I like the idea behind the paleo diet.
It seems sensible to try to emulate the diet our ancestors ate while we were evolving. However, even though I like the idea, I don’t like the way the diet is prescribed in many cases.
It seems to have gone beyond just science and started becoming more about ideology. There are many modern foods that are healthy, but actively discouraged on the paleo diet. I think this is a mistake.
Nutrition should be about science and doing what works best for the individual, NOT ideology or “nutriligion” as someone has called it.
Humans evolved eating a variety of foods and our genes have changed (not much, but some) since the paleolithic period. I think the idea of a paleo “template” is more reasonable. That is, eat the foods humans evolved eating, then add the modern foods that you like, tolerate and science has shown to be healthy.
Here are 4 foods that technically aren’t paleo, but are still super healthy.
1. Full-Fat Dairy Products From Grass-Fed Cows
One of the pillars of a strict paleo diet is the elimination of all dairy products.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
I think this is a mistake, because plenty of people tolerate dairy just fine. Although a large part of the world is lactose intolerant, many populations have acquired an enzyme to break down and make full use of lactose, the main carbohydrate found in milk.
Full-fat dairy products are particularly healthy, as long as they come from grass-fed cows. This includes foods like butter, cheese and full-fat yogurt. Full-fat dairy contains bioactive fatty acids like butyrate, which is potently anti-inflammatory.
Best of all, full-fat dairy products are loaded with Vitamin K2, a powerful but often ignored nutrient that regulates calcium metabolism in the body. Most importantly, Vitamin K2 helps to keep calcium inside our bones and outside of our arteries.
Studies have shown that Vitamin K2 is highly protective against fractures (lowering the risk by 60-81 percent) and cardiovascular disease. The Rotterdam study showed that people who had the highest K2 intake had a 57 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 26 percent lower risk of death from all causes, over a 7-10 year period.
In countries where cows are largely grass-fed, consuming full-fat dairy products is linked to major reductions in the risk of heart disease. One study from Australia showed that those who ate the most full-fat dairy had a 69 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who ate the least.
A lot people are concerned that because full-fat dairy is high in fat and calories, that it can cause weight gain. However, the evidence disagrees. In fact, eating dairy fat is linked to a reduced risk of obesity in numerous studies.
That being said, there are some people who can’t tolerate dairy. If you get some sort of negative reaction from eating dairy products, then by all means avoid them. But for people who do tolerate and enjoy them, then there is absolutely no scientifically valid reason to avoid quality dairy products from grass-fed cows.
Bottom Line: Unprocessed, full-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows are incredibly healthy. They are high in important vitamins like Vitamin K2, as well as beneficial fatty acids like butyrate.
2. Dark Chocolate
There are also studies showing that dark chocolate can reduce insulin resistance, a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Dark chocolate is one of those rare indulgent foods that happen to be incredibly healthy and nutritious.
One problem with chocolate in general is that it often contains some sugar. However, if you choose dark chocolate with 70-85 percent (or higher) cocoa content, then the sugar amount will be minimal and the benefits will far outweigh the negatives.
There have actually been numerous studies on the health benefits of dark chocolate and cocoa, especially for heart and brain function. Dark chocolate and cocoa can lower blood pressure, raise HDL cholesterol and protect LDL particles from oxidative damage.
There are also studies showing that dark chocolate can reduce insulin resistance, a major risk factor for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In some studies, people who eat the most cocoa and dark chocolate have a 50-57 percent lower risk of heart disease, which is an insanely high number.
Of course, these types of studies are observational in nature and can not prove that the chocolate caused the reduction in risk. But given the confirmed effects on important risk factors like blood pressure, insulin resistance and LDL oxidation, I find it plausible that dark chocolate and cocoa could in fact reduce heart disease risk.
That being said, the benefits of dark chocolate don’t end with the heart. There are also studies showing that it can cause major improvements in brain function (at least in the elderly) and give the skin natural protection against sunburn.
Dark chocolate wasn’t available in the paleolithic period, but it’s still one of the healthiest foods you can eat.
Just make sure to choose quality, organic dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, and don’t eat a lot of it, think of it more as a supplement.
One or two squares per day or a few times per week should be enough.
Bottom Line: Dark chocolate is a “modern” food, but numerous studies show that it has powerful health benefits, especially for heart health.
3. White Potatoes
The original paleo diet book took a hard stance against potatoes.
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I don’t think this makes a lot of sense, because potatoes are a root vegetable that was available in the paleolithic period. Some other versions of paleo, like the Perfect Health Diet, actively encourage foods like potatoes, which they refer to as “safe” starches.
Potatoes are actually incredibly nutritious. A single potato contains lots of Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron and various other nutrients. Really, potatoes contain almost every nutrient we need in some amount, including a decent amount of protein with all the essential amino acids.
There have even been accounts of people living on nothing but potatoes for long periods of time, without any apparent negative effects on health.
Another important feature of potatoes is that they may just be the most fulfilling food in existence. In fact, they score higher on a scale called the satiety index than any other food tested. What this means is that by eating potatoes, you will feel naturally full and end up eating less of other foods instead.
If you want to make your potatoes even healthier, you can allow them to cool after cooking them. This greatly increases the resistant starch content, which is a an indigestible type of starch that functions like soluble fiber.
The only problem with potatoes is the high carb content, so people who are on a very low-carb diet may want to avoid them. But for people who are active and metabolically healthy, potatoes are pretty close to being nature’s perfect food.
It makes absolutely no sense why they shouldn’t be allowed on a paleo diet. They’re as “real” as a food can get.
Bottom Line: White potatoes were discouraged in the original version of the paleo diet. However, they are incredibly healthy, highly nutritious and among the most fulfilling foods in existence.
Despite having been demonized in the past, studies have now shown that coffee is actually very healthy.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Studies have consistently linked coffee consumption to a lower risk of many diseases, especially type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and liver diseases. Not only that, but numerous studies suggest that people who drink coffee live longer than people who don’t.
Coffee is actively discouraged in the original paleo diet book, although others like The Primal Blueprint (my favorite version) do allow for coffee.
Although some people are overly sensitive to caffeine, most people can tolerate coffee just fine. As long as you don’t drink too much and don’t drink it late in the day (which can have negative effects on sleep), then there is absolutely NO reason to avoid coffee if you enjoy it.
Coffee was probably not consumed in the paleolithic period (neither was tea, for that matter), but it’s still very healthy and incredibly enjoyable.
Just make sure to choose quality coffee and don’t put sugar in it.
Take Home Message
The truth is, we don’t even know exactly what our paleolithic ancestors ate and there is also no “one” type of paleo diet.
What people ate varied greatly between regions, depending on the food that was available at the time. Some ate a high-carb diet high in plants, others a low-carb diet high in animal foods.
The one thing we do know for certain is that paleolithic humans didn’t eat anything made in a factory.
This includes refined sugar, refined grains, trans fats, veggie oils and any sort of processed food that is impossible to make naturally.
Humans evolved eating real food, plain and simple. That’s what we should be focusing on.
It is a good idea to consider the foods humans evolved eating, because it is likely that these foods will be both safe and healthy for our bodies.
But there are plenty of “modern” foods that are healthy too. Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s bad.
If you enjoy a food, get good results eating it and science has shown it to be healthy, then avoiding it just because it isn’t “paleo” according to some narrow definition of what that means, is ridiculous.
By Peter Giger
The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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