Sunday, 16 October 2011

Eating Paleo

Hello friends!  I hope you are well!  I'm sorry for the less frequent posts lately.  I am going to the gym after work a few times a week, and a lot of my time lately is also spent preparing food.  As I briefly touched on recently, I have joined CrossFit, and have adopted a paleo diet lifestyle for the past few weeks.  For those who aren't familiar with either of those things, I'll explain them both for you.  This post will deal with paleo.

Eating "paleo" refers to the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors who lived around 2.5 million years ago up until 10,000 years ago, with the development of agriculture.  Their diet would have consisted of only things they could hunt and gather.  The diet is also referred to as the caveman diet, or hunter-gatherer diet.  I would like to think it's not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle.  The paleolithic diet consists mainly of grass-fed pasture raised meats, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar, and processed oils.

The premise behind this lifestyle involves the fact that modern humans are genetically adapted to the diet of their Paleolithic ancestors and that human genetics have barely changed since the dawn of agriculture, and therefore that an ideal diet for human health and well-being is one that resembles this ancestral diet.  The agricultural revolution lead to a dramatic change in human nutrition.  Cereal grains, legumes, dairy, vegetable oils, salt, alcohol, and refined sugars make up a huge portion of our Standard American Diet (how SAD).  These foods contain harmful substances associated to many "diseases of civilization", such as diabetes, celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases, obesity, hypertension, certain cancers, acne, poly cystic ovarian syndrome, myopia, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, etc.

The human body is a fairly complicated machine.  I recently read The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf, which fully explains the many biochemical processes in our bodies in relation to the food we eat.  I really encourage anyone to read this book - you will understand your body the way you really should.  Our body processes different kinds of foods in different ways.  The fact is, our bodies do not process grains, dairy, and legumes well.  We weren't built to process them.

Grains contain a protein that does us no good: gluten.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, oats, and barley.  I found an article by Rudy Silva (the "Natural Remedies that Work" guy), called Grains That Cause Illness, and I'm just going to quote this:
"As gluten moves into the intestine, it is digested and broken down into small protein molecules - peptides (which consist of 2-3 amino acids bound together) and free amino acids. Amino acids are the basic building blocks the make up protein. Once digestion is complete, peptides and free amino acids easily move into the intestinal wall cell structure and then into your blood stream. This is what happens in a healthy person.

Over many years of eating gluten, the intestinal cell structure deteriorates. Digested protein no longer passes through the cells walls but passes between cells and into the blood. These holes in the intestinal walls is what is know as "leaky gut syndrome" 

Because of the existence of these tiny holes in the intestinal wall, harmful substances can pass into the blood and settle into your organs and cells causing irritations and damage. Your intestinal wall is no longer a barrier keeping out unwanted substances from your blood and body.

Undigested foods can now enter your body creating food allergies. Toxins from various foods - dyes, preservatives, food additives, artificial flavors - can now enter you blood stream. Pathogens such as bacteria, worms, fungus and viruses can also enter your body and invade your organs. When this happens, you will slowly come down with a variety of symptoms and illnesses that you cannot attribute to anything specific.  Absorption of undigested proteins is a major threat to the health of your organs and to your immune system.

It is estimated that up to 40% of all people have some intestinal damage from eating gluten and are passing undigested proteins into their blood stream.

There are some of you that do not have the enzymes to digest gluten. Those of you have what is called "gluten sensitivity." Those of you that have the enzymes to digest gluten are not as prone to celiac disease and have less damage to your intestinal wall."
Lectin is a protein found in grains and legumes, dairy, and plants in the nightshade family.  Lectins are problematic because they are sticky molecules that can bind to the linings of human tissue, especially intestinal cells.   In so doing, they disable cells in the GI tract, keeping them from repairing and rebuilding. Therefore, lectins can contribute to eroding your intestinal barrier (leaky gut).

Because the lectins also circulate throughout the bloodstream they can bind to any tissue in the body ­— thyroid, pancreas, collagen in joints, etc. This binding can disrupt the function of that tissue and cause white blood cells to attack the lectin-bound tissue, destroying it. This is an autoimmune response.  The lectins in wheat for example, are specifically known to be involved in rheumatoid arthritis.

The behind the scenes of eating carbohydrates and sugars is quite interesting.  I will include information directly from here, as I think Jason Seib tells the story really well.
"Be forewarned, I’m going to get a little scientific, but I promise I will do my best to make it all make sense in the end.
Today I’m going to attempt to help you understand the basic biochemistry involved in fat storage and loss.  I said attempt because I am a geek and this stuff gets pretty geeky, and I said basic because nearly everything I type from here forward will be a huge oversimplification of the amazing biochemical symphony taking place in these processes.
Let’s pretend you have not heard of Everyday Paleo yet.  You are still “doing” diets instead of eating like a human.  Your head is still full of myth and fable grounded in anything but actual science.  Your typical day might have looked like this:
Oatmeal for breakfast.
Fat Free/Sugar Free Coffee-like Substance at your mid morning slump.
Subway sandwich for lunch because you want to be like Jared.
Bagel, granola, or other such processed carbs (or maybe another sugar-laden caffeinated beverage) to fight the afternoon slump.
Pasta or rice at dinner.
Something crunchy or sweet between 8 and 10 pm.
Carbohydrate is converted to glucose (blood sugar), so each one of these meals causes a nice bolus of glucose to enter your blood stream very quickly.  Your body closely regulates glucose to keep it within a safe range – not too high and not too low.  After you consume easily digestible carbohydrates like the ones on your daily menu above, your pancreas must secrete insulin to mitigate the resulting elevated glucose.  Insulin’s job is primarily to feed the glucose in your blood stream to hungry cells and then send the leftovers to the liver to be turned into triglycerides for storage in your fat cells.  Are you still with me?  Take a deep breath.  Maybe do a few squats.  Okay, let’s keep moving.  We need to dig deeper.
The story so far:  carbs are eaten and broken down to glucose, insulin sends glucose to your cells to be used as energy or to the liver for a quick composition change so it can be stored as fat.
Moving on.  Since your Standard American Diet (SAD) is nowhere near natural because of all those processed carbs, glucose and insulin remain high throughout your day.  This can eventually lead to insulin resistance in those cells that use glucose as energy.  Insulin resistance is when insulin is ever present and its “I come bearing food” signal to the cells is reduced to a whisper and then finally ignored.  This means your pancreas must produce more insulin to get the same job done, and this in turn means that insulin is ever present in greater quantities.  If you have managed to make sense of all this so far, you can see that you are amassing more and more insulin in your blood stream.  I’m about to explain why this is a problem, but you might want to do a few more squats first.
Hyperinsulinemia, this state of elevated insulin you have created by this point, is bad.  Very bad.  Robb Wolf once suggested that you can Google hyperinsulinemia and any noninfectious disease that comes to mind and you will at least find strong correlations in more links than you would ever take the time to read.  When insulin hangs around too often, it also means you store a lot of fat and have trouble using fat as energy.  This is because insulin is your body’s primary storage hormone.  Here’s how it works (take another deep breath):
High levels of glucose in the blood stream are toxic, just ask a type 1 diabetic.  As I said above, your body devotes a lot of energy to keeping glucose within a fairly tight range.  This means glucose is used for energy before fatty acids because it can’t be allowed to hang out and cause problems.  You can only store a small amount of glucose (as glycogen), but a nearly unlimited amount of fat can be stored, much to the dismay of your buns and thighs.  This is why the liver converts the extra glucose to triglycerides and ships it off to be stored in the fat cells.
Okay, we have finally come to the point of this whole sermon.  At the fat cell, an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase (LPL) acts as the doorman, ushering fatty acids into the fat cells.  Inside the fat cell, another enzyme, hormone sensitive lipase (HSL), has the job of cleaving the first sulfide bond on the triglycerides and releasing fatty acids to be used as energy.  So LPL is working when you are storing fat and HSL is working when you are “burning” fat.  Here’s the rub – both of these enzymes are sensitive to the presence of insulin.  When insulin  is present, LPL is on duty and you are storing fat.  When insulin is gone, HSL is on duty and you are using your stored fat as energy.  If you understand the story so far, this process makes perfect sense.  Since we know that glucose can’t be allowed to hang out and it must be used first, we also know that there is no reason to access stored fat in the presence of glucose and, therefore, insulin.  When insulin is in the blood stream, the message is clear – you have glucose to take care of before you use your stored fat.  Now it’s easy to see why hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance are a problem.  They keep you in fat storage mode, without the ability to access your stored fat for energy, for plenty of time to make you plump and squishy.
Please don’t misunderstand, I am not trying to paint carbohydrates and insulin as villains.  They are a normal and natural part of human nutrition and biochemistry.  What is not normal is our mass consumption of processed carbohydrates, both in unnatural forms and in never ending supply regardless of season.  A solid paleo diet, along with proper exercise, will make you healthier and leaner by giving you back insulin sensitivity and helping you re-adapt to using your stored fat as energy so your fat cells can go back to being the batteries they are suppose to be instead of the warehouses they have become."
Soooooo, yeah.  This is why North Americans are so damn fat!  Our diets are laden with processed carbage and sugar galore, causing our bodies to use sugar for energy in an attempt to get rid of it, and store the rest as fat, as opposed to actually using stored fat for energy, which is actually the ideal and best energy source we have.  Humans were designed not to be fat, yet so many are.  They are not eating the optimal way to allow them to burn their fat and stay lean.  After reading the Paleo Solution, where I initially learned about this, there was no way I could keep eating the SAD way.  I decided that paleo was for me, and so I just started eating that way.  It's been 3 weeks now, and I feel really great.  It has enhanced my working out and allowed me to lose body fat, replacing it with lean muscle.  I'm on my way to being the fittest I've ever been.

I have always been on one "diet" after another.  I've even turned to anorexia habits to lose weight in the past.  With paleo, you can actually eat all the food you want, as long as your plate basically looks like this:


 It's actually a very simple way to eat.  My typical day now looks like this:
  • Breakfast: 2 eggs, sauteed rapini and onion - all cooked in coconut oil
  • Snack: fruit or veggies, olives
  • Lunch: 3 pieces turkey deli meat, a pile of greens (arugula, spinach), 1/2 avocado, a whole tomato cut up
  • Snack: hard boiled egg, veggies, olives
  • Dinner: meat, veggies

I'm still working my way into this -- and I'm actually not getting quite enough protein.  For the type of exercise I'm doing at CrossFit, I should be aiming for 1g of protein per pound of body weight.  I have to learn some tricks, like cooking up a whole bunch of meat on Sunday, to have as snacks during the week.

There is also the issue of fat.  North Americans with a SAD lifestyle have been told for decades to eat a low fat diet.  Fat is the bogey man, don't eat it.  You'll get fat.  Your arteries will get clogged.  And you'll die.  This simply isn't true.  There are good fats, and bad fats, and our bodies actually NEED fat to thrive.  I will do a post on fat soon, as it's a whole subject unto itself.  For now, just hear this: Fat does not make you fat.

I will be doing a paleo challenge starting on Thursday, through my gym.  This is going to be a very strict 30-day period which will hopefully put my body in ketosis, a state where the body uses nothing but stored fat for energy.  During this 30 days, I expect that I'll be able to drop a lot of fat and lean up.  I've been pretty good with my paleo lifestyle for the past few weeks, but I've still been eating fruit, and the occasional 90% dark chocolate as a treat.  I've also had a "cheat day" here and there.  There will be no more of that :\  Through the gym, there will be restaurant nights, where the participants will go out for paleo dinners, there will be seminars, and there will be a contest with great prizes!  Jeremy has just told me that he will be doing the challenge with me!  That should make things much easier.

Well, I hope you've learned a lot about this paleo stuff.  I know it's kind of complicated and sciency, but if you have any questions, please ask and I'll do my best to answer them, or refer you to good source.

I'm sitting here finishing up my post while Jeremy cooks me a paleo breakfast.  Then we're off to Kensington Market for some Halloween costume shopping.  I'll do my best to get another post up soon!

Have a great day!

~C.


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