Vegetarian Awareness Month provides a timely opportunity to realize that a plant-focused diet does not derive exclusively from plants. Just as a carnivore does not subsist on meat alone, the same applies to a vegetarian. What can we learn from our Paleolithic, or Stone Age, ancestors? The recent trend toward recreating a Paleo-era diet emphasizes the importance of vegetable nutrition to prehistoric communities, correcting the misperception that they were primarily meat-eaters.
The original Paleo diet, before the advent of agriculture, reflected the hunting and gathering of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and was absent of grains, dairy, starchy foods, sugar and salt. Today’s updated version might comprise food naturally available and/or abundant before the cultivation of food in gardens, crops and livestock.
Loren Cordain, Ph.D., author of The Paleo Diet and Nutritionist Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind, each contest the premise perpetuated by many in the weight-loss industry that fat, especially naturally saturated fat, is unhealthy. Those same proponents that maintain low-fat/non-fat food is a panacea for modern illnesses also purport that cholesterol is the chief cause of heart ailments.
Gedgaudas writes that the diets of hunter-gatherers inhabiting varied landscapes, from the Inuit of the north to tropical forest hominids, included large amounts of fat and cholesterol, which is essential to maintaining cell membranes and regulating hormones. She points out that obtaining cholesterol from food is necessary to augment the liver’s function of creating cholesterol internally.
Cordain agrees that even saturated fats in meats can be beneficial, providing the animals are grass-fed, lean and live in clean surroundings. He emphasizes, however, that when our prehistoric ancestors ate fat, they did not also eat grain carbohydrates, sugar and salt, and contends that it is these components, not meat, that can be detrimental to the body.
Doctor of Naturopathy Maureen Home-Paul adds that organic, lean and game meats are exempt from the acidity inherent in corn-based animal feed. Plus, “When an animal is insensitively confined and killed, stress hormones are released that result in acidity. So, we are changing our pH from a healthy alkaline state to a more acidic condition when we consume meat from conventionally raised animals.”
Scientific studies published in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, Medical Hypotheses and by the Mercola group attest to key problems related to human consumption of grains. Antinutrients such as phytic acid in grains lead to the poor absorption of minerals and related deficiencies. Improper absorption of dietary protein caused in part by enzyme inhibitors in grains also tends to damage the pancreas. Individual sensitivities to proteins in specific grains can further interfere with functioning of the neuroendocrine system and subsequent emotional difficulties like addiction and depression may arise. All of these difficulties have been exacerbated by irresponsible prenatal diets that have made younger generations extra-sensitive to the challenges posed by grains to the human system.
While Cordain doesn’t recommend dairy, Gedgaudas suggests organic or raw milk products, provided they retain their full fat content and come from grass-fed cows. She reasons that the presence of the anti-carcinogenic fatty acid conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) and the Wulzen factor anti-stiffness agent in the fat benefit joint lubrication.
Experts suggest that the dietary formula established by our prehistoric ancestors can be the foundation for a modern-day, healthy, non-confining, creative eating experience. We can exchange grains for quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat (not technically grains at all), and include tubers and legumes, due to their folate and protein content. Blue and sweet potatoes also contain high levels of anthocyanins and potassium. Nearly every category of food, in the proper amounts, can be part of such a balanced diet. When we explore what makes sense and eat clean and natural foods, we have a good chance of finding our body’s own sweet spot.
Sayer Ji is the founder of GreenMedInfo.com and an advisory board member of the National Health Federation. Tania Melkonian is a certified nutritionist and healthy culinary arts educator. Learn more at GreenMedInfo.Com