Nagy column: It's 2012, so eat like a caveman
t’s that time of the year. The time when we all decide we’re going to be healthy and eat better. The question that frequently arises is, what is the best diet for me to follow? The answer to this question has been so varied and changed so frequently over the years that it’s no wonder we all suffer from analysis paralysis when trying to decide what we should be putting into our mouths. We have been influenced by nutritional researchers, our doctors and our government and look at the sad state we’re currently in. Let’s try empiric logic and attempt to discover what we should be eating based on what our genes dictate. We couldn’t do any worse.
The new diet I am recommending is actually 60,000-100,000 years old. It is called the Paleolithic, or Caveman diet. Simply, if you can hunt it, fish it, pull it off of a tree or out of the ground, then you can eat it. Simple as that. This is how we ate thousands of years ago and how we have evolved to eat and should be eating now. Back in Paleolithic times there were no processed foods or food manufacturers. Another basic recommendation is, eat what you are. We are primarily composed of protein and fat and very little carbohydrate. We don’t need to spend millions of dollars to figure that out.
On this diet, if it comes in a package, box, bag or can, or if it is passed to you through a window, it’s off the menu. If it’s a plant, you can eat it; if it’s made in a plant, forget it. Paleolithic man pretty much ate at home and did not go “out” to eat three to five times per week. Other requirements of this diet include the elimination of grains, dairy and legumes (I can hear the groans now).
Nutritional Anthropology is the study of how our ancestors ate. There is a clear and significant difference in our ancestral hunter-gatherer (HG) population versus our agriculturalist population. Ancestral skeletal remains demonstrate that HG’s had fewer cavities, less bone malformations consistent with malnutrition and infection, little to no signs of mineral deficiency and a longer lifespan. The anthropological record so clearly demonstrates the health differences between the HG population and the agriculturalist population that it is striking this connection is only now coming to light.
We are nearly genetically identical to our early homo sapien ancestors from 100,000-200,000 years ago, and our dietary habits should reflect this. Grains were not a part of our diet then and really shouldn’t be now. There is much scientific literature demonstrating the harmful effects of grains and their nutrient value is not on par with what most people think or are told. Look up the nutrient profile of grains on the USDA nutrient database website and you’ll be in for a surprise. “Whole grains” are digested more slowly than refined grains but they’re still grains and potentially even worse for you. I would recommend you read the book, “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis to gain more insight into this topic. The elimination of grains from the diet will result in weight loss and often correction of many medical problems that otherwise have not resolved despite optimal medical treatment.
Other food groups that would also be eliminated from a Paleolithic diet would be dairy and legumes. What other animal consumes the milk of another animal its entire life? This does not even consider the hormones used and the less than optimal way dairy cattle are raised. Legumes have many of the similar problems that grains do. Grains, dairy and legumes all contain gut-irritating proteins, antinutrients and enzyme inhibitors. Anything that is damaging to the gut can lead to systemic illness, much of which we are currently seeing an increase in America.
A Paleolithic diet consists primarily of whole foods, animal protein — preferably from grass-fed and wild-caught species — fruits in limited amounts, nuts and good oils (olive, fish and coconut oil). Elimination of vegetable oils such as canola, corn, soybean and safflower oil is imperative as these omega-6 oils lead to systemic inflammation, one of the root causes of all illness. Trans fats (hydrogenated oils) are absolutely off limits.
The Paleolithic diet decreases carbohydrate intake and increases fat intake. Fat has been vilified for years as the primary cause of obesity and heart disease, neither of which is true. There are many societies, such as the Inuits (Eskimos) and the Masai (Kenya), which consume approximately 60 percent or more of their diet as fat, and in these cultures, heart disease is nearly non-existent. Carbohydrates are a big stimulus of heart disease as they are responsible for the formation of small particle LDL, which is associated with heart disease. The LDL that fat produces is large particle LDL and is not involved in the development of plaque as small particle LDL is.
The advantage of the Paleo diet is that it controls and diminishes the release of insulin. High insulin levels promote aging and play a large role in many of the chronic degenerative diseases of aging, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. Diabetes is rampant and only growing worse. Restriction of carbohydrate intake and utilization of fats and protein for energy has a positive effect on many bodily systems. It is carbohydrates that are driving our disease-ridden society and the more they are appropriately restricted, the healthier we all will be. Control carbs and you control insulin. Control insulin and you will help control inflammation, thereby taking a huge step in living a healthy life.
I encourage you to explore these topics further. You will learn the fact that we can stray from what our genes dictate but ultimately we will pay the price, as we are doing now. Our destiny is not dictated by our genes but by how we influence them with the daily lifestyle choices we make. That my friends, is the definition of epigenetics and nutrigenomics.
Sources for more information are, “The Paleo Solution” by Robb Wolf, “The Primal Blueprint” by Mark Sisson and “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It” by Gary Taubes. All of these books delve deeply into the topics above and fully explain why a Paleolithic diet is a wise choice. Implementation in a stepwise fashion can be found in Mark Sisson’s “21-Day Total Body Transformation.” If you would like to see this concept in visual form, check out “Paleo in a Nutshell” on YouTube, www.youtube.com/ watch?v=uCFZoqmKf5M .
Change your diet and change your life, likely for the better. Get off the carbohydrate-loaded, over-processed American diet, lose weight, feed your brain and eradicate many of the problems from which you currently suffer. This is all possible if you eat in congruency with what your genes dictate. As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
Christopher K. Nagy M.D. is the director of Your Personal Wellness Center (www.yourpersonalwellnesscenter.com) and also an orthopaedic surgeon with Salisbury Orthopaedic Associates. Sign up for his free health newsletter on the website.