Saturday, April 19, 2008

Paleo Rules

Michael Pollan's rules about eating from In Defense of Food are a good framework, but ultimately don't take a stand for what humans evolved to eat.

The article by Cordain in Implications of Plio-Pleistocene Hominin Diets for Modern Humans in the anthology Evolution of the Human Diet: The Known, the Unknown, and the Unknowable is academic, but also provides a good "rules" framework.

According to Cordain, the diet we are most evolved to eat is:

  1. Omnivorous (typically, high vegetable content by weight, and high meat content by caloric contribution)
  2. Low in sugar
  3. Proper omega-3: omega-6 ratio... 1:3 is optimal
  4. High in protein
  5. High in micronutrients, mostly from diverse plant foods
  6. Low net acid load...most hunter-gatherer diets are net-base yielding
  7. High potassium to sodium ratio
  8. High in fiber
Unfortunately, this is a diet that is difficult to follow these days. Feedlot meat has an unfavorable fatty acid composition, fish stocks are poisoned, and domestic varieties of plant crops are higher in sugar and lower in fiber. Thankfully, if the need arises, these basic rules allow me some flexibility to adjust my diet with the inclusion of some agrarian foods without sacrificing the major benefits.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Our family doesn't find it too difficult to follow a diet like you outline (though we vary from Cordain's model in some details, such as more saturated fats). As you say, I also think that Pollan's guidelines are great for those wanting to get off the Standard American Diet (SAD), but there's a lot of room for fine-tuning Pollan's blueprint for those of us already off it for some time.

For instance, my family gets quite a varied selection of produce from a local CSA farm share program (we are fortunate that in So Cal CSAs operate all year); I primarily choose pastured meat, dairy, and eggs, as locally sourced as possible (sometimes pastured poultry, too); use the Monterey Aquarium's guide for selecting sustainable and less toxic fish; and we have reduced our grain, sugar, and starch foods to very low amounts, and in some cases have eliminated them. I've implemented the changes over several years as I have learned more, so it has not been a drastic or wrenching experience.

I probably do spend more on what I consider high quality foods (stuff you can't find coupons for), but at the same time, I'm not spending time choosing or money on very many highly processed foods that others consider indispensable, i.e., sodas, starchy and sugary snacks, heat-n-serve meals (basically stuff that you *can easily* find coupons for).

I can breeze past entire aisles and sections (cereals, grains, pastas, snacks, bakery, juices) and focus on selecting real food on the perimeter (though even the perimeter is becoming murky territory with sugary yogurts, processed cheeses, and ever expanding chilled "healthy" beverage options), with a quick foray into the center for olive oil, coconut oil and coconut milk, and tea and coffee, nuts, and such. With the veggies pretty much selected for me at the farm and my eggs and meat coming direct from another farm, I even spend less time reading labels, because most of the foods I buy have little to no packaging or labels to read. A good example is salad dressing. I have seen people stand in front of those shelves for 5-10 minutes or more, scrutinizing the labels for the ones that don't contain HFCS or whatever else is they are avoiding. I don't even buy salad dressing anymore, I make it. It's cheaper, takes mere minutes to prepare from staple ingredients I keep on hand (even "Ranch" dressing), and contains only the ingredients I choose. Sure, I spend a couple extra minutes prepping in the kitchen, but I prefer that to standing in the grocery store aisle struggling to read the fine print and interpreting food chemical names.

I think the key is making continual, but gradual changes, starting perhaps with Pollan's blueprint, but then adding in the paleo aspects, which gives a much clearer sense of what benefits humans and what doesn't (sure there are controversies even in paleo diets, but the big picture is pretty clear - seasonal, local, minimal sugar and grain). Then certain things happen naturally. Instead of scrutinizing the prepared cereal boxes for the best (or least worst) one, you just stop having cereal, because you realize daily breakfast cereal doesn't really belong in your diet anyway. Before you know it, you're eating much better, without a lot of label reading and grocery store angst.