Paleo, that damn word

Let’s get this out of the way now so we can move past it. Paleo. Paleo. Paleo…. See, no Michael Keaton-esque Beetlejuice-ish character appeared. Yet, in seemingly normal people you say the word Paleo and they lose their fucking minds. I’ve heard Paleo referred to as everything from a “fad diet” to a mis-appropriated concept that never really existed. It is neither, plain and simple.

Paleo Animals
Paleo Era Animals on display at the Field Museum, undated, uncredited photo.

So what is it? Paleo, or Primal, or Eating Whole Foods or Ancestral, which is my personal favorite, are just words we have used to describe, in short hand, a way of eating and living that rejects the 20th century concept of agro-industrial farming and the hyper processing of the “food” products that goes with it. One would not exist without the other. The concept we are speaking of believes that the collective evolution of our species through millions of years leaves us poorly equipped to deal with the societal changes that have happened over the last 100-150 years in the Western World. Which is why over 75% of all medical spending in the US is now devoted to treating chronic disease, diseases we are giving ourselves by what we put into and expose our bodies to. Aliments that are particularly ravenous in rural America. Things like Type II Diabetes, which an estimated 2/3 of the US population will get in their lifetime; Heart Disease, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver, Gout, IBS and more controversially, forms of cancer, Fibromyalgia, MS and host of other nervous system and gut disorders. These are the things that modern medicine is now forced to concern itself with. Gone are the days when medicine was focused on pathogens being widespread public health risks, Cholera, Malaria, Typhoid, Scarlet and Yellow Fever, Mumps and Measles, diseases of deficiency such as Scurvy and Rickets and parasites like hook worms are basically non-issues in the 1st world. Replacing them are the diseases of civilization or affluence or more truthfully industrialization of the food supply , those host of diseases have come to be known in some circles as Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X.

Metabolic Syndrome is usually thought of as a cluster of inter-related aliments usually involving some combination of large waist size, hypertension, a pro-inflammatory state, hyperlipidemia/dislipidemia, and Type II Diabetes/Insulin Resistance. People with Metabolic Syndrome seemingly are susceptible to other conditions, notably Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, fatty liver, cholesterol gallstones, asthma, sleep disturbances, and some forms of cancer, this according to an American Heart Association article regarding the definition of Metabolic Syndrome that can be found here. The amazing thing is that it is entirely an aliment of modern civilization and the kicker is, it doesn’t just occur in humans but every single species that depends on humans directly for food. From domesticated pets and livestock, zoo animals all the way to suburban adapters like raccoons, they are all developing forms of Metabolic Syndrome. Think about that for a second. We have not only made ourselves sick, we have made every damn animal we come in contact with sick as well.

How and why? Well, simplest answer, we aren’t designed to eat the food we eat and behave like we behave. Simpler answers. We stripped the nutrients out of food to make it last longer, be shelf stable, and be cheaper. We abandoned the things that our ancestors knew as food and we replaced it with boxes. We added stuff in quantities man has never experienced before in history such as sugar and easily digestible carbohydrates our bodies process as sugar. We boiled food down to a chemistry that can be tailored to appeal to the broadest markets, last the longest, and be produced the cheapest. We also do less physical movement on a daily basis than ever before in our species’ history. Why? The short answer, with much help from the USDA, to feed a growing population that no longer is involved with harvesting their own food and, of course to turn a profit. It is real hard to build a huge business selling fresh produce, it is much easier to turn corn into a chip that has a 3 year lifespan and leaves the consumer wanting more with each one they devour.

What works on a Macro level for policy makers and large industries, leaves a devastating toll on the actual people it affects. Keep this in mind, the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for vitamins and nutrients set by the FDA in the US. The number that is referenced on every food with a label. That Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is simply a number that is only sufficient to keep roughly 98% of the population from contracting Deficiency Diseases. That’s it. For example the RDA for Vitamin C number is only set high enough so that most of the population won’t get Scurvy. It has nothing to do with what might be an optimal level, it is just enough so that you probably won’t get the same disease British Sailors in the 17th Century died from.

I digress. I was talking about the Paleo Boogie Man. Metabolic Syndrome is simply a side effect of the current Western or Standard American Diet, SAD for short. Much the same way some people experience a side effect from a prescription medicine. This has been shown in study after study, both human and animal. More than likely it is a direct result of the high intakes of simple carbohydrates, man-made fat, and low amounts and/or qualities of protein or just the presence of high levels of carbohydrate AND high levels of fat combined will all sorts of man-man compounds that exist in the modern food supply.

Paleo Pre Bronze Age People
You don’t have to go back to this to go Paleo.

So what does that have to do with Paleo? Well, to understand how you got somewhere, you need an understanding of where you came from. Paleo, or a concept of it is where we came from. This forms a logical idea or framework of what humans ate before the Mac and Cheese filled days of the SAD. It is an adaptation of how we ate 100 or 1000 or 10,000 years ago in the west, or yesterday in some areas of the Amazon. It is a concept of a fuel system that your body is designed to use and use well. Apart from the idea you have in your head of some Gieco-esqe Caveman guy gnawing on a Woolly Mammoth rib. The reality is Paleo simply looks at the world the same way your great-great grandfather would have and what he would have recognized as food, is food. The rest is chemistry, better suited for a lab. For the most part that is, most concepts of Paleo exempt any and all grains, since those are products of the Agricultural Age and  the Industrial Age and not really very nourishing (That is a whole other post in itself).


So that leaves meat/fish/seafood, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit. Different sects take differing views on dairy, with all forgoing any type of commercial milk/sugar water with some allowing butter, real yogurt and/or cheese. Personally, as I have stated before, after years of a high dairy diet I can’t handle too much so I do some good cheese once or twice a month and grass-fed real butter occasionally. The main idea is whole basic ingredients. No labs involved. People can debate the merits of ancient grains versus raw milk, in the context of this discussion they are missing the point.

The point is eat whole food products that have been food since before the Industrial Revolution, ideally before the Agricultural one too. Aside from the changes in domesticated plants and animals, my dinner of chicken wings, sweet potato fries, and a salad doesn’t look all that different in form and substance from the same dinner man could have eaten 100 or 1000 years ago. Yeah, large scale farming provided me with lots of wings versus one whole bird but I could have just as easily cooked a whole chicken. All in all including spices I think there were 11 total ingredients, including ingredients in the ingredients. Go ahead, open your fridge I can bet your wing sauce alone has more than that.

This is where people get bogged down in minutia when it comes to diet patterns and especially Paleo. The good you can do now is the better than the perfect you can get to eventually. The idea I want to instill in you in regards to Paleo and the viewpoint here is this, start with whole foods both plant and animal, avoid anything that comes in a box, can or bag or that has more than one ingredient. Then create what you want at home. This is no different that living on a farm or being a hunter-gatherer and going and harvesting plants and finding a bird or game animal. The only difference is you expended less calories and more dollars. Which as we will explore is the major change in modern society , food costs much less in terms of energy output (calorie expenditure) and much more in terms of monetary value than it ever has. We used to “buy” our food by tracking, killing or harvesting, a stroll through Aldi’s doesn’t quite compare.

The whole idea boils down to Greg Glassman’s perfect, simple prescription.

Eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.”

This forms the absolute basis for what I will refer to as Paleo, actually what I refer to as food. So calm down, put down the WonderBread and realize this isn’t some fad like the “All White Foods Diet” or the “Grapefruit and Rice Cakes Diet” or the “Lemon Water, Tofu and Cat Hair Diet” or what ever ridiculous thing is going to be sold next to the rubes watching the Great and Powerful Dr.Oz.

Plain and simple, eat what your biology adapted to eat. And as we will find out, many of the foods that we think of as “comfort foods” or recipes that have been handed down through the generations, before they were updated with modern ingredients, fit that bill. Keep this concept of Paleo eating in mind because it will be the foundation of every food related article on As we will also see, this concept can and will be extended to many other areas of life outside of food.

Now that we’ve gotten all the squeamishness out of the way regarding the use of the word “Paleo” we can tackle some new information.  Oh and by the way, I still want to know what a Paleo Boogieman looks like.

Until next time,

Keep it real and keep it rural


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