December 23, 2010
As I mention in the “About” section, I think food quality is extremely crucial to health, and my definition of food quality is very similar to the paleo/primal menu. Here’s my take on nutrition.
What you should eat:
Meat and Eggs
In my opinion, protein is the most vital macronutrient, and meat/eggs are the best source of that protein. (For the love of diet, eat the yolks too!) It’s pretty widely accepted that what separated us from monkeys in evolution was the percentage of meat in our diets; it allowed for larger brains and flatter stomachs. Animal products are so great because the protein, vitamins and minerals are present in the forms that we process most efficiently. Think of the animals as convenient processors for our benefit: they take in nutrients in forms that aren’t as beneficial to us (grass for cows, flax seed for chickens) and produce meat and eggs with the nutrients readily available (beef, omega 3 enriched eggs). Also, go nuts with the fish, if for nothing beyond the anti-inflammatory effects of the Omega-3’s found in large proportions (don’t worry about mercury). Meat source is important too, though there is some argument about how critical it really is.
Though many zero-carb enthusiasts (ZCers) claim that all benefits of vegetable eating can be realized through consumption of a good multi-vitamin (like beef-liver), I’m still a fan of veggies. Many boast impressive nutrient profiles (especially the dark green leafies), and they can be a wonderful carrier for delicious fats (i.e. asparagus drenched in olive oil). Any and all veggies are good in my book (though some are more sugary than others), but you may find that local or homegrown options taste better. Please remember corn is not a vegetable (it is a grain, and as such should not be eaten).
If you keep carbs low, your energy is coming from fat, either dietary or stored (remember we want that protein going towards construction projects in the body, or being converted to glucose/ketones in the liver for brain and organ function). Fat intake fills in the gap between your desired total intake and your intake from protein and carbs. Stay away from those nasty, unstable vegetable oils (olive oil is ok so long as you don’t heat it), but go crazy with animal based fats, avocados and coconuts. If you’re still saturated fat phobic, you have some assigned reading.
What you should not eat:
Stay away from sugar, bread, high fructose corn syrup, etc. The easily digestible sugars lead to large insulin spikes, resulting in arterial plaque and storage of nutrients in the adipose tissue (getting fat). A large dose of readily available carbohydrate also inhibits immune system function, and contributes to poor sleep and depression. In short, processed carbs make you fat, hungry, sad, and sick.
I realize it’s covered in the above group, but I want to hammer home the point on gluten, because it is just so darn awful. I basically wanted to copy all the text here, but I can save the space if you all just promise to do your homework. Read the whole thing and I promise you’ll look at bread like poison from now on. And then go read this (look at all that research!) to really cement the severity of the situation. From the studies listed at the bottom, we see exactly what gluten is capable of.
Bad things correlated with gluten intake:
- Sensory Ganglionopathy
- GAD Antibody-Associated Diseases
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Myoclonic Epilepsy
- Central/Peripheral Nervous System Disorders
- IgA Neuropathy
- Hippocampal Sclerosis in Refractory Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
- Relapsing Acute Pancreatitis
- (Gluten) Ataxia
- Neuromyelitis Optica
Easily Oxidized Oils
MDA has a solid post on Canola, and the majority of this carries over to other PUFA oils (corn, vegetable, margarine, seed-based, etc.). The bottom line here is that these oils are packed full of Omega 6 fats and are very unstable, causing them to oxidize easily when heated. I don’t think anyone needs to be convinced that oxidative stress is bad for your heart. Also beware of anything hydrogenated (even partially). MDA hits it out of the park again with this handy quick-reference guide to oils, including their respective fat contents.
The white stuff is a subject of much debate in the community. Turns out, milk may have been added to the menu even after grains, and as a result, 60% of the world’s adults can’t process dairy. This results in uncomfortable bloating and digestive irritation. In the past, these people would have been referred to as lactose-intolerant, but now that they are known to be the majority, it’s the people who can process milk who get the special medical tag: lactase-persistent. Also, lactose is extremely insulinogenic, meaning it results in a large insulin response. This is why milk is so good for growing children (who can digest it), but indicates it may be a bad choice unless your main goal is growth. The response is lower for dairy products with less lactose (hard cheese and butter are safer than liquid milk or cream), so those are wiser options if limiting insulin release is a goal. I’m personally a big fan of raw milk, and even those who have trouble with the homogenized, pasteurized dairy at most grocery stores handle it just fine.
Legumes (Beans, Chickpeas, Peanuts)
Not only are these little flatulence bombs pretty carby, they are not nearly the protein source they are cracked up to be. That’s not worth too much thought because the much stronger reason not to eat them is their large proportion of lectins. These nasty “carb-binding proteins” have been covered in great detail here, so click through for more solo studying.
White potatoes have some nasty stuff, but sweet potatoes get a pass there (in fact they have some great vitamins and minerals). It should be noted that if you are metabolically damaged or trying to lose weight, stuff this starchy should be held off the menu almost entirely.
The Middle Ground:
In the discussion on evolutionary diet, fruit can be where it gets sticky (weak pun, and an even weaker segue). What makes fruit sticky, as we all know, is the sugar content; sugar content is a critical point in determining how fruits fit into our paleolithically-determined diets. The idea is that the sugar content of most fruit is much higher now than it was when we stopped evolving at the dinner table (fruit has been bred for taste in the last 10k years). Add in the fact that in many parts of the world fruit was only seasonally available, and you can construct a pretty clear argument for why fruit intake should be kept in check. I’m more into the modern day results of diet, and more recently, research has indicated that small doses of fruit may be beneficial for weight loss. I’ve found that I can handle a decent amount of fruit (2-3 servings/day), but I’ve never tried living on the stuff. You might just have to feel your way through it. Sugar content of common fruit.
Almonds are often touted as a great snack for low-carbers, but they do have some issues. There are bioavailability issues with the protein, and the fat is predominately of the Omega-6 variety. Macadamias are better, but you can certainly eat too many. Nuts have a rather strange effect – you can practically gorge on them without gaining weight (after a certain point they just pass through you), but even a relatively meager amount will prevent weight loss. Keep intake in the 1 oz/day range if you’re hoping to shed pounds.
The Bottom Line:
With so much information readily accessible throughout the interwebs, it can be pretty easy to get neurotic about this stuff. Don’t. I mean, unless you enjoy that sort of thing (I kind of do). A “Zen” approach to dieting and lifestyle has been addressed by pretty much everyone talking about evolutionary living. Cortisol is a nasty beast, and you don’t want to be producing more of it by agonizing over the nitty-gritty details. Working yourself into fervor over some small facet of the diet is missing the forest for the trees – it just isn’t worth it. Stick to animal products, veggies, fat and fruit and you are well on your way in the right direction.