Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Battle for Healthful Consumption- Cavemen vs Vegans

One morning while browsing through the New York Times I stumbled upon the article The New Age Caveman and the City. Being that I had just begun my "vegan experiment" and had been thinking a lot about alternative dietary options, I payed closer attention. The Paleo Diet is a way of eating and apparently a lifestyle that aspires one to live as we once lived during the Paleolithic/Caveman days. Someone who follows this diet will not eat bread, pasta,or any other processed grain or food product because paleolithic man had not yet invented these modern day conveniences. A person observing this diet resorts to eating high quantities of cooked or uncooked meat (the star of the article just purchased a meat locker for his apartment) and the fruits and vegetables of a "gatherer". Besides what is eaten, long fasts are encouraged to simulate the cavemen experience of starvation while in search of food. Their workouts reinact movements of a caveman i.e. high jumps, sprints, and other intense plyometric based exercise.
A vegan is a person who does not eat any products made from animals. The main staples of a vegan diet are fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, etc. There are no workouts specifically associated with being vegan, however running and other long distance sports are most relevant to the types of food eaten. As vegans tend to eat a high quantity of carbohydrates, activities that require a lot of carbohydrates are best.
There are many complications with both of these diets. For example, vegans need to make an extra effort to eat more protein and take in more calcium, iron, and other nutrients associated with animal products. These necessary nutrients aren't abundant in vegan foods and can be incredibly inconvenient to obtain. However, they are absolutely necessary for overall health. I have witnessed many vegans that have gained weight, lowered their energy, and slowed their metabolism because they lack protein and other vital nutrients.

The Paleo Diet recommends techniques that may be harmful to the body. It is very possible to follow a diet that doesn't contain processed grain and other processed foods. In fact, that can even be beneficial. Diets that contain animal meat in bulk and lack in carbohydrate dense food can result in an over consumption of protein and under consumption of carbohydrates. As many forms of the Atkins diets have already proved to us, this can put our body into a state of Ketosis. Ketosis puts an immense amount of stress on the liver and muscle tissue. Protein as a main source of energy is not only inefficient, but can also be hazardous. This state of "protein energy" gives Paleo Dieters no choice but to suffer from ketosis. Their long fasts put the body in a severe catabolic state for long periods of time. Catabolism requires the body to break down internally. One of the things this leads to is increased muscle tissue breakdown which in return slows the metabolism. Typical fasts follow with a "gorging" of food which simulate a caveman finally catching his prey. Studies have shown that large meals following a long fast not only disrupt the rate of metabolism but also encourages the body to hold on (aka not burn the food for energy as efficiently) to the "break-fast" food because the body doesn't know when it is going to get it's next meal. Some Paleo dieters encourage a grueling workout (on a fasted body) right before a "break-fast" gorge. This simulates a caveman catching his prey on an empty stomach. Intense workouts for a body that has no food for energy is dangerous because it directly leads to the break down of lean body mass. This means that these pre-gorge workouts demand the body to be in an even more stressful catabolic/ketosis state than usual.
The Paleo Diet fad, well... is a fad. And, that alone is something to be aware of. The Atkins Diet fad impacted Americans so much that fast food chains changed their menu just to appeal to low-carb dieters! But where is the Atkins Diet now? If it was so amazing, why isn't every single overweight person on it? Thankfully it's history. The Paleo Diet is dangerous because it's unproven methods are disguised by interesting and new "Paleolithic" theory. For the less intense Paleo dieter that decides to eat lower quantities of meat, more fruits and vegetables and fasts significantly less is not inventing a new "diet". They are simply someone who doesn't eat processed food. That's great, but it shouldn't be viewed as a fad diet! Veganism also may not be the best diet ever. For someone who has to find 100 g of protein a day (I have a knee injury which resorts to a protein rich diet for resistance training) from non-animal sources, it can be really hard. But the big difference between the two is that you can follow all of the vegan principles and still maintain optimum health. I'm skeptical that you can do so with the Paleo Diet. What was the average lifespan of a caveman??

1 comment:

  1. You ask about the average lifespan of cavemen. Well, many died from accidents or diseases. A better question is what was the life expectancy of our Paleolithic ancestors? I'd say about 70 years. This by adding the age of menopause to the time it takes to raise a child to reproductive age. It would make no sense from an evolutionary perspective to give birth to a child and then die before it can go out on its own.

    Here are two pages that get into this in much more detail: