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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Committing to Paleo

Committing to Paleo
Written on February 9, 2011 by Alexander Rinehart, MS, DC, CCN in Detoxification, Healthy Recipes, Lifestyle .18

I am not usu­ally a fan of any­thing “trendy”…“diet” or oth­er­wise. Even as a nutri­tion­ist, you’ll rarely hear me say “diet” or even men­tion “calo­ries” or “points”. I’ll talk instead about a sup­port­ive food plan, such as choos­ing low-glycemic index foods, iden­ti­fy­ing unknown food sen­si­tiv­i­ties, or offer­ing sup­port­ive nutraceuticals.

There is one food plan how­ever, that has caught my inter­est over the last few years and that’s The Paleo Diet.

In all trans­parency, I am now a mod­er­a­tor on ris­ing paleo expert Robb Wolf’s site and was recently one of the first doc­tors listed on his new Paleo Physician’s Net­work. I was drawn to the Paleo Diet pri­mar­ily due to its strong research back­ground — led by Dr. Loren Cor­dain out of Col­orado State University.

Paleo rec­om­men­da­tions run a bit counter to con­ven­tional nutri­tional advice. it chal­lenges or con­cep­tion of what com­prise healthy fats and what actu­ally com­prises a “bal­anced diet eaten in mod­er­a­tion” as nutri­tion­ists have advo­cated for the past 20 years, while of course, over the same time period, Amer­ica became expo­nen­tially more obese…

Research-Driven Nutri­tion

The research behind the Paleo diet makes intu­itive sense. Our genet­ics have been mapped out over time through evo­lu­tion. Any insight as to the lan­guage of our genes, is a con­ver­sa­tion worth lis­ten­ing to. What nutrige­nomics and paleo researchers have found is that we depend on a syn­ergy with our envi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to food.

Many ani­mals for instance, can pro­duce their own Vit­a­min C, humans can­not. We depend on plants for their phy­to­chem­i­cals that trig­ger our own phys­i­ol­ogy. We eat meat and nuts that pro­vide us other essen­tial nutri­ents we can­not cre­ate on our own. Inter­nally, we depend on healthy bac­te­ria to facil­i­tate proper digestion.

A Paleo Diet is com­prised of a high intake of a wide vari­ety of sea­sonal veg­eta­bles, mod­er­ate intake of sea­sonal fruit, and replete with high qual­ity meat, seafood, and nuts. The Paleo Diet con­sists of min­i­mal grains, dairy, and legumes (beans, peanuts, peas), with many advo­cates throw­ing them out completely.

The strictest may also be care­ful of night­shade veg­eta­bles like bell pep­pers, toma­toes (okay tech­ni­cally its a fruit), and egg­plant. “Paleo” is also much more of an over­all lifestyle than it is a spe­cific diet. It’s about liv­ing in con­gru­ence with how humans were con­di­tioned to live. It has even become some­what of a cult-hit among exer­cise junkies.

As a clin­i­cal nutri­tion­ist, my opin­ion is that con­sum­ing healthy food really just meets base­line health needs. Super­foods and herbs have been uti­lized clin­i­cally for mil­lenia to aug­ment and sup­port physiology.

Even with that in mind, the Paleo Diet has shown to be sup­port­ive for skin con­di­tions, autoim­mune dis­eases, dia­betes, heart dis­ease, and can­cer. If you ques­tion how this could be true…start read­ing the research abstracts. Read books like The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Solu­tion, & The Pri­mal Blue­print. Intro­duce your­self to some of the research top­ics in The Four Hour Body, Good Calo­ries, Bad Calo­ries, or Why We Get Fat and make your own opinion.

Most impor­tantly, as Robb Wolf advo­cates, give a Paleo diet a 30 day trial, if it doesn’t work for you then con­tinue what you’ve been doing. Some peo­ple just sim­ply don’t know how good they can feel. As far as chronic dis­ease is con­cerned, just sim­ply hav­ing no symp­toms tells you noth­ing about what may be brew­ing beneath the surface.

Chances are, you’re not likely to get much sup­port from your reg­u­lar doc­tor on eat­ing this way. Many are skep­ti­cal — they’ll say “show me the research” or they may put obsta­cles in your way in get­ting the blood tests you want to look at.

With that said, its impor­tant that you con­sider any under­ly­ing blood sugar, hor­monal, and adrenal imbal­ances that you may have and tread care­fully when imple­ment­ing a Paleo Lifestyle, this is where a clin­i­cal nutri­tion­ist and/or func­tional med­i­cine spe­cial­ist can be an impor­tant mem­ber of your Paleo team.

Stan­dard Amer­i­can Diet, Stan­dard Amer­i­can Results

The Stan­dard Amer­i­can Diet is a far cry from the food plan our ancestor’s depended upon thou­sands of years ago. And the SAD diet is pretty sad at meet­ing even our min­i­mal nutri­ent needs. The SAD diet is high in refined sugar and grains, lit­tle veg­eta­bles, and high in dairy.

Per­haps the most con­tro­ver­sial aspect of a paleo diet is that it’s com­par­a­tively high in red meat, which has been a tar­get of many nutri­tion cam­paigns. I argue that red meat isn’t inher­ently bad, but can be inflam­ma­tory and prob­lem­atic if not bal­anced by lib­eral quan­ti­ties of vegetables.

Even the Amer­i­can Dietetic Asso­ci­a­tion who we are sup­posed to trust for unbi­ased and research-based nutri­tional advice receives sup­port from orga­ni­za­tions like Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, and Pepsi. His­tor­i­cally, the ADA has spo­ken fairly con­ser­v­a­tively about the poten­tial impact food can have on chronic health con­di­tions out­side of tra­di­tional med­i­cine (think about the stake­hold­ers at play…).

Genet­i­cally speak­ing, the Pale­olithic era was just blip of time ago. Just take a look around the gro­cery store and you’ll quickly find what peo­ple are eat­ing. You’ll see that the ice cream sec­tion is as large, if not larger than the frozen veg­etable aisle. You’ll see that corn, dairy, wheat and soy and all of the com­bi­na­tions therein, make up 90% of the prod­ucts on the shelves. You’ll also see that the major­ity of “healthy” foods, are the same processed foods with just some of the nutri­ents added back in. The lat­est tac­tic? Add in a few trendy sup­ple­ments or organic sugar and paste a mis­lead­ing health claim on the packaging.

90% of the food in most gro­cery stores, I wouldn’t even touch, nor would they even have been avail­able to our Paleo ances­tors (or even found on our grand­par­ents’ kitchen tables).

•70% of Amer­i­cans are now over­weight or obese.

•33% of kids born after the year 2000 are expected to have type II dia­betes later in life.

•1/100 kids have autism (conservatively).

•1/100 also have Celiac dis­ease (conservatively)

•5–7% of Amer­i­cans have food aller­gies and sen­si­tiv­i­ties (conservatively).

•70% of adults are lac­tose intol­er­ant, and Blacks and Asians are at even more risk.

I’m not here to get into a bat­tle over sta­tis­tics. Most research stud­ies are frankly flawed both in alter­na­tive and tra­di­tional health­care. For those inter­ested, I am slowly putting together a detailed guide on the sci­ence behind food allergies.

Details aside, the ele­phant in the room is that Amer­i­can health prob­lems are at the point of embar­rass­ment. It’s bank­rupt­ing our nation, and very few lead­ers are offer­ing work­able solutions.

You can’t patent med­i­ta­tion, access to a farmer’s mar­kets, a walk­ing trail, or even some­thing as basic as lighted streets in an urban area. What you can do is sys­tem­at­i­cally guide indi­vid­u­als like your­self to an envi­ron­ment and lifestyle that involve those very things.

You eat the ele­phant in the room one bite at a time.

Urgent Con­cerns with the Food Supply

Con­ven­tional agri­cul­ture didn’t even begin until roughly 10,000 years ago. Live­stock “feed­lots” where most of our meat is now pro­duced didn’t even exist until the 1850’s. Even if grains, milk, corn and oats were avail­able to the later ances­tors, they would surely not be the highly genetically-modified, antibi­otic and hormone-laden ver­sions we find in our gro­cery stores today.

It is believed that our shorter stature com­pared to our past ances­tors is partly due to our species’ new-found love with grains. Grains have been long sus­pected to leech nutri­ents impor­tant for bone metab­o­lism — and that’s just one of the many dis­cus­sions on the poten­tial health effects of grain con­sump­tion even for seem­ingly healthy individuals.

Would you believe me if I told you that car­rots are nat­u­rally pur­ple and white…and were actu­ally pur­posely bred into the more appeal­ing orange color they are today? Would you believe me if I said over 95% of sugar beets, 93% of soy, and 70% of our corn is genet­i­cally mod­i­fied. Up for pass­ing is a new law that would dereg­u­late alfalfa (threat­en­ing organic milk and beef), and recent leg­is­la­tion just bypassed gov­ern­ment man­date and fur­ther dereg­u­lated genet­i­cally mod­i­fied sug­ar­beets even further.

We used to have thou­sands of vari­eties (or cul­ti­vars) of cer­tain veg­eta­bles like broc­coli in nature, and now we sim­ply have a hand­ful of vari­eties left. Our phys­i­ol­ogy depends on the wide vari­ety of phy­to­chem­i­cals these plants pro­vide us. We are incre­men­tally remov­ing nutri­ents from exis­tence in our food supply.

If incre­men­tal aug­men­ta­tion is a strat­egy for enact­ing sig­nif­i­cant change, incre­men­tal degra­da­tion is a strat­egy for equally sig­nif­i­cant destruction.

Our food sup­ply is becom­ing genet­i­cally weak, and arguably we are too…dangerously enough to be pass­ing on those weaker genes to our off­spring and pos­si­bly leav­ing humans more sus­cep­ti­ble to chronic dis­eases or maybe con­tribut­ing to out­breaks in autism, autoim­mune dis­ease, and related con­di­tions (Con­nect­ing a few too many dots perhaps.…but Science is just now start­ing to acknowl­edge this, and it’ll take 10–20 years for insti­tu­tions to respond).

This has enor­mous impli­ca­tions on our future food sup­ply, demands for pesticide/herbicide usage, and the via­bil­ity of food sup­ply glob­ally, but I’ll save that dis­cus­sion other posts. I will say that I do my part by donat­ing a per­cent­age of all prac­tice rev­enue to Grow­ing Power, Inc, buy­ing organic when I can, and sup­port­ing local, organic Commu­nity Sup­ported Agri­cul­ture pro­grams (now’s the time to sign up so you don’t get put on a wait­ing list!).

A Pub­lic Committment

For now I am pub­licly com­mit­ting to a Paleo Diet. With that said, I’m tak­ing a les­son from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Body to allow myself a cheat day each week to ensure com­pli­ance. I’m also hop­ing to “exper­i­ment” with my body’s responses to var­i­ous stresses. I’ll also uti­lize some tech­niques for “dam­age con­trol” when I go off track. Why the sud­den moti­va­tion? I’ve been really show­ing signs of hypo­glycemia lately and dis­turbed sleep.

Hypo­glycemia for those of you who are won­der­ing is a form of poor blood sugar imbal­ance and insulin dys­reg­u­la­tion. Hypo­glycemic ten­den­cies can be hid­den in “healthy” indi­vid­u­als. These are the healthy, fit indi­vid­u­als who feel they can get away with eat­ing an entire pizza or half-gallon of ice cream at a sit­ting and think it’s doing them lit­tle harm.

I’m human, and have the same crav­ings and time con­straints as you. I work daily to iden­tify trig­gers in my lifestyle, learn from set­backs, and incre­men­tally sys­tem­ize healthy habits.

Lifestyle change is about hav­ing incre­men­tal aware­ness about your­self, your food choices, and how they affect your health directly and indi­rectly. My job as a physi­cian is to meet you in the mid­dle and guide you safely to where you want to go.

I know you’re “only human” and that these changes can be quite chal­leng­ing. Being human is no longer an accept­able excuse, because being human is pre­cisely why you should con­sider turn­ing to Paleo in the first place.

Do you have 30 days?

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