Thursday, September 26, 2013



This is a frustrating one. Some time in the twentieth century we came to condemn dietary sources of fat as the devil incarnate. Fat, especially saturated and animal fat, was blamed as a major contributing factor to heart disease and weight gain. Fat became the ultimate scapegoat and about as popular as North Korea as a holiday destination. 

This modern concept of fat being bad for us is so far at odds with our history and evolution that it's hard to believe that it ever caught on. It just goes to show you what some bad science, misguided political interest and a whole lot of reinforcement from the media and pressure from the food industry can do to warp our public health psyche. 

Trust me, with the exception of trans fats, industrial seed and vegetable oils and perhaps some conventional (grain-fed, feed lot) animal products (particularly processed meats), fat is an exceptionally healthy, nutritious and beneficial source of energy. 

Some Evolutionary Background

Fat is vital. As far as we can tell we evolved to get the majority of our calories from fat. For 99.5% of our evolution (from 2.5million to 10,000 years ago), most human populations had fat as their primary fuel source, followed by protein and then only a small amount of carbohydrates. (The exception being some tropical locations where starchy vegetables and fruit formed a substantial part of the diet).

It is only since grain agriculture (roughly 10,000 years ago) that it became possible to consume such a high percentage of our diet from carbohydrates. 

Think about it. Besides the late summer when ripe fruit was available, there were basically no sources of carlorically dense carbohydrates for most of our evolution. Furthermore, before the cultivation of big, juicy, highly palatable and high fructose fruits that we eat today, most wild fruit and berries was very fibrous and had a far lower sugar content.

Even if you consider the (pro-vegetarian) argument that we did a lot more gathering than hunting and thus ate a predominately plant-based diet, this subsisted mainly of above ground plants, nuts, seeds and perhaps some tubes and bulbs.

Such a diet is by default a very low carb diet. You could literally eat leafy vegetables all day and not be able to consume as much carbohydrate as we find in a small Jamba/Boost Juice.

How's this for a ridiculous stat - a "Power Size" (1L / 30oz) Banana Berry Jamba Juice contains 138g of carbohydrates [YES THEY SELL THIS IN THE US!]. You would have to eat 3.5kg/7.6lb of brussels sprouts to consume this much carbohydrate. Good luck with that!



A Health Decline at the Advent of Agriculture

The effects on our health of shifting to grain-based nutrition have been deleterious for the most part. Grains are relatively nutrient-poor compared to vegetables, seafood and meat. It is no surprise that the early agricultural diet of a few limited local crops was hugely inferior to the previous hunter-gatherer diets of nomadic societies who travelled great distances and had a varied and broad diet. 

When humans turned to agriculture roughly 10,000 years ago there was a rapid decline in health. Our stature and bone structure diminished, dental health deteriorated, life expectancy fell and infant mortality surged. Much of this was due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies resulting from restricting our diet to a couple of nutrient-poor grains. 

It was only very recently that life expectancy caught up and then exceeded our Paleolithic ancestors', largely thanks to better hygiene and antibiotics. The Standard American Diet even today still relies on vitamin and mineral enriched foods to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies such as vitamin D in milk to prevent scurvy.

But nowadays we live longer, healthier lives than ever, you say, while our paleolithic ancestors were lucky to make it to puberty? 

Yes technology, modern medicine, hygiene and economic prosperity have afforded us safer, longer lives but our modern diet of processed foods, environmental toxins and our reliance on grain agriculture is at odds with what we are genetically evolved to eat - and this wreaks havoc on our health. Antibiotics and airbags aside.



Besides getting eaten by a Saber-Tooth Tiger, falling off a cliff or breaking a leg and dying from infection, our Paleolithic ancestors appeared to be a lot healthier than us in many ways. Life expectancy for those who survived childhood was relatively high. 

We can't be totally sure as there aren't exactly medical journals etched into caves dating back hundreds of thousands of years, but as far as we can tell diabetes, obesity and heart disease basically did not exist pre-agriculture. These are the so-called "diseases of civilization".

I also have a sneaking suspicion that arthritis, Alzheimer's, autism, ADHD, depression and anxiety were pretty much non-existent back then... But that's a whole other rabbit-hole right there.

More recently, extensive studies of hunter-gatherer tribes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries consistently found that these peoples (the Masai, the Innuit, the Australian Aborigines, Papua New Guineans and Kitavans for example) who lived in the traditional way of their ancient ancestors - did not seem to suffer from heart disease, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancers.

I am not willing to say absolutely that these diseases did not exist but from what I've read they were basically unreported. 

Yet once these tribes were exposed to a Western diet - refined wheat, sugar, soda, industrial seed oils etc - they succumbed to the above diseases and after just one or two generations faced similar rates of disease as the Western world.


An insight into gluten sensitivity

Refined carbohydrates and particularly grains are not part of the original human diet. Not even the most avid low-fat, high grain proponents can refute this.

For how long we have been consuming grains and our level of adaptation since then are hugely contentious issues. I tend to err on the side of caution to make blanket claims about all grains being problematic to all humans because they were not part of the original human diet. This is dangerous territory.

But there are some compelling arguments against grains that make sense to me. Especially gluten, which seems to be highly problematic. Just last night I listened to Dr Tom O'Bryen explain how wheat gluten cannot be fully digested by 100% of humans.

Our body can only make use of proteins consisting of just a couple of amino acids - peptides, dipeptides, tripeptides. If we have "big" chunks of undigested gluten (say, 20 amino acids bound together) and these penetrate the gut wall and enter the bloodstream they are treated as foreign invaders.

An inflammatory immune response ensues and depending on your sensitivity to gluten (and your intestinal health) this could result in a huge range of outcomes from no apparent adverse effects, to gas, bloating, diarrhea, cramps, mood swings, fatigue and if you're really unlucky even colitis or Crohn's disease

How the undigested proteins go on to affect people varies significantly but it does help explain how these undigested proteins can penetrate the gut lining and possibly even the blood-brain barrier contributing to a host of diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), autoimmune diseases and even alzheimer's and autism.

The Original Human Diet

The Paleo crowd like to make light of the fact that you can't eat grains and legumes without first processing, refining and then cooking the hell out of them. That is, they need to be doctored to make them edible. Try eating a raw stalk of wheat or a bunch of raw beans and see how you feel!

I know this isn't a sound scientific argument but if you're aim is to eat whole foods that are as minimally processed as possible then grains definitely fall short compared to seafood, meat, eggs, above ground plants (leaves, fruit, nuts, seeds), which can all be eaten raw and have been part of the human diet since the beginning.

I am not saying that it isn't possible to find new sources of food that are healthy. With some forms of (raw) dairy possibly being a good (yet controversial) example of a modern food that many humans have adapted to, tolerate and even thrive on.

On the other hand, high quality fats from animal and plant sources are readily digestible and efficiently utilized by the body. So if you were to compare grains - which may potentially cause issues for many people - to fat from whole plant and animal foods, which we know to a healthy source of fuel, I think it is a no brainer... Eat less grains, more fat.

And how bloody good does a nice fatty cut of meat or bacon taste? That is no evolutionary mistake.

Unfortunately our propensity for a sweet tooth is an evolutionary misfortune in some ways. Besides the very rare (and perilous) situation of stumbling across a bee's nest of honey, our ancestors did not have access to high-glycemic foods for the most part. We did, however, develop a taste for these rare calorically-dense treats. 

So when we stumble across a Cheesecake shop, our primal brain tells us to go nuts, not understanding that there is a Dunkin' Donuts just around the corner selling even cheaper unhealthy calories! It's an unfortunate mechanism not helped by our susceptibility to food addiction. 



Eating Animals Is Cool

At the risk of pissing off some vegetarians and vegans, we did not come to a place today where we can video-chat with relatives on the other side of the world on smart phones that weigh less than an orange by eating leaves, seeds and fruit. 

Our huge brains only developed by eating the most nutrient and calorie dense food available on the planet - other animals! In particular, omega-3 fats from ruminant animals and seafood were crucial in our brain development. 

When it comes to nutrient density, nothing - not even organic kale, seaweed or broccoli (and definitely not grains!) - compares to organ meats, wild game and seafood. 

Interestingly, it's actually the fat more so than the protein which we rely upon for fuel. There is in fact a threshold for how much protein we can consume before it starts to become toxic to the body - around 35-45 percent of calories (Wolf, 2010). No such limit exists for fat. 

Some hunter gather tribes - such as the Innuit - survived on a diet consisting of 90% of calories from animal fat. 

Loren Cordain, 'the Father of Paleo' conducted research into over 300 hunter-gatherer tribes and concluded that the average percentage of calories consumed from animal products was 50-70 percent.

Interestingly, not one of these tribes ate an exclusively vegetarian diet (Cordain, 2010). 

Be not afraid of fat! Fat is good for you when it comes from the right sources. 

Our body knows what to do with fat. It is readily used as an excellent, slow burning fuel source that is optimal for metabolic, brain and endocrine function and nearly all exercise except for the most glycogen demanding, which most people never train intensely enough to experience.

Think of fat as a big log for the fire - slow burning, sustained and even energy output. 

Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are like gasoline - short bursts that burn up quickly and need to be constantly added to keep the fire going.

Carbohydrates become a burden to our body when over-consumed. We can only metabolize a certain amount of glucose at one time. 

Too much glucose in our blood is toxic so our body gets it our of our bloodstream as quickly as possible. The glucose gets transported into our muscles and liver but they can only store so much so the rest gets shoved into fat cells for storage in adipose tissue. 

Eating too many carbohydrates is the fastest, easiest way to get fat. Particularly refined carbohydrates, which spike insulin - the main driver behind the aforementioned fat storage process. 

How do industrial farms fatten cows and chickens as quickly as possible? Why, they feed them corn and soy, of course! A completely unnatural diet for cows and chickens… and humans.

Eating fat does not make you fat... Unless it is also in the presence of a high (refined) carbohydrate diet, in which case all bets are off. 



DO THE MATH: LOW FAT = HIGH CARB

The low fat myth is flawed because it is built upon Myth #1 - calories in, calories out. 

One gram of fat equals nine calories. One gram of carbohydrate or one gram of protein, however, only has four calories. Therefore fat, gram-for-gram, has over twice the calories as protein or carbohydrate. [Shock horror!] Ipso facto, if you eat less fat you will consume less calories and lose weight, right? Wrong. 

You can't trick the human body. A no-fat yoghurt is not the same as a full-fat yoghurt. Our body knows when we aren't receiving the macro and micro nutrients it tastes like we are getting. If you think you're doing yourself a favour by eating low-calorie foods, think again. Low calorie is not a good thing - especially when something is advertised as such!

Fat is uniquely satiating. 

Think of it this way - popcorn is relatively low fat (around 10 percent) and high carb (around 80 percent for air-popped popcorn). People can quite easily scoff down 1000 calories of popcorn. It is not satiating. It's like eating salty bean bag balls. No nutrition. 

Compare that to eating 1000 calories of steak (a 350g/12oz porterhouse, for example), which would consist of roughly 700 calories from fat and 300 from protein. 

Or try eating 12 boiled eggs (also roughly 700 calories from fat and 300 calories from protein). 

You would be utterly stuffed and probably not want to eat for another eight hours. Your body is miraculous at understanding what nutrients it has or has not consumed. If you are deficient in nutrients your body will tell you to keep eating until it gets them. 

Furthermore, fat is a slow-burning fuel source, and it is often wrapped up in protein - also highly satiating.

Low-fat foods, on the other hand, are the complete opposite. With few exceptions, low fat foods are high in carbohydrates by default.

Think about all the "healthy" low-fat foods that those stupid health magazines promote - cereals, rice crackers, whole grain bread and pasta, low-fat dairy, fruit juices and smoothies. They are all basically pure carbohydrates. You may as well be eating spoonfuls of table sugar. Your body treats these carbohydrates precisely as such.

When you remove the fat from a product, such as dairy, not only does the carbohydrate content naturally go up, but in processed foods fillers and additives (usually sugar) are put in so it doesn't taste like absolute crap. 

This is a double whammy - not only are you missing out on the beneficial, satiating macronutrients of a food (the fat and protein) but you are replacing that with crappy carbohydrates that make you fat. 

Fat lowers the glycemic index/load of a food - the effect certain foods have on blood sugar. For example, a plain piece of bread will spike insulin more than the same piece of bread with butter on it. (Don't eat bread!)



Eating a low fat diet is a surefire path to chronic hunger, dissatisfaction, cravings, fat storage, mood swings and general unhappiness. 

One of the best things about Paleo is that, by cutting out grains, legumes, most dairy and processed carbohydrates in favour of meat, seafood, vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds, you are by definition eating a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet. 

This not only makes it easy to get lean and stay lean, it also means that your energy levels are consistent throughout the day (burning logs not gasoline) so your cravings disappear and you can happily go hours on end without even thinking about food or having to snack. 

Your ultimate goal is to become a 'fat burning beast' - as Mark Sisson says - rather than a sugar burner like most people on a Standard American Diet. 

Shifting to fat as your major source of dietary fuel enables your body to become more efficient at using your own fat stores to fuel your activities. 

As a sugar burner your body becomes adapted to relying almost exclusively on glucose to fuel bodily function. Your body resists ketosis - the natural process whereby fat is metabolized by the body for fuel. Ketosis only occurs either in the fasted state or in the absence of carbohydrates.  

Our Paleo ancestors would have been in ketosis a great deal of the time, enabling them to hunt, gather and travel for extended periods without eating anything at all. People today are almost never in ketosis, which is why we are so beholden to food and utterly terrified of fasting. 

Instead of tapping into the hard-earned fat stores your (deranged/broken) hunger-mechanism impels you to eat more carbs to fuel your body and brain. Hence the four o'clock sugar cravings. The constant grazing of carbohydrate rich foods makes it nearly impossible to burn fat.

Well I think that's enough about carbohydrates, insulin and fat storage. I've written whole articles on the topic of crappy carbohydrates, insulin resistance and obesity. 

All you need to know is that eating low fat to lose fat is a complete myth and does not work. Fat does not make you fat. Bad carbohydrates make you fat. The right kind of fats will in fact make you burn fat. 

ANTI-RULE # 3: Eat more fat to burn fat

For specific information on what fats to incorporate into your diet, check out my article 'Eat More Fat'. But in a nutshell:

Eat more:
  • Extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil, MCT oil, coconut cream, coconut milk, unsweetened dried/desiccated coconut
  • pasture-raised (grass-fed) [or wild] beef, lamb, pork, bison, elk, kangaroo, etc
  • pasture-raised whole eggs
  • grass-fed butter
  • wild caught seafood, especially salmon, mackerel, sardines
  • extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
  • avocados, olives
  • some nuts and seeds
Eat less:
  • grains and faux grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, rice, cereal, corn, cous cous, quinoa)
  • legumes (beans, chickpeas, hummus)
  • processed foods and industrial seed and vegetable oils/margarine
  • starchy vegetables (white potatoes)
  • sugar (including corn syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, honey)
  • high fructose fruits (watermelon, pineapple, apple, grapes, all dried fruit

Conclusion

I find it astounding how far from the truth we have strayed when it comes to conventional health wisdom. 

In my overly-zealous quest for looking, feeling and performing optimally I've become increasingly cynical of the health industry and the powers-that-be who are meant to have our best interests at heart. 

Clearly the current system is broken. When the average joe on the street is overweight or obese, will most likely develop diabetes and die from heart disease you know something has gone terribly wrong. 

When the most prosperous country in the world is spending three times as much on health care as on education you know things are not looking good. 

Call my articles elitist if you want but the truth is that if you have the time, means and desire to be lean, healthy and happy (and I'm guessing that all of you reading this do) then please ignore the mainstream bullshit you've been fed over the years and instead do the following:

Firstly, work out what your real goal is and then eat and train accordingly. If, like most people, your goal is to look better naked, follow these five steps and you should be sweet:
  1. Live by the six health tenets outlined at the start of this article
  2. Dismiss the eat less, train more, low-fat, chronic cardio myths. They will get you nowhere.
  3. Eat more nutritious real foods, especially quality fats. Make sure you are eating enough to get all your calorie and nutrient requirements, and some.
  4. Eat less nutrient-poor processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates from grains.
  5. Train smarter, not longer. 


Finally, and probably the most important piece of advice (or caveat) in this whole article is this: in order for you to really achieve and maintain a healthy, happy and lean existence you need to make this your LIFESTYLE. 

That is, this healthier, smarter way of living, eating and training needs to become your status quo, your modus operandi, your norm, your routine. 

It must come easily, naturally and without undue pain or heartache.

Going "Paleo", "Primal", "Vegan" or whatever else you choose to do should not restrict your life in any way but actually give you both freedom and control. You need to adopt the attitude of "I don't eat that" rather than "I can't eat that". There is a big difference. 

It may take a long time to reach such a point, but if you can get there it's smooth sailing from there on out.

The good news is, as can be seen by the exponential growth in the Paleo/Primal community, the success rate is high and the payoff is phenomenal. 

'Eat Paleo. Train. Live Life.' - twitter.com/davidsciola

PS - 'Follow me by email' in the box below to receive these posts directly to your inbox. And feel free to comment or send me questions. I love your feedback and curiosity.

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References:


Dorotik, Claire. 'Exercise and Mood', 
http://www.clairedorotik.com/NLWC-EXERCISE_AND_MOOD.htm [Accessed 13 Aug 2013]


Dr. Stephan Guyenet (2008), 'Kitava: Wrapping it Up', Whole Health Source, 21 August 2008,
http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2008/08/kitava-wrapping-it-up.html [Accessed 29 Apr 2013] 

Hauser, Annie. 'Running farther, faster could shorten your life', Everyday Health, Dec 4, 2012, http://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/1204/running-farther-faster-could-shorten-your-life.aspx [Accessed 13 Aug 2013]

Schmermund, Voigtländer, and Nowak. 'The risk of marathon runners - live it up, run fast, die young?' European Heart Journal, 2008, 29: p1800-1802.

Robb Wolf (2010), The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet - See more at: http://www.davidsciola.com/members/DavidSciola/news/nutrition#sthash.llDgITp2.dpuf

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