"I saw few die of hunger; of eating, a hundred thousand." -Ben Franklin

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The ABC's of Paleo

I'm a linguistics major; I enjoy letters and words and alphabets and all that jazz. So with my linguistics classes kicking off for the semester, I give you the ABC's of Paleo!

A is for Ancestral Health, another term for the way we eat according to our ancestors. Just last month, there was the first-annual Ancestral Health Symposium, and a lot of the speeches from it are online, so check them out-- they're awesome! Click here!

B is for Vitamin B12, an essential vitamin that can only be obtained from animal products and is necessary for a properly functioning brain and nervous system. Deficiency in this vitamin can lead to a myriad of health problems, including anemia, fatigue, depression, dementia, and more. It is for this reason that going vegan is so dangerous-- without B12 supplementation, you will get very sick... and even then, it is much more ideal to get this vitamin from the actual source, i.e. animal products.

C is for Customization. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to Paleo/Primal-- some people need low-carb, some higher-carb, some people can do all-meat, some people do well with a lot of veggies... Just because a book or blog or podcast says that you should eat one thing or avoid something else doesn't mean that this is the best option for you. Finding a Paleo/Primal lifestyle that works for you will take time-- your body will know when you've found the right balance of macronutrients and Paleo-approved foods.

D is for Vitamin D, another absolutely essential vitamin that is necessary in achieving optimum health. It is responsible for "bone health, calcium and phosphate concentration, reducing inflammation and regulating the proliferation and differentiation of cells" (source) and promotes a healthy immune system. The best way to get Vitamin D is by going out in the sun, but some foods (particularly certain types of fish) also contain it... or you can supplement. But why supplement when you can just go outside in the sun for a little bit every day? (For more information on Vitamin D, click and click.)

E is for Evolution, the reason we follow the Paleo/Primal lifestyle. We didn't evolved to eat processed crap, GMO "foods," grains, legumes, refined sugar... The list goes on. We didn't evolve to eat a diet devoid of animal products, and we certainly didn't evolve to eat grain-fed animals either. Check out this paper, "The western diet and lifestyle and disease of civilization," which explains how we've all become sickly since the dawn of agriculture, and how eating like our pre-agriculture ancestors is the best way to achieve optimum health.

F is for Fat! If you're following this lifestyle, you know that gone are the days of lipophobia-- no more low-fat, reduced-fat, non-fat products! Fat is absolutely essential for all of your body's functions, and it won't make you fat (I promise-- read this or this and watch this for the real reasons we get fat), and it won't clog your arteries either (check out this great post about how the lipid hypothesis is a big lie). So eat your bacon, coconut oil, and avocados-- they'll keep you healthy! (Here are a few guides to Paleo fats: click and click.)

G is for Gluten, something that you should avoid at all costs. In fact, the road to hell is paved with gluten! Gluten is actually a protein found in many grains (like wheat, barley, and rye) that is responsible for the elasticity of the dough. It not only causes serious inflammation in the gut, but is also the cause of many other health problems. For information about why gluten is the ultimate evil, check out "Why Grains are Unhealthy," "The Grain Manifesto," "Is Your Gut Leaky?", and "Excessive bloating from gluten."

H is for Hunter-Gatherer. Before the Agricultural Revolution (which was only 10,000 years ago), humans lived as hunter-gatherers and they were extremely healthy, tall, and strong. Once agriculture happened and people settled into towns/villages/cities, our hunter-gatherer ways were no longer and, as a consequence, our health was no longer as well. Speaking of hunter-gatherers, check out John Durant's blog... appropriately titled Hunter-Gatherer.

I is for Intermittent Fasting, a technique in which you fast for a period of time (could be 16 hours, could be 24 or more-- here's how to do it). There are many health benefits associated with IFing, including "increased longevity, neuroprotection, increased insulin sensitivity, stronger resistance to stress, increased mental clarity" (source) and more. So don't believe that crap about how your metabolism will slow down if you skip a meal!

J is for JERF: Just Eat Real Food. This is a pretty easy one-- real food doesn't come in a bag or box, doesn't need a nutritional label or ingredients list (I mean, c'mon. Broccoli-- Ingredients, Broccoli. So difficult!), and would be recognized by your great-great grandmother.

K is for Ketosis, a condition during which your body burns fat stores for energy. This can be reached by eating low-carb, so your liver changes fatty acids into ketones... which will became your main energy source and will keep your blood sugar low. Ketosis has been shown to be good for you health, so don't believe the "Your body needs carbs!" argument, since that's just not true. (Note: Paleo/Primal does not need to be low-carb or ketogenic-- some choose to stay low-carb or even zero-carb, but others choose to have a much higher amount of carbs per day. See C: Customization.)

L is for Lift Heavy Things, one of the components of Paleo/Primal fitness. Heavy lifting is essential for putting on lean mass-- you don't need to work out for an hour every day on the treadmill to get or stay fit! So start lifting weights, do bodyweight exercises, go out into the woods and move some rocks or logs, pick up heavy boxes and move them to the other side of the room and back... There are a million ways to lift heavy, so pick one (or more) and put on some lean mass!

M is for Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and the amazing website Mark's Daily Apple. His approach to evolutionary nutrition is "Primal" (what's the difference?) and is a really big voice within the Paleo/Primal community. If you ever hear about Grok (the fictional caveman), thank Mark Sisson!

N is for Nora T. Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind. Her book is one of my absolute favorites on evolutionary nutrition, and her website and podcast are full of really fantastic information. Here's one of my favorite posts of hers, "Top 10 Nutritional & Dietary Mistakes People Make."

O is for The Omnivore's Dilemma, a fantastic book by Michael Pollan that examines our food culture-- processed/factory food, organic food, and food we hunt/gather ourselves. It's a must-read, as is his other book, In Defense of Food. Pollan is a fabulous writer and is really well-known for his food rules, such as "Avoid products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, and C) more than five in number," "Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," and "Avoid foods bearing health claims." Check out this New York Times article of his, "Unhappy Meals."

P is for Play, a really important part of this lifestyle. In Exuberant Animal, Frank Forencich talks about how we are, at our roots, animals-- we should be outside and move freely and play! Playing has been known to decrease stress and promote happiness with, of course, leads to health and longevity. Check out this great post, The Lost Art of Play.

Q is for the Quilt, also known as Dr. Jack Kruse, who runs this great blog and is a wealth of information both there and on PaleoHacks. His site is incredibly detailed and informative, and covers everything from leptin resistance to epigenetics to the brain/gut connection. It's a site you should definitely check out for all types of health issues.

R is for Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution and owner of robbwolf.com. He has an awesome sense of humor, and his book, blog, and podcasts are all hilarious and informative. Check out this great video, Ask Robb Wolf Anything!

S is for Sleep, a really important component of the Paleo lifestyle. Our bodies need sleep (and by "sleep" I mean "at least 8 hours in a completely dark room") in order to function properly and keep our immune systems strong and healthy. Sleep does everything from helping your memory to boosting your athletic performances to helping you cope with stress. Here's a Definitive Guide to Sleep and tips for Sleeping like a Cavebaby.

T is for Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. These are both books that explain how fat does not make us fat; instead, it is the bad carbs and sugary, processed foods that people eat that cause obesity and other health problems. He also writes awesome health articles for the New York Times, such as "Is Sugar Toxic?" and "What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie?".

U is for Unconventional, which is what this lifestyle is to 99% of people. Our views are anti-Conventional Wisdom-- we don't buy into the "low-fat, high-carb, whole-grain" diet that has been one of the major causes of the obesity epidemic. We know that our bodies don't need grains or run on carbs; we know that it's okay to be barefoot; we know that fat is good and won't make us fat. People think we're crazy, but it is our unorthodox views that will lead us to have better health than those who blindly follow the Food Pyramid/Plate and the advice of their doctors who don't know anything about proper nutrition.

V is for Vibram FiveFingers, a brand of minimalist shoes that is quite popular among the Paleo/Primal community. For more information on minimalist running and VFFs, check out "Paleo From Head to Toe with the Barefoot Lifestyle," "Vibram FiveFingers" at MDA, and read Born to Run.

W is for Weston A. Price, a dentist who examined the link between dental health and the Western Diet, and found that the teeth of people who ate indigenous diets were, essentially, perfect, whereas the teeth of those who ate diets high in processed crap had dental problems. His book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, should be required reading for everyone (especially doctors and dentists!), and his legacy lives on through the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), which has chapters all over the world.

X is for Xocolatl (hah- I came up with an X word!), the word in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) that is the most likely etymology of chocolate due to a combination of xococ ("bitter") and atl ("water" or "drink"). Dark chocolate (that is, 70% cocoa content and higher) has been shown to have a lot of health benefits, and Mark Sisson calls it a "sensible vice" and gives tips in this post about chocolate consumption in the Paleo/Primal lifestyle. (Dark chocolate is also used a lot in Paleo baking, like in these scones or this cake.)

Y is for YOU. Paleo isn't a fad diet-- it's a lifestyle all about making YOU healthier, happier, leaner, and stronger. People are going to try to sabotage your efforts by saying, "Oh, just eat one cookie-- it's okay!" and "One piece of bread won't kill you!" But don't listen to them-- this is your body, your life, and your choices. Don't let other people bring you down or make you sick. Believe in yourself, and know that only YOU control your own present and future health-- not doctors, not the FDA or USDA, not the media, not your friends. You can do it, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Z is for Zinc, a very important mineral that is essential for digestion, healing wounds, fighting infections, the immune system, brain function, fertility, bone health, eyesight, clear skin, and quite a few other things that will add to your health. Meat, seeds, fish, and 100% unsweetened chocolate are all good sources of zinc.

Quote of the Day, in picture form (from Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida):


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    I graduated from UPenn in 1985. Not a lot of paleo stuff going on then.

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