This blog is a way of sharing the information and resources that have helped me to recover my son Roo from an Autism Spectrum Disorder. What I have learned is to view our symptoms as the results of underlying biological cause, which can be identified and healed. I say "our symptoms" because I also have a neuro-immune disorder called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.

And, of course, I am not a doctor (although I have been known to impersonate one while doing imaginative play with my son)- this is just our story and information that has been helpful or interesting to us. I hope it is helpful and interesting to you!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Basics of the Paleolithic Diet According to Mark Sisson

These notes are taken from an interview with Mark Sisson that is part of the 2012 Paleo Summit being put on by Underground Wellness.  Mark Sisson on ancestral living defined....eating, moving and living based on human evolutionary biology rather than societal expectations.  He had been a performance athlete (even qualifying for the US Olympic team) but his health kept getting worse, despite the fact that he was doing what the mainstream coaches and experts were telling him was healthy.  His career ended with injuries and he began trying to understand why that had happened. He has been researching this and writing about it for 30 years, culminating in his blog Mark's Daily Apple

He used his background in evolutionary biology to try to understand this question.  This really comes down to understanding how we influence and control gene expression in our daily lives, turning on the genes that keep us healthy and turning off the ones that make us sick.  If we seek to eat as our ancestors did, then we need to know who these ancestors were?  Mark says that this includes anyone who lived prior to 200 years ago, over the 2.5 million years of human evolution.  Clues from archeological record can be used to piece together what our ancestors ate, at least as far as macronutrients.  He says the record shows that they were eating meat, fish, fowl, eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables, a small amount of fruits, and tubers.  They were not eating soy, grains, or the industrial seed oils of today.  Our bodies evolved to maximize our ability to extract nutrients from these foods. 

Our current industrial based diet, full of sugar, grains, and processed foods, is not what our bodies can thrive on.  Genetically we haven't changed from the pre-agricultural human so our dietary needs haven't either.  Ancestral living also includes considering our sun exposure, exercise, stress levels, and play.  Eating paleo usually means avoiding grains, dairy, and legumes (beans and peanuts).  Quote from an anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond "The agricultural revolution was the worst mistake in the history of the human race".  It profoundly changed the way we live as well as the way we eat.  Grains are a type of food that our GI tract has not evolved to adapt to.  Grains contain many anti-nutrients, including gluten, lectins (which interferes with the turnover of the cells lining the gut causing leaky gut and auto-immunity).  They're not good sources of nutrition and the fiber they contain is not important to our health as we have been led to believe.  Mark says that everyone should avoid wheat, but some grains are less bad (such as white rice) than others.  It doesn't have the high amount of anti-nutrients either.  He says occasional inclusion of seed grains such as quinoa is probably not a problem for many people (note- sounds like he is not aware of oxalate as a potent anti-nutrient).

Whether or not to consume dairy- many say not truly paleo, but Weston A. Price observed it as a part of many traditional diets on which people were thriving.  We are all born able to drink milk (mother's milk) and digest lactose.  Ancestral people ate every part of the animal that they could,. so they likely did consume dairy even if they didn't actually milk animals.  His take is that raw dairy is probably fine, as long as you aren't allergic, and that heavy cream and butter are an excellent source of healthy fats.  Processed milk, such as homogenized, pasteurized, and reduced fat milk is not worth drinking.  What about legumes?  Our ancestors didn't eat them.  It is a kind of plant that has many chemicals to make sure that it doesn't get eaten, can cause short term problems such as indigestion as well as long term issues such as infertility and liver damage.  The fact that beans must be soaked to be edible at all, and that flatulence is so commonly associated with beans is an indication that we are not adapted to eat them. 

Animal based saturated fat is healthy, especially when the animals were raised in a healthy way.   He reminds us that the Inuit will generally give the lean meat to their dogs and save the organs and fatty parts for themselves because of their increased nutritional content.  Saturated fat feeds our large brains, and is important for hormone production.  Research has refuted any theorized link between saturated fats and heart disease.  Animal fats are also not exclusively saturated- they also include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.  The benefits of the paleo diet have been shown by recent studies.  In general polyunsaturated fats are unstable and can be problematic if eaten in large amounts.  Industrial oil, such as soy, canola, corn, or other vegetable oils should be avoided.  The omega-3 category of polyunsaturated oils are good. 

Macadamias are the best nuts to eat by far, based on fat content.  He advises to stay away from peanuts and cashews.  Nuts should be eaten in moderation on paleo.  Eating a large amount can stop weight loss and keep inflammation going.  If you are trying to lose weight, fruit should be largely avoided.  Fructose is a type of sugar that is not processed the same way as other sugars.  If you are an athlete, fruit can really help you replenish your glycogen stores.  It depends on your goals.  Eat as many vegetables as you want.  Mark says to avoid white potatoes, but sweet potatoes, yams, and other root veggies like rutabagas are fine.  He says no need to eat small meals only such as we have been told in the past.  If we get away from being dependent on a consistent source of glucose, our bodies are freed up to operate much more efficiently.  He says it makes no sense that our bodies would have evolved to need to eat glucose regularly, that we are obligate fat burners and our bodies are meant to burn fat.

One criticism of the paleo diet is that people died young eating that way.  The average age of death was low because life was hard and they didn't have resources to treat infection and injuries that we do now.  People were killed by animals, and died in accidents, and got infections.  Some people also lived to be quite old.  Another myth that he addresses is the central importance of exercise.  He says instead we should focus on play- on moving in ways that we enjoy, rather than having movement be "work".  He says that fun is really important.  Stress is so hard on the body.  He also points out that when we eat this way, our appetite will self-regulate.  We don't need to worry about regulating how often we eat, or how much.  Our bodies will tell us.