Friday, March 25, 2011

Healthy Eating 501: The Paleo Diet

I.   Introduction
II.  Paleo, What??
III.  What Foods are in the Paleo Diet?
IV.  Scientific Support of the Paleo Diet
V. Conclusion
VI.  Bibliography 
I.  Introduction

Recently, I discussed some basic healthy eating recommendations in the article 'Healthy Eating 101' (HE 101).  For some, the recommendations in that post are a huge change and require some time to adjust to that HE 101 lifestyle.  While HE 101 habits are significantly better than the typical, Western, high-fat, high-carbohydrate, low-nutrient diet, there are some drawbacks from the consumption of grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc), legumes (lentils, beans, peanuts, etc), and dairy products.  Some people may be totally unwilling to eliminate these foods from their diets, and I understand that.

Therefore, this post is for those who a) have already passed HE 101 and are seeking "graduate-level" healthy eating curriculum, or b) would like to skip HE 101 and go right to the healthiest type of eating there is.  If you fall into either of those two categories, this post is for you:  

Healthy Eating 501 - The Paleo Diet

II.  Paleo, What??
Some of you may have heard of the ‘Caveman Diet’ and wondered, “What in the world is that”?  Others may have completely blown it off as another fad diet that doesn’t work.  Well hold on, not so fast!  There is serious evidence supporting the value of the Caveman Diet as a safe method for healthy living and weight loss.

The “Caveman”, or Paleolithic, diet refers to a period of time beginning 2 million years ago and continuing until about 10,000 years ago.  During this time, the Homo genus (our ancestors) lived as hunters and gatherers.  They hunted wild animals and used them as sources for lean meats, internal organs, and bone marrow.  They gathered natural foods from plants such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other non-grain carbohydrate sources [1, 2].  However, the development of 1) agricultural systems that alter the natural growth of plant-source foods and 2) animal growth and domestication techniques that alter the natural development of animal-source foods, initiated the eradication of the Paleolithic lifestyle [2] by introducing foods that were absent in the Paleolithic diet.  Combined with the industrial revolution, fast-food revolution, and introduction of alcohol, the physiological make-up of the contemporary human being has been dramatically altered [2]. 

A specific example of how modern developments have changed the quality of our food sources is cattle feeding.  Technological developments of the 19th century such as the steam engine and railroads, allowed for larger grain harvests and easier transportation of cattle, which led to the practice of feeding grain to cattle, rather than grass [3].  This change allowed cattle to be rapidly fattened, slaughtered, and sold as meat.  However, the meat taken from overweight, grain-fed cattle has higher saturated fat content and lower healthy fat content [3].  Even though this is known, 99% of beef consumed in the US is from grain-fed, overweight cattle [3].  And the same grain-overfeeding approach is applied to chickens and pigs.

Some of the modern foods that have contributed to the physiological alteration of humans include non-human milk from mammals, meats from grain-fed animals, refined carbohydrates, separated oils, saturated fats, and trans fats [1, 3, 4].  A surprising finding for me was that grains (wheat, rye, barley) have also contributed to this alteration (I will go into great detail into this in Part II, it deserves its own blog).  Multiple generations have made these modern foods a large part of their diets, while neglecting Paleolithic foods, such as lean meats from wild game or grass-fed animals, and natural plant foods (i.e. – organic fruits and vegetables) [2].   Therefore, these modern revolutions have coincided with the increased incidence of modern diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer, and sarcopenia (decrease in muscle mass with age) [1, 3, 4].  These diseases are often referred to as the “diseases of civilization”.  And in my opinion, the development and distribution of prescription drugs is the worst solution for those suffering from these disorders.  Rather than changing their eating habits, many people depend on drugs to do magic and heal them.  Well, it should be no surprise that often times, the drugs just make you feel even worse.  It should also be no surprise that many studies support the use of the Paleolithic diet to improve the overall health of individuals suffering from the effects of these modern diseases.  But before going into that, here’s a short list of what can and cannot be eaten in the Paleolithic Diet.
III.  What Foods are in the Paleo Diet?
Foods in the Paleolithic Diet:
1.  Foods that can be hunted or fished: lean meats (free of food additives, wild game meats, grass-fed beef and chicken), fish, and other seafood (purchased raw and unprocessed).
2.  Foods that can be gathered: naturally grown fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs from grass-fed chickens, mushrooms, herbs, spices, tubers (sweet potatoes, yams)

Foods not in the Paleolithic Diet:
1.  High glycemic carbohydrates (including potatoes), refined sugars, sweets, artificial sweeteners
2.  Grains (this includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, any type of bread, this was the most surprising to me, but there are reasons why)
3.  Corn
4.  Legumes (lentils, beans, peas, soy, peanuts)
5.  Dairy products
6.  Salt
7.  Processed oils
8.  Anything processed

IV.  Scientific Support of the Paleo Diet
A study by Frassetto et al. (2009) placed non-obese, healthy subjects on Paleolithic diets for 17 days, providing enough calories to maintain their weight.  In their normal diets, caloric intake from protein, carbohydrates (any kind), and fats (any kind) was 18%, 44%, and 38%, respectively.  In their Paleo diets, caloric intake from protein, carbohydrates, and fats (mainly unsaturated) was 30%, 38%, and 32%, respectively.  After the 17-day period, subjects had:

-16% decrease in total cholesterol
-22% decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol
-No change in HDL (good) cholesterol
-Improved glucose tolerance
-Increased insulin sensitivity
-Decreased blood pressure
-Significant decrease in urine sodium and increase in urine potassium (diets high in sodium and low in potassium play a role in health issues such as hypertension, stroke, kidney stones, gastrointestinal tract cancer). 

A study by Jonsson et al. (2006) was also conducted to investigate the effect of the Paleolithic diet on disease risk factors in domestic pigs.  Piglets were fed either a cereal-based swine feed or Paleolithic foods (fruits, vegetables, meat, and tubers).  After 17 months, pigs on the Paleolithic diet had greater insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, and lower C-reactive protein in the blood [5] (High C-reactive protein – greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease).  Even though this study was not in humans, these risk factors can negatively affect the quality of the meat provided from these animals.  We, as consumers, may then ingest byproducts of the damage caused by these increased risk factors in animals. 

A study by Lindeberg et al. (2007) also showed that a Paleolithic diet was more effective in improving glucose tolerance in ischemic heart disease patients than a Mediterranean diet, which consists of “whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy products, potatoes, legumes, vegetables, fruits, fatty fish, and refined fats rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid.”
V.  Conclusion

So, when you look at the large amount of processed, unhealthy food that is easily accessible, combined with the quality of the meat that we eat, it’s easier to understand why the Paleolithic Diet improves overall health.  But as I alluded to earlier in this post, the exclusion of grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy products was very surprising!  I always thought they were healthy?  I should have been a Quaker spokesperson for all of the oatmeal I ate.  So of course, when I initially saw that grains, legumes, and dairy products were bad, my first reaction was, “That’s pure BS!”  But luckily, I always do my due diligence.  Not only is there good reason why these foods are excluded from this diet, there has been a significant amount of research conducted on some of the toxic effects of grains, legumes, and dairy products.  Don’t get me wrong, they do have positive properties, but they also have negative ones that can affect your well being.  Gathering this knowledge has truly made me re-assess what I eat and what is truly healthy.  I’ll go into greater detail on these toxic effects in Part II…so DON’T MISS OUT!!!

Dr. O 
"I don't live to eat...I eat to live!"

For Paleo-Friendly Snacks, check out!
VI. Bibiliography
1.            Eaton, S.B., M. Konner, and M. Shostak, Stone agers in the fast lane; chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective. Am J Med, 1988. 84: p. 739-749.
2.            Frassetto, L.A., et al., Metabolic and physiologic improvements from consuming a paleolithic, hunter-gatherer type diet. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2009. 63: p. 947-955.
3.            Cordain, L., et al., Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr, 2005. 81: p. 341-354.
4.            Lindeberg, S., et al., A Paleolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediteranean-like diet in individuals with ischemic heart disease. Diabetoligia, 2007. 50: p. 1795-1807.
5.            Jonsson, T., et al., A Paleolithic diet confers higher insulin sensitivity, lower C-reactive protein, and lower blood pressure than a cereal-based diet in domestic pigs. Nutr & Metab, 2006. 3(39).


Anonymous said...

Checking my grades from my last session. Hmmm... Yup! I passed HE 101 I guess I qualify! lol

OK so the Paleo Diet(or some variation of it) is on my to do list for next week! I guess as societies develop not everything that comes out of that is good for us. Smh, I mean to think I would be leaner if I still ate like a caveman. Does this mean I can blame the industrial revolution for every pound I have ever gained? lol j/k

Hunters and gatherers huh?... they clearly were doing a lot of manuel labor, I mean exercise. lol Do you think I could get away with just the paleo diet and no gym time? :)

Dozie Onunkwo, Ph.D. said...

Haha...with the Paleo diet with no gym time, you can still lose weight, but you still need to watch your calories. But if your goal is also to build muscle, you'd still have to get in the gym.

paul said...

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TheRealestOne said...

great article! I wish coffee was on the list of things that could be "gathered"... wait, it comes from beans ... is it off limits? If not, I could so do this diet ...

Dozie Onunkwo, Ph.D. said...

Technically, coffee isn't Paleo, but IMO, I think it's OK as long as you drink it in moderation. Its hard to be 100% Paleo all the time, but the major principles of no refined foods, more lean, grass fed meats, and more vegetables are the most important aspects of the diet to take home, and should be implemented for optimum health benefits.

nasa said...

At the end of this blog u mentioned that oatmeal doesnt comply with the Paleo lifestyle, so what would you use to fill that void? Cause I have a lot of oatmeal...

Dozie Onunkwo, Ph.D. said...

My personal favorite is baked sweet potatoes, but yams are good too. I still eat oatmeal once every blue moon though, basically when I'm out of sweet potatoes and haven't gone to the store to get more.

Anonymous said...

how would vegetarianism and paelo work out?

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