Written by: Theodore (Ted) F. Berthelote
In early September 2011, during my habitual reading on the subject of individualism, I came across an interview by Lew Rockwell with a woman who advocated a “hunter-gatherer” approach to human nutrition and it caught my attention.
The ideas discussed in said interview were new to me. The purpose of this short article is simply to share my new awareness about an unconventional understanding of human nutrition. Based upon anecdotal evidence I will validate, by empirical personal data, the benefit of adhering to what is known as the paleolithic diet, also called the primal diet.
Nutrition has been of great interest to me because, as a practicing dentist, I knew that eating habits were significantly related to the dental health of the clients in my dental practice. The dental profession has been a leader in the health sciences for advocating the prevention of disease. My goal here is to show the healthy benefits of a high protein, high fat-fruit-vegetable, low carbohydrate way of eating, with only a sketch of its rationale, upon my personal health.
The Paleolithic Diet
The paleolithic diet is based on two complimentary lines of reason – anthropological and metabolic. A number of excellent books have been published on this subject to which I refer the reader for detailed explanations. Briefly stated, anthropology and archeology have shown that some 12-10 thousand years ago mankind experienced a rapid shift from dependence upon foraging for food ( fruit, nuts, meat, fish, and veggies) to the discovery that agriculture, chiefly cereal grains and domesticated livestock, could make calories far easier to obtain, with much less physical effort. This shift, dubbed “The Agricultural Revolution”, and roughly the marker between the paleolithic and the neolithic periods, occurred abruptly after hundreds of thousands of years in which Homo sapiens evolved the genetically orchestrated metabolic machinery ill-equipped to process cereal grain, dairy products, legumes, or processed foods. To be sure, this revolution had huge cultural effects on the course of human history (some good and some not so good), not the least of which were the opportunity to settle-down into urban centers, develop political structures for social cooperation and the division of labor, proliferate like never before, and engage in the arts and science. However, modern man is now working with stone-age metabolism in the space-age. The paleo diet seeks to acknowledge this fact and make necessary adjustments for a more healthy physiological life.
Many metabolic, physiological, and biochemical studies have demonstrated beyond any doubt that our bodies are far from adapting successfully to our modern cereal based high carbohydrate, processed food diet. Some people do better than others, but all suffer either knowingly (celiac disease) or unknowingly, to some degree. Two glaring examples are the prevalence of both obesity and type two diabetes. I leave it to the reader to explore the details and the science behind this assertion by reading The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain or The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf. In addition, these books offer advice on how to cope with the challenge of eating a diet which is compatible with the human genome but not easily compatible with our traditional eating habits.
This brief background brings me to the diet’s effects on my personal health. During the first six months of fairly close adherence , my weight dropped from 170 pounds to 154 pounds and the small “spare-tire” around my middle disappeared ( I am 5 feet 11 inches tall). I experienced significant resistance from my wife regarding the change, but she has gradually seen benefits in her health.
My total cholesterol changed from 181 to 193; triglycerides from 55 to 45; HDL from 80 to 103; LDL from 90 to81. The ratios of total cholesterol/HDL, HDL/LDL, and triglycerides/HDL are all ideal. This in spite of eating large amounts of good fat and animal protein, especially eggs and meat/fish.
My wife, 103 pounds, five feet tall, experienced similar changes in her blood lipids. It is noteworthy that this is diametrically opposite the dietary guidelines recommended by the USDA, and contrary to the conventional wisdom regarding cardiovascular health.
I have not experienced stomach pain, previously an occasional event, in over a year and have discarded all Tums, Prilosec, Phazyme, etc. I am not sure how to put this next part delicately, but the incidence of skid-marks in my underwear is nearly eliminated and my G-I function is near prefect, not subject to the variability of the past. Flatulence has been markedly reduced in volume and odor has virtually disappeared. The occurrence of PVC’s (per-ventricular contractions of my heart) which had been occurring regularly for over a year ceased completely. It is now fourteen months since starting on the paleo diet and the benefits continue.
It must be said that daily and moderately strenuous regular exercise was a feature of stone-age life. All the books I’ve read stress the fact that exercise must be incorporated for optimum results. My daily routine involves an average two hours a day, seven days a week, of moderate exercise, and this pattern did not change when embarking on the primal way of eating. I have become stronger in all these physical activities. Biking and hiking with many friends, all of them in their 60s and 70s, and younger than myself, shows that they are getting slower while I am getting faster.
Criticism of the Paleo Diet
A word may be in order about the criticisms I have heard about the paleo diet. Many say that they are too old or too set in their ways to give up those comfort foods like pizza and pasta to which they have become accustomed and which give them such pleasure. Or, why sacrifice the joy of ice cream and french fries when life is so short, the future is uncertain, and no one lives for ever? Good points. My belief is that it is not how long one lives, but rather how well that matters most. If living well means enjoying those foods which one loves (largely a product of cultural conditioning) in spite of the disabilities they cause, then go for the status quo. But, life is a game of choice, and the choice of the food we select is still devoid of most government regulation, efforts of the FDA and mayor Bloomberg notwithstanding. My experience with the paleo diet has convinced me that my life is better for it, and therefore it is my choice; this is in spite the difficulties of refusing to eat pizza with my friends and the difficulties in selecting food when dining out.
The insight of how slowly the human genetic mechanism can adapt to significant changes in environmental conditions has allowed us to notice some undesirable changes in the physical condition of modern man, especially in the Western cultures. However, the opportunity exists to make changes due to the fact that the human species has the unique faculty of reason. It is possible to adapt consciously to new data for the betterment of one’s life. Awareness is always the key to understanding.
It is clear that there is more to living a full life than eating certain foods and avoiding others, however important this is. The essential elements of commitment to someone you love, the joy of relationships with peers, family, and friends, and a sense of having something to contribute to others must have equal weight for balance in the best use of our gift of life. I hope you find something of value in this brief testimonial.
Theodore (Ted) F. Berthelote
Brief Biographical Sketch
For those who may read this and do not know me, I offer a short biographical sketch.
Born in Montana, I spent the first years of life in several parts of northwestern Montana, finally earning a B.S. Degree in mining engineering. Upon entering the US Air Force I earned a B.S. Degree in meteorology and spent two years as a USAF weather officer. Returning to civilian life, I took a job as sales engineer but, eschewing the prospect of a career in corporate politics, decided to enter dental school and, upon completion of a hospital internship, entered the private practice of dentistry in Bellevue, Washington. My two children were born while I was attending dental school.
After retiring from dentistry I live near Albuquerque, New Mexico in the foothills of the Sandia Mountain.