Saturday, September 24, 2011

Should You Eat Like a Caveman? The Paleolithic Diet

This one goes out to Megan, a personal trainer based in London.  She's been hearing a lot about the Paleolithic Diet and wants to know the real scoop.  Here goes...

The Paleolithic Diet is also called the Caveman Diet, Stone Age Diet, or Hunter-Gatherer Diet.  It is based on what humans used to eat prior to the agricultural revolution and after humans learned to use stone we're talking at least 10,000 years ago.  Although there's considerable debate, most nutritional anthropologists agree that this includes animal flesh (four-legged, two-legged, and finned creatures), vegetables, roots, fruit, and nuts.  

Proponents of the diet claim that our ancestors thrived on these foods and had no evidence of the diseases that plague our society today; most notably, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.  They also claim that our DNA is best suited to utilize these foods and reject foods not available during that period such as grains, dairy, legumes, refined sugars and oils. They argue that our DNA has not changed but the food supply has, and we are not genetically adapted to these "new foods".  Bottom line, they feel we'd all be better off eating the foods that make our DNA happy.

The diet itself ends up being very high in plant foods (good), protein (good), and fiber (good) and contains no processed food (very good).  The downsides are the diet is inherently low in calcium (not good) and vitamin D (not good).  Some minor modification of the diet could increase calcium and vitamin D intake, or a dietary supplement could serve the same role. The diet can also be difficult to follow if you are on a tight food budget or do not have access to the limited list of foods all year round.

What does the research say?  There's really little to go on.  There have been a handful of studies, but all of them are with very few people.  One of the more interesting studies looked at the effects of the Paleolithic Diet compared to a Mediterranean Diet in folks with heart disease.  Those that followed the Paleolithic Diet reported being less hungry and they actually consumed less calories.  The researchers did not report any information about their heart disease symptoms so its difficult to conclude whether the diet is better or worse than the Mediterranean Diet for heart disease.

Other studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes had better blood sugar control with the Paleolithic Diet versus a higher carbohydrate diet.  But again, there were very few subjects in the study so its hard to generalize these results.

There have been far greater numbers of studies showing that dairy foods, whole grains, and legumes (banned on the Paleolithic Diet) can be part of a healthy diet that reduces the risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.  So based on the scientific evidence to date, there does not appear to be a strong rationale for everyone switching to the Paleolithic Diet.  That said, there doesn't appear to be a big risk in following that diet for those who find it appealing.  

Some folks will probably feel awesome on the diet and others will not....this is how our DNA really works.  Based on our individual genetics, which includes how we taste and metabolize food, some diets may be a better fit than others.  If you enjoy eating roots, vegetables, fruit, nuts, fish and poultry/meat, then the Paleolithic Diet may be worth a go for a few weeks to see how you feel.  

Has anyone tried it?  Any insights?

Good luck Megan!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ode to Some K-Cups...and Boo to Others

In 1904, electric washing machines became commercially available, changing the lives of (cringing as I say this) women forever.  In 1919, the blender was invented, which greatly improved the rate at which margaritas could be made in kitchens all over America.  And then in 1992, a small company in Reading, Massachusetts rocked my developing this:
The Keurig Coffee Machine.  Not only does this machine make a fine cup of coffee, but it saves me from dealing with this on a daily basis:

And a ton of $$ from going to this spot every day:

In 2006, Keurig became a subsidiary of Green Mountain Coffee.  And since then, the number of different machines that are available, and the types of coffees (K-cups) and related products that can be purchased for the machine, have skyrocketed. I am a purist.  I like the plain coffee and stumble to that machine every morning to pop in my favorite k-cup and press the button.

However, I am a little skeptical about some of the non-coffee products that are now being sold.  For example, this sounds good, right?

Unfortunately, the ingredient list doesn't sound good:


Recently, Green Mountain has ventured into teas and herbals.  For example:
This K-cup coffee pod has added ginseng and guarana and claims to boost alertness .  Really?  Exactly how much ginseng and guarana are in that little pod?  Are you sure that the high pressure brewing system is sufficient to release those herbs into the actual cup of coffee?  Or what if the heat of the water breaks down the active compounds?  I guess my real question is, why should anyone pay more for this cup?  And I think the answer right now is that you shouldn't.