread breaks down it becomes sugar. My Dad teaches a Chemistry Nutrition high school class and he has his students chew a piece of bread in there mouth for several minutes, and after some time, the students will taste a sweetness in their mouth because they have broken down the bread so much that they are able to taste the sugars. As you know, today's society has been molded and shaped to incorporate processed foods as the norm. Just think about all of the different staple "healthy" dishes that grain is used in like pasta, sandwiches, pizza, and cereal.

Today's society has a skewed view of what health really is. Just because everyone says that cereal is healthy and because it has a big red heart and some sort of health certification on the front of the box doesn't mean that it's good for us. We need to stop trusting the boxes and labels and trusting the colors of foods without labels. My preschool taught me way back in the days in Hong Kong that your plate should look like a box of crayons. You should have a variety of different foods a day and the variety of color in natural foods is a quick indicator of all the different nutrients you are ingesting.

If you are looking to try the paleolithic diet, this is what I'll suggest:

Start out with the 80/20 rule. If you eat well 80 percent of the time, you can leave a little sanity room for cheating a bit. You aren't going to blow up like a balloon if you eat a piece of toast or a bit of cheddar cheese with your eggs and bacon. The 80/20 rule will allow the change to be natural and enjoyable rather than a painful sacrifice. You want to feel good about the way you eat.You don't want to feel like a martyr. Once you start eating the Paleo way for an extended period of time, you will get to the point where you don't even desire processed foods anymore... it just won't even seem appealing.

In addition to the way that we eat, we must also alter the way we work and conduct our every day lives. The Paleolithic lifestyle includes doing more natural physical activity on a daily basis...not just going to the gym, but walking to the grocery store, lifting boxes onto your garage shelf, doing yard work. In this modern era of cars and office jobs, physical activity is sometimes hard to come by. Our bodies were built to be workers hunting and gathering all day, and yet the modern "successful"  human spends most of their time at a desk. It is important to remember who we are and where we come from, and I'm sure that everyone knows that I'm talking about when I say how fulfilling it is to go to bed after a long day of physical work. Ever spent a day chopping down trees or staining a deck and you lay in bed at the end of the day so exhausted you can barely move and how wonderful that feels? It's the way humans are supposed to feel.

There are a lot of writings on the topic of the Paleolithic lifestyle if you wish to read up on the topic further.
I hope this post has given you something to think about. Good luck with your own search and journey towards personal health!