|Turning to the caveman’s diet|
Royston Jones Jr.
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Sep 18, 2012
In an age of microwaves, cooktops, fast food and ready prepared meals, the thought of adopting a high protein diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, void of processed food sources, may seem less than palatable and even impractical.
But for the 21st century hunter-gatherer this is a lifestyle change and quite possibly the untapped secret to a healthier, longer life.
The Paleolithic Diet, a diet similar to that of the caveman in the Paleolithic or Stone Age, has changed little from that of the first humans million of years ago.
As noted by family physician Dr. Ben Balzer in “Introduction to The Paleolithic Diet”, humans have eaten meat, fish, fowl and the leaves, roots and fruits of plants for millions of years, but a major obstacle to getting more calories from the environment has been the fact that many plants and other food sources are inedible without processing.
Dr. Balzer also noted that a selection of these include, grains, beans and potatoes, which although full of energy, are inedible in the raw form due to the toxins they contain.
An agricultural breakthrough around 10,000 years ago meant that these once inedible foods could be consumed when cooked. Heat destroyed enough toxins to render them edible.
What has occurred in the last few thousand years is the average man, woman and child leading increasingly sedentary lives and eating a highly processed synthetic diet. Here in The Bahamas the problem is acute. According to leading health experts, 70 percent of Bahamians are overweight or obese.
The website thepaleodiet.com sets out the basics of the diet, which includes the consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and seafood and low-glycemic carbohydrates that promote good health. It is low in refined sugars and grains, saturated and trans fats, salt, high-glycemic carbohydrates and processed foods that can frequently cause weight gain and other health problems.
I have had intimate contact with someone who has made the change back to the old way of eating. For my father Royston A. Jones Sr., a previous high carbohydrate consumer who underwent a lifestyle change in mid-July 2007, the Paleo appeared the ideal diet after months of extensive research.
He said there were a lot of opposing views on the ideal eating lifestyle, ranging from vegetarianism, veganism and meat-based diets – all with moderate to extreme versions – but it has been quite the journey after more than five years adapting to Paleo.
“In the first few months it was very, very strange,” said Jones, as he recalled the first few months of his lifestyle transition.
“I can only describe it with hindsight as withdrawal, very jittery, cloudy mind. I just couldn’t think cleary for periods of time and I was low on energy and irritable.
“I also had a real desire for carbohydrates – sweet things, bulky grainy foods – thinking I need something solid. I was wondering what was going on and this lasted for at least three to four months.
“I now refer to that period as a period of adjustment, and although it improved as I went along it took at least that amount of time before I felt revitalized.”
Jones, 53, said after many years of attempting to address some primary health concerns, including high cholesterol, both he and his physician have marked noticeable physical and health-related changes.
“I now have better stamina for long endurance events and I can sustain energy for a longer period,” Jones said.
“I think glucose stored in the muscle runs out pretty quickly but fat is a more dense form of energy, a heavier source of calories. When you start burning fat as an energy source you can sustain exercise much longer and a lot of the studies say that.
“You’re not necessarily faster but you can go for longer. In terms of eating, I can go for much longer periods of times without food. I can go a whole day without any gastrointestinal discomfort.”
Julia Lee, registered dietician and coordinator of clinical nutrition at Doctors Hospital, said there are benefits and drawbacks from leading a Paleo lifestyle.
And while most health professionals would agree that a plant-based diet that incorporates animal-based foods is a good way to go, she added, the Paleo may not be a practical dieting option to comply with in the long-term for the average person.
“One of the foods that is often omitted is white potatoes because they are considered to be a high glycemic index food, but I have really never met anyone with health issues because of eating potatoes,” Lee said.
“I think that you could maintain the energy and gain the calories needed to function and live healthily with the Paleo diet. But the more restrictive, the more foods you say no to, the more you may be at risk of eliminating certain nutrients.”
Lee emphasized, though, that the closer to nature your food is, the better your diet and long-term health will be because processing food often removes good nutrients, which food producers then try to put back.
Changing your lifestyle
Many historical and anthropological studies show that hunter-gatherers were generally healthy, fit and largely free of the degenerative cardiovascular diseases common in modern societies, according to James H. O’Keefe Jr., MD, and Loren Cordain, Ph.D, authors of “How to Become a 21st-Century Hunter-Gatherer”.
“Our remote ancestors consumed only natural and unprocessed food foraged and hunted from their environment,” reads the research paper by Dr. Cordain.
“This subsistence strategy provided a diet of lean protein that was high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial phytochemicals.
“The typical Paleolithic diet compared with the average modern American diet contained two to three times more fiber, one-and-a-half to two times more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, four times more Omega-3 fats, but 60 to 70 percent less saturated fat.
“Protein intake was two to three times higher, and potassium intake was three to four times higher. However, sodium intake was four to five times lower.
“Finally, the Paleolithic diet contained no refined grains and sugars (except for seasonally available honey). Clearly, the ongoing epidemic of cardiovascular diseases is at least in part due to these striking discrepancies between the diet we are designed to eat and what we eat today.”
Jones also spoke of other noticeable physical benefits he thinks might be the result of his lifestyle change.
“I also used to have a significant case of shifting clouds (Tinea versicolor) on my back and after about six months on the diet someone looked at my back and said, ‘What happened to your shifting clouds?’ They had just disappeared after 25 years of them being there and getting progressively worse,” Jones said.
“It seems that the immune system operates more effectively and does not react to lifestyle problems based on the diet – at least that’s my theory.
“Certain foods I hadn’t been able to eat for 10 years without causing stomach upset like raisins and grapes, I was able to digest in any volume without any problem, which had gone on for 20 years.”
Jones said it is equally important for him to complement his eating habits with workout regimes that match the high endurance activities of his ancestors. An ardent athlete and sports enthusiast, Jones frequently spends two to three hours on average up to four days a week kayaking and rowing, running on the sand and spearfishing.
• For Cordain’s and O’Keefe’s full publication on Paleo go to the National Institutes of Health’s website: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed