I’m fortunate enough to be a co-presenter at the upcoming Ancestral Health Symposium in LA on Aug 5-6, 2011. Dr. Grace Liu and I are talking about gut health and probiotics.
While Paleo is growing in popularity most people still don’t know what it is.
So what is Paleo?
The basic idea is that we and our forebearers (Austrolipithicus and Homo) have been around roughly 2 million years, when our distant ancestors split from the ape line and became omnivorous (not vegetarian, not carnivore) scavenger hunter gathers.
And from about 2 million years to roughly 10,000 years ago we lived without pastoralism (herding; keeping animals like horses, cows, sheeps, chickens, etc.) and without agriculture (so not growing plants).
UPDATE: The exact times for agriculture and animal rearing are under debate and seem to go back farther than the often quoted 10,000 years, but whether it’s 12,000, 15,000, or even 20,000 years, it’s still a relatively short period of time compared to how long our ancestors have been around.
We ate what we could find – which was berries, fruit, leaves, flowers, roots, nuts, and seeds. We hunted small and large animals, and scavenged whatever was available.
Approximately 10,000 years ago we began to settle down and grow plants (primarily grains and tubers) and keep animals. This means that grains and (in some places) dairy began to dominate our diets.
And the result?
Uniformly, worse health. Compared to our scavenger-hunter-gatherer ancestors, our farming and herding ancestors were shorter (poorer nutritional status), had more disease, and died younger. They also had more kids and were able to develop better technology (tools, government, cities, organized religion, armies, etc.), and so they took over the world.
But Paleo says we as individuals paid a big price for our species success, in chronic disease.
And it’s gotten much worse in the past 100 years with the switch to processed, Industrialized food.
So while our great-grandparents ate mostly fresh, local food (vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts & seeds, meat, dairy, a modest amount of sugar and sweets) most of us do not anymore.
We mostly eat food-like items (to quote Michael Pollan). Most common foods in our society are not fresh, not local, not whole, not nutritious, and actually toxic (too much sugar, too many omega-6 vegetable oils, preservatives, artificial colorings, artificial flavoring, pesticide residues, etc.).
And the result?
Our health is much worse than our great-grandparents.
-Hunter-gatherers robust health; virtually no chronic disease, mostly died of injuries or infections
-Agriculturalists moderate health; significant chronic disease, biggest killer infections
-Industrialists (us) poor health; massive chronic disease (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune diseases), relatively little death from infections (although getting worse; this is mostly due to antibiotics and better sanitation)
So what should I do?
At the very least ditch the Industrial diet and eat a more agricultural diet more fresh, whole, local foods. And begin returning back to the health of our more robust great-grandparents.
But better yet, Paleo recommends you ditch the foods that we didn’t eat for roughly 99.995% of our history (10,000 years out of 2,000,000 years): grains and dairy.
So what do you eat?
Meats, vegetables, fruits, tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes), squashes, nuts and seeds. It’s not a meat based diet (unless you want it to be). It’s not a low carb diet (unless you want it to be). It is a nutrient-dense diet.
The results that we’re seeing are massively improved health for almost everyone who tries it. Robb Wolf, a leading proponent of the Paleo diet recommends people try 30 days without dairy and without grains and see what happens.
I can tell you in my clinical practice that of the people who commit, 80-90% see noticeable positive change in their health.
A few resources:
The Paleo community is diverse and has a lot of different opinions. Most of the major names in the movement will be at the Ancestral Health Symposium so if you’re really interested I recommend checking them out.
Two user friendly and reasonable places to begin looking into Paleo are:
If you’re on the fence, is it worth a 30 day trial to see what happens?
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Photo attribution – https://bit.ly/2kZXZFa
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