The article below, by Dr. David L. Katz, brings up some thoughts I have had regarding my research into the Paleo diet.

First off, Im more a lifestyle person than a diet one.  Meaning, I choose to live a certain way, adapting / adopting habits and attitudes rather than being glamored by a nifty idea.  So when I started sincerely researching the Paleo Diet I started looking into the Paleolithic Age.  Certainly not something everyone does, but something I certainly do.  But again, for me its all about lifestyle.

Having been a vegetarian for over 30 years, and coming from an Ayurvedic and Yogic perspective, I am keenly attuned to eating close to the s/Source.  The word ‘source’ here has two meanings for me:

1-the beginning or place of origin; and

2-Brahmavidya, or “creation truth; origin of creation; truth of origin”.

So when I say eating close to the s/Source I mean food in its natural/original state, or, the manner in which humans were meant to eat/be.  Notably, in Yoga, Brahmavidya, is cognitive acknowledgment that one is inseparable from the the totality of reality.

So how can this relate to what one eats?

Simply put, our greatest evolution growth occurred during the Paleolithic Age, when we were hunter/gatherers.  As such, living a hunter/gatherer lifestyle is one that promotes our continued evolutionary progression.

However, putting this into practice is quite the other matter.  Eating a Paleo Diet does not mean eating solely meat, so is not free license to stuff ones self with hamburgers and hotdogs, or pork shoulders and ribs.  Our ancestors were hunters AND gatherers, which means they not only hunted their food, but gathered it as well.

Ever consider hunting?  And no, Im not referring to sitting in a tree stand all day with a high-powered rifle and a scope that can shoot the wings off a fly at 100 yards.  Im talking stalking your prey for a few days, engaging it in a life or death struggle, and if successful, skin and gut it on site, no doubt defending ones kill from other predators, then carrying that load back to the spouse and kids.

Ever consider gathering?  Or as its commonly referred to today: Foraging or Wild Harvesting.  Truly, this is at the heart of the ‘eat local’ campaign (or should be).  When gathering food stuffs in ones immediate surroundings, one eats both close to the s/Source, and seasonally.  This means, no year round supply of apples or grapes, or all of the other produce one sees at the grocery that is shipped in from every corner of the planet – consuming huge amounts of oil in transportation to arrive at it destination.  Then there is the entire industry of preserving this produce so it stays fresh over its long journey; a process that involves Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), sulfates, and other highly questionable means.  To get just a glimmer of what our Paleolithic ancestors would have had at their fingertips, visit your local farmers market.  But even that is nothing more than a smattering, for rarely (if ever) does one see wild harvested mushrooms or fresh field berries, or dandelion and elderberries, tree picked apricots and peaches, violets and wild carrots, burdock and cattails, garlic and juneberries, morels and chanterelles, or persimmon and pokeweed.  And this doesnt even touch on the entire lifestyle of preserving, storing and otherwise keeping these edible treasures.

On the message boards I frequent I read where people on the Paleo Diet eat salami and conventionally grown tomatoes, fatty ground beef and broccoli, or farm raised fish and green bell peppers.  Which may all be ‘allowed’ on the Paleo Diet, but in truth, are all loaded with fillers, saturated fat and GMO crops grown with pesticides.

This is not what your Paleolithic forebears would have hunted and gathered.

So does this mean I advocate literal hunting and gathering.  Well, yes .. it does .. to a degree.  More to the point, I advocate sustainable farming and agriculture.  Sustainable being the operative word here.

You see, Factory Farming and Big Agri are not sustainable.  Far from it.  At the least they are destroying the health of every human being on the planet; at the most, they are destroying the planet.

Sustainability means a diverse biological system that produces over time; one that is environmentally, economically and social conscious; and one that provides vital goods and services to humans and other organisms, allowing the two to work together – not in opposition.

Ok .. so we have covered the eating part, but what about the physical effort required to both hunt and gather?

Exhausted yet?  Well, if you are, then you may have been eating SAD – the Standard American Diet – loaded with wheat and corn and oil and other things humans were never meant to consume.  Like processed meat, dairy, grain fed beef, steroid stuffed chickens, slop fed pigs and worse!

Bottom line: We are talking about the difference between an apple and a fried apple pie; the difference between a GMO grain fed frozen burger and a free range, organic grass fed steak.

Invariably, the topic of eating meat brings up the topic of not eating meat, or of being a vegetarian.

Clearly, we are creatures of this planet, and we share this planet with a diverse array of other creatures.  When it comes to eating, all these creatures are categorized as: carnivore, herbivore and omnivore (and by ‘creature’ I mean living thing; for example, some plants and fungi are carnivores).  Basically this boils down to every creature on this planet depends on the nutrients found on this planet for its survival.  So that all that one needs to survive is found here on this planet.

In regard to humans, there is a great debate raging on about where they should be classified: meat eaters, herb/plant eaters, or both.  Beyond doubt, humans need protein to survive, likewise, carbohydrates and fats (and again, the planet provides these three fundamental nutrients).  My point is: what we found to eat shaped our physiology, and when we best thrived from an evolution perspective, was when we were hunters and gathers.  As such, the question then becomes: “Does eating as close to the s/Source as possible – especially in regards to ones physiology – include eating fellow animals?  And if so, how sustainable is that for the planet?”

Now .. in that the idea of health and longevity is not solely relegated to what we eat, but equally includes what we do, then, if one decides to eat like a hunter/gatherer (on the Paleo Diet), then they would only eat grass fed, organic meat and wild or seasonal produce.  Likewise, one must maintain an energy level of a Paleolithic human, which, according to anthropologists, walked 20 miles a day and/or ran 9 miles a day.

Clearly, most today – myself included – do not hunt or gather their own food (outside of shopping at the grocery store), nor do most today maintain the physical activity found among our Paleo ancestors. A fact that brings us back to:

-eating close to the s/Source,

-eating as lifestyle instead of diet, and

-Brahmavidya (being a part of all creation, one’s surroundings).

You see, a diet is simply eating a certain way, and a lifestyle involves consideration and application into every aspect of ones life.  Finally, Brahmavidya – our ability to acknowledge that we are part of All That Lives; and since we set ourselves up as ‘superior’ to other animals, even their ‘caretakers’, doesnt it make sense that we would eat that way as well?  Remember, Brahmavidya means brahma/creation  + vidya/knowledge, so if we truly encapsulate the ‘knowledge of creation’, doesnt that innately include the promotion of all creation?  In that we all share the same planet – Earth – are we not all Earthlings, and so worthy of being co-creators of this shared existence?

So when I say eating close to the s/Source I mean food in its natural/original state, or, the manner in which humans were meant to eat/be.  And because meats natural state is living, breathing and creating, are we then assuming that non-human beings are incapable of reasoning, language, introspection and self-awareness, so worth more dead than alive?


The Paleo Diet: Can We Really Eat Like Our Ancestors Did?

6 July, 2011

Fundamentally, I am a proponent of the Paleolithic diet. However, much depends on the specifics of the Paleo diet in question. The designation seems to be somewhat open to interpretation — and thus the dietary devilry may reside in the details.

That, in essence, is the punch line for this piece — and I provide it right away as a bow to a recent correspondent who reminded me that busy readers want the take away, right away. I do, however, hope you hang in there for the rest. Assuming so, let’s start this tale at the beginning.

In June of this year, U.S. News & World Report published a ranking of diets for weight loss and health promotion. They circulated the contestants to a panel of 22 judges, all with relevant expertise, who scored each diet in multiple categories. Scores were tallied and winners declared. The overall winner for weight loss was Weight Watchers. The Paleo diet fared rather badly.

Shortly after the rankings were published, I was contacted by ABC News and asked to comment on why the Paleo diet had been scored so poorly and what I thought about it. My first comment was that I was one of the 22 judges, and that I had not scored the Paleo diet poorly. I went on to say that I considered a true “Paleo diet” — with an emphasis on eating foods direct from nature and more plants than animals — a good idea. I also noted that the name could mask a host of ills, such as a diet of hamburgers, hot dogs and bacon.

Apparently, the gist of my comments as quoted by ABC News suggested I was a general critic of the Paleo diet, and also conveyed my impression that our ancestors actually ate more plants than animals.

This resulted in correspondence from Loren Cordain, a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, who has published extensively on our Stone Age diet and its implications. Prof. Cordain’s note was very civil, but nonetheless a chastisement of my excessive emphasis on gathering over hunting, with a cc to a veritable who’s who in paleoanthropology.

I explained to Prof. Cordain, and the others listening in, that I am a proponent of our true ancestral diet, while dubious about its many modern variants. The notion — expressed in much of Prof. Cordain’s own work — that our ancestors ate a lot of meat, has invited modern carnivores to run up their “Paleo diet” banner and claim to be eating under it.

But they are not, because modern meat is not Stone Age meat. There were no wild corned beef, salamis or pastramis in the Stone Age, so processed meat is certainly off the Paleo diet menu. There were no grain-fed cattle; no pigs fed slop; and no domesticated feed animals raised without demands on their muscles, either.

The flesh of animals our ancestors ate was generally quite lean, often with fat content around 10 percent of calories or lower. That fat was far more unsaturated than the fat in most modern meats as well and even provided some omega-3.

Prof. Cordain noted that the flesh of grass-fed cattle approximates the Paleo experience, albeit imperfectly. Game does so even better. I concur — but how much of this is there in the modern food supply? In my experience, many people who use the Paleo diet as justification for carnivorous preferences simply eat more of the kind of meat they tend to find. And generally, they are not finding antelope.

The issue of animal vs. plant foods remained, however, and I was fully prepared to simply respond with “mea culpa” (I know when I’m out of my weight class!), when Dr. S. Boyd Eaton of Emory University was gracious enough to contribute his views. While many papers examining the proportion of hunting to gathering are based on averages among modern-day hunter gatherers in diverse locales, Dr. Eaton has focused on African populations thought to most closely approximate the original human experience. Dr. Eaton’s work suggests a plant:animal calorie ratio of 1:1.

Which, in essence, suggests that any apparent differences I had with Prof. Cordain were a bit about semantics (volume vs. calories), and a bit about which data to emphasize. Since plants tend to be energy-dilute and animals energy-dense, to get a 1:1 calorie ratio means a much greater than 1:1 ratio of plant food volume to animal food volume. It means quite a lot of gathering along with the hunting. Mostly plants, in other words, is not demonstrably wrong. Seemingly in the company of Dr. Eaton, I think my original assertion defensible.

Of course, the true beginning of a story about our Stone Age diet resides not with U.S. News & World Report, but in the Stone Age. The Paleolithic era, spanning our use of rough stone implements, extends some 4 million years into the past.

We may reasonably limit ourselves to the latter half of that span and focus on the emergence of our Homo erectus forebears, thought to be the first highly effective human hunters, roughly 2 million years ago. Our own species, sapiens, arose roughly 300,000 years ago and our particular subspecies, sapiens sapiens, roughly 30,000 years ago. Agriculture was not part of the human experience until roughly 12,000 years ago — and once it was, nothing was ever the same. But that’s a story for another time.

The Stone Age thus provided several thousand millennia to shape the adaptations of our genus, and several hundred to shape those of our species. We carry the genes of the well-adapted, because ancestors not well-suited to survive, reach adulthood and make babies … make very poor ancestors. Like all modern creatures, we are the posterity of pre-modern creatures who “had the stuff,” and paid it forward.

Among the stuff that mattered was the capacity to extract all necessary fuel from available foods. This is very easy to understand at the extremes: a person who required for their survival a nutrient not found on this planet, would not survive on this planet. A person who could not tolerate a nutrient essential for survival, such as water, similarly would not survive. While this is so obvious as to be trivial, it conceals a subtlety: food came first, physiology came after. There were plants before there were creatures that could survive by eating plants. There was water before there were creatures that needed to drink water.

And the same extends to every detail of dietary intake. We are adapted to survive on protein, carbohydrate and fat because those are the three kinds of macronutrients this planet provides. We “need” iron and calcium and essential amino acids and potassium and vitamin C — because the food supply available to us on this planet provides them. If it did not, we could not possibly need them and be here to talk about it. Other creatures that needed what the planet did provide would be here in our place.

It just stands to reason that the diet that shaped our physiology in the first place would tell us something about the diet for which that physiology is best suited now. If you find that hard to swallow, consider how we decide what to feed animals in a zoo. To my knowledge, no clinical trials are involved in which the lions are tried on a diet of hay and the koalas on a diet of mackerel. Instead, the animals are all given food approximating what they were eating in the wild — their native diet. If this is relevant to every creature on the planet, how likely is it that it would be irrelevant to us?

This, then, is the basic argument for the “Paleo diet.” But there is more to consider. Throughout much of the Stone Age, mean human life expectancy was all of about 20 years and the life span extended only to about 40. While it makes sense that our native diet is apt to be good for us, we cannot conclude that a diet best suited to a two- to four-decade life is just as good for an eight-decade life.

Our Stone Age ancestors had a high caloric throughput, meaning lots of calories both out and in every day, due to the high energy demands of Stone Age survival. Perhaps consuming 4,000 or so calories a day — and burning them all — should be required before the “Paleo diet” label truly pertains.

Dr. Eaton among others suggests that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed as much as 100 grams of fiber daily, from a variety of plant foods eaten in large enough quantities to fuel that high energy demand. If 100 grams of fiber a day were required to defend a Paleo diet claim, there would be very few signed up.

In reality, virtually no one today practices anything close to a true Stone Age diet and no one at all practices such a diet perfectly. When was the last time you saw a mammoth?

When the Paleo diet label is used to justify a diet of sausages and bacon cheeseburgers, the concept has wandered well off the reservation. When used as guidance away from processed foods and toward a diet based on a variety of plants, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and lean meats (preferably wild game), it is eminently reasonable, and no doubt a vast improvement, over the typical American diet. Stone Agers did a lot more running than we do and most certainly did not run on Dunkin’!

We don’t know that even a well-practiced Paleo diet is the “best” choice for health, as compared to a Mediterranean diet, a traditional Asian diet, a mostly-plant diet, or a well-balanced vegan diet. We do know that a population of some 7 billion people cannot eat as much meat as a population in the millions did, without doing the irreparable harm to the planet that is already far advanced.

That our native diet is relevant to our health seems little less than self-evident. That we can’t get back to the Stone Age from here is equally so. Exactly how we apply lessons from the past to our current dietary practices will decide whether effects on our future health, and that of our planet, are as hoped- or otherwise. So the details matter; let’s chew on them carefully.

  1. Laura Mason says:

    Wow! Get fit! You are a motivating for me! Sometimes I feel like no one else thinks like I do then I find a blog like yours! You have motivated me to be motivated .. and thats not easy! 😀

  2. Paul Groen says:

    Serious blog! Good look at CrossFit and Paleo Diet. Love checking you out first in the morning before I do CF.

  3. Nick Marta says:

    After reading your blog post I browsed your website a bit and really liked what I found. I think you are doing a great job, especially showing the transition from vegetarian to meat eating in a sustainable and healthy manner. Good job, keep up the quality posts!

  4. Paul Spanheim says:

    Enjoying your posts. I’m new to CF as well, and like you I also do yoga. I thought the two would fit but wasn’t sure until I found your blog. Thanks for developing the YogaWOD .. it Rocks!

  5. Jon Heath says:

    I dont do crossfit but work out and am doing the zone diet. I have been looking at the paleo diet and came across your blog. Friends do crossfit and paleo, and doing the research – including your informative blog – Im going to take their and your advice. Thanks for all the links you post. You dont just write but inform.

  6. Charles Brian says:

    This is a good quote “We are talking about the difference between an apple and a fried apple pie; the difference between a grain fed frozen burger and a free range, grass fed steak.” Thanks for putting that into perspective. Its something that, after reading it, I caught myself doing while at the local lunch counter. Its a good practice, one I can keep for life. Good stuff on paleo/caveman diet, true food for thought.

  7. Prabhu Chakravarti says:

    I find it interesting how you correlate yoga and the Paleolithic diet; you have done your research successfully. A common stereotype is that “all Hindus are vegetarian”, yet there exists a substantial meat-eating history in India, particularly among the warrior- and ruling-class. I look forward to your further revelations and discoveries along these lines. Respectfully, P. Chakravarti.

  8. Lonnie Brown says:

    I’ve thought about this as well, about how much meat we should eat today compared to what the Paleo Age people would have eaten. Hunting meat is not the same as buying it from the store. Refrigeration is not the same as dried or cured. Convenience can be a downfall here. Fresh is best and so is infrequency of meat. Once or twice a week, sure, but everyday, three times a day, seven days a week is alot. Good points, thanks!

  9. Anthony Green says:

    I’ve read the books and have been slowly eating Paleo for three months. You’re post is new insight. I was sort of thinking along these lines, but couldn’t articulate it. You really put the hammer to the nail on this one.

  10. Marilynn says:

    Surfing the net I came across this post. I then browsed your blog. Really interesting stuff here .. very informative. I spent an hour going through posts. I will certainly be back.

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