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That Paleo Thing

The paleo diet, according to Kurt Harris MD, ought not to aim for an absolute recreation of ancestral nutrition, but rather ‘to use science and our reasoning to emulate the important elements of the evolutionary metabolic environment – the internal environment of our bodies‘.

The idea is that our modern diseases are not a function of our medically extended lifespans. Instead, paleo adherents largely believe that the diseases of modern Western civilisation are directly attributable to the standard American diet (SAD). Our thinking is that by eliminating the sources of disease, we will eliminate the disease. And we’re talking a pretty big range of sickness here, even just citing the ‘core‘ diseases of civilisation: cancer, diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and autoimmune disorders.

But be warned. It’s not all science and immutable fact out here in the paleosphere. There are a lot of wackos floating about, just as there are everywhere. By its nature, anything that diverts from mainstream approaches the lunatic fringe. Or, we could be slightly less judgemental and appreciate that given a set of culprits identified over and over, everything else is down to personal interpretation – your mileage may vary – and tolerances. And assuming that to be so, what are the core culprits?

Again, according to Kurt Harris, my personal go-to guy for the science, the main players in the syndrome of diseases of civilisation (henceforth DOCs) are ‘excess fructose, linoleic acid and gluten grains, and the rest is just tinkering around the edges‘. In you-and-me talk, that means most sugars (especially high fructose corn syrup or HFCS, aka glucose-fructose in the UK and Canada, and now also called corn sugar in the US) and many fruits, pulses and legumes, seed oils, and cereal grains.

The rest is up to you.

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Paleo for Life: Stoneaging

I’m fifty-three and a food weirdo. My mother was a food weirdo, so I come by it honestly. Net result: I worry about what I put in my mouth. A lot. Which wasn’t always true. As a kid and certainly as a teenager I believed in the power of candy bars and sour cream ‘n onion chips to satisfy most needs. But when I found myself responsible for feeding kids of my own, things looked different. So I hit the internet and started reading about food.

And reading.

And reading.

And reading.

I read about food preparation, food growing, food marketing, food sourcing and the effect of these on food sustainability. I read about health and nutrition. And my reading led me through some fascinating papers and sources, blogs and articles, many of which I’ll link to in the days and weeks to come. But let me wave my curriculum vitae, such as it is, first.

I turned fifty-three on 16 March, 2011. I’m a British Canadian, living in England. I’m a writer and editor and poet. I hold a master’s degree in English (creative writing), but I have some science in my background. I studied anthropology at the University of Toronto way back when, with a major in physical anthropology.

I’m in generally good health. I have a chronic back injury from a riding accident, which bothers me most of the time, and crap joints, again from riding and generally messing about with horses. I’ve gotten migraines since I was fifteen, as far as I can tell mostly from various food sources (red wine and dark chocolate especially), from barometric pressure and from hormones. I’ve never had any kind of operation, and I’m not allergic to anything (except wine, cats and cheap feathers). The last time I had any blood work done was probably five years ago, and my doctor told me I had the blood work of a twenty-year-old. I’m in menopause. I’m 163 cm tall (that’s 5’4″) and I weigh, today, 11 stone (154 lbs). My BMI is just over 26.5. I have a huge dog who takes me for a walk every day. I love food and I love booze. I’m married with two kids, 18 and 20.

My husband is a scientist. He’s loads of other things besides – a pilot, a sailor, a reader, a traveller, woodsman, a teacher, a researcher, a father – but for him everything comes back to the science. As a child and until about twelve years ago he had asthma and suffered frequent chest infections. He has in the past been prone to attacks of reflux but, like me, now has no major health issues, hasn’t had any surgeries and is a serious appreciator of food and drink.

Over the past few years I’ve reduced my family’s intake of highly polished cereal grains and backed away from ready-meals, sugars and heavily processed foods. I think doing so reduced the number and severity of my headaches and helped my joints. I think it helped my husband’s reflux. I think it helped my son’s asthma and his eczema. My kids laughed at me for putting spaghetti sauce (homemade, with loads of secret veg) onto spinach instead of onto pasta, but as chief chef and bottle-washer, I pushed us all towards a less processed diet. So for some years now, as a household, we’ve eaten well: mostly organic foods, dark-coloured veg and fruits – five a day, ethically raised local meats, whole grains, lots of pulses and legumes, lots of salads, and recently, more soy products. That’s what was good for us, right?

We’re not doctors and we’re not nutritionists. We haven’t studied food science or home economics, we’re not professional chefs and we’re not any form of alternative practitioners. But between us, we’ve read and discussed and analysed and considered and reread. And we believe there’s only one sensible way forward: paleo. Eating like our ancestors did. Our very early ancestors.

So here I go. As of today I am a one-woman paleo diet experiment. Which means a few additional dietary restrictions:

  • No sugars. No white sugar, brown sugar, muscavado sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar; no molasses, honey, corn syrup, maple syrup or Lyle’s Golden Syrup. No sugars.
  • No fake sugars. No aspartame, no saccharine, no agave, no stevia, no Splenda.
  • No beans or pulses or legumes. No houmous or lentil stew. No falafel. No three-bean salad and no baked beans.
  • No cereal grains. No wheat, no rye, no barley, no oats. Not even any ancient grains: no spelt or kamut. Also no pseudo grains: no quinoa. No amaranth and no buckwheat. This means no bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, pies or crackers. If it contains a cereal grain, it’s a no-go food. Small amounts of rice and corn are okay. Whoa, I said small amounts.
  • No soy. No product, no soy derivative: no soy milk, protein, powder, sauce or juice. NO SOY. Can we please just get this toxic shit out of the food chain? Please?
  • No grain or seed oils: no corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, peanut oil or canola oil. Olive oil is okay.
  • No fruit except berries.

That’s a lot of no’s. Especially after Christmas followed by a holiday in Thailand and then three weeks in Toronto, eating and drinking like my parents were away for the weekend. So… what’s allowed? Subject to revision as I learn and refine, for now, the following:

  • Grass-fed beef, lamb, venison and bison.
  • Organ meats.
  • Saturated and monounsaturated fats.
  • Coconut.
  • Dairy, including butter. Full-fat and organic for now, though I may jettison it along the way.
  • Eggs.
  • Some pork and chicken, organic and free-range and not soy fed.
  • Fish.
  • Vegetables, including root veg.
  • Berries.
  • Nuts. For now. These may also get the heave-ho in time.

It’s paleo, and it’s for life. You can google it. Or you can hang in here for the whys and wherefores. I’ll be talking about it. A lot.

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