In the previous installation of Modern Eating Disorders, we looked at how some people have become obsessed with the idea of clean food. Clean food being defined as any food that doesn’t come from an animal.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, many people are equally passionate about banning all grains as well as most dairy from the human diet. Enter the paleo diet.
Simply put, the paleo diet is characterized by striving to recreate the diet of our prehistoric ancestors. Meats (including fish and seafood), eggs, mostly non-starchy vegetables (depending on who you ask), nuts, seeds and berries are the stars of this menu. But grains are out and while some will permit goat milk products, cow’s milk is completely out.
In my experience, most people moving toward the paleo diet are 1) former vegans who failed miserably and became exceedingly allergic to grains as a result of relying too heavily on them or 2) fitness enthusiasts, who find that leaning towards more whole protein to the exclusion of grains and dairy have a positive effect on their results. The latter, unfortunately, often confuses this diet with conventional weight loss schemes and end up endorsing ultra-low fat versions of meat and eggs as they would never be found in nature.
While I do believe that the paleo diet has many virtues for health (I had to dive into a version of it, while recovering from illness — although at the time it didn’t have a name), for many adherents it unfortunately has taken on cult status. Paleo advocates rarely say “I don’t tolerate grains or milk.” They say “Everybody should avoid grains! We were never designed to eat them! People shouldn’t drink milk after weaning.”
The milk bias is clearly a holdover from the vegan agenda — a misunderstanding of the role of milk in the human diet as well as in the diet of other animals. Unbeknownst to most people, many mammals enjoy drinking the milk of other animals. Just ask any milk farmer and they will tell you that everybody tries to get in the barn during milking time.
As for grains, most people miss the importance that grains have played in the evolution of man. When woman (most likely) began planting and harvesting grain, it served as a form of sustaining energy from other sources (namely meat and fat) as well as a way of having something on hand to eat through months were other foods were scarce. What has changed is the way in which we eat grains today. First and foremost, in the modern era, grains bear very little resemblance to their forebears. With seed companies selectively breeding grains to influence certain traits, and hundreds of pesticides being sprayed on crops, it’s no wonder that our bodies have come to view grains as an enemy! For example, the return to ancient grains such as spelt, kamut and einkorn has been quite an eye-opener for many people who believed they were gluten intolerant (gluten being the main protein in wheat, rye, and barley). While spelt, kamut and einkorn also contain gluten, many “gluten intolerant” people are able to digest them without any ill effects.
Similarly, many people switching from conventionally produced puss and blood filled ultra-pasteurized milk available on most supermarket shelves to raw cow’s milk have found that all the health problems they associated with dairy completely disappeared.
Another change we have seen with grains over the past several decades is the way in which we prepare them. It is little secret that heavily refined, enriched white flour can wreak havoc on our bodies, but the sudden switch to whole grains is not necessarily the answer.
When I began doing research on grain cooking, I began collecting old cookbooks because they are the least influenced by popular dogma. What I found was quite curious. Old cookbooks, even those going back to the time of the American Revolution, used white flour! But in a few books where whole grains were used, they were soaked overnight before cooking.
Indeed, after talking to many people in the 70 and older age group about their digestive problems and making the suggestion to soak their grains. They often reply “You mean like in the old days?”
Now, I’m not saying all this so much in defense of grains, but because of the imbalances that can be caused by avoiding grains. Many people following the paleo diet begin to eat copious amounts of nuts and seeds as well as thyroid suppressing green vegetables like kale, cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli. Cauliflower, kale, nuts and seeds appear in very many recipes meant to replace some bread product. Nuts are also used as a replacement for dairy products. Eating so much of these foods over several months is likely to backfire on those doing it for health reasons.
The bottom line here is that by trying to break out of the box of political correctness, many are finding themselves right back in the same box all over again. Vilifying grains and dairy sets up a scenario where we fall prone to throwing all common sense out the window. Remember that just because something doesn’t work for you now, it does not mean that it does not work for others. If grains and dairy were so bad for humans, then we would not have survived the past 10,000 years. Consuming such incompatible foods would create too many birth defects and diseases within just 2-3 generations for the species to survive.
So why don’t we try to gain a little perspective and not look at the food of our ancestors as bad and harmful, but strive to recreate the ideal conditions that enabled them to thrive on these foods? We have so much awesome technology available at this point in our development. Let’s use it to fuel enjoyment of food, not fear of it.