iApprove: Stone Age Power.

April 30, 2009

The other day, while browsing Dale McGowan’s blog, I found a link to another blog, which in turn had a page on the Paleo Diet.

I’d heard about the Paleo Diet before, but I hadn’t really given it much thought.  Basically, it’s a low-carb diet that, rather than controlling the food you eat through carbohydrate count, controls your carbohydrate count through the food you eat.  (In other words, you eliminate certain foods from your diet, and you will not be able to consume enough carbohydrates to damage your body.  Genius.)

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I am a low-carber, and it’s done pretty well for me – I’ve managed to halt the dangerous weight gain that I was experiencing as a teenager and even take off a few pounds.  But here’s the thing – I’ve been stalled for the past few years.  I figure it’s mainly my own fault – I hardly ever exercise, and while I follow the basic low-carb tenants, I tend to eat more of things like fruit and bread than my body likes me to ingest.

So I thought to myself that a change might be in order, and I decided to check out the free eBook: Stone Age Power.  (Okay, partially because I thought that a change might be in order.  Mostly because it was free, and what habitual reader is going to pass up a free book?)

When I read a diet book, I tend to evaluate it on a few things:

  1. How much low-fat dogma it espouses.
  2. How much “woo” (attempts to scare me into changing diet) is contained.
  3. How much actual science is used.

The book passed on all counts.  Firstly, the Paleo Diet is not a low-fat diet at all – in fact, there’s even a space where they mention insulin’s role in weight gain (yay!)  Nor is it specifically a high-fat diet – in fact, the goal seems to be to get equal portions of energy from each of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

Woo count was also low.  They explained, as a responsible low-carb diet book must, that the modern American diet is really, really bad for you.  They also included information that linked the dawn of agriculture to the rise of several diseases, which may be completely accurate but still gets them a couple of woo points.  A reference to the modern American diet “killing us” gets a couple more points.  I never did hear them say “OMG!  CANCER!  HEART DISEASE!  DIABEETUS!”  But I’m not sure that diet books do that – I might just be reading PETA’s material too much.

Actual science was a complete win.  The book dives straight in from the very first page, explaining how humans had had millions of years on the sort of diet they described and only a relatively short period – ten thousand years – to adapt to agriculture.  (They did fail to note how some groups – including Indians and the Japanese – had managed to adapt to a grain-based diet through necessity, but this particular oversight has very little impact on my European body.)  They explained how weight gain was caused by two things: an excess of calories (which we knew) and overexposure to insulin (which traditional low-fat diets completely ignore).

Having run it through the “lemon test”, I was now able to evaluate the book on other merits, namely: whether I thought I could follow it without exerting tremendous willpower, and whether it was generally sensible.

I’m sure that for most people, the very nature of the diet would make it seem pretty insensible – cut out all grains, beans, and dairy products?  Come on. But for me, it wasn’t anything more than a more extreme version of what I was already doing.  I already know how to get the missing nutrients from other food, I just don’t generally put it into practice.  So for me it wouldn’t be a huge step.

On the willpower front, the book did something that most books have also failed to do for me: suggest an exercise regime (if you could call it that) that sounded interesting. It’s surprisingly simple: Do something different each day.  The human body is wired for variety, not routines, so shake up your exercise habits.  Do strength training on Monday of one week and Thursday the next.  Walk thirty minutes on Tuesday and forty on Wednesday.  Above all, listen to your body – if you don’t feel like a two-hour walk, don’t do it.  This is also applied to the diet: if you don’t feel like eating one day, then feel like eating everything in sight the next, go with it.  We are flexible little beasties, says Stone Age Power.  Don’t get caught in a rut.

Nearly all of my attempts to exercise regularly have been derailed by a rut.

In the end, I would evaluate the Paleo Diet like any other diet: Don’t try it unless you know what you’re doing.  Chances are, you have been getting your daily requirement of several nutrients from grains and dairy products, and cutting those out will quickly exacerbate the weaknesses in your nutritional system.  Do your research.  Find out where you can get folate, Vitamin D, calcium, and potassium (hint – green vegetables and sunlight).  Consult with your doctor, if you have one.  (If he tells you that you need bread for certain nutrients, get another doctor.)  Find really good recipes for spinach and bone marrow.  Look up anything else that concerns you.

As for me, I think I’ll try it.  My diet could use a good shaking-up, and I could use a bit of exercise.  In fact, right now I’m going to go take a walk chase my dog.

You can download the book at http://www.mattmetzgar.com/matt_metzgar/2006/10/stone_age_power.html

Edit: One thing I neglected to mention is a slight error in the foods that this book allows.  It completely disavows all forms of sugar, including honey, which would have been quite obtainable for the hunter-gatherer – while it permits the domestic banana (an agricultural phenomenon) and the pineapple, which cannot be easily obtained using Stone Age tools.

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