What is the optimal diet for human beings?
It seems as though there are as many different ways of defining Paleo and the paleo diet as there are people claiming to practice it.
World-renowned nutritionist, Nora Gedgaudas explains the basic idea behind it as:
“If we want to understand how to most optimally feed a human being, the most essential starting place is looking at the selective pressures that shaped our physiological makeup and our nutritional requirements in the first place.”
What did our ancestors do? What kind of foods would they consistently have had access to? Looking at the past, we have access to a number of clues into what may be optimal for humans in the present.
The information we have from history needs to be evaluated. Just because our ancient ancestors did something doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for us. Human beings have lived in all kinds of places all over the world eating all kinds of different things. Just because they were able to eat something without dying is not a persuasive argument to say it was optimal.
The link between diet and longevity: the number of calories or the type of calories?
Nora refers to the science of human longevity to answer the question: How do we know what is optimal for us to eat? Longevity research shows generalised calorie restriction significantly enhances health and lifespan.
Taking it a step further, recent research reveals insulin is a major player in longevity. It is not calories in general, it’s the kind of calories we eat. Anything initiating an insulin response is going to compromise us in some way. The less insulin we require over the course of our lifetimes, the longer we are going to live and the healthier we are going to be.
Unlike the other macronutrients, protein and fat, there is no minimum requirement for carbohydrates. Glucose is known to be inherently damaging to the body in multiple ways. It begs the question – why is sugar a part of human diets?
Another recent discovery linked to longevity is a metabolic pathway called mammalian target of rapamycin (MTOR), the body’s protein sensor. It works hand-in-hand with reproductive mechanisms, scanning the body to assess whether or not there are sufficient nutrients to create new life. When you eat protein in excess, it is a signal for enhancing our reproductive capacity.
This is a good thing if you are planning to conceive, are pregnant, lactating, have a baby or are a teenager. If you are not in any of these life stages, an excessive intake of protein creates an impetus for cellular proliferation for making new cells. Combined with the mutagenic influences of the toxic environment we live in, asking your body to produce lots of new cells creates a potential impetus for cancer.
Keeping your intake of protein below the threshold by eating no more than 21 grams of protein in a meal, you are signalling to your body that it is too expensive to produce a lot of new cells and activates maintenance and repair mechanisms. Instead of making new cells, existing cells are made healthier.
Beyond the paleo diet: Nora Gedgaudes’ Primalgenic plan
The terms “Paleo” and “ketogenic” have become heavily commercialised. Nora prefers to use “primalgenic” to describe her approach to diet and nutrition. It is a very low carbohydrate and moderate in protein.
The primalgemic diet involves:
- Meeting your protein needs from animal source foods, therefore ensuring complete proteins (contains all 9 amino acids needed by the body)
- Eating as many fibrous vegetables and greens as you want
- The majority of your calories come from a variety of healthy fat sources
All food must come from sources of uncompromising quality. Organic, biodynamically grown, free-range and 100% grass-fed and finished meat. Anything else, Nora believes, compromises health.
How diet influences autoimmune disease
There are more than one hundred known autoimmune diseases and another forty to fifty disease processes thought to have an autoimmune component. Dietary antigens and environmental toxins are known to be an impetus for initiating and exacerbating the progress of these diseases.
The two most common dietary antigens to consider are:
If you have gluten immune reactivity there is a 50% chance that your body will also react to dairy. Some sensitive immune systems cannot tell the difference between the two. This means eating a piece of cheese might be the equivalent of eating a slice of bread. Your diet may be completely free of gluten but your coeliac disease is progressing with the consumption of dairy products.
This raises the topic of cross-reactivity. It is not just gluten and dairy causing cross-reactions. Other foods can potentially be cross-reactive with gluten. These include:
- Gluten-free oats
Gluten is the gateway to food sensitivity. There are at least nine proteomes of gluten with the potential to cause a profound inflammatory response, unfortunately, the majority of labs only test for one – alpha gliadin. This is the one associated with coeliac disease and accounts for only 12% of gluten immune reactivity.
You don’t have to have an immune reaction to gluten for it to compromise your gut. Every time you eat even the smallest amount of gluten it triggers the release of an enzyme called zonulin. This enzyme controls gut permeability and the blood-brain barrier permeability.
High levels of zonulin cause the gut to become more permeable. In a healthy, impermeable gut what is able to pass through the gut wall and then into the bloodstream is heavily restricted. When gut permeability increases, indigested peptides are able to pass through the gut wall. Once in the bloodstream, these particles are able to cross through the blood-brain barrier resulting in an inflammatory response in the brain.
This inflammatory response is the potential triggering mechanism for autoimmune processes.
Healthy fats are essential for good health
Dietary fats and fat-soluble nutrients are central to good human health. They are central to what made us human in the first place. The distinguishing characteristic making us human is the human brain.
Human brain size has tripled since the time we were dragging our knuckles on the African savannah until about twenty thousand years ago. At some point in history, humans developed a taste for meat and fat. As we continued to eat fat, the more our brains developed.
Human brains are constructed from the fats we eat. The two most important fatty acids for human cognition are arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid found exclusively in animal-source foods.
We have been led to believe we require glucose and carbohydrates to fuel our brains. This is only true if a person has cultivated dependence on glucose as a primary source of fuel. Carbohydrates are a metabolic kindling; we were never meant to rely on them as a full-time source of fuel. They are an inefficient way to support the body’s metabolism. Fat provides a more consistent supply of energy for the brain and all parts of the body.
A paleo diet approach supports the human body to thrive
The Paleo diet has been heavily commercialised. That is why Nora Gedgaudas has looked beyond Paleo to create an approach to a diet that supports the human body with the food it needs to thrive. Eating foods to promote health and prevent disease is the first step towards good health and well-being (along with avoiding poor ultra processed foods).
Removing food antigens such as gluten and dairy from your diet reduces your risk of developing autoimmune disease processes. It prevents an increased gut permeability so undigested particles are not able to enter the bloodstream and cross over the blood-brain barrier to cause an inflammatory response in the brain. When the brain is functioning optimally, the rest of the body functions better too.
Contributor: Nora Gedgaudas
Nora Gedgaudas is a world-renowned nutritionist, neurofeedback practitioner, educator and author. She runs a clinical practice in Portland, Oregon in the USA. She has an in-depth knowledge of nutrition and the intimate connection we have with our food and how it affects our minds and body.
Nora’s informative book, “Primal Body, Primal Mind”, gives insight into Nora’s approach to health and nutrition that goes beyond the Paleo Diet. It’s backed by some solid science lessons from the past, some thorough testing and clinical observations, and some common sense.
Original Article Source: Nora Gedaudas – Beyond Paleo