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!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

So, What IS an Optimal Human Diet?

 Many of us who benefit from making dietary changes begin to wonder, as we tweak our diet, if the changes that we are making (while necessary in the short run) are going to contribute to supporting our health in the long run.  Dietary guidelines have had a strong presence in our media and culture for decades so we find that we may have firmly held opinions of what "healthy eating" is and what it isn't.  This can be especially true if we have done any research on our own, or have used alternative medicine.  It seems everyone has an opinion of what people should and shouldn't eat.  So who is right?

My personal ideas on this subject have changed so dramatically over time that I've joked about writing a cookbook called "How to Eat Your Hat".  I was a vegetarian for many years (which is very common for people with Pyroluria), and was a vegan before I was pregnant with my first child.  The most significant change that happened when I transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism was giving up dairy, which I had known I was IgE allergic to for years but had not felt able to give it up.  When I did give it up my asthma went away.  I took this as a sign that I was on the right track by becoming vegan...but since then I have learned that the connection between health and food is so much more complex and that while giving up dairy was positive for me at the time, becoming vegan had dire consequences for my health.  It led to the loss of my gallbladder (probably from the increase in gluten, oxalates, and plant estrogens) which in turn impacted my mitochondrial functioning (poor absorption of fats and CoQ10 among other things) which I think is one factor in why Roo developed the autism.  I can't prove that but knowing what I know now, that is how it seems.

When I first began to change Roo's diet I didn't question that the things that people bought in the grocery store to eat, or bought from restaurants, were food.  Food is what we eat, so if we eat it it's food, right?  Maybe...maybe not.  My kids' art supplies all say "non-toxic" on them, so they can be eaten.  Are they food?  Are most processed foods much better?  I will not try to convince others of what to eat in this post, but I will say a bit about how my current ideas came to be and list some of the resources that I have found helpful.  My ideas will probably continue to change as I learn more. 

I came across the idea of "traditional foods", and how they support healthy human development,  with the Weston A.Price Foundation.  I think this is a good starting point, although I think there are limitations with some of their principles in that Weston A.Price mostly studied post-agricultural societies so they were eating a more modern diet than humans evolved eating (also, they are just plain wrong on some of the details of food chemistry, such as oxalates).  Still, the improved health of these groups is a testament to the importance of diet.  It is also what introduced me to the idea that our bodies may be better suited to handle certain foods, that we have eaten for a long time, rather than other foods that are only now being introduced to our bodies.  This idea was taken further by the GAPS Diet, which led me to the idea of the Paleo Diet.

There is no single interpretation of what actually constitutes a Paleolithic way of eating and living so I am sorting through a lot of different thoughts on the subject and working out what my own opinion is.  I suspect that one reason for the variety of opinions is that there isn't ONE single optimal diet- that different variations work better for some people than others.  I suspect that people whose biochemistry is working well- whose bodies are effective and efficient at converting nutrients and other chemicals in the body from one form to another- do much better on a more plant-based diet, or may have more flexibility overall in how they eat.  I suspect that people (like myself) whose biochemistry is blocked in many places (from genetic and environmental toxicity reasons) and generally less efficient may have less flexibility in what we eat.  When it comes to whether dairy is "paleo" or not, I suspect that this has a lot to do with the difference between A2 milk (the milk all ruminants produced up until several hundred years ago), and A1 milk (which contains the A1 form of beta-casein, the result of a recent mutation in European cattle, and which is the form of casein that is so problematic).  I will elaborate more on this in another post but for now what is important is that the milk that we buy in the grocery store (especially here in the US) is NOT the same as the milk that our ancestors woudl have had access to. 

Here are some helpful resources:

This is a really interesting post by a woman who was once outspoken vegan, but who developed severe health problems despite being extremely careful of what she ate.  Here is a quote from the post- something her doctor told her as she was struggling with making the decision to start including animal products in her diet again-

"She explained how the health problems we are plagued with in the Western world are not caused by animal products, far from it. Humans have been consuming animals (in much greater quantities than we do now) for millions of years without ill effect, and historically there has never been a single vegan culture. We need to look at the recent additions to our diet to uncover the causes of our sudden modern plagues: refined sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, trans fats, refined flours, chemical toxicity and the industrialized denaturing of all forms of food. According to her, avoiding healthy, organic animal products was not only unnecessary for good health, but in most cases positively detrimental to our well being."

And another quote, also paraphrasing the doctor-

"The body has evolved to utilize meat efficiently and healthfully, not tablets or pills. You’ve been taking B12 supplements for years, and you’ve been trying to take iron supplements for weeks, and they haven’t been utilized by your body at all. Supplements are a very poor substitute for whole foods. Taking medication is not the best option and it is not necessary; you could almost certainly regain your health on a balanced diet. It is my recommendation that you try that.”

This is a review of an interesting book that also challenges many of the assumptions made about food and meat production, called "Meat: A Benign Extravagance" by Simon Fairle:

Is Paleo really paleo (and does it really matter)?

This post from the blog Hunt Gather Love has a great list of paleo resources, including several rebuttals to the famous book The China Study, which argues that meat is the cause of western diseases and that a vegan diet is the healthiest way to eat.  The arguments are based on poor data processing methods (such as assuming that correlation equals causality and failure to control for significant variables).  Here is another post discussing The China Study.

There have been a series of articles lately that are debunking the idea that we should be eating a high carbohydrate, low fat diet.  This dietary advice has been ubiquitous for decades now and it is coming out that it never was based on actual research.  It was a hypothesis that was deemed to be true, and so important, that it was decided by policymakers to start to get the advice out there before doing the studies that were assumed to prove it out.  When those studies did start to come in, they did not support the hypothesis at all, but the hypothesis has gained so much momentum at that point that it had become accepted as fact.  To read more about this read:
Gary Taubes' book Good Calories, Bad Calories.

What if it's All Been a Big Fat Lie?  By Gary Taubes in the New York Times magazine
A Reversal on Carbs from the Los AngelesTimes

Is Sugar Toxic?  from the New York Times

A Big Fat Debate

"The take-home message from this study and others like it is that — contrary to what many expect — dietary fat intake is not directly related to blood fat. Rather, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet appears to be a potent contributor."

A Big Fat Debate by Civil Eats
A Call for a Low-Fat Diet That Embraces Fat

Carbs Against Cardio: More Evidence that Refined Carbohydrates, Not Fats, Threaten the Heart from Scientific American

Ending the War on Fat (from TIME magazine)

Say Goodbye to Low Fat  (A former leader of the low fat movement changes her tone)

A Study on Fats That Doesn’t Fit the Story Line
Low Fat Diets Could Increase Heart Disease Risk, Say Nutrition Experts

Other resources:

The Whole30 eating plan

Why Being a Foodie Isn't Elitist

Return of the Meat Eaters: Many Lapsed Vegetarians Become "Ethical Omnivores"

The case against gluten

Nourishing Our Children, Our Food Pyramid

Benefits of Free Range vs Factory eggs

25 Reasons the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Are Wrong

Death of a PETA Spokesman