Mindful Diets: Paleo

The idea behind the Paleo diet is to eat like our cavemen ancestors did, before the industrial revolution and our hubris of agriculture disrupted our harmonious relationship with food and health. Proponents of the diet claim that by going Paleo we can lower our risk of heart disease, Type II Diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and help us live longer healthier lives; all by exclusively limiting our food to only what was available before the pre-industrial revolution: grass-fed meats, fresh seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils (such as olive and macadamia). No whole grains, dairy, salt, refined sugars or processed foods allowed. Although the rationale behind this way of living can be viewed as logical (see “ Mindful Diet: Gluten Free” for my thoughts on whole grain exclusions), I find it surprising that there is no mention of eating organically. Of all the ways to bring our bodies in tune with our ancestors, how did the want for a vegan cupcake with coconut flour override the demand for affordable foods free from toxins and oil?

Our current agricultural system is one that requires a vast amount of chemical resources to maintain. Pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, petroleum, and chemical ripening gases are a routine part of growing our food. In fact, the most current data from 2008 shows that 532 million pounds of pesticides alone were used on US crops. The Environmental Working Groups recent update gives an idea of the extent to how far our system has taken us: samples of grapes contained 15 different pesticides; kale: 51; collard greens: 41; and celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and strawberries: 13 different pesticides apiece.

Food is now conventionally grown in synthetic ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the same compound used in the Oklahoma City bombing. The spring floods of the Midwest cause a chemical runoff of agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf of Mexico every summer, creating “dead zones”, areas devoid of oxygen, estimated at 7,286 to 8,561 square miles.  Healthy soil is vital to attaining healthy foods and many species of animals are involved in maintaining it. According to the EPA, five to ten tons of animal life can live in an acre of soil, all with a purpose. Yet our current farming system requires the removal of all life, replacing it with man made toxins. The food that nourishes us is nurtured by the soil in which it grew and the environment surrounding it, just as our cavemen ancestors experienced.  A big difference is that currently a synthetic chemical soup is nourishing our food.

Small organic farms provide a balanced natural environment that is programmed to nourish its surroundings. For those of us turning to healthier lifestyles we should be mindful that we can only be as healthy as the food we eat and that nourishment depends on a complex balanced ecosystem that was once naturally in place.

Resources:

 1.) Environmental Working Group

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirtydozenplus.php

http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

2.) Fernandez JC, Nehring R, Osteen C et al. Pesticide Use in U.S. Agriculture: 21 Selected Crops, 1960-2008. Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-124) 86 pp, May 2014.

http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/eib-economic-information-bulletin/eib124.aspx#.U36eRF60Zg0

3.) National Geographic-

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/06/130621-dead-zone-biggest-gulf-of-mexico-science-environment/

4.) NPR

http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/11/29/166156242/cornstalks-everywhere-but-nothing-else-not-even-a-bee

 5.) Federal Register

https://www.federalregister.gov/regulations/1601-AA52/ammonium-nitrate-security-program

6.) The Paleo Diet

http://thepaleodiet.com/about-the-paleo-diet/