The human species of the paleolithic era did not suffer the medical problems seen by modern societies. Hunter-gatherer societies still in existence also lack the medical problems which are common in other 'neolithic' societies.
Why is this? They share the same genome.
The difference lies in their lifestyle. The greatest difference between these societies is their nutrition. We have repetitively seen an improvement in overall health when adopting similar nutritional diets.
As stated on the 'Nutrition' page, multiple medical problems can find their roots in nutrition. I see patients daily that have vague medical symptoms ranging from headaches to skin problems, from allergies to stomach pains - almost all of these patients improve on a proper diet targeted to improve their symptoms.
There are numerous substances that irritate our gut lining and increase systemic inflammation. Everyone responds to each of these substances differently. Sometimes these substances interact (in a sense) to cause a problem. The goal is to remove those substances from the diet completely. The problem is that you can remove one of them and the gut doesn't heal due to the presence of the others. The only way to address this is to remove all of the most likely substances completely for a short period of time, let the gut heal, and then gradually re-introduce each substance and evaluate the response.
Patients are often very surprise at the results of this challenge.
30 Day Challenge
My recommendation is that patients adopt a full (no grain, no dairy, no legumes) paleo diet for 30 days. There may be other dietary changes that need to be made but this is the launching pad for most medical problems.
You may not have intolerance to grains, gluten, legumes, or dairy and can eat them without apparent issues. You may have limited intolerances and can tolerate some of these foods in limited amounts. You may have extreme reactions to some, or all, of these foods. The only way to know is to cut these foods out completely and then re-address each of them.
I believe the best way to start is a basic Paleo Diet for 30 days and re-evaluate how you look, feel, and perform.
I don't believe there is a 'one-size-fits-all' solution but I do believe that the 'Paleo Diet' is the best starting point for the most number of people.
So what, exactly, is the paleo diet?
Let me start by saying that the scientific evidence supporting this diet for health and weightloss is substantial. This is NOT some fad diet that was dreamed up as a gimmick to sell a book. This diet is based on eliminating the most common toxins and substances that cause a whole host of problems with our immune system, gut, energy, thyroid, adrenals, and a whole host of other issues.
It is often referred to as a 'Hunter-Gatherer' type of diet. Easy, but what does that mean?
What it is:
- Lean meats (red meat, fish, chicken, pork, etc but we stick to the lean cuts)
- vegetables (non-starch variety)
What it isn't:
- Dairy (milk, butter, cheese, etc)
- Grains (oats, lentils, wheat, rice, bread, etc)
- Legumes (peas, beans, peanuts [they are actually legumes, not nuts])
- Starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes - yes, that means no french fries) - there is actually a time that these are acceptable but it is in a narrow window just following exercise.
I would agree that, for most people, this is a pretty drastic change. However, certain substances in some foods can wreak havoc on our bodies. Gluten is a good example.
I have talked with patients who have said "well, I cut out bread and it didn't make a difference." The problem was that they were eating other substances that had the same ingredients so cutting out bread was a superficial correction that didn't eliminate the source of the problem.
You should try to eliminate legumes (beans, peanuts, green beans, lentils, etc) or starches (potatoes, rice, etc) or grains (bread, wheat, oats, etc). That may sound like a dramatic departure from mainstream dietary recommendations and I would agree. I won't go into the details here but these foods have toxins & irritants (gluten & lectins are one of the more common offenders) that can wreak havok on our body systems.
I frequently shock patients when I tell them to eliminate these foods. They remind me that they have been told that these foods are healthy for years. I simply tell them how wrong those people have been!
The foods on the paleo diet are more nutrient dense and less calorie dense than the foods that are 'banned' and this often prevents excessive caloric intake. Plus, you get all the nutrients you need.
However, I would argue that you CAN eat too much of a good food and we should, therefore, moderate our intake and be smart with our food choices. Especially the carbohydrates.
It can be a big change! However, I have yet to come across one person who has adhered to the diet walk away saying that it wasn't beneficial.
If you want to MAXIMIZE your health and body habitus, you should strongly consider the Paleo Diet!
Again, the best way to improve your health is to do a full 30 days on the Paleo diet, no cheating. We have to give our guts a chance to heal and this can take a few weeks. However, after the 30 day period we can start re-introducing some of these foods.
How to get started:
My goal is to help people get healthier. I believe the healthiest way is the paleo diet. However, there are some that don't want to do the work. In that case, we have to prioritize and find the most important parts to address. Therefore, I have come up with a list of things that I believe are the most important.
You can certainly switch over 'cold turkey'. Some people need this type of approach.
You could also transition gradually. This is how I changed over and it wasn't too bad! There are 2 ways to transition gradually.
The first is change over by meals. Start with breakfast and only eat paleo foods for breakfast. Do this for 1 week then add lunch. Do that for a week then add dinner. After 3 or 4 weeks you'll be on a full paleo diet. You may even be able to bypass some of the fatigue, decrease in energy, and cravings associated with the transition.
The other way to transition is to gradually change your foods.
Here is the order of foods which I prefer to address:
- Gluten - this substance appears to be a major problem. You can read more about it in my post.
- Wheat - in addition to the gluten problem, wheat has a higher glycemic index than table sugar (sucrose). Higher glycemic index means faster insulin response which causes a whole host of problems. That means no bread, no pie crust, no pizza crust, no pasta, no crackers, etc. If it has wheat, it has to go!
- All remaining grains - they contain anti-nutrients. At this point, you'll want to make sure you avoid the 'gluten free' foods. They often use different flours that have a higher glycemic index but do it to avoid the gluten.
- Sugar - remove the simple, added, and table sugars. We will include the starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams) in this category.
- Legumes - they have lectins that can be very problematic for many people. Soy is one of the worse offenders.
- Dairy - all cheese, milk, and butter
The idea for the 'full paleo' is to give our bodies a chance to heal and purge the anti-nutrients in these foods. It may take a few weeks to get to the 'full paleo' but I think it is very important.
However, I do not believe it is necessary for most people to stay on a 'full paleo' diet. The goal is NOT to be on The Paleo Diet, the goal is to be healthy. Since everyone has different biochemistry everyone will be able to tolerate different foods in different amounts.
Once you have been on the 'full paleo' for at least 30 days then you can start adding some foods back in on a limited basis and evaluate how things are going with each food.
For example, add a glass of milk as a post-workout recovery drink every other day or so for a week and re-evaluate. Milk does have some very good properties (especially for muscle building, it is very anabolic) but not everyone tolerates it in the same way. If things are going well with the milk, try adding some beans a couple of times a week.
Work your way up the list in the opposite order that you removed them evaluating each of them in the same manner.
Also, bear in mind that some of the problems with some of these foods don't necessarily make you feel bad and the manifestations of their effects may not show up for years! Caution is advised...
Here are some Paleo Diet resources to help get you started:
The Paleo Solution - This book was written by Robb Wolf and is, quite simply, an excellent book. It is my favorite of the Paleo sources and I would start here. He adds a bit of humor and I definitely like his approach. However, he is definitely an evolutionist (as opposed to a creationist). The evolutionary component is fairly heavy in this book. Regardless, the information is spot on and he knows what he is talking about. You can get this book at Amazon. He has multiple resources for eating a healthy diet.
This is the book I recommend first!
The Paleo Diet website - this is Dr Loren Cordain's website with links and information about the book. You can buy his book at most book stores and you can certainly get it through Amazon. It is a good book but it is a little 'dry'.
The Paleo Diet For Athletes - Dr Cordain made a couple of changes to the diet with an athlete in mind. If you are a serious, hard-core athlete then you should consider reading this book as well. You can also get it from Amazon.
Other Paleo Diet Resources
Growing Up Paleo - a websited dedicated to a paleo lifestyle during pregnancy and childhood.