By Dr. David Minkoff
“You are what you eat” is an old adage but it has never been truer than today, especially here in the US. The news constantly feeds us stories about soaring obesity rates, rising heart disease statistics and the alarming incidence of Type 2 diabetes. Inevitably, these stories highlight the relationship between chronic illness and the ever-worsening western diet – too much sugar, too many processed foods and a ferocious dependence on junk food. So, it’s the people who eat a poor diet who get sick, right?
Not necessarily. There is another side to the coin. There are also plenty of people who follow a “healthy” diet which is typically rich in fruits and vegetables, plentiful in dairy and whole grains and includes fish, poultry, beans and nuts. This diet is considered by many to the best way to keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay. It is usually referred to as a “balanced” diet. There’s nothing wrong with that – or is there?
When I first saw Loren Cordain (author of The Paleo Diet) lecture on Paleo, it was a relatively unknown topic. At the time, I ate what I considered to be the best diet for me – vegetarian with lots of brown rice, high in dairy (mostly yoghurt) and lots of organic vegetables. I am a fairly serious athlete, so I have never really had a weight problem but my body fat percentage was 17%, which was higher than I wanted it to be.
What fascinated me about Cordain’s interpretation of Paleolithic Man’s eating habits was the simple explanation that this is the way we were designed to eat. The food that Paleo man consumed was exactly what his body needed to function properly – lean meat, some fish, non-starchy fruits and vegetables, nuts and eggs (when they could be found). Paleo man didn’t eat bread, pasta or rice, he certainly didn’t milk any passing animals and he left the discovery of the potato to the Spanish conquest of the Incas in the 16th century.
The Paleo Diet is the only eating plan that ideally fits our genetic make-up. Our genes determine our nutritional needs and every one of us is a descendant of Paleolithic Man. Paleolithic people were fit, lean, healthy and generally free from heart disease. It was only when the agricultural revolution took place 10,000 years ago introducing cereals, dairy, refined sugars and oils, that ill-health set in. Suddenly, man was plagued by infectious disease, a shorter life span and vitamin and mineral deficiencies – all due to cereals and grains replacing lean meats.
After listening to Cordain, I decided to try the Paleo Diet since it certainly seemed to be based on sound principles rather than a faddish interpretation of how we should eat. Well, that was six years ago and I never looked back. After a couple of weeks of eating Paleo (no more dairy or grains, and I reintroduced some lean meat into my diet) I had more energy, my heartburn had gone and my athletic performance improved. Longer term, my body fat percentage dropped from 17% to the 6% it is today.
At LifeWorks Wellness Center, we regularly see patients who aren’t chronically ill but who come to us because they keep getting sick, they’re tired all the time and they have 20-30lbs of excess weight that they just can’t seem to shift. Although the reasons for this state of health are not exclusively diet-driven, there are often some fundamental mistakes in eating habits which contribute to a general malaise.
My own success and feeling of well-being led me to investigate further and I was surprised to read the research which linked dairy and grains with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, MS, IBS and cancer. These foods clog our engines, make us fat and cause ill health.
In my practice, I recommend the Paleo Diet to virtually every one of my patients, regardless of their health issues. It benefits everyone. For those wanting to lose weight it is very effective, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be a weight-loss plan. Time and time again I hear patients who are on Paleo reporting a real increase in energy, cessation of a variety of conditions from psoriasis to gas to joint pain and I personally notice a real radiance in their skin, too.
The Paleo Diet can literally be a life changer and you can find out more by visiting us at LifeWorks Wellness Center.