The Paleo diet. You’ve probably heard of it. The idea behind it is that you eat only the food that early humans could have gotten their grubby little fingers on. So no gluten, no dairy, no refined sugars or processed ingredients, and no grains or legumes.
The idea of eating like our ancestors makes a lot of sense, in a lot of ways. After all, it’s how humans have eaten for approximately 1.5 to 2 million years.
So I’m giving it a go. My plans for this blog, at least at first, involve me becoming a bit of a human guinea pig. I’m going to try various nutritional approaches and report back to you what I learn from each of them. What works and what doesn’t.
Not different “diets,” mind you. I’m looking at lifestyle choices here, not Weight Watchers VS Noom. I’m talking paleo, vegetarian, vegan, Mediterranean, low carb, Whole30, and others.
But before we get started on all this, I have a disclaimer.
“There are three things in life which are very visceral–religion, politics, and nutrition. They’re all based on belief systems, and none of them respond well to challenge. Essentially you say, ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts because, in my heart, I know I’m right.'”Barry Sears, Ph.D., Author of The Zone
Think you can challenge someone’s nutritional views without a bit of emotional backlash? Think again. You’re about as well off telling a Christian you’re not sure about that Jesus character or badmouthing someone’s favorite presidential candidate to them.
I’ve watched my first documentary professing the benefits of paleo (which I will review in my next article). Over half of the negative reviews on the film are from people that have emotionally-charged beliefs about their own nutritional choices that run contrary to the ideas presented in the documentary.
So, there’s a decent chance you’re going to feel an emotional tug here and there when you’re reading my nutrition-based articles. It’s inevitable, especially if you’re already following a particular nutritional approach.
Bear with me, though. Try not to get angry or immediately jump to the defense of other things you’ve heard or already believe. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and read with as open a mind as you can manage.
Why? I’ll bet that every single nutritional approach out there has something we can learn from it. So that’s what we’ll do. We’ll take the good and leave the bad. Let’s try not to let our emotions and pre-existing beliefs get in the way.
Okay, so back to paleo. And here’s where some of you may start getting tugs on your emotional heartstrings.
About 1.5 million years ago, something amazing happened in our evolution. Our brain and cranium size started growing.
According to an analysis of our ancestors’ bones, there’s a good chance that changing our diet to include more meat is what allowed us to evolve into modern-day humans.
Not everyone will agree that eating meat is what made us smarter. But it certainly did seem to coincide with the correct period in our evolutionary history.
You see, there are people called parasite historians–a career path that not many children aspire to follow one day, I’ll bet. They’ve found the same types of tapeworms in both hyenas and early humans, suggesting that they shared booty from scavenged carrion. In other words, they started eating more meat than our ancestors did.
Our brains are a nutritionally demanding organ. If you want to grow a big (and smart!) one, eating meat provides a dietary change to foods of high nutritional value that are easy to digest.
So the timing was right, and the logic behind what meat could’ve done for our brains also makes sense. That’s what’s leading many historians to connect meat-eating with those fantastic changes in our evolutionary history.
But just because we used to eat a certain way–even if it made us smarter–doesn’t make it perfect. It doesn’t mean there’s no room at all for improvements. And I feel like that’s something that paleo is failing to account for.
Or maybe not. There are varying degrees of paleo. Some people stick to the very basics. If our ancestors couldn’t eat it, they don’t. But others have started to loosen up a bit and allow things like clarified butter from grass-fed cows or apple cider vinegar. These things have a lot of health benefits. They also free up a lot of recipes they would otherwise not be allowed if they followed paleo strictly.
So, some of it is certainly up for interpretation and personal preference. But that’s a good thing, I think.
My main concern with paleo is that it focuses very heavily on meat. Maybe too much.
Some historians argue that early humans may not have had meat at every meal, which makes perfect sense to me.
Meat is hard to get when you don’t have it grown, fattened up, slaughtered, cut into pieces, and neatly wrapped up in plastic for you at the supermarket. They had to hunt for this stuff. And, of course, their refrigeration techniques left a lot to be desired. So no, they probably didn’t eat meat at every meal.
And none of this means that meat consumption is essential for us today. There are so many environmental benefits of going vegan. And health benefits. And if the animals got a vote, I have a feeling I know which way they’d lean.
But all of this information about meat being potentially tied up in our evolutionary history does make me think that meat is an essential part of our diet. Sorry, vegans.
I was vegan for about 4-5 months once. I felt better than I had felt in a very long time. And I’ll go vegan again, in the course of this experiment.
I’ve read of a lot of vegans that fall off the bandwagon. They start craving meat for one reason or another and go back to it. So for some people, being vegan isn’t sustainable.
Probably because there’s vegan and then there’s “Vegan.” The capital V kind is more an ideology than anything else. They’re the reason for all the memes out there about vegans needing to tell you about veganism. Let’s assume most of those people stay on the wagon. However, some people only eat vegan for the health benefits.
But here’s the thing – and it’s something any vegan will know. The only natural foods with vitamin B12 are animal products. Vegans find ways around it, mind you. Nutritional yeasts or supplements will work just fine.
But, logically, only finding B12 (an essential vitamin for us) naturally in animal products leads me to believe it should be a part of our diets one way or another, even if only in limited amounts.
I’m looking forward to trying a diet called pegan, which is a mixture of the principles of paleo and vegan. I know, I know. Paleo and vegan seem like complete opposites. But they’re really not. They both believe in eating natural foods. They both think lots of veggies are a good idea. Meat is the main factor that they can’t agree on. And grains and legumes. But mostly meat.
So from what I understand about pegan, it just limits the consumption of meat and still focuses mostly on vegetables–makes sense to me. But I have a lot of other nutritional options to go through before we get there, so we’ll get into it another day.
There’s a few documentaries and books that I’ll be reading to go along with my paleo part of the journey:
- The Perfect Human Diet
- We Love Paleo
- Fed Up
- My Big Fat Diet (maybe?)
- Paleo in 28 by Kenzie Swanhart (I’m following the diet plan from this one right now)
- Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
- The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain (founder of the paleo movement)
If you have any suggestions for a documentary or book that embraces a paleo lifestyle, please feel free to let me know in the comments, and I’ll try to add it in!
- I am not all that hungry most of the time. I’m staying under about 100g of carbs, even though I’m not purposefully limiting them. This particular meal plan does use a decent amount of sweet potatoes in the recipes, though, and I’ve noticed that on days when I eat them, I feel hungrier. Low carb diets are getting famous for keeping you satiated, so I assume that’s what’s going on.
- You can eat out a lot more easily on a paleo lifestyle than on a vegan lifestyle. Most places will have some chicken or steak dish you can order. Even at Olive Garden, where they’re famous for their pasta dishes, I ordered chicken on a bed of zucchini noodles.
- I feel pretty energized.
- If I don’t get the amount of sleep I usually do, it doesn’t seem to faze me.
- Eating this much meat can be expensive, especially if you follow the grass-fed, organic, free-range, etc. suggestion.
- I’ve lost weight–about 3 lbs in a week and a half.
- I might be a bit more inflamed than usual. The anti-inflammatory diet talks about meats and how they can be inflammatory, so it’s certainly possible. My feet have been a bit sorer and puffy lately. But maybe this is just an adjustment to the diet, and it’ll get better.
- Eat like Homo Erectus. Okay. Well, the average lifespan of Homo Erectus was about 45 years. Sure, they didn’t have vaccines, antibiotics, and live in the sanitary world of today. So I’m sure that plays a part in their lifespan. But it also means we’ll never know how long they would have lived eating the way they did if they’d had all the benefits that we have today.
- I’m worried about the effects it may have on my cholesterol. I do plan on talking to my doctor about this and seeing about having blood tests done at the end of each dietary change. So we’ll see.
- All the saturated fats. Saturated fat can lead to heart disease and other health problems. Some studies are starting to suggest that this only happens when you’re eating a high carbohydrate diet. I’ll be looking up those studies and seeing what I can find.
You’ll also notice I’ve added a page summarizing all of my most important findings so far. It will continue to be updated as I progress through this wellness journey.
Next up, the research on paleo. Then I’ll do a review of what I thought of it before moving on to the next nutritional approach/lifestyle.