What is Primal Eating?
Imagine you had a pet lion. What would you feed it? Meat, of course. Why? Because we know this to be its natural diet. Now imagine you needed to feed a pet panda – what would you come up with this time? Bamboo, of course. Same logic.
Now imagine you had a pet human being. What would you feed the human? For some reason, this question seems much harder to answer, and yet the answer should be as obvious. We should feed the human those foods which are part of its natural diet.
In the two million year period of history when we were at our most primitive (the Paleolithic Era), we were in our prime. Paleolithic people, who lived on a diet of meat, plants, fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, and seeds, were far healthier and stronger than every generation of human that has existed since. Throughout this two million year period of history, there were no obese people, nor were there any of the diseases which track obesity such as diabetes, gout, hypertension, and heart disease.
The transition from our natural diet (i.e. the Paleolithic diet) to the modern day diet including grain-based foods such as wheat, barley, and rice brought about what University of California evolutionary biologist and Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Jared Diamond refers to as “the worst mistake in the history of the human race”. The Egyptians, who were among the first to adopt large-scale grain cultivation, were noticeably shorter, less muscular, had lower bone density, experienced more dental problems, and enjoyed shorter lifespans than their predecessors.
Why did we give up our natural diet? At first, it was due to convenience. Paleolithic foods require considerable effort to gather and cannot be stored for long. Grains, by contract, can be cultivated on a large-scale and stored for months and even years.
Later on, it was more about profits. Food manufacturers started to make so much money from creating sweet-tasting manufactured products which could be marketed and sold at high-margins, that the whole idea that we should be eating those nutritious natural foods which we had survived on for two million years was forgotten or worse, distorted.
Try the following experiment – next time you are in a supermarket, walk around the fresh foods section (where the Paleolithic foods are) and see how many brands you can find. Then walk down the aisles of processed foods and do the same. The foods which are part of our natural diet are very difficult to become branded goods precisely because they are naturally occurring (how would you distinguish Kellogg’s beef from Nestle beef).
Then things got worse. Not content with creating foods which are unnatural and not particularly healthy for us to consume, food manufacturers began to use half-truths and sometimes deliberate misinformation to convince you that those new foods were in fact, good for you. Let’s look at three examples:
- Whole grains. Marketing pitch: “Full of nutrition. Everyone needs to eat whole grains.”
Was there ever a greater myth created than the healthfulness of whole grains? Calorie per calorie, grains are actually incredibly low in nutrition as compared to vegetables and fruits1.
Grains also create problems for our internal digestion. Grains contain several anti-nutrients such as lectins, which damage the stomach lining and impair protein digestion, as well as phytates, which bind themselves to minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, preventing their absorption.
Then there is the issue of the macro-nutrient breakdown of grains. Until the agricultural revolution introduced grains to the human diet around 10,000 years ago, carbohydrates contributed a fairly low percentage of our daily caloric intake – in modern hunter-gatherers diets, carbohydrates provide only around 30% of our energy. Grains, by contrast, are extremely high in carbohydrates (typically over 70% of the calories from grains come from carbohydrates). The problem is that our bodies are not particularly well designed for consuming carbohydrate-rich foods on a regular basis.
Unless you have just carried out some intensive exercise (which most of us will only do a few times per week at most), glycogen (the body’s store of instant energy) in muscles will be close to its capacity. What this means is that each time we consume carbohydrates, a level of glucose is produced that cannot be stored in the muscles and has only one place it can go – fat. Glucose begins to accumulate in the bloodstream triggering a release of insulin, but since the glucose cannot get into the muscle cells, the receptors on the surface of those cells become insensitive to insulin. The glucose is transported to the liver, where it will attach to fatty acids and eventually be stored as fat. However, long after your muscle cells have become desensitized to insulin, your fat cells remain sensitive to – and can therefore keep on – absorbing more energy.
By consuming a high carbohydrate diet, we effectively make it harder for energy to flow to our muscles and easier for it to flow to our fat cells. At the same time, the elevated insulin levels may create insulin resistance in our muscle cells putting us at greater risk of diabetes as well as promoting inflammation and oxidative damage to tissue.
Basically, whole grains are not only nutrient-low and calorie-dense, they also make it harder for your body to properly absorb nutrients and easier for the body to store more fat. Not surprising then that when grains were introduced to the human diet, populations shrank an average of six inches in height!
- Fruit juice. Marketing pitch: “Bursting with vitamins and antioxidants. Perfect way to start the day”.
Unlike grains which are entirely alien to our genetic code, fruits are a part of the Paleolithic diet. What’s the problem with fruit juice then? Well, pretty much everything.
To start with, it’s worth noting that fruits were only a part of the Paleolithic diet for brief periods of the year when they were in season. This tended to be during the summer months when we were physically more active, and also trying to gain weight before the onset of winter (Note: this part about weight gain should give you a clue as to what’s wrong with fruit juices). Next, you should consider that the fruits we eat today bear little resemblance to their wild ancestors – domesticated fruits are almost always larger, sweeter, and contain less fiber than their wild counterparts.
Now, when you turn a solid piece of fruit into a juice, you take a further step further into the unnatural realm by removing all of the fibrous pulp, basically leaving you with sugary water.
But what about the vitamins and antioxidants, you still get those, right? Well, you might get some, if you’re lucky. As soon as you remove the juice from its protective cell walls, the process of oxidation begins which will gradually erode the nutritional value of the juice. Processed fruit juices may also have been heat treated to kill bacteria, which means by the time you are drinking it, there may be hardly any nutrition left at all.
Now for the final kick in the teeth. Fruit juice manufacturers are aware that the final product they are giving you is little more than sugar water. So, why even bother with the fruit? Many fruit juices sold in supermarkets contain only a small percentage of real fruit juice, with the remainder being sweeteners (sucrose, or high fructose corn syrup).
- Milk. Marketing pitch: “Rich in calcium. Your bones will disintegrate without milk”.
Milk is indeed a good source of calcium. But it’s not the only source. Believe it or not, we survived for two million years without drinking milk from cows or goats, and had a bone density which was significantly higher than current levels. On a calorie per calorie basis, there are also many vegetables which have higher or equivalent calcium content when compared to milk2:
Not only are there other good sources of calcium which are part of the Paleolithic diet, there is just something not quite right about drinking milk from another animal. To state the obvious, cow’s milk has evolved to help turn a small calf into a cow in less than a year. One of the reasons why cow’s milk is high in calcium is because a small calf needs to grow a lot of bone in one year, many times more than a human infant. In fact, the high mineral content of cow’s milk can put strain on a human infant kidney which is why most governments recommend children do not drink cow’s milk within their first year.
Then of course, there are the problems with digesting lactose, the sugar found in milk.? Lactose can only be broken down by the enzyme lactase, which all of us possess in abundance as infants in order to process breast milk.? Unfortunately, for a significant proportion of people, lactase levels are down-regulated after weaning (around the age of two years old) and we accordingly lose the ability to process lactose.? This seems a pretty clear indication that we are not meant to consume milk as adults!
So there we have it.? Three of the most common ‘health foods’ promoted by the food industry which in fact are all highly questionable from a health perspective.? There are, of course, countless other foods which are part of the modern diet (fast food, pizza, soda, candy) which not even the manufacturers will claim to be good for you. ?Imagine what they must be doing to you!
But, you say, I have always consumed x (insert favourite grain, fruit juice, or dairy product), and I have no health problems.? That may be the case, but based on the evidence, it’s likely that your body does not thrive on any of these foods, it can merely survive because it receives enough nutrition to avoid illness.
Whether you believe yourself to be healthy, or are fully aware that you have some health and/or weight issues, we would strongly recommend you try it our way, stick to a fully Paleolithic diet, and notice the impact on your health, wellbeing, and appearance.