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    Archive for the ‘Paleolithic Diet’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: The Paleolithic Diet (Part 2)

    paleo manI came across this webpage, which details the main claims made by The Paleolithic Diet crowd, especially in regards to why we shouldn’t eat grains.

    I am interested in knowing your thoughts on it.

    — Sean Murphy
    (Location Unknown)

    Oh, wow.  I have plenty to say.  My comments are in red.

    “It’s good to point out that grains and soy aren’t edible in nature without processing and so it’s safe to assume we haven’t eaten them for millions of years.”

    So what if they aren’t edible in nature?  Sugarcane, for instance, is edible in nature.  Does that mean pure sugarcane is “good for us”?

    In any case, since sugarcane is edible in nature, then clearly the human body has digested sucrose for hundreds of thousands of years (this will come in useful a bit later when debunking another Paleo Diet claim).

    “When you take a slice of bread and crush it in your hand, you are virtually eating that amount of refined sugar. The problem is that that amount of sugar elevates the bloodsugar levels amazingly fast and causes your pancreas to produce lots and lots of insulin to metabolise it.”

    This statement is overly simplistic.  After all, not all bread is created equal.  A whole grain bread has a different effect on blood sugar than a refined type.

    Besides, eating two slices of white bread by themselves is, from a glycemic (blood sugar) standpoint, very different from having a sandwich (made with slices of white bread) filled with tofu, avocado, and hummus.  The presence of additional protein, fiber, and fat in that sandwich greatly decrease the bread’s effect on blood sugar levels.

    Additionally, keep in mind that white bread was the “standard” bread sixty or so years ago, when diabetes and obesity rates were much, much lower.  If white bread in and of itself were a hideous food that caused everyone to get sick, why didn’t we see today’s disease and obesity rates back then?

    The problem isn’t refined flour itself as it is the amount and frequency in which it is eaten.

    Today’s health problems are mainly attributed to two things:  people are consuming too many calories, and these calories mostly come from nutritionally empty, overly refined foods.

    Blaming problems on “grains and soy” is too simplistic.  A tempeh and brown rice stir-fry is not akin to eating a 1,400 calorie bowl of pasta along with six breadsticks at the Olive Garden.

    “Further, many grains contain a lot of allergens which upset your immune system and causes the development of allergies. Imagine this: Humans have never in their evolution of millions of years eaten grains and
    now, since only 4.000-10.000 years ago, we are relying on this food.   Our genes aren’t adapted to these foods. Grains are in fact incompatible with humans (and also dogs and cats and many mammals)…”

    What do allergens have to do with anything?  Some people are allergic to shellfish, eggs, and tree nuts.  So, if allergens are such a concern, why only point the finger at grains?

    Also, if grains are incompatible with humans, how come our digestive enzymes are able to break them down?  An incompatibility would mean our bodies would not know what to do with them.

    Whoever wrote this apparently isn’t aware that humans have salivary amylase in their mouths, an enzyme that is designed for carbohydrate digestion (and especially for starches!)

    “Humans are not adapted to eat such amounts of concentrated carbohydrates and the pancreas (and adrenals) aren’t fit to the job.  Over time one will develop insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, [and Type-2] diabetes.”

    Those conditions develop as a result of unhealthy eating patterns, which, yes, can include consuming too many refined grains, but mainly come back to the problem of consuming too many calories.

    A lot of the Mediterranean countries, which originally had one of the healthiest diets, consumed refined grains.  Of course, their diets were also heavy on fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and healthy oils, but their grains were mostly refined.  The key is they these grains made up a small portion of their diets.  There were no six ounce bagels or 500 calorie muffins in 19th century Italy.

    “You could eat the grains unrefined, but then a lot of antinutrients will remain. Antinutrients are substances that bind to essential nutrients in the digestive tract.”

    Antinutrients also have some positive benefits. Additionally, antinutrients are only a concern if your diet is entirely made up of that ONE food.  For instance, if a rural part of Africa is sent  massive amounts of one grain crop to subsist on, you can certainly expect to see deficiencies in that population

    However, if your diet contains whole grains along with other foods, antinutrients are not a concern.

    Keep in mind, too, that many foods and beverages (i.e.: spinach, tea, tomatoes, and almonds) also have antinutrients.  So, again, why are grains singled out?

    “Another problems with grains and soy bean it that they can’t be eaten raw, which only allows us to eat them cooked. Cooking essentially damages all foods. The more you eat raw, the better you will feel..”

    Not necessarily.  While most foods provide the highest level of phytonutrients when consumed in a raw or lightly cooked state, cooking makes some nutrients MORE available and absorbable.

    Also, does this argument mean that all meat products should be eaten raw?

    And what about eggs?  After all, raw egg whites contain a substance that prevents the absorption of biotin and vitamin B6.  Cooking eggs makes those two nutrients absorbable.

    “I forgot perhaps the most important reason why grains are bad: They are very hard to digest properly. They need to be digested in two phases.  First, the starches, which are very long chains of carbohydrate molecules, must be seperated [sic] into small pieces consisting of 2 glucose molecules. This is called maltose (or isomaltose).

    Next, the intestines need to produce enough enzymes (maltase) to digest the maltose into the elemental glucose molecules. As you see, quite a lot of work.  The problem is that the human body isn’t fit for this job and
    a part of the starch isn’t absorbed and descends into the large intestines, feeding critters, causing inflammation, gasses, damage to the wall of the intestines, and other problems.”

    I don’t understand the significance of grains being digested in two phases.  Protein, for instance, is partially digested in the stomach and then in the small intestine (therefore also considered a two-phase process).

    As for the claims that carbohydrate digestion is a lot of work.  How so?  After all, it takes more time for meat to travel through the digestive system than, say, a slice of whole wheat bread.

    Remember the point I made about raw sugarcane at the beginning of this post?  Let’s ponder that for a second.  Sugar cane is is raw and unprocessed, and is contains sucrose (which is eventually broken down into glucose and fructose).  As far as our bodies are concerned, there is no difference between raw sugar cane and a packet of table sugar.

    There is sufficient evidence to believe raw  sugar cane was consumed in the Paleolithic Era, which means the arguments that humans are not equipped to digest carbohydrates falls flat.

    As for unabsorbed starch traveling to the large intestine and “feeding critters” — that’s actually a GOOD thing!  This is commonly referred to as resistant starch, and it promotes healthy bacteria growth in the colon.

    “Compare this to fruit and honey, which are predigested foods. They primarily contain glucose and fructose, which don’t need to be digested at all and can be absorbed painlessly by the intestines. Because everything is easily absorbed it can’t feed the critters.”

    These “critters” are actually health-promoting bacteria!  So, as I explained in the previous paragraph, feeding them is very beneficial.

    “As for the problem of not getting enough carbs: No such problem exists.  Carbohydrates are optional. You can survive and feel perfectly healthy on a zero-carbohydrate diet.”

    Wow, this is entirely wrong. Not to mention, it completely goes against basic knowledge of paleolithic dietary  habits, since fecal matter studies have concluded that these populations ate very high fiber diets.

    In any case, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy.

    If you don’t consume ANY carbohydrates, protein and fat are instead used for energy, in turn not allowing them to be used for their specific purposes!

    One of the main reasons for getting a sufficient amount of carbohydrate in your diet is for “protein sparing” — that is, to allow protein to do what it needs to do.

    Imagine that you own a large apartment building with 50 units.  You have a doorman, a facilities manager, and a valet parking attendant.

    Imagine that each one of those is fats, carbohydrates, and protein.  If you eliminate one of those positions entirely and ask the other two people to take on the additional work, they won’t be doing THEIR jobs quite as effectively anymore.

    The same thing happens with nutrients.  In the same way that fats can not be used to replace protein, neither can protein replace carbohydrates.

    From an evolutionary standpoint, if carbohydrates are unnecessary, why, then, do we have salivary amylase, which is exclusively used for starch digestion?


    It scares me that such misinformation is so easily available.

    I also like how these Paleolithic Diet fanatics go on and on about the evils of grains and the wonders of meat while eating meat from grain-fed cows.

    Meanwhile, physical activity is completely left out of the conversation.  Want to be more like your Paleolithic ancestor?  Then get off the computer, unplug your television, and move around a little more!


    You Ask, I Answer: The Paleolithic Diet (Part 1)

    ancient_manI’d really love to hear your thoughts about The Paleolithic Diet/The Caveman Diet.

    What do you think about [its main] claim that we simply haven’t adapted to relatively new modern foods that became available about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture (like grains and beans), and that ones we have evolved to eat [– the ones eaten by hunter/gatherers tens of thousands of years ago, mainly meats –] are much easier on digestion and better for health?

    — Sean Murphy
    (Location unknown)

    Let’s start on a positive note.  The one thing I like about the “Paleo diet” is that it advocates one very important point that I agree with — eat foods that are as close to nature as possible (ie: instead of drinking apple juice, eat an apple; instead of munching on onion rings, have onion slices in a salad, etc.).

    The “eat closer to nature” ideology makes perfect sense — heavily processed foods tend to be high in calories, saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.  They are also low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

    Now let’s get to the fun part — the barrage of issues I have with this style of eating.

    Number one: the connection between “prehistoric” eating patterns and health is a stretch.  Our “Paleo” ancestors lived approximately half as long as the average adult in today’s first-world countries.  Would they have developed cancers and other diseases if they lived to be, say, 80?  We don’t really know.

    Similarly, we have no way of knowing what was happening with hunter-gatherers from a biochemical perspective.  Were they, for instance, deficient in any nutrients?

    One also has to wonder how nutritious their diets were, seeing as how they were 100% local and seasonal.  Depending on where these groups of people lived, they may not have had access to a diverse enough supply of food to cover all nutrients.

    Also keep in mind that certain foods, like bananas, were not eaten on a global scale until they could be transported thousands of miles from their original locations.  So, then, one could “make the case” that, from an evolutionary perspective, people in Norway — where bananas do not grow — are not “designed” to eat them.  Clearly, though, the introduction of bananas to the Norwegian population did not have any negative health effects, nor did their bodies not know how to digest them.

    The same could be said for other foods.  Olive oil is now customarily eaten around the world, but it was originally only available to a very small part of the population.  Same thing with avocados, blueberries, and raspberries.  If someone were to truly argue a Paleo diet, they would also have to make the case that people who currently live in parts of the world where blueberries don’t grow shouldn’t eat them since hunter-gatherers in that area weren’t eating them.  It’s a silly argument full of holes.

    Keep in mind that our bodies are perfectly equipped to digest the three macronutrients — fat, protein, and carbohydrates — thanks to specific enzymes produced by the pancreas.

    There are, of course, situations like lactose intolerance, where some people can’t produce enough of one enzyme (with lactose intolerance, we are talking about the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the naturally-occurring sugar in milk).

    However, it makes absolutely no sense to claim that the body can break down animal protein just fine but “isn’t equipped” to digest the protein in chickpeas.  That has absolutely no scientific basis and is easily refuted.

    The Paleolithic Diet fails to acknowledge a very important factor — that these diets were healthier than today’s “Standard American Diet” because of what was NOT consumed.

    Trust me, beans and whole grains are not behind rising obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates.  Today’s health problems can be easily traced back to excesses in calories, added sugars (which do not contribute to a feeling of fullness, thereby making it easy to overconsume them), omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fats in animal products, trans fat, and sodium.

    Another VERY important factor that gets left out of this conversation?  Physical activity!  Hunter-gatherers were not sitting in office chairs for 8 hours, driving in their cars while sipping a 42-ounce Big Gulp, or laying in front of the TV for hours.  When you talk about health, you can not ignore the huge role physical activity plays.

    You can never go wrong eating a less processed diet.  However, there is no reason to shun whole grains, beans, or legumes under the guise of eating healthier.


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