For most of humanity's two-million-year or so existence, we were hunter-gatherers, whose main diet consisted of protein, tree fruits, roots and nuts -- the original Paleo diet. Only since the …
For most of humanity's two-million-year or so existence, we were hunter-gatherers, whose main diet consisted of protein, tree fruits, roots and nuts -- the original Paleo diet. Only since the agricultural revolution, a mere 10,000 years, have humans eaten grains in any quantity.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the introduction of agriculture changed the way people ate, and its rapid advent may have out-paced the human body's ability to evolve with the new food sources, leading to problems with digestion. The Mayo Clinic draws no conclusions, as there are few direct studies involving food diseases and the Paleo diet. However, most Paleo diet proponents believe this rapid dietary change over the last 10,000 years is a major factor in many of the diseases we face.
There has been a movement to eat the way our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. In this approach to eating, processed foods are out, as are sugars, grains, legumes and dairy. You do get to eat plenty of whole foods -- meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts and fats -- without counting calories or serving quantities. Because you consume lots of protein and some fats, you actually fill up more quickly and stay full longer. By allowing an abundance of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens, you get the vitamins and fiber you need as well. There seems to be a side benefit of weight loss, especially at first, which can be impressive. And you don't feel deprived in the process.
But this is more than about losing weight. Many people who adhere to the Paleo diet like it for another reason -- health benefits. According to supporters, everything from high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, gout and even acne can benefit from a Paleo diet. It is proposed that eliminating certain foods from your table can have a positive effect on many of these conditions.
Dr. Loren Cordain, author of "The Paleo Diet," extensively researched early food sources and concluded that by restoring the food types we are genetically programmed to eat, we can restore our health and well-being.
In many Native populations, when adhering to protein and fat-based traditional foods, heart disease and cancer were virtually unheard of. Once their diet was supplemented by government-issued flour and sugar, diabetes, obesity, organ diseases and other illnesses ran rampant. A lot of attention is being paid to diets that encourage us to eat the way our forefathers did.
In her book, "The Pueblo Food Experience," Santa Clara Pueblo artist Roxanne Swentzell found that by adhering to her ancestor's precontact diet ("of or relating to the period before contact of an indigenous people with an outside culture" - Merriam Webster), she was able to reduce her high blood pressure, cholesterol and weight, and increase her general well-being.
Elana Amsterdam, author of "Paleo Cooking," takes a creative look at simple ingredient substitutions to make something close to our favorite foods, including cakes and cupcakes. By adhering to a strict Paleo diet, she purports to have mitigated her symptoms from multiple sclerosis and is now in remission.
"Okay," you might say, "I'm interested. But do I have to eat raw meat and forage for berries?" Of course not! We live in a different world from our ancestors. We have an abundance of healthy foods available in our grocery stores and markets. So if you like the sound of a bison burger with a portobello mushroom "bun," or grilled wild salmon with mashed cauliflower "potatoes," this diet might be for you. What is more, a bounty of avocados, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables are allowed. This is the Paleo diet today.
So, for fun, I thought I'd take a look at a few of my favorite foods, and come up with Paleo diet versions that taste good and are easy to prepare. Since it's summer, I thought about dining al fresco in the backyard, and selected fried chicken, potato salad and fruit crisp for my Paleo picnic. Most importantly, I wanted recipes with ingredients that are readily available.
For fried chicken, I used a combination of almond flour and tapioca flour for the breading, adding plenty of seasonings and achieved a delicious and crispy result. Avocado oil is ideal for frying, as it has the highest smoke-point of any oils. Olive oil is a good substitute if avocado oil is not available.
Summer for me usually brings to mind potato salad, which is why I included it in last month's "Summer Salads" article. But the challenge is to make something as satisfying without using potatoes (which are not allowed). My Paleo version uses cauliflower instead. This very simple recipe, with or without hard-boiled eggs, should satisfy any potato salad lover.
Desserts are usually laden with butter and sugar, both of which are eliminated when you adhere to this diet. But fruit is naturally sweet and, if you need it, a bit of coconut sugar goes a long way. As for the crumb topping, using almond flour in place of wheat flour is an easy substitution. The result is nutty and tasty.
Whether you decide to try the Paleo diet for specific health reasons or simply to lose a few pounds, you might want to try the recipes I've included here. If you like them and are interested in delving further, you can find more recipes and articles on the subject online. In addition, there are lots of Paleo diet cookbooks available, which outline the philosophy and regimen for you in detail. Once you really get into it, you might become an advocate yourself.
Always consult with your health care provider before starting on a new way of eating.
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