In 2009, my wife was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) yet 3 years on, we are living symptom free. Much of this is due to the the Paleo Diet and way of living. I have spent nearly three years reviewing all the many healthy diets to ensure we are doing the right thing and keep as healthy as possible. Initially, the goal was just to keep the MS in check but on the way we learnt a whole lot more about health and managed to deal with a bunch of other problems.
Ultimately, my goal is to find and keep on refining the most perfect diet possible and ultimately, so far, this has ended up being a Paleo approach as suggested by Robb Wolf and other credible Paleo people. There are many good books written on Paleo eating, some real good ones here, here and here but this post tries to provide a jump-in-point for further reading and some links to accesible information for you to further your knowledge and make your own decisions why Paleo might be right for you.
Whilst there are hundreds of ‘diets’ there are three main dietary options suggested for health: the conventional wisdom approach, the Vegan diet and the Paleo diet. Conventional wisdom is the low fat, whole grain driven food pyramid diet that you already know. The vegan diet eschews any animal products and is a diet prone to cause deficiencies due to a lack of the right fats, B vitamins and other nutrients. Often, the vegan diet also tends to be ethically rather than scientifically driven which ethically, it has some unarguable points but here, I am mainly concerned with the optional diet for human health rather with ethics taking a back seat (an important back seat no less, maybe even riding shotgun).
The final contender amongst the main dietary options is the Paleo Diet which uses thinking about how and what our ancestors ate as a framework for thinking about how and what we should eat today. What makes the Paleo diet more interesting than the other diets is not so much what it started out as but what it has become and it is a diet that is driven by Darwinian thinking, biology, biochemistry and epidemiology amongst other disciplines. The point being that the ancestral approach provides a framework for thinking but the diet is refined with rigorous and hard science.
My own research for our own health has lead me down several different paths but all of them ended up at the ancestral, Primal, Paleo style diet and it is this diet which I believe to be the perfect human diet or as close to it as is currently possible. The following article provides a simple jump in point with some links to further reading and even some of the more difficult to source products that you will need in your Paleo pantry.
Problems with the modern diet (in a nutshell)
There are several health epidemics and despite people eating more whole grains and less fat than ever before our rates of disease, obesity, diabetes, cancers, autoimmune disease contine to climb. The thinking behind the paleo diet and to a lesser degree Veganism is that it is our modern diet and specifically processed foods, dietary sugar and trans fats that are at the root of all of these problems. Additionally, other neolithic foods, only recently introduced since the dawn of agriculture now form a major part of our diet and we are simply not well adapted to eat such foods as grains, legumes, dairy and other processed foods and seed oils. Additionally, there is further evidence that high levels of carbohydrates, sugars and refined carbohydrates further contribute to the health problems plaguing the western world.
You can read more about what Paleo is and why you should try Paleo but this article is primarily a jump in point for those willing to give Paleo a try for 30 days so rather than reading about it, you can try it and make your own mind up.
The two big areas that the modern diet is out of whack is in our balance of essential fatty acids (omega 3/6/9) and vitamin D – both of these are easily resolved.
1. Take a one time mega dose of vitamin D at 600,000IU
2. Take a daily supplement of 10,000IU in winter & 5,000IU in summer
Omega 3 6 9 Balance
Second biggy is the balance of essential fats in the modern diet. We are practically swimming in omega 6 from seed oils, processed food and saturated fat from feedlot raised animal products. Estimates put the modern omega 6 to omega 3 balance at anything from 10 to 1 up to 40 to 1 in favour of omega 6. This is a problem as omega 6 controls inflammation and omega 3 suppresses it.
This is easily researched further but the goal here is to readress the balance of omega 6 and omega 3 to as close to a 1:1 ratio as possible so the level of omega 3 should be as close to the level omega 6 in the food you eat.
There is one extra consideration here as the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are not a stable fat so they should be kept as low as possible in the diet as they are prone to oxidation in the body (this is a bad thing). So, rather than up the omega 3 you should take down the omega 6 as far as possible.
1. Stop eating all heavy sources of omega 6 (seed oils, poultry fat, careful with the nuts)
2. supplement with two grams of good strong omega 3 daily
Below is the supplements I use but there are others out there so.
There is some discussion, even within the Paleo blogosphere regarding the amount of carbs we should be getting and clearly, it varies based on activity levels and whether you are looking to lose weight or deal with other issues. The generally agreed levels seem to be that between 50 and 100 grams a day leads to effortless weight loss and 100 to 150 grams a day is perfect for maintenance. If you exercise, then you can add around 100 grams of carbs per hour of exercise and ideally in the post exercise window.
Obviously, carbs should come from fruit and vegetables in the 50 to 150 grams range and if you need to add some extras to complement exercise then some good quality safe starches like sweet potato, yams and plantains are a good, clean, nutrient dense source.
There is a little more reading on this here:
If you really want to get more into the whole carbs and insulin thing then the latest Gary Taubes book would be a good starting place.
An important theme throughout this is food quality and that is never more important than when we are talking about animal products of any kind. Animals produced for food are fed an unnatural diet, given steroids to grow faster and fed antibiotics as a matter of course to prevent them from dying due to the conditions in which they are raised. From a food quality perspective this produces unhealthy food with the problems concentrated in the fats.
Free range means nothing and organic just means no antibiotics or steroids, it still does not mean it is a healthy product.Wherever possible, when eating animals try to buy grass fed or traditionally reared. Where this is not possible then stick to lean meats like chicken breast as the problems are concentrated in the fats.
Below, when I mention things like trying dairy out, it is always organic grass fed. With fish it is always wild caught and with meat grass fed is better else stick to lean cuts like chicken breast.
To find out more about grass fed meat and produce check out Eat Wild.
30 Day Challenge
The main deal here with the modern Paleo approach is that you try it out for 30 days and see what works. After that point you can try introducing a few of the foods we initially restrict and see if you have any adverse reaction.
What not to eat
Grains – wheat in all forms, corn, oats, rice etc
Seed Oils – sunflower oil, vegetable oil etc
Dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt etc
Processed foods & Sugars
Legumes – all dried beans, green beans etc
Starches (potatoes, rice etc)
What to eat
Nuts and Seeds
Healthy Fats *
Wild Caught Fish (atlantic salmon, cod etc)
Grass Fed Beef (optional)
* extra virgin olive oil as main fat (ideally the really green unfiltered stuff in a glass bottle), organic coconut oil for cooking & frying, coconut milk replacemetns (http://www.karadairyfree.com/) & coconut roducts, lots of avocados.
For frying then you can’t beat organic virgin coconut oil. It is heat stable and contains lots of medium chain fatty acids and has a whole host of possible health benefits from reducing bad cholesterol to helping maintain a healthy gut. I use this brand but any will do – just make sure it is organic virgin coconut oil else it will likely have been heat processed.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for salads and pouring on your dinners to make them more fat heavy (good thing)
You are basically going onto a low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet, the complete reverse of what we are told is usually right for us but what science is showing to be the optimal diet for human health as long as we get the bad fats out (seed oils, trans fats, animal fats from unhealthy animals) and the right fats in (extra virgin olive oil, saturated fat from coconuts, avocados and healthy animals).
We basically want a plate of food that is a lot of vegetables, a piece of lean meat and maybe some safe starches like sweet potato, yams etc.
After the 30 days is up you can reintroduce some foods and even some dairy if you want to try it. I would recommend coconut milk instead of normal milk but if you want to try it you can and see how you get on. Some people are more adjusted to dairy than others, give this a read: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dairy-intolerance/
If you really want to introduce dairy, yogurt and cheese it really must be grass fed and you won’t find much better than this:
That’s not to say you will get on with it but doing 30 days with out and trying will let you know for sure.
Introduce grass fed butter after initial 30 days & see how you get on:
Anything that gives you a reaction on reintroduction (stomach upset, digestive pain, anything else drop like the bad habit it is).
Lots of walking & low intensity (walking etc)
Short intense exercise once or twice a week (sprints – beginner, intermediate and expert)
Some strength training twice a week – ideally a progressive loading system or simple body weight stuff
If you are really interested in strength then I suggest you check out Starting Strength.
Simply put, get enough sleep, it is important and can derail all the above. You want 8 hours plus every night in a perfectly dark room.
Summary NOT to do
- No wheat or grains
- No seed or vegetable oils
- No processed or baked goods (biscuits, cakes etc)
- No dairy
- No legumes (beans)
- No alcohol – red wine and white spirits are best if you absolutely must
- No sugar
- Keep carbs around 100 to 150 a day and from veg and fruit
Summary to do
- Supplement with Vitamin D
- Supplement with Omega 3
- Eat Lean Meats
- Eat lots of vegetables
- Eat lots of Fruit
- Snack on Raw Nuts
- Eat more fat (avocado, coconut milk from pressed organic coconut, grass fed meat, fish, grass fed butter)
Some Recommended Reading
There is just so much to learn so I have tried to put together some suggested reading. Not always the most scientific things but rather the most accessible and best overviews of all the topics. Please, drop a comment below if you would like direction towards something more geeky.
And watch this (all parts) to answer your questions on grains / legumes etc:
Ideally buy and read this:
Then read these to answer your questions about the basics (or the book would cover all of this)
Families and Children
The Perfect Human Diet
Rather than treating this as a traditional post, I intend to revise it as I have time to keep it up to date. In addition to this, I would suggest all readers get the Robb Wolf Paleo Solution book and start listening to his podcast as it will help introduce many concepts and give structure to your personalisation of the approach.
One thing to take away is that if you give the body everything it needs, it then works properly and from what I have seen on my travels eating a clean Paleo diet makes people super fertile anyway.
30 Days to a new you!
Do a the 30 day trial and that will answer most of your questions and I assure you, once you get used to it you will feel better and most of your questions and worries will fall away. If not, drop a comment below and either myself or Jase will do our best to help or at least point you towards someone who can!