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The Human Diet

Below is a guest post from a member of our Paleo Diet Houston community. Tell me what you think in the comments:

The Human Diet

If you look up the diet of almost any animal you will find a specific, detailed list of food sources. For instance, a lion’s diet is described on Wikipedia as:

“The prey consists mainly of large mammals, with a preference for wildebeest, impalas, zebras, buffalo, and warthogs in Africa and nilgai, wild boar, and several deer species in India. Many other species are hunted, based on availability. Mainly this will include ungulates weighing between 50 and 300 kg (110–660 lb) such as kudu, hartebeest, gemsbok, and eland.[4] Occasionally, they take relatively small species such as Thomson’s Gazelle or springbok. Lions hunting in groups are capable of taking down most animals, even healthy adults, but in most parts of their range they rarely attack very large prey such as fully grown male giraffes due to the danger of injury.”

The human diet is described on wikipedia here as simply being “omnivorous” with a “range of diets from purely vegetarian to primarily carnivorous” with a nod to the hunter-gatherer diet. This loose definition of the proper human diet presents a conundrum to people in the modern world trying to decide how best to eat to be healthy.

At the end of a crossfit class last week I listened as two ladies questioned the trainer on the paleo diet. It went something like this:

“So I looked up the paleo diet on the internet. That’s just the caveman diet, right?”

“Right.  Basically, you eat meat, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and berries.”

“Ok.  So salads are ok, right?”

“Yes.”

“And fruit?”

“Yes.”

Wow! A recipe for disaster!

So what is the paleo diet? And why should anyone follow the diet? What can/should one eat?

The paleo diet is simply an attempt to mimic the diet of our paleolithic ancestors who were certainly omnivorous. The principal food of the paleolithic diet was meat. Primarily, brains, marrow and organs from large mammals. Fat was prized above all else. Even in more modern times, hunter-gatherers, when given the choice, would choose to eat animal products to the exclusion of all other foods. The Plains Indians are perfect examples, having lived almost exclusively eating buffalo. The Inuit of the Arctic region also ate almost exclusively of animal-sourced foods, although they had little plant food available. Eating fatty meat is crucial to long-term success on the paleo diet.

The paleo diet, when followed properly, will improve almost all poor health conditions resulting from the Standard American Diet. It can help one lose weight, reverse diabetes, significantly reduce risk of heart disease, and confer other benefits. The paleo diet is free of manufactured foodstuffs like artificial sweeteners, fillers, preservatives, processed oils, etc.

So what should one eat? The first step, which is critical and the one most often skipped, is for one’s goal to be clearly defined. The second step is to define how one will go about achieving that goal. The third step is implementation. The 4th step is monitoring progress. Let’s take a look at each of the steps.

Step 1: Goal

Here is an example of goals one may choose:

1. Weight loss

2. Feel better

3. Improve health

4. Sleep better

5. Improve athletic performance

There are many others. The important thing is to begin with the end in mind. If you are not clear on what you want to achieve, you will not be able to determine with certainty how to get there. I will write more specifically about individual goals in a future blogpost.

Step 2: Plan

Based on your specific goal, you can develop a specific plan to achieve that goal. The important thing here is that you understand how specific foods affect your ability to reach your goal.

For instance, if your goal is weight loss, you will necessarily need to limit carbohydrates including fruit, nuts and certain veggies. If your goal is simply to feel better, fruit and nuts can be ok.

Also, planning may entail tailoring the diet to suit your needs. Perhaps you want to add dairy for extra fat and calories, or to aid muscle growth. Perhaps you want to add tubers such as sweet potato for athletic performance. These are many modifications that can be made to help you achieve a specific goal.

Step 3: Implementation

This step is self-explanatory. Now that you have a plan, you need to follow it. Implementation can include meal planning, shopping, cooking, etc. If you do not prepare yourself properly, you may struggle to stick with the plan. If you eat out regularly, you will have to prepare yourself to order your food in a very specific, “paleo-ish” manner.

Step 4: Monitoring

You cannot manage what you do not measure. Monitoring can include tracking your weight and measurements if weight loss is your goal; getting regular bloodwork if you are trying to reduce risk of heart disease; logging the results of workouts if trying to improve athletic performance.  Monitoring could be as simple as keeping a journal about how you feel on the diet or notes about the affects of certain foods.

My goal is to have everyone that reads this article think about each of the steps described above. I will write more about each step in future blogposts, and hope this will set you on a path to achieve your goals.

In the meantime, read this terrific post by Kurt Harris regarding the Paleo 2.0 concept.

  1. April 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Nice post. 🙂

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