By Dr. Mercola
During the Paleolithic period, many thousands of years ago, people ate primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots, and meat—and a wide variety of it.
Today, these staples have been largely replaced with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, bread, potatoes, and pasteurized milk products… and a much narrower selection of fruits, vegetables, roots, and nuts.
While we may consider ourselves to be at the pinnacle of human development, our modern food manufacturing processes have not created a race of super-humans in possession of great health and longevity.
Quite the contrary...
Humans today suffer more chronic and debilitating diseases than ever before. And there can be little doubt that our food choices play a major role in this development.
Can a Stone Age Diet Make You Healthier?
CBS recently ran an excellent series of reports about the Paleolithic diet movement. Of the mainstream press, Dr. Kim Mulvihill was the sole member present at the recent Ancestral Health Symposium in Los Angeles. She ended up taking part in Dr. Lynda Frassetto's scientific study on the Paleo diet herself.
As reported on CBS:1
'You can eat anything that would be able to be eaten without being processed,' explained Dr. Lynda Frassetto. That means no grains, no bread, and no [pasteurized] dairy but does include lots of fruits and vegetables, some nuts and oils and lots of fish, poultry and lean meats.
... Dr. Frassetto and her team at the University of California in San Francisco tested the Paleo-diet on out-of-shape volunteers. The group ate lots of food without losing any weight or exercising. 'In two weeks, everybody's blood pressure went down and everybody's cholesterol and triglyceride levels got better. The average drop was 30 points, which was pretty amazing. It's the type of drop you get by taking statins for six months,' said Dr. Frassetto.
Dr. Frassetto says Paleo foods, also known as the caveman diet, works by keeping your body's chemistry in better balance. The goal of the caveman diet is to reduce excess body fat, aid in the normalization of blood sugar levels and reduce toxins and anti-nutrients.'
"Normalizing" your system is the true strength of the so-called caveman diet. By eating foods that are concordant with your genetic ancestry, you can avoid many of the diseases associated with our modern diet. As Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet and one of the world's leading experts on Paleolithic nutrition, states:
"The nutritional qualities of modern processed foods and foods introduced during the Neolithic period are discordant with our ancient and conservative genome. This genetic discordance ultimately manifests itself as various chronic illnesses, which have been dubbed 'diseases of civilization.' By severely reducing or eliminating these foods and replacing them with a more healthful cuisine, possessing nutrient qualities more in line with the foods our ancestors consumed, it is possible to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease."
Why the Paleo Diet Works for Weight Loss
A common "side effect" of rebalancing your body's chemistry is weight loss, as the two tend to go hand-in-hand. One explanation for this is that you don't really get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. Nor do you get fat from eating fat.
So what does cause your fat tissue to accumulate and hold on to fat?
In a word: carbohydrates.
In essence, overeating and excess weight could be viewed as a symptom of an improper diet, because when you consume too many sugars and carbs, you set off a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that makes you hungry and craving for sweets:
- First, fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat because fructose stimulates a powerful “fat switch.”
- This rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity ("beer belly"), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
- Dietary carbohydrates, especially fructose, are also the primary source of a substance called glycerol-3-phosphate (g-3-p), which causes fat to become fixed in fat tissue
- At the same time, high carb intake raises your insulin levels, which prevents fat from being released
- Fructose further tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body's appetite-control system. Fructose does not suppress ghrelin (the "hunger hormone") and doesn't stimulate leptin (the "satiety hormone"), which together result in feeling hungry all the time, even though you've eaten. As a result, you overeat and develop insulin resistance, which is an underlying factor not only of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers
The resulting equation is simple: fructose and dietary carbohydrates (grains, which break down into sugar) lead to excess body fat, obesity, and related health issues. Furthermore, no amount of exercise can compensate for this damage because if you eat excessive fructose and grains—the primary ingredients NOT found in the Paleo diet—it will activate programming to cause your body to become, and remain, fat.
Fructose and High Blood Pressure
As mentioned earlier, the Paleo diet can be very effective for reducing blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels—more effective, in fact, than a statin drug. According to Dr. Frassetto, people can see a 30 point drop in cholesterol in just two weeks!
That really is quite remarkable.
It is, however, also quite understandable once you realize that fructose is a major promoter of hypertension—far more so than salt.2 The connecting link between fructose consumption and hypertension lies in the uric acid produced. Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism, and increased uric acid levels drive up your blood pressure.
Excess sugars (including grains) also promote unhealthy cholesterol levels and raise triglyceride levels.
How does it do this?
Dr. Stephanie Seneff explained this in some detail in a previous interview. In summary, when you eat a diet high in fructose and other sugars, it over-taxes your liver as it cannot properly make cholesterol while simultaneously processing fructose (which it turns into fat). As a result, you end up with impaired cholesterol formation, which can eventually lead to a cholesterol and cholesterol sulfate deficiency. At that point, your body begins to form arterial plaque to compensate for this deficiency, because your platelets can produce the cholesterol sulfate your heart and brain needs within that plaque. It's a sort of backup mechanism to maintain proper heart and brain function.
Unfortunately, it's not an ideal backup mechanism because arterial plaque also increases your risk for heart and vascular disease. So truly, you'll want to avoid forcing your body to resort to these measures in the first place, and the way you do that is by feeding it correctly... This is yet another important detail that explains how and why excessive fructose consumption is so detrimental to your health.
As you can see, simply cutting out fructose and grains from your diet effectively eliminates one of the underlying causes of a number of health problems, including:
- Insulin resistance
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
... and that's one of the primary reasons the Paleo and other low-carb diets work so well.
The Diet that May Beat All Others...
While you wouldn't be able to find many of the wild varieties of plant foods eaten by cavemen even if you wanted to, you can certainly mold your diet around the principles of Paleo eating rather easily by following my nutrition plan.
I believe it to be one of the most profound interventions for the 21st century. Quite simply, we've strayed too far from the foods we are designed to eat, so going back to basics and refocusing your diet on fresh, whole, unprocessed, "real" food can improve just about anyone's health. The full details are outlined in my nutrition plan, but generally speaking a "healthy diet" is qualified by the following key factors:
- Unprocessed whole foods
- Often raw or only lightly cooked (ideally, try to eat at least one-third of your food raw, or as much as you can manage)
- Organic or grass-fed, and free from additives and genetically modified ingredients
- Come from high-quality, local sources
- Carbohydrates primarily come from vegetables (except corn and potatoes, which should typically be avoided)
The Case for Moving Like a Hunter-Gatherer Too...
Going back to our roots in terms of what we eat is about 80 percent of the battle and subsequent reward in terms of improved health. But there's a lot to be said about moving like a hunter-gatherer too. Instead of being sedentary for much of the day and then running for an hour on a treadmill, our ancient ancestors combined lots of walking with regular lifting and short bursts of high-intensity activities, and health experts agree that this may be a healthier way to live because this is what your body is "wired" for.
My Peak Fitness program incorporates this essential factor, which is, I believe, why so many people have achieved such great results with it. For detailed instructions, please see thisprevious article on Peak Fitness exercises.
A summary of what researchers believe might be an ideal exercise prescription would include the following aspects of normal hunger-gatherer living:
✓ A variety of exercises performed regularly (weight training, cardio, stretching, etc.)
✓ Alternate difficult days with easier days
✓ Exercise outdoors, which helps maintain vitamin D levels and improve mood
✓ Interval training sessions performed three times a week
✓ Weight training at least twice a week
✓ Walk and run on softer, uneven terrain, such as grass and dirt, possibly barefoot or using "simpler shoes that do not drastically restrict foot motion or alter natural foot strike dynamics"
✓ Exercise with a friend to receive social stimulation as well
✓ Ample time for rest after physical exertion
✓ Recreational activities, including dancing and sex