“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.” – Steve Jobs
So this past week I watched the three videos I have linked below. As per usual, I will strongly recommend you watch them yourself. This takes you closer to the source than just taking my word for it, and it will allow you to draw your own conclusions. That will allow you to make the best modifications to your eating habits, which will serve your needs best, because there is no such thing as one universally perfect diet! So in this post, I would like to chime in with what I know from previous research and add my two cents. First, some quick summaries and chief take-aways from the three videos, without completely giving them away, because I really do want you to watch them.
The first video helps cut through all the paleo hype and, based on tremendous research and evidence, paints a better picture of what our ancestors were likely really eating during the Neolithic era. She also points out that these Neolithic diets were highly regionalized and as a result, varied greatly! I.e., a person from the Arctic was definitely eating differently from someone in the tropics. And just because that Arctic man may have consumed larger quantities of meat and fat, that does not necessarily preclude that a person from the Caribbean islands should nowadays, or even could. She also points out that even most of our vegetables today would be unrecognizable to our ancestors. In fact, pretty much all of our food is farmed and has been bred and selected for better taste, yield, etc. We all know a raspberry in the grocery store is considerably bigger than wild ones growing in Northern Ontario. Farmed blueberries are twice the size of their wild counterparts, and even here in Puerto Rico, the mango you find at the local Pueblo store looks nothing like the one that fell out of the tree last week and knocked me on the noggin. I ate the wild one, and I’ve got to tell you, it was really good!
Video two basically says the exact opposite to the paleo camp and says grains and pasta are okay, and it is all the animal-based product, meat, and fat that have to go! Now, I do offer a couple points that he does not bring up. Firstly, by cutting out meat, you will cut out a lot of calories. Remember, 10 ounces of delicious fillet mignon is going to have a whopping 700 or more calories. The second thing to consider is most of the meat in our supply is really not that good for us! Because of what these animals are currently being fed, they are given larger quantities of hormones and antibiotics, which are subsequently required to allow these animals to eat what they are not supposed to eat in the first place. So honestly, by default, the majority of the meat we are eating is inflammatory by nature. He also points out the average U.S. citizen consumes 200 lbs. of meat a year. Yep. That’s a lot of meat! Now, he is really stressing a plant-based diet, not pasta or grains diet. So I appreciate that. But I will conclude that from an evolutionary point of view, we are able to eat meat and we should have it in our diets. But not to the extreme that is often cited in books about a paleo diet that we find today.
The last video is about the benefits of fasting. Now, we do not have to go to the same lengths or extremes as many mystics or monks, but the underlying benefits are clear and, speaking from experience, can be profound.
Now, what I would like to do is focus in on what all three have in common. At present, in the west, we eat way too much! Too much meat, too much meat that’s truly not good for us, too many calories, and way too many grams of sugar! As a result, we do not get even come close to getting enough fibre either. All of these factors combined make for a perfect storm of chronic inflammatory disease conditions!
If we had never discovered or practiced farming, the true earthly food supply would only be able to sustain about 3 billion people. We have 7 billion at present, so farming is obviously here to stay. But you can make better food choices that will lead to tremendous benefits. Sure, the modern broccoli is some crazy and relatively new derivative of some plant most of us wouldn’t recognize today, but we can eat it and we should eat lots of it, as well as lots of other vegetables that have been farmed for our benefit. Even though my previous post described getting more protein in the diet, there are lots of sources in the food supply that do not necessarily have to be meat. But I will add that some meat is good and help us obtain essential amino acids that are hard to find in many plant sources. But make it grass-fed, if you can. This is one point that none of the videos bring up, and I would like to point this out: As the climate changed eons ago, savannahs and grasslands popped up all over the place. We developed the ability to walk on two legs permanently, while pretty much every other mammal did not. Every mammal sweats a little, but we really sweat! This gave us a huge advantage over other mammals in the much warmer climate and hot sun. In these resulting savannahs and grasslands, the majority of your herding animals developed to eat the grasses. We can’t. There are a lot of plants we can eat; plain old fashioned green grass is not one of them (as the Irish tragically discovered during the potato famine). Now, an argument for why we should not eat meat is that every other carnivore on the planet has really sharp teeth, claws, tremendous bursts of speed, tremendous senses of smell, sight, etc. And they would be right, but as I mentioned before, we developed an amazing ability for endurance in the extreme heat of the day. Also, our sight is pretty good! We can see in colour, and therefore many of nature’s camouflage tricks don’t fool us the same way they can other carnivores. Plus, our eyes are placed forward on our faces like other carnivores, not on the sides like herbivores. Clearly, it stands to reason that we are used to doing the hunting, not being hunted, even if sometimes the lion does get us. Now, because of our abilities, we can hunt during the day; most predators do the majority of their hunting at night. So as persistence hunting demonstrates time and again, we are very effective hunters. We do not have to outrun our prey, we just have to outlast it. In the end, the animal dies from heat exhaustion and we could then eat it for all the nutrients that the animal was able to obtain from the grasses, which we can’t eat. But I have to add that this is not easy, so it is not like our ancestors were enjoying deer or buffalo steaks every night either. Plus, when they did catch the animal, it was shared with the whole tribe, or at least a large portion of the tribe, so individual portions were not going to be extremely large.
That right there is the problem with our modern diet: It is all processed, and it is extreme. We’ve passed from scarcity, skipping optimum nutrition, right to excess, and now we are paying for that excess. The sugar you can obtain from 8 ounces of soda and can drink in just a few minutes would require 9 feet of sugar cane in its raw shoot form. No one is going to eat 9 feet-worth of sugar cane. But if you did, it would take a long time, and you would get a lot of fibre too! That is why I don’t freak out about fructose in fruit. You will get a lot fibre. High fructose corn syrup added to, well, everything, gives me a ton of extra sugar… with no fibre.
So, in summary, here is what all three videos can tell you: You eat too much! Eat less. When you do eat, eat whole foods. And I’ll add that you can eat some meat, but grass-fed is the preferred choice. I’ll finish with a couple of examples. Any population that has meat in its diet is always taller and more robust than cultures that do not eat meat. That being said, I have friends who are vegetarians now, and as a result of not eating meat, they drastically reduced their calories and therefore lost a lot of weight and look pretty good. But I will also point out that in the second video, Dr. Bernard uses the dental test as an indication of why we should not eat meat. He compares our jaw to a cat’s and, well, no kidding… we do not have cat teeth. They only eat meat. But in his persuasive and sneaky argument, he does not show us a cow’s teeth, or an elephant’s, a deer’s, or, well, any herbivore. And that is because our teeth do not look like theirs either; we split the difference, because we are built to eat both. But I think you can also see that our teeth do lean to one side a little bit more, which I take to mean we are designed to eat plants, but some meat is a nice and an essential treat in our diet.
Debunking the paleo diet: Christina Warinner https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8
Tackling diabetes with a bold new dietary approach: Neal Barnard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktQzM2IA-qU
Why fasting bolsters brain Power: Mark Mattson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UkZAwKoCP8