Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Ancestral Diet: Putting Healthy Nutrition in Context

By Linda Lizotte, R.D., CDN

As a nutritionist who has counseled hundreds of clients, I have to say that Americans could be a whole lot healthier. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise along with obesity, diabetes, and cancer. These present-day illnesses were barely seen thousands of years ago. You are the genetic equivalent of a caveman, yet the environment in which you live is vastly different from that which your ancestors evolved. For millions of years, our ancestors lived in a state of complete connectedness with the natural world. They woke with the sun and slept with the moon. They had no choice but to eat what they could forage from the woods, or kill in the fields.

The poor health of humans today is directly related to our modern diet. Evolutionary, historical, anthropological, and observational studies of past and present hunter gatherers show they had/have little heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other chronic degenerative diseases. Modern-day hunter gatherers enjoy good health just as our ancestors did, not because of better genes, but because of better eating habits and ways of living.

How did our food consumption go wrong? The beginning of grain cultivation marked the time when humans were exposed to much higher dietary levels of simple carbohydrates and sugars, in amounts they were not designed to handle. The 19th and 20th centuries brought the advent of additional never-seen-before food processing techniques, leading to an escalating dietary insult on human genetics. As a result, many people today have intolerances and allergies to many of these “new” (evolutionarily speaking) foods.

Unintended consequences from these dietary changes abound. For instance, modern methods process whole wheat flour, stripping out its fiber, minerals and vitamins, including natural folates. Low and behold, soon after this processing method became common, many more birth defects occurred. Governments identified at least one cause being that of missing natural folate in the diet, which lead to mandates of adding folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) into processed grain foods such as breakfast cereal, white bread and white pasta. Since this change, incidents of spina bifida in countries making the change have dropped dramatically. Unfortunately, recent research points to evidence of a growing number of cancers in the US, which have been linked to excessive consumption of this synthetic folic acid.

As the president of Designs for Health, I am active in product development decisions, including the decision to keep folic acid out of our formulations. Instead we use NatureFolate™, a 100% natural folate blend that mimics what is found in foods such as spinach. NatureFolate™ contributes to preventing birth defects by lowering levels of homocysteine in the body. This homocysteine modulation also can prevent heart disease, while not contributing to the increase in cancer seen from folic acid consumption.

In an attempt to go back to nature’s intended roots, Designs for Health has formulated convenient products that mimic the diet of Paleolithic man including PaleoGreens, PaleoReds, PaleoBars, PaleoMeal and PaleoFiber. PaleoGreens comes from organic green vegetables; it is in a powdered form for easy and fast consumption. Some people do not enjoy the taste of vegetables and therefore have a difficult time forcing themselves to eat them. PaleoGreens is available in both lemon-lime and mint flavors; it is a great way to get the required daily intake of vegetables. PaleoReds is a combination of various organic fruits in powdered form; it is loaded with naturally-occurring vitamins and phytonutrients such as polyphenols. PaleoFiber is made from 12 fiber-containing ingredients found in nature, including carrot, apple, and citrus fiber; it is free of grain fibers. It aids healthy bowel movements because it contains both soluble and insoluble fibers. PaleoBars contain essential amino acids and added nutrients. This perfect snack food does not contain hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar, or any form of fructose, which exist in other common snack options. A paleolithic approach to diet is the closest thing we have to matching that with which our genes evolved. It is a great starting point in the quest for an optimal diet. Go Paleo!

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