An omnivorous diet is one in which both animal and vegetable foods are eaten. Most people of the world are omnivorous, and this is the type of diet that is the easiest to balance, as there are no limitations. Of course, the knowledge of how much and what specific foods to eat is needed. These types of diets will be discussed more in the sections on the specific cultural diets. In the animal kingdom, though, many species are either vegetarian or carnivorous; some, such as bears and crows, are omnivorous.
A carnivorous diet is one that contains animal flesh—that is, meat. From a vegetarian viewpoint, anyone who eats meat is a carnivore, but truly most people who eat meat are omnivores. True carnivores who eat only meat are hard to find; in the animal kingdom, they include the wolf and cat families, which naturally subsist on the flesh of other animals. These animals are naturally adapted to hunt and consume flesh. Their speed, power, pointed teeth and sharp claws help them a great deal. They have no molars and cannot really chew; they rip the flesh from their prey and swallow it. And their digestive tracts are specifically designed to process the high-protein, sometimes fatty meals. They only eat vegetables, local greens, when they are sick.
The human, on the other hand, has different characteristics and a longer digestive tract, designed more to process the vegetable foods. We are adaptable and most likely can function as omnivores, though there are varying opinions on this question. One theory suggests that the eating of meat creates the desire and aggressiveness to acquire more, which initially resulted in further hunting. NowaDay s, we find members of our culture hunting in the stores and in the streets and sometimes for each other.
Meats are a concentrated food, high in protein, with varying degrees of fat, only certain vitamins and minerals, and almost no fiber. The protein helps in growth and many other functions such as tissue repair, and the iron content is very good. Without the proper balance of fiber, a high meat diet will increase the risk of disease of the colon and other organs. The high-fat types of meat increase the risk of cancer, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and other problems. To balance the meat in our diet, we need supplementary fiber and more of the B vitamins, vitamins C and E, and the many minerals found in the vegetable foods.
This is the most common of the vegetarian diets, one that does not include animal flesh but does use the by-products of the chicken and/or cow—eggs and milk products (vegans, or strict vegetarians, do not eat these foods). Some vegetarians are lacto and not ovo, because of a moral aversion to eating unborn chickens. And some may be sensitive to milk but find eggs okay. However, usually the vegetable foods are the largest part of the diet, which consists mainly of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Throughout history, most people’s diets have been primarily vegetarian, with meats eaten only occasionally. This is still true toDay throughout much of the world. It is just in the last century that the meat foods have been so heavily consumed in the Westernized cultures, such as North America, Australia, and the European countries. This is due mainly to the commercial herding, slaughtering, and packaging of flesh foods to make them readily available at the corner store.
This book and, of course, I myself lean strongly to a more natural and vegetarian-type diet as one that is more healthful, especially as compared with a typical American diet. The suggestion is not that people become vegetarians, which is a very scary proposition to many (What? Give up my meat?!), but that people become more vegetarian, eating less meat and animal fats. Moving toward meatless meals is a beginning step. A more vegetarian diet clearly reduces our risk of many common chronic diseases, and as long as we consume adequate protein, we are safe from deficiency problems.
The most common reason for not giving up meat, besides people being used to the taste, is the fear of not getting enough protein. I believe the protein concepts perpetrated by American nutritionists to be one of the biggest fallacies about our diet. We do not really need as much protein as we might think, and it is likely that excess protein is a bigger concern than protein deficiency, at least in Westernized cultures. On the other hand, vegetarians need to be aware of obtaining adequate protein, and maintaining efficient digestion and assimilation; I have seen many people with problems in these areas.
A mixed vegetarian diet with or without eggs or dairy products can theoretically supply adequate protein, though it may take more effort than with the omnivorous diet. As long as the diet is not filled with a lot of sugars and other empty calories, the protein content is usually adequate.
Protein combination, or complementarity, suggests (this is a theory) that we mix two or more vegetable protein foods at a meal so as to provide sufficient levels of all the essential amino acids. Usually one or two of these amino acids may be low in each food, and mixing them at the same meal will mean that our body has what it needs to make new proteins. However, it is important that the vegetarian eats sufficient calories so that the body does not use the proteins for fuel instead of its many other functions.
Carbohydrates and fats are more readily used for fuel, and it is they, not protein, that actually nourish the active muscles. Protein (amino acids) builds the tissue during growth, though, and this may come from dietary protein of either animal or vegetable origin. Another fallacy in many people’s concepts about protein is that animal proteins are needed for strength and endurance, or athletic prowess. Although the percentage of vegetarians in our culture is generally very low compared to omnivores, there have been some outstanding athletes and record setters through the years who were vegetarians.
The human body is really more adapted to eating as vegetarians. Our long and convoluted intestinal tubing is very different from the carnivore’s short system, where the meats can move through rapidly before they putrify. Our digestive tracts are more like those of the herbivores, where the length allows increased absorption area to help break down the plant fibers and utilize the nutrients.
The strengths of the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet are many and the weaknesses
few. Both are more pronounced for the strict vegan diet, but here we focus on the lacto-ovo diet, which usually provides sufficient protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12, all of which are concerns for any vegetarian. If eggs or milk products are eaten once a Day along with other wholesome foods, the diet should be fairly balanced in all respects.
Vegetarians have in general lower blood pressure and weight than their meat-eating companions. Their incidence of hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, heart disease, osteoporosis, and cancer are all reduced. Studies of the Seventh Day Adventists, a large vegetarian population, shows their incidence of coronary artery disease about half that of the average population. The incidence of coronary artery and heart disease correlates with each country’s intake of meat throughout the world.
The high amount of fiber and lower amount of fat in the vegetarian diet are also very helpful in keeping cholesterol down and digestive tract diseases at a minimum. The high amounts of vitamins and minerals present in vegetables, especially, are also an advantage. Many vegetarians find that they have a higher level of energy. I certainly did when I changed to vegetarianism, and this has continued through the years. My diet has been re-created numerous times to suit my lifestyle and the changing seasons. It is still primarily vegetarian, with occasional fresh fish or organic poultry.
Potential problems for vegetarians include a reduced iron and vitamin B12 intake and thus a higher incidence of anemia. As stated earlier, this is less a concern for the lacto-ovo-vegetarian than for the strict vegan, but it is still something of which to be aware. Oral iron and vitamin B12, or even B12 injections, could be needed to fulfill the body’s needs (more likely with poor digestion and low hydrochloric acid output) and maintain the tissue stores of these important nutrients.
There is some concern that infants, growing children, and women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid vegetarianism. This is unfounded, particularly for the lacto-ovo diet. Pure veganism, in these cases, I think, should be avoided. If children can eat a wholesome diet with a good protein balance, they can grow well and be healthy on a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, as can pregnant women. Sometimes they may be even healthier, perhaps because vegetarians tend to have better food habits and less abusive tendencies in general than the average population.
This is the strict, or pure, form of vegetarianism. No animal products are consumed, only fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. No eggs, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, or other milk products are eaten.
This diet is not suggested for children unless the parents can painstakingly oversee it and select the right foods. It is difficult with this diet to obtain a balanced intake of all the nutrients that are needed during growth; however, it can be done. This is true also in pregnancy and lactation, where higher intakes of most nutrients are needed. I am not suggesting that this cannot be done; it just is more dangerous in its risk of creating deficiencies and subsequent health problems.
Overall, the vegan is often of a lower than average weight, even underweight for his or her size, and usually has a low cholesterol level. Many of the advantages of the lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet are even truer of the vegan diet. There is a much lower incidence of hypertension, obesity, heart disease, and some cancers, most notably of the colon, breast, uterus, and prostate. The fiber content of the diet is usually very good.
However, the potential nutrient deficiencies are a concern. Vitamin B12 is the main one. Iron and calcium may also be low. Protein levels may be all right if the person is very conscious of protein intake and complementing food. Vitamin A may be low unless a high amount of the orange, yellow, and green vegetables is consumed. Vitamin D is often low; some sunshine will help. Zinc may also be low unless seeds and nuts are consumed regularly.
In general, though, I suggest a good supplement program for vegans, includ-
ing those above-mentioned nutrients. A vitamin B12 level and general biochemical profile every few years will help reassure us that the diet is providing adequately for bodily functions. As with any type of diet, if health is faltering or sickness is recurring, an investigation should be made. Overall, though, with the right intention and knowledge, the vegan diet may be a very healthy one.
Macrobiotics is a philosophy of life centered around a diet originally brought to this country from Japan by George Osawa. It has been expanded upon and shared with many by teachers and authors Michio and Aveline Kushi, a Japanese couple living in the Boston area, and by the magazine East West Journal. Macrobiotic diets, either very strict or more liberal, have been adopted by a great many young people in this country and throughout the world.
A macrobiotic diet consists almost exclusively of cooked foods. Raw foods are felt to be difficult to digest and too cooling for our system. A minimum of fruits is consumed, less than 5 percent of the diet, and most of those should be cooked. Dairy foods and eggs are usually avoided; the only animal products recommended are whitefish such as halibut, trout, and sole, and these are also kept to less than 5 percent of the diet. Thus, it is primarily a vegetarian, almost vegan, diet, but it seems to contain more protein and nutrients than the standard vegetarian cuisine.
The macrobiotic meal includes between 50 and 60 percent whole cereal grains, such as brown rice, whole oats, millet, barley, corn, wheat berries, rye, and buckwheat. Flour products and baked goodies are avoided, and pastas and breads are eaten only occasionally. Vegetables make up about 20–25 percent of the meal; members of the nightshade family, such as potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant, as well as avocados, spinach, yams, and sweet potatoes, are all avoided. Beans and sea vegetables (seaweeds) are suggested to complement the meal, making up 5–10 percent of its quantity. The primary beans eaten are azukis, lentils, and garbanzos, along with fermented soybean products such as tofu, tempeh, and miso. Most other beans can be eaten occasionally in this diet. Some seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils may be used. Soups and salads can also be eaten, constituting about 5 percent of the meal. Such other exotic foods as umeboshi plums (and other pickled foods, such as daikon radish and ginger, usually eaten at the end of a meal to aid digestion), tamari soy sauce, sesame salt (gomasio), and bancha twig tea are also included.
Overall, these are very basic and wholesome foods, but the diet is somewhat controversial. On the positive side, this diet is considered to be very balanced. It provides a lot of vitamins and minerals and is very good in complex carbohydrates and fiber. The protein content is usually adequate, and the fat content is low. By balanced, I mean that a majority of the foods are from the center of the food spectrum, such as vegetables and whole grains, with a minimum of foods from the extremes, such as fruits and sugars, which are more cooling, and the meat and dairy foods, more stimulating. Also, herbs and spices, such as garlic, onions, and cayenne
are considered too stimulating. From the viewpoint of Eastern philosophy, this diet is felt to be a good balance of yin and yang and to be stabilizing, nourishing, and healing. With the avoidances of chemicals, sugars, refined foods, and high-fat foods, it is a good step, I believe, toward a more balanced and healthful diet for many Americans. With a variety of foods eaten, there is not a great deal of concern over malnutrition, though many practicing macrobiotics appear very trim by American standards.
My first book, Staying Healthy With the Seasons, was felt by many to recommend a macrobiotic diet, but it was very liberal macrobiotics at most. Whole grains and vegetables, I feel, are the mainstay of a healthy diet. They provide wholesome fuel without being too rich and clogging for our finely tuned body machine. But I think that fruits, salads, and more raw foods can be tolerated well, especially in warmer climates or in late spring and summer, and these are often richer in many nutrients that might be lost during cooking and other preparations. Also, many of
the special foods recommended are not available locally, and this, I think, is a weakness in suggesting that macrobiotic practitioners everywhere eat a similar diet. Furthermore, I am an advocate of juice fasting, a process that macrobiotics does not support; fasting may be an extreme practice, but I feel it is a useful therapeutic tool in many situations.
Another drawback to macrobiotics, especially for Americans, is that it is served with a whole philosophy—near religion, if you will—but at the least a way of life that goes along with the diet. I will not get into a discussion of this philosophy, but for many people it can, as can the often radical change suggested in the diet, become a psychological barrier against acceptance of the dietary principles. With some of its proponents and in much of its literature, there is almost a fanaticism that this system will solve many problems and difficulties in the world.
Though much has been written about the theory that a macrobiotic diet can help cure many diseases, including cancer, there is no good evidence for this, only some anecdotal experience. Maybe some further research will provide more useful information, especially in regard to the fatty acid effects on cells. The omnivorous diet generates more arachidonic acid, which cancer cells need to thrive, while a vegetarian and macrobiotic diet reduce production of arachidonic acid, a possible reason for the benefit it may provide.
Overall, I am much more supportive than otherwise of the macrobiotic-type diet. Except for my period as a raw-fooder, my own diet through the years has been closer to a macrobiotic one than to any other type, though I usually eat more raw vegetables and fruits than suggested. I feel that it has a lot to offer, including some sound, wholesome information, that may provide many Westerners with an improved sense of health, peace, and well-being.
A raw food diet is a very interesting one and potentially very healthy or healing for those who have congestive maladies. It basically consists of uncooked whole foods. Foods are eaten in their uncooked, most potentially nutritious state, with the vital elements of nature still contained in them. The sun’s energy, water, and nutrients from the earth invigorate fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Sprouted beans and seeds are often a very nutritious component of the diet. Sprouted grains can be made into breads and wafers. Raw (unpasteurized) milk products may be used. Water, fresh juices, and sun teas are the main drinks in this diet. All stimulants, chemicals, and alcoholic beverages are avoided.
Though this diet can be a very healthy and adventurous one, I believe that unless it is very astutely balanced, it is not a good one for very long. It can provide good vitality and nutrient content, however, it is usually low in protein, calcium and iron, all of which could lead to problems in the long run. Also, with no heat added to the foods and an avoidance of the more concentrated and heat-producing foods, the body could become cold. People in warmer climates, those who are overweight, or those with good body heat are more likely to do well on this diet.
Many people lose weight on a raw foods diet. Proper chewing and good digestion help with this diet; some people experience more difficulty in their digestive tract than on a more cooked diet.
For one spring and summer, I ate a completely raw food diet—lots of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, blended fruit shakes, sprouts and vegetable salads, nuts and seeds, and a special treat I used to call “nice cream,” made solely from frozen fruit, such as bananas or berries, put through a Champion juicer. My neighbor kids used to come running to see me when they heard Dr. Elson was making “nice cream.” During that particular dietary experience, I felt great, very light and more open spiritually. I weighed the least I have in my adult life, though I definitely felt less grounded—more spacey—than when on a more cooked diet, and my intestines were very active and somewhat gassy. I guess they had a little less to hold onto and felt a bit insecure.
In lecturing about nutrition and fasting, I have talked to many people who eat a raw food diet, often for a period of from one to three years. They speak very highly of their experiences and especially how healthy and alive they feel. The raw foods diet is really the “living food” diet. It definitely goes against the flow of the Western dietary tradition, but it is something to try for those with an adventurous spirit who want to lighten up and cleanse themselves on deeper levels. Many of the same concerns must be watched for as on the vegan diet.
The “natural hygiene” diet is not a New Age fad, but an ancient system of a raw foods diet supported by cleansing the colon and occasional fasting. This program and philosophy began with the Essenes, an ancient tribe of Jewish scholars. They believed in preparation for the “messiah” via detoxification of their bodies, minds, and spirits through clean living and keeping the body free of waste. This pure diet and evolved lifestyle is written about in the Essene Gospel of Peace by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely and in other texts.
The natural hygiene diet was repopularized in the 1930s in Germany, and has had its followers in Europe and America since that time. Aspects of it have been discussed as part of the Fit for Life book by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond. I will review more of the Essenes concepts and practices of natural hygiene in the last part of this book in the Detoxification, Fasting, and Immortality programs.
There are some people who attempt to subsist solely on nature’s true gift of nourishment—fruits. However, fruits do not contain all the nutrients that human beings need to live, at least not on a long-term basis. Protein content is very low, and many of the B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals are scarce in fruits. They are also deficient in fats, though if the seeds of the fruits are eaten, the essential fatty acids, the only fats that are truly needed, can be obtained.
Overall, a fruitarian diet is a limited one and it is generally considered poor nutrition. It can be invigorating and purifying on a short-term basis, a couple of weeks at the most; staying on such a diet any longer than that could be dangerous.
True fasting is consuming only water—and air, of course. This provides a strong inner experience; I believe that it should be done only under certain circumstances and ideally with the guidance and supervision of a physician or experienced nutritionist. However, a surprising number of people have done water fasting successfully for short periods of time on their own. It is undertaken basically as a detoxification-cleansing-purifying process. It is not really a diet, since it provides no nutrients.
Juice fasting is more common, provides more nutrients, and can be undertaken for a much longer period than water fasting, but it is still deficient in total nutrition. Drinking only fruit and vegetable juices can be done for several Day s, a week or two, or even longer; the longer fasting is done, the more problems (called “cleansing reactions” by those experiencing them) and deficiencies may be experienced. I have known people who have fasted for longer than two months and have personally monitored some patients through thirty-Day fasts, most often on the “Master Cleanser,” or lemonade, diet. This fast and others, as well as the how-to’s of fasting, are discussed in many books on the subject, including my first one, Staying Healthy With the Seasons. It will also be discussed in Chapter 18 of this book, entitled Detoxification and Healing Programs.
The fasting process is best used as a means of transformation to enhance the potential for change in habits and lifestyle during the reevaluation, detoxification period. Weight is usually lost during the process, though I do not suggest fasting as a weight-loss diet. I do feel that it is one of the best natural therapeutic tools available to the healing arts, given the right situation. Resting from foods and letting the body process what is already stored is the perfect balance to our typical excessive and congesting way of eating. (Body-organ-cell congestion comes from eating more fat and protein foods than we need.) I have called fasting, or the cleansing process, the “missing link in the American diet.”
Weight-loss diets come and go by the hundreds. Every year at least half a dozen new diets become popular with Americans, who are always looking for the latest, greatest, shortest route to that trim figure. There is usually at least one diet book on the best-seller list, while publishers are always on the lookout for a hot new book that can take a few million dollars out of the American people’s wallets.
Thus, there is no one specific type of reducing diet but a whole collection of diets that either reduce calories, restructure eating habits, or add a special food that cuts fat. I will not discuss all of them here; several are described in some of the therapeutic diets in Part Four, and most specifically in the Weight Loss program in Chapter 17. Overall, we who are overweight or who easily put on extra pounds need to think of “diet” as our basic wholesome daily food intake, rather than a special project that we struggle through on occasion so we can return to the enjoyable habitual way of eating that creates the body that necessitated the original struggle.
Very simply, for the average overweight person, the best diet to reduce weight is one that provides fewer calories and burns more with exercise: less intake plus more output equals decreased mass, or as one ArgIslizm ends, “sweat equity.” Eating small meals and drinking lots of water helps. Avoiding breads, sweets, dairy foods, and excess fats and oils will greatly reduce calories. Low-calorie fruit or vegetable snacks are best. Importantly though, simple meals of lean proteins and lots of vegetables provide a good level of nutrients, enhance digestion and metabolism, and, if not overdone, will cause us to burn more calories and stored fat and thus reduce our weight. Developing good eating habits to change our basic diet is the only way to create the body we want in the long run.
The “warrior’s diet” is a term that I have used to describe the way I often eat, especially on the Day s when I am busy and want to be productive. This diet consists of small meals or snacks eaten every two to three hours throughout the Day . These are simple meals and often only simple foods, such as a handful of almonds or sunflower seeds, an apple or two, carrot or celery sticks, crackers with avocado, or a bowl of rice with sprouts or cooked beans. Consuming the contents of one small to medium bowl should generate sufficient fuel to continue energetically along the Day ’s path.
A warrior is always ready for action, with energy available whenever he or she is called. Big meals or lots of different foods can act as a mental and physical sedative, as they cause a lot of our energy and blood to be shunted to to our abdomen (liver, stomach, intestines) to digest and assimilate our food. The warrior eats large meals only in celebration or ritual, or given our modern society, at the end of a workDay to relax at home alone or with friends or family. At this time, we can let go more of our physical concerns and tensions, be more aware of inner levels, and digest our meal and the Day ’s experiences.
The warrior’s concept is that food is our fuel; we give our body what it needs for continued combustion of energy. When I refer to being a warrior, I am talking about embracing the challenges of life with some feeling or passion. Food nourishment should support this and not devitalize us or generate excess aggressiveness or moodiness. Since I am a strong supporter of peace and positive action, I think of the warrior as one who does battle not with others but rather with life, the main struggle being to conquer our own weaknesses. Illness is, in a sense, succumbing to that battle; from a nutritional standpoint, when we take in too much, we may block the energy that is needed to cope with stress, and then we get stuck in the specifics of the battle, such as conflict with a person or job. Keeping ourselves clear through light and simple eating will allow our full energy to be available to us so that we can be the true “spiritual warriors” or “spiritual athletes” we were intended to be.
The natural or whole foods diet is really the original native or tribal diet intrinsic
to all cultures before the industrial age. What was available from nature varied according to the area of the world, but all people cultivated their own food or gath-ered or captured wild vegetable and animal foods. Whatever the culture—North or South American Indian, Mexican, African, Mediterranean and European, or Asian —the diets consisted of very similar food components. The foods that nature provided were used directly and in a multitude of ways to feed all these people. And nature can still provide all the people of the world with the best possible diet if we use our land harmoniously and productively, as caretakers cultivating respect for Earth’s resources.
The whole grain cereals, such as wheat, rice, and corn, have been and still are the predominant foods on Earth. Fruits and nuts can be cultivated and gathered from the trees. Fruits were often a special treat, eaten freshly picked, ripe and juicy. Vegetables could be grown in abundance—the greens, legumes, and root vegetables alike. Most native cultures knew to mix their grains and legumes or seeds together for complete protein nourishment. Most of these cultures, however, were not vegetarian, although their diets consisted largely of vegetable nutrition. Fish was a good source of protein for the tribes who lived near big lakes or streams or by the ocean. The wild birds or animals, when they could be found, provided an important source of food for some people, according to the skills of their hunters. Water or brews from their foods were drunk freely. And there was occasional fasting from foods, either voluntarily or because availability was low. This may have helped keep the people in balance—and most definitely sustained their reverence and appreciation of food.
NowaDay s, a “natural food” diet is followed by more and more people. The health food industry has grown greatly, and many stores provide the wholesome or basic foods as nature provides them; if we look, we may find bags, boxes, or bins containing a variety of grains, beans, nuts, seeds, and so on at most markets. Fruits and vegetables are usually widely available, though some natural food stores attempt to find or specialize in “organic” produce, as the natural foods diet is as low as possible in chemical sprays. It also avoids food additives and prefabricated and refined foods with extra sugars, salts, flavorings, and chemicals added to increase shelf life and to appeal to the addicted taste buds of the industrial-age consumer. The natural food diet is rich in natural flavors. Foods are prepared so that the flavor of each food can be tasted, and that usually means with the least amount of tampering. Herbs and spices may be used to enhance flavoring if desired.
I’m particularly enthusiastic about this topic, because these are the dietary principles that I follow and advocate to others—eating foods as wholesome, as chemical-free, and as much from our local environment as possible. Foods are obtained for their quality, even though the more wholesome foods may be slightly more expensive. When we prepare our own foods and eat the more vegetarian diet that we all were intended to eat, the average cost is usually less than that of the typical American diet.
If a minimum of animal foods are eaten, we should take special care to get sufficient protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. A natural food diet can be omnivorous or vegetarian; if properly balanced, it will provide a good level of all the nutrients we need for our body to function optimally.
This is one of the more fascinating of the diet plans to come forth in recent years. And yet, it is based on some of our most ancient, evolutionary eating patterns—the “caveman” or “caveperson” diet. (This is not to be confused with the dinosaur era, which was some 70 million years ago.) Actually, these people belonged to nomadic tribes and mainly used caves for winter shelter.
This hunter-gatherer diet of the Paleolithic humans, our ancestors who inhabited Earth some 40,000 years ago, has been carried on in many tribal cultures. NowaDay s, however, it is essentially an extinct species of humankind that continues to hunt wild game and gather their foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds as available on a seasonal basis.
Recent archeological findings suggest that these ancient ancestors of ours were a healthy bunch—tall, strong bones, and body structures like modern-Day athletes—they appear to be most similar to ours in regard to stature, and as long as they survived accidents, infections, and childbirth, their longevity was similar to ours, but with much less chronic degenerative disease. Further anthropological studies suggest some of the food and life habits of these early human beings. They had regular vigorous exercise applied to hunting and gathering their food for survival. Flesh foods provided their proteins; seeds and nuts their oils; fruits and berries were available for quick energy; and some starchy vegetable tubers provided more complex carbohydrate fuel.
The theory behind the health benefits of this hunter-gatherer diet, called the “Paleolithic Prescription” in the book of the same name by Dr. S. Boyd Eaton, Dr. Melvin Konner, and Marjorie Shostak, is that our modern diet should be adapted more to that of our ancestors than to the current one commonly consumed. The grains, eggs, and dairy foods, though wholesome in many ways, are the most common allergenic ones, and create both evident and hidden problems in many people.
A big reason for much of the chronic disease in our culture involves the large amounts of fats, especially saturated fats, which were nearly nonexistent in ancient times (free-running animals had a much lower fat level, and most of the fats were of the polyunsaturated variety). The high intake of refined foods and grains in general also may be problematic in modern humans. The Paleolithic Prescription suggests an avoidance of refined foods and recommends that the main animal foods be closer to the wild game of ancient times. It includes fish and free-range poultry, obviously with low chemical application to the raising, cultivating, and preparation of these foods.
The average tribe’s food consisted of about one-third hunted food to two-thirds gathered, so it was a primarily vegetarian diet that varied seasonally and had added high-protein, low-fat meats based on hunting success. The Paleolithic diet was estimated to be roughly 60 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, and 20 percent fats with a calcium intake often over 1000 mg. daily, and that is without milk products. As compared to the modern diet, the hunter-gatherer diet, as outlined in The Well Adult by Nancy Samuels and Mike Samuels, M.D., consisted of:
|Half the fat||Twice the calcium|
|Two to three times the protein||One-sixth the salt|
|Low grain consumption||Two to three times the potassium|
|No refined sugar||Four times the vitamin C|
|No refined flour||Twice the fiber|
|No or low alcohol||Higher B vitamins|
|No tobacco||Higher minerals|
Besides the various wild game available at that time, the majority of the food consumed consisted of the following uncultivated vegetable foods:
For most tribes, 10–20 common foods made up the diet staples with possibly up to 50 other foods eaten less frequently. Herbs were also used, more as medicinals, often with different parts of the same plant gathered or used at different times of the year.
Interestingly, the evolution of our current diet began with the Neolithic revolution some 10,000 years ago. In the following 2,000 years, the population became more settled and began to increase rapidly. Organized agriculture began then, along with the increase in whole grain foods, especially wheat. Animals were domesticated and sheep, goats, pigs, and cattle provided various meats and milks that have been used throughout the centuries. Chickens and their eggs were also eaten. These new and richer, fattier foods are thought to be at the source of many of our chronic degenera-tive diseases. The whole grain foods are also the more common allergenic foods, as
are cow’s milk and chicken eggs. This suggests that evolutionarywise, many of us have not even yet adapted to these foods genetically. The Industrial Revolution is only 200 years old and added another dimension to our new modern diet—that of refined foods and the use of chemicals in our foods. This is a big problem which we will discuss in greater detail next in the Industrialized Diet as well as later in Chapter 11.
In Paleolithic Prescription, the authors suggest that “modern disease is a result of
a mismatch of our genetic makeup and our lifestyle.” Dr. Eaton calls our twentieth century diseases “afflictions of affluence” or “diseases of civilization.” These include atherosclerosis, hypertension and heart disease, heart attacks and strokes, adult-onset diabetes and cancer.
Following a hunter-gatherer diet is not an easy task in this Day and age. Grains, both whole and refined, and milk products are readily available, and the two very common foods, wheat and cow’s milk get into a great variety of foods found in our commercial stores. The wild game and uncultivated vegetable foods are not found in our supermarkets. Meats are domesticated and high in fats and potential chemicals. Most all grains and vegetables are cultivated and sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals. More organic foods and meats with lower concentrations of chemicals are available but these are not always easy to find, and they are still not as clean as
foods were in regard to chemicals and heavy metals of the preindustrial cuisine. So, it is a chore to adapt our diet and eat in a way that’s close to our Paleolithic, Stone-Age, Cro-Magnon ancestors.
Some suggestions for eating this more natural diet will blend together Paleolithic nutrition with some more modern foods. This will clearly reduce fat intake and reduce the incidences of many of our “diseases of civilization.” We should bake, roast, and steam our foods instead of frying or sautéing them. Eating more raw, organic foods is helpful. We need to reduce the fatty meats and all processed meats as well as most of the whole milk products. We can eat a good breakfast of whole grain, fruit and juice, or skim milk. Lunch is a good meal that we prepare and eat at home or carry to work or school. It may include a protein like fish or poultry with vegetables or a sandwich and soup. Dinner is a lighter meal of raw salad and soup. Late eating is minimal and our main beverage is water. Many of these suggestions will be incorporated into my Ideal Diet of Part Three.
Exercise is as key an issue for good health as is diet. Our Paleolithic brethren had a good level of physical activity incorporated into their daily lives. If we are tilling, planting, growing, and harvesting our own foods full time, we all experience that similar benefit, especially if we did a little distance running as the ancient hunters did. Construction workers probably have that level of physical labor though they are possibly not as aerobically active and are exposed to more pollution in regard to noise, dust, and chemicals.
Most of us need to develop and maintain a lifelong exercise plan that will blend with our more sedentary work lifestyles. This should include a natural seasonal variance that ideally coincides with the cycles of light and darkness in our area. Our activity should be outdoors and energy expending during the warmer, lighter months; energy-gathering exercise, such as yoga, done indoors is best in the colder, darker times. Our exercise program should provide a balance that leads us to our optimum weight, good strength, and adequate endurance—and should be an integral part of our life—as it was with most of our ancestors.
The industrialized diet is very different from the natural foods and Paleolithic diets. By industrialized, I am referring not to the foods eaten by people who work in industry but to the trend of our times toward mass production and factory processing. The industrialized diet contains a large proportion of refined foods. Many of the basic grains and sugar containing plants are stripped of their fiber and nutrients, leaving the concentrated sweet or starch powder that can be used to make or flavor other foods. Refined white flour and white sugar are the two basic components. These “new” foods often have additives and preservatives to allow for packaging, shipping, and “shelf life.” They fit in with the mass production ideology and fast-paced lifestyles of not only the American culture but many other technological and urban cultures of the world. Rural peoples still tend to eat more basically and naturally.
An interesting fact is that when the industrial or refined foods diet was introduced to different tribal cultures throughout the world, a general degradation of their health followed, usually within one generation. Tooth decay and diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer increased to levels that correlated with those in industrialized societies. One of the people who had observed and described this phenomenon was Dr. Weston Price, a dentist, who studied native cultures eating such diets and compared them to like tribes who were still eating their classical diet. Dr. Price has reported on the descriptions of the tribal people themselves regarding the changes they have experienced, as well as his own observations. This whole story is contained in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: A Comparison of Primitive Diets and Their Effects (Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, 1948).
Modern medicine and technology have made some fantastic advances that have affected the lives of almost every being on Earth, but the greatest dilemma now is how to balance these industrial changes with a healthier diet. The refined and fast food diet has been one of the greatest economic supporters of our currently expensive medical system and has made medical doctors one of the richest professions because of all the acute and chronic disease that this technological diet generates. And herein, I believe, lies the dilemma. The Western economic structure is dependent on mass production, corporations, fast food restaurant chains, and refined, packaged foods. The American consumer must consume them in even greater quantities, as more are being produced all the time. It is very possible that if more people cultivate foods and go back (or ahead) to eating more natural, chemical-free foods, it will either bankrupt or totally transform our current big business economy and health care system, instead of so many farms going bankrupt. But there is a lot of resistance and dollars preventing that from happening. Billions are poured into advertising to brainwash people into buying and eating these nonfoods. Also, sweet and salty flavors are addicting, making it harder for the people eating all those pre-made snack foods to eat more naturally and enjoy it. I do not have the answer to this dilemma (maybe more advertising for apples and sunflower seeds) other than writing this book. Time will tell. Change is usually slow, and adaptability and survival are timeless. It is ultimately an individual choice. As more of us choose to eat more healthfully, more new and natural products will be developed and made available. Good luck to all of us.