Workplace Wellness, Fatigue Prevention, Health Education

Nothing has Changed Except the Camouflage

I have to admit I have been studying Nutrition with great interest for well over 30 years. Having a background in Exercise Physiology and having worked in the Fitness Industry since the boom began, nutrition has been a hot topic. What is it that gives you the edge?

When it comes to human performance, there are so many variables that it is easy to promote a belief without much proof. There have been many great debates about the role of Proteins, Carbohydrates, Fatty Acids, a plethora of micro nutrients and along with all of that, thousands of new and exciting supplements that promised miracles beyond belief.

I’ve seen it all; well, most of it anyway.

And all around me, as time passed by, I have watched the health of this proud nation crumble into a sea of blubber. Obesity, disease and lethargy have overtaken the once proud home of the Bronzed Anzacs.

All the while, I wrote articles, gave lectures, recorded seminars, wrote and developed courses, striving to turn the tide, battling to find the inspirational message that would change the thinking of at least a few. But the harder I worked, the more I was drowned out by the advertising and brilliant marketing of the burgeoning food and drug industries.

Along the way I ran head first into new theories. Often I could not tell if it was something genuinely new, or a clever new campaign of a food industry hidden agenda.

So many of the theories have never made physiological or biochemical sense to me. Often they did not make sense in relation to how human consciousness tends to operate.

Of particular interest in this area is the theories around Palaeolithic dietary habits. The theories abound about how humans in the Palaeolithic periods ate. Some say that it is the most natural of all dietary regimes. In the same writings, some researchers claim that Paleo man had a much shorter life expectancy than modern man.

In recent years, the “Paleo Diet” has really gained a footing. People who follow it tend to lose weight. That is a good thing. But I wonder about its authenticity.

But here is where some of my bias and reservations pop in. First, I am a pure vegetarian. I don’t believe I need meat or any other animal based foods to live. I have been that way for 30 plus years. Second, I was not there (not that I can remember) to witness Paleo man, so I don’t really know. And of course, I am guessing nobody else does either. And sometimes, I feel things like Paleo can be rolled out to justify the consumption of large amounts of meat.

The commonly held belief is that Paleo nutrition consisted largely of meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. The Paleo prescription says that consumption of grains and legumes started following the inception of agriculture and that they human digestive system has not evolved to deal with them. The prescription also warns against processed and refined foods. But then again, I don’t need to be a Paleo advocate to see the sense in this final recommendation.

Paleo ManBut if you really go and search, there is not a whole lot of evidence from the Paleolithic era, in large part because hunter-gatherers move around so much. But the archaeological record that exists has been studied very, very closely and with increasingly sophisticated methods. Daphne Derven, an archaeologist and educator who has studied Palaeolithic man for many years states, “Now we can look at teeth, bones, even seeds in the same context as tools,” she explained. “For instance, it turns out that the East African hominid species nicknamed ‘Nutcracker Man’ developed a powerful jaw and enormous molars not for cracking nuts, as was previously thought, but for chewing grasses, like a grazing animal. That was the main part of his diet.”

Human’s eating grass. Who would have thought? Perhaps if the muscle gyms knew that part, the wheat grass shots would be flying out the door.

Two things really capture my attention about all the Paleo hype. First, the research that I do find interesting reveals that Paleo Poo that has been discovered and analysed, shows an enormous amount of fibre in the Paleo diet. In fact, the average defecation was up to one kilogram in weight, way more than the average today. This indicated a largely plant based diet.

Second, I don’t know about you, but if I had the choice of chasing very fast and evasive animals for food all day with a sharp stick, or simply finding some tasty treats on a tree somewhere, I reckon my lazy side would take over and I’d go the tree every time. Catching animals without modern weaponry….hard work.

In recent years we are learning an enormous amount about pre-biotics and the role of highly fibrous foods. High fibre eating is more about creating thriving gut flora than anything else and so a diet high in rich fibre, like that from grasses, legumes and grains, seems to be of major benefit.

See this is where a study of human consciousness comes in. As all the women out there know, men can be pretty lazy and not big on self-starting. Getting out to go hunt with rudimentary weapons would go against the grain of this laziness.

Second, from the research it appears that insects were a big part of the Paleo diet. Nobody seems to want to talk about that. Eating insects doesn’t really seem to fit through many people’s window.

Further, people want to find a reason why they can indulge in their desires. We see all the time people promoting the benefits of chocolate, which gives them the reason they need to eat plenty without guit. How often have you heard someone say they smoke because it helps to keep their weight down and that it’s better than being overweight?

The same exists for meat eaters. The evidence that meat consumption promotes disease is overwhelming. So those who really love to eat it will likely jump at any reason they can find to eat more of it and feel justified. The Paleo diet does just that. The evidence is there right. Let’s order a steak!

If we are really honest with ourselves, we do love to justify things. I had a friend who was dead against all forms of anabolic steroids. When he was in his 40’s a few things started to slow down. He found a doctor who blamed it on low testosterone, so guess what? He started on testosterone therapy without question, but with incredible justification.

So I have to say that reaching back to Palaolithic man for evidence that eating lots of meat is good, is like reaching back to Noah’s Ark to explain the disappearance of certain species of animal. Nobody knows.

So, I have been contemplating this a lot. Then, as I ran the other morning I had an epiphany. I started to laugh. Here is how it goes.

Back in Palaeolithic times, or even in the bushlands and jungles of Africa and South America where some tribes still live off the offerings of mother earth, everything they need is right there. Animal life, herbs, fruits and vegetables. But all of it has to be sought out and found, then captured or harvested. There are many things that might look like food, but are not.

Even the fruits on the trees are often camouflaged and cannot be seen till one is up close. There are poisonous fruits and herbs that must be avoided. At some intuitive level, animals and humans living in these environments know which is which. But still sometimes they may make mistakes.

In these environments, humans will not likely eat an animal that they find already dead as they are unsure if it is safe to eat. Some religious laws grew out of the directive to people to not eat anything that they did not see bleed and die with their own eye.

In these environments, the humans had to keep going, keep searching, keep persisting, until they found the nutritious food they needed. If they did not, they grew weak and slowly perished.

In modern life it is the same. There is plenty of really good food available. Food that is natural, highly nutritious, and rich in flavour and goodness. But, you have to find it. And it is camouflaged among a variety of offerings that at some level offer no nutrition or are perhaps even poisonous or harmful. To find the good stuff, you have to persist and put in the work, and not get way laid by the easy options.

We are still hunter gatherers, but the terrain and the camouflage have changed. Those who do not go the extra distance and seek out the food they really need, will slowly perish.

My mind relaxed. I now realise that it does not matter what false or synthetic foods are offered. Those who wish to be responsible will keep seeking till they find what they need and will not get caught out eating things that will not allow them to thrive.

But, the amazing thing about market forces is that the more people who seek out the good stuff and find it, the more others will follow the well beaten path and find it too. The tide is turning. It must.

Survival of the fittest is still running, perhaps more than ever.

As for Paleo Man, I wonder if he would eat the animal flesh he finds lying dead on a tray in a supermarket meat department? I have a sense he might take a semi interested sniff and head for the bananas.