Here’s what we’ve been told about nutrition:
- We should eat only sparingly, and when we do eat, it should be mostly carbohydrates in the form of grains (whole grains preferred), fruit and veggies.
- Whatever we do, we should avoid dietary fat. Especially animal fat.
- If we can, we should avoid meat altogether.
- We should supplement (or even better, replace) our sparse, low-calorie diet with an array of laboratory-engineered powders and pills: vitamins, meal replacement shakes, fat burners, muscle enhancers, nitrous oxide boosters. Scientists make them, and scientists are smart. They know how to engineer exactly what our bodies need.
- Speaking of scientists, they also make drinks. We should hydrate ourselves with energy drinks, cooked fruit juice with additives and preservatives, and sports nutrition drinks. Drink 40oz of fluid a day, no matter what, whether you need it or not.
- Finally, following all these nutritional guidelines amounts to squat anyway, since we inevitably decline as we age. At this point, nutrition doesn’t factor. Being “healthy” means regular doctor visits, frequent surgeries and taking lots and lots and LOTS of medications, several times daily, including medications to counter the ill effects of the other medications.
Hmm. Does any of this sound right to you?
Chances are, you already think not. If we had to guess, we’d say you’re here, exploring sites like this one, because you sense the conventional nutrition story is wall-to-wall B.S.
And yet this is exactly the advice we hear from our doctors and so-called “health experts” all the time, every single day.
Let’s call it what it is. The conventional view of health is not only “mistaken”, but backwards. In many cases, downright ludicrous. To the extent you buy into it, you are punishing your body for the sin of being alive and surrendering control over your health.
We like to think science and knowledge is always moving forward, always discovering more truth, like peeling layers from an onion. The fact is, knowledge can recede. We can lose it. The truth can become buried under fictions.
Today, when it comes to health and nutrition, we are in the Dark Ages.
One of the main premises behind “paleo” nutrition is that you can (and today, must) take charge of your own health.
Forget doctors and scientists, forget trainers, forget health gurus. They’re (most of them) operating under the flawed story. The only “experts” you need to consult are your genes, and the wisdom they have to offer you is much, much older than anything you can buy in packages or pop out of a bottle.
What “Paleo” Means
Paleolithic means “old stone age.” In the context of nutrition, you can just think “old”. Not new. Pre-historic. Essentially, not us.
Most people, once you get them thinking about nutrition in the first place, agree that some version of “turning the clocks back” is the answer. They sense that most of today’s health wisdom is asinine and/or impossible to follow, and that our parents and grandparents seemed, in their day, to be healthier, stronger and suffer less from obesity, depression or any of our “lifestyle diseases.”
The insight of paleo is that we should turn the clocks all the way back to before there were anything like clocks. That if you comprehend the timescales over which humans have evolved (a quarter to half a million years, and earlier hominids for two million before that), and understand that for most of that time, humans ate one way (by hunting and gathering) and that only for the last 10,000 years (the Neolithic era) by domesticating plants and animals and cultivating grains, you are left with the conclusion that modern humans are engaging in a brazenly dangerous dietary experiment. Add to this the observation that our deadliest diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, etc.) simply do not exist in hunter-gatherer societies, and that the elderly in such societies are just as strong, muscular and active as the young folk, and you have the makings of an aha! moment.
If you’re like us, you’re thinking: how did it take me so long to see it?
“Paleo” means acknowledging something right here and now: Paleolithic humans made your body what it is; you just inherited it. The truth is, you are not what you eat–you are what your distant ancestors ate. You are the most recent heir of a body that was crafted hundreds of thousands of years ago. (And you thought the oldest thing you owned was that VCR in the garage…)
Look down at your body, right now. Flex your hands, move your arms. It’s a remarkable machine, isn’t it? Imagine having to craft it from scratch. Swivel your wrist around 360 degrees. Imagine the number of pumps, pulleys, bearings and gears you would have to install on a robotic arm to get it to perform that one complex motion, to say nothing of the electrical power to make it go. Yet your skeletal structure, muscles, veins, skin, and nervous system function together to perform it with ease. The fact is, that incredibly complex, integrated machine called your “body” was crafted from scratch, over billions of years, from its humble beginnings as a one-celled microscopic organism. And now, billions of years later, that body possesses the capability of running after animals at high speeds, of throwing spears, of swinging from tree branches, and of diving into water and catching fish bare-handed. It possesses the capability of crafting and carving tools using nothing but trees and rocks.
You didn’t even know you had it in you, did you?
What’s even more amazing: your body is composed of billions upon billions of nucleotide pairs that have not fundamentally changed in many thousands of years. It is exactly the way it is owing to humanity’s first genetic modifiers–those who set the genetic pattern for all humans between then and now by hunting and gathering and eating what was provided by nature.
In short, your genes did not come into existence when you were born, nor even when your parents or their parents were born. They came into existence hundreds of thousands of years ago. You are simply their current host.
Neolithic people (“new stone age”, i.e., us) have been fighting these facts ever since. We are raised on a mythology that says we need not obey the laws of nature; we can re-write them or bend them to our will instead. And, just like any other time we try to impose our beliefs on reluctant facts, reality is winning. The human species has never been so unhealthy. We are fat, sick, and medicated.
Clearly, we took a horrible turn somewhere.
According to paleo, it all began when we changed what we were throwing into the ol’ gullet.
Say it with us, then shout it from the rooftops:
Ancient genes demand ancient food!
Where to Start
Assuming you agree, where do you begin? How do you turn the clocks back and give your genes what they’re expecting?
Well, it turns out you can’t. Not fully.
The modern world has forever altered or eradicated our soil, animals, and vegetables. The food we eat today is a pale copy, nutritionally speaking, of what existed in Paleolithic times. But we can do our best. We can try, at least, to mimic the eating of our distant ancestors, and get our food from the cleanest, toxin-free sources we can, as close as possible to their source in nature.
Sounds sensible, right? Certainly more sensible than eating laboratory-engineered food-proxies out of packages.
But, we’ll just warn you up front: it’s not easy. The modern world is pervasive and controls the food supply. You are going to have to make changes slowly and make a few mistakes along the way. In other words, it’s going to require some learning. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it all right away. We’ve been studying nutrition for twelve years or so, and we’re still learning new things every day. The best you can do is keep the mind open and absorb as you go.
Nutrition is a massive field that touches on virtually every aspect of human biology and health. It’s impossible to cover everything in an introductory article. So we’re going to recommend a couple of starting points for your studies.
For a basic understanding of the paleo way of thinking about nutrition, we recommend:
(And, of course, stay tuned for more articles here at Sexy Eyes)
For a treasure trove of links covering any and every aspect of paleo nutrition, thinking and lifestyle, we recommend:
(By the way, don’t get hung up on differences in terminology, like “primal”, “paleo”, “ancestral”, “hunter-gatherer diet”, etc. It’s all of a piece. You can just think “evolutionary health” and be in the right ballpark.)
What Do I Eat?
OK, information is swell, you’re thinking, but umm… I’m hungry.
Well, there are levels of complexity to consider here. If you are already a seasoned hand in the kitchen, you could start off complex and dive right into some delicious recipes. There are many, many recipe sites out there:
(And, once again, stay tuned to Sexy Eyes for some delicious recipes.)
Here’s something we’ve noticed, though: many “paleo” recipe sites focus on trying to recreate chips, brownies, pasta, pizza, cookies, etc., but by substituting non-flour ingredients, like almonds. To us, that’s just a weird way of thinking about food. Like we need to trick our bodies into being healthy.
Why not just eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, greens, and the occasional nuts and fruit? Trust us, your genes already love them. Learn recipes that bring out and enhance their natural flavor. (Part of our mission at Sexy Eyes is to provide recipes that do just that.)
But if, on the other hand, your culinary skills thus far consist of ripping open a package and dumping something into a bowl, then diving straight into complex recipes may turn you off. That’s fine. In that case, you can just keep it simple, to start.
Our own daily menu is fairly simple:
omelet w. veggies or salad with some form of protein or bacon and eggs
big salad with animal protein (LOTS of greens + veggies)
apple, some nuts, HB eggs, avocado, bone broth, sauerkraut or sardines
meat or fish + roasted veggies or salad (and the occasional glass of wine)
And that’s it. Animals and vegetables. As much as possible, we try to buy local, organic, pasture-raised, grass fed, etc. We make our own salad dressings, mayo, bone broth, pickles and sauerkraut. We do tons of stuff in the dutch oven (including roasting our own chickens) which essentially does most of the work for us. (We’re pretty convinced there are magic dutch oven gnomes in there, making everything we put into it turn out perfect. There’s no other reasonable explanation.)
We generally avoid bread, pasta, sugar and grains. (We are split on dairy – let’s call it optional 😉 ) This is important: we don’t avoid these things because we consider them “bad” nor do we consider carbohydrates inherently bad. Carbs are a requirement, the same as protein and fat. We simply regard vegetables as a superior source of carbohydrates. They are in the form nature intended, and they make it very difficult to overdose on carbohydrates.
Nutrition, really, is all about blood-sugar management. Grains and sugary treats make it incredibly easy to OD on sugars and send you into a cascade of spikes and crashes, overproduction of insulin, inflammation, arterial plaque and eventual obesity, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and many other “Metabolic Syndrome” diseases. Also grains are filled with anti-nutritive plant toxins like phytates, lectins and glutens.
Given the option, we’ll take veggies, thanks.
But let’s also take a second to remember that nutrition only makes sense if we acknowledge relativity.
There are no absolutes. This is what works for us and it’s not a bad framework for you to start with. But remember, you’re in charge. A twenty-year-old college athlete will not eat the same way as a forty-year-old stay-at-home parent of six or as a power suit wearing business executive.
Nutrition literature is regrettably full of absolutes: “Everything on this list is GOOD and everything on that list is BAD!” “Consume no more than 1500 calories a day and always drink 40oz of water!” etc. Of course, people want absolutes, and this kind of thinking sells books and gets website clicks. But it’s kind of absurd, if you give it two seconds of thought.
Do your grandmother and Michael Phelps have the same nutritional requirements? Does a teenaged gymnast have the same nutritional requirements as a power-lifter? Or someone training to climb mountains or fly in outer space, or become a yoga instructor, or write a best-selling novel? How about someone recovering from an injury or serious illness? Should someone “absolutely” eat coconuts and tropical fish in the steppes of Mongolia, or yak meat on the beach lagoon in Panama? Should I eat whale blubber while trekking across the desert?
We come in all shapes and sizes, we have different goals and activities, we have different foods available in our environment. Our caloric requirements are different. Our macronutrient requirements are different.
Design something that works well for you and your particular circumstances. You can eat simple sometimes, or when you want to, make it more complex and delve into some recipes. The main thing is that you try (as best we can in modern times) to fuel your body the way your genes expect it to be fueled, i.e., not with sugar and chemicals and processed oils and excess carbohydrates.
Many people find this way of eating effortless. The excess weight drops off, muscle tone starts to develop (even with little or no exercise) and you no longer experience dips and crashes in energy. Elderly folks report feeling stronger and healthier than they did thirty years prior. If you do some reading on the sites we recommended above, you’ll find pages upon pages of testimonials of people confounding their head-scratching doctors and ditching their meds forever. After all, they have switched from trying to force their bodies to not show undesirable symptoms to giving their bodies what they want (what they are genetically pre-disposed to want).
Some people do experience a detox period when they start eating this way. You experience what’s called a “carb flu”: headaches, fatigue and generally feeling like the dog’s breakfast. It can last a few days. Don’t worry, it’s just the body pissed off that it’s not getting its usual overdose of sugar and carbohydrates. On the other side of it, the body resets and starts craving real food. (Yay!)
Then you can enjoy the feeling of your body as a partner in life, rather than an opponent.
And you can enjoy your genes teaching your gym instructor, nutrition guru and doctor a thing or two.
A Common Criticism
Before we go, one quick note. As you continue your research you will come across the following criticism: Paleo is nonsense! We have no clue what ancient people ate!
This is true. Our information is scant. They didn’t leave their grocery store bills around for us to find.
Of course, we do have lots of cave paintings depicting animal hunting and fishing. But I’m sure that was just for sport. Something they did in all their spare time. They probably just forgot to include the paintings of themselves eating wheat, flour, sugar, dairy, hydrogenated vegetable oils, laboratory chemicals and pharmaceuticals, right?
Seriously. We don’t need a time machine. (That’d be cool, though.) Ancient people fished. They hunted. They ate the whole animal, including the fat and bones. They picked berries and ate roots and insects. They were opportunistic omnivores… meaning, they ate whatever they could. Whatever was around them.
Of course, therein lies the problem. We are still opportunistic omnivores. And just look what’s around us now.
It’s too late to become hunter-gathers again. We’re stuck with modernity. (Plus, it has its undeniable upsides). This means that modern humans have to learn a skill that our ancestors didn’t: we must become selective.
We must become deliberate omnivores.
Paleo’s answer to modernity is simply this: select what goes into the body, and (as much as we can in modern times) make it as close as possible to the way nature intended.
Pretty radical stuff, we know.
But for people raised in an agriculture/wheat-centered culture–with a “healthy” diet of bread, cereal, milk, fruit juice, sandwiches, low-fat chips, sports drinks and pasta–it is radical. In the course of our research, we have found nutrition to be just as volatile a subject as nationality, religion or politics. And people just as reluctant to change their views. Most people are so ingrained (pun partially-intended) in their way of thinking, they would sooner die than give up their “food identity”.
That’s fine. Hey, we’re just pointing the way here. You’re free to take it or leave it.
“Paleo” is a label, and like any label, it can be a box. This is not supposed to be an end, but a way for you to strike out on a new path if the one you’re on isn’t getting you where you want to go. As a species, we are constantly discovering more and more about food and our bodies. Rather than fixing your identity in place with a label and following a nutrition regimen whether it works or not, how about we keep our eyes and ears open and listen to what new research and our bodies have to tell us?
Listen, if you think a low-fat, high-carbohydrate, plant-based diet is the best thing for your health, then go for it. Just the act of being selective with your food intake puts us in the same camp. We respect anyone who is trying to make changes to better their health.
We may take different roads, but our destination is the same.
But, be honest: is your current path getting you where you want to go? If not, why not try something tested by a few million years of evolution?
Of course, you’re always free to go back to the conventional view. Just do everything that we talked about up front: eat next to nothing, drink laboratory “superfoods” and don’t forget to take your meds. Above all, do not deviate from the advice of modern health experts. (How has that been working out for you, by the way?)
If this is a new way of thinking about food, you’re bound to have questions. Feel free to leave them in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer or point you in the right direction. As the title of the post implies, this is just a beginning. Where you go from here depends on whether you decide to take charge of your health and nutrition.
Meanwhile, stay tuned for more, and let us know if this has helped you start on your journey toward a happier, healthier (genetically-appropriate) way of life!
photo credits: Clifford Horn, Alex E. Proimos, Chris Smith/Out of Chicago, badjonni, chotda, MiiiSH via photopin cc