What I eat and What I don’t, Part II: Cavegirl SMASH (your favorite foods. Sorry!)

When we left off, I had discovered that I had allergies to wheat, corn, and soy. Between these 3 ingredients, I’m unable to eat the vast majority of packaged and prepared foods. Over the first year or two of eating to eliminate my allergens, I began to realize the reason I felt so much better and had lost weight, was as much due to eliminating allergens as it was due to being forced into a much more nutrient-rich, lower-sugar, lower-but-not-super-low-carb diet. For instance, when I started eating things like gluten-free rice pasta, oatmeal, and other grains on a regular basis, my acid reflux came right back.

This was a key realization for me. I learned, through equal parts research and trial and error, that there a few foods that are outright toxic to me (specifically, those I’m allergic to), foods that make me sicker but not right away (grains, legumes, sugar), foods that don’t cause me much trouble as long as I don’t make them central to my diet (dairy, stuff like quinoa and potatoes) and foods that make me healthier (good quality meats and fats, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds).

In case you are one of the few who hasn’t heard of it, the diet I follow is generally called a “Paleo Diet” (also, referred to as Primal, Caveman, Hunter-Gatherer, Evolutionary, Ancestral, and who knows what else). [An aside here, I'm not bothered by the word "diet". I realize that it commonly refers to ways to lose weight, but I will use it as intended, to mean "what I eat" without weight loss being implied.] The central idea is that our species, for millions of years, ate pretty much meat, vegetable matter, fruits, nuts, and seeds. They ate little, if any, grains and legumes (as these foods are toxic when raw), no dairy or sugar. About 10,000 years ago, humans began undertaking agriculture, raising animals and cooking and consequently the human diet changed significantly. 10,000 years is a mere drop in the evolutionary bucket, and thus, we haven’t had time to evolve to truly tolerate these foods. And there isn’t a doubt that we haven’t evolved to handle trans-fats, massive doses of refined sugar, and all the chemical “non-food” ingredients added to our food.

So that’s the over-arching theory, but this isn’t about historical re-enactment. I don’t aim to really live like a cavegirl. I don’t even own a loincloth. I just want to be healthy and feel great!

Let’s go through the major foods eliminated in most paleo diets. I’ll briefly discuss the main issues with these foods, but mostly I’ll link to people wiser than myself about these issues. Yep, this is the part of this series where I take a figurative dump in everyone’s gluten-y cereal. I apologize. I’ll get positive and glowing again in the next segment! Promise!

Gluten-containing grains (wheat, barley, rye)

Gluten appears to be Public Enemy #1 when it comes to autoimmune responses. Celiac disease is the most dramatic example, but a gluten sensitivity other than celiac can affect literally any system of the body. The study discussed here is very striking regarding the prevalence of gluten sensitivity: it shows that the majority of people tested for autoimmune reactions were positive among people with celiac (obviously!), microscopic colitis, other digestive problems, and diagnosed autoimmune diseases. The surprising part, though, is that almost 30% of healthy, asymptomatic people tested positive! So, those folks are healthy for now, but perhaps not for long. In my opinion, anyone with undiagnosed health complaints should at the very least try removing gluten from their diet for a time and test its effects.

Other grains

Grains have compounds called lectins and phytates (gluten is a kind of lectin, but there are more!), which can irritate the gut, bind to vitamins and minerals and make them unavailable to your body. Additionally, they really aren’t nearly as nutrient dense per calorie as the dietary establishment pretends (trust me, your heart will be just fine without your “heart-healthy” grains!) They spike insulin levels, which is very inflammatory. They are also acidifying to the body, thus, my acid reflux if I eat any grains on a regular basis!

[In case you totally hate me right now, there are ways to reduce or even eliminate the major downsides to non-gluten grains! But then I'll make you hate me again and say it's a lot of work... more work than I want to do for foods I no longer love or crave and that don't benefit me in any way that can't be easily replaced with other foods.]

Sugar

Sugar is not good for you, lest you had any remaining illusions. This is one food that every health nut agrees should be minimized in a healthy diet. Vegans and paleo peeps and Food Pyramid adherents are all joyously united in saying ‘fie!’ to sugar. Sugar spikes insulin, cortisol, and adrenaline. It impairs the immune system.  It can screw up your bodies’ signals that you should stop eating. Chronic over-consumption causes insulin and leptin resistance. It’s addictive. Is that enough reasons? Cut back on sugar. Way back. More unprocessed sugars, such as honey, molasses, and maple syrup, are somewhat healthier than table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, but it’s still sugar and should still be used very lightly.

Legumes

Yep, legumes have those nasty lectins and phytates, too. And like non-gluten grains, soaking and sprouting can certainly help. They are so often cited as a high-protein food, but the truth is that it doesn’t supply all the amino acids you need, and the protein comes with quite a wallop of carbohydrate.

My general opinion of legumes is that they aren’t a huge nutritional boogey-man, but nor are the optimal. I don’t love beans, so I skip them entirely at home, but won’t turn them down if someone is serving me dinner that includes beans.

Soy

Yep, I know soy is a legume, but it deserves its own discussion. Soy contains phytoestrogens (ie, plant estrogen), which can act just like the estrogen your body produces. It can make PMS worse for women and lower sperm count in men and has been linked to all kinds of scary stuff. Additionally, most non-organic soy in this country is genetically modified at this point (and there has been no research on GMO’s that hasn’t been approved by the manufacturer). Unfermented soy (tofu and soy milk, for example) is highly processed. Fermented soy (tamari, tempeh) and less processed soy products are definitely a better bet.

Dairy

I love dairy, but the reports are mixed. Some folks say it’s straight-up bad for you. Others give it a yellow light. Allergies, intolerances, and autoimmune reactions are fairly common with dairy. And you certainly do not need dairy to be healthy. Even that Sacred Cow, calcium (ahem), can be gotten elsewhere.

However, dairy is one of those areas (like meat) in which food quality is paramount. Raw dairy from 100% grass-fed cows is very different nutritionally than its grocery store counterparts. Additionally, fermented and high-fat dairy tends to give people fewer problems than just milk (especially low-fat milk).

I have found no reaction to dairy myself, so I generally eat fatty and fermented dairy in small quantities. Except butter. I eat that in large quantities. Nom. Generally, if folks have any sort of health problems, I think it’s wise to remove dairy from their diet for a few weeks and re-introduce.

Now that you hate me for slandering so many foods that most people love…

In the next post, I’ll discuss what I do eat, recipes, my recommendations and how not to go broke eating like this. In general, I will stop being such a Negative Nancy and tell you why I love eating like this.

In parting, I’d like share Whole9′s excellent elevator pitch:

I eat real food – fresh, natural food like meat, vegetables and fruit. I choose foods that are nutrient-dense, with lots of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, over foods that have more calories but less nutrition. And food quality is important – I’m careful about where my meat, seafood and eggs come from, and buy organic local produce as often as possible.

This is not a “diet” – I eat as much as I need to maintain strength, energy, activity levels and a healthy body weight. I aim for well-balanced nutrition, so I eat both animals and a significant amount of plants. I’m not lacking carbohydrates – I just get them from vegetables and fruits instead of bread, cereal or pasta. And my meals are probably higher in fat than you’d imagine, but fat is a healthy source of energy when it comes from high-quality foods like avocado, coconut and grass-fed beef.

Eating like this is ideal for maintaining a healthy metabolism and reducing inflammation within the body. It’s good for body composition, energy levels, sleep quality, mental attitude and quality of life. It helps eliminate sugar cravings and reestablishes a healthy relationship with food. It also works to minimize your risk for a whole host of lifestyle diseases and conditions, like diabetes, heart attack, stroke and autoimmune.

And in case you’d like to make fun of me right now, here’s a little something to get you started

 


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