The media has been writing about the paleo diet for many years, and it seems to grow in popularity. There’s even a paleo restaurant in Copenhagen, where you can get a hot dog wrapped in an omelet instead of bread. My view on most of it is “yuck!”. People are eating bacon with cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’m not exaggerating.
First of all, we need remember that stone age humans probably didn’t have an abundance of food. They were hungry most of the time. When the chance to grow grain appeared they threw themselves at it. Stability is worth something after all. According to the scientists, they got new kinds of diseases and deficiencies with this new diet, but on the other hand, their children had a greater chance of survival. The farmers (or farmer-hunters?) soon outnumbered the hunter-gatherers.
The extreme low-carb diet
It’s fully possible to live almost exclusively from fat and protein. I’ve been reading a blog called eatingacademy.com lately, and the guy who writes seems very knowledgeable about metabolism and performance. I started reading his blog because, in my case, there is no apparent connection between fitness and body weight. (I am also a notorious food junkie. Making my own ravioli and such.) His story starts with his disability to reach a normal BMI despite exercising four hours a day. To argue with him, he was eating both sugar and refined starch products like wheat flour, and I know many athletes now a days stick to the so-called “good carbs”.
Anyway he makes a compelling argument why you shouldn’t eat sugar and refined starch. As soon as he cut those two things out of his diet, he reached normal weight and increased his performance. Remember he was still eating large amounts of carbohydrates!
He then went further along that path, and is now constantly in a state of ketosis, which means he is living off his body fat instead of a constant supply of carbohydrates. He is also an endurance athlete, and he says his diet lets him avoid the wall or bonk, that most athletes hit after a couple of hours. Basically he hit the wall a few years ago, and as been there get since. And loves it.
He is also a doctor and has access to advanced medical equipment 24-7, monitoring his protein intake and other biological values. If he eats too little protein or too much he gets ill, and the same goes for some minerals like salt. He also has to eat supplements, vitamins etc. In fairness he does not advocate that we all eat as he, but simply wants to show there are more than one way to eat.
On the other end of the scale there is a slightly eccentric YouTube channel called The Fruitarian, which was actually a big hit among my Facebook friends for its comedy factor. The Fruitarian himself is an ultra runner who lives exclusively off fruits, vegetables and water, meaning he is getting mostly carbohydrates. Say what you will about his videos but he is a very healthy, well functioning guy, and he clearly has more mental and physical energy than most. And he finished a 100 mile run in 13 hours!
So basically we have two human guinea pigs, living off completely opposite nutrients, and both diets could easily have been obtained by a stone age man, depending on where he lived.
And when you think about it, one thing they have in common is that they don’t eat a diet based on refined sugar or starch. The modern European and North American diet is heavily based on white bread, pasta, pizza, sweets, soft drinks and muffins, and this is, as far as I know, a historical rarity! So maybe we are actually more far-out than these guys?
The Granny Diet
You don’t have to go that far back in history to find a diet that’s radically different. My father is born in the fifties, and he was not allowed to eat white bread on a daily basis, and had raw vegetables with his dinner every day. Pasta and pizza were viewed as special exotic treats for Saturday. And people on average were incredibly skinny compared to now. When I was a kid in the eighties and early nineties, there were no soda dispensers in schools and hospitals, but rather drinking fountains.
The new Paleo, Low Carb High Fat and Atkins-diets all represent controversially new ways of looking at what we eat. But at the same time, what they are in opposition to is not what nutritionists say we should eat, as much as what we allow ourselves to eat. White flour is not “normal” flour, it’s flour where the half of it that provides protein, fibers and vitamins is discarded. Sugar is not food, it’s a refined product that should not be enjoyed more often than other “treats” like e.g. alcohol. We don’t need sugar.
My advice, based on my own experience, is to use caution when approaching these diets, and maybe try simply cutting the white bread, cake, Coca-Cola and candy first, and then see what happens. Simply replace them with vegetables, nuts, fruit and 100% whole grain products. It’s not that crazy an experiment. If that does not work, cut out stuff like polished rice, and limit the grains overall. You could drop the potatoes too, but I doubt you’ll have to go that far. By cutting out one group at the time instead of going all-in at once, you see what works and not.
- You can still eat what is considered “normal food” and lose weight.
- You get all the vitamins you need.
- It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly than eating only fat and protein.
- “Caveman diet” and “paleo diet” does sound a lot cooler, and the evolutionary arguments are compelling.
- Your weight loss might not be as fast as a full-on protein and fat-based diet.
- You don’t belong to a community of smarter, fitter humans, but rather to the likes of your grandfather.
(Actually that last one might be a pro.)
I’m hereby dubbing it “The Granny Diet”. Just eat normal food. T shirt coming up.
It worked for me in the past, and I want to get fit again, so here goes. Addio, pizza adorata! Too bad I’ve perfected my pizza dough twirl!