For a while, I felt left out… out of the loop… But, I just couldn’t buy into the whole Paleo diet, and now I know why.
I know, I know… “But, grains are slowly killing you!!!“, the Paleos all cry! For those of you who haven’t heard of the Paleo diet; it’s a diet that is meant to mimic the way our Paleolithic ancestors ate. The Paleo diet says to eat lots of veggies, fruit, meat and eggs. Foods like, grains, dairy, sugar and processed foods are out. While I do love the idea that eating paleo means cutting out processed food and refined sugar from the diet, I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of it. Historically, the idea behind going Paleo just doesn’t add up. And, ethically, there is no way in hell I can justify anyone eating heaps of cute furry animals just to follow a new fangled diet idea (and I’ll explain why the modern version of Paleo is actually just a fad). Everyone struggles with dieting though at some point in their life, if you are currently struggling with your diet, then it might be a good idea to check out something like this Discussdiets.com website to help you lose weight and become healthier.
A Short History Lesson
Research states that Paleolithic people lived between 1.5 million and 10,000 years ago during the stone age, before the agricultural revolution. According to anthropological studies, Paleolithic people were hunter gatherers and would have been opportunistic eaters. Basically, they would have eaten pretty much anything they could lay their hands on. These people lived EXTREMELY physically active lives and also lived in areas of very low population density (1 per square mile). Life was tough for the Paloelithics, but in general, they were very healthy people. They would have eaten plants, fruits, nuts seeds, roots, seeds, grains, BUGS, and maybe some eggs, fish and non-domesticated animals (as in, they would have eaten mostly lean, gamey meat like squirrels and rabbits, that they were lucky enough to snag with their stone spears). The life expectancy of a Paleolithic person was something like 33 years from birth, which is actually not too shabby, if you take into consideration frequency of physical injury, infant and child mortality and lack of modern medicine.
As time went on, research believes that human ancestors entered the next phase of evolutionary history; the Neolithic Era. People started farming and domesticating large animals. They started living in more permanent settlements and they started living in areas of higher population density. Studies from that era show that humans started to become unhealthy! Oh my! Archeological digs found that Neolithic human’s teeth from this era were riddled with cavities, people started dying of diseases and famine. Life expectancy also dropped to an all time low of 20 years old! Also, around this time, bone structure and something called ‘pelvic inlet depth‘ changed. In other words, we stopped looking so cave-man-like and our pelvic size became smaller (which unfortunately meant that women had a harder time delivering babies).
Here’s where the Paleo diet advocates get all excited over… “SEE, it’s farming and eating grains that caused the demise of human health!” Some Paleo advocates even believe that grains are responsible for the physiological change in bone structure! It’s true, some people really believe that when humans started eating grains, all of mankind has started suffered since then… But, um… HELLO?!?! Animal domestication!? Less physical activity!? Higher population density?! Sanitation was poor and population density increased as humans became less nomadic. People started living in close proximity to large domestic animals (as in, they lived close to animal parasites, feces and urine). So, there were MANY reasons behind the demise of human health. Let’s not be grain haters without a good reason!
Why the Paleos are Grain Haters
Poor Old Gluten
My room mate in uni was a celiac, and so sensitive to gluten (found in wheat), that she wouldn’t even share the same kitchen utensils as us. Even people without celiacs disease can be sensitive to wheat. Some people claim that ALL people are sensitive to wheat, and we just don’t know it… Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve searched high and low and cannot find a single study to prove that ALL people are sensitive to gluten. Although many people who go off of gluten, report feeling more energized and healthy when they cut gluten out of the diet. For me, I actually feel the opposite. I like eating gluten! Yes! I said it! I LIKE WHEAT! (GASP) I like how it makes me feel grounded. I like how it makes me feel like I’ve eaten something. Again, not saying that it’s good for everyone, because I can’t speak for all people. But, I’m pretty in tune with my body, and for me, I’ve never noticed any adverse affects from eating a moderate amount of gluten (maybe if I ate a pound of seitan, I would feel it). Also, gluten is actually a very good source of fibre and protein.
Phytic acid in grains: the supposed ‘villan’ anti-nutrient, not such a bad guy after all.
Phytic acid really gets ragged on by the Paleos. It is found in plants, particularly in the bran and seeds (in other words, grains and legumes). Phytic acid is undigestable and interferes with the body’s absorption of minerals, such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. To what degree phytic acid interferes with absorption of minerals, is questionable. Studies have shown that phytic acid interfering with mineral absorption only becomes a problem in low income countries, where the diet is not varied and where only one or two grain crops are the primary source of food. Preparing grains properly, by soaking, sprouting and cooking, will reduce the amount of phytic acid. Also, eating a varied diet, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables would ensure that you’re absorbing the right amount of nutrients. Also, in some scientific studies, phytic acid has actually been found to be beneficial to people as it contains anti-cancerous and and antioxidant properties.
Grain, tooth decay and your body’s pH
The Paleos like to blame grains for tooth decay and causing acidity in the body (acidity in the body can potentially cause a whole slew of problems). Well, it is true that eating lots of refined grains (like bleached flour) will affect the pH of your body. A low pH (acidic) that stems from diet, over a long period of time, combined with other factors, such as stress, changes in bacteria colonies in your mouth, hormones, and environment, can also lead down the path to tooth decay (I’m quoting my holistic dentist here). But, grains are not the sole perpetrators for changing pH in the body and causing tooth decay! For the record, meat, fish, eggs, refined sugar and many fruits are also extremely acid forming!
The Paleo Diet is Unsustainable, Unethical and Not in Line with Human Physiology
No matter if you eat a cow that was raised in your backyard, or one that came from half way around the world, eating a meat based diet will never be as sustainable as eating plant based foods in today’s world, with 7 billion people. Never. The amount of natural resources required to make one animal grow will always be far greater than the amount of natural resources needed to grow some plants. Also, cows and other ruminant animals fart a lot and produce a lot of waste. Their farts contribute to producing green house gases and their blood, urine and feces create huge amounts of pollution. Slaughtering of animals produces a lot of waste, unless you’re an eskimo and use 100% of the animal. And, no matter how you kill an animal, it’s not really too nice, now is it… especially if you eat lots and lots of meat at every meal. Of course, some people actually kill their own animals… at least they know what’s involved with getting the food to their plate! Going to the butcher to buy a nicely package of grass fed beef is nice… but I wonder how many people would eat meat if they had to do the killing themselves (I pick my own spinach, by the way).
Human Physiology and Diet
Did you know, it can take up to 72 hours for the human body to digest meat! Fruits, veggies, grains, dairy and eggs take far less, anywhere from 1 to 6 hours respectively. It takes humans so long to digest meat because we have very long digestive tracts (other plant eating animals also have long digestive tracts). Carnivorous animals (like members of the cat family) have very short digestive tracts. Also, if you look at human’s teeth, you will find a *few* sharp teeth for ripping and tearing, but the majority of the surface area of our teeth is flat and wide… good for chewing and grinding things like plant matter. I’m not saying we all have to be vegetarian, but if you look at the proportion of how much meat people tend to eat (Paleo or not), we should think a bit about basic physiology of the human body to determine if our bodies are meant to be eating piles of meat in the first place. The real Paleolithic people would not have been eating cows, chickens, lambs or pigs. Rather, they would have been foraging in the nearby forest to grab whatever they could.
Remember Atkins and Other Diet Trends?
First, everyone had candida. Then, everyone was supposed to eat raw. Then, everyone was supposed to stop eating gluten. Then, Atkins (remember the guy who died of his own diet). Now, everyone should be Paleo… hmm… do we see a trend? Keep in mind, Paleo is extremely similar to Atkins; high protein, low carb.
Ok, Mrs. Smarty Pants, What Am I Supposed to Eat Instead
If you want to learn a real ‘diet trend‘ that is based on science and 5,000 years of research, check out Ayurveda. Ayurveda is based on ancient knowledge of the body and food. It caters to individual needs and it never says that there is a ‘one size fits all‘ diet for anyone.
Also, if you’re still suspicious of grains, you might want to try some of the ancient grains, like quinoa, amaranth, sorghum and millet. It is true, that grains such as wheat, corn and rice have been genetically altered over time. I’m not talking a full on GMO, but rather, genetically modified through artificial human selection… like making flowers have sex!
I know that the Paleo diet is well meaning, and that many people are actually improving their health from it. But, I have to believe that most people on the Paleo diet are improving their health, mostly because they’re becoming more conscious of what they eat and are eating less garbage than they were before. It’s just a shame that there is so much lacking information and assumptions made when it comes to these diet trends that seem to come and go every few years. Now, I still do like eating some paleo foods here and there, and for certain people with allergies or sensitivities, then Paleo is probably a great way to go. But.. are grains really killing us? Do we need to eat lots and lots of meat in order to be healthy… I don’t think so. Do you?
P.S. A lot of my friends love Paleo diet stuff… and I love you all…
A.A. López-González, F. Grases, P. Roca, B. Mari, M.T. Vicente-Herrero, and A. Costa-Bauzá. Journal of Medicinal Food. December 2008, 11(4): 747-752. http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2008.0087
John N.A. Lott1, Irene Ockenden, Victor Raboy and Graeme D. Batten (2000). Phytic acid and phosphorus in crop seeds and fruits: a global estimate. Seed Science Research, 10, pp 11-33. doi:10.1017/S0960258500000039. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract;jsessionid=8E42D1F6A3B1FDD999AD90B23F07A12F.journals?fromPage=online&aid=693720
Gibson RS, Baily KB, Gibbs M, Fergeson EL. (2010). A review of phytate, iron, zinc and calcium concentrates in plant-based complimentary foods used in low-income countries and implications for bioavailability. Food and Nutrition Bulletin. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20715598
I love this dietician’s article on phytic acid, and found most of my resources from his article: http://breakingmuscle.com/nutrition/dissecting-anti-nutrients-the-good-and-bad-of-phytic-acid
Disclaimer: I am not a dietician and I’m not recommending anyone to go on any certain type of diet! Before going on any diet or when considering food choices, you need to take into consideration your individual needs. Speaking to a dietician or ayurvedic doctor is advisable.