Paleo, primal, eat real food, GAPS… really?

This is probably what you'd look like at the end of this post

I think everyone will agree that the best way to eat right is to eat plenty of nutritious foods and, if possible, eat only nutritious foods. And hence the nutrition concepts concepts such as paleo, primal, eat real food, GAPS, WAPF etc. are pretty awesome. Forget the different diets circling around the internet. Forget high fat low carb. Forget moderate protein. Forget macronutrient ratios. The concept of good nutrition is that quality of food is paramount. As long as one eats foods that are devoid of anti-nutrients and wholesome and unprocessed, it can be accepted that the said person is ‘eating right’.

So in as little words as possible, any good diet concept should preach the following.

  • Eat meat, whole eggs, vegetables, roots, tubers, fruits, unprocessed whole dairy and nuts.
  • Stay away from any and all potentially allergenic grains like wheat.
  • Stay away from any and all legumes, beans and lentils unless they are soaked/fermented.
  • Stay away from sugars.
  • Stay away from anything processed.

As you can see, the emphasis here is staying away from all foods that could potentially hurt you and eating only foods that are benign. And as it turns out, the foods that don’t hurt you are actually filled with plenty of nutrients and actually help you w.r.t health and longevity. Now getting into a little more detail, the following minutiae really matter.

  • Red meat is great but all red meat should be grass-fed/finished.
  • Poultry is healthy but all poultry should be free range.
  • Seafood is filled with nutrients but all seafood should be wild caught.
  • Whole eggs are more loaded than multi-vitamin tablets but all eggs should be organic and free range.
  • Vegetables and fruits are king but all vegetables and fruits should be organic.
  • Dairy, and especially dairy fat, is healthful but all dairy should be from grass-fed animals or should at least be organic.

What’s the problem really?

All these nutrition concepts – paleo, primal, eat real food, GAPS, WAPF – work and there is absolutely no surprise there. If you eat high quality food and stay away from any and all anti-nutrients that irritate your gut, there is no chance that you won’t get healthier.

But here’s the catch. These concepts only works under one condition – you have got to do it right!

Let me explain.

Health is a not short-term goal. Health is the cumulative result of many years of eating good food among other things like leading an active and stress-free lifestyle. So for any of these nutrition concepts to help with long term health (and hence longevity), one needs to ‘do it’ for many many days. In other words – the diet needs to be sustainable. So then, the question is…

Are these concepts sustainable?

If you live in the US or in any other developed country, you’d notice that most things are easy. This holds true for everything from cleaning the house to depositing cash to eating nutritious food. But if you live in India or in any other developing country, you’d realize that it is indeed hard to get things done. And eating right isn’t an exception.

As much as advocates of all these nutrition concepts (yours truly included) argue that their concept of eating is suitable for everyone, sustainable and more environmentally friendly than agriculture dependent feeding, I still haven’t found answers to the following questions.

  • If meat, seafood & eggs forms a considerable portion of one’s diet and if high quality meat (grass-fed, wild caught etc.) is a requirement, what about places where high quality meat is unheard of?
  • If dairy is healthful and necessary for healthy living (especially in the absence of meat), what happens if grass-fed cows don’t exist and the term organic milk is always associated with ‘what is that?’ or ‘now you owe me your car’? You could go raw, but what happens if raw milk is diluted with questionable water and if raw milk is indeed unhygienic?

If you’ve read even some of my articles, you’d know that I’m a big proponent of sustainability and I keep banging on the same point over and over again…

Is your super healthy diet and/or nutrition concept sustainable?

The answer to this question depends on many factors and two of the main factors are ‘availability’ and ‘affordability’. Sure, you may have discovered the world’s best diet, but can you ‘do it’ right? Are high quality foods available? If yes, are they reasonably affordable? If yes again, is this affordable availability sustainable?

And IMHO, if you don’t have answers to these questions, then you’re just buying into another fad! Why? Well, because what isn’t sustainable doesn’t last!

Coming to India:

As most of you know, I recently moved to India (a developing country) from the US (a developed country) and I cant guarantee that the fight to ‘eat right’ is harder here… much harder.

Allow me to elaborate.

Let’s say Rahul, a chubby 40+ metabolically deranged desk-job worker with a sedentary lifestyle and limited experience and enthusiasm towards health and fitness, has been advised by his doctor to ‘eat right’. So he decides to try one of the above stated nutrition concepts. All his meals contain mostly meat, eggs, vegetables and fruits. He consumes limited whole milk dairy and enjoys a cup or two of rice say every once or twice a week.

While Rahul read the right literature, took the best advice and is following the plan as closely as possible, he doesn’t realize a few things.

  • The commonly available meat (beef, lamb, chicken etc.) is in no way close to grass-fed or free range.
  • Most commercially available seafood is farmed.
  • All commonly available eggs are from factory farmed hens.
  • Whole milk available in regular supermarkets are made from milk solids.
  • Vegetables and fruits are loaded with pesticides.

Ummm… this is what I call – epic fail!

I’m sure many of you can relate to our imaginary Indian – Rahul. You’ve made up your mind, modified your pantry and even tweeted your resolution! But are you doing it right? If yes, care to share? If not, what are you going to do about it?

Do I have answers to these questions? Have I modified my dietary recommendations? Are things really that bad or am I just orthorexic? We’ll find out in the next post.

Peace out.

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28 responses to “Paleo, primal, eat real food, GAPS… really?

  1. deepa September 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Interesting post ….this has exactly been my question all along when all the fitness experts in US/developed nations preach about organic,free-range etc.Its a whole lot easier to find these recommendations in the developed nations. In today’s world i dont think you can really eat like your ancestors unless you start growing everything in your backyard!!!
    Raj,another question that I have is what about the pollution levels in India does that affect your health in anyway??

  2. Rahul September 21, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Weird choice of name for example. Whatever happened to Ram or Jack ?…. I don’t find free range eggs in the super markets in Bangalore. The packets read ‘extra nutritious’, ‘calcium loaded’, ‘omega 3 rich’ but don’t say free range. And these ones are double the price of locally available normal eggs. We do have organic vegetable stores but not commonly available. Organic milk – no way !

  3. Vrishali September 21, 2011 at 11:23 am

    With all due respect, you are orthorexic but it is a quality that can be put to good use. An important difference between the US and India is the following. In the US, knowledge and science are tied closely to economics in the following manner-all options are made available (and many advertised w/o adequate scientific basis), and it takes a educated/discerning customer to be able to make choices amid a lot of information (with some advertising designed to deliberately to mislead). From the perspective of a consumer interested in healthy eating, much choice is available in the US, but you have to spend a lot of time thinking about these things.In India, we have typically been able to trust more easily as knowedge is not so tied to economics (which is a relief) but choice in some areas is typically less.
    But trust is not working too well right now. Globalization and the economic development imperative are causing too many changes too fast, and we are not questioning how to develop without losing things that are important to us (such as good nutrition and the environment). This is particularly true of the middle class, which has benefited the most from the economic boom. And that’s where the orthorexia of those of us who have experienced the U.S culture is helpful- it allows us to think critically and make a case for some of our cultural traditions and implement it in a manner not incompatible with the “growth imperative”. I also view sustainability as a broader thing than you suggest-sustainability of not just a nutrition/fitness routine but of a broader lifestyle that includes human,plant and animal communities. But that is ultimately optimized by the individual and for his/her environment.
    I examine the issue of milk consumption in detail to examine . How do we have access to fresh, whole milk in a way that causes least discomfort to cows? I am not vegan, but I see the moral imperative as a living creature myself.The cow produces milk for its own calf. In older times (or in rural communities), families had their own cow and its calf. A single family might consume the cows milk, along with allowing the calf to feed on its mother. This perhaps the least exploitative to the animal, while allowing the family access to fresh whole milk.In a small sized operation, the calf is allowed to feed on its mother exclusively for three months or thereabouts, and then the cow is dedicated to milk production for human consumption. Given our busy lives and apartment complex living in urban India, this medium sized operation is a good hook on which to base the milk access plan. Perhaps an organization can be set up that provides cows to apartment complexes in urban areas (managing the cows reproductive and lactation cycles, etc.) People can milk the cows ,or someone can be hired to do this? They can also provide care to the cows when sick, etc in return for the service they provide to us. This is inspired from the gowshaala concept in India- re-adapted to contemporary apartment complex living. Doesn’t seem to be too hard to do, and also makes it easier for those of us concerned with the moral imperatives (no higher moral ground implied) consume milk more comfortably.
    Ok, the comment is too long for more than one suggestion. Keep up the quest!

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 5:52 am

      Thank you for your comment. It sure does make a lot of sense. But unfortunately there is more to the story. And finally, the truth is that though people lived more active and healthy lives back then, they also didnt have much to do. So there are some constraints and we are all trying to make the best out of it.

      And about being orthorexic… wait for the follow-up post 😉

      • Vrishali September 24, 2011 at 8:44 am

        I agree with you that we are busy and may not want to keep and milk cows ourselves-but this is a business idea for someone in the urban animal husbandry setting. I was just hoping to translate a concept that has worked well for many purposes to the scientific and economic frames in which urban India lives. No one has to buy all its premises, e.g. people don’t have to care about the animal rights and religious aspects of it to be able to benefit from access to whole milk. More info on gaushaala purposes to be found here:http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/programmes/en/genetics/documents/Interlaken/sidevent/6_3/Sadana_pr.pdf
        Sorry for the launching into an involved commentary, your post echoed with things I have been thinking of.

  4. Vizeet September 22, 2011 at 3:02 am

    I think lamb meat you get here is not labeled as grass fed but it is grass fed. Cows may be getting hormones and antibiotics injections to some extent but not large doses as being done in US (as many things are not very commercialized here). I opt for non farmed chicken from local shop which he tells feeds on worms and rice. I opt for duck eggs as these are mostly farmed in open and have access to river or lake. Raw milk as you said will have contaminated water in most cases unless you are in-front of the milk man while he is milking a cow. Vegetables seems to be more unhealthy as artificially ripening, coloring and use of pesticides are common. Organic is very and out of reach for most of us. I don’t know if organic vegetables are available in Bangalore. Organic pulses, grains and spices are available at stores. This link may help someone looking for organic — http://veganbengaluru.wordpress.com/vegan-friendly-bangalore/shops/organic-shops-and-suppliers/

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      Vizeet – Are you sure bout lamb? Im not a fan of lamb cos I just dislike the gamey taste/smell, but woudnt mind giving it a shot if thats the only decent red-meat around.

      About organic veggies, milk etc… next post will have some good info.

      • Vizeet September 27, 2011 at 12:07 pm

        Raj, India is still quite green and many poor people and villagers keep goats and cows. In Bangalore I have seen cows been fed with green grass. Places where green grass is not available dried grass will be used. But when you buy packaged milk then there are many risks. Most of these big milk companies buy milk from villagers so it will be most likely green grass fed but if they are farming then they may be using cotton seeds. Their is also possibility of adulteration. Best is to buy milk from local people and boil it. Cows might be getting hormones to increase milk production and antibiotics to protect them from diseases. Many places in India cow slaughtering is banned and beef is difficult to find.
        Goat meat is generally safer for two reasons:
        1. Goat is mostly domesticated by poor people.
        2. Goat milk is not popular and not easily available so most of it will be consumed by the baby goat and will have better immune system and health.
        I buy from local shop who keeps smaller breed which means there is lesser chance that it is farmed. Moreover I do not think goat factory farming is profitable given number of people who keep them at home.

  5. bee September 22, 2011 at 11:25 am

    that’s exactly why i turned vegan when i was in india. now i’m not vegan ‘cos in the u.s. i have more choices. when i move back to india, i’ll have to severely curtail animal products. i’m not comfortable with factory farming. period.

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

      Turning vegan is definitely an option… but not a solution. Being organic vegan in India (and remaining relatively non grain dominant) is not cheap either. The next post will answer many of these questions.

      And completely agree with you regarding orthorexia. Its funny how anything is considered a bad thing the minute it is clinically termed as something. ‘He is a hard worker’ is a compliment. ‘He is a workaholic’… not so much! madness!

  6. bee September 22, 2011 at 11:27 am

    and bro, wear your orthorexia with pride. if you’re concerned with nourishing yourself correctly and ethically, people like to make it seem like your obsessed in a bad way.

    if they want to stuff crap into their mouths by sponsoring an abusive cruel corporate food cycle, it’s their problem. don’t let them make it yours. when people refer to my food “obsession” it makes me wonder why they aren’t obsessed about what goes into their body when they are crazy obsessed about the house they buy and the car they drive.

  7. bee September 22, 2011 at 11:29 am

    “make it seem like your obsessed in a bad way.”

    i apologise for hogging your bandwidth, but that should read “make it seem like YOU’RE obsessed in a bad way”.

  8. Arunima September 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Yes its a tough choice to eat in developing countries but does that mean more people die in developing countries than developed countries due to food choices ? Vegetables, fruits are more terrifying due to pesticides, GMO etc and getting organic is impossible in India. So are cage free options for animals. So being a vegan/vegetarian is no better than being paleo in developing countries.
    You live with whatever choices you have. If having dairy/eggs makes you feel good then have it in India. I dont think I should stop eating them just because they are not processed as I want them to be….perfection in food is a necessity ONLY when you have the choice. After all we are not living in the world of our ancestors…we should be obsessed with what we eat and how we live but we also have to compromise given our choices OR maybe its just me thinking that way.

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm

      Arunima – I agree and disagree. Obsession can be a good thing and/or a bad thing depending on how you channel it. Now whether vegan > paleo in a developing country depends on many things including how far are you ready to go to attain good health. Will you grow your own meat? Will you milk your own cow? Or will you be willing to pay extra to get good quality meat from elsewhere? No one is perfect and there is no such thing as a perfect diet. It is all about finding what works for you and your goals have a big part to play here. What am I doing for me and my goals… you’ll see in the next post.

  9. Swapna Mazumder September 23, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I am compelled to ask the question, what is organic, and how is food safety in terms of pathogens insured? Is it just pesticide free vegetables grown using organic fertilizer that has not been treated or contains any synthetic chemicals? Or is it pesticide free vegetables grown using organic fertilizer that has been treated with synthetic chemicals to eliminate pathogens?? Is integrative pest management used instead of pesticides. The grass or free range vegetation that animals feed on have to be also pesticide free, how realistic is that given environmental and water pollution. Moreover pesticides can be airborne and get deposited on a neighboring organic farm. So does it matter whether you are in the US or India. I live in Canada and try to buy local as much as possible, except when I want my coffee or mangoes or sugar or…..

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      Swapna – The one and only way to find out is to know exactly where your food is coming from. The goal is not to remove any and all pollutants/pesticides/anti-nutrients from your food… ‘cos its just not possible. The goal is to reduce it as much as possible. So doing some ground work and figuring out YOUR best options depending on whee you live and what is locally available is key. The next post will talk more about this.

  10. Koki September 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Raj a great post ..I had the same set of questions. I feed my family Organic n real food being here in US. I Have got used to feeding organic to my lil ones. The question of what will we do when we move back to India keeps haunting me . Waiting eagerly for ur next post

    • RG September 23, 2011 at 11:04 pm

      Don’t want to give anything away… but I’ll just say… its not too bad in India. There are things that are awesome and things that arent. You need to spend sometime and figure it out…. or wait for me to figure it out 😉

  11. paleo weight loss September 24, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    This is a great page of information, Brian. I will come back to get more info. I think you have done a good job of explaining the diet.

  12. nethra September 25, 2011 at 7:16 am

    There are several fish markets in Chennai that sell fresh sea fish – One of the good ones is opposite Marina Beach. Fresh catch comes in here twice a day.

  13. p September 25, 2011 at 9:43 am

    having moved back from the US to India myself – i have to say that things are not as bleak as they sound here. I agree that its not as easy to find “Labeled” organic food, however – it is definately available. For Eg. Goat are mostly ruminants of leaves and grass and are essentially “good” meats. I limit chicken in general (even in the US because of the high levels of PUFA) but you do get desi chicken at the butchers. Fish – Stick to the cheaper mackerel, seasonal smaller fish – almost all of it is wild AND fresh. Eggs – hard to get free range and the ones that you get in most shops are terrible (pale yellow yolks) – but i have recently found eggs that are decent although almost double the price as normal ones.

    As far as veggies, again if you stick to seasonal cheaper, local varieties that small vendors sell – you are more likely to get decent quality – local varieties of keerai etc are actually not bad at all. If you want perfect looking bell peppers, brocolli, tomatoes, etc – be prepared for a LOT of pesticides.

    milk – agree its pretty hard to get good tasting farm milk – but thats just an incentive to cut it out as much as possible.

    What i love about moving back is endless supplies of coconut (tender and otherwise), seasonal fruit and obscure veggies.

    As far as factory farming .. I found it much harder to access non-factory farmed meat in the US (unless it was through the CSA) as compared to India. I remain positive that with enough attention to food quality – things will change .. for the better.

    • RG September 25, 2011 at 9:52 am

      who are you? you almost stole my next post 😉

      jokes apart… very insightful comment. thank you for this! my next post will talk in detail about the topics you addressed and more.

  14. varshatiwary September 26, 2011 at 3:35 am

    I agree but is Rahul not still doing relatively better by moving away from wheat, fries and sugar? He can still wash,cut and prepare seasonal veggies and fruits in a way that minimizes pesticide exposure.We may not be in a dietary Utopia but if we try we can still find solutions -here in Gwalior ,the cows still graze on grass and raw milk is not difficult to obtain.
    I know its a hard choice between adulteration with contaminated water or with antibiotics but we can only make the better choice rather than being paralysed by quest for perfection or worst still take cola because its made with mineral water in hermetically sealed factories.

  15. Vrishali September 26, 2011 at 10:28 am

    An article about the organic food scene in North India (potential parties to contact for more info): http://www.microfinancemonitor.com/2011/09/26/indias-taste-takes-off-with-organic-food/

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