There is a movement in our society that attracts a fair number of people.
It is the ultimate eat for your genes diet and while purists will argue the terminology “raw food diet” or Paleolithic diet seem to be the most common terms for it.
The premise of the eat for your genes diet goes like this:
1) Almost all of our genes for handling nutrition are stuck in an evolutionary pattern that ended somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. To be sure evolution continues as there have been changes in other genes of ours but the “food genes” haven’t changed.
2) If the food genes haven’t change then the best diet for us must be one that closely mimics that of our ancestors from that time period. The closest diet existent on the earth to that diet would be that of the hunter gatherer tribes of East Africa.
3) As humanity moved out of Africa, food sources changed, dietary habits changed and a number of complex diseases we now know to be nutritional in large part arose. These included cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and so on. Most if not all of these illnesses have, at the root of their causes, inflammation.
4) In addition there is some reasoning that the current diet we eat “acidifies” our systems in an unhealthful way, also contributing to the pathology and inflammatory response in our bodies.
The main differences in dietary composition between our ancient ancestors and “us” needs to be addressed while following an eat for your genes diet:
a) Our ancestors ate much more and consumed about the same amount of calories. The nutritional density of minerals and vitamins was higher but the actual caloric content was lower. Think of an organic apple versus a Twinkie!
b) They ate less carbs, no refined carbs, no significant grains or milk products, had no added sugar where as we add sugar to everything, eat mutated modified grains and milk.
c) Their glycemic load was far less and they ate 2x the amount of vegetables (not 2x the amount of fruit) as we do. Their overall plant to animal consumption ratio was probably 50/50.
d) They had greater systemic antioxidant capacity, drank more free water, ate more soluble fiber, more protein, more fat though most of it came from fish and shell fish as well as free range animal fat (let’s face it, the African plains are the ultimate free range!) ate more cholesterol, much more potassium, much less sodium.
e) Their net bodily acid production was much lower and they actually were more “alkaline” in terms of what they produced although their body ph and blood chemistries were the same, because of the acid load we make, we have to work harder to maintain them. Please remember it’s food that acidifies or alkalinizes your body and you will not ever see this as a change in your body’s ph. You may see it in the urine but the best way to measure it is a fairly complex thing called Net Endogenous Acid Production. This is a urinary test and can be roughly approximated by measuring urine Ph.
f) A huge difference and one that most likely represents the difference in the inflammatory states of our ancestors versus us with a chronic inflammatory tendency is the Omega 6 (inflammatory) to Omega 3 ratio. It is approximated to have been anywhere from 1:1 to 4:1 in our Paleolithic ancestors. This is one of the main reasons I advocate large doses of fish oil supplementation; to rebalance that ratio.
There are of course some holes in the Paleolithic argument as people wax nostalgic about the secrets of our elders and ancestors, etc., etc. No one really knows how long such a diet will help you live because the people that practice something close to it now live in an area where short life spans and hardships are the norm for many reasons other than their diet. So it was with our ancestors. If a big enough population of Westerners begin to adopt those practices we may in time see a significant difference in their health versus the general population, but that is not a scientific observation.
In the meantime my own practices have begun to tend towards a raw food diet for reasons that are closer to the hearts and minds of most of us, and much closer to how our genetics evolved.
It is a great diet to eat to stay lean!