Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Basic Premise

I come from the perspective that the healthiest diet and circumstances for human beings, body and mind, will be the ones we are evolved for. In practical terms, that means the diet and habits of our Paleolithic ancestors. More recently I've focused my personal research on the nutritional aspects of this theory, and that is where I will begin with my blog posts. Paleolithic psychology is an academic science in it's own right. My particular interest is in where molecular biology, nutrition, and optimal brain function meet.

Let's begin with diet. Ancient humans ate wild game (including marrow and organ meats), shellfish, fish, tubers, green leafy vegetables, eggs, fruits, and nuts. Notably absent are the vegetable oils and highly processed foods created in the last 50 or so years. Grains (corn, wheat, barley, rye, oats, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, etc.), legumes (red and black and pinto beans, legumes, garbanzo beans, peanuts), nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant) and milk products are also relatively new foods to the human palate.

Anthropological evidence and epidemiological studies of modern and past hunter gatherers, as well as agrarian societies of the last 10,000 years, show us that the physical health of hunter gatherers far surpasses the health of grain-based societies (1). They lived longer (until the last 100 years and the invention of antibiotics and vaccines), and were free of diseases such as osteoporosis, metastatic cancer, and tooth decay, and modern hunter gatherers who eat traditional diets do not have diabetes, hypertension, obesity, atherosclerosis, acne, osteoporosis, dementia, or any of the most common cancers that we suffer from in the West.

Traditional agrarian societies were also relatively healthy (2), but they did not consume white flour, vegetable oils, refined sugar, or pasteurized milk products. In addition, they used a number of soaking and fermenting techniques to make grains and legumes healthier. And while some grains may be acceptable after preparation, I believe there may be no hope for wheat.

It is only in our modern world that we have access to entirely invented foods, chemical sugars, processed oils, quick rise breads, and genetically modified soy and wheat. While I will come up with a lot of biochemical smoke to pinpoint the fires in these nouveau foods that I believe are unhealthy, I do that out of intellectual interest rather than necessity. I already know that humans who did not eat those foods were healthier than we are. We'll see if we can find some good evidence that they were happier, too.

The vast majority of our calories should come from foods that are known to be healthy - grassfed beef, pastured chickens and other poultry and their eggs, pastured game meats and pigs, locally grown or organically grown produce, wild fish from unpolluted waters, coconuts and other tree nuts, and olive oil. Fermented and full fat (especially raw, if you are not immunocompromised - very young children and babies, pregnant women, etc.) dairy is also acceptable. Anything that has ingredients you cannot readily pronounce without a background in biochemistry should be, for the most part, avoided, as best you can. If you are a cook and have the time and industry to prepare grains and legumes as they should be prepared, then have at it. Don't worry, more details about the specifics will follow!


  1. Can you define what you mean by "organically grown produce"?
    A local farmer told me his produce doesn't qualify as organic because he uses fertilizer on his fields.

  2. I have been doing homemade kefir from kefir grains for about a year now, not commercial kefir. When I first encountered the idea of the paleo-diet, I did not want to let go of my kefir, and so I have thought it through. It is true that human beings have not had time to adapt to kefir (1000 years), although we have been milk drinkers as infants since the dawn of the mammals. But homemade kefir has had plenty of time to adapt to humans.

    Why is there a problem with commercial apples (lots of fructose)? There used to plenty of wild apples that a paleo family could eat and adapt to. The problem is that agriculture bred apples to have more fructose and be bigger and brighter and more delicious. They sell better this way. In my own life time I have seen apples go from only Red Delicious being sold to perhaps 5 or 10 different kinds being sold.

    But homemade kefir was always a homemade treasure, which was cultured in goat stomachs. Kefir was made to adapt to the nutritional needs of the family, not the pocket books of the farmers. And since kefir is at least 1000 years old, it has had literally about 100,000 generations to adapt to the necessity of keeping the family healthy. The family with the best kefir thrived and their kefir thrived. The family with lousy kefir did not thrive and that kefir was tossed.

    Store bought kefir illustrates the difference between the breeding inside of the family and the breeding for profit. Store bought kefir deliberately takes out most of the beneficial probiotics, partly for shelf life and partly so that customers can't use the old kefir to culture new kefir. Store bought kefir is good for you, but it can't touch the homemade variety.


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