Traditional diets and Paleo
Why should we eat like our ancestors?
Our evolution has a long history. The man first stood on this planet way before we learned how to process foods or even utilise some of the foods that are commonly eaten today. And even though the world has advanced significantly, our genes have changed very little over the years. Therefore, it makes perfect sense to eat foods that are physiological to our make up. In other words, ancestral diets can provide sanity and simplicity in the world full of conflicting nutrition information because they bring us back to our roots. This can be done by:
- focusing on nutrient density in foods (quality vs quantity)
- eating seasonal foods that grow locally
- proper food preparation
- avoiding processed foods
There is no such thing as a specific traditional diet. However, there are some common characteristics of all ancestral diets across the globe that can be adopted in the modern world, in any location, depending on what's available to you locally, and what your grandparents ate:
What is Paleo?
Paleo is a modern interpretation of the assumed diet and lifestyle of our hunter-gatherer ancestors from the paleolithic era. It is believed that civilisation diseases were not as prevalent prior to the introduction of agriculture which was around 10,000 year ago. It emphasises the importance of movement, spending time in the fresh air and sunlight, regeneration, and eating a diet consisting of the most nutrient dense whole foods which include:
- meat (muscle meats, organs, blood, marrow, stock and broth from bones)
- animal fats
- fish and seafood
- probiotic / fermented foods
However, Paleo is not intended for us to become cavemen again as this would be simply impossible, and unnecessary too. After all, we have to face environmental demands that differ significantly to the ones of a caveman. Instead, Paleo focuses on food and lifestyle quality suited to modern reality, and removes foods that our ancestors are believed not to have eaten. Science shows that certain foods may impair our digestion, limit our nutrient absorption, cause blood sugar spikes and inflammation - all of which are regarded as culprits of disease. These include:
- processed foods and chemical additives
- refined sugar
- some liquid vegetable oils, butter replacements and margarine
- grains (bread, flour, pasta, rice, pseudo cereals and food additives containing these)
- legumes (beans)
- commercial dairy (pasteuried, homogenised, highly processed)
The main difference between traditional diets and Paleo
Traditional diets don't empasise the exclusion of any food groups as such. Instead, ancestral widsom focuses on traditional preparation methods of all naturally occuring foods in order to make them human friendly and digestible (e.g. by soaking, fermenting, sprouting). On the contrary, Paleo does eliminate some wholefood groups, like legumes and grains. Since they require long preparation time, it is assumed that they are not natural / physiological foods for humans.
My take on traditional diets and Paleo
Eating traditional foods that are seasonal and available to you locally is a perfect starting point for anyone willing to optimise their nutrition. After all, this is the most common sense approach, and no one needs a nutritionist to do that. However, if you suffer from any health issues, this may not be enough because even some of the foods that are generally considered healthy can be problematic. There are clear differences between a diet for a healthy and unhealthy person, and this is where I step in.
Paleo can make a big difference due to the elimination of some of the most troublesome food groups, even just temporarily. I see great results with Paleo in people who want to lose weight or generally feel better. However, it still requires individual adaptations case by case. After all, it's only a template and not a prescription, like some of the fad diets out there. Those adaptations is my area of expertise.
For therapeutic purposes, I use temporary elimination protocols with the majority of my clients (including modified Paleo). However, my long term aim is to restore health to the level where the person can eat pretty much everything again that has been prepared according to traditional methods, to avoid relapses. However, if you are not willing to soak your grains or beans as this make take too much time, then perhaps Paleo is a long term solution for you.