A paleo diet has a lot to offer.
It’s based on the foods eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in Africa during the paleolithic era from about 2.6 million years ago to the beginning of the agricultural revolution about 13,000 years ago.
The main foods available during this time were meat (from freshly killed land animals), fish and crustaceans, as well as tubers (yams and corms) and some herbs and spices for garnish. Back-up foods for when times were tough included select legumes, soft seeds and nuts which were ground into flours and baked in ground ovens like today’s bush damper. Occasional condiments were seasonal, including honey, eggs, fruits and berries, and vegetables like bush carrots. Medicinal foods were made from vegetables, herbs and water weeds.
This is the diet to which humans are genetically adapted—we have evolved a unique omnivorous gastrointestinal tract that is closest to a carnivore in physiology and function, as well as being genetically adapted to cooked foods and tool use.
So what does this mean? If we eat foods to which we are genetically adapted then we have more chance of living a healthy happy life.
But for many people, eating a strict paleo diet isn’t very appealing—especially in our modern world filled with amazing food sensations.
The key is to create your own Signature Diet!
Don’t become a blind follower of a food cult—any food cult. While there are many different diets that work for different people, in general the paleo diet works better than most because it is based on what humans are designed to eat. It is a great place to start to boost your health and live a happier lifestyle. But there is no need to stop there—being able to stick to a pure paleo diet is challenging in our busy, predominately suburban, lives, and most of us can’t do it long-term.
The trick is to work out what other foods are right for you for ultimate health and wellbeing. If you have symptoms of ill-health—like aches, pains, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome—then start a paleo diet and take notes over the next six to eight weeks, to see if your symptoms improve or even disappear. If you are strict over this time, and keep track of changes to your symptoms, you can then make your own ‘evidence-based’ decisions about your diet. You can test foods by re-introducing them and monitoring their impact. Bill Giles Health Ecology has expertise in conducting personal food trials and can help you undertake and accurately interpret your own tests.
So why do symptoms improve or disappear?
Again, it all comes back to evolutionary biology. Our bodies are not designed to eat many of the foods we currently consume. Foods like grains—including wheat, rice and corn—require our immune systems to denature the poisons and toxins locked inside. If we stop eating these foods, it unloads the immune system and allows it to focus more resources to fighting illness and disease. If you have a strong immune system, then you may have no problem eating grain foods because you have plenty of reserves to denature them.
So wouldn’t just cutting back on grains help?
Sometimes people adopt a paleo diet and wonder why their health hasn’t improved. This is often because they are not sticking to the diet 100%. Many people who have chronic and acute illness or disease may have micro-intolerances, so only a few grains of wheat or rice may set them off. For example, if a person with coeliac disease is exposed to more than 3 parts per million of gluten their immune system will react. Their weakened immune system makes mistakes when it comes into contact with small amounts of plant chemicals from foods that have only recently (in evolutionary terms) been added to the human diet.
It is also important to understand that although everybody is very similar in genetic makeup for immune integrity, each individual will have slight variation depending on their ancestry, exposure to pathogens and viruses, and emotional stress, for example. Some people may react to red meat, seafood or certain vegetables, fruits, nuts or seeds that are recommended on a paleo diet. On the other hand some people may be able to expand their paleo diet to include grain products if their immune system is strong enough to denature the disruptive chemicals.
Our genes are also continually evolving and in the past few thousand years humans have been discovering new foods that are not a problem to the average human immune system. For example green mussels, quinoa and breadfruit are new and beneficial foods for most people. It makes sense to add these into our diet and not stick exclusively to a paleo concept of not eating foods to which our ancestors did not have access.
So in general, the paleo diet works. If you are healthy with no symptoms you can adopt a paleo diet as a preventative measure to reduce the chances of developing illness in the future. If you currently suffer symptoms of ill-health, an autoimmune disease or other chronic condition, then a paleo diet may help turn your health around. The trick is not to limit yourself! Create your own diet, make your own decision around food and discover what works for you! Create your own Signature Diet that is entertaining, comforting and offers variety and choice while giving you ultimate health and wellbeing!