Senin, 15 April 2013

Why Following the Paleo Diet Can Improve Your Health by Eating Real, Honest, Nutritious Food?

Gambar sisip 1What does paleo mean?

Palaeolithic (or paleo) diet means mimicking the diet of the cave men form the Old Stone Age. To understand what humans ate at that time, we need to take an imaginary journey back to the Palaeolithic Era (~ between 2.5 million - 10 thousand years ago). This was the time when humankind slowly evolved into Homo sapiens (Latin for knowing man), pretty much modern humans as we know today in anatomical, social, and behavioural terms. This period covers over 99% of human prehistory.

How did humans live during the Palaeolithic Era?

Although researchers are not always in agreement as to how exactly humans lived and what they ate or when major changes happened, there are major overlaps. During this time humans gathered what was available and hunted wild animals. They lived in small groups in a nomadic lifestyle following the herds. They used simple tools made of stone, wood, bones and leather.

Different sources are mentioning different timelines but scientists hypothesize that even the ancestors of humans hunted animals with wooden spears over 5 million years ago, began manufacturing stone tools 2.5 million years ago and started using fire possibly 1.9 million years ago.

What did the cave men eat?

As mentioned before, the cave men lived in a hunter-gatherer society. Their diet was different by geographic area and climate and changed by season but the main sources were lean meat from game, fish, insects, fruits (mainly berries), all sorts of greens, seeds, nuts and water. Most of the food was eaten fresh, raw and unprocessed. Humans are omnivore, which means that we are capable of digesting a mixed diet of plant and animal based sources.

When did it all change and what was the impact on our diet?

Around 10 thousand years ago the start of agriculture enabled humankind to establish a more settled lifestyle. This period is called the Neolithic. At around this time, humans started to grow grains and with the development of pottery could store and transport food easily.

Roughly 5-6 thousand years ago humans started to domesticate animals and consume milk and dairy products as a result. Living in one place was certainly less demanding physically compared to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. On the other hand it had its disadvantages too. This era has seen the beginning of certain diseases (especially heart diseases and allergies) as we began to consume lower variety and less nutrition-rich foods.

With the introduction of new sorts of foods the source of fat has changed too. We began to eat more saturated fat from dairy and farmed animals (grain and corn-fed) vs. omega-3 rich fat from fish and game before. Being able to store staples meant consuming less fresh foods too.

This process has been accelerating ever since and with the industrial revolution refined grains, sugars and long-life food have become common. During the past 50 years with the advent of fast food restaurants our diet has changed even more dramatically as processed food is displacing fresh products.

What is wrong with change?

The human body does not always handle the newly introduced foods well. Most researchers argue that the above described developments had significant impact on the human diet to the detriment of our health.

The issue is that even though we are genetically and anthropologically 99% identical to our ancestors, we are eating a completely different diet and our body could not catch up adequately in less than 10 thousand (or 50!) years. Experts argue that this may be the root cause of a number of digestive and general health problems.

When you think about the impact of the diet that our ancestors followed for millions of years had on our anatomical development, the way our digestive system has evolved cannot be an accident. If you imagine that the past 2.5 million years happened in one day then the Palaeolithic Era lasted for 23 hours and 54 minutes. The diet the human body got used to over this time has been changing dramatically over the past six minutes.

So what foods are allowed and what are forbidden in a paleo diet?

As a rule of thumb, think about what was and was not available for the cave men. If the specific food existed over 10 thousand years ago, go for it. These foods are: game, fish, eggs, most vegetables, roots and lots of greens, nuts, seeds and most fruits. When you think meat, ideally farmed animals should be fed a natural diet i.e.: grass instead of corn or grains and be free of breeding. Also, most food should be eaten raw or fresh in their natural state.

On the other hand people during the Stone Age surely did not eat processed foods, refined sugar, any food with added sugar or salt, additives, food colours, sweeteners or anything artificial. Grains, dairy products, legumes were also not available or consumed extensively as they are not digestible without cooking. Starchy tubers like potatoes are also on the list of banned foods according to most of the authors.

How long did the cave men live?

It may seem a contradiction to say that following the above diet, today's men can live longer. The lifespan of the Stone Age men was not more than 25-30 years; however they were more exposed to the extremes of weather and wild life than we are today. They had no access to healthcare or medicines and many died from simple injuries or diseases. Furthermore, they did not enjoy the convenience of having a fridge or a food store next door, they had to search and fight for every meal. What the supporters of the paleo diet say though, is that if you eat what our ancestors ate and live an active lifestyle, you have the best chances to achieve optimal body function, improved well-being and health.

How realistic is it to follow the cave men's diet today?

According to some researchers roughly 60-70% of the food we eat today was not available during the Stone Age. This means that if you try to switch to the paleo diet you need to be determined and consider it a lifestyle change. Some people are better at adjusting gradually or having a 'day off' every week when getting used to a new diet. Some are better at completely cutting out all restricted foods from day one. I myself support moderation. I say know yourself, watch your body, learn and adjust accordingly. Good luck!


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