Life & Style | Health

Paleo diet: eat like a caveman

Over-processed Western diet is highly damaging to our health

  • By Mahmood Saberi, Senior Reporter
  • Published: 07:00 August 8, 2013
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • The scientific evidence in support of caveman eating is stacking up. Population studies on the hunter-gatherer people of the Trobrland Islands in Papua New Guinea have found a remarkable absence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

It’s not breaking news but it’s also not leaving the headline space. We are talking about The Paleo Diet. What is the Paleo Diet? It is a reference to the foods that we our ancestors ate which for the most part included meats and seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, explains Markus Giebel, CEO of Eternity Medicine Institute, Dubai.

So what’s new? Are we all not eating these even today? Yes, but if you went through the list of foods carefully, you will notice a glaring amission - grains, legumes and cereal. This is the big category that Paleo dieters insist is bad for health.

“For many people, the day probably starts off with a piece of toast or a sweet pastry, accompanied by a coffee with a spoonful or two of sugar, right?” says Giebel. “For lunch, maybe a sandwich with crisps and a soda. And for dinner, pasta, as it is a nutritious meal.”

But, this, he believes, “completely contradicts the way of eating that has shaped the human genome for the past 2.6 million years, and in the process is causing health problems of epidemic proportions.”

Evidence based on decades of research reveals, says Giebel, that our Paleolithic ancestors were virtually free of chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer, coronary heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and others,” he says. (Paleolithic Era extended from about 2.6 million years ago to 12,000 years ago).

Things began to change after the end of the Paleolithic Era, when we transitioned to an agricultural society, says Giebel.

“As we fast-forward to food-industry developments of the 20th century, there is the advent of junk-food,” he explains. The turning point from where developed societies, particualrly countries in the West, began to see the consequences of veering away from traditional foods and indulging in modern, highly prcessed foods. “Your body is now enduring abuse that it is not capable of managing,” he says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), he says, has provided figures that state the rise of obesity to almost double proportions as compared to the 1980s. Millions in the US, and in the West, die each year as a direct result of being obese.

“This rapid downward spiral in global health all matches up with changes in diet over the past four to five decades.

Add to this higher stress levels, physical inactivity, and increased exposure to toxins and we begin to see the bleak scenario.

Giebel and his colleague at the Clinic, Dr. Graham Simpson, Chief Medical Officer of the Institute, both believe it is best to go back to roots and adopt the diet of our ancestors.

Eating the way our ancestors did during the Paleolithic era helps not only shed the pounds quickly, it has also shown to a reversal of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes, says Dr Simpson.

“The foods of the Western diet, which include among others processed grains and refined sugars, have far-reaching effects on our health,” he says. “The biggest problem is the high glycemic index of many of these foods. With the Western diet, blood sugar and insulin concentrations are constantly at unnatural levels, and then we see the concept of silent inflammation occur,” he adds. “This constant inflammation starts to cause damage to the inner wall of the arteries, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and other life-threatening or life-altering illness.”

The Paleo Diet, according to him, which include meats and fish, most vegetables, fruits not too high in sugar, nuts and seeds, are natural foods that keep the blood sugar levels at normal levels and thus avoidg the insulin spikes.

Does that mean not a crumb of bread, lentils or grain should pass though our lips, ever? “Even I admit to having a piece of bread or a sweet every now and then. To avoid these foods entirely is difficult. What I tell people is that they have to find their own balance.

“In my perfect world, I would eliminate these foods entirely because I know that obesity would all but disappear, and along with it most instances of these horrible diseases.”

According to research, the Paleo Diet also helps in general our mental health, and in the management of serious mental and psychological disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder, Alzheimer’s, and others, according to Dr Simpson.

How would vegetarians benefit from the Paleo Diet?

Dr Simpson agrees that it would be tougher for them given that meat is a main part of the diet. But there are various adaptations of the Paleo Diet for vegetarians.

He shares his three basic rules for making the The Paleo Diet work:

1) When in doubt, stick to meat, fish, vegetables, berries, and nuts. Avoid simple and refined carbs such as pasta, white rice, and bread.

2. Give yourself a “cheat day” once a week. Don’t go overboard, but allow yourself to indulge in one of your favourite, not-so-healthy foods.

3. Don’t be obsessed with counting calories: If you eat the right foods, you can even increase your calorie intake and still maintain a healthy weight.

Fact Box

Case Study

George Stothard , 37, started on the Diet programme earlier this year.

 

His weight at that time was 93.7kg and body fat was 31.7 percent. “It shocked me as I didn’t realise I was almost a third fat, particularly given that I have always exercised four or five times a week,” he says.

Progress: BY the end of February his body fat was down to 26 percent and weight down to 90kg. By the end of March he had come down to 88kg and around 24.5 percent fat. Now, six months later, he is 86kg, and that includes laying on much more muscle. His fat is still higher than I would like--22.5percent to 23 percent.

Benefits: Stothard says it has been easy for him because he had always loved lean meat - lots of it. He has also started juicing at the same time and has bought a juicer and that enables him to to pack in vegetables and moderate amounts of sweet fruits. He sometimes misses tucking in to a pizza and dreams about peanut butter on toast.

“The benefit for me is two-fold. There is the obvious fact that the stuff I put in my body is 100 percent natural - I ‘feel’ healthier,” he says.

 

 

Quick Facts About Paleo

1) What is a Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is based on eating foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors from the Paleolithic Era (2.6 million years ago until 12,000 year ago) ate. The main foods of the Paleo Diet include vegetables, fruits, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. They provide essential nutrients and have a low-glycemic index. Refined sugars and grains and processed foods are not part of the Paleo Diet.

 

2) Are there substantive studies that can explain why the caveman diet is healthy?

The best studies emphasising the benefits of the Paleo Diet are those that show the contrast between healthy and unhealthy eating, which in recent years have had a much stronger focus on foods which keep blood sugar at healthy levels versus those that drive blood sugar up . The Paleo Diet is a low-glycemic load diet (keeps blood sugar levels normal), and numerous studies have shown that high-protein and low-glycemic load diets are more effective for weight loss, controlling diabetes and disease control. Some of the studies can be found within the work of Dr. Cordain, Prof. Lindeberg, University of California and others.

 

3) Why the new-found interest in this diet?

Today’s hype may have you believe that the Paleo Diet came about over the past few years, but the truth is, it originally became popular in the 1970s when gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin came up with the concept. It has indeed been receiving a lot more attention in recent years, with the backing of nutritionists and doctors alike. The popularity of the diet is being aided in large part by a slew of studies showing just how damaging to our health high-glycemic food really is. The low-glycemic load Paleo Diet delivers quick weight loss results and also helps avoid silent inflammation.

 

4) Cavemen did not live too long. How does this explain the claims of the Paleo Diet?

The average age among our Paleolithic ancestors was influenced by factors such as a very high infant mortality rate and death from diseases or ailments which modern medicines can easily cure today. This renders the argument of the average age of death as meaningless when discussing health benefits of the Paleo Diet. What we do know is that the modern Western diet is made up of foods that drive up blood sugar levels and cause insulin spikes - and studies have shown that this can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other problems. The Paleo Diet avoids these types of foods entirely, and studies have shown that our ancestors were, for the most part, free from these diseases.

 

5) Is a Paleo Diet for everyone?

Many nutritionists would argue that the diet is for everyone and that no one needs to be excluded. After all, this was what our Paleolithic ancestors ate and the way our genes are, until now, programmed.

 

6) Since dieters are asked to eat like our ancestors in pre-agriculture times, will a higher protein intake affect people who have high cholesterol or blood pressure?

Most physicians don’t realise that sugar is a prime driver of cholesterol. A high sugar (carb) diet increases insulin which causes increased salt absorption at the kidney as well as affecting the central nervous system and raising blood pressure.

 

7) Paleo prohibits legumes and grains saying they are unfit for human consumption as they are for the reproduction of plants.

Most plants (as well as animals and insects) have evolved protection mechanisms that will prevent predators from consuming them. Legumes are particularly recognised in the plant world for producing a whole host of plant toxins to prevent them being consumed by humans and animals. A lot of the abdominal distress such as gas and bloating and pain are a result of these toxins being released in the gut. Some people are more sensitive than others and should avoid legumes.

 

8) One belief that dominates the Paleo Diet is that many of the grains and legumes we eat today have been cultivated only for about 10,000 years; therefore, they are still new to our evolution and our bodies have not adapted to digesting them.

Absolutely. Humans have been on the planet for at least 2 million years. For more than 100,000 generations, we have been hunter-gatherers. Boyd Eaton, MD from Emery University, published the Paleo Prescription in the New England Journal of Medicine. In his article, he highlighted that the mismatch between our modern diets and genes (genetic discordance) is largely responsible for most of today’s chronic disease.

 

9) What is the theory shunning wheat said to have “poisons’ called lectins - proteins that cause digestive disorders?

What we eat today is very different from what our great grandfathers used to eat. This is due to modern agricultural business and genetic modification of foods. As William Davis, MD, has pointed out in his recent book “Wheat Belly,” wheat can be toxic to the human body for many people. People who eat wheat will consume on average an extra 300 to 400 calories per day. Wheat also produces exotoxins as a result of lectins and other proteins contained in grains.

 

10) How does one compensate for the lack of carbs in this diet?

Most people consume far too many carbs. Vegetables and fruits contain all the carbs most humans need. The body works best when we burn our fat. Unfortunately, in the modern world, people consume so many carbs that the body can rarely burn its fat stores. This has resulted in a global epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Adequate hydration and the Paleo Diet is one of the best way to maintain optimal blood pressure.

 

11) Dairy products are prohibited in Paleo. How is one supposed to get our dosage of calcium for the bones?

In most dairy products, including milk, calcium is very protein bound and is not well absorbed by the body. You can get far more calcium from leafy green veggies, seeds, kelp, almonds, and other nuts.

 

 

12) Many people are turning vegetarian. How can they adapt Paleo to their needs?

Many nutritionists will argue that vegans and vegetarians cannot truly follow a Paleo Diet because the diet needs to include some animal-derived foods such as meat and eggs. However, there are countless adaptations of the Paleo Diet that will let vegans and vegetarians also enjoy some of the benefits.

 

(Markus Giebel, CEO, Eternity Medicine Institute, Dubai).

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