Those Darn Cavemen

Those Darn Cavemen – they led the good life. Over the past few months, I become interested (you might say obsessed) with what some call the Paleo or Evolutionary ways of examining our diets and fitness routines.

Short version: The idea is that human beings evolved over millions of years and most of that time we spent as hunter-gatherers. Only very recently, with the advent of modern farming, have we begun to “enjoy” more refined foods. Therefore, say the Paleo/Evolutionary folks, our physical, mental, and genetic make-up is still geared to the food and lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. Despite our modern trappings, we our still best suited to chasing down game, and rooting around for vegetables and fruit. Our bodies, and minds, don’t know what to do with the stresses of modern life, our lack of exercise, and the tremendous abundance of food – most of which our evolutionary make-up cannot properly handle. Take us out of cubicles and cars, strip us of our latest fashions, and we still are best suited for fight or flight responses to stress, gorging on food when available, and going hungry during lean times. The problem is that we are presented with stress all the time, food (some of it not so good) is everywhere, and we don’t know what real hunger is.

From a dietary point of view, evolutionary folks are very anti-carbohydrate. They avoid carbs at all costs. The purists don’t even eat the “good” carbs, e.g. 100% whole wheat, organic, bread would be off limits because our Paleo ancestors never grew flour for milling and baking bread.

I stumbled on this community while researching cholesterol. One of the contributing factors to my high cholesterol was my elevated triglycerides. (Your cholesterol reading is comprised of HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides.) Triglycerides are greatly impacted by sugar. The more sugar you consume, triggering some sort of insulin reaction (I’m still fuzzy on the science), the higher your Triglycerides, and the higher your cholesterol reading.

Many of refined foods (breads, modern fruits) have lots and lots of carbohydrates. So in attempt to reduce my Triglycerides, I set out to cut carbohydrates. I’m not perfect. I still enjoy “good” bread/toast for breakfast, but I try to avoid bread, or anything made with flour after that. I'm not perfect. As a matter of fact, I’m drinking a beer as I type this. No one’s perfect. But I cut way back, and my Triglycerides and Cholesterol went down. I also lost a lot of weight.

The idea of the Paleo-enthusiasts is that if eat more like our ancestors (meat, nuts, plenty of vegetables and some fruits) that we would be more healthy. So I do - I eat more meat, ton's of servings of vegetables, my usual 3 or 4 fruits a day, all the while trying to avoid (but not eliminate) carbs.

Lately the Paleos’ anti-carb crusade got a big boost from the release of Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. In his book, Taubes examines the conventional wisdom that low fat, high carb diets are good for us – better than diets high in fat (the way we “used to eat” – bacon and eggs for breakfast every day, meat at every meal, real butter, etc.).

As pointed out by William Souder in the Star-Tribune last week:

Here's how Taubes explains it: When you consume carbohydrates, your body responds by flooding your bloodstream with the hormone insulin. Fat cells, highly responsive to insulin, readily convert calories to additional fat in its presence -- and resist giving those calories back as fuel. At the same time, persistently high levels of insulin reduce the responsiveness of nonfat cells, creating an insulin resistance that is a precursor for diabetes. Meanwhile, certain carbohydrates -- especially fructose -- are transformed by the liver into triglycerides, which strongly correlate with heart disease.

So, as for diet, I’ve gone Paleo – to a certain extent. I enjoy it; I find I experience fewer ups and downs that come with consuming carbs – no sugar highs and lows. I seldom crave bad carbs, but I do have a hankering for cereal now and then. I fully realize – as I am often reminded – that it is not so easy for others.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is now a Paleo look at depression.

According to Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D,

“There’s increasing evidence that we were never designed for our sedentary, socially isolated, indoor, sleep-deprived, poorly nourished lifestyles.”

As he states later in the article,

“We’ve been engineering the activity out of our lives,” . . . “the levels of bright-light exposure – time spent outdoors – have been declining.”

Source Dr. Helen

The article goes on to say that fresh air and exercise can help alleviate depression - something I've notice myself. Another good reason to get in touch with your inner hunter-gather.

I’ve intentionally avoided blogging about my efforts to implement some sort of Evolutionary fitness practices. My recent sprinting post highlights one effort in that direction. I can leave that discussion for later.


amy said…
what do they say about milk and cheese?
John G. said…
Not sure about dairy, but this post sheds a little light on the question,
Anonymous said…
You are on to something here. If we lived the way our ancestors lived for hundreds of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture, we 'd be eating a low carb diet (as you mention), and we 'd be getting a lot more sun and a lot more exercise. The sun factor is underemphasized in today's society. People were outside all the time and got an enormous amount of sun, even in northern Europe. Nowadays people spend most of their time inside and out of the sun. The Vitamin D from sunshine plays a critical role in regulating the immune system.

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