The Paleo Plan – A Little History and Science
A LITTLE HISTORY
We started evolving as tool-using, human-like apes about 2.5 million years ago, which was the beginning of the Paleolithic era. The Paleolithic transitioned into the Neolithic era around 10,000 years ago, when we started settling down and raising animals and growing crops for food instead of solely hunting and gathering.
Up until we started farming and raising animals, higher-protein crop foods like grains and beans were eaten infrequently, since gathering that many seeds and cooking them up properly was time-consuming and inefficient. Archaeological evidence points to most of our ancestors eating a diet rich in meat, with plant foods (fruits, veggies, root veggies, herbs) filling in the gaps when they were available.
While settling down and having a fairly stable source of food was paramount in our social evolution (it allowed us to develop written language and gave us time to philosophize about religion and academics), some of the foods we developed have definitely contributed to the slow demise of our health.
You probably thought that our barbaric, cave-dwelling ancestors lived brutal, short lives wherein they dragged their mates around by their long, tousled hair.
Short, brutal lives that could only have been made better by modern amenities like McDonald’s, TV dinners, and microwaves. Let’s put an end to this life-span myth right now. The average lifespan of a Paleolithic person, judging by carbon dating of bones, etc., was about 33 years. However, after people reached the age of 15 and had escaped the high child mortality rates of the period, life expectancy was 54. Today, the world average lifespan is 67 years. We now have medications to ward off infectious diseases, which are mostly what our Paleo ancestors were dying of. Either that or just plain old age.
What they were not typically dying of was heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States and other Western countries. Over the last two hundred years, a lot of studies have been done on hunter-gatherer people who live a lot like we imagine our Paleolithic ancestors lived. It’s been found that traditional, primitive societies like the Inuit, the Kitavans, the Maasai of Africa, the San Bushmen of Namibia, the Mbuti Pygmies of the Congo, and the Aboriginal Australians are much healthier than Westerners are. They’re physically fit, have good blood markers for health, and have much less mental illness among them.
In fact, a one-hundred-year-old member of the primitive Kitavan tribe in Papua New Guinea stated that he’d never seen any person die suddenly, as if from a heart attack or stroke. When people die in the Kitavan society, they either fall out of a coconut tree or they just stop working one day, go into their huts to rest, and are gone within days. Their health is generally very good until the end. This peaceful, easy death is quite the opposite of the thousands of Western elderly people with chronic illnesses in nursing homes who need an army of nurses and an arsenal of pharmaceuticals just to stay alive.
So what’s the magic potion? What almost all these groups have in common is that they aren’t eating copious amounts of grains or legumes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, or pasteurized dairy. And they’re definitely not eating preprocessed foods and additives that come in a box and are heated in the microwave. The Paleo diet is founded on the belief that the lack of those foods is why primitive groups weren’t fat and sick, and the overabundance of those foods is why Western people are.
A LITTLE SCIENCE
What is so wrong with all of those delicious foods, you might be asking? Let’s delve briefly into the reasons that grains, legumes, refined sugar, vegetable oils, dairy, and additives might not be so good for us.
Grains include anything made from wheat (white flour, wheat flour, all-purpose flour) rice, rye, barley, corn, millet, oats, buckwheat, kamut, teff, spelt, and amaranth. So that includes bread, cereal, pasta, pastries, cookies, beer, grain alcohols, crackers, bagels, tortillas, oatmeal, and corn chips, to name a few. A lot of foods, like some soups, use flour as a thickener, as do a lot of other prepackaged foods you find in a normal grocery store. Those foods make up at least 50 percent of most people’s diets, though, so we better have a good reason to tell you not to eat them.
The first good reason is gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye, and oats (but only because oats are usually contaminated with gluten during processing). Because it’s found in wheat, gluten is in most baked goods in the United States. White flour is just refined wheat flour, so when the ingredient list on a package says just “flour,” that means wheat. It’s also added to foods in the form of hydrolyzed protein, starch, modified starch, malt, natural flavorings, and binders.
Gluten is becoming a household word because so many people have a hard time digesting it. It can cause digestive problems like diarrhea, constipation, bloating, acid reflux, and cramping. Your immune and endocrine systems can also get involved, causing symptoms like fatigue, skin inflammation, joint pain, infertility, and abnormal menstrual symptoms. It’s thought that between 30–80 percent of people in the United States have some sort of intolerance or immune sensitivity to gluten.
Most foods—and living things, for that matter—contain lectins. They’re proteins that help protect animals and plants from diseases or invaders (like humans). For instance, wheat contains a lectin called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), and other grains, beans, and even nuts and seeds contain lectins similar to it. Lectins are sticky little buggers. The WGA goes into your small intestine and gloms onto its lining. It then tricks your body into taking it across the border of your intestine intact, where it is seen as a foreign invader by your immune system. Antibodies are created in response to the lectins, and unfortunately lectins often look a lot like other parts of your body. They may look like cells in your brain, pancreas, etc., so the same antibodies that were created to attack the lectin will actually go launch attacks on your own body. This is where autoimmune issues arise, like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
Phytic acid is present in grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, and we lack the enzyme phytase to digest it. Phytic acid actually binds to the magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron in your intestines and takes them out of your body. Even if you’re eating foods containing those nutrients, you’re not necessarily absorbing the nutrients if you’re eating grains, legumes, nuts, or seeds. Some believe that this alone is greatly contributing to the worldwide epidemic of iron-deficiency anemia.
While legumes, or beans (lentils, black beans, soy, peanuts, etc.), aren’t as bad as grains, which contain gluten and other harmful substances, they should be avoided. They absolutely must be cooked for long periods of time, sprouted, and preferably fermented to remove, at best, most of the lectins and phytic acid. But this proper processing and cooking of legumes has all but been forgotten. Legumes are a mediocre source of protein, a huge source of carbohydrates, and therefore produce a big glycemic response. Soy, a legume, isn’t processed well enough in this country to remove most of those toxins (it should be fermented), and it’s a major source of plant-based estrogens, which can wreak havoc on men’s and women’s hormonal balance. Soy is also one of the biggest genetically modified (GM) crops out there, and studies proving GM’s health detriments are mounting. Moreover, beans give most people gas. We think they’re sort of a waste of calories.
Nuts and Seeds?
You may be wondering why you’re told to eat seeds and nuts on the Paleo diet when they, too, house these vicious little molecules of phytic acid and lectins. The truth is that it’s always better to soak or sprout your nuts and seeds. Soaking and sprouting helps to get rid of the phytic acid and lectins, and makes them more digestible. Here’s a video on how to soak and dry nuts and seeds. You should really eat them in moderation—no more than a couple ounces a day. Think about it: our ancestors probably didn’t have access to a whole bunch of nuts and seeds every day, much less almond butter and other goodies that take a whole lot of nuts and seeds to produce. Eating Paleo is way more about eating meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruits than adding a bunch of nuts. They’re the least nutrient-dense food of all of those, and for that reason alone they should be eaten in moderation. The meal plan in this book reflects this guideline.
Refined sugars are sweet, simple carbohydrates that are made from things like beets, sugar cane, honey, maple syrup, and corn. They’re white sugar, cane sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, refined maple syrup, refined honey (as opposed to raw honey), dextrose, maltodextrin, and many others. As you know, white sugar and corn syrup are in everything from soft drinks to candy bars to marinara sauce. Honestly, they wouldn’t be such a big issue if we didn’t eat so much of the devilish stuff. When you eat sugary foods that spike your blood glucose, it stresses your body out. Too much sugar in your blood is toxic and your body releases the hormone insulin to cope with the glucose. The insulin acts like a key to your cells, and it allows the glucose to enter your cells for use and storage. Glucose gets stored as glycogen, which you can use as energy, and if that’s not used up, it turns into fat. The faster your blood sugar spikes, the faster it plummets as the glucose is taken up into your cells. So while you may feel energized after that donut for a while, you might feel tired and sluggish as quickly as an hour afterward (or less).
That’s about the time when you reach for the coffee or other caffeinated drink, which shocks your body into releasing cortisol and adrenaline (or epinephrine) from your adrenal glands. Cortisol stimulates stored glucose to be injected into your blood stream to give you energy, and adrenaline makes you feel more awake by making your body think it’s in a super stressful situation—just like you’d be shocked awake by a car crash or a vicious dog.
There are several problems with this constant cycle of eating sugar, having a blood sugar spike, and then a blood sugar plummet due to insulin. First of all, your cells become less and less receptive to insulin, so it takes more and more insulin to get the glucose into your cells. After a while, you can become insulin resistant, and eventually diabetic. That’s why many diabetics need to be on insulin, since their own insulin isn’t enough to handle all that sugar. The other problem is the chronic cortisol secretion, which is a major player in your immune system and endocrine system. As you’ll learn below, it can all but shut down your immune system and reproductive system, and perpetuate chronic inflammation of all kinds.
The answer is simply to stop eating the foods that spike your blood sugar in the first place. In other words, eat Paleo. It’s fine to have a little fun with sugar on occasion, but when you’re spiking glucose, insulin and cortisol levels over and over every day with cookies, cereals, granola bars, sodas, juices, pastries, caffeine, and even white bread, you’re just promoting weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, chronic inflammation, a sick immune system, fatigue, and moodiness. Not to mention rotten teeth.
The oils we know as “vegetable” oils are not actually made from vegetables. They’re typically made from seeds, from which oil is very difficult to extract. The most commonly used oils in the Western diet are canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, and some sort of conglomeration of those in margarine form. They’re often hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, which creates heart disease-inducing trans fats. And they’re almost always highly heated during processing, chemically refined, and deodorized. In other words, they’re usually on their way to becoming rancid by the time they hit the shelves. Why? Because all those oils (except canola) are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are highly susceptible to becoming oxidized, or rancid, by heat, air, and light. Oxidized fats create inflammation and contribute to heart disease and all other chronic inflammatory conditions.
It was thought that these oils were better for heart health, but it turns out they’re very high in omega 6 fatty acids, which are highly inflammatory. Instead of these vegetable oils, you should eat healthier fats and oils that don’t contribute to inflammation or heart disease, like coconut oil, palm oil, lard, tallow, and olive oil. Yep, we said that lard is good for your health, and we meant it.
Pasteurized and Homogenized Dairy
The consumption of dairy is a highly contentious and often debated topic in the Paleo world. Our basic philosophy is that not everyone can digest it well, and if you can, you should eat certain kinds of dairy. Some people may have better luck with dairy than others, but we think that all people should avoid eating pasteurized and homogenized dairy. The heat during the pasteurization process destroys enzymes that are used for digestion and assimilation of the nutrients in the milk. The homogenization process not only heats the milk further, but it wrecks the fat globules. Many people have an immune response of some kind to the protein casein in milk. And when milk is homogenized, the fat globules end up having protein, including casein, stuck in and around them, increasing the allergenic potential of all homogenized milk products.
Most people are at least somewhat lactose intolerant, meaning they lack enough of the enzyme lactase that digests the lactose in milk. As we said, the pasteurization process gets rid of that helpful lactase already present in milk. And fermenting the milk—making yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, and other foods— helps to get rid of that lactose that’s so difficult to digest, too. That’s why eating fermented dairy is best. Casein has been shown to increase the rate of cancer growth, but the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in the fat in milk has been shown to be cancer fighting. That’s why full-fat milk is a much better choice than non-fat or low fat. That CLA is found in way higher concentrations in milk from grass-fed cows than milk from conventional, factory-farmed cows. Due to the way factory-farmed dairy cows are treated and what they eat, they secrete an abnormal amount of estrogen into their milk. There’s always estrogen and other hormones in milk—even human breast milk—and infants can use those hormones. But grown adults don’t need any hormones other than the ones they are producing on their own. That’s one reason that even unpasteurized, homogenized milk isn’t good for everyone.
The jury is still out on whether or not dairy is good for everyone—even raw, grass-fed, fermented, whole-fat milk products. You have to figure it out for yourself. For the duration of this challenge, though, we suggest you not eat dairy so you can see for yourself whether or not it’s affecting you.
It’s excessive to drink sports drinks with fourteen teaspoons of sugar in them, but there’s absolutely no reason whatsoever to make those sugary drinks fluorescent yellow. Yellow 5 and other synthetic food colorings fall into this “unnecessary additives” category. There are entire diets now based solely on removing additives from people to improve their health. And there are plenty of published articles about the reasons they’re so bad for us. Aspartame and other synthetic sweeteners, nitrates and nitrites, potassium sorbate, and BHA are among the preservatives and sweeteners that have been shown to have either cancerous effects or negative impacts on nervous system health. Keep away fromingredients you can’t pronounce, and read this book, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, if you’re interested in knowing more. And here’s a website that has a great rundown of some of the most common harmful additives.