Disccusing health in general, diet & exercise in particular

Sat, 11 Apr 2009: Diet

This is a new category. I am on a listserv for so-called “Paleo” dieters. Paleo dieting is defined and discussed at this website: www.thepaleodiet.com The listserv is at: PALEOFOOD@LISTSERV.ICORS.ORG My reason for being on it…….. and just how much I am on it is the topic of this blog category………. is high blood pressure. Most people are on it, I would say, for weight loss and maintenance. Most of us believe that many ills and weaknesses are caused by a mismatch between the foods we eat and the evolutionary status of our bodies. Many years ago I read a book called The Paleolithic Prescription. Later, when I developed high blood pressure despite exercising, reasonable body weight, and less stress than many suffer under, I reread the book. I found that Cordain and Audette had written books with recipes. However, the real impetus was a little book my wife was reading on how to control your b/p with diet. While not following the paleolithic notion, I did try it and found my b/p went down. Then I moved to the paleolithic and found the same. My problem, as with so some diets, has been difficulty in staying on it. Let me clarify: I think most people cannot, literally CANNOT stay on most diets b/c those diets do not respect the way the body and mind work around food issues. However, even with high protein, high fat and low carb diets, people still struggle. I sure do. Yet every time I go for a few days on the diet, my b/p drops to around normal for my age (67). So anyone who wants to discuss ways of staying on this diet is welcome to join in by making comments. To the diet itself, its rationale, and supporting evidence outside the Paleo fanatics (said lovingly): Cordain and others cite evidence from paleoarcheology i.e. the study of human remains, from the study of contemporary hunter/gatherer societies, and special cases where people have lived on a totally meat diet for long periods of time. According to this basically anthropological work, mankind evolved eating a mixture of meat and wild-growing plant foods like nuts, berries, etc. Sugar and salt were rare, protein and fat were high, and refined carbohydrates were nonexistent. Lactose-based foods were also absent. Along came the agricultural revolution where food items normally inedible or not cultivated were brought into cultivation e.g. beans, potatoes, corn, grains, etc. This revolution allowed the development of mass societies but introduced the so-called diseases of civilization: diabetes, hypertension, and even asthma, cancer, acne, dental carries, etc. While some may doubt this dietary change as the cause of specific illnesses, most scientists agree that the contemporary diet of most Americans is harmful even as it has allowed for greater size and disease resistance. It is a balance, a trade-off. Without the agricultural revolution, we would not be where we are as societies and civilizations. However, due to technology, we now have the capacity to have the best of both worlds; we can eat the way our paleolithic ancestors did but without the nasty side effects of stabbing elephants with short spears. The paleolithic scientists cite many studies to support their contentions. In addition to Cordain and others oriented specifically toward the diet of our paleolithic ancestors and contemporary hunter/gatherers (few left now but medical studies were done on them in the 1800s and 1900s before they were absorbed into the coca-cola age), medical researchers and medical journalists have explored the effects of our diet. Outstandingly, some diet doctors offered dietary advice so contrary to the prevailing wisdom that they were ostracized. The most famous is Atkins. About 7 years ago, a noted medical journalist named Gary Taubes published an article in the NYT magazine that said, basically, Atkins works, the others don’t. It was a bombshell and panels assembled all over to deride and debunk Atkins (that had been an on-going process for some time). One panel I heard on the Diane Rehm show laughed at Atkin’s prescription of eating eggs only or some such and made jokes about people eating like that their whole lives. At that point, I lost all confidence in the honesty of these people b/c I was sure they had read Atkin’s book, as I had, where he states that it is positively lethal to continue that diet for over two weeks (something about inducing ketosis). Curious about the passion and fury of this debate (similar to the one over explicit grammar instruction in foreign language teaching), I grabbed Taube’s book, Good Calories Bad Calories, when it first came out. He traces the history of dietary advice, demonstrating that diets from the 1800s up to the 1950s stressed low carbs and lots of protein. What happened in the 50s? He traces it to one man who came to dominate the research money, along with his followers, and who dominated the McGovern hearings which led to dietary guidelines drawn up by the federal government. From that time on, Americans began to grow fat, nay, obese. Taube’s book calls into question data on heart disease, cancer, etc. Fascinating read. I welcome comments on this topic, advice, etc. If you are convinced of a particular diet or dietary item, please offer some evidence, even if it’s just your personal story. So, where am I? Two days into being back on my diet. B/p has been up to 180/105, much too high. But then, what is ’too high”? My dad laughed at me when I told him my b/p; his was always much higher and he lived to 90 (OK, he might have lived longer with the high b/p). “For Christ’s sake, you’re Italian!” he yelled at me (he always yelled). Yet my wife’s family is rife with hypertension and almost everybody in it has had a stroke or has severe diabetes.

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