When I was younger I used to see grand schemes in everything. I don’t mean that in a conspiracy theory sense. I mean it in the “there’s a reason for everything in life” sense. I no longer subscribe to that philosophy. My current philosophy is that stuff just happens; sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes fair, sometimes unfair. There is no grand scheme in anything at all. Yet when coincidences do happen I do feel that twinge of nostalgia for my old thought process. That happened just the other day with respect to this very diet experiment.
I’m merrily going about finishing up my last few weeks of the Virgin elimination diet and starting to get ramped up on my Paleo Diet Phase planning. That is mostly looking at recipe books and trying to decide once and for all what version of Paleo I want to do. All of them are founded on lots of vegetables and berries, some meat and a little starch like potatoes. There are variations of quantities of that, and fruit, and if you should be eating rice, and so on. So there is a little bit of prep to do. In the midst of all that reading and planning comes two links which are pretty much saying that we all should be eating the complete opposite of that.
The first link from the UK Daily Mail is profiling T. Colin Campbell and his advocacy of a very low fat, high carb all vegan diet. The title of the article says it all, “Are low-carb diets BAD for you? Nutrition expert claims giving up grains can lead to heart disease and cancer.” Now, it is one thing to argue about if eating meat or animal products are a good idea. It is another thing to argue that we need to eat grains to avoid heart disease and cancer. I’m not even sure Campbell would agree with that, but he certainly does seem to imply it the way the article quoted him. The fact that cultivated grains are a relatively modern invention, literally only 10-20 thousand years old, means that we as a species can’t need to eat grains. It may be more convenient to eat grains. It may be a good way to get sustenance, store food for lean years that previous gatherer-hunters didn’t do, and so on. It may even be healthy to eat grains. But to say that one needs to is just outrageous since the nutrients in grains can be found in many other whole foods.
The second link popped up just yesterday, and somewhat piggy backs on the first. There were several places where the story cropped up, but the last link I have on it is from the Washington Post. “Too much animal-based proteins could lead to early death, study says” is the main headline. The actual journal article itself, available for free download for a short period of time, is here. This too goes on to argue that not only are we eating far too much protein, but that even the source of the protein matters. Actually it’s a little more nuanced than that. One is supposed to eat a low protein diet until they are 65 and then crank up the protein for the last decades of their life to optimize their longevity. I would like to read the whole study before I comment too much on the topic, but there may be some ring of truth to it. If we look at the diets of the so-called Blue Zones (areas of the world with highly disproportionate number of centenarians) these diets are not incredibly high in protein and they are a mostly vegetarian diet usually. There is no point where they make the switch to a higher protein diet, but during their entire life their diet is subsisting on a lot of plant-based carbs, a bit of dairy and periodic meat dishes (the whole meat as a side dish concept).
None of the above is going to change the course of my Paleo Diet experiment, but it is reminding me why I’m embarking on it in the first place. I’m sure in the next few weeks the Paleo community will be publishing articles blasting both studies at a rate commensurate with the vegan communities embracing of them. When the next Paleo-friendly study comes out the tables will turn. It will be like watching Congress flip scripts when the party of the presidency changes. This confusion is what leads people into a state of analysis paralysis which means that many people just keep eating their Standard American Diet rather than making small changes to improve on it. Because humans are not machines that came off the assembly line, we each have variety in what works for us. These sorts of studies may or may not provide some generalizations of a base diet that we can tweak for our own bodies. I’m going to see which tweaks work for me by starting with each of these diets in a purist mode and then attempting to merge them into the “perfect” diet for me for right now.
This has gotten me thinking a bit about my vegan phase however. As time has gone on I have been moving away from the extremely low-fat/salt vegan diet that you would find in Campbell’s book, or the Engine 2 Diet (which is based on the same foundation) and moving into one that is higher in fat but still vegan. While the urge to try his diet may fade, I’m thinking I really need to be looking into the low fat vegan not my own version of vegan for that phase. Just like I need to be somewhat purist during the initial shake out phase on Paleo, I think it’s important to try to embrace one of these diet ideas as presented and then see how my body reacts. If it turns out low-fat vegan and my body don’t agree, then a tweak to higher-fat vegan may be a follow-on phase, in the same way a low-carb Paleo may not be my thing but a higher-carb Paleo will.
Stay tuned for my review of the study itself to see if there is any light to the heat that the mainstream media is making of it. More often than not, the media’s coverage of these topics is overly sensationalistic, if not flat out wrong, on these topics.