Chewing the fat
February 21, 2006 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Paleo diet and lo carb/hi fat- Couple of questions, and want to hear how you got on.

I'm attracted to this diet because of the 'what we evolved to eat' idea and because I can have fried bacon and eggs for breakfast all the time, but have a couple of questions. I don't need to lose weight btw.

I know it's a controversial subject whether saturated fats and cholesterol are harmful, so my first question is if I did it for a few years (I'm 26) and then decided it was bad, would I have done much lasting damage?

Secondly, what do you think about the idea that potatoes, pulses and grains have more 'toxins' in than other food and should be avoided? I'm quite skeptical of 'detox' and most foods have toxins in right?

Also wanted to know what your experiences were of trying the diet.
posted by lunkfish to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Anyone trying to peddle a diet that warns of unspecified "toxins" is full of crap.
posted by rxrfrx at 9:38 AM on February 21, 2006

I eat pseudo-paleo; occasional grains and lentils (and, fine, carrot and chocolate cake--but a girl's gotta sin sometimes), but I try to avoid them.

Generally I agree with rxrfrx about unspecified toxins, but in this case it's a pretty valid point in favor of the diet. Think about it in evolutionary terms. Seeds--real seeds, which is what wheat and grains are--are designed to avoid being eaten. If they get masticated up, the plant has failed to reproduce. So lots of them have evolved nasty, bitter, toxic ways to deter animals from eating them--ricin is made from castor beans, and several other grains and beans (sorry, don't feel like looking it up now) have coatings of saponins or other chemicals designed either to keep beasties from chewing them or to keep bacteria from making them rot. Yes, these are toxins, and yes, they're probably bad for you in large quantities. I read a book on poisons quite recently and was struck by how many very poisonous poisons are derived from beans and grains. True, it's generally neutralized by grinding, washing, or cooking, but it seems a good idea to avoid them.

However, leafy veggies have less of an evolutionary stake in avoiding being eaten. Fruits actively WANT to be eaten--it's the coating around the seed, so it wants to be consumed and plopped in a few hours in a nice pile of fertilizer. So by and large (with some exceptions, of course) they make themselves large and bright and attractive and tasty and good for eating.

Since starting to eat pseudo-paleo (I also drink milk and eat cheese, which aren't technically on the list), I've found my concentration to be greatly improved. I also attribute a pretty substantial improvement in the level of my depression to the diet. I should be stricter about adhereing to it, really. My only problem with it is one of (ahem) regularity; I find I sometimes need to eat a big pile of brown rice or something to move things along. Probably it's possible to avoid that with sufficient application of leafy greens, but I live in Boston in the dead of winter and nice leafy greens are scarce right now. I haven't lost weight on the diet, but I didn't need to; I haven't gained any either.

I can't answer your question about lasting damage from the saturated fat, but I tend to avoid fatty meats. I trim my meat quite carefully and watch my intake of saturated fats. I make up for it with olive oil or other veggie fats. Intuitively, when I'm handling beef or lamb or whatever, and I'm cutting off rock-hard chunks of fat--it just seems like a good idea not to put that in my body. YMMV.

I also wouldn't (personally) go nuts with the bacon and eggs for breakfast, but that's just me. My default is a smoothie or a bowl of berries with almond butter and milk.

Email me if you want to chat more. Username at gmail.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:18 AM on February 21, 2006 [3 favorites]

they make themselves large and bright and attractive and tasty and good for eating.

They are "tasty" because we evolved from fruit eaters and we were selected early on to eat and metabolize high-fructose and sucrose foods. If we had not evolved in such a fashion then we would not find them "tasty" or "attractive". Go ask a cat what it thinks of fruit, and never underestimate the significance of alcohol dehydrogenase.
posted by meehawl at 10:39 AM on February 21, 2006

I follow the paleo diet. It's worked out really well for me. I'm very healthy and feel wonderful. The only grains I eat are oats, in oatmeal. I eat salt cuz if you don't get enough sodium/iodiee it'll cause problems. I don't eat beans, but I think beans aren't so bad. They're generally really good for you and can make up for other deficiencies in your diet like protein, iron, potassium, etc.

It's a wonderful diet if you can afford it. It can get expensive to eat exclusively meat, fruit, vegetables etc. without some sort of grain or lentils (rice, bread) to serve as the foundation of their diet.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'controversial subject.' Read up on the latest studies yourself and do some research. It's generally agreed that the whole 'low fat'/'low cholesterol' hysteria of the past was/is a mistake. There are many different kinds of fats and cholesterol and avoiding them wholesale is likely to do more harm than good.

I think there's a small grain of truth to the whole 'toxins'. I mean, it should be clear that it's nonsense for the most part. Billions of people have been eating such foods for thousands of years with no clear consequence. In some languages, the verb 'to eat' means literally 'to eat rice'. A ridiculous amount of potatoes are consumed each and every day. Still, in my experience, being lactose intolerant and having a relatively sensitive stomach, I've found that more non-grains/lentils foods definitely go down much easier and avoiding carb bombs like definitely makes me feel much better.

Fried bacon and eggs is a fine way to start the day but you'll likely want to throw some fruit in there.

fuzzbean, consider getting more fiber from most anywhere. Regularity should definitely not be a problem.
posted by nixerman at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2006

Do actually think that there are no "toxins" in factory farmed bacon?
posted by Sara Anne at 10:45 AM on February 21, 2006

I have no knowldege whatsever on these things but would simply note that different people react in different ways to different foods. That said, a diet that is a throwback to the evolutionary past might seem on the surface to offer all the good things that modern living does not, but then compare life expectancy then with it now: and yes, I know, we have medicines and doctors etc etc. but just perhaps we also now eat what we need for the present times to live on. After all, why do we still carry around wisdom teeth only to have them pulled because they no longer are needed. Just a thought. Try and then judge how it works for you.
posted by Postroad at 10:47 AM on February 21, 2006

I have been experimenting and cycling the ketogenic diet for many years now, and uploaded what I dubbed The KetoPlan on my homepage (don't worry, I'm not selling anything on the site, it's strictly academic/anedotal). It addresses the high-fat/low-carb conundrum, if want to call it that.

To my knowledge, the ketogenic diet is perfectly safe (I'm in ketosis right now as a matter of fact) but I wouldn't recommend being on it for months at a time. In fact, I wouldn't recommend being on ANY diet forever. People change, health considerations and fitness goals change, and we need to be in tune with our bodies and make adaptations when needed.

Regarding potatoes, pulses and grains having more 'toxins' in than other food and should be avoided? That's bunk and utter nonsense.
posted by rinkjustice at 10:56 AM on February 21, 2006

Sara Anne brings up a good point--it won't do you any favors to trade whatever bad stuff might be in wheat for whatever worse hormones and antibiotics and whatnot are in factory farmed meat. I eat only organic/naturally raised meat, milk, and eggs, and would NOT consider eating paleo if I couldn't do that. The hormones and antibiotics that are *definitely* in your standard slab of bacon are almost undoubtedly worse and more bioactive (for lack of a better word) than what natural toxins grains might produce (which can be neutralized in a variety of ways, either in preparation or by your body's natural processes).

But really, there's so many factors that go into choosing a diet--cost, ease of preparation, types of fats, your own body's very personal systems of dealing with various foods (lactose intolerance, celiac, allergies, etc), insulin response, etc., etc. Postroad's got solid advice; try it, and see if it works.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:58 AM on February 21, 2006

The toxins involved are naturally occuring as in the raw versions of grains/potatoes really are quite toxic. 'Toxins' introduced by modern agricultural techniques are generally unavoidable.

From a scientific perspective, the evolutionary argument doesn't make much sense. You might say that the human digestive system is particularly suited to fruits/meat/vegetables and I think this is probably the case. But, nutrients are fungible and it doesn't really matter where you get them. You could could eat grey goop all day if it gave you the essentials and the calorie count.

It's definitely the case that grains are "empty calories" in a sense. They contain lots of sugar and relatively little nutrients. That's why they're staple foods. They also do tend to displace other stuff like fruit. Still, as with most things, they can definitely be a part of a healthy diet.

In the end, a healthy diet is a healthy diet. I don't find either of these to actually be strong arguments for the paleo diet.
posted by nixerman at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2006

Skeptic alert: Humans evolved to be adaptable to local conditions. People who live in the Arctic evolved to eat loads of fish and red meat, very few grains and produce. People on the savannahs ate tremendous amounts of red meat and grains. People in forests ate nuts and cultivated plants like corn and squash. People in the tropics evolved to eat loads of fish, fruit, and rice.

There's no one paleo-human diet; I think that's one of the B.S. qualities of the 'evolutionary eating' idea.
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on February 21, 2006

I eat only organic/naturally raised meat, milk, and eggs,.
That's good, of course. But in my country organic animal products have higher levels of dioxins and PCB's than factory farmed products, presumably because organic animals walk outside.

Toxins are not black and white. Many anti-grain people point to phytic acid as toxic, but it is also an anti-oxidant. It all depends on the person, the amount, and the rest of the diet. That said, grains are not the most nutrient dense foods in the world. I wouldn't substitute bacon though. Try eating more greens.
posted by davar at 1:07 PM on February 21, 2006

Not a tremendous amount of peer-reviewed literature is out there about paleolithic diets (in terms of adapting to it in modern times).

This 2000 review article from the European Journal of Nutrition is cautiously optimistic.

This 2005 Swedish article (from fairly minor one - but it's been around since '65)'s translated title is [The paleolithic diet should be taken with a pinch of salt].

Another 2004 paper from a minor journal suggests obliquely that perhaps our new modern brains need more carbohydrates than our paleolithic ancestors.

This 2004 paper places the blame of "modern chronic diseases" more on processed foods and lifestyle rather than "toxins" and such.

Also, many plant toxins are neutralized by cooking, possibly something that was not available all the time to our paleolithic ancestors (so such food was avoided - kinda like proscription against eating pork in some cultures).

posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:29 PM on February 21, 2006

I have done the paleo diet, let it slip awhile, and am now doing it again. If I had a regular doctor I'd have had my cholesterol, blood pressure and other indices checked at the beginning, and then after several months of the diet, just to be sure. It wouldn't hurt to do that, but if your doctor's conservative I wouldn't go blabbing about what you're going to be doing with your diet.

I don't necessarily feel there are fewer man-made toxins in wheat than in meat, fruit or vegetables. In general I think it's a good idea to get organically raised food of all kinds, if you can afford it - but remembering you're trusting someone else's say-so that it's organic, and that definitions and guidelines about what's organic can also be a bit mushy.

I have no more concrete answers here. I think people can react very differently to different diets. I did not thrive as a vegetarian at all, but some people do. On paleo I got leaner, healthier, happier and more alert. I hope it works for you too.
posted by zadcat at 5:10 PM on February 21, 2006

People who live in the Arctic evolved to eat loads of fish and red meat, very few grains and produce.

Human cultures capable of living in Arctic conditions are a relatively modern invention. Human colonisation of the Arctic seems to have begun only a few centuries before 500 CE (the Dorset Culture) and definitely by 500CE, which is when the Thule Culture began displacing the Arctic aborigines. Around the same time as the Vikings arrived in Southern Greenland, the Inuit were arriving in Northern Greenland...

There is a theory that it is the emergence of stable, permanent Arctic cultures that effectively "cut off" North America from further migrations via the Bering Straits. Prior to that period, it was possible for Mongoloian and Siberian cultures to "make a dash" across the icy coast, grimly surviving as they made their way south into warmer territories. The new permanent inhabitants of the Arctic regions of the straits made that impossible by out-competing the migrants for resources, and possibly using aggressive action against them to deter them further. Thus the Americas became isolated from the great Eurasian Migrations just as the Classical Era really got going...

Anyway, the point is, a couple of thousand years isn't enough time for human metabolism to "evolve" to eat meat. It already possessed that ability.
posted by meehawl at 6:56 PM on February 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another skeptic here. Even if it were a good idea to eat as our ancestors did (and I'm not convinced it is), it's not possible due to all the environmental damage our planet has undergone.

If you're concerned about toxins, and if you haven't done so already, I'd urge you to read up on biomagnification. Then decide whether getting your calories predominantly from sources that are high on the food chain is a good idea.

The toxins that mankind has introduced into the food chain are much more dangerous than the ones that can be found naturally in any food we condider edible. Especially considering that man has been selectively breeding most species of beans and grains that we eat today for many thousands of years to reduce the toxins they may have originally contained.

Basically, a lot has changed in the food supply since our ancestors were here, and I believe these factors should be taken into account when deciding what is the healthiest way to eat.
posted by hazyjane at 5:45 AM on February 22, 2006

"because I can have fried bacon and eggs for breakfast"
Eggs and bacon aren't really paleo more than grains. Eggs would've been a rare treat and as for "bacon," our factory farmed animals are bred to be much more fatty than wild animals and more importantly, have almost no Omega 3. (Question: What do they feed cattle to make them fat? Grains & soy!)
I still eat some (grassfed or at least O3 enhanced) eggs and some bacon (1 strip torn up does wonders for a salad), and I eat some whole grains.

"I know it's a controversial subject whether saturated fats and cholesterol are harmful, so my first question is if I did it for a few years (I'm 26) and then decided it was bad, would I have done much lasting damage?"
As someone said, get a blood test now and then later to compare.

"Secondly, what do you think about the idea that potatoes, pulses and grains have more 'toxins' in than other food and should be avoided?"
What grains, potatoes & legumes have more of specifically are chemicals that make it harder for us to absorb the nutrients in them.

Reading: (has some free essays but you can buy the e-book for $4: paleodiet and bodyweight exerices)

Esp. be sure to read about Omega 3.
posted by Furious Fitness at 10:06 AM on February 22, 2006

lunkfish, could you drop me an email? the address in yr profile is bouncing
posted by bonaldi at 8:19 PM on February 24, 2006

« Older Turn on, tune in, go deaf   |   Getting plastic smell out of new luggage Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.