Monthly Archives: January 2012

An overview of ancestral health communities

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

When you read about ancestral health you come across a variety of terms that describe different sections of our community. Some of the more common are Paleo, Primal and Low-Carb. You may also have encountered the term LCHF. I often get asked what these labels cover, and what the differences are between them. It’s not entirely clear cut, but here is how I define them.

The Paleo Diet is based on the hypothesis that humans are genetically adapted to eat like our pre-historic ancestors. Paleo followers believe modern western diseases and obesity are due to changes in our diet that arrived with agriculture and industrialisation.

The Paleo Diet consists of meat, fish, poultry and vegetables. It suggests avoiding grains, legumes, most tubers, dairy, sugar and processed foods. Paleo dieters also prefers grass fed beef, wild game, organic poultry and wild fish over intensively farmed equivalents.

If you follow a Paleo diet, your carbohydrate intake will tend to be lower than on a typical western diet. But Paleo is less specific about the amount of carbohydrate you should eat than Primal, Low-Carb and LCHF. There are also researchers in the movement who argue for “safe starches”. One example is Staffan Lindenburgh who points to the Kitavans of Papa New Guinea as an example of aboriginal people who subsist on a high starch diet without incurring the degenerative diseases that are so common in the west.

In summary, Paleo is mostly about eating unprocessed and nutritionally dense foods to emulate the diet of our hunter gatherer ancestors.

The Primal diet is also inspired by our pre-historic ancestors. The selection of foods allowed on the Primal diet is much the same as Paleo. However, Primal allows high-fat dairy such as butter, cream, full-fat yoghurt and cheese. Some also argue a small amount of white rice is OK on a Primal diet.

Primal seems to me to be more prescriptive about your carbohydrate intake than Paleo. Primal diet books tend to give specific direction about the amount of carbohydrate you should consume to create optimal conditions for fat loss.

The most prolific advocate of Primal is Mark Sisson who runs a website called Mark’s Daily Apple.

The Low-Carb label is very broad. It covers over a number of diets that prescribe carbohydrate restriction for weight loss. Many followers started their Low-Carb journeys with the Atkins Diet, but there are many other Low-Carb diets such as the South Beach Diet and the Dukan diet.

Although it doesn’t apply to all Low-Carbers, in general this community is more relaxed about processed foods and Omega-6 rich oils than the Paleo and Primal communities. Low-Carbers tend to focus more specifically on the macronutrient balance in their diet. Some emphasise high protein, others emphasise high fat. What they have in common is the restriction of carbohydrate to trigger ketosis, which is when your body burns fat for fuel.

I think most people consider Atkins the founding father of Low-Carb weight loss. The research has since been moved forward by scientists such as Dr. Stephen Phinner and Dr. Jeff S. Volek.

You could argue that LCHF is the Scandinavian sub-section of the Low-Carb community. The LCHF label stands for Low-Carb-High-Fat. The term originated in Sweden where low-carb approaches to health appear to be moving into the mainstream.

I have seen LCHF defined as Paleo with high-fat dairy. By this definition you could argue it is similar to Primal. However, LCHF appears to be a little more relaxed about whether their food is organic and unprocessed, so to my mind their approach is closer to Low-Carb. But, as with all these definitions, we are splitting hairs.

High-profile LCHF people include Dr. Annika Dahlqvist and Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt in Sweden as well as Dr. Sofie Hexberg in Norway.

I like the term Ancestral Health because it is broad and inclusive. To me it covers all the four communities I describe here, along with some others (GAPS dieters and Western A. Price followers are notable examples). Inevitably when you try to define these movements, you emphasise the differences, which, to a degree, masks the obvious commonalities. At the same time, there are plenty of people in the Ancestral Health movements who don’t fit neatly into any one of these buckets.

I have learned a great deal from leaders and enthusiasts across the Paleo, Primal, Low-Carb, LCHF, GAPS and Western A. Price communities. We don’t all agree on everything, off course, but we do share some key characteristics. We are all sceptical about the low-fat grain-based diet dogma that dominates the mainstream. What drives us is the belief there is a better and more natural way of achieving wellness and vitality.

Further materials:

Diana Hsieh has published the best summary of the Paleo protocol I have seen online on her blog. It includes links to articles and materials that explains the rationale for each element of the diet. Click here.

Thought leaders in the Paleo movement include Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf and Art deVany. Here are som YouTube videos:

Mark Sisson more than anyone is responsible for popularising Primal living. Here is a YouTube lecture with him:

For visuals summarising of the Primal life-style click here.

I have posted this video with Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt recently, but it is so good it is worth sharing again:

Primal Beginners’ Q&A: What snacks are allowed?

Question:

Hi Peter – Hope you’re in fine fettle? Thought I’d give you an update a week and a day in…the big headline is that I’ve lost nearly 4 kg (8 lb)!! I honestly cannot believe it, I’ve been eating quite a lot, but been very strict as to WHAT I’ve been eating. Nicki is gobsmacked!

I’ve arranged the visit to the Dr’s this Friday as well, and I’m feeling great – finding time for good breakfasts, and also finding time to cook too. I wish we’d have had that chat earlier….

Anyway – my week two questions move me onto desserts and snack-type things for when I’m a little peckish and whilst I’m reducing the need to feed my sweet-tooth

Also, Nicki mentioned about calcium, although I suspect that you’ll say that it’s present in many of the primal foods anyway….Last one, I like biltong and jerky, is that a suitable item to eat from your perspective? I read that as long as it’s low sugar content biltong then it’s a good nibble to include on one’s diet…

Richard

Answer:

Congratulations, Richard, and well done on sticking to the foods a Primal diet allows!

When it comes to snacks the Primal rules still apply. Stay away from grains, starches and sugar. You are right, jerky and biltong are good options. Make sure they don’t contain sugar or are chemically processed, though.

Other snacks I used to enjoy include nuts, full fat greek yoghurt and grilled bacon rashers left over from breakfast. I don’t snack much anymore, though. You will find over time your need to snack will wane. As your body gets better adapted to burning ketones (fat) the period between meals and hunger will gradually get longer. I also find the hunger I now experience is completely different. It is a less urgent and less stressful sensation. This makes it easier to defer eating when I find myself in a situation where there are no good food choices available.

With regards to sweet things, the best thing you can do is stay away from them, endure the cravings and wait for them to pass. The cravings are part of the adaptation process. Some of it is physiological and some of it is psychological. Eventually you will have fewer cravings and all foods will start to taste much sweeter.

If the cravings become too much, go for a small bar of organic dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa solids. The cocoa is packed full of actioxidants and a small 35g bar of Green & Blacks dark chocolate contains 12g of carbohydrate (mostly sugar, I imagine) which is not too bad for an occasional treat.

At times, you may find yourself giving in to temptation when you are offered sweet treats or other non-primal foods at social occasions. Don’t beat yourself up about that. My philosophy is the same as Mark Sisson’s which is to aspire to 100% compliance, but to be satisfied when I achieve 80% compliance. Now I probably comply 95% of the time, but achieving that was much tougher in the beginning.

The calcium question is a good one. The short answer is that a high-carb diet causes your body to leach calcium. Consequently, on a typical western diet, you need to ensure you get plenty of calcium in your diet. If you restrict your carbohydrate intake, the calcium you get from vegetables is plenty. I don’t remember the details of how the biochemistry works for this, but I will research it and post an explanation on this blog.

We also know that our hunter gatherer ancestors had denser bones than modern man, and osteoporosis is virtually non-existent amongst contemporary hunter gatherers. This is despite a complete absence of diary in their diet. If you think about it, we are the only mammal that habitually consume the milk of other species. My personal intuition is that diary is not essential for humans.

Nevertheless, I do eat yoghurt and a small amount of cheese, but that’s because I enjoy it, and I don’t think it does any harm. As I mentioned in my last post, Paleo purists take a different view, and I respect people’s personal choices with regards to diary. As long as you tolerate lactose and casein (the most common causes of diary alergies), go ahead and enjoy it. I do avoid milk  because lactose is a form of carbohydrate, and milk sits high on the glycemic index. It is likely to trigger a spike in insulin secretion, which is something I try to avoid in the interest of keeping my body conditioned to fat burn.

I am sure I don’t have to tell you this, but be aware that the spectacular progress you have made in week 1 is not going to continue forever. Your rate of weight loss will slow and you will also hit a few plateaus along the way. When that happens, focus on how eating primal makes you feel rather than what it does for your weight. Here is a post on how Primal eating makes me feel: link

Keep the questions coming and good luck!

Peter

Primal Beginner’s Q&A: What to eat for breakfast

Question:

Hi Peter, I spent last evening scouring your blog and planning to start things off, and, duly inspired,started this morning by cutting out milk from drinks, and have had none of the other non paleo items, which has been great much to my surprise considering how much I usually eat in the dairy/pasta/bread/grain family. I did, however, find myself scratching my head somewhat at breakfast time, wondering what the breadth of choice is in this area…..so, my question is – what sorts of things do you have for breakfast? I went for a couple of eggs in the end, but shouldn’t think it’s wise to plump for that each day. I did look up a couple of websites, and whilst they had sample eating plans, they were rather more exotic that my lifestyle affords me to be….I thought of mushrooms, obviously cold meats (which is a continental thing isn’t it?). I don’t fancy veg for breakfast really….so, I wondered what sorts of breakfasts you usually have???

Look forward to your thoughts….

Richard

Answer:

Firstly, congratulations on getting started, Richard.

Most mornings I have 2-3 rashers of bacon along with 4 eggs either scrambled in butter or fried sunny side up in coconut oil. Some mornings I supplement this with a bowl of full fat greek yoghurt. Other mornings, I will have a salad of whatever vegetables we have in the fridge. I dress my salad in olive oil, lemon juice and I season it with a little salt. I particularly like salads that include some avocado. I also sometimes have spinach or mushrooms.

I consider eggs one of the best wholefoods around, and I eat in the region of 25-30 a week. I used to eat more when I was really focused on weight loss.

Some people are concerned about the high cholesterol in egg yolks, but studies have shown dietary cholesterol does not increase your blood cholesterol materially. Here is one such study: link

If your doctor insists eggs raise your risk of heart disease, then I would say it’s time to look for another doctor. It’s a good indication that he or she does not bother to follow developments in medical research, and personally I would not want to discuss my health with a doctor who is intellectually lazy. But each to his own, off course. You can also refer your doctor to this blog post if the topic of cholesterol comes up: link

If you can afford it, I would go for the best quality produce. This means organic free range eggs and nitrate free bacon. But, on balance, it is more important to eliminate the grains and sugar from your diet than worry about every breakfast ingredient being organic.

Paleo/Primal dieters, who are more purist than I, consider bacon a processed food and will either not eat it at all, or try not to eat it every day. To get around this I hear a lot of primal dieters say they make extra dinner in the evening, and have the leftovers for breakfast the following morning. I sometimes do this also. I personally think it is ok to eat bacon regularly, though, and I never seem to tire of it. It feels like a treat every time I have it!

For anyone who is about to start a paleo inspired diet, I strongly recommend taking a blood test early on, and to repeat it after 4-6 weeks. After this inital period, I would test every 3-6 months. You are about to make some dramatic changes to your diet, and blood tests will help spot if your physiology responds adversely in any way. I predict your health markers will improve along with your body composition, but every person is different. In the beginning there is also the possibility that you get one or two things wrong and don’t make the progress you expected. A blood test will give you clues about what to change to get back on track.

You should also bear in mind that I am not medically qualified. I am just some guy who had some success loosing weight. You should not take my advice (nor anybody else’s for that matter) without testing independently that your body is responding well to your new diet.

I am about to have a new blood test, Here are the health markers I plan to request. The last four on this list are not generally included in a standard blood test and some may be unfamiliar to some doctors:

  • HDL cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerites (low is best)
  • Fasting serum insulin
  • Blood glucose
  • High sensitivity C-reactive protein
  • HbA1c
  • Omega-6/Omega-3 blood assay
  • Vitamin D3

It is also worth exploring the materials I provide links to in my blog posts. Aside from changing your diet, the best thing you can do for your health is to be curious about how your body works and what is good for it. I would also invest a little money and little time reading a book by one of the leading lights in the ancestral health movement. Here is a list of my current Top 3 books on ancestral health: link

If you want more inspiration for Paleo/Primal breakfast dishes, here is a cookbook we use a lot in my family:

“Primal Blueprint Quick and Easy Meals” by Mark Sisson

Hope that helps. Good luck and keep the questions coming!

Peter

How to unravel science

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself,
and you are the easiest person to fool.”

Richard Feynman.

Headlines in newspaper, articles in magazines and programs on television offer new health guidelines every week and they often contradict each other.

You know the kinds of stories I am talking about. First garlic protects against heart disease, then suddenly it doesn’t. You read coffee is supposed to be full of antioxidants, then you see another story that says it causes cancer. It is all very confusing. It makes you wonder what information to trust and what to dismiss.

Tom Naughton did a lecture on this at the Low Carb Cruise:

Ben Goldacre also did a presentation on this topic at TED:

In summary:

  • If you really want to know whether you can trust the research you read about, you need to know how the research was conducted.
  • Don’t be intimidated by science. A bit of critical thinking is all you need to determine if the information you are given is worth paying attention to. Tom Naughton’s lecture offers tips on this.
  • Know the difference between an observational study and a clinical study. Observational studies try to find correlations between events and outcomes. They are useful for developing hypotheses, but are not conclusive proof of anything.
  • Be aware that most health coverage in popular media is based on findings from observational studies.

More than ever, it’s critical to think critically. Bad information travels fast on the internet. Guard yourself by learning how to sniff out the good stuff from the bad.

Further Reading:

Science 101 Tutorial by Tim Huntley at My Athletic Life

Book: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

Article: Lies, Damned Lies and Medical Science by David H. Freeman, The Atlantic

Article: Why almost everything you hear about medicine is wrong by Sharon Begley, The Daily Beast

Primal Boot Camp

“Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”
Lance Armstrong

It’s Monday and I am walking like an old man. My gait is stiff, uncertain and slow. Colleagues in the office offer comments of sympathy and concern. They wonder why I am nearly always limping on a Monday. Sometime on Tuesdays too. They don’t know I spend Saturdays crawling around on all fours in an attempt to get fit.

Primal Boot Camp is unlike any other fitness class I have taken. Crab walking across a wobbly bridge in a playground is not exactly what I expected when I signed up. But it is great fun. Our trainer, Darryl Edwards, is very inventive. He runs a class that is physically challenging, and far from boring.

I have attended the class once a week for two months now, and I have seen progress in all areas of my fitness. Strength, stamina, agility, flexibility and balance are all improved. So I have decided I want more of it. I will be starting personal sessions with Darryl soon. My wife and I have also decided to have regular family session with him. We tried one before Christmas and our 7-year old son loved it!

If you happen to live in or around West London and you are interested in giving Primal Boot Camp a go, check out Darryl’s website and blog. The class is very affordable and open to people of all ages and abilities.

The Guardian newspaper recently pronounced this kind of class the latest trend in fitness. Hopefully, this is a sign that primal living is becoming more mainstream. I for one prefer this kind of outdoor exercise to stuffy indoor gym sessions.  Even on cold rainy winter days.

Must-read article: High cholesterol and heart disease – myth or truth?

Many people believe dietary fat increases cholesterol and that this leads to heart disease. In the medical establishment this is known as the Lipid Hypothesis. A growing number of research scientists now believe this hypothesis is oversimplified and mostly wrong. Despite this, most doctors still advocate a low-fat diet rich in wholegrain along with a preference for vegetable oils over animal fats.

Chris Masterjohn has made a name for himself on the blogosphere by addressing common misconceptions about cholesterol.  In this article he analyses the available literature on the topic, and gives his view on what the real truth is.

“High cholesterol and heart disease – myth or truth”

Ask your doctor to read this if he or she has concerns about the fat content of a Primal diet.

Here is also a brief video primer:

I will never stop “dieting” – It feels too good!

“Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

Muhammed Ali

General wisdom says dieting is something you do temporarily with a specific goal in mind. Most people think weight loss involves lots of sacrifice, and no one in their right mind would deny themselves the good things in life indefinitely. The goal is to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Otherwise, why would it be worth dieting?

This is how I used to think about weight loss. In fact, last year my New Year’s resolution was to be back to normal weight by end of 2011. I fully intended to then stop dieting. But things have changed. I no longer view the food I eat as a weight loss regime and I don’t want things to go back to the old “normal”.

I admit my daily diet is restrictive in some key areas. But I enjoy the food I eat and I love what it’s doing to me. I can’t remember feeling this good since I was a teenager.

Aside from weight loss, lot’s of other things have changed in my life since switching to a primal life-style. Overall, I have gone from a person who was chronically fatigued to someone who is full of energy.

  • I used to hate physical activity, but I now find myself exercising with great enthusiasm. I can’t bear to be sedentary. I have to move, otherwise I get jittery.
  • My mental stamina is better than I thought possible at my age. I no longer have the volatile ups and downs I used to have. My energy level stays high throughout the day.
  • I wake up refreshed in the morning, and I rarely need an alarm clock to get me out of bed. I sleep better because I no longer snore, and I no longer get up 3-4 times a night to go to the bathroom.
  • Somehow, I am less stressed and less anxious than previously. I don’t quite know how to describe or explain this. But somehow I have acquired a quiet confidence and it’s making a real difference to my daily life.

The way I look at it now, my new waistline is the least of my achievements. It’s no exaggeration to say I have gained a whole new life. That’s why I will never stop “dieting”. It just makes me feel too good!

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