Embarking on a new lifestyle or diet can be an overwhelming thing. Without having someone to tell you exactly what to change and what to eat, health and nutrition can quickly become more of a stressor than a solution. I know when I started on this journey to health 5 years ago, I was absolutely lost in the myriad of choices of which way of eating is best.
When I finally checked out Mark Sisson’s blog, Marks Daily Apple, a Primal approach eating and living seemed a very easy and sustainable way to go about my health. I turned out to be right. After making a few simple shifts in what I was eating and how I was thinking about food, I corrected some chronic issues I had since I was a child. Here are some quick tips on how to step into a Primal way of eating.
1. Get Rid Of The Grains
This was for me the biggest change. I was coming from a vegetarian diet that focused on whole plant foods and “healthy whole grains”. What I didn’t realize was that the massive fiber load I was giving my digestive system was shredding my intestinal lining. The only fiber we really need can come from vegetables.
Grains also provide, unless prepared properly, a big dose of what are called anti-nutrients. These include Lectins, Gluten, and Phytate. Phytates in particular inhibit zinc, vitamin A, and iron absorption. This study describes how when diets in developing countries are based on unrefined grains, the population is prone to deficiency in those nutrients. There are steps that you can take such as sprouting and soaking to limit the development of anti-nutrients, but in my opinion it is simply more trouble than its worth.
Along with their anti-nutrient and gut irritating properties, they provide a huge dose of carbs without providing any nutrients that we couldn’t get elsewhere. I would rather have my carbs in a piece of fruit, sweet potato, or big salad, and get some real benefit.
2.Toss The Sugar
Sugar is public enemy #1. Unfortunately, it’s in everything we eat. Across the entire spectrum from deserts to organic boxed foods sugar is lurking everywhere, and it is causing more damage than you think. Along with a host of health consequences, sugar can seriously mess up our relationship with food. When our blood sugar is spiked dramatically, insulin rushes in to channel the extra glucose into either stores of glycogen in the muscle, or if that is all full into our fat cells. After the glucose is rushed out of our system we are left feeling drained and un-satiated, triggering a craving for more sugar to raise blood sugar and energy levels. After you purge sugar from your daily routine, your body will build the metabolic machinery necessary to use fat as fuel, ending the cycle of up and down blood sugar and the resulting fat storage.
In this review, data on how sugars affect our gut-brain connection are compiled, along with some insight into how sugar causes disease.
A diet that was high in fructose was associate with insulin resistance, obesity, metabolic disorder, and increased intestinal permeability.
We know that a diet high in sugar, (the SAD diet), is known to cause insulin resistance. This is a result of blood sugar levels being chronically high so that insulin has to constantly rush in to lower glucose levels. After time, we stop becoming sensitive to insulin and become “resistant” to it. The more our body has to pump insulin into the blood stream the longer Lipolysis, the body’s process of breaking down body fat into free fatty acids for energy, is inhibited. In folks that consume sugar as a large amount of their calories, this can lead to higher body fat levels and the problems that accompany it.
I am particularly interested in the association between excess sugar consumption and cancer. In this study of 435,686 participants, sugar was found to increase the risk of certain cancers. In both genders, total added sugar and fructose were associated with an increase in leukemia, esophageal adenocarcinoma, intestinal cancer, and pleural cancer.
3. Avoid Omega-6 Heavy Vegetable Oils
When I say vegetable oils, I do not mean olive, coconut, or avocado oil. Coconut oil is packed with MCT’s (medium-chain triglycerides). These medium chain fats are easily digested by the liver for efficient energy and also have far-ranging anti inflammatory and beneficial gut-biome effects. Olive oil has a favorable combination of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
These are what we call essential fatty-acids. Essential, because our body cannot make them on its own. A problem arises when we start over consuming food that is to heavy in omega-6 compared to omega-3. Many people oversimplify this concept and think that we should avoid omega-6 fats at all cost, because they are pro inflammatory compounds. Don’t forget that we need inflammation sometimes! When we are recovering from an injury or a workout, healing from the flu, our body is inflaming the area that needs it to recover. We then need to anti inflammatory effects of omega-3 fats to bring down the inflammation and provide homeostasis to the body.
In our modern diet, the ratio of omega-6(n-6) to omega-3 fats(n-3) is not optimal. the n-6 to n-3 ratio in an ancestral diet is around 4:1, and sometimes as low as 1:1. This provides optimal system inflammatory response, immune, and cognitive health. The Standard American Diet (SAD), gives us a n-6 to n-3 ratio of 20-1!
What gives us this unfavorable ratio is the large amount of polyunsaturated fats that we consume on a daily basis. These fats include, soybean, corn, safflower, and sunflower oils. Go to any restaurant, look on any label, and most likely the food you are eating is made with a big whack of vegetable oil. These oils contain large amounts of Linoleic acid, the precursor to n-6, and barely any n-3. Many people on a SAD diet are not balancing out the huge amount of n-6 fats with the anti inflammatory n-3 fats found in fish, grass fed meat and butter, and eggs.
Along with vegetable oils having unnaturally high amount of n-6 fats, the method in which we consume them is often in the form of fried food. This overheating of the oil often turns the n-6 fatty acids into trans fats, which cause systemic inflammation. A review of current information on unbalanced n-6 intake found that chronic inflammation from too little n-3 caused IBS, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and pre- Alzheimer’s dementia. If we consume to many n-6 fats, and not enough n-3’s, we start to see health problems manifest that could be completely avoided or at least mitigated by shifting the focus from PUFA’s to mono unsaturated and saturated fats (olive oil, avocado oil, butter, animal fat, and coconut oil).
If you make only 3 changes to your diet, I couldn’t recommend these highly enough. Avoiding grains, sugar, and PUFA vegetable oils covers almost all of the bases and will start the process of bring the body back to a state of homeostasis.
Make sure to replace these foods with plenty of vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs, and you’ll be well on the path to health.