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Okay .... I'm REALLY confused!

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Old 10-29-2010, 10:38 PM   #16
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This IS confusing, no doubt about it!

However, I think the message (from Eliana, Kaplods, and others here) is right on target: instead of letting ourselves become frozen, looking for and figuring out the "best" way to eat, I thinkwe have to just jump into the water and figure things out as we go.

Inertia is a dangerous thing. It kept me - literally and figuratively - at rest for a long time, paying lip service to the idea that I would change my lifestyle when the perfect plan came along, but never, in reality, doing anything. There was no pefect plan for me, and even now there's so much I don't know and haven't figured out yet for my body. But every little bit counts, and it adds up.

OP, I'm right there with you on being overwhelmed and confused, but the good news is that this doesn't stop us from still making changes that matter now.
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Old 10-31-2010, 07:45 AM   #17
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Hi, archaeologist here. I'm not going to comment on the validity of the "historic" or paleo diets; my suspicion is they're all fine, for reasons you'll see below, the biggest danger is getting obsessed about them and letting them rule your life. But I can talk a little bit about the evidence, and maybe clear up some of the conflicting claims that Serval is seeing.

The basic issue is, there is very little data about prehistoric diet OR its connection to prehistoric people's health, and anyone who tells you they know definitively is either grossly oversimplifying, relying on only one or two selected studies, or out to make a profit. Every newly published excavation or lab study therefore has the potential to completely upend what came before, like the recent publication of early grindstones used for preparing grass/reed seeds in several parts of Europe. This also accounts for why you see people promoting one "diet" or the other based on the evidence they have selected.

Let's look at the actual state of the evidence, starting with skeletal analysis. There are probably less than 5000 known examples of complete human skeletons (homo sapiens including Neanderthals) in the world from earlier than 10,000 BC. That is NOT a big sample, and it's not a random one -- it's biased toward certain continents where a lot of excavation has been done, and conditions where they're more likely to be preserved. (Mostly caves, and not everyplace has caves, and as much as I love the old Far Side cartoons, lots of people didn't live in caves.) And most of them have never been scientifically analyzed in a way that would tell us about the effects of their diet on their health.

Then there are SEPARATE locations where there are materials we can say are remains of food from before 10,000 years ago: trash heaps where people spent a lot of time eating and leaving bits behind. Again biased toward caves, because in caves, deposits tend to get covered over by later fill washed in, or rock falls, rather than washed away like sites in the open. Most of the preserved evidence is animal bone and shell (seafood). It's much harder to find remains of plants than animals -- bones and shells are hard, and tend to be better preserved. Scarce scorched seeds and pollen form the primary evidence we have about plant foods (so tubers and edible roots like potatoes and other soft plant parts are not going to be represented at all.) It's only in the last 10-20 years scholars actually really started paying attention to plant remains because before that there were few techniques to recover or identify them. That's why it's really hard to say whether people ate "grains", or "nightshades" or not, because maybe we just haven't found them yet, or it was in that excavation from 1952 when there were no techniques to recover seeds, so the evidence was lost. Then there is a further complication. Only very rarely do we have ties between the food remains and the people who ate the stuff (a skeleton buried in a cave under/near a trash pit, but that could date many centuries different from the trash).

Yes, there are examples of healthy skeletons from non-agricultural societies. There are also examples of skeletons showing malnutrition and disease. Same for agricultural societies: healthy AND unhealthy. It's hard to make a blanket judgement about the effects of the introduction of agriculture on human diet (I'm looking at you Jared Diamond). There are all sorts of local variations, and again, small sample.

On whether we "evolved" with a certain diet and whether we need to go back to that diet. First, as noted above, we have very incomplete knowledge on what people ate before about 10,000 BC. Second, it's clear there was a lot of variation, just as there is today. If you take an anthro class you will realize how INCREDIBLY adaptable people are -- living successfully and healthily on diets ranging from completely carnivorous to completely vegetarian, for one thing.

Last lesson: On whether humans can adapt to "new" foods or diets less than 10,000 years old. The answer is, yes. Example? Being able to digest milk as an adult is not "normal" in mammals, as kaplods pointed out. But in several parts of the world, occasional lactose-digestion mutations in people spread to create populations with a high rate of ability to digest milk as adults. Why? Because these were animal herding populations, and being able to consume the animals' milk as well as eat their meat benefited those people, and they produced more children with those same genes. But people have only been herding domesticated flocks for about 10,000 years -- so that's a really fast rate of evolutionary adaptation. We have other examples of pretty rapid human adaptation. Plus gut bacteria (which really do most of your digesting) can evolve even faster than that, and that is only now starting to be investigated. We know that populations that consume different foods show different trends in gut bacteria "ecosystems", for instance, and even individuals can change their own gut ecosystems by adopting a different diet.

My general take on it: the biggest large-scale, really trackable problems in human health as connected to diet, are really recent. This is not a subject I'm at all expert in, but my feeling is, it's more like the last 30 years. In America and other societies where people generally (as opposed to a few elite people) are consuming a lot more preprocessed food than at any other time in human history. I don't think processed food is evil or toxic in itself, except maybe for people who are sensitive to sodium, but I think it results in a lot more calories (mostly in the form of fat and sugar) than most people are able to burn off, and possibly also the lack of certain trace minerals and vitamins, fiber etc. that might be found more common in a varied, unprocessed diet. And to put it in perspective, we're still WAY healthier as a general population than 99.9% of people in 99.9% of human history. I think any diet which is palatable, has the basic nutrients, and not many more calories than you burn is capable of being healthy for you.

Here ends the lecture. My Fundamentals of Archaeology class at 3:30 are probably going to be really glad I got this out my system.
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Old 10-31-2010, 06:04 PM   #18
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I read a book called The Engine 2 Diet and like what I read (I believe it is similar to what the Skinny B*tch book touts), it makes sense to me. I'm trying a plant based diet, for the most part. I was trying to focus on tofu (and beans) for my main sources of protein, but I recently read some things against eating tofu. So, I feel the OP's pain...just when you think you've figured it out, then you read something different!!!

However, overall, I've been pretty happy with following a plant based diet and though I haven't lost weight quickly, I'm seeing a gradual loss. I'm 60 and have a slow metabolism (mostly because I have a high % body fat and I'm trying to build muscle, along with losing weight). I feel like it's never to late!

I agree with what others have said about trying what makes the most sense to you and trying it for awhile to see how your body reacts to it (both physically and mentally). Good luck!

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Old 11-01-2010, 12:48 PM   #19
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Great post Bronzeager! Thanks for the info and your take on the subject!
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Old 11-01-2010, 05:03 PM   #20
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As much as I'm interested in paleo and lower carb diets, it's not the archaelogical evidence that I find the most convincing, it's the modern research. Comparing the diets and health of hunter-gathering people still following their ancestral diets and those who follow a more modern diet. Or the health problems hunter-gathering people' encountered when switching to a modern diet, and the health improvements found when switching back.

Carbohydrates and grains aren't evil, and I'm not saying there are. I just believe, because of the preponderance of the evidence I've read and encountered, that the modern western idea of a balanced diet, is actually skewed in the direction of quickly digested carbohydrates. Even our fruits and vegetables have been bred to contain less fiber and more sugars and simple carbohydrates than their wild counterparts.

Personaly, I suspect that what we're not eating is more important than what we are, especially from non-starchy vegetables and low-sugar fruits - the fiber and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants...)

I think the research and all of the divergent theories are interesting, but it was and is my personal experimentations that are responsible for my progress. I used my food journals to learn about what works best for me. Yes, reading all the different theories gave me ideas for experiments to try (and the successes led me in the direction of some theories more than others).

I found that increasing fiber, and decreasing all other carbohydrates (most especially the refined ones, but to some degree all non-fiber carbs) has helped me tremendously not only in regards to weight loss, but also in improving or halting the progression of health issues.

I'm only an experiment of one, so I can't generalize my results to everyone else, but I've repeated the experiments to my own satisfaction.

I understand that theory-overload can be overwhelming. With so many opinions, it can be difficult to know where to start, but it's more important that you start than where you start. And while you may not know what kind of diet is optimal for you, you probably can identify areas that need improvement (and some idea of what improvement would mean).

Before I knew that I had issues with grains, especially wheat, I did know that I was eating too many refined carbohydrates. When my doctor sugested low-carb, I found that low-carb eating helped tremendously with my hunger, appetite, weight-loss, and health symptoms. When I started adding back carbs, even only the ones supposed to be "healthy" I started seeing some of the old problems, and I started digging (both in terms of my own experiments, and in my reading) into what specifically was causing the problems.

I really don't think it matters where you start, as long as you start. If you keep a detailed food diary (and hunger/emotions/symptom diary if you have health issues, emotional eating issues, craving/binging issues....) you'll eventually see patterns emerging. Until there's more consensus, and a much deeper understanding of nutrition and weight loss, to some degree we all have to be both scientist and lab rat.
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Old 11-04-2010, 02:23 PM   #21
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Thanks, everyone. All of your posts were very interesting and enlightening! I did grocery shopping yesterday, and decided to stick with my "mostly buy REAL food" agenda, so I bought some fish, hormone-free chicken, butter, veggies, and squid (guilty pleasure), and I got some organic beef and venison from my mom. There wasn't a very good deal on produce, so I mostly bought meat and fish. I still have some food stamps left, so I will go back next week or so and see what prices kroger has on vegetables.

I'm just going to try to stick to real food like fish, meat, butter, vegetables, and moderate amounts of fruit. I've noticed that processed food and grains don't fill me up very good, and I overeat when I have cheese.
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Old 11-05-2010, 07:15 PM   #22
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What it comes down to me for me personally is that I eat real food. If my great great grandmother ate it (in a time period where heart disease, diabetes, and cancer were essentially unheard of & most people didn't have weight problems) I figure that is what we're intended to eat. The food in the middle of the grocery store that has 10 different ingredients that sound like chemical names and last for months and months without going bad is probably not going to be recognized by our bodies as food. Even if it says "low calorie", "low fat", "sugar free" or what have you, I try not to eat it.

It's interesting that the more "low fat" americans have eaten, the more obese we have become. In the old days, no one separated their milk in to 1% or skim, it just came whole from the cow So, I will continue to eat my butter and coconut oil as they have been eaten for thousands of years. Yum! And it's funny, but the more I limit grains (although I don't do no carb), the easier I lose weight and the better I feel. Maybe it's just how my body works, but I get hungry a lot faster and my brain feels foggy when I eat a lot of bread (even homemade sourdough which is what I bake). I have learned a lot from the weston a price website and other real food blogs. Sorry, I wrote a book but HTH!
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Old 12-01-2010, 11:37 PM   #23
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As someone who is returning to college to finish her BA in Anthropology this January, I have to say I love this thread. I have long been pondering what I want to research for my thesis in a few years, when I finally get to grad school. More and more, I am leaning toward focusing on diet.
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Old 02-20-2011, 03:47 PM   #24
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I don't think there is any one right way to eat. Each person is very unique and their diets should be as well. Everyone's diet should be based on real unprocessed (or minimally processed) whole foods, but as far as which types of foods you should be eating more or less of depend entirely on how your body reacts to them. For example, assuming you are eating enough calories, if you eat whole grains and find yourself constantly hungry or feeling unwell (there could be many symptoms), you should probably eat less of them and more non-starchy veggies and high protein, lower carb (but not low fiber) foods. If you really pay attention to how the foods you eat make you feel and adjust your diet accordingly, eating healthy becomes much easier. I know what foods keep me full and make me feel good, but everyone has to find their own feel good foods. People react to different foods in different ways. The only solid recommendations are to eat natural, whole foods, to eat lots of non-starchy vegetables, and to make sure to drink enough water. The rest you have to figure out through trial and error (and patience).
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Old 02-21-2011, 11:30 AM   #25
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The best advice on dieting that I have ever read came from (I believe) Michael Pollan's Food Rules: Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.
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