Back in March, I wrote an article “Why Fitness Hopeful Is Eating a High-Protein, High-Fiber, Moderate-Carb, Moderate-Fat Eating Plan.” I’ve still been evolving my eating plan since then, so its about time I posted something about it. While I’m still currently eating a high-protein, high-fiber, moderate-carb, moderate to higher fat plan, what I’ve eliminated is the big difference.
When I wrote the above article, I was still keeping a food diary, weighing and measuring everything I ate, because I was making plenty of scientific observations about what I should be eating while continuing my nutrition research. By June, I realized that a natural diet was best, and I gave up measuring, weighing, and keeping a food diary. Believe it or not, I can eat a lot of food — albeit it has to be the right food — and not gain weight. Because I had come to understand the mechanism that causes weight gain: insulin and its connection to glucose metabolism, which I will detail in a coming article.
However, it’s not just weight maintenance that I’m interested in. I’ve been researching nutrition to determine what constitutes a healthy diet because I want to be healthy for as long as possible. I volunteer at a nursing home each week and see the results of diabetes, strokes, etc. and don’t want to go down that route myself. But there is yet another factor that I’m interested in, which actually started me out on my journey to healthy eating.
Ethical eating, as it turns out, is not only the healthiest for the planet, itself, but also it’s the healthiest for people and animals. Since industrial agriculture consumes at least 17% of the fossil fuels that the United States uses, second only to transportation, reducing our dependence on industrial agriculture seemed the logical thing to do to reduce our carbon footprint and degradation of the land. Therefore, we joined a local Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at Three Rivers Community Farm for organic produce from May through November. We also stopped buying factory farmed meat because of the unethical treatment of animals and started buying local, grass-fed beef from Missouri Grass Fed Beef and pastured pork and chickens from Live Springs Farm. Interestingly, I later learned the grass-fed and pastured meats were much healthier because of the natural diets of the animals at these humane farms vs. the unnatural grain diets of factory farm animals. (Please see some of my previous articles on these topics.)
But what does a natural human diet look like? With our modern food supply and availability of seasonal produce nearly year round, we’ve clouded this issue, so we need to look at the human fossil record.
Before the domestication of grains 10,000 years ago, humans hunted and gathered their food, moving with the food supply, and they actually were fairly healthy, according to the fossil record. These people died of infectious diseases, trauma (that angry bison can be a big problem), and childbirth; otherwise, they lived as long as we do today. Interestingly enough, after domestication of grains, fossils show that people shrunk about 4 inches (due to growth inhibitors, a defense mechanism of the grains); life expectancy went down; and skeletons showed the first signs of Western diseases, such as arthritis, numerous cavities, periodontal disease, etc.
The other place to look at to determine a natural diet is modern-day hunter-gatherer societies. The fascinating study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (“The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: meat-based, yet non-atherogenic”) showed that 73% of 229 societies studied derived more than 50% of their energy from animals. In fact, protein intake overall is 19-35% of the energy while carbs are an astonishingly low range of 22-40%. Fat is 28-58% of the diet. In the analysis, “fruit represented 41% of the total number of food items, seeds and nuts represented 26%, and underground storage structures (tubers, roots, and bulbs) represented 24%. The remaining 9% of the food items were leaves, dried fruit, flowers, gums, and miscellaneous plant parts.” Granted, the plants living in the wild tend to have more fiber and less sugar, and the animals are much leaner than their factory farm counterparts.
Sugar, as it turns out, was only available in the form of honey, which was seasonal and dangerous to acquire. From accounts of honey acquisitions, feasts ensued, but they were short-lived, as the amount of honey gathered at any one time was small.
Fruit and vegetables were also seasonal. See the generic Guide to Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables; however, the availability of products depends on the region. In winter in the colder climates when plant parts weren’t plentiful, meat was the main staple.
As it turns out, grains and legumes (soy, beans, peanuts, etc.) weren’t part of the diet we evolved on. Both contain toxins and anti-nutrients, which are plant defense mechanisms to prevent animals and insects from eating them. (See my article “The Trouble with Eating Grains and Legumes.”) In fact, some beans, like kidney beans and soy beans, are very high in toxic compounds. Kidney beans must be cooked to degrade the toxins, and soy beans should only be eaten in fermented form, such as miso, soy sauce, and tempeh. (Soybean products are so pervasive in our processed foods. If you are eating them, you may be at risk for thyroid damage, Alzheimers, and other health problems. Please see the article “Newest Research on the Dangers of Soy.”)
Regarding dairy, humans didn’t domesticate cattle until later, so we never evolved to drink another species’ milk. In fact, milk allergies are the most prevalent allergies in the world. There is some research that suggests heated milk proteins (such as those found in pasteurized milk) can cause diseases, such as atherosclerosis. There is also research that suggests that milk can cause diabetes.
As for the natural human diet that we evolved on, there was little sugar, but there were plenty of lean meats and low to moderate amounts of plant parts: fruits, vegetables, nuts, leaves, seeds, etc. Also, grains, legumes, and dairy didn’t exist in the human diet.
Therefore, I’ve modified my diet to not only eat grass-fed and pastured meats (which, by definition, are lower in fat and saturated fat and higher in vitamins and minerals), but I’m eating organic produce when possible. Normally, I’m not eating grains, legumes, or dairy. However, on occasion, at a pot luck, for example, I will eat a small portion of these three food groups.
This natural diet most closely resembles the paleo diet. Most interestingly, when I’ve input my daily foods into the food tracking system at NutritionData.com, I’m achieving or going beyond my daily vitamin and mineral recommended daily values on almost everything, and my omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio is less than 4 to 1, seen as optimal to reduce inflammation and diseases in the body. Therefore, I tossed out my vitamin supplements, realizing that I could be overdosing on some vitamins and minerals.
I just finished a book (which I will post a review about), The Protein Power Lifeplanby Michael Eades, M.D., and Mary Eades, M.D. I highly recommend this book. For months, I’ve already been eating the way these doctors recommend, so I know what they are saying is sound. They outline three types of eating plans for however much you are willing or not willing to give up to reduce weight, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, etc.
They mentioned a woman who said she had only lost 4 pounds in two weeks, but when the authors reviewed her eating diary (which they recommend keeping for a couple of weeks — great idea!), they realized she was eating about 5000 calories a day. A calorie in is not a calorie out! How did this woman manage to lose 4 pounds instead of gaining 6? She was managing her carb intake, and hence her body’s insulin production, which stores fat. Yes, you can lose weight on a higher calorie diet IF you eat the right foods and have the right nutrients, which brings me to my last bit of news.
As per my reading of this book, last night I purchased four vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as Carlson’s lemon-flavored cod liver oil. Oh, I never thought I would purchase cod liver oil! Wow, how times change! I’ll just have to see how this goes.
Oh, one more important issue — fish oil! If you are taking fish oil, it goes rancid quickly. Keep it in the refrigerator. If you are eating softgels, bite into one to see if it tastes fishy. If it does, throw the bottle out because the oil has gone rancid and is now promoting free radical damage in your body, leading to various diseases.