Diet, food, health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Our changing diet: what Paleolithic man can teach us. (And it may not be what you think.)

I’m once again lecturing my favourite subject, Chinese dietetics, at Endeavour College of Natural Health this semester. And this has inspired me to write about dietary change for our change-themed Health and Happiness Collective blog hop.

Chinese dietetics is all about the joy of food! And how we can use it for healing according to Chinese Medicine principles. I love that last year some students with no interest in cooking were actually inspired to start cooking at home. That is a win for mankind in my books!

This semester I kicked off Lecture One with this TEDx video: “Debunking The Paleo Diet” by Christina Warrina, an archaeological scientist.

Now, I didn’t show it to them because I’m anti-Paleo Diet – because I’m not. I know many people who love living by the principles of The Paleo Diet and feel well doing so. I showed it to them because it gives an excellent history of our diet as we know it today compared with what Paleolithic man actually ate, (and yes, it does differ from the historical reasoning that is often quoted for The Paleo Diet). This talk does explore how Paleolithic Man may have actually eaten and gives us an idea of how we might eat if we had never had our ideas of food skewed by the low fat movement or the soup diet or whatever is being pushed by a celebrity to lose her ‘baby weight’ in New Idea.

Christina tells us that we simply could not eat what Paleolithic man ate in this day and age. Our foods have changed too much! We now have an abundance of foods Paleolithic man never had access to (because a lot of our foods have been developed into what we know them as now – she gives examples of carrots, broccoli and almonds – foods that just did not exist in Paleolithic times.) This is not necessarily a bad thing, it is a necessity to feed a highly populated planet and sure does provide us with variety and plenty.

We can take some excellent lessons for our diet today based on how Paleolithic man did eat:

  • Locally – Paleolithic man ate what was available when it was available. He/she ate locally. These days we can buy our foods from local farmers markets or wonderful co-ops like Food Connect.
  • Seasonally – There was no one Paleolithic Diet. It really varied depending on what was available in the region where they lived. In very cold climates diets contained more animal products and in the tropics plant foods formed the majority of the diet. Eating locally and seasonally also means that the foods you are eating are most likely more suitable for the climate that you are in. Warming foods in cold weather and cooler foods in warmer environments. The diet also changed with the seasons and food availability.
  • Fresh – Food was eaten fresh as it was available. This is a good lesson to us – fresh is best! Where possible choose fresh foods over their canned and heavily preserved counterparts.
  • Whole foods – Paleolithic man simply had to eat foods as they came. When eating meat they ate the whole animal including organs and marrow. Food processing was minimal as it was a manual process, although they had very simplistic tools for grinding grains and legumes. But we certainly aren’t talking about making white flour or tropical fruit juice here.
  • Less sugar – It really was impossible to eat the kind of sugar quantities that we eat now back in Paleolithic times. While I am not saying we need to quit sugar, rather just reducing our sugar intake to a minimal amount.

These principles underlie all good healthy diet systems. And Chinese dietetics is no different. In addition to the above, our system also pays close attention to food flavours, thermal energies and the organs the foods benefit in order to achieve a Yin/Yang balance in the body- but this is a topic for another time.

Since Paleolithic times our diets have changed regularly in accordance with nature (famines/extreme environmental conditions), war times, economic conditions, fashion and influence from the nutritional thinking of the day (eg. butter was good, then it was bad, now it is good again). We even eat quite differently now to the way in which our grandparents ate.

But it really all comes back to the five points above. No matter which diet you follow, those lessons from Paleolithic man are likely to lead to a wholesome diet and a healthier you!

And as a last thought, I wanted to leave you with this gorgeous little animated video on the topic of change in food production with Willie Nelson doing a cover of Cold Play’s Back to the start. (Two videos in one post? Crazy!)

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.