What science learned about nutrition from a 5000 year old iceman
Of all the topics related to health, diet is perhaps the most divided and confusing of all. At times, experts and health gurus will all line up to disagree with each other.
So the aim of this article is to bring clarity to the issue and then present you with six effective options to keep your health on track. If your diet is currently SAD (Standard American Diet) then any one of the following suggestions is going to be a step in the right direction. That said, it really doesn’t matter whether you are currently Vegan, Ketogenic, Vegetarian, or Paleo. If your health is failing to thrive then something here will be of value to you.
Diets come, and diets go, the only thing that matters is finding something one that works for you. The point I am making is this, good health begins with making good choices. There’s actually a freaky correlation between the groceries we put in our grocery cart and the ones that end up in our belly.
Every time we eat, we are taking something from the outside world and forcing into our body. The problem is, the more mainstream a diet becomes, the more we see it backsliding into foods that are trapped inside a box, a can, or a packet. Whenever there is a buck to be made, problems inevitably follow.
The ketogenic diet has been gaining a lot of attention recently so let’s explore this diet first. As we move forward, an open mind will sometimes serve you better than becoming entrenched in dietary battlegrounds.
1. THE KETOGENIC DIET
In 1991 a frozen body was found on a mountain top between Austria and Italy. The ice managed to preserve the body which science estimated was more than 5000 years old! Why am I telling you this? To this day, Ötzi’s the Iceman” is continuing to show science how our ancestors lived. Quite remarkably, parts of Ötzi’s digestive system remained intact. Any guesses what they found? Yup, a high-fat diet, with moderate protein and vegetables. Today we call this a ketogenic diet. But what does that mean and how do we do it?
Think of your body as a dual fuel burner, pretty much in the same way a hybrid car is capable of running on either gas or electricity. If you eat enough carbs the body runs on glucose. And times when glucose is low, the body is perfectly capable of switching fuels and running on fat.
When the body burns fat, the metabolic state is described as ketosis, but this can only happen when glucose supplies are exhausted. The body then begins to convert fat in the liver into energy cells known as ketones.
In most people, the body has a few days supply of glucose in the form of glycogen, so the effects of ketosis aren’t always immediate. Most people will go into a state of ketosis after several days of consuming less than 20 grams of carbohydrates per day. While this might sound daunting to some, it’s worth noting that this process helped your early ancestors evolve. Back then, eating a box full of carbohydrates would have seemed quite odd.
Regardless of whether we find ourselves in times of feast or famine, the brain requires an enormous amount of energy to function. It was once thought that the brain only burned glucose for fuel, but we now know that’s not strictly true. Being in a periodic state of ketosis may help to clear the mind.
The full name of what we are describing here is lipolysis/ketosis. Lipolysis simply means that your fat stores are being burned as the primary source of fuel. The by-products of burning fat are ketones, so ketosis is a secondary process of lipolysis. Today people refer to this as a Ketogenic or Keto diet which is really a just shortening of the term.
Once the body enters a state of ketosis it becomes more efficient at burning stored fat. Although the brain is made mostly of fat, it cannot use fat directly for energy, it can, however, use ketones. From time to time I hear the argument that the brain needs glucose to run — and while this may be true, it’s actually a very small amount. Interestingly, this small amount can be easily achieved without resorting to eating donuts. How so? Your body is smart enough to make small amounts of glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
Essentially what’s happening here is we are switching from being a sugar burning mammal into a fat burning one. Some might say this was once our preferred state. Recent studies report that the ketogenic diet can have a marked improvement in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and diabetes. Ketosis reduces blood sugar which in turn reduces insulin levels.
It’s worth noting that ketosis and ketoacidosis may sound similar but they are very different. The first, as we have already mentioned, is a metabolic process. But ketoacidosis is a life-threatening illness driven by a lack of insulin. This is typically seen in Type 1 diabetics.
It could be argued that ketoacidosis is a result of consuming more sugar-spiking carbohydrates than the body can process. As I’m sure many of you already know, diabetics produce either too little insulin, or the body doesn’t respond to insulin at all. When that happens, blood sugar levels can rise and the blood then becomes dangerously acidic, hence the term, ketoacidosis.
Given that the ketogenic diet strives to lower blood sugar levels, it may be something that some diabetics find useful. As always, before attempting anything new it’s best to work with an informed healthcare provider. More so for type 1 diabetics who are dealing with a serious autoimmune condition.
As a final note of caution, keep in mind that although most do fine with the ketogenic diet, a sudden switch to consuming 70% fats may, for some people, be too much, too quick. As always, start small and go slow. Listen to your body for clues which could include pain in the mid- to upper-right section of your abdomen, or pain in the right shoulder. Both are an indication that stress is being placed on the gallbladder.
The Ketogenic diet requires an element of self-discipline. But once you get there, food becomes a matter of choice rather a carbohydrate eating emergency. There’s a couple of variations on the Ketogenic diet which include:
● A standard Ketogenic diet which is typically a very low-carb, moderate-protein, and high-fat diet that contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and only 5% carbs.
● A cyclical Ketogenic diet which involves periods of higher-carb intakes, such as 5 Ketogenic days followed by 2 high-carb days.
● A high-protein Ketogenic diet which is similar to a standard Ketogenic diet, but includes more protein with a ratio of 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.
On a personal level, I’ve been in deep ketosis and I liked how it felt. My thoughts were clearer with noticeably fewer food cravings. That said, we are all unique which is why I’ve taken the time to list five other options below. The first is the caveman diet (aka Paleo diet). It has some similarities to the ketogenic diet as both rely on whole foods.
2. THE CAVEMAN DIET
The caveman/paleo diet is a term often used to describe how our ancestors ate long before supermarkets came along and made us sick and lazy. The good news is, on this diet you can eat as much as you like, you just can’t eat everything that you like.
This caveman/paleo diet is typically higher in carbohydrates than the ketogenic diet. However, this is a great diet to transition into if you are used to eating lots of processed foods. That said, there’s sometimes a tendency to eat more fruit on this diet than perhaps our true paleo ancestors would have. A good way to upgrade the paleo diet is to eat fruit only when it’s in season is
3. THE ELIMINATION DIET
As the name suggests, this diet involves cutting out certain “trigger” foods. This isn’t a diet to lose weight, it’s a diet to lose symptoms. For anyone just starting out, it’s worth reminding that the foods most likely to cause a reaction are gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts, closely followed by corn. Today, it’s not uncommon to find all of these foods on one plate!
The trick to the elimination diet is to stack the odds in your favor. This is done by eliminating suspect foods for a minimum of one month. Then slowly reintroduce them into your diet, one at a time. If your symptoms spring back, then bingo, you nailed your problem food.
If you (or someone in your family) are reacting to food then keeping a detailed food journal is invaluable. Keep in mind that food reactions can happen long after the meal. With so much random “stuff” now added to our food during processing, keeping a written record becomes key.
Once food has become a trigger, simplifying your diet will help highlight problems. If this is a new concept to you, then the elimination diet should be something to consider.
The elimination diet takes effort but the rewards are real. Here’s a looong list of symptoms you could potentially be leaving behind.
● Chronic fatigue
● Mood disorders, including depression and anxiety
● Skin flare-ups like eczema, hives, and acne
● Autoimmune disorders
● Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries, a precursor to heart disease)
● Cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and dementia
● Learning disabilities like ADHD
● Trouble sleeping or insomnia
● Muscle and joint pain, such as from arthritis
● Weight gain and obesity
● Migraine headaches
● Nutrient deficiencies
● Kidney and gallbladder problems
This isn’t a diet you can throw yourself into half-heartedly, and if you aren’t mentally prepared to give it 100% then there is no point in doing it.
When the body reacts negatively to “trigger foods” the immune system makes antibodies to fight the perceived threat. It takes a while for these antibodies to calm down and some believe this process can take three weeks or more. For every nibble you try and sneak, a new bunch of antibodies is relaunched and the whole cycle starts over again. I never said this diet was easy but I am telling you it’s going to be worth it. Sometimes we have to give up what we have to get what we want.
Here’s what this diet seeks to remove.
● No gluten (or any type of other grain)
● No Dairy
● No Soy
● No refined/added sugar
● No peanuts
● No corn
● No alcohol
● No eggs
That wasn’t too bad, was it?
It should come as no surprise that gluten tops the list. Both gluten and dairy have an addictive quality to them, no really it’s true. They contain “opioid peptides,” yup, that’s the same family as opium. Peptides from both gluten and casein (a protein molecule found in dairy) react with opiate receptors in the brain. When a person comes off gluten and casein they can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms.
4. THE AIP DIET
AIP diet stands for Autoimmune-Paleo and it’s a leaner version of the basic paleo diet. It also involves the elimination of all the usual suspects such as grains, dairy, eggs, seeds, legumes, as well as some foods found in the nightshade family. Foods in the nightshade family include tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplant, potatoes, goji berries, tobacco, and all types of peppers. The AIP diet is not without merit as it goes a step further and also removes certain trigger foods such as lectins.
5. THE GAPS DIET
Okay, almost there. Four diets down and just two to go. Again, keep in mind that I’m not trying to make your life more difficult. If your health problems have been difficult to figure out, there’s a pretty good chance one of these diets will benefit you.
The GAPS diet is another well thought-out diet. Some people claim to have success in treating autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, and even schizophrenia.
The GAPS diet is being mentioned here is because of the dedication of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I have listened to this lady at length and she has a proven track record of bringing solid results to the table. It also helps that Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride has not one but two postgraduate degrees: a master of medical sciences in neurology and a master of medical sciences in human nutrition!
The GAPS diet has too many benefits to list, so below is just a small cross-section of the many advantages people often report.
● Psychological improvements
● Boost immunity
● Reduce food sensitivity
● Improve neurological function
● Heal inflammatory bowel disease
● Improve type II diabetes
● Improve lactose digestion
● Kill Candida
● Support detoxification
6. FODMAPS DIET
Our final diet is the FODMAP diet. If you have tried everything else and failed to see a positive result, then welcome to the wonderful world of FODMAPs.
FODMAPs are yet another collection of misunderstood foods that can have a foot in more than one camp. Just as some people are sensitive to gluten, a person with a FODMAP sensitivity will react in much the same way. For some, FODMAPs can be the cause of a wide range of digestive upsets. Particularly prevalent in IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Crohn’s disease, and Celiac disease. And just about any other type of digestive disorder, you can think of.
FODMAPs can be found in a wide range of foods with some foods having a higher count than others. While the list below of FODMAPs is extensive, don’t lose heart because I have some good news for you. This condition is unlike a true food allergy and may even be reversible.
A reaction to FODMAPs can be greatly reduced by restricting all FODMAPs for a given period of time to allow the gut to calm down. Are you catching this? I’m saying with a bit of luck; you may be able to slowly reintroduce many of these foods into the diet without too much problem.
If you need more information then be sure to check out Doctor Sue Shepherd and Doctor Peter Gibson. They recently co-authored a nicely presented book that’s sitting at my elbow as I write. As with anyone I choose to recommend, I have no direct link with them other than I admire the work they do. At the moment, very few people are aware of me, my work or my book, so please feel free to mention how you came across their information.
FODMAPS are poorly absorbed by the small intestine and as a result, can enter the colon where they are fermented by bacteria, and as they do so, they draw on water and expand causing excessive bloating and diarrhea.
There is a standard test that your doctor can carry out that doesn’t even require blood to be drawn. It’s called the Hydrogen Breath Test and it could save you an awful lot of guesswork.
In case you were wondering, FODMAPs stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. If it’s easier, we can simply think of them as fermentable carbohydrates. The list of FODMAPS is extensive so be sure to check them out.
What did we learn from this?
Because there are so many variables, some people may have better success with one diet over another. A little trial and error should set you on the right track.
Homework: Please check out my new book $2.99