Mark Sisson refutes that what you eat accounts for 80% of your body composition. The other 20% is based on exercise and other factors. If this is at all true, then that old saying “you are what you eat” certainly has some validity to it.
Here is what we know to be completely true:
1. Organisms adapt to environmental conditions over time to ensure their survival as a species.
2.These adaptations occur over several thousand and sometimes millions of years.
3.Agriculture has only existed for 10,000-15,000 years. Highly processed foods such as enriched flour and vegetable oils have only been around 200 years tops. The human timeline spans back 8 million years.
4.From paleontology, archaeology, anthropology, and modern genetics, we know that the human genome today is 99.9% equivalent to the human genome 15,000 years ago. Yet, the basis of civilized diet has changed by more than 50%. I use 50% as a conservative figure. In many instances, it’s closer to 80% or greater. If you include small nuisances like grass fed vs grain fed beef, organic vs GMO, etc, it’s not a far fetched statement to say our diets are 100% different.
With all this in mind, something’s gotta give. Unfortunately, it has been our health. Putting sugar in a cars gas tank will ruin it. It’s not much different with out bodies.
There have been hundreds of books, thousands of pages, articles, and blog posts touting the benefits of the paleo diet. They all more or less say the same thing in any manner of ways:
1. Setting up strong arguments refuting the acceptance of the lipid hypothesis as fact.
2. Providing data and research that shows the harmful effects of modern diet.
3. Providing data and research that shows the benefits of traditional diets such as the Paleo diet.
I can’t improve on any of these publications, and there’s no need for me to clog up the internet by regurgitating what has already been said, so if you want to learn about all those studies and learn way more about science and biology than you ever wanted to, check out the Books section. Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes is particularly research/study intensive.
For the rest of you, I am going to hide behind Occam’s Razor and sum up the scientific basis in a few simple statements.
1. refined carbohydrates rapidly raise blood sugar
2. to counteract your high blood sugar, your body releases insulin.
3. your body can only store so many carbs. you have unlimited fat storage, however insulin tells your body to store any excess carbs as fat
4. protein, fat, and micronutients do not spike blood sugar. They do elevate it, but not to the extent that muscles and organs can’t absorb them
5. a diet high in processed carbohydrates promotes an acidic environment in your body-plant foods promote an alkaline environment. See “Alkalinity” below
6. a diet high in grains increases systemic inflammation. healthy fats and plant food reduce inflammation.
Of course, things are a bit more complicated than this, but it is basically what happens. These easy to understand and somewhat satirical videos kind of sum up both the historical and scientific basis:
Fathead the Book and Movie are both great resources for a crash course on why our modern food system is making us fat. Surprisingly, the author loses weight and improves his vitals by eating fast food for a month, but that’s a a different story…you can find both in the Paleo Diet and Living Amazon Store, or if you have Netflix account you can watch it on instant que.
This explanation just covers macronutrients and how they relate to weight gain. When it comes to micronutrients, modern civilized diets don’t hold a candle to the Paleo Diet, even if supplemented. It’s common knowledge that fruits and vegetables are very nutrient dense, especially the closer to natural you can get them. High quality meats are too since you are consuming the flesh of animals that got all the nutrients they needed from nature. Grass fed beef is full of vitamins and minerals from grass that the cow ate. Nuts, berries, and seeds contain all the nutrients needed to sprout new plants.
Containing nutrients is one thing, absorbing them is another. Vitamins, by their nature, are fat soluble. They need fat to be transported to our cells. Not only this, but some vitamins and minerals complement the absorption of others. For instance, vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium. This is related to the concept of Bio-availability. Just because nutrients are available in a food doesn’t mean your body can absorb them. Let’s look at bread, for instance. Bleached flour on its own is not very nutritious. It has been so heavily processed that most nutrients are lost. To make up for this shortcoming, most flour manufacturers “enrich” the flour by adding thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron. Some even add calcium and vitamins. It doesn’t though. Flour has a lot of fiber too, and fiber is known as a binder. Most of the vitamins and minerals bind to the fiber and pass right through your gut. They never get into your bloodstream and to your cells.
This well written arcticle by Dr. Ben Kim explains this subject in depth. What follows is a brief summary. We all remember from high school chemistry that solutions are either acidic, neutral, or basic (alkaline). We quantify this with the pH scale. Our bodies work within a very narrow range of pH level, between 7.35and7.45 (slightly alkaline). There are several outside factors that are constantly changing our pH, mainly diet, exercise, and stress. Regular metabolism produces acid wastes in the blood. Strenuous activity even more so (lactic acid sound familiar?) Certain types of food also produce acid wastes. To keep itself balanced in that narrow range, the body utilizes these buffers:
- Carbonic Acid-Bicarbonate Buffer System
- Protein Buffer System
- Phosphate Buffer System
What this means is that your body will take minerals or protein from your reserve storage sites (such as bones, muscle, or organs) to neutralize the excess acid. Kim sums up the effects over time:
If your body fluids are regularly exposed to large quantities of acid-forming foods and liquids, your body will draw upon its calcium phosphate reserves to supply your phosphate buffer system to neutralize the acid-forming effects of your diet. Over time, this may lead to structural weakness in your bones and teeth.
As you can see, not a good situation. Most of the foods that are acid causing come from grains, refined sugars, and legumes. I will point out that meat and shellfish are also acid producing. Luckily, fruits, veggies, and nuts have an alkaline effect on the blood, and if you’re avoiding those process foods, will balance out the acid caused by meats. Not only that, but they will help neutralize acids from metabolism and spare your buffer systems any undue damage
Systemic inflammation might be the best reason to switch from a high grain diet to the Paleo Diet, especially if you don’t have weight issues. You hear this term thrown around a lot but might not know what it means. It’s what happens when you bump your leg on the coffee table or sustain an impact injury. The affected area becomes swollen, it might bruise or turn red, and it hurts! When people talk about it at a dietary level, it mainly refers to your cardiovascular system and joints. Modern diets throw your body’s critical fatty acids out of balance (you’ve probably heard about Omega3 : Omega 6 ratio before. the ideal balance is 1:1, but typical modern eaters are around 1:20!) This triggers the inflammatory response.
Normally inflammation is a genetic response to defend against pain, injury and infection. It acts to isolate the problem in a controlled area, thereby preventing spread to the rest of the body. When things get out of balance, either from diet, exercise, or stress, you trigger a body wide inflammation response (systemic inflammation) and if left unchecked, you begin to open the doors for chronic disease.