Health should be simple. Too often, it's not. I hate reading most health articles. The author, who always fancies himself an expert, latches on to some macronutrient (fat, carbs, protein), micronutrient (Vitamin D, zinc, iron), or superfood (acai berries, pomegranate) -- and then offers a recommendation that goes something like this: If only you avoid [macronutrient], supplement with [micronutrient], and eat lots of [expensive organic superfood that I sell], then you will be healthy!! The problem is, the recommendation changes every year.
Here is a simple way to understand how to be healthy. This is the shortest history of humanity you'll ever read (three words): wild, domesticated, industrial.
- Wild: Humans lived as hunter-gatherers in the wild (~1-2 million years, including recent ancestors)
- Domesticated: Humans domesticated plants and animals during the Agricultural Revolution, and lived as farmers and herders (~10k years)
- Industrial: Humans built the industrial food system and started eating processed foods (~100 years or fewer)
Nearly all conventional health authorities recommend that you move from an Industrial Diet (processed foods, soda, Pop Tarts) to a traditional Farmer's Diet (whole grains, dairy, organic). It's a good first step. I'm simply recommending that we go one step further back in time, to a Hunter-Gatherer Diet.
And that's it! Really, that's it. It needs to be no more complicated than that. Remove processed foods. Remove farmer foods. DONE.
Note: If this were drawn to scale, you wouldn't even be able to see the Industrial phase, and the farming phase would be a small sliver
You can apply this simple framework (Wild, Domesticated, Industrial), not just to food, but to all lifestyle aspects related to health. I'll be using this framework in my book -- it's not original to me, it's a standard way to look at human history in anthropology.
A few additional points:
- The reason why I advocate a hunter-gatherer diet is that humans tended to be physically healthy living as hunter-gatherers in the wild. We'll review some of that evidence in future posts.
- To eat a traditional Farmer's Diet, you don't need to live on a farm and be a farmer. Similarly, to eat a hunter-gatherer diet, you don't need to live in the wild and be a hunter-gatherer. You need to replicate the key aspects of the diet and lifestyle.
- There are beneficial foods and technologies from modern times (duh) -- let's take the best of the old with the best of the new.
- We can argue all day long about what the "true" paleo diet is. How much saturated fat, how much seasonal eating, how much meat. Blah, blah, blah. The historical reality is that there were many hunter-gatherer diets. This is the difficulty of creating a single set of food guidelines for the Paleo Challenge. The more important point is that you adopt a hunter-gatherer diet, not the hunter-gatherer diet (there isn't one).
There are tons of resources to explore how to get started: PaNu, Paleo Intro, Paleo Diet, or CrossFit NYC. Or buy one of these books -- it doesn't really matter which one:
And you know what, pick any of these approaches for the Paleo Challenge. But you have to pick something and stick to it. Fundamentally, they all boil down to a simple recommendation:
Step 1: Don't eat processed foods
Step 2: Eat wild
Pretty simple, right?