Paleolithic nutrition, or paleo for short, is a term that has been thrown around a lot lately in the nutrition community, especially in online forums and blogs. The paleo movement has many supporters in the scientific community, the most notable probably being Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, and many advocates in the blogosphere (Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple, whom I have already mentioned, being one of the most prominent). While they all agree on the basic tenants of eating in harmony with human evolution, although some advocate stricter or more liberal applications of these principles.
Loren Cordain could be considered the father of the current paleo movement. He received his PhD in health from the University of Utah in 1981 and went on to direct the Human Performance Lab at Colorado State University, as well as teach there as a professor. He has written several books on health and evolutionary-based nutrition, including The Paleo Diet and The Paleo Diet for Athletes. He advocates one of the strictest interpretations of Paleolithic nutrition, eliminating all salt from the diet, all honey, and all dairy products. (Dairy products used for human consumption were an innovation of the agricultural revolution as well, so the human body is in many ways ill-adapted to digest dairy.)
Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist who studied under Cordain, is another prominent paleo blogger and author. His book The Paleo Solution is a comprehensive, sometimes nerdy, but generally accessible, introduction to human biology and evolutionary-based eating. (And his wry sense of humor keeps the book amusing and enjoyable.) He is not quite as strict as Cordain, for instance he suggests that butter might be a perfectly acceptable, even beneficial, fat for human consumption. Since nearly all of the milk proteins and sugars (lactose) have been removed, the human digestive system encounters very few problems processing butter, and butter (especially grass-fed) is a vitamin powerhouse that we might not want to ignore.
Mark Sisson is probably the most popular and widely read paleo blogger roaming the internet today. He advocates what he calls the 80/20 principle, recognizing that we are living in a Neolithic society and that while it is impossible to reenact the Paleolithic diet accurately all of the time, if we eat in line with our evolution the vast majority of the time we will reap significant health benefits. He also considers some fermented dairy products (such as yogurt and cheese) as possibly beneficial additions to the human diet, allows for a bit of honey as a natural and unrefined sweetener, and is a fan of dark chocolate. I like this guy.
My practical application of the paleo movement is undoubtedly closest to Mark Sisson’s. Before I became pregnant I aimed for 80/20, although now my goal is more like 98/2, as I feel a strong sense of responsibility for the health and well being of my child (who has no control over what I eat, and no choice but to ingest whatever nutrients or anti-nutrients I put into my body). I do, however, not have a problem adding a modest amount of honey to a dessert (that I might prepare once per week – maybe – if I have the time and inspiration), and I still believe that butter, as well as the occasional slice of cheese or dollop of yogurt, can be beneficial additions to my, and my baby’s, diet. I will enumerate in a later post the reasons why I think that fermented dairy can be beneficial.
And yes, I have kept one small indulgence. Almost every night before bed, I have a few squares of dark chocolate, as my treat for the day. I take pains to choose a high cocoa content (above 60%) so that the quantity of sugar in my treat is negligible, and does not trigger any sort of strong insulin response for my baby. I feel that all of the healthy fats as well as the antioxidants contained in the cocoa make up for the few extra grams of sugar that are present and perhaps even provide a net benefit for the two of us. For my next post I will do photo documentation of what exactly it is the baby and I eat in a day.