PPP Round-Up 28/03/15

PPP Round-Up 28/03/15

Great article from Caveman Doctor regarding supplements for cancer patients: Never, Ever Drink This “Nutritious” Beverage. The Doc has been posting some fantastic articles recently.

Posted my reply to the recent Guardian article by Jason Wilson: Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’? If you haven’t read the original article it is definitely worth checking out. Fascinating to hear how people perceive the Paleo scene.

Headline of the week surely has to go to: Daily bowl of quinoa could save your life, says Harvard University. You can read the original paper here. Quite interesting to see who funded the study:

Sources of support: This study is funded by an unrestricted research fund from NutraSource. Dr. Qi was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (HL071981), the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (DK091718), the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center (DK46200), and United States–Israel Binational Science Foundation Grant 2011036. Dr. Qi was a recipient of the American Heart Association Scientist Development Award (0730094 N). Funding from NutraSource. There were no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.

Nutrasource: ‘We are dedicated to making our clients’ products better from concept to claim’

I had a look to see what some of those organisations recommend regarding diet:

The NHLBI recommend the following regarding saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease:

‘Importantly, most foods that are high in dietary cholesterol such as high fat meat and dairy products are also high in saturated fat. Saturated and trans fats raise blood LDL cholesterol and high levels of these fats have been associated with higher risk of heart disease.  The ACC/AHA Panel also recommended replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated vegetable sources, such as olive or canola oil, to lower blood LDL cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in fatty cuts of meat, poultry with skin, whole-milk dairy foods, lard, butter, and coconut and palm oils.  Trans fats are found in some bakery products and stick margarines.  ‘  See here for further info.

The NIDDK recommend the following for diabetics:

6-10 servings of starch per day. ‘Starches are bread, grains, cereal, pasta, and starchy vegetables like corn and potatoes. They provide carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole grain starches are healthier because they have more vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eat some starches at each meal. Eating starches is healthy for everyone, including people with diabetes. Starches include: bread, pasta, corn, pretzels, potatoes, rice, crackers, cereal, tortillas, beans, yams, lentils.’ See here for further info.

 

Prehistoric Stone Tools Bear 500,000-Year-Old Animal Residue – great article:

‘As the human brain expanded, however, it required more substantial nourishment — namely fat and meat — to sustain it…

The research, published recently in PLOS One, represents the first scientifically verified direct evidence for the precise use of Paleolithic stone tools: to process animal carcasses and hides…

Fracturing rocks in order to butcher and cut animal meat represents a key biological and cultural milestone.’

See the original article here.

Look forward to reading Diabetes Warrior’s posts. Steve has been experimenting with adding higher amounts of fat to his Primal eating plan and is charting the results on his blog. Great so far!

It was Epilepsy Awareness Day on March 26th – check out the work of Matthew’s Friends. MF posted a link to this article in the Guardian Neurology Supplement detailing the increasing use of dietary therapies in the treatment of epilepsy and other diseases.

Robb Wolf posted a link to an article on emulsifiers Food Additives Feed the Fire, published in Nature magazine. I bought the article (short but extremely interesting). The findings suggest that ‘emulsifiers seem to induce the development of intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome in mice by disrupting the composition of the microbiota.’ The experiment used lower doses than those allowed in human food. Here is an explanation of emulsifiers in food.

Great response to the Dean Ornish article on protein diets in the New York Times from Dr Dan Eades – see the original article by Ornish here and see Dr Eades response here. Hat-tip to Caveman Doctor.

We love Moroccan and Lebanese food, so this Paleo Moroccan Feast from The Clothes Make the Girl caught my eye. It looks delicious.

I have been making sauerkraut – see photo above. Yes I know I am the last person to try making this! I used white and red cabbage, a little carrot, garlic, chilli pepper and ginger. It is fermenting away in the dark and we look forward to trying the results (assuming everything goes well). For more on all things fermentable, check out Sandor Katz’s website Wild Fermentation. His book The Art of Fermentation looks fantastic.

For those of you out there that tolerate dairy – check out this Feta, Nigella and Red Pepper dip from the excellent Bertie’s Food and Drink. Apart from butter, I don’t eat much diary but will very occasionally have some cheese. We tried this dip and it is wonderful!

Ate a lovely roast breast of new season lamb; a cheap and delicious cut.

Ketogenic experiment going well and feeling great.

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Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’?

Paleo: ‘Anthropologically naive’, intellectually bankrupt’ and ‘anti-feminist’?

Paleo seems to be all over the news lately. The Pete Evans baby book controversy has sparked a flurry of opinions and argument, but I am not getting in to that particular issue here. However, an article caught my eye recently from Jason Wilson in the Guardian that I found particularly interesting (in terms of how people perceive the lifestyle) and which certainly warrants a response.

Although Mr Wilson has a problem with Paleo recommendations concerning diet (which we will come to presently), his strongest criticism is reserved for the seemingly sexist underpinning to the lifestyle. This caught my eye as it is an argument that has popped up before and one that continues to rear its head intermittently. In conversation with someone recently from a well-known organisation, I was surprised to hear them remark that the Paleo lifestyle does not accord women the status they deserve – that it was too ‘male-focused’. The fact that they were talking to a woman (me) who was vocally championing Paleo and in the process of describing how it had changed her life was neither here nor there. Clearly I was either a) brainwashed by men and/or b) too stupid to realise the enormous sexism that existed within the scene. I was very amused by this encounter and laughed it off. I’m very much of the opinion that everyone is entitled to say what they think and the Paleo/Ancestral Health is not immune from criticism in any way. I like to read articles and listen to others when they vocalise a contrary opinion on Paleo. I just have my own opinion too and it’s great to be able to say what I think on my own blog (as they like to say what they think on theirs/in their columns etc.). So here goes…

The problem with ‘The Paleo Diet’

Mr Wilson acknowledges a ‘superficial plausibility’ to the idea that many aspects of modern life such as diet, stress and technology place a burden upon a species that has only relatively recently abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, and whose biological make-up is at odds with this change.

‘The undeniable fact that Western affluence has produced many unintended consequences for public health – many modern processed foods are nutritionally valueless, and a lot of us don’t do as much exercise as we ought. It may also connect with the undeniable alienation many of us feel in a world where technology, fast food and urban living can sometimes seem like a self-imposed prison.’

Such thoughts seem perfectly sensible to me so I’m not sure why they are only ‘superficially plausible’. It is undeniable that since the emergence of the human genus Homo about 2.4 million years ago, our ancestors, for approximately 84,000 generations, have survived as hunter-gatherers. The transition to agriculture took place astonishingly recently on the timeline of our evolution, with the introduction of processed foods taking place even later (the last few seconds perhaps?). It is no wonder that some argue that we have not fully adapted to this radicle change in our diet and the enormous consequences to our health that this transition has caused. Why does Mr Wilson think this is this only ‘superficially plausible’?

Although we may agree that modern lifestyles jar with our hunter-gatherer selves, Mr Wilson stresses that there was ‘no one, uniform diet that Stone Age people ate. They were adaptable – just like us. Therefore because of this, the whole argument is ‘intellectually bankrupt’. He states:

‘The presumptions about what people in the old stone age ate are anthropologically naive: many experts argue we can’t make universal claims about that with any degree of certainty, and inconveniently, evidence keeps emerging that people then did help themselves to high-carb foods when they were available. That’s because they were versatile, opportunistic and adaptable, like us.’

Mr Wilson’s argument goes something like this: Paleo people make ‘certain, universal’ claims that there was only one type of diet ate in the Stone Age. Experts say this is not true as evidence suggests that Stone Age people ate carbohydrates if available and were therefore adaptable. Modern humans are likewise adaptable to eat a range of foods such as gluten and dairy. Therefore the Paleo diet is ‘anthropologically naïve’ and:

‘… premised on a false image of stasis and harmony projected from an entirely arbitrary point in the long history of human evolution.’

This straw man argument has so many holes in it and makes so many assumptions that it is hard to know where to begin. I’ll keep it short as the real focus of Mr Wilson’s polemic is yet to come.

1. Paleo does not believe with certainty that there was one uniform diet that all Stone Age people followed. It is widely acknowledged that traditional hunter-gatherer diets range from the Innuit (protein-based diet with little or no fruit and vegetables) to the Kitavans (around 70% carbohydrate-based diets). The modern Paleo diet takes the hunter-gatherer as a blueprint and simplifies food choices around the basics of meat, fish, fowl, eggs, vegetable, fats, nuts and fruits and eliminating grains, industrial seed oils, dairy and processed foods. Again, there is no one Paleo diet for everyone. People are encouraged to experiment and see what works for them.

2. A Paleo diet does not cut out carbohydrates. It is lower in carbohydrates than the standard western diet. Carbohydrates come from a wide range of vegetables and limited fruit. Some may choose to eat higher carbohydrates than others according to their health and fitness regime. For instance a 65 year old diabetic may eat fewer carbohydrates than a sporty 25 year old (or a sporty 65 year old for that matter).

3. It is true that various groups around the world have evolved in a relatively short amount of time to tolerate certain foods. Northern Europeans have evolved to tolerate dairy compared to African and Asian populations. However, there is a huge difference between tolerating certain foods and eating foods that have sustained us for the vast majority of our time on earth; foods which we have not only survived on but thrived upon. In the case of gluten in particular, the mounting evidence suggests that we have failed to adapt to this recent change in our diet and the full consequences are yet to be realised.  It is widely recognised that when societies move away from their native diet and adopt non-traditional foods, they begin to suffer health problems. This can be seen in documentaries such as My Big Fat Diet.

We do not feed our dogs grains even though they may be able to ‘cope’ with them. Nor do we believe that cows should eat grains either. ‘Coping’ is not thriving.  The practice of fattening up cattle with grains, both in the UK and the US is a concern and the importance of 100% pasture raised meat is something that the Paleo scene strives hard to raise awareness of.

For some thoughts about meat production, see my reviews of the BBC programme Should I Eat Meat here and here. Regarding pasture raised meat see my article Finding 100% pasture raised meat – a journey. See also my articles on the Savory Institute and the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

Additionally, if what Mr Wilson argues is true – if we are able to adapt to any food – then maybe we shouldn’t seek to cut out high- carbohydrate, processed, chemically-laden foods. We will eventually just adapt to tolerate them more successfully, so what’s the problem?

‘Understanding the diet of past human species closely related to our own will help us gain perspective on our evolutionary constraints and adaptability.’ Ainara Sistiaga, a Geoarchaeologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of La Laguna

‘Nobody tells a giraffe how to eat. But for the first time in history, humans don’t know what to eat. We no longer know what human food is.’ Jeff Leach

4. Adherents regard the Paleolithic era as ‘false image of stasis and harmony’. Who would suggest that human development within the Paleolithic period ranging from around 2.4/2.6 million years ago to around 10,000 years was static? Who would suggest it was harmonious? Really, these arguments are ridiculous. If we are talking about stasis in terms of diet, we do know that populations ate a hunter-gatherer diet with regional differences and seasonal availability. Diets also changed according to migratory patterns. But one thing is for certain, these diets had more in common with each other than with contemporary diets and when taken together, they form a suitable blueprint with which to emulate a hunter-gatherer diet (as much as it is possible to do) in modern times.

As for harmonious, we know that if Stone Age man or woman managed to avoid accidents, traumatic childbirth and being killed in a fight, they went on to live relatively long lives. Was it idyllic? Who would think that? We may be able to look at contemporary hunter gatherer societies to get a suggestion of what it may have been like but we absolutely cannot make assumptions that it was harmonious any more than we can assume Paleolithic people were in a constant state of stress and terror.

See this very interesting discussion on modern hunter-gatherers at How the Light Gets In philosophy festival 2014 (with Daniel Everett and Bruce Parry amongst the guests)

5. Paleo adherents project their argument ‘from an entirely arbitrary point in the long history of human evolution’. It is widely believed that the agricultural revolution which marked the end of the Paleolithic Era is one of the most defining – if not the defining – moments in our evolution. Whether or not one believes it was ‘…the worst mistake in the history of the human race’ as Professor Jared Diamond stated, we cannot fail to concede that what happened after the Paleolithic Era fundamentally changed humanity.

For further reading on the impact of the agricultural revolution and the move away from hunter-gathers to farmers, see the following:

The Other Side of Eden: Hunter-Gatherers, Farmers and the Shaping of the World by Hugh Brodie – a beautifully written book that explores the triumph of farming over the hunter-gatherer.

Against the Grain by Richard Manning – I cannot recommend this book enough; a wonderful examination on the impact of agriculture on the development of the human race.

The problem with the Paleo ‘Ideology’

Leaving diet aside we move on to the meat (excuse the pun) of Mr Wilson’s argument.  The discussion about nutrition and evolution is used merely as a way to get at the heart of what he sees as the real problem with Paleo – social hierarchies and in particular sexism.

Why ‘pick’ the Paleolithic Era as a model on which to base a lifestyle? According to Mr Wilson it has nothing to do with food and more to do with the ‘desire to justify or reimpose certain social hierarchies, especially those concerning gender.’ He adds that advocates are ‘dedicated to a selective denial of modernity, which in some cases is accompanied by anti-feminist attitudes’.

This is perplexing. I have to begin by saying that I can only speak as I find. Perhaps there are hordes of Paleo people out there – I am assuming both the men and women are culprits here – who seek to impose social hierarchies and gender stereotypes but I have yet to read or hear about them, let alone to meet them.

I travelled to Paleo f(x) 2014 in Austin, Texas – read all about it here – and so I guess that of all places, this would be where I would find a true representation of Paleo people and find out what they were really like. I was one of only 2 people from the UK at the event (the other was a speaker) and I stayed for quite a few days and travelled alone. I was the proverbial ‘outsider’ from across the pond, so I was able to get a clear insight into the scene and its adherents. What did I find?

I went to the social events in the evenings as well as the talks from 8.30am to 5pm each day. I joined a meet-up group and we shared lunches. I met men, women, young people, older people, singles, couples expecting their first baby and families who travelled together. I met Paleo celebrities and total beginners. I met doctors and patients. People went out of their way to be kind, knowing that I had travelled all the way from the UK. We exchanged stories about how we found Paleo and the benefits it had given us. I met people who had experienced illness and had come through the other side. I met people who were planning to ditch jobs and change their careers because the lifestyle had such a profound effect on them. I can honestly say that I did not meet anyone – anyone – who wanted to ‘impose social hierarchies and gender stereotypes’. The women that I met were strong (many both mentally and physically) and positive. Why would they – and I include me here too – be so dedicated to a lifestyle that in any way advocated a restrictive definition of gender, for both men and women? Are we all deluded or stupid? Too busy thinking about kittens and chocolate to see what was in front of us?

There was no doubt that people were enthusiastic and committed. Were they evangelical? Yes, maybe they were and are – myself included. I will talk about Paleo to anyone that shows an interest. Otherwise I keep quiet in social situations unless asked. Then I am happy to talk about it to my heart’s content. Is it an ideology? Yes, maybe it is in that it spreads outwards from food choices to affect the way we think about many other areas of our lives. I would say that vegetarianism and veganism are ideologies and I respect people’s right to choose those just as much as I respect their right to choose Paleo. Is it a harmful ideology? Well, each is entitled to their opinion on that. I could think of worse.

Ideology or not, the ironic thing about all this is that as a woman, I have redefined what I think is desirable in terms of visual appearance. This has happened subtly over the course of the last few years since adopting Paleo. Women are bombarded in magazines by pictures of uber-thin models and celebrities to aspire to. Throughout my life I have been no more immune to this than the next woman. Alternatively we have constant reminders that the nation is getting fatter with pictures of obese people on every other news item. These two extremes are the norm for visual references of women in our society. Finding Paleo has meant that for the first time in my life I have placed strength (and its consequence, health) above all else. Strength comes in all shapes and sizes (tall and lean to short and stocky) but there is no mistaking it when you see it. Paleo f(x) was the first time I had seen so many strong men and women (both mentally and physically) in one place and it was fantastic.

There were just as many well-known women Paleo women as men. Some of the biggest figures in Paleo are women – Nora Gedgaudas, Dr Terry Wahls, Michelle Norris, Sarah Fragoso, Michelle Tam, Melissa Joulwan, Melissa Hartwig … the list goes on and on. These women are strong and knowledgeable. They create businesses, give lectures, practise medicine, write bestselling books, manage illness and hold successful careers, often while raising families. Is Mr Wilson really saying that they have had the wool pulled over their eyes, or that they are implicitly advocating gender stereotyping in which women are solely regarded as ‘gatherers’ or delicate creatures that rely completely on their strong ‘hunter’ men?

One of the most interesting talks for me at Paleo f(x) 2014 was the panel on masculinity called Cultivating the Well Adjusted Male (including Mr Wilson’s Paleo Public Enemy No.1, John Durant) You can read my notes here. This was a fascinating debate and one that I thought a lot about afterwards. I have been thinking about it again in the context of Mr Wilson’s article. It is widely acknowledged that men face increasing rates of suicide (the suicide rate in men in their forties and fifties has risen 40% in ten years), unemployment, mental illnesses and criminality. There is debate about their role within society and within the family, about their academic performance and issues of identity, about the lack of role models for young boys.

For further information regarding men and depression see Depression and suicide in men and The silent epidemic of male suicide. See also this article: Why do so many men like my friend take their own lives?

For an interesting take on this issue see Our attitude to violence against men is out of date

The panel focused on the need for men to be given the space to be themselves but stressed that there is no one definition of masculinity. It was a hugely interesting discussion (please read the short notes) and one that highlighted the fact that men – as much as women – need the space and encouragement to just be themselves, in all of their different ways. Acknowledging a need for competition or an enjoyment of hunting seems perfectly harmless in the great scheme of things and is certainly not anti-women. Why should a man be suppressed from exhibiting these traits if he so chooses? Why shouldn’t men and women be free to express their identity in the way they choose? Mr Wilson’s concern over gender stereotypes misses the greater issue of freedom of choice and the importance of mutual respect, of working together, of finding one’s strengths. The freedom to ‘be a man’ (however that is interpreted) does not automatically imply that women are reduced to powerless gender stereotypes. There should be freedom for both sexes in choosing the roles they wish – hunter, gatherer, housewife, career woman, stay at home dad, gay or straight. What is important is mutual respect and support for the decisions we make, for the roles that we willingly choose, and for the people that we are. If we lose this, we run into problems.

The most outrageous claim by Mr Wilson is perhaps his assertion that Paleo:

‘…expresses a belief that the bones and guts obtained by the hunter can not only supplant the products of modern medicine, but can effectively substitute for mother’s milk.’

This really is so outlandish that it is off the scale. Anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the Paleo/Ancestral Health scene, knows that there is much talk about the possible advantages of breast-feeding from the aspect of the baby’s gut health and in particular the development of a healthy microbiome. As I said, I am not getting into the whole baby feeding, Pete Evans argument but needless to say this is a gross misrepresentation of Paleo and one that shows wildly imaginative speculation.

For more information on the effect of breastfeeding and the baby’s microbiome see:

How delivery mode and feeding can shape the bacterial community in the infant gut

Infant gut microbiota influenced by caesarean section and breastfeeding practices may affect health in later life

Likewise, the idea that Paleo seeks to supplant modern medicine is both simplistic and erroneous. If Mr Wilson means that the ideal would be a world in which people are healthier, stronger, live longer and do not fall prey to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia, relying less on drugs and medical intervention and more on prevention through diet and lifestyle then yes, the Paleo/Ancestral Health scene does desire that. If he means that Paleo adherents believe that modern medicine can be done away with – that’s right, there’s no need for any of it – and that we should all go back to how it was 20,000 years ago, dying from wounds and traumatic childbirth, well that really is stretching things.

As I said at the beginning of this article, I approve wholeheartedly of Mr Wilson’s right to his opinion. It’s great to hear what people think of Paleo and I can only speak how I have found things. However, in view of all of this, the most upsetting thing is the real persecution, hatred and violence towards women (and men) around the world which stands in stark contrast to this imaginary sexism that Mr Wilson has pulled out of thin air from the remnants of the Pete Evans controversy. There is enough of this to keep the most avid feminists and people like Mr Wilson busy for the next 100 years. Perhaps he would do better to focus on that and leave Paleo – a scene which he clearly knows nothing about – well alone.

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For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

PPP Round-Up: 22/03/15

PPP Round-Up: 22/03/15

Here’s what I have been up to:

Looking forward to hearing all about Paleo f(x) 2015. Can’t wait to see the videos. The talk by Travis Christofferson on the Metabolic Theory of Cancer and Emily Deans’ talk on the Microbiome and Mental Health look very interesting.

Great news! The LCHF conference could be coming to the UK in 2016!

R bought us a Berkey Water Filter to filter out heavy metals and other chemicals and nasty stuff from the tap water. No chemical smells too!

Tracking ketosis

Tracking my ketones with urine strips and wondering whether to get a Ketonix breathalyser. Averaging 1.5 – 4 mmol on the strips over the last month. Feeling good despite stressful time recently.

Reading some helpful Keto websites:

http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/

http://www.ketoisland.com/

http://keto-calculator.ankerl.com/

Reddit Keto site

Keto Q&A – excellent intro to keto

List of keto/low carb related videos

Videos and Podcasts

Entertaining documentary Eat to Live Forever featuring Paleo. A must-watch (for all the wrong reasons).

I have been watching the Low Carb Down Under videos – here. Some great stuff and led me to Tim Noakes’s good-looking Real Meal Revolution website.

Watched the Surviving Terminal Cancer film. Hugely interesting film about combination therapies. Found it after reading this article in the news.

Excellent interview with Professor Thomas Seyfried here. A must-listen!

Reading about the Grazing for Change conference in Chico CA.

Was I the last Paleo person in the world to watch Jay Wortman’s My Big Fat Diet?! Can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. Check it out here. Also check out Jay Wortman’s blog here.

BBC Inside Health: Bowel Bacteria and Faecal Transplants – Interesting article on gut bacteria transplants and the impact on metabolic syndrome and neurological conditions (about 17:30 in). As far back as the 1600’s physicians postulated a link between neurological disorders and the gut…

Listening to some of the SealFit Unbeatable Mind podcasts (I probably don’t conform to their average listener!!). Great episodes Beyond Paleo and Primal Diets with Robb Wolf and Supercharging Your Sleep with Kirk Parsley. Also check out A Personal Ethos with Colonel Bob Schoultz – very interesting guy. He studied philosophy and is very much influenced by Greek thinkers such as the Stoics. Listen to a great anecdote about Aristotle and SEAL training! Philosophy is for all of us and one of the greatest gifts is to bring the lessons of philosophy to people in a clear and simple way (this is a whole other blog post). This is exactly what Socrates achieved. When one reads Plato, we are struck by Socrates’ patient and gentle teaching. This led me over to Colonel Schoultz’s blog and there are some very interesting and thoughtful posts on there. Check it out – particularly the latest post On Hardship and Suffering. I look forward to reading more.

How our microbes make us who we are – excellent Ted Talk by Rob Knight. Also Congratulations to Rob and Team for winning the Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science: ‘For groundbreaking research on microbial communities and the development of computational tools that honed the analysis of microbial data.’

Books

Top of the book list:

Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets by Joanna Blythman. Check out my article on Joanna’s recent radio interview here. Can’t wait to read this!

Doctoring Data by Malcolm Kendrick – author of The Great Cholesterol Con. Looks like a great read. Check out Tom Naughton’s review here.

The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution by Richard D. Feinman. Can’t seem to find this in any other format but Kindle. Was released last year but I’ve only just heard about it.

Re-reading Volek and Phinney books:

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living

The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

Looks interesting: Ketone Power: Superfuel for Optimal Mental Health and Ultimate Physical Performance by Cristian Vlad Zot

News

I have been following the Pete Evans controversy. Lots of rubbish has been written including this nonsense from Jason Wilson at the Guardian, which warrants a separate blog post (currently writing).

Paleo elsewhere in the news: Caveman Diet goes mainstream: how to be ‘paleo-ish

Read the latest report from Matthew’s Friends regarding their involvement with the Astro Brain Tumour Fund in connection with the Ketogenic Diet

Ten-year study highlights effectiveness of ketogenic diets

Statins increase risk of diabetes by almost 50 per cent, study finds

Parkinson’s link to statins: Calls to end widespread use of the drug

Brits go nuts for coconut oil

Three to five cups of coffee a day could reduce the risk of heart attack

Johnson & Johnson Bets On Alzheimer’s Vaccine, Disease Prediction, Human ‘Microbiome’ – very interesting!

Fluoride in drinking water may trigger depression and weight gain, warn scientists

Government obesity adviser Susan Jebb took research funding from Coca-Cola – here’s Susan Jebb’s latest article for the BBC a few days ago Why not nanny people about healthy diet?

The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol

Website articles

Cancer Recurrence May Not be What You Think (what it really is and what can be done to prevent it) – excellent article from Single Cause Single Cure Cancer Foundation. ‘When the true nature of recurrence is combined with the evidence that cancer could be a disease caused by dysfunctional mitochondria, the cancer survivor is never taken out of the fight.’

Latest blog post from Dr Malcolm Kendrick on NICE

The Lie That’s Killing Us: Pre-Diabetes

Mental Health: Thinking from the Gut – amazing article!

Diet, Depression, and the Microbiome – from the excellent Emily Deans

To foster complex societies, tell people a god is watching

Kissing your dog could improve your health, scientists say

Savory Institute: Finalist in Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge

Rediscovering my Land and Local Food – lovely article from Slow Food

Recommendation for vitamin D intake was miscalculated, is far too low, experts say

Lack of sleep may increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, study finds

Does a high salt diet combat infections?

Paleofication: Just Because The Label Says Paleo Doesn’t Mean It’s Healthy… – really good article and food for thought

Widely used food additives promotes colitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome, shows study of emulsifiers

Anti-inflammatory mechanism of dieting and fasting revealed

Interesting websites

Soul Nutrition – very interesting website recommended by the awesome Matthew’s Friends. ‘Our current focus is on supporting research into the potential use of ketogenic dietary therapy for brain tumour patients, to be used alongside all existing cancer treatments available on the NHS.’

I Breathe, I’m Hungry – some nice-looking low carb recipes on here!

Body by Science

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For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

Clean labels, dirty tricks?

Clean labels, dirty tricks?

‘What is a little worrying that when asked, more than half of consumers didn’t know that sodium chloride was salt. We shouldn’t be surprised that consumers don’t understand a lot of the ingredients on the back of the pack but that doesn’t make them bad ingredients… It’s a complicated area. I wouldn’t expect consumers to understand the ingredients or I wouldn’t expect them to understand the regulatory framework but I would expect them to trust the people that are making the food for them because that’s what they do.’

Alice Cadman: Leatherhead Food Research

Some time ago I listened to a discussion regarding the processing of orange juice labelled as ‘not from concentrate’. Although I don’t drink juice, I did drink it before Paleo and naively assumed that ‘not from concentrate’ juices were made from freshly squeezed oranges and nothing else.  I had no idea about flavour packs that are added to the juice (which is heated, stripped of flavour and sits in vats for up to a year) and the chemicals they contain, expertly adjusted in the laboratory to mimic the taste of fresh orange juice as closely as possible.

Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. The ability to manipulate words to suggest a ‘natural’ product is rife within food manufacturing and I am sure that we are all aware of it, but the recent edition of the Radio 4 Food Programme ‘The Clean Label Question’ was still an eye-opener as to what goes on behind the scenes.

Avoiding processed foods is a major part of adopting Paleo but the addition of chemicals to even the most basic packaged foods without having to label them (for instance to a tub of fruit salad or pack of frozen vegetables), means that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make informed judgements on the quality of the food that we are buying. Joanna Blythman’s new book Swallow This: Serving Up the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets lifts the lid on processes that the food industry employs to convince consumers that what they are buying is ‘natural’. Termed ‘clean labelling’ it is an advertising method that ensures big profits for food companies at the expense of unsuspecting consumers looking to make healthier choices.

Joanna assumed a false identity and went ‘undercover’ in the food industry to attend some of the big trade shows where such chemicals and manufacturing processes are showcased. She admitted that her book merely scrapes the surface of what is going on in the production of our food.

Of course, when reading the list of ingredients for many processed foods we are taken aback by the sheer number of them; many of which do not sound like food at all. Using the example of a cherry bakewell cake which should really only have a handful of ingredients, Joanna listed the contents of the processed version which included 4 types of sugar, modified maze starch, vegetable oil, emulsifiers, cornflour, flavouring, acidity regulators, fruit and vegetable extract (radish) used as colouring. She explained that the issue is primarily one of cost. Since the traditional ingredients of a cherry bakewell are so expensive, the food economist seeks to replicate these flavours through the use of chemicals and creates a cheaper product for the consumer.The same with vanilla beans; Joanna explained how it is much cheaper to use synthetic vanilla flavouring which replaces the flavour lost in processing and masks off the unpleasant tastes produced in the factory process. Through such additives, cheap, ‘tasty’ food can be brought to those who may otherwise be unable to afford it. But is that really the full story?

‘All sorts of bad things are done to food in the name of feeding poor people’  Joanna Blythman

 

We can maybe argue that this is a question of choice. If foods contain chemical additives and the consumer chooses to ignore this and buy them anyway what’s the problem? Perhaps they like the taste. Shouldn’t we be free to choose? Joanna points out that the issue is one of deception. Many consumers want ‘natural’ foods and go out of their way to make the right decisions but the ‘clean label’ methods used by the manufacturers are deliberately obscuring the true extent of food additives and confusing the consumer.

The presenter asked Alice Cadman, Director of Marketing at Leatherhead Food Research about the addition of chemicals to our food, first brought to widespread attention by Maurice Hanssen’s bestselling book E for Additives (1987). Ms Cadman noted the irony over the panic about E numbers as they ‘…were created to assure consumers that additives had been tested and approved.’ She went on to issue what sounded like a veiled threat: ‘…when you remove additives that are there to keep food safe, you have to be aware of the consequences.’

There was also a very interesting conversation with John Forbes Global Support Manager at Treat in Bury St. Edmunds (a company specialising in citrus flavours). John described how scientists (which he likened to artists) create synthetic versions of natural essences by analysing the key substances that tell us it is (for instance) an orange flavour. These key molecules are then reproduced in synthetic form to produce a convincing flavour. Artistic merits aside, Mr Forbes explains how the primary issue is always cost; it is much cheaper to use a non-natural material.

We then hear about the ‘Southampton Six’ (Tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124), Sunset Yellow (E110), Camoisine (E122), Quinoline Yellow (E104) and Allura Red (E129)); artificial colourings that were labelled with danger warnings after research found them to be linked to ADHD in children (see here.) I’m not sure how this fits in with Alice Cadman’s comment (above) but it is obvious that we do not know enough about the long-term effects of thousands of chemicals added to our food. Chemicals such as the Southampton Six were added to food first before knowing finding out the full consequences afterwards.

Joanna explained that with colourings there is no distinction between natural and synthetic. The methods used to produce each may be indistinguishable and even the food industry finds it hard to draw a distinction. Artisan packaging, together with language such as ‘extracts’, ‘essences’ and ‘concentrates’ obscure this even further. Yet Barbara Gallani, Director of Regulation of Science and Health at the Food and Drink Federation assured us that ‘labels have never been so clear and transparent as they are now. She added that information is also available on official/government websites and that consumers have hotlines to get specific information if they are concerned about additives. She also raised the issue of safety and appearance through storage and transport. There seemed to be a desire to swing the argument away from producing cheap food to one of chemical additives being essential for the safety of our food.

‘I just don’t think that people realise just how much sophisticated interference with their food is going on behind the scenes’. Joanna Blythman

The most surprising part of the programme for me was the discussion of enzymes (biological catalysts that speed up chemical reactions). The consumer does not need to be notified when food contains these and all processed food is thought to contain at least one ingredient that is treated with an enzyme. There are around 150 enzymes used in food processing and even foods such as tubs of fruit salad and frozen fruit and vegetables are treated with them to extend shelf life. We heard how enzymes are accorded the rather worrying status of GRAS ‘generally regarded as safe’ (my italics); thus insuring that manufacturers are covered should any future problems arise. There is evidence that enzymes are potentially allergenic (for instance bakery enzymes may cause respiratory problems and allergies).

George Cass, Professor of Toxicology at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) based in Parma, Italy described the process in assessing the safety of various chemical compounds. Companies contact the Authority with information on the particular substance and then the compound is analysed to see whether it is safe for the consumer. There are currently 2700 flavouring compounds used in Europe and they are all being re-evaluated as there was no consistent evaluation process in the past (being left to individual states). We heard that the Authority is currently involved in checking the safety of enzymes – especially with regards to allergenicity. If any problems are identified, the Authority will inform EU.

As Joanna concluded the discussion by stressing the need for people to cook, there was a very interesting exchange over the issue of class. The presenter voiced concerns that any talk about the importance of learning to cook strayed into Baroness Jenkin territory: the Conservative peer who recently suggested that poor people don’t know how to cook (see here). Joanna agreed that the prevailing attitude here in the UK is that it is OK not to cook but emphatically denied that this is just about working class people, noting that Baroness Jenkin’s mistake was linking it to class (although the terms ‘poor’ and ‘working class’ seem to have been confused). She added that if we are discussing class, in many ways it is actually middle class people who are being conned the most as they are paying a premium for processed food that they think is ‘superior’ to the more obviously cheaper processed food.

Class distinctions aside, listening to all this is obviously disheartening. The onus is – as always – put on to the consumer to ferret out the information about the food they are buying. At what point did we think it normal to have to consult government websites and hotlines about the food we eat? Of course there is a danger of being completely overwhelmed by all this and just saying ‘to hell with it’, but food labelling is one of the tools we use to help us choose food that is healthy and safe. ‘Clean labelling’ is a deliberate attempt to confuse the artificial with the natural and makes these choices even harder.

By following a Paleo diet we attempt to simplify food choices to the essentials, avoiding processed food as much as we can (I still regard things like coffee and coconut milk as processed), and sticking to basics. Sometimes when I walk around a shop, service station or airport while travelling and without pre-prepared food I often toy with the question ‘What would a hunter-gatherer recognise as food here?’ It’s not a perfect test but it helps. In a sea of sandwiches, panini’s, pies, cakes and confectionary, a tub of fruit may look like the nearest thing to natural food but after listening to this programme I realise that I might be wrong. Then again, even if I choose a piece of fruit, what about the chemicals that may have been sprayed on it? Some would argue that we could we could drive ourselves crazy with all of this but I think that the key is mitigation. Choose real food as much as possible in its natural state without the packaging (meat, fish, veg, fruit, fats, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices) from sources you trust, try to avoid processed foods and anything with ingredients that sound more at home in the laboratory and when you see a label that screams ‘natural’, just don’t believe the hype.

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For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

Finding 100% pasture raised meat – a journey

Finding 100% pasture raised meat – a journey

Since starting Paleo we have become increasingly mindful of our food choices and also much more aware of the various descriptions given to food production and what they really mean. Terms like ‘organic’, ‘natural’, ‘grass-fed’ and ‘free-range’ do not necessarily guarantee that what we are eating is the best that we can get for our health, for the animal, or for the environment.

At the 2014 Savory Institute Conference, Daphne Miller reminded us how the label ‘free-range’ does not automatically mean that chickens are reared in a particular way – see the picture below. See also this article. Chickens raised on pasture, for instance at the inspirational Free Union Grass Farm in Virginia  – see how they raise their poultry here and here – is surely preferable and scratching around a field eating a myriad of bugs, grains and scraps seems a much more fitting way for a chicken to spend its life. The effect of stressful conditions and overcrowding has an impact on the quality of the eggs and meat as well as having consequences for our own health in addition to that of the chickens – see the second photo below.

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As for chickens, so with cows. How can we guarantee that the conditions they are raised in are not only beneficial for the cow, but also for our health and for the environment? These issues were explored in the recent Horizon programme Should I Eat Meat? but I felt the programme to be superficial and clearly agenda-driven (see my review here and here). It left the viewer with the impression that a) eating factory-farmed chickens is the best we can do for our health and the environment and b) eating more than 100g of red meat a day will make you ill (and wreck the environment). Sadly it failed to fully discuss the many beneficial effects of pasture raised meat and the importance of ruminants to our ecosystem.

Upon starting Paleo, it very quickly became clear that great importance is placed on 100% pasture raised meat. I wanted to find out as much as I could about it and also to secure a reliable source. My search has taken me a while, but more about that later. Let’s firstly look at why pasture raised meat is the best choice we can make.

Grass fed meat is healthier for us

 

Pasture raised meat is higher in Omega-3s. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that we need to obtain from our food as the body cannot make it. This polyunsaturated fat is anti-inflammatory and so has many benefits such as protection against cancer, arthritis, and heart disease. It is especially important for brain health and Omega-3 supplementation could be beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases – see here. The Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio is important as an excess of Omega-6 (from sources such as vegetable oils) can conversely cause inflammation. The longer cattle are fed grain, the more the Omega-3 is reduced:

“When cattle are taken off Omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on Omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of Omega-3s is diminished.”  See here.

It is believed that the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors was roughly equal in Omega-3 to Omega-6, whereas the average Western diet has ratios of 15:1 in favour of Omega-6 – see here. Therefore, it would make sense to eat foods that are well balanced and rich in Omega-3s.

Pasture raised meat is higher in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). This fatty acid is found in the meat and dairy products of ruminant animals and is thought to be protective against cancer, heart disease and general inflammation. See this excellent article on the benefits of CLA by Caveman Doctor.

Pasture raised meat is higher in Vitamin E, an antioxidant that may be beneficial in protecting against cancer, heart disease and inflammatory conditions such as Alzheimer’s – see here. Levels are 3 times higher in pasture raised animals than in grain fed animals. A 200g serving of meat provides 1.6mg out of the recommended 15mg per day, so while it is important to ensure additional food sources of Vitamin E, it still compares favourably with grain fed meat (and when taken together with other advantages).

Pasture raised meat is higher in B Vitamins, as well as minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

For additional information on the health benefits of pasture raised meat, see the following articles:

A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed and grain-fed beef

Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products

The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.

A Study Of The Nutritional and Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Beef

 

Grass fed meat is healthier for the animal

 

As in the case of humans, raising cattle on the food that they have evolved to eat seems like a perfectly simple and sensible idea. A cow’s digestive system has evolved to process grass, not grain. A natural, pastured diet for a ruminant must surely be the healthiest option for the animal and conversely for those that consume it. There is some evidence that the larger feedlot system of finishing cattle is becoming popular in the UK with cattle numbers in the thousands finished over a 3 month period with grain and supermarket by-products such as bread and biscuit meal. Ingredients from the bakery, confectionery, pastry and breakfast cereal industries may also be used to finish.

Soya is an additional ingredient of cattle feed and is also used to feed pigs and chickens. There has been clearance of huge areas of rainforest in South America to grow soy:

Soy production has already destroyed 21 million hectares of forest in Brazil, and 80 million hectares, including portions of the Amazon basin.”  Food For Thought – Soybean Endangers Brazil Amazon Rainforest

Health problems for cows fed on grain include acidosis as a result of feeding increased amounts of carbohydrates – see here. Feedlot bloat may also be a problem: ‘most frequently caused by indigestion caused by acidosis’ – see here.

In addition to their diet, it would make sense that ruminants are more contented in their natural environment as opposed to spending extended periods of time in feeding lots. The ability to move around in the open air on pasture and not be crowded in small spaces must surely reduce stress. As with humans, minimizing chronic stress improves health.

Grass fed meat is healthier for the environment

 

The digestive process of ruminants produces manure which increases soil health and biodiversity. Healthy soils result in healthy plants, healthy animals that eat those plants and healthier humans that eat those animals.  When we raise and grow our food, soil health is critical and poor soil quality has detrimental effects on a wide variety of flora and fauna. Ruminants fit into this natural system and we tamper with this at our peril. Grazing animals can also make the most efficient use of large areas of grasslands unsuitable for growing crops – particularly important if we are to feed a continually expanding population.

The importance of using pasture raised ruminants to heal the soil fits within a wider concept of ‘holistic management’ as advocated by the Savory Institute. Holistic management ensures that decisions are based on objectives which take into account such things as economic, social, cultural  and environmental factors. By mimicking the movements of vast herd of ruminants across the land that would have taken place thousands of years ago, responsibly managed livestock has been shown to improve soil health and reverse desertification in many parts of the world. Conversely, removing grazing animals from the ecosystem has resulted in problems for the environment (and our health).

Realising that we cannot extricate ourselves from the whole and make successful decisions without taking into account these things is a vital step in the production of our food. What we feed cows is what we feed ourselves, is what we feed the soil, is what we feed the environment and subsequently all the repercussions that this has. Seeing this ‘bigger picture’ is also a central objective of the Permaculture movement:

“Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive systems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of the landscape with people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.”  Graham Bell, The Permaculture Way.

“Permaculture is a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless labour; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single product system.”  Bill Mollison

Farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms also encourages this holistic thinking and advocates multi-use farming systems that are based around the most efficient use of the land and the livestock – see his video on pasture raised cattle here and read notes from his talks at the Savory Institute Conference here.

How easy is it to find pasture raised meat?

Although we have access to high quality, locally reared meat from cows that are fed on grass for most of their life, it has been our goal to find a source of 100% pasture raised meat. However, it was proving to be quite difficult until recently. I began my search 18 months ago: contacting producers, supermarkets, butchers, talking to various people, etc. On my trip to Paleo f(x) 2014 in Austin, I was able to meet some of the US farmers that raise their livestock entirely on grass and find out about the American Grassfed Association.  I returned even more determined to find a source of 100% pasture fed meat.

Upon enquiry – and when pushed – many producers that I contacted had admitted to finishing on grain. There is a big difference between meat labelled as ‘grass fed’ (this can mean that for some or most of the animal’s life it was fed grass) and 100% pasture raised (fed on nothing else but pasture and hay or forage). Attending the Savory Institute Conference also opened my eyes to the benefits of responsible livestock management and the inextricable link to both soil and human health – see my notes here. At the conference I was also able to speak to Ben Reid and Sara Gregson from the Pasture Fed Livestock Association and at last an end to my long and convoluted search was in sight.

The PFLA is a fairly young organisation (formed 2009) that promotes the benefits of exclusively pasture raised meat. Membership includes producers, consumers, farmers, butchers and retailers. To join and be promoted by the PFLA, producers or retailers need to adhere to a set of standards and be open to independent inspection. The Pastoral label reassures the consumer that what they are buying is 100% pasture raised meat with no exceptions. The standards relate not only to what the animal is fed, but provide the framework for an ‘efficient, productive and sustainable system of farming’.

The PFLA had some excellent coverage recently on BBC’s Countryfile (not available on i-player at the time of writing) and demonstrated the impressive barcode system they have developed to provide maximum traceability to the consumer.

Scanning the list of producers that the PFLA have on their website, we were lucky enough to find a local farmer, John Price. However, he had very recently moved farms so I set about looking up ‘John Price’ on the internet (which is quite a common name in Wales). I asked around if anyone knew where he farmed and made quite a few phone calls (including one to a bemused accountant and another to an equally bemused farmer) but no luck. I was beginning to think that my search was doomed. PFLA came to the rescue again and managed to get his new number and we finally went to see him last week.

We met John and Patsy Price and their three children at Cwmnewynydd Farm on a warm September evening. The Prices farm around 242 acres and raise Belted Galloway cattle and Welsh Mountain sheep. The cattle graze from the lowest ground on the farm in the Usk valley to the highest part of the open hill on the Brecon Beacons and John kindly took us up on the quad to see the cattle grazing in the dip of the valley in the distance. It was a truly spectacular view (see the photos below). The cattle are born and raised outdoors, eating only pasture all year round and the hardy breed is especially suited to stay out on the hills throughout the winter. Belted Galloways are thought to originate from crossing the ancient Galloway cattle native to Scotland and the Dutch Belted cow (Lakenvelder) in the 17th and 18th Centuries. As John explained, legend has it that the drovers easily lost sight of the Galloways during the long winter nights due to the darkness of their coats. To solve this problem, the farmers decided to cross some of them with the Belted so that the distinctive white belt around their middle shone out at dusk, and made them easily seen by the drovers. Watching the cattle up there on the mountains really did put things into perspective. It was a very special evening.

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We bought a selection of meat and John explained how the barcoding system works. By scanning the code we were able to access web pages that told us the herd number, animal number, breed, sex, date of birth, abattoir and processing details, as well as all the information about the farmer and farm. It is a very impressive system. Other than raising the cattle ourselves, this felt the closest we could possibly get to the source of our meat.

Finally, after such a long journey we come to possibly the most important question of all. What does it taste like? We cooked some rump steaks and served them with a roasted squash and some Swiss chard from the garden sautéed with garlic. The meat was tender and the flavour superb. The fat tasted delicious – rich and buttery and quite unlike the fat from a ‘normal’ steak. I am so looking forward to trying the other cuts that we bought.

Thinking about how good it tasted – as well as all the other benefits – I wondered why it is that pasture raised meat is not more popular. I have always believed that consumer demand for this will grow, but the PFLA is looking for more producers so it seems that the problem is with finding producers rather than generating consumer demand. Why is this?

During the course of my search, I have had some debate about the way in which grain finishing is able to bulk up the carcass quickly and whether the carcasses of pasture raised cattle can favourably compare to those of grain finished (in terms of the amount of meat and fat present and the ‘bulk’ of the carcass). I have compared two carcasses side by side but I can only speak purely as a consumer and of course cannot claim to have knowledge of raising or selling cattle. My response was that even if that were the case we have to redefine what we think is a ‘better’ carcass and look at quality not quantity. I was pleased to see this following sentence in the PFLA standards:

“Pasture-Fed systems often require a fundamental change in perspective on the part of the producer and they are likely to require a similar change in the way animals are judged in competitive events.”

This seems to me the heart of the matter. A change of perspective is indeed needed. Not just for producers, retailers or judges, but for any consumer that cares about the food they are buying.

Our transition from hunter gatherers to farmers and the health problems associated with this change are the subject of much debate and are discussed elsewhere on this site. Paleo does not seek to replicate a hunter gatherer lifestyle but only to use it as a template and as a possible solution to some of the many problems that we encounter in 21st Century living. Of course, raising and eating animals or vegetables for food is something that would have been completely alien to our Paleolithic ancestors. However, with this necessity comes a responsibility that we must take on and nowhere is this responsibility heavier than in how we feed and raise the sentient beings that we eat. This accountability stretches from the pasture to the plate and beyond to the long-term consequences for our health and the environment. However, why complicate things more than we need to? If we attempt to mimic nature as much as is practically possible then perhaps we can ensure a positive outcome. Feeding cows their natural diet instead of industrially manufactured grain produce and the by-products of the bakery and confectionery industry is a fantastic start. Support 100% pasture raised producers!

With greatest of thanks to John and Patsy Price and Ben Reid at the PFLA.

Read more about the Savory Institute’s concept of Holistic management here and here.

Want to buy 100% pasture fed? The PFLA website has a list of approved suppliers, with many offering mail order, selling at farmers markets or directly from the gate.

 

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For a list of Paleo-friendly suppliers and products see the Resources and Suppliers page.

Surviving and thriving

During my search for a dehydrator (see last post), quite by chance I discovered the website of Arctic explorer Gary Rolfe. You can watch a short film about Gary, who lives in Greenland, directed by Tom Whitworth below. Dehydration of nutrient-dense food is a necessity on his expeditions in the beautiful but harsh Arctic environment, (hence me stumbling upon his review of a dehydrator). Gary also has an amazing blog here. The videos and pictures that Gary posts are spectacular and his blog is a testament to one man’s determination to fulfill his dream – read this post.

The relationship he has with his beloved Greenland Dogs is truly wonderful to see. They work as a team, with the dogs doing the job that they were born to do, and which they clearly love. Gary writes: “Everything about them is vast and strong. They despise physical and mental cowardice and have boundless positive confidence in themselves and everything they do. They are aggressive in their appetite to do what they’ve been bred to do and that’s pull massive payloads in brutal cold. For over two thousand years the selection process remains, if you pull hard, you live. What remains are incredible canine athletes with unique traits; powerful dominant dogs that are incredibly strong-willed. With huge chests and fur over twenty centimetres thick they are the Panzer tanks of the dog world, stop at nothing and I love them dearly” (from an article at Snowpawstore).

These dogs have adapted perfectly to the extreme Greenland climate and thrive on the tough work of traversing – what seems to us – incredibly inhospitable terrain. Originally from Siberia, they are one of the oldest breeds in the world. Their diet is mainly comprised of seal and includes a mixture of skin, blubber and meat. Presumably this is identical or similar to that of their ancestors, and also to the Siberian wolves they so closely resemble (and from which they have evolved). To introduce an alien diet to these dogs would no doubt result in both short and long-term problems with their health and performance. It would also go against all common sense. The dogs, their diet and their environment are inextricably linked.

On reading Gary’s blog, I am reminded that sharing our lives with these wonderful creatures that have evolved in unison with us is a blessing. But I am also reminded that in order to thrive – not merely function – we are not so different from Gary’s dogs. To reject the diet that has sustained us for hundreds of thousands of years is a massive mistake. Yes we have evolved, just as the Greenland dogs have evolved in unison with man to pull sledges and work tirelessly but scratch the surface and underneath we are ultimately still hunter-gatherers and wolves.

“Rolfe” (2009) – GREENLAND from Tom Whitworth on Vimeo.

For an amazing read, I throughly recommend Hugh Brody’s ‘The Other Side of Eden – Hunter-gatherers, Farmers and the Shaping of the World’ set amongst the Inuktitut of the Arctic. This beautifully written book explores the triumph of farming over the hunter-gatherer. Reading this changed my perspective on our relationship with agriculture, food and the land we live in – a truly wonderful book. With thanks to Professor Scruton for recommending it in his excellent article:
Tally ho! Let the hunt remind us who we are by Roger Scruton

 

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