Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

June 18, 2009

Paleo, Shmaleo, or So I Thought…

Filed under: diet — Tags: , , , , — Mara @ 7:58 pm

When I first heard about the Paleolithic diet, my mind flashed back to the time when my mother tried to get me into the Blood Type Diet. I have type O blood, so according to them, I had the least evolved blood type, akin to ancient hunter-gatherers, and therefore I should eat what they would have eaten. I thought this was a load of mammoth crap, mostly because I was not even close to willing to give up all my favorite foods: wheat, dairy, and sweets. This Blood Type Diet also made ridiculous distinctions between different kinds of vegetables and fruits, different kinds of meats, even spices, according to your blood type.

Now I’m hearing that everyone is supposed to eat like a caveman, or woman. Fat chance! But it did make more sense than the different blood types explination. And I liked that it focused on natural food with lots of fruit and veggies, not buckets of cream cheese and bacon with some hoodia powder on top.

So, at my husband’s behest, I began to slowly remove grains and other carbohydrate-dense foods from my diet and replace them with more protein, fruits, vegetables, and good fats, including fish oil pills. I also started eating two serious snacks (over 200 calories each) in addition to my three main meals.

There has been a lot of trial and error, and there is still a lot of cheating going on, but the difference these changes have made is HUGE. I almost never have those sharp drops in blood sugar that seemed to come out of nowhere and left me barely conscious, cranky as hell, and sometimes unable to even function enough to find food and eat it. I can hardly remember the afternoon doldrums that used to hit me every day after my carb-packed lunch. I feel satiated after much less food and feel full longer. Never a dieter, I eat as much as I want as long as it’s paleo foods, focusing on quality instead of quantity, and I have lost fat while gaining lean muscle. I am in the best shape of my life, I feel great, and I enjoy knowing that I am investing in the long-term health of my body and mind, at least according to recent research.

Which is where the questions start. What exactly is this “recent research”? What does is say exactly? What is it based on? And what do we do with counter arguments also seemingly based on research? I would love to be able to answer all those questions, but all I can do is share a few things that I came across in recent web travels. Is it possible that this newest research could turn out to be inaccurate or to be overlooking something major in the next 20 (or 5) years? Absolutely. But to me the evidence is pretty clear—both looking at my own life and at national trends—that the traditional nutritional wisdom does not work. So I’m pretty confident that I’m moving in the right direction, and I’m 100 percent certain that I’m eating healthier than I ever have before. Each person has to tweak the basic paleo guidelines to meet their own dietary and lifestyle needs and restrictions, but as Josh and I have seen, even half-assed, carb-sneaking, dairy-loving, whey protein-guzzling, beer-drinking paleo can make a huge difference. And it can take you one huge step closer to your ultimate goal: extreme hottness.

Below I’ve pasted some of the best FAQs I stumbled across on www.thepaleodiet.com. The official site of the Paleo Diet, this information seems to be based on a lot of research, and there’s plenty more to read if you go to their site. Hope this helps!

Describe how The Paleo Diet works.

With readily available modern foods, The Paleo Diet mimics the types of foods every single person on the planet ate prior to the Agricultural Revolution (a mere 500 generations ago). These foods (fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood) are high in the beneficial nutrients (soluble fiber, antioxidant vitamins, phytochemicals, omega-3 and monounsaturated fats, and low-glycemic carbohydrates) that promote good health and are low in the foods and nutrients (refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates, and processed foods) that frequently may cause weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and numerous other health problems. The Paleo Diet encourages dieters to replace dairy and grain products with fresh fruits and vegetables — foods that are more nutritious than whole grains or dairy products.

How does The Paleo Diet differ from the glut of diet books constantly bombarding the public?

The Paleo Diet is the unique diet to which our species is genetically adapted. This program of eating was not designed by diet doctors, faddists, or nutritionists, but rather by Mother Nature’s wisdom acting through evolution and natural selection. The Paleo Diet is based upon extensive scientific research examining the types and quantities of foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. This nutritional plan is totally unlike those irresponsible, low-carbohydrate, high-fat, fad diets that allow unlimited consumption of artery-clogging cheeses, bacon, butter, and fatty meats. Rather, the foundation of The Paleo Diet is lean meat, seafood, and unlimited consumption of fresh fruits and veggies.

Since hunter-gatherers lived a “nasty, short, and brutal life,” how can we know if their diets were healthful or not? Don’t their short life spans suggest a poor diet?

It is certainly true that hunter-gatherers studied during modern times did not have as great an average lifespan as those values found in fully westernized, industrial nations. However, most deaths in hunter-gatherer societies were related to the accidents and trauma of a life spent living outdoors without modern medical care, as opposed to the chronic degenerative diseases that afflict modern societies. In most hunter-gatherer populations today, approximately 10-20% of the population is 60 years of age or older. These elderly people have been shown to be generally free of the signs and symptoms of chronic disease (obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels) that universally afflict the elderly in western societies. When these people adopt western diets, their health declines and they begin to exhibit signs and symptoms of “diseases of civilization.”

How can the lean meat and seafood-dominated Paleo Diet help me lose weight compared to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet?

Conventional wisdom tells us that to lose weight we must burn more calories than we take in and that the best way to accomplish this is to eat a plant-dominated, low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. The first part of this equation is still true — a net caloric deficit must occur in order for weight to be lost. However, the experience for most people on low-calorie, high-carbohydrate diets is unpleasant. They are hungry all the time, and for the vast majority, any weight lost is regained rapidly or within a few months of the initial loss. The diet doctors with their low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets offer us an alternative, but this nutritional gambit is nothing more than a short term ploy to lose weight that in the long run is unhealthy because of its reliance upon fats (bacon, butter, fatty meats, cheeses, etc.) at the expense of healthful fruits and vegetables.

There is an alternative — a diet that emulates what our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate — a high-protein, high-fruit and veggie diet with moderate amounts of fat, but with high quantities of healthful omega-3 and monounsaturated fats. Protein has two to three times the thermic effect of either fat or carbohydrate, meaning that it revs up your metabolism, speeding weight loss. Additionally, protein has a much greater satiety value than either fat or carbohydrate, so it puts the brakes on your appetite. Finally, three recent clinical trials have shown high-protein diets to be more effective than low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets in promoting weight loss.

Lean protein has been shown repeatedly to be the most satiating of all three macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate). Numerous clinical trials have shown that people eat fewer calories during a high-protein meal compared to high-fat or carbohydrate meals, and they eat fewer calories at the meal immediately following a high-protein meal. Finally, lean protein has two to three times the thermic effect of either carbohydrate or fat — meaning that it elevates metabolism ~5-10% higher than when either carbohydrate or fat are consumed.

Both carbohydrates and fats can be consumed (theoretically) in quantities greater than the daily energy expended because there is no physiological limit or ceiling that occurs when these substrates are metabolized. Excess dietary carbohydrate or excess fat do not make us acutely ill like excess protein. Hence, these excess calories are simply stored as body fat. Over the long haul, when more energy is consumed than energy expended, we gain weight.

Carbohydrates that cause us to gain weight are typically carbohydrates with a high glycemic load. Although most of you have probably heard of the glycemic index (the ability of a food to acutely raise the blood sugar), many are unfamiliar with the glycemic load, which is simply the glycemic index of a food multiplied by the carbohydrate content in a given amount of the food. The glycemic load of a food is more closely related to the net insulin response over a 24-hr period than is the simple glycemic index. Consequently, it is the glycemic load that may predispose us to obesity and chronic disease.

Although watermelon has a high glycemic index (72) similar to white bread (70), it has a glycemic load (per 100 grams of watermelon) that is only 5.2 compared to a glycemic load in white bread of 34.7. The International Table of Glycemic Indices lists the glycemic index of 11 fruits. The glycemic loads (per 100 grams of food) of these 11 fruits are as follows: bananas 12.1, pineapple 8.2, grapes 7.7, kiwi fruit 7.4, apple 6.0, pear 5.4, watermelon 5.2, orange 5.1, cherries 3.7, peach 3.1, grapefruit 1.9. Consequently one would have to eat 6.7 times as much watermelon as white bread to achieve an equivalent glycemic load. Let’s say you ate 4 slices of white bread (or 100 grams, ~ 1/4 lb). In order to get an equivalent glycemic load, you would have to eat almost 1.5 lbs of watermelon or 4 lbs of grapefruit.

One of the body’s mechanisms used to determine when to stop eating is stomach volume or fullness. Most people would stop eating watermelon after about 3.0 lbs (435 kcal) or say even 6.0 lbs (870 kcal) because their stomach volumes simply could not physically take much more food. Hence, under normal eating conditions, it is difficult or impossible for most people to overeat on fruits alone.

What are other health benefits that may occur with The Paleo Diet?

The carbohydrates (unlimited fruits and veggies) in The Paleo Diet are of a low-glycemic index, meaning that they cause slow and limited rises in your blood sugar and insulin levels. Excessive insulin and blood sugar levels are known to promote a cluster of diseases called Syndrome X (obesity, hypertension, undesirable blood cholesterol and other blood lipid levels, Type 2 diabetes and gout). The high fiber, protein, and omega-3 fat content of The Paleo Diet will also help to prevent Syndrome X diseases.

Because of the unlimited amounts of fruits and veggies permitted on The Paleo Diet, your body will be slightly alkaline — meaning that diseases and disease symptoms of acid/base imbalance (osteoporosis, kidney stones, hypertension, stroke, asthma, insomnia, motion sickness, inner ear ringing, and exercise-induced asthma) will improve.

The high soluble-fiber content of The Paleo Diet will improve most diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, and the high omega-3 fat content will improve most of the “itis” or inflammatory diseases.

Aren’t whole grains good sources of fiber, minerals, and B vitamins? How can I get these nutrients if I cut down or eliminate grains from my diet?

On a calorie-by-calorie basis, whole grains are lousy sources of fiber, minerals, and B vitamins when compared to the lean meats, seafood, and fresh fruit and veggies that dominate The Paleo Diet. For example, a 1,000-calorie serving of fresh fruits and vegetables has between two and seven times as much fiber as does a comparable serving of whole grains. In fruits and veggies most of the fiber is heart-healthy, soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol levels — the same cannot be said for the insoluble fiber that is predominant in most whole grains. A 1,000-calorie serving of whole grain cereal contains 15 times less calcium, three times less magnesium, 12 times less potassium, six times less iron, and two times less copper than a comparable serving of fresh vegetables. Moreover, whole grains contain a substance called phytate that almost entirely prevents the absorption of any calcium, iron, or zinc that is found in whole grains, whereas the type of iron, zinc, and copper found in lean meats and seafood is in a form that is highly absorbed.
Compared to fruits and veggies, cereal grains are B-vitamin lightweights. An average 1,000 calorie serving of mixed vegetables contain 19 times more folate, five times more vitamin B6, six times more vitamin B2 and two times more vitamin B1 than a comparable serving of eight mixed whole grains. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, the niacin content of lean meat and seafood is four times greater than that found in whole grains. Click here to read more about cereal grains.

How can I get enough calcium to build strong bones if I cut down or eliminate dairy foods and replace them with fruits and vegetables? Will The Paleo Diet damage my bones or give me osteoporosis?

(Mara’s note: I am researching the inclusion or exclusion of dairy with a paleo-based diet and will post my findings soon. Since Josh and I keep our mouths pretty close to the udder, this is important stuff!)

In the U.S. calcium intake is one of the highest in the world, yet paradoxically we also have one of the highest rates of bone de-mineralization (osteoporosis). Bone mineral content is dependent not just upon calcium intake but upon net calcium balance (calcium intake minus calcium excretion). Most nutritionists focus upon the calcium intake side of the calcium balance equation, however few realize that the calcium excretion side of the equation is just as important.
Bone health is substantially dependent on dietary acid/base balance. All foods upon digestion ultimately must report to the kidney as either acid or base. When the diet yields a net acid load (such as low-carb fad diets that restrict consumption of fruits and vegetables), the acid must be buffered by the alkaline stores of base in the body. Calcium salts in the bones represent the largest store of alkaline base in the body and are depleted and eliminated in the urine when the diet produces a net acid load. The highest acid-producing foods are hard cheeses, cereal grains, salted foods, meats, and legumes, whereas the only alkaline, base-producing foods are fruits and vegetables. Because the average American diet is overloaded with grains, cheeses, salted processed foods, and fatty meats at the expense of fruits and vegetables, it produces a net acid load and promotes bone de-mineralization. By replacing hard cheeses, cereal grains, and processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance which brings us also back into calcium balance.

Why do you recommend eating lean meats on a true, Paleo Diet? Wouldn’t hunter-gatherers have savored fatty meats?

Some people who have adopted what they think are “Paleolithic diets” have embraced fatty meats such as bacon, T-bone steaks, and ribs as staple meats. Even some of the Diet Doctors with their high-fat, low-carbohydrate weight loss schemes have tried to jump on the Paleolithic bandwagon by suggesting that fatty meats would have been normal fare for Stone-Agers. Let’s take a look at the real story.

Because animals had yet to be domesticated, Stone Age hunters could only eat wild animals whose body fat naturally waxes and wanes with the seasons. In contrast, virtually all of the meat in the typical U.S. diet comes from grain-fattened animals, slaughtered at peak body fat percentage regardless of the time of year. For instance, modern feedlot operations typically produce an obese (30% body fat or greater) 1,200-pound steer ready for slaughter in about 14 months. These animals are produced like clockwork, 12 months out of the year, no matter whether it is spring, summer, fall or winter. Quite the opposite, the first figure below shows how body fat changes with the seasons in wild animals such as caribou. Note that for 7 months out of the year total body fat averages less than 5.0 %. Only in the fall and early winter are significant body fat stores.

From our analyses of 229 hunter-gatherer diets and the nutrient content of wild plants and animals, our research team has demonstrated the most representative fat intake would have varied from 28 to 57% of total calories. To reduce our risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that we should limit our total fat to 30% or less of our daily calories. On the surface, it would appear that, except for the extreme lower range, there would be too much fat in the typical hunter-gatherer diet. Well, this is the same message that we (the American public) have heard for decades–get the fat out of your diet! The Food Pyramid cautions us to cut as much fat as we can and replace it with grains and carbohydrate. Not only is this message misguided, it is just flat out wrong. Scientists have known for more than 50 years that it is not the total amount of fat in the diet that promotes heart disease but rather the kind of fat. Plain and simple, it is a qualitative issue, not a quantitative one! Polyunsaturated fats are good for us, particularly when we correctly balance the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are heart healthy, and even some saturated fats such as stearic acid (found in animal fat) do not promote heart disease. Deadly fats are three specific saturated fats (palmitic acid, lauric acid, and myristic acid) and the trans-fats found in margarine, shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and processed foods made with these products.


  1. Awesome blog!!! Very informative. I must concur with your view point on how you can see a change in your appetite and overall look. We've changed our diet for a month now and I see a huge difference in my appetite, the biggest difference being the fact that I no longer suffer from the peaks and valleys that the evil carbs would drudged me through. Kudos on the info!

    Comment by Abby — June 19, 2009 @ 1:49 am

  2. I have become a big fan of monounsaturated fats, especially the fats in avocados. They really help with controlling my Type 2 diabetes.

    Comment by Jim the Guacamole Diet guy — June 29, 2009 @ 12:16 am

  3. […] around our blog – click on “diet” (see, especially this post (thanks, Micah and Mara!))and see some of our deeper conversations about how to eat at Chic-fil-a […]

    Pingback by A Primer on Initial Diet Changes for Newbies at FAHBG « Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym — November 4, 2009 @ 9:53 am

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