Monday, 26 January 2009

Diet and Anger

So I'm sure at least some of the people who stop by my blog read the article in the New York Times that referenced the Paleo diet, among other things

The article implied that following the Paleo diet was part of a 'paleofantasy' us modern humans cling to that doesn't reflect the modern society we live in today and further, is built on a shakey and fragmented understanding of how our ancestors lived. I think the author makes a valid scientific point that correlation is not causality, and there may be more than our modern diets to blame for our modern illnesses. The author also agrees that eating a less processed food based diet would probably be better for us.

The author does make many at least seemingly counter Paleo points. For example, the article argues that evolution does not stop, and cites lactose tolerance among modern humans of European dissent, a genetic mutation borne of the evolutionary environment. If I follow correctly, the implication is that we are also now, thanks to evolution, grain tolerant and legume tolerant and generally well adapted now to survive on carbohydrates. Other bloggers have taken up the points made in the NYT piece with vociferous enthusiasm and somewhat expanded and distorted the author's argument to generally attack the Paleo philosophy. Interestingly, at least to my mind, there is genuine nastiness in the dialogue between some of the Paleo camp and some of Paleofantasy camp, mostly arising from the Paleofantasy end.

I'm pretty much a live and let live type. I don't tell other people how and what they should eat, and I don't bash other people's food choices. I'm actually surprised people care enough to really get into it. But now that I've seen some of the points made, I do feel the urge to respond to some of them, if only for my own edification.

1) We don't know what our ancesters ate: True. We can only make educated guesses. And we can back up these guesses with scientific studies that show the efficacy of different ways of eating. And pretty much all the studies I have read that are halfway decently done tend to support the hypothesis that moderating carbohydrates, upping protein, getting good amounts of healthy fats,and eating whole natural minimally processed foods (not whole grains, which are by definition highly processed) is good for us.

2) It is a fallacious assumption that the point to which we evolved 50K years ago is the ideal: Maybe. But isn't it equally fallacious to assume either that we have evolved significantly from that point and that it WASN'T the ideal? I'll take my chances, as you will take yours, with our different approaches. But I don't see how my view can be categorically knocked out.

3) Sugar, high fructose syrup, heck, grains generally aren't bad for us since we make them/grow them ourselves: I respectfully disagree. They are very dense sources of calories with few or no nutrients, especially compared on a calorie for calorie basis with other foods. Just because we have created them doesn't mean they're good for us. Please note I'm evaluating these foods on their NUTRITIVE value. Animals are adapted to consume that which is optimally nutritive for them. On this basis, grains simply cannot match meat, vegetables, fruits, and naturally occuring fats.

4) Different groups of humans have evolved to eat different things, so what works for an African will not necessarily work for an Inuit: again, respectful and qualified disagreement. Masai eat cows and cow blood, Inuits eat whale meat and blubber. But it's all animal protein and fat. And I believe I just named two of the healthiest ethnic groups on the planet when they stick to their customary diets, which are heavily weighted in favour of animal protein and fat. Of course, you can cite the Chinese or the Japanese with higher carbohydrate intake, and I will concede that it is possible that some ethnic groups are more carb tolerant. But even in those groups the carbohydrates are not heavily processed and/or treated in such a way as to minimize their negative effects (e.g. fermenting soy products).

These are only a few points of rebuttal, and they likely won't change anyone's mind. I know that I eat the way I eat for the simple reason that it makes me feel good. I just don't get the anger associated with what people choose to eat and why. In the end, so long as everyone is happy, does it matter? And when did we all become so intolerant of dietary dissent? I generally find that those who react negatively to my food choices tend to take my choices as a repudiation of their own, which is an inaccurate personalization of my diet. Perhaps those who are unhappy with the way I eat are perhaps instead really expressing an unhappiness with themselves.


Marc said...

"And when did we all become so intolerant of dietary dissent?"

Good one!!

Here's a perfect example of how I have learned to not even bother.
Some one at works says to me today, "This non-fat yogurt I got is great, it tastes just like the real thing." (now years ago, I would have tried to help them, to convince them MY way is the right way, how silly ;-) )
"I replied with, why don't you buy the real thing then?"
Looking at me like I'm an idiot now.."because that's full of fat"
I say "ohhh, I see". That's how most of my conversation go now when it comes to food or exercise.
Like that wonderful song..."don't worry happy"


jessie said...

This is really interesting girl, thanks for the article!!!

Anonymous said...

I really like the points you've made! Very valid to the discussion of what we "should" eat.

I think that everyone is different and its best to just eat what works for us as individuals. But I do mean that in the "real" foods sense- as long as we're eating fairly balanced natural whole foods then we're good to go. It's the processed stuff that I don't like.

- Sagan

TrailGrrl said...

One friend of mine wants to get pregnant but they are having infertility problems. She says she's "eating healthy" which means low fat, which is exactly what you DON'T want to do if you are trying to conceive. You need to drink some whole milk and then get down to business. And the hubby needs to up his testosterone production by eating meats. I did send an article I found that made those suggestions, but I'm sure that has no standing in comparison to what the media says you should eat.

I don't want to be a cavewoman in any fantasy (ok, well, maybe one or two little fantasies...) but I know how much better I feel. Now that doesn't mean everyone will feel better eating a lot of fat and protein and fasting without intending to, but I do know I am wearing smaller clothes and can see my middle regions again. The energy is much better without grains.

I'm with you on the whole yogurt Marc. I love the Greek thick yogurts, just plain with a bit of honey.

People think "whole grains" are a cure-all when they really create a lot of problems and GI distress.

I was thinking paleo/primal would be too restrictive, but I find I crave meat and avocados when I overcarb it, which can happen at other peoples' houses. Most of the stuff I used to "love" doesn't even taste good. Hershey bars taste like an oil slick now that I've gotten used to the good dark Valhrona chocolate. I like the 72%... the really over 80% stuff is pushing it for me.

Keep up the recipes.


Cave Cooking said...

Marc-I think we've had many of the same conversations with people. You should have seen the look on my SO's mother's face when I told her I have eggs for breakfast four times a week...

Jessie- any time :) How's that bruise?

LHITRW-You know I'm with you on the processed stuff. So many people would be so much healthier without it!

Trailgrrl-Really interesting point about infertility and diet! I'm with you on the cheap chocolate too, I really notice how waxy Hersheys is and it's kind of gross.

April said...

As you know, we're not paleo, but we do eat a lot of unsaturated fat in the forms of nuts, olives, and olive and flax oils.

It's always interesting to me how most of the diet/lifestyles that people find make them feel healthier really come down to restricting calories in the end. Paleo and Atkins people would feel awful if they ate as many calories in meat as they could eat in grains and high fructose corn syrup, but since it's a lot harder to consume that much meat (though give me a lot of country ham and I might find a way) they eat less by default.

I wish someone would do the studies with people eating a low saturated fat but high protein, high(ish) unsaturated fat diet. The lowfat/high fat dichotomy is really false.

Kieffer is purring on my lap and wondering why I don't just eat Fancy Feast...


Anonymous said...

"2) It is a fallacious assumption that the point to which we evolved 50K years ago is the ideal: Maybe. But isn't it equally fallacious to assume either that we have evolved significantly from that point and that it WASN'T the ideal? I'll take my chances, as you will take yours, with our different approaches. But I don't see how my view can be categorically knocked out."

I don't get this. I thought the point was that neither is ideal, or that both is ideal for that point in time. What evolves is what works. So what worked back then was good then (that's why it exists), and things work the way they do now because they have worked (obviously the current way of eating isn't working, so people are moving away from that as well--but that doesn't mean the past way was the best).

That's part of why I don't see the big deal with hybrid fruit. They evolved with us--we chose the ones we liked the most and they survived. It works for both of us. They are whole foods that have a lot of beneficial compounds (anti-oxidants and all that). Yeah, I prefer non-hybrids, but everything we eat has been bred in the same way--domesticated animals like cows, all our veggies (unless you go scavenging for wild greens), our nuts.

Cave Cooking said...

April-I agree. Those studies would be fascinating. It's really frustrating to me when I tell people I eat around a 50% fat diet and they look at me like I'm batty.

Cannibalwarrior-the point in the essay was that following the paleo diet was partly based on the assumption that we had not evolved, and that this assumption was false. I think the feeling in most of the Paleo camp IS that we have not evolved significantly in the sense of what is ideal for us dietarily in the last 50K years, a point that is disputed. That was the point I was addressing. As to the hybrid fruits, I agree with you, probably not a huge deal. Fruit is one of those things that should be consumed in moderation, regardless, if you are following the Paleo diet. Whether your apple a day is a hybrid or an heirloom probably makes little difference.