What Is The Paleo Diet?
|Okay To Eat||Avoid|
|Lean Meats||Processed Food & Sugars|
|Nuts & Seeds||Starches|
Building A Healthy Paleo Diet
Lean proteins support strong muscles, healthy bones and optimal immune function. Protein also makes you feel satisfied between meals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that have been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing a number of degenerative diseases including cancer, diabetes and neurological decline.
Healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish oil and grass-fed meat
Scientific research and epidemiological studies show that diets rich in Monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats dramatically reduce the instances of obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive decline.
Saturated fat has been demonized by our health authorities and media. What is the basis for this position on Saturated fat? Are current recommendations for VERY low saturated fat intake justified? How much saturated fat (and what types), if any should one eat? Without a historical and scientific perspective these questions can be nearly impossible to answer. In this paper Prof. Cordain looks at the amounts and types of saturated fats found in the ancestral diet:Saturated fat consumption in ancestral human diets: implications for contemporary intakes.
One of the greatest deviations away from our ancestral diet is the amounts and types of fat found in modern grain feed animals vs. the amounts and types of fats found in grass fed or wild meat, fowl and fish. What we observe is wild meat is remarkably lean, and has relatively low amounts of saturated fats, while supplying significant amounts of beneficial omega-3 fats such as EPA and DHA. In this paper Prof. Cordain and his team analyze the complete fatty acid profile from several species of wild deer and elk. The take home message is that free range meat is far healthier than conventional meat: Fatty acid analysis of wild ruminant tissues: Evolutionary implications for reducing diet-related chronic disease.
Image courtesy of The Food Lovers’ Primal Palate – http://www.primal-palate.com
For most people the fact the Paleo diet delivers the best results is all they need. Improved blood lipids, weight loss, and reduced pain from autoimmunity is proof enough. Many people however are not satisfied with blindly following any recommendations, be they nutrition or exercise related. Some folks like to know WHY they are doing something. Fortunately, the Paleo diet has stood not only the test of time, but also the rigors of scientific scrutiny.
With a very simple shift we not only remove the foods that are at odds with our health (grains, legumes, and dairy) but we also increase our intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Here is a great paper from Professor Loren Cordain exploring how to build a modern Paleo diet: The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. This paper also offers significant insight as to the amounts and ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat in the ancestral diet.
Come on! Our Ancestors lived short, brutal lives! This is all bunk, right?
The Paleo concept is new for most people and this newness can spark many questions. We like people to not only read about and educate themselves on this topic but also to “get in and do it.” Experience is perhaps the best teacher and often cuts through any confusion surrounding this way of eating. Now, all that considered, there are still some common counter arguments to the Paleo diet that happen with sufficient frequency that a whole paper was written on it. Enjoy:Evolutionary Health Promotion. A consideration of common counter-arguments.
Does it work for diabetes?
A great question to ask is “Does the Paleo diet work”? Here we have a head to head comparison between the Paleo diet and Mediterranean diet in insulin resistant Type 2 Diabetics. The results? The Paleo diet group REVERSED the signs and symptoms of insulin resistant, Type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet showed little if any improvements. It is worth noting that the Mediterranean diet is generally held up by our government as “the diet to emulate” despite better alternatives. You can find an abstract and the complete paper here.
Cardio Vascular Disease
According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Interestingly however, our Paleolithic ancestors and contemporarily studied hunter-gatherers showed virtually no heart attack or stroke while eating ancestral diets. The references below will explore these facts to better help you understand the heart-healthy benefits of a Paleo diet.
Autoimmunity is a process in which our bodies own immune system attacks “us.” Normally the immune system protects us from bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections. The immune system identifies a foreign invader, attacks it, and ideally clears the infection. A good analogy for autoimmunity is the case of tissue rejection after organ donation. If someone requires a new heart, lung kidney or liver due to disease or injury, a donor organ may be an option. The first step in this process is trying to find a tissue “match”. All of us have molecules in our tissues that our immune system uses to recognize self from non-self. If a donated organ is not close enough to the recipient in tissue type the immune system will attack and destroy the organ. In autoimmunity, a similar process occurs in that an individuals own tissue is confused as something foreign and the immune system attacks this “mislabeled” tissue. Common forms of autoimmunity include Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Vitiligo to name only a tiny fraction of autoimmune diseases. Elements of autoimmunity are likely at play in conditions as seemingly unrelated as Schizophrenia, infertility, and various forms of cancer.
Interestingly, all of these seemingly unrelated diseases share a common cause: damage to the intestinal lining which allows large, undigested food particles to make their way into the body. This is called “leaky gut and the autoimmune response”. If you have an autoimmune disease you might consider trying the autoimmune protocol of the paleo diet.
Your doctor probably isn’t going to tell you this, he’s probably just going to prescribe some Metformin and send you on your way, but PCOS is treatable with diet and lifestyle changes. No drugs are necessary. I spent most of my adult life with PCOS before it was well known enough to diagnose and I conquered it myself with diet. I spent years reading and experimenting with various health approaches until finally conquering this hormonal beast.
My history with PCOS
I started my period a couple of months after I turned 11. From that day forward I was depressed, angry, and shy.
I had all kinds of other issues on top of that. I had pica (eating non-food items such as chalk, dirt, and hair). I had diarrhea everyday. My mom took me to doctors to test for ulcers but when those tests came back negative she just kind of ignored it. I had menstrual cramps so bad that every month I would rock back and forth for two days in excruciating pain. My mom didn’t know what to do for me so she gave me Vicodin and hoped it would stop. Not she, nor her sisters, nor her first daughter 14 years before me had ever experienced anything like the symptoms from which I claimed to suffer.
The emergence of cysts – a clue?
When I was 14, I went to the emergency room with 4 cysts which had ruptured on my ovaries in unison (it was agonizing pain). But after the ultrasound confirmed that the cysts had ruptured, the doctors said I should be fine and those too were ignored.
I had other signs that something was wrong with my body. When I was 12 my hip joint fell out of its socket and I had to go to the ER to get it put back in place. They didn’t know why it happened so they sent me on my way (my hip and my shoulder continued to do this until I was 26, when I quit eating gluten).
Once I had a headache so bad I spent a night in the ER. The spinal tap showed nothing and so it too was ignored.
I looked so healthy despite the symptoms
I guess it might have been hard to take me seriously since I was such a pretty young teen. How could anyone so pretty and thin have hormonal problems? And so, I was eventually diagnosed with mental problems. All the cramps, the diarrhea, the pain, the joint problems were all in my head, so they said.
Since I was 12 it was the job of psychiatrists to fix me. How could they though when they’re patient was not mental but simply malnourished? (Psychiatrists don’t typically recognize the connection between the mind and the body. Depression and mental problems are avoidable and correctable.)
Acne was definitely not all in my head
When I was 17 it became outwardly obvious that something wasn’t right . I developed acne. By the time I was 21 it became severe and cystic. My mom now started sending me to doctors of all kinds – mostly dermatologists which are, for the most part, a waste of a good brain since all they do is treat outward symptoms and not even bother with cause.
After a while I ran into a doctor that prescribed the pill, which made my symptoms worse, and I tried 3 years of antibiotics, which never helped at all. I was handed a prescription and told to go on my way by every single doctor I ever saw. I went to probably 15 or more doctors in the Denver area in the late nineties.
More symptoms of PCOS started to surface
In 2003 my hair started to noticeably thin out and my acne became worse than ever despite the drugs I took for it. I applied Retin-A and developed terrible scaring. Hair growth around my body was very thick. I felt and looked so horrible I wanted to hide much of the time.
In 2004 I found out that I had celiac disease and started to realize that there was some kind of connection with what I put in my mouth and how I felt. This started a mission to save myself. (I had given up on doctors long ago. If anyone was going to help me it was going to be me.)
I started reading all the books I could get my hands on in my free time. I experimented with every type of diet. I read that milk causes acne (not always) and how the rise in insulin from eating sugar causes acne (not the whole story) and how reactions to topical products causes acne (bullshit) and on and on.
I finally got my hands on an ebook about PCOS because a Google search returned a list of PCOS symptoms that included acne. It gave me a clue about the hypoglycemia connection and how I should be limiting carbs and grains. Not much later, I discovered Paleo.
What is PCOS
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS the ovaries produce too much male hormones (androgens), making it difficult or impossible for the ovaries to release an egg. This leads to cysts on the ovaries and a host of troublesome symptoms.
Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular or absent periods
- Pelvic pain
- Cysts on the ovaries
- Weight gain
- Hair loss and facial hair growth (hirsutism)
- Sleep apnea
1 in 15 women have PCOS
Around 5 million women in the US have polycystic ovarian syndrome and the number is growing as our lifestyles and diets become more and more artificial.
The cause of PCOS
While there are many factors which can predispose a woman to develop PCOS such as obesity, genetics, and exposure to synthetic estrogens, insulin resistance is the root cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Insulin resistance arises from long-term elevated blood sugar levels which the pancreas tries to keep in check by releasing insulin. Over time, the cells become desensitized to it and blood sugar regulation is impaired. Eventually this can lead to diabetes.
How insulin leads to PCOS
Insulin helps glucose pass through the cell walls. When cells become resistant to insulin, the glucose must make its way to the liver to be converted to fat instead of being used as energy by the cells. This is why women suffering from PCOS often are often (but not always) overweight.
Insulin resistance leads to an excess of androgens. When the cells are desensitized to insulin the pancreas produces even more than is really needed, thinking that the reason the cells aren’t taking the glucose is because there isn’t enough insulin. Now you have excess insulin floating around in the bloodstream. This free-floating insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce excess testosterone. This prevents the ovary from releasing the egg each month (a leading cause of infertility).
Pollution, exposure to plastics, other chemicals, and conventional beef treated with synthetic hormones can also contribute to hormonal imbalances because they contain xenoestrogens (synthetic or environmental estrogens). These environmental estrogens wreak havoc on our delicate hormonal processes by tricking the body into thinking that there is too much estrogen, causing it to produce excessive amounts of other hormones in attempt to balance it out.
The Paleo Diet Helps With Insulin Control
Like with every other modern health condition, PCOS can be avoided and controlled by diet and lifestyle changes. (Genetics can predispose a person to develop the condition but genetics is rarely the cause of disease.)
Insulin resistance is a totally avoidable and treatable condition.
After learning about grains and sugars, I discovered Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet. My health improved immediately and within 3 months I was pregnant. It was amazing that I was starting to get my hormonal problems under control but, unfortunately, a return to an evolutionary diet was not the whole solution for me.
So I started taking vitamins, minerals, and hormone balancing herbs. I stopped over-exercising. I did all the things that I read should take care of the problem. But I still didn’t fully recover – many of my hundred symptoms improved but not all of them. For years, even after going Primal, I struggled with (minor by this point) PCOS symptoms.
Controlling Insulin Can Be Complicated
- “The secretion of insulin from pancreatic beta cells is a complex process involving the integration and interaction of multiple external and internal stimuli. Thus, nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, and drugs all activate — or inhibit — insulin release.” From Medscape.
- “An extended period of physical or psychological stress, will produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, that can interfere with the synthesis of the brain neurotransmitter, Serotonin.” From The Seratonin Connection. This is problematic because cortisol and adrenalin can instigate the release of more insulin. A lack of serotonin can cause food cravings because refined carbohydrates make tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin) more available for the body to utilize. Once we’ve indulged in sweet foods, we secrete too much insulin, starting the cycle all over again.
- High levels of insulin can cause the body to dump magnesium into the urine which is needed in order to produce serotonin.
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels can trigger the release of adrenaline which causes the liver to produce glucose in expectation of the brain needing extra fuel (flight or fight). This can in turn trigger the release of insulin which, when not properly utilized and left free-floating in the blood, can increase testosterone, leading to all the nasty symptoms of PCOS.
- Weight training and low body weight can also increase the production of stress hormones and, consequently, androgens.
- Last but not least is food allergies. Food allergies and intolerances compromise the absorption of nutrients, causing a cascade of symptoms. Even if you’re doing everything right with diet and lifestyle, if you don’t absorb the nutrients, you can’t heal. Of course, food allergies are often caused by nutritional deficiencies in the first place, but once they’ve surfaced, nutritional deficiencies continue because the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs to heal.