A Sample Day of Eating in Harmony with Evolution

I decided to grab my camera today and document what exactly it is that I eat, both to give some practical ideas about how to eat well for a mother and baby, and to show how interesting and varied paleo eating really can be. So, without further ado, here is my day of healthy eating:

My favorite breakfasts usually involve eggs. Today I had two scrambled eggs cooked in butter. On the side is ½ of an avocado, sliced, and about ¼ cup of homemade peach salsa, which I canned last summer using tomatoes from the garden, so I know that there are no pesticides, herbicides, artificial flavorings, or preservatives. The eggs are from healthy and happy free-range chickens that are free from hormones and antibiotics. I know the chickens by name. Seriously, they have names like Jezebel, Wyatt, Bambi, Mabel, and Harriet. They live on my parents’ farm. I sometimes feed them and collect their eggs, so I know that they are well-fed and in wonderful health, and that their eggs are as fresh as can be and chock-full of superior nutrition. If you are not as incredibly lucky as I am, having access to unlimited fresh free-range eggs, I would suggest that you visit some farmers’ markets, and make friends with the farmers in your area, so that you can find meat and eggs that come from healthy animals rather than CAFOs. This plate, by the way, added up to 350 calories, 16 grams of protein, 27 grams of fat, 9 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of fiber. (I generally do not keep very close track of my calories or macronutrient ratios, but I thought I would do it today as part of this post.)

My next mini-meal was what I have termed a braunschweiger boat. I sliced a cucumber lengthwise, hollowed out the seeds, and then stuffed it with braunschweiger. This is quite the interesting shift in taste for me. Before I got pregnant I could never stand the taste of liverwurst, but now it is actually rather appealing. Perhaps my body knows that it needs the extra protein, fats, and nutrients – and liver is a nutritional powerhouse. My boat added up to 180 calories, 7 grams of protein, 16 grams of fat, and 2 grams of carbohydrates.

Another mini-meal had much more of an Asian flavor. I cooked up about three ounces of ground beef (from a steer raised by my family, with plenty of pasture, free from hormones and antibiotics), and then put it in a nori (seaweed) wrap with some radish kim chee (it is a spicy fermented food, a Korean version of sauerkraut). The nori provided me with the complete profile of sea minerals, and the kim chee provided some healthy probiotics. I just wrapped the whole creation up and ate it like a burrito. My wrap netted me 250 calories, 23 grams of protein, 15 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and one gram of fiber.

Later in the day I heated up some of last night’s leftovers: meatballs with carrots in a creamy coconut tomato curry sauce, again made from beef raised on the family farm. This plate contains approximately 345 calories, 24 grams of protein, 25 grams of fat, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and 2 grams of fiber. I had a sliced bell pepper on the side (35 calories, one gram of protein, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and three grams of fiber) and a small banana for dessert (90 calories, one gram of protein, 23 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of fiber).

My afternoon snack was 6 ounces of (unsweetened) Greek yogurt with 2/3 cup of blackberries (I bought them frozen as they are significantly cheaper, and then partially thawed them before mixing them into my yogurt). This dish got eaten before I remembered to take a picture (guess I was very hungry), so you will have to just use some imagination. The nutrition stats were: 220 calories, 19 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, 29 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of fiber.

For dinner I prepared a batch of my famous paleo bacon chili for Nick and myself. The recipe for this bowl of deliciousness will appear tomorrow. My serving contained approximately 485 calories, 36 grams of protein, 36 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrates, and one gram of fiber. I did not have any chocolate tonight, but I did have a small apple for dessert, at 70 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, and 3 grams of fiber.

That brought my total for the day to 2065 calories, 126 grams of protein, 125 grams of fat, 109 grams of carbohydrates, of which 26 grams were fiber (83 grams net carbs). Fat accounted for 54% of my food intake, protein for 25%, and carbohydrates for 21%. I also managed to work in ten servings of fruits and vegetables. And of course I took my prenatal vitamins and drank lots and lots of water (I love my BPA-free Camelbak bottle!) and lots of herbal tea.

The majority of my calories today came from fat, a great portion of it probably saturated. Lest anybody imagine that this macronutrient balance be dangerous for my health or my child’s, I refer to two very interesting and enlightening articles over at Mark’s Daily Apple, his Definitive Guide to Fats, and another article on saturated fats. He does an excellent job explaining the science of why fats are actually healthy. And the resource I can recommend most highly is, of course, Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories, which blows apart all of the conventional wisdom that tells us that carbs are good and fats are bad.

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8 Responses to A Sample Day of Eating in Harmony with Evolution

  1. Nate Hawes says:

    Although some positive ideas are presented here, the “paleo” diet offers a considerably flawed approach to nutrition. The three energy sources identified (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) are represented in a critically disproportionate manner. It is true that more protein and fat was present in the diets of our Paleolithic ancestors, but they also expended a lot more energy while hunting and gathering their food. So-called “diseases of affluence” were not nearly as prevalent, but our ancestors did not live long enough for these diseases to take hold. Just as the modern diet has evolved away from the “paleo” diet, so have our bodies to require vastly different proportions of nutrients than we did thousands of years ago. Moreover, we now understand energy requirements and the advantages/disadvantages of each nutrient much better.
    According to most nutritional experts, carbohydrates should account for 50-60% of daily caloric intake. That being said, they should come from healthy sources such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products. So instead of eating white rice one should opt for brown rice, or whole wheat bread instead of white bread and so on. These foods typically offer much more dietary fiber as well, and are not just empty calories. Complex carbohydrates offer long lasting sources of energy, and grains are often fortified to include vitamins and minerals not naturally present in them. Folate fortification is a prime example, and has greatly reduced neural tube defects in devolping fetuses. While it is true that dairy is relatively new food group in the long history of our diet, most people have evolved to tolerate it and there are no adverse effects. Only about 25 percent of the population is lactose intolerant. For the rest of the population, low fat dairy offers a valuable source of vitamins and calcium, which is extremely beneficial especially in women (who are at a greater risk for osteoporosis).
    Carbohydrates certainly were not as largely represented in the Paleolithic diet, but as our diets evolved, so has our body and we require more carbohydrates than any other energy source. Evolution has indeed occurred in the last 10,000 years, as evident by the tolerance of lactose, tolerance of gluten, increased amounts of salivary amylase, and other factors. Completely eliminating or drastically reducing carbohydrates can put the body into ketosis, something which negatively effects brain function and overall metabolism. The main source of energy for the brain is glucose. Without adequate carbohydrate intake, the liver has to convert other energy sources (fat, protein) in to glucose for the brain, processes that are not nearly as efficient. Limiting carbohydrates temporarily has been shown to jump start a diet. Likewise, limiting carbohydrates before bed has been shown to cut down on body fat, but cutting out carbohydrates in the long term is not healthy. Excess carbohydrates can be stored as unwanted fat, but the same can be said for excess protein and fat in the diet.
    Fats should make up 25-35% of daily caloric intake, the majority of which should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This is part of what is referred to as the “Mediterranean diet” by most physicians and nutritionists. Saturated fats do not need to be completely eliminated, but they should be limited greatly as they offer far more cholesterol. Cooking foods in olive or canola oil is generally recommended over butter. Meats with less saturated fat like chicken and fish should be eaten more often than red meat, which contains far more saturated fat. Yes, cholesterol is required in our bodies, but we get plenty from our diet alone and there is no need to increase saturated fat intake. Fat is also necessary to absorb some vitamins (A, D, E, K), but you easily obtain enough fat from your diet for absorption. There is debate concerning the effects of saturated fats on cardiovascular health, but virtually no literature states that they are beneficial in any way to cardiovascular health. However, there is overwhelming evidence that trans-fats negatively impact cardiovascular health.
    Protein should actually only account for 15-25% of daily caloric intake. Again, most of the protein should come from lean protein sources such as chicken and fish. Excess protein in the diet can place strain on your kidneys and liver, and also usually comes with the unnecessary effect of increasing fats (especially saturated fats) in the diet.
    The points that seem accurate regarding the “paleo” diet are limiting processed foods, refined grains, refined sugar, and salt. Also, an emphasis seems to be placed on vegetables and fruits, which is undoubtedly a positive thing. The idea that fats do not need to be cut down is somewhat true, but the type of fats you eat need to be adjusted (mainly mono and polyunsaturated). However, increasing fat intake, especially to upwards of 50% of daily caloric intake is not healthy in any way. This is especially true in prenatal care as excess fat in the diet can have negative effects on the baby’s body and metabolism. These include predisposition to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, increased risk of obesity, insulin insensitivity, circadian rhythm abnormalities, and other congenital defects. I do not believe that the “paleo” diet is a healthy approach for an expecting mother, but it may be feasible for physically active adults who make that decision about nutrition. Moreover, I do not think it should not be the diet of an infant or toddler. They should be presented with a variety of healthy food so they learn to make healthy choices at a young age.
    For more information, I would recommend reading scientific journals and articles that have been published. Anyone can post anything on a website or blog without repercussions or scrutiny, but articles are based on scientific evidence and have been heavily evaluated before publication. PubMed is an excellent source of articles and information. I think you would be surprised to see some of the articles and the many contraindications they offer to high-fat diets. Just search “high fat maternal diet” and read some of the current abstracts or articles. Another good website is mypyramid.gov (and just because it is a .gov address doesn’t mean it can’t be trusted). They have a section all about Pregnant and Breastfeeding Nutrition that I think you should read. I challenge you to read more of what is out there and make informed decisions. I sincerely hope you do, not only for yourself, but for your baby as well.
    On a side note, I think a home birth for you and your baby would introduce unnecessary risks to you both. The moment will not be any less special if you are at a hospital, and your baby will not be any different for being born there. The neonatal medical teams are extremely educated and trained in what to do if complications should arise. Is it likely that any problems will happen? No, but why even take that chance? Congrats to both you and Nick, but I sincerely think a hospital would offer considerably more safety and insurance for you and your baby.

    • elliemaeh says:

      In reference to your first paragraph, I would suggest that you look at the study about how long hunter-gatherer tribes lived entitled “Longevity Among Hunter-Gatherers: A Cross-Cultural Examination” by Michael Gurvel and Hillard Kaplan. The populations they looked at were given classifications: hunter-gatherers; forager-horticulturalists; and acculturated hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers were groups without significant contact with outside cultures and included the !Kung, the Ache, the Agta, the Hadza, and the Hiwi. Forager-horticulturalists hunted, gathered, and used some agriculture. They included the Yanomamo, the Yanomamo Xilixana, the Tsimane, the Machiguenga, and the Gainj. Acculturated hunter-gatherers/foragers had significant, steady contact with outside cultures and included Northern Territory Australian Aborigines, the Tiwi, and the Warao, as well as other !Kung, Agta, Hiwi, and Ache groups. Gurven and Kaplan also looked at Swedes from the mid 18th century.

      On average, 57%, 64%, and 67% of children make it to 15 years among “untouched” hunter-gatherers, forager-horticulturalists, and acculturated hunter-gatherers, respectively. That seems logical, given what we know about child mortality rates in hunter gatherer populations. The “wildest” groups, that rely on hunted and gathered food, also experience the most childhood deaths, while the hunter-gatherers with similar diets but presumable access to certain modern trappings enjoy the best childhood survival. It is important to note that the acculturated groups in this study had increased access to immunization and medical care, especially for children; acculturation of traditional peoples has not always had such a beneficial effect on their health and longevity (consider the health of Native Americans relegated to reservations, white flour, sugar, and vegetable oil). In fact, first contact with industrial or “civilized” cultures usually resulted in a massive initial increase in childhood mortality (diseases, mainly; the Ache lost about 40% of their population to foreign disease), but post-contact was characterized by lower childhood mortality, even compared to pre-contact rates. Mortality reductions in contacted hunter-gatherers were greatest in childhood and declined as populations aged.

      Of the children who reached age 15, the percentage of hunter-gatherers who make it to age 45 is higher than the percentage of forager-horticulturalists who make it to age 45, but not by much – 64% to 61%. Acculturated hunter-gatherers excel here; 79% of their 15 year-olds make it to age 45. You might even say the study’s acculturated hunter-gatherers were essentially paleo, eating and moving traditionally while enjoying access to modern medicine.

      From age 45, the mean number of expected remaining years of life is 20.7, 19.8, and 24.6 for hunter-gatherers, forager-horticulturalists, and acculturated hunter-gatherers, respectively. Give or take a few years, they could all “expect” to live about two decades if they were still alive by age 45 – a far cry from a “nasty, short, and brutish” existence.

      The authors have no allegiance to or interest in primal diet, but one could glean a few things that relate directly to primal living. First, it demolishes the common refrain that hunter-gatherers all die young. Average life expectancy is marred by infant mortality rates, and it’s clear that hunter-gatherers – the closest analogues to our Paleolithic ancestors – can and do enjoy “modern” lifespans with an average modal age of 72 years.

      Second, Gurven and Kaplan show that “degenerative deaths are relatively few, confined largely to problems early in infancy.” Heart attacks and stroke “appear rare,” and the bulk of deaths occur when the person is sleeping and are free of obvious symptoms or pathology. Most “degenerative” deaths are attributed to “old age.” “Illness” is the main cause of death among all age groups and all populations, except for the pre-contact Ache (supreme hunters), and the authors break illness into different categories. The big killers were infectious respiratory diseases, things like pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis. Gastrointestinal illnesses also did a number on them, accounting for 5-18% of deaths, with diarrhea (probably stemming from parasites and coupled with malnutrition) taking the majority. Violence was also a significant killer.

      Third, and this is crucial, it destroys the other common argument that an evolutionary diet high in animal products might still be harmful because we didn’t evolve to live past forty, which is when diet-related diseases begin to show. Gurven and Kaplan make an extremely salient point: since the bulk of human evolutionary history took place over the course of two million years prior to the advent of agriculture, and that pre-agricultural period conferred most of the “major distinctive features of our species, such as large brains, long lives, marriage and male investment in offspring,” it’s likely that the “age-specific mortality pattern” of human beings also evolved “during our hunter-gatherer past.” That is, they propose that the human potential for longevity is not a product of modern living but rather a genetic characteristic shared by all Homo sapiens. Advances in medical technology bolster and support that inherent longevity (as shown by moderate lifespan increases in acculturated hunter-gatherers and modern industrial populations), but they aren’t responsible for it.

      I am attaching links to another paper that shows similar results. Here is one more about paleo diet in general and another about how paleo might help to combat diabetes. As for modern man having decreased energy expenditure and therefore vastly different nutritional needs, this article is quite interesting. The !Kung only expend about 600 more calories per day than the average office worker. Somehow this does not explain why construction workers and sailors–both of whom engage in a lot more physical activity than office workers–tend to be highly over weight, or sumo wrestlers, who exercise *a lot,* yet still are fat. A diet of refined grains and sugar does, though.

      As far as the move by the government to fortify bread products, I would ask why I ought to eat something that is so nutritionally barren that we need to artificially add vitamins and minerals to it. I would say that the fortification of bread with folate probably had overall positive effects; it prevented neural tube defects in the babies of women who were consuming a diet that was severely lacking in nutrition. I would venture to guess that NTDs were especially common in the lower classes, where women were not able to purchase more expensive, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables and had rely on the cheap calories provided by bread. But I still am not convinced that bread is a good source of folate, or any other nutrient, for that matter. One slice of whole wheat bread provides 14 μg of folate and contains 70 calories; one half cup of enriched whole wheat pasta provides 23 μg of folate and contains about 100 calories. A cup of spinach, however, provides 58 μg of folate for only about 10 calories; that is a twenty-times better folate to calorie ratio. Asparagus, likewise provides 100 μg in only five spears (20 calories), again a ratio twenty times better than that of “enriched” whole grain pasta.

      I understand and agree with what you have to say about ketosis and pregnancy. I would not put myself on a ketogenic diet during pregnancy. The amount of carbohydrates I consume on a daily basis (about 100g) is well above the threshold for ketosis, which is somewhere around 50g/day. In terms of fats, Mary Enig, PhD, has an article at The Weston A. Price Foundation that I would suggest concerning canola oil, and another on saturated fats. Are you familiar with Weson A. Price and his studies of traditional diets and dental caries? I find his work to be fascinating, and it is right in your field.

      As for a home birth, in making that choice I am very much thinking about the health and well-being of my baby. I believe that my baby would be very different for being born in a hospital. The rates of interventions (often unnecessary) and subsequent fetal distress are astronomical. One study about the outcome of planned home births that you might want to check out is Mehl, L., Peterson, G., Shaw, N.S., Creevy, D. (1978) “Outcomes of 1146 elective home births: a series of 1146 cases.” J Repro Med., and here is a link to another. In the first case, babies born in the hospital were 3.7 times more likely to require resuscitation, were 2.5 times as likely to suffer meconium aspiration, 2.5 times more likely to have meconium aspiration, and 17 times more likely to have respiratory distress. There were thirty birth injuries in the hospital (mostly due to forceps) and none at home. The neonatal and perinatal death rates were statistically the same for the two groups, but Apgar scores were significantly worse in the hospital. A hospital birth attended by an OB/GYN is, simply put, overmedicalized. There is a push (no pun intended) to give women epidurals, and to use Pitocin in order to speed the birth along, and Pitocin stimulates such hard contractions that it can cause fetal distress, and it may lead even the most determined mother to accept an epidural. An epidural, in turn, numbs the woman’s body so that she cannot feel the urge to push, and even when she is told to push she cannot push effectively. Not to mention that almost all women who give birth in a hospital are hooked up to an IV and a monitor and thus forced to stay in bed, even if they chose not to have an epidural. And lying in bed is the absolute worst position possible to give birth; it forces the woman to work against gravity, and it closes her pelvis (squatting, on the other hand, opens it up 28% and works with gravity). The only benefit to the lying-down position is that it gives the doctor a clear view and an easy angle to perform an episiotomy (which 90% of women who birth vaginally in a hospital end up getting). And over one third end up with a c-section birth, even though the WHO suggests that only around 15% of births actually require a c-section. Of the ones who do deliver vaginally, many require forceps or vacuum extraction, because they cannot feel to push effectively, or the time-clock is running out. Such interventions are (as the above study showed) potentially dangerous to a baby. I am against all of this medicalization of birth for my own health and well-being (who wants major abdominal surgery, or a cut, unless it is absolutely necessary, anyway?), but also because I do not want a stressful or medicated birth for my child. Some of the drugs from epidurals do cross the placental barrier, and I refuse to drug my child unless it is absolutely necessary to his or her well-being. Likewise, the drugs used in epidurals and the subsequent grogginess that results in infants has been shown to lower rates of breastfeeding success.

      As the second study shows, 88% of women who intended to deliver at home were able to, and for those who did transfer to a hospital, medical intervention rates included epidural (4.7%), episiotomy (2.1%), forceps (1.0%), vacuum extraction (0.6%), and cesarean section (3.7%); these rates were substantially lower than for low risk US women having hospital births. The intrapartum and neonatal mortality among women considered at low risk at start of labor, excluding deaths concerning life threatening congenital anomalies, was 1.7 deaths per 1000 planned home births, similar to risks in other studies of low risk home and hospital births in North America. No mothers died. No discrepancies were found for perinatal outcomes independently validated. Planned home birth for low risk women in North America using certified professional midwives was associated with lower rates of medical intervention but similar intrapartum and neonatal mortality to that of low risk hospital births in the United States.

      If I do happen to have any complications before birth that suggest medical intervention would be necessary, or if during labor complications arise, and I am one of the unfortunate 12%, then I will not hesitate to go to the hospital. I simply believe that a home birth offers a lower risk of potentially harmful interventions with no increased mortality risk.

      It was good to hear from you and thanks for your concern. Hope school is treating you well.

  2. Cherie says:

    Congrats to you and Nick!! It is such a wonderful exciting time for both of you! I just had to respond, because I hope you ignore the VERY flawed article Nate wrote. His way of thinking has contributed to obesity, heart disease, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, IBS, Celiac/Gluten intolerence…you get the picture. Ten years ago I lost 60lbs, reversed insulin resistence, IBS type symptons, candida overgrowth when I stopped listening to the so called “experts” (ha)! I have lab tests to prove how much healthier I am now without any procesed foods & sugar. They are the ones that need to do a lot more research, and that isn’t paid for by Big Ag & Big Pharm! I also worked for an MD that realized how wrong the pyramid diet was and helped soooo many patients regain their health with the organic, low-carb or Paleo type diets. I new here, so not sure if you use extra virgin coconut oil? If not, PLEASE check it out! You are really lucky to be able to eat such heathly food! Good luck and thanks for sharing!

    • elliemaeh says:

      Thank you so much for stopping by and dropping me a note. Awesome work on turning your health around so dramatically! I have heard a lot of similar stories about people who have (unfortunately) followed conventional wisdom and suffered for it. My husband had weight and gluten intolerance problems as well before he started eating a paleo-inspired diet, and i have never felt healthier since making the switch. Are you familiar with Gary Taubes’ book Good Calories, Bad Calories? That was the book that turned my opinions about diet upside down and made me totally lose faith in the USDA and pretty much all government-sponsored information about health, because, as you say, most of it is either backed by big ag or big pharma. As for coconut oil, I absolutely love it! And the funny thing is that it is just starting to get some positive press in the mainstream media – took them a while to catch on. My husband eats coconut oil straight out of the jar by the spoonful. And I love it for paleo baked goods (amazing flavor!), and as a topping for my paleo pancakes (two eggs and a banana blended in the food processor). Absolutely delicious!

  3. Dasha Ivashniova says:
    • Dasha Ivashniova says:

      Eh, and I need to work on my html codes…

    • elliemaeh says:

      I absolutely love it! I had no idea we were so on the same page! I found this book about a year ago when I was in Hawaii, and it was so enlightening for me. (And Nick loves the sauerkraut recipe.) All the ideas for fermented food were new to me before reading so I learned a lot. There is also a lot of great stuff on the Weston A. Price Foundation website.

  4. Pingback: Sugar, Starches, and Dissing the Diet Dictocrats | A Mom On A Mission . . . . . . to nurture and nourish her family

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