My World History I class just got finished with our first unit which covers early hominids, the settlement of modern-day Iraq, and the introduction to an agricultural society. We tend to move pretty slowly through this unit because during the first couple months of school I’m learning about the pace of my students and trying to figure out how they learn best. Our slow pace may also have something to do with how very interested I am in this era….but mostly it’s in the kids best interest. 🙂 I’m so very interested because we can learn a lot about nutrition from the cavemen, also because they got to to carry around clubs….that would really come in handy sometimes during history class.
This era I’m referring to is the Paleolithic era or the “old stone age,” meaning the time before early humans created an agricultural society by growing their own crops and domesticating animals. During the Paleolithic Era, people were hunter-gatherers, meaning they ate only those things they could hunt and gather. The Paleolithic Era began around 2.5 or 2.6 million years ago, while the industry of agriculture is a newborn in comparison. The agricultural era began around 12,000 years ago when early humans realized they didn’t have to travel so far to get their food if they transplanted it near their homes. This also allowed them to use much less energy because they were able to domesticate animals instead of hunt! Not only were these new technologies more time and energy efficient, but they also provided a stable food supply.
With the beginning of the Neolithic Era (or agricultural era) came a drastic change in diet and lifestyle that the human body was not genetically accustomed to. For over two million years humans had been eating; nuts, meats, vegetables, fruits, and roots that required a lot of physical labor to gather. The Neolithic Era introduced a dependency on cereals and grains and a much more sedentary way of life. It is common knowledge that a more sedentary lifestyles is a more unhealthy lifestyle, but aren’t grains healthy? The U.S. Government’s food pyramid says we need more grains than any other food group! Lets look at this more carefully.
When the body consumes any carbohydrate it is broken down into glucose (sugar) and increases the bloods sugar level. In order to stabilize blood sugar levels the pancreas secretes insulin that moves the glucose into cells for use. Excess blood sugar left behind is then stored as fat. Grains (carbohydrates that breaks down very rapidly) are broken down in this exact same manner. If humans are eating more grains, they are digesting more carbohydrates, the blood has more glucose in it, and more excess glucose is stored as fat. Combine this rise in the amount of bodyfat with a more sedentary lifestyle, and we begin to see a decrease in our overall health.
So, does this mean you have to go out and hunt your own animals and gather your own vegetation to be healthy? No. If that were the case, count me out! In the 70’s a gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin popularized the concept of eating a paleolithic diet (Wikipedia). The basis of this diet is that we are genetically adapted to the diet of our ancestors who hunted and gathered their food in order to survive, our genetics have changed very little since the beginning of the agricultural era. Fortunately, eating a “Paleo” diet is not as difficult as it sounds with the help of grocery stores and our kitchen stove.
Following a paleolithic diet means eating meats that can be hunted or fished and foods that can be gathered, such as eggs, insects, fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs and spices (Wikipedia). In more simple terms eat: meat, nuts, vegetables, some fruits, little starch, and no sugar. “Wait, I thought you said it isn’t difficult??” I did say it wasn’t difficult to eat that way in our modern society because it’s easy to get access to these foods, but I never said it didn’t require motivation and willpower, that can be the difficult part. The key to beginning a paleolithic diet is not restricting yourself from the things that you may now love, (bread, cereal, pastries, sugar, splenda) but replacing those things with substitutes that are nutritious and satisfying.
For example; I love pizza…. pizza…. pizza…. pizza…. it’s chewy, cheesy, ewy, goey and delicious, right? Well, needless to say pizza is off my list of healthy foods, but I still get an occasional craving for something chewy, cheesy, ewy, goey, and delicious. In the case of these cravings I have a few tricks up my sleeve to curb my craving that are nutritious and satisfying. My first option is stuffed chicken breasts, that sounds nothing like pizza, right? But if you stuff chicken breasts with your favorite pizza toppings, such as marinara sauce, spinach (my favorite), mushrooms, and although cheese wouldn’t TECHNICALLY be on paleolithic food list, I reserve it for such occasions when I’m craving ewy, goey deliciousness. Pound out the chicken breasts and wrap them around fresh mozzarella, sauteed spinach with garlic, mushrooms and cover them in marinara sauce then bake to perfection and your craving for pizza will be silenced. The best part of choosing stuffed chicken breasts over pizza comes next; no stuffed, groggy, gross feeling! Energy and alertness will be your only side affect.
If you’re not used to being energetic and alert, brace yourself ,because after switching from a grain-filled diet to a Paleolithic diet you will have some to spare! So, give it a try. If you’re the type that likes to dive headfirst into something new, check out The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain or The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf and Loren Cordain. These books will give you a greater understanding of the Paleolithic diet and philosophy.
If you’d rather go about this change slowly or if you’re afraid your kids (or spouse) will declare mutiny, I will continue to give ideas and tips on how to make this change for you and your family much easier.
Below are 5 tips to begin this journey!
1. Look at the “Grocery Replacement List” from a couple days ago, try it out.
2. Go to your pantry and take out one box/bag of carb and sugar loaded snacks and throw them away. (Better in the trash than on your @**!)
3. Serve 2 vegetables with dinner tonight.
4. Try out one new paleo-friendly recipe this week (look at my recipe section!)
5. Go nuts! Buy a bag of nuts instead of a bag of snacks the next time you go to the store.
Today’s challenge: Pick two of the above tips and give them a try!