In a nation with far too many food choices combined with an obsession of an unattainable body type with a corresponding obesity epidemic, naturally every few years there is a new promising diet. Common sense is not always part of the equation in new diets or variations of old diets. What is interesting about the Paleo Diet is that it is somewhat based on common sense that takes us back to the origins of our existence.
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The Paleo diet plan is a popular new eating plan based on how humans ate during the Paleolithic Era. In this article, I explore and challenge the diet itself, the philosophy.
The basis of the Paleo plan is adopting the eating habits of our Paleolithic ancestors. The notion of the modern Paleo diet plan is that our digestive system has not evolved enough to process present day agricultural progress food production. Given how unhealthy and sickly our evolved culture is it is not difficult to resonate with the logic in this notion. agricultural food production. According to the Paleo Plan, it is too difficult to digest legumes and grains of the agricultural revolution.
To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to try a modified Paleo Plan, without abandoning my vegetarianism. The challenge was not the absence of meat but foregoing legumes as a source of protein. For the long term, I do not have the means to follow the Paleo Plan entirely, with or without meat. After experimenting with a vegetarian modification of the Paleo Diet, I have drastically reduced grains and entirely eliminated pure carbohydrate foods such as pasta and bread. I eat legumes and European-style bread in moderation. I get the majority of my carbohydrates from tubers and winter squash. I not only enjoy eating more nuts and seeds supplementing or replacing grains but I have also lost weight and my digestion has improved
Technically our Paleolithic ancestors were hunter-gatherers so naturally this eliminates post agricultural foods. The present day Paleo Plan eliminates legumes and grains and encourages vegetables and fruits in unlimited quantities. Many of the vegetables we cultivate are part of the agricultural revolution, but may be closer to our origins then grains and legumes. Corn is the epitome of the genetic manipulation and human fabrication of the agricultural revolution. In my reading I have not seen any indication of eliminating corn in the Paleo Plan. (please feel free to sight a reference where I would stand corrected) In my own exploration of the Paleo Plan I have relished the concept of getting carbohydrates from tubers, such as sweet potatoes and squashes. Spaghetti squash is a wonderful substitute for soba noodles, very tasty and every bit as gratifying. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not miss noodles and rice and lost weight replacing these foods.
Nuts and seeds would seem to be the staple of the Paleo Plan. According to the Paleo diet nuts and seeds fall into the category of what was gathered during the hunter-gather core of our existence. This is the portion of the diet that is most logical. I have also embraced eating nuts as a source of protein and healthy omega fatty acid. Nuts and seeds are also filling and there are creative ways to incorporate them into soups, salads, salad dressing, casseroles, and sauces. I have taken to using nuts and seeds as a rice replacement. It is easy to grind nuts and seeds in a coffee grinder.
My research on the paleo plan reveals meat as a major component of the diet stirring up considerable controversy and causing outrage among the vegan community. As a vegan who eats only eggs from chickens I have met personally, I have both praise and criticism of the meat emphasis. To understand my viewpoint I have to explain own vegetarian history.
I became a vegetarian when I was nine years old in 1977. I made the choice based on humanitarian feeling towards animals. When I left home for college I relocated to a predominantly vegetarian community and had the experience of living in a strictly vegetarian household. In this household and through the many health food stores I learned the right way to be a vegetarian. Previously I had eliminated meat but only had a very basic knowledge of what to replace it with. The paleo plan consists of a large portion of protein, which is generally not plausible to a vegetarian. My pre-secondary education taught that humans only need two servings of protein. To this day, I have heard many opinions professional or otherwise about how much protein is needed a day. I believe the high protein recommendations can be traced to the power of the meat and dairy industry.
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A positive aspect of the Paleo Plan is the requirement that the meat is organic grass feed. Organic and grass fed may be a closer approximation to our Paleolithic origins than factory farming which is also inhumane, unhealthy mass production. However, the modern Paleo plan fails to take into consideration significant distinctions in our modern day meat consumption. Domestic livestock, even if grass fed and organic, is still a vast departure from paleolithic primitive hunting of wild games. Early human ate large portions of meat because of the tremendous labor of procuring and preparing their meat. Paleolithic people hunted and processed their meat with primitive means consuming far more energy than a trip to the meat counter at the grocery store. What I have seen in this modern day Paleo movement is an excuse to over-consume meat. It is a positive step to lean towards grass fed and organic, but the lack of labor involved in procuring the meat has to be considered in smaller meat portions. I also have limited faith that everyone who has climbed on the Paleo bandwagon bothers to only eat organic grass fed meats. Few people understand the entire concept of organic foods and consider buying organic to be too expensive and inconvenient. There is little understanding of the devastating environmental impact of commercial farming.
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"Cattle raising involves the consumption and destruction of resources for a society that insist on eating more meat than is required. The consumption and destruction far outweigh the output of food that any human can survive without. "
"Modern hunting rifles are a significant departure from primitive hand to paw combat of the paleolithic era."
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The questionable aspect of the Paleo Plan is the meat portions. Since the Paleolithic era, our meat eating habits have drastically changed. We used to hunt and gather as a small nomadic population sustaining the environment and ourselves. Our meat practices are based on unsustainable factory farming. Cattle raising involves the consumption and destruction of resources for a society that insist on eating more meat than is required. The consumption and destruction far outweigh the output of food that any human can survive without. Even if one does procure meat by hunting as our once ancestors, the discrepancy is still too wide. Modern hunting rifles are a significant departure from primitive hand to paw combat of the paleolithic era. The tools and methods of slaughtering meat have drastically reduced the work involved therefore the portion must be significantly modified.
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I also don't see consideration given to more sustainable protein. Early human likely ate bugs as a plentiful and easy to obtain source of protein. My sister ate bugs while in the peace corp living in the bush-land of Africa. A variety of bug species are the most sustainable protein source and will be a necessity in the future. So far I have not been able to impress this on the members of the Paleo bandwagon.
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What is very sad about the Paleo fad is the popularity of rabbit meat. This is a source of great upset among folks who have House Rabbits, most of whom are also vegetarian. On facebook during the highly emotional protest over selling rabbit meat, the pro side kept justifying this savage slaughter by stating that 'man has eaten rabbit since the beginning of time' When I asked these people if they also hunt their own meat with primitive tools and eat it raw or commit infanticide when resources run low, they don't have an answer. Just the same this is what was done for survival during the Paleolithic era.
Furthermore, much of the changes in anatomy we have seen are dictated by the daily needs of our lives in the present, though many years behind. For example, I have no wisdom teeth. Most of my generation did grow wisdom teeth and a handful never did such as myself. It would seem wisdom teeth are fading slowly, even if it has been 1000s of years since they have been necessary.
My part in the progress of the evolutionary cycle is choosing to survive as a vegetarian. Meat is not necessary for my survival as it would have been had I lived in the Paleolithic time period. In my paradigm meat no longer has the utility which is evident in the evolutionary phasing out of wisdom teeth and millions of people living full healthy lives as vegetarians. I can also consider the notion that my digestive system is more suited to nuts and seeds. Common sense can also tell me that tubers and squashes are a healthier source of carbohydrates then starchy grains. I can also reason, that I can eat grains and legumes in moderation and survive even if I am not a nutritionist or expert on a modern digestive system.
Part of evolution is education. Since I am sophisticated in my life choices and educated I know how biologically close to humans and rabbits are. The human digestive system is very similar to that of rabbits, something the meat and dairy industry won't allow to be common knowledge. The diet of a rabbit consists of hay as a staple and vegetables and fruits. Our primate cousins sustain themselves on a similar vegetarian diet, so it is odd to think that early human labored so extensively to obtain their meat. At the same time, as evolved humans we can educate ourselves about our biology and the instinctive habits of closely related mammals and make choices.
If one is truly aspiring to gather as our ancestors did, we may not need to go as far as the nearest grocery store. Vegetation can be gathered from our own back yard providing we haven't doused it in weed killer. Tragically in California one of the most nutritious weed, which is not a weed at all. The flowers and the greens of the Dandelion are indigenous, nutritious, prolific and have a tasty zing. Dandelions also speed metabolism, are an intestinal cleanser, curb hot flashes and aid skin disorders. I am unable to comprehend how so many people can destroy free food and an entire field of dandelions are very attractive and food for native species. I have not seen a single person embracing the paleo plan foraging their backyard and neighborhood for native edibles. I am guessing that these same folks get in their car to go to work and the grocery store without a single thought.
My exploration of the Paleo diet plan, as a vegetarian has led me my own assessment somewhere in the mid-range of the controversy. In my opinion, there are aspects of our progress as evolved human beings that are true progress and other aspects that are detrimental, defying our biology. Is it possible that we have evolved to process a very moderate amount of grains and legumes when you consider the health benefits in these foods? Legumes are an inexpensive source of protein a practical consideration for a vegetarian and some grains provide complementary nutrients to legumes. I am not an expert on nutrition or the paleo plan, but I suspect that we consume grains and in some instances legumes in great excess. Change in lifestyle is inevitable with the passage of centuries though I say this without another civilization to compare ours with. I have lived in third world countries where most aspects of the Paleo diet are naturally occurring, but the manual labors are also very close to the Paleolithic Era.
A valuable resource we have as evolved human beings is our ability to eat in a way that is most comfortable, enjoyable and gives us the most energy and the massive amount of choices to this end. I consider my nearly lifelong practice of vegetarianism to a progressive wrung in the process of evolving. I sincerely believe that I feel healthy as a vegetarian not just due to the absence of meat but also in living my conscience.
If we were truly adapting the Paleolithic era eating habits to modern day we would be eating bug not grass feed beef. Edible bugs are equivalent to pre-agricultural hunting and gathering as sustainable source of protein. Meat eaters don't want to hear this. It will be interesting to see what happens, in the future, when eating bugs becomes an essential means of a source of protein. Likely the nutritionist daily allowance of protein servings will see an all time low.