Sunday, January 23, 2011

Turning Primal

Part of this article is extracted from a comment I made to a fellow blogger, SkeptiGirl.  We have been enjoying some small conversation about dietary committments.  And since I have dedicated some of my blogging time to fitness and nutrition, I thought it worthwhile to reproduce part of my contribution to SkeptiGirl's blog here at Saint Cynic.

As some of you might know, I have disowned the standard Western diet, which consists of a good deal of grains, and a long list of corn-derived ingredients infiltrating and polluting almost anything available at the local grocery store.  The Canada Food Guide recently decreased its suggested grains intake to 8 servings a day for 19-30 year olds (in the new food guide, servings are based on age).  But what some of you might not know is that some research suggests grains are, in fact, not good for you at all. At any age.

So discovering that a large part of my diet relied specifically on grains and grain-fed animals, I resolved to alter my eating habits: I turned primal.

What does it mean to "turn primal"?  The answer to this question is part of the contents of my latest exchange with SkeptiGirl, in fact.  Here is what I wrote:.
The Paleo diet does have an underlying philosophy, absolutely. That's, of course, part of its overall value. But in essense, eating paleo is an attempt at maximizing gene expressions by eating more like our primal ancestors. You see, the agricultural revolution is a very recent advent in human history; too recent, as some scientific opinion goes, for the human body to become an effective grain machine. Thus our bodies, in their present evolutionary situation, are not adapted to properly digesting grains and the anti-nutrients they contain.
By going primal/paleo, the focus is to eat in such a manner as best befits the present state of our genetic make-up. Such a dietary shift requires eliminating grains. And for some, it also means giving up dairy.
Another issue is that because people literally are what they eat (on a physiological level), intake of dairy that has been sourced from grain-fed animals means that the dairy being received is made-up of deficient nutrients. As such, that dairy is incompatible with a lot of people's natural bodily expression and results in a good many deliterious results: e.g., insulin disregulation. So, for some people, like myself, I have eliminated dairy and replaced the fats I would usually receive from it with coconut oil. Mid-chain fatty acids do wonders for me, as they do most people.
Now obviously "turning primal" isn't simply about altering eating habits, though that is a large part of it.  It's also not a cultism demanding you chase down your meals and otherwise grow them for the harvest.  Eating and living primal does require though, that an effort is made to alter your current perspectives on nutrition and commercial wisdom.*  Hence the reason for stating in my letter to SkeptiGirl (above) that there is an underlying philosophy to the primal diet: that switching to a primal diet requires a paradigmatic shift in the way we view our evolutionary development, our interactions with nature, and how food effects our genetic make-up and stability.

The other part of "turning primal" deals with movement.  That's right: movement.  With respect to how we use our bodies to accomplish workaday tasks, there is a prescription within primal living that flies in the face of--again--commercial wisdom.  Essentially, we are taught that in order to keep our bodies strong, we have to pile on vast amounts of hours doing cardiovascular activities (e.g., jogging, running, aerobics).  It's not for wrongheaded reasons that a top-level runner like
Mark Sisson can re-label the fanaticism surrounding cardiovascular training "chronic cardio," and disparage it as a bad thing.  The upshot (one among many) of "turning primal" is that a person can maintain a strong body with moderate committments to cardiovascular exercise, and a respectable, regular dose of heavy lifting.

The difference, it seems, is that by accepting and trusting our bodies to do their ominivorous tasks, we maximize our physical and mental potentials.  But that difference can really only be made by plucking up the courage to question typical received information about diet and fitness.  If it is true that our present evolutionary make-up is not so far removed from our primal ancestors that a reasonable imitation of their basic living habits will dramatically improve our health, then it behooves us to become a little more primal.  Doesn't it?
* By "commerical wisdom," I mean the medical platitudes that are pumped into us via mainstream media outlets; e.g., the blanket notion that cholesterol is bad, or that saturated fats are the bane of a healthy diet.  Such clichés do not stand up under closer scrutiny, and there is a bevy of information to sharpen anyone's perspectives if they take the time to read, say, Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.


Anonymous said...

Just a glance before my head hits the pillow. I promise to read soon and make some more intelligible comments.
But I did want to share this one thought on "turning primal."
I bet it would resolve food allergies and intolerances.
I am facing that now, so I look forward to investigating this.

Matt, Kara, Hunter and Cavan said...

Taking out many of the grains has been very beneficial for me! I turned to a low carb diet this fall and through that discovered that I have some serious intolerance to wheat and a few other grains. Once those are out of my diet, I feel so much better!
Good luck with turning primal!

Erin Neufeld said...

Hi Kane,

Just in the off chance you haven't yet read them, might I suggest Micheal Pollans' books "The Omnivores Dilemma" and more specific to this "In Defense of Food". The latter of which discusses the 'western diet' and how it is in fact led to a decrease in the very healthfulness it purported to support. I am quite enjoying it at the moment.


Alison Golden said...

I have worked for several years now investigating the effects of our diet on my family. We ate pretty healthily but discovered when my canary-in-the-coalmine 6 yo let us know that so many foods were troubling for him. Four years, homeschool and some terrible times later, we are nearly completely primal, organic and allergy free.