Entering the Mesolithic?
Let's just take a step back and look at what exactly paleo is ...
In The Paleo Identity Crisis, J Stanton perfectly distills paleo as:
- Eating foods that best support the biochemistry of human animals with a multi-million year history of hunting and foraging, primarily on the African savanna.
That second point is increasingly important to take paleo forwards, yet the first point is the lynchpin.
In keeping with this functional paleo, Chris Kresser talks about a paleo template, rather than a diet and puts the following as the first three steps in his Nine Steps to Perfect Health:
- Avoiding foods, such as grains, grain oils, and refined sweeteners, that actively disrupt the biochemistry of these human animals.
... and finished with, The Biggest Obstacle to Perfect Health is Your Mind.
- Don't eat toxins
- Nourish your body
- Eat real food
There is a lot of talk amongst the paleosphere as to what exactly can and cannot be included in the paleo diet. Much of that talk is about compromise, about mimicry of neolithic foods, about supplementation and a whole heap of n=1, which is about as much to do with paleo as it is to do with trainspotting!
While talk of shunning white potatoes in favour of sweet potatoes is fine, does it necessarily fit with the second statement? We well know that carbohydrate = sugar = fat. We well know that foods with a high glycemic index (GI) cause insulin spikes, which we want to avoid ... but ... what about context?
When you eat a white potato, what do you eat it with? I put in a lot of heavy cream and some butter to make mashed potato. I like a good slice of butter and some cottage cheese over a baked potato. Fried, I like nothing more than to drop some large chips of potato into dripping.
That's the beauty of fat!
In Fat and the Glycemic Index: The Myth of Carbohydrates, J Stanton blows the doors wide open and shows us that cooking, and cooking with fat significantly lowers the glycemic load (GL) of carbohydrates.
Paul & Shou-Ching Jaminet's Perfect Health Diet is one which is very much amongst the front runners of the functional paleo diet - one which is concerned with J's second point: avoiding foods which actively disrupt the biochemistry of humans.
The Jaminets speak about the inclusion of safe starches, a useful source of glucose.
This also strikes an accord with another favourite paleo writer of mine, Kurt Harris MD, father of Archevore who, in his latest revision, has dropped mention of legumes from his manifesto!
Between the Jaminets and Harris, we're now okay to eat starches and beans? Really? What next? Oats? Well, Mark Sissons, father of The Primal Blueprint is already considering just that: Are Oats Healthy?
I'm throwing this out there - paleo is about turning conventional wisdom on its head. Fat does not make you fat ... healthy grains are actually unhealthy ... fruit is not good for you ... meat does not rot in your colon!
Time to turn conventional paleo wisdom on its head?
Once a white potato is cooked, it has a lower glycemic load than sweet potato. When beans and lentils are pressure cooked, they are dramatically reduced in phytic acid and are pretty much a neutered source of energy. Likewise, safe starches may well have all manner of positive effects, not least keeping your glucose levels at a level which modern adapted humans actually require.
You'll need to do the reading for yourself. The Jaminets are not suggesting that a diet high in carbohydrate is a good thing - their book clearly shows this, and their statements online recommend keeping carbohydrate intake below requirement for glucose. Balance is the key. Likewise, Harris is not suggesting we run out and start eating beans instead of meat and vegetables, just that once properly processed beans do not pose the risk they do when raw, if any.
While meat and vegetables common to conventional paleo wisdom exist, is there any reason to look elsewhere?
Well, Peggy Emch at The Primal Parent thinks there might well be a case. In http://theprimalparent.com/2011/07/27/the-carnivores-dilemma/ Peggy talks about how food affects mood, that meat, meat and more meat puts us in a very focussed mode which is not entirely useful in social settings. We need more smile - that comes from glucose, from carbohydrates in stalky vegetables, root vegetables and so on.
Maybe carbohydrate is important after all?
Speaking of society, have you seen Richard Nikoley's manifesto over at Free the Animal?
Richard speaks of physical health, mental health and even societal health. Truly, fresh ground that has only been surveyed and subjected to probing raids by J Stanton, thus far. Well worthy of a concerted read.
It is clear that paleo is moving on - we might well be at the end of the ice age; the epipaleolithic, so to speak, but are we entering the mesolithic?
Agriculture defines the transition between the paleolithic and the neolithic, but the mesolithic was the handover.
Some characteristics of the mesolithic:
During the mesolithic, mankind had not begun agriculture, but had begun the domestication of animals, had begun to store surplus, had begun to develop tools which aided him in the processing of vegetables, had begun to process and eat wild seeds, like rice, and had developed cooking methods such as roasting on hearths and in clay pots.
Man still moved with the seasons between bases, but had not fully settled into neolithic ways. Man started to change his plate from hunted meat and gathered fruits and vegetables to what we might call a more balanced plate of cooked meat and prepared vegetables.
As modern humans, we have learned to change our diet with the seasons - perhaps relying more on root vegetables and safe starches through the cold months in northern climes and then return to spring animals in the warmer months. This is less so with produced food, but paleo people do like to try to eat with the seasons, eat food which is natural to the environment they live in and in turn with their geographical adaptations.
Modern humans have learned to prepare vegetables, process foods which distrupt our biochemistry through fermentation, soaking, boiling and chilling. In time, will we manage to negate the seriously disruptive effects of grain?
As we paleo folk enter the mesolithic, to avoid neolithic pathways for modern disease, is it more a case of 'Eat Like Your Grandparents' (thanks, J) than 'Eat Like a Predator'?