Hunter Gatherers in Africa: Is the “Paleo Diet” Simply another Big Fish Story?

Putting “Paleo” to the Test

The entire concept of the Paleo Diet is predicated on the idea that the modern average western diet is, in a word, shit – and the culprit is our over-reliance on processed foods, grains, dairy, and sugars. The diets of our paleolithic ancestors, by comparison, was free of processed foods and abundant agriculture – making them healthier overall.

The Paleo Diet has merit – it is indeed a healthy alternative to the standard American diet, consisting of excessive carbohydrates, corn syrups, and trans fats. It’s no small wonder adult obesity rates sit at nearly 1 in 3 in the United States (and, tragically, our children are almost equally obese).

But a major recurring question today is: is the “Paleo Diet,” as it is defined today, healthy?

I’d like to make a case for the Paleo Diet, but I’d also like to make a case for updating its definition. I will argue that a “carb” is not always a “carb” – that natural unprocessed grains, lentils, and tubers, consumed in moderation and in lieu of heavily processed (and sugar-dense) grains, are actually a better dietary choice than severely limiting your grain intake. I will also make the case that dairy should not be excluded from a diet, and that milk fats are not the villain they’ve been made out to be. A high meat, high veggie diet – supplemented with nuts and fruits, of course, but also a healthy and controlled amount of grains and dairy – may in fact be the one true “Paleo diet.” And I will make my case by analyzing the diets of two African tribes, the Maasai and the Dinka, who are modern-day nomads – and eat a truly natural, largely paleolithic diet that has remained unchanged over the course of millennia.

The Maasai Diet

The Maasai are a people native to Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are largely semi-nomadic pastoralists, herding large groups of cattle across their homeland. This reliance on cattle largely dictates their diet, and as a result, the traditional Maasai diet consisted of plenty of red (and raw) meat. They eat some vegetables (mostly roots and tubers) and fruits.

So far, so Paleo, right?

The traditional diet was originally recorded by Dr. Weston Price in 1935, along with the observation that the Maasai were in incredible health: most tribes appeared to be disease-free, and most showed no signs of tooth caries or dental concerns of any type. Compare that to the general state of modern western dental health and the traditional Maasai diet is very appealing, indeed.

However, studies in 1989 and 1991 indicated a massive change in the diets of the Maasai as they became less nomadic, and more agricultural (likely due to government enactments begun in the 30’s that tried to convert them to a less pastoral way of life). Now the Maasai consume quite a bit more milk and butter, and significantly, maize is now one of their staple foods. Maize and milk have even overtaken raw beef in the Maasai diet, as a porridge made from the grains is eaten almost daily.

Despite this shift, the Maasai seem as healthy as ever. Modern electrocardiogram tests applied to 400 adult male Maasai resulted in no signs of heart disease or any kind of cardiovascular abnormalities, and their cholesterol levels were half that of westerners.

And of course, the Maasai still herd cattle (which are as much status symbol as food supply), as well as sheep and goats.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maasai_people#Diet

http://sciencenordic.com/maasai-keep-healthy-despite-high-fat-diet

http://www.thomsonsafaris.com/blog/traditional-maasai-diet-blood-milk/

The Dinka Diet

The Dinka have a wildly different diet from the Maasai, though both eat fairly primitively. The land they call home is a river-filled region of South Sudan, and like the Maasai, they lead a primarily pastoral life. Cattle makes up a not-insignificant portion of their diet. But while the Maasai are a largely nomadic people, the Dinka tend to have more permanent settlements – they migrate based on the flooding of the nearby rivers, and therefore spend some time in temporary settlements every year.

Once again, we encounter Weston Price: in the 1930’s, he declared that like the Maasai and the Nuer, the Dinka surely ate predominantly cattle and cattle byproducts (as well as some vegetation). But it turns out, Price’s methods were rather simplistic, and he didn’t actually account for the full extent of the Dinka diet. He did not log meals of sufficient sample size to make any real claims about their nutrition. So, what do we know of the Dinka diet now?

Because they live in such proximity to major tributaries, including the Nile River, the Dinka diet largely consists of fish and cereal grains. Their simple, traditional diet is indeed fairly agricultural, though again they do not “process” their cereals the way we do in the west. The mainstay of the Dinka diet – a ‘paleo’ diet before “Paleo” came into fashion – is millet. Meat is an important component of their nutrition – especially fish and steer meat – but not as vital as this grain.

That said, meat does hold a rarified place in the culture of the Dinka. Cattle and cattle products, especially dairy, are considered the “best and most noble” food. Cattle are viewed as more than just sustenance however, they are also spiritually symbolic to the Dinka. The Dinka do not slaughter their cattle solely for meat. They will eat cattle meat when it is prepared as religious sacrifice or when the animal dies of natural causes.

The day to day diet of the Dinka is generally much more focused on grain and fruit. As a consequence, dental caries are more frequent amongst the Dinka, but the Dinka are nonetheless in phenomenal health, with an infrequency of cardiovascular problems consistent with the Maasai.- and a generally taller, stouter build.

Sources:

http://www.remedyspot.com/content/topic/114255-dinkas-diet/

http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/03/paleo-diet-ph-side-note-i-dont-worship.html

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Dinka.aspx

What’s the Difference?

So as you can see the diets of the Dinka and Maasai aren’t as restrictive as the modern “Paleo” diet. They still eat plenty of grain and fruit in the case of the Dinka, and plenty of dairy in the case of the Maasai. These are carbohydrate and sugar-laden foods. So, what’s the difference between this and the average western diet?

The most obvious answer is the fact that western diets incorporate a lot of added sugars rather than natural sugars, as well as trans-fats and processed foods that are more difficult for our bodies to process effectively.

But perhaps it’s something even more than that. After all, with all the millet the Dinka eat, why don’t they have more health problems, dental caries aside, that westerners tend to suffer from?

Probably the most important takeaway from all this is that the Maasai and the Dinka both are pastoralists. They aren’t dieticians, they aren’t super athletes, they don’t lift heavy weights and they don’t do yoga and they don’t run very fast. They don’t even run very far, like the bushmen of Kenya.

They walk. A lot. And they rarely sit down for long periods of time, save to rest up for the net long period of walking.

These people are constantly in motion. As I sit here writing this, and as you sit here reading this, they are our either herding cattle, tracking down nuts and berries, cutting grain, fishing, dancing, surveying the land… or they are sleeping. The west has a very toxic relationship with the alluring siren song of sedentism – we sit down, a lot. And we can’t be bothered to move very much.

We are a very hard-working, but very sedentary, people. If you want to be healthy and happy like the Maasai and the Dinka, the key may not lie so much in some esoteric diet, especially one so skewed in favor of a few specific food groups that it ignores some very important ones that people around the world recognize the value of – but rather in the limbs affixed permanently to our torsos.

So What?

So maybe the strict definition of the modern “Paleo” diet isn’t so paleolithic after all. And it certainly doesn’t appear to be a truly effective diet on its own. It’s one of those things that “makes sense” to the layperson, but that doesn’t mean it’s good science.

Keeping to a Paleo diet, but slightly modifying it to allow for some dairy and grains (in moderation) is likely a far healthier (and more tenable) diet for most people. Ultimately, the best “diet” is the one that you can stick to… and no diet in the world can outperform an unhealthy, inactive lifestyle.

So: Eat unprocessed foods without added sugars as much as possible. Eat plenty of meat and even more vegetables. Enjoy good portions of fruit and dairy as well. Throw in some nuts for satiety. Practice balanced food choices. And please, please, go outside and stretch your legs once in a while. Your heart will be healthier, your body will be leaner, and you won’t have to worry so much about restricting food so heavily.

Sources:

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/foodfeatures/evolution-of-diet/

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/why-i-dont-eat-paleo-or-primal/

http://earthsky.org/human-world/real-paleo-diet-early-hominids-ate-just-about-everything

http://hells-ditch.com/2012/08/archaeologists-officially-declare-collective-sigh-over-paleo-diet/

This article was brought to you in collaboration by John Spence (@AardvarkJohn) and Richard Smith (@TheSafariRich) of Aardvark Safaris (www.aardvarksafaris.com and www.aardvarksafaris.co.uk)

Paleo Diet Calendar and Tracking

It can be hard to keep to any diet especially the paleolithic diet. There are lots of different ways to stay on track with a diet.

In a past blogged about: Paleo and Sweets; Traveling and Paleo; and Pitching Paleo. These posts are about my experience with the paleo diet and staying on track.

My new secret tool:

  • A Whiteboard
  • A Dry Erase Pen
  • Different Acronyms For Heath

A white board with a calendar that I draw. I see the calendar everyday when I get up and when I am eating at home. By manually drawing the calendar I think there is more of a connection than just using my Google calendar or a calendar on the wall. That is my preference, you could use a calendar or day planner if you want.

At the end of everyday I mark different acronyms for my days diet and exercise. A lot of times I do different Crossfit exercise and will add the name of the WOD (work out of the day).

  1. P Paleo
  2. SF Surfing
  3. PU Push Ups
  4. PL Pull Ups
  5. R Run
  6. T tabata
  7. Y Yoga
  8. E Egosque

I use a big fat X across the whole day to track when I cheated on my paleo diet. When I cheat the usual culprit is alcohol, which leads to me eating what ever I can get. Some one make some drunk paleo recipes and I will link to you here. Maybe my next post will be Drinking and Paleo Food.

Here is the paleo diet and exercise tracking calendar I made for October:
paleo-diet-calendar-and-tracking

I will update the calendar in November.

Best San Diego Breakfast

I have eaten a lots of different san diego restaurants, but the best San Diego breakfast restaurant is the Big Kitchen Cafe! This place is classic San Diego with more charisma and character than any other restaurant in San Diego.

san diego breakfast restaurant

Big Kitchen’s owner, Judy “The Beauty On Duty,” has run the restaurant since 1981. Judy’s presences will light up anyones day and she make you an incredible breakfast. Dedicated to her community, Judy has always been active in San Diego politics and helping people. She often brings in hungry people from the street to make sure they are fed. Judy’s passion for people drives her business. She is an amazing woman that everyone should meet.

Now to the paleo food… Big Kitchen will sub any of it’s sides with sautéed veggies, which I always do. I have a few favorite: Rozie’s Special (bacon, eggs, and cream cheese), chorizo and eggs, and any hamburger w/ out the bun.

Here is a picture of chorizo and eggs with sautéed veggies!

Big Kitchen’s also servers Kona Coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice.

If your in San Diego you have to eat here if you want to experience the hart of San Diego and the best breakfast restaurant!

Website: www.bigkitchencafe.com
Facebook: http://facebook.com/bigkitchencafe

30 Second Paleo Pitch

Trying to explain the paleo diet can be tough.  I have done it many of times and here is my paleolithic nutrition pitch, which I use at least once a week.

“Here is the deal.  The majority of my diet is meat and vegetables!

The easier way for me to put it is:

Imagine the food pyramid but…

The bottom is meats and proteins.

The middle is fruits and vegetables.

And the top is nuts and seeds.

I almost never eat grains or products containing grains or corn.  If you read nutrition labels on food package and you will see corn is in everything.

Dairy is out too.  I do cheat a bit  and have cream in my coffee, but don’t drink glasses of milk or eat yogurt.

I usually avoid legumes as well.

The paleo diet is not no carb diet.  I eat carbs all the time, just not from grains.

Paleolithic nutrition is not a crash diet for me, it is a life style.  We can get into all of the science about the diet, but it is easier to say: I feel better, have more energy, less pain, sleep easier, and overall am healthier compared to eat a diet with grains.”

That is the 30 second paleo pitch I give about once a week to the people who ask why I eat the way I do or start talking about health and diets.

Warning:  Be prepared to answer lots of questions about the science of the paleo diet and handle all sorts of rebuttals.  Unlike being vegan, which people tend to accommodate, paleo is met with lots of vigorous scrutiny.

In Vitro Meat and Paleo

in-vitro-meat

A few weeks ago I was listening to NPR and they were talking to author Michael Specter about his article, “Test-Tube Burgers,” which was published in the New Yorker. The article is a detailed piece about the advancements of in-vitro meat aka meat started in a petri dish.

The article starts with Willem Van Eelen, a scientist with an intriguing story about his experience in a Japanese P.O.W. camp during World War II which lead him to a life long mission to create in-vitro meat. Van Eelen’s experience in the P.O.W. camp were key factors in his decision to become a psychologist, determined to find a way to help hungry people eat meat.

When Van Eelen first spoke with scientist about his idea of raising meat in a lab he was laughed at.

Fast forward to 1981 and the discovery of stem cells. Van Eelen’s dreams were starting to look promising. By 1999 he had U.S. and Intertnational patents for the Industrial Production of Meat Using Cell Culture Methods.

To date there is meat being made in labs, but the quantity is tiny in size. Ideally future technology will make the process of lab made meat efficient enough to feed the hungry.

The article goes on to address the issues that arise and how in-vitro meat could effect the world.

My favorite quote from, Dan barber, a food activist and celebrity chef is:

“I would rather eat test-tube hamburger than Purdue chicken. At least the burger you are going to know the ingredients. ”

Usually, I see here people voicing outrage about science and food. I think that there may be a huge opportunity to help a lot of people as long as the patents for the in-vitro meat stay in the right hands.

What do you think? Could scientist create meat that had all of the essentials and right balance of nutrients?

Paleo Sweet tooth

Paleo Sweet Tooth

Since I was young I have loved all kinds of sugary snacks: candy, ice cream, chocolate, cakes, etc. Is your mouth watering? Mine is.

But, generally, when you’re eating the paleo way, you should keep your sugar intake at a minimum. So all of the delicious sweets above are out. If you want to be really strict, you shouldn’t even have very much fruit, because fruits are high in sugars. If your goal is to lose weight, lowering your sugar intake is one of the things you need to do.
paleo and sweets

That being said how do you curb a paleo sweet tooth?

  1. Cut off access
  2. Find alternatives
  3. Don’t dine or hangout at places where you’re temped
  4. Cheat a little

#1 Cut off access
Getting rid of sweets in your house, at work, and from your secret hiding spots is the best start. If you don’t have the ability to easily get sweets you won’t eat them. Getting over the paleo sweet tooth starts at cutting off the source.

#2 Find Alternatives
Once you get used to not having sweets and paleolithic nutrition, you will have a different appetite. My favorite paleo sweet is dark chocolate. Make sure your get at least 72% cocoa. If you want go real primal, Go Raw makes real live chocolate.

My second paleo sweet alternative is fruit. A delicious bowl of blueberries or a simple apple will do the trick. There are many great paleo smoothie recipes online as well.

If you are a good cook there are many alternatives for gluten free pastries and sweets.

#3 Don’t Dine or hangout at places where you’re temped
This section is part of cutting off access. If you usually go to places which only sell sweets and breads for snack (i.e. most coffee shops) find new places to go. It is a lot easier to avoid sweets when there isn’t a barista offering a yummy frappe and a brownie that is a 1500 calorie combo.

This may be hard to do if you friends aren’t paleo dieters. In the beginning of going paleo you should avoid places that you may be temped for at least a few weeks. Let your friends know about what your are doing and the paleo diet and they should understand.

#4 Cheat a little
I am big believer in cheating every once in a while. I love chocolate mousse cake! So once in while I go to one of my favorite desert places and eat a $10 piece of cake. The paleo gods may shoot me down. The cake lets me enjoy my sweets and paleo. Paleo? Once I have had the amazing sugar rush my insulin goes crazy, my head hurts, and I get a stomach ache. Once again I remember why I am on the paleo diet and don’t crave sweets for a while.

By cutting off my access to sweets, finding paleo sweets alternatives, not going to places where I am temped by sweets and cheating every once in a while I have concord my paleo sweet tooth.

Infant milk shakes and HFCS this video is a must see!

Recently, I can across this video about sugar and HFCS. The MD giving the presentation, Robert H. Lustig, presents over whelming evidence of how sugar (particularly fructose) is the main cause of obesity in America. The detailed video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” is an amazing representation of how poor health, big business, and bureaucracy have grossly distorted Americans’ concepts of “what is healthy.”

Paleo Milk

Paleo Milk = Almond Milk
paleo milk
Almond milk is becoming more and more popular as a substitute for cows milk and is a very health alternative, but don’t be fooled by the store brand almond milk.

All of the almond milks that I have seen in the grocery store are filled with sugar, preservatives, and soy. Paleolithic nutrition does not allow soy or preservatives and is calls for low amounts of sugar.

Making real paleo milk (almond milk) is easy and healthy.

What you need:

  • A Blender
  • 1 cup of almonds
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tsp honey
  • Cheese clothe or linen
  • Container to hold Paleo Milk in

Paleo Milk Recipe

  1. Soak the almonds over night (a least 8 hours)
  2. Rinse the almonds with water
  3. combine almonds and 4 cups of water in blender
  4. turn that thing on high
  5. blend for a while
  6. use cheese clothe and strain
  7. Stir in Honey and Vanilla

Want a little extra? add 5-8 Dates with the almonds and water then blend

I was going to make a video for paleo milk, but the Korduroy video was awesome!

Did u like this post? Check out our Paleo Salad post.