With all the talk about reverting back to the dietary roots of our species, some may ask: Isn’t this the same as the paleo diet, the popular interpretation of diet prior to agriculture?
The Wheat Belly and Undoctored lifestyle and the popular notion of a Paleolithic diet overlap substantially, but there are differences. So let’s discuss the points of difference.
First of all, I am not bashing the ideas promoted by followers of the paleo concepts. The ideas they follow are much better than conventional notions of healthy eating, and wonderful results can indeed be achieved on a paleo diet. Many authors from the paleo community are among my friends.
We both agree on this notion that reverting to the dietary habits and foods that molded us evolutionarily for 2.5 million years is logical, representing a return to habits to which our bodies have adapted. We both reject all grains, the biggest issue of all, given their relatively recent introduction 10,000 years ago. Bad enough if consumed in their natural state, the actions of agribusiness made wheat, corn, and other grains much worse, so there are no points of contention here. We both also reject the use of refined sugar; sweeteners such as agave nectar and high-fructose corn syrup; oils such as corn, soybean, and canola; and highly processed commercial and genetically modified foods. So we agree on over 90 percent of dietary issues.
But there are indeed differences…
In the Wheat Belly and Undoctored approach, we limit digestible carbohydrates. In most popular versions of the paleo diet, carbohydrate/sugar sources like honey, maple syrup, and fruit are consumed ad lib.
Why do we limit carbohydrates?
We limit carbs because the majority of people starting out on this lifestyle have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or some degree of insulin resistance. We limit carbs because a lifetime of drinking soft drinks and eating breakfast cereals and other sugar/carb sources may have damaged some of the beta cells in your pancreas that produce insulin; any more damage and you may lose control over blood sugars forever. We limit carbs because you likely have acquired inflammatory consequences of the modern diet, such as higher levels of inflammatory interleukins, tumor necrosis factor, and C-reactive protein, all of which contribute to heart disease, cancer, and dementia. We also limit carbs because your bowel flora is different than Paleolithic human bowel flora. This means that you digest carbs and other nutrients differently and struggle more with insulin resistance. (Perhaps this issue will recede as we get better at re-creating the bowel flora of primitive cultures in years to come.)
We limit carbs because we want to slow the deterioration of aging provoked by glycation. Note that the worst form of glycation is fructation (i.e., fructose modification of proteins), which is 10 times more vigorous than glycation by glucose. This means that ad lib consumption of honey, maple syrup, and fruit—all rich in fructose—will accelerate development of cataracts, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, and dementia. (Nobody knows exactly where a safe level of fructose consumption falls, but it is likely low—no more than that contained in one medium-size apple, for example, or about 10 grams.) We also limit fruit because modern fruit has been hybridized for large size, sweetness, and reduction in fiber content to encourage consumption.
In my view, not limiting carbohydrates and sugars in a modern human is a big mistake for the above reasons. And these are effects that cannot be “worked off” by, say, running an additional mile or another 30 minutes of Zumba. Combining carbohydrate restriction with grain elimination is an exceptionally powerful way to address these issues.
Unlike the paleo diet, we include consumption of legumes and tubers, although we adhere to a strict carb limitation in doing so. The fact that our intestinal lining is heavily dependent on the fatty acid butyrate (to be discussed later) suggests that the human digestive tract requires fibers that yield butyrate upon microbial digestion. Underground fiber-rich tubers, such as raw potatoes, and cooked legumes, such as beans and lentils, are rich in fibers that yield butyrate when bowel flora consume them. Denying yourself such prebiotic fibers by eliminating all legumes and tubers therefore guarantees that dysbiosis, or health-impairing distortions of bowel flora composition, will develop, accompanied by long-term deterioration in blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides, and even mental health and increased risk for colon cancer.
Unlike the paleo lifestyle in which all dairy products are shunned, in the Wheat Belly and Undoctored lifestyle, dairy products are conditional (i.e., we consume them on a limited basis and are selective). Because many dairy issues are “dose-dependent,” meaning effects worsen with consumption of greater quantities, I believe that some people are fine consuming small quantities of dairy. Nobody is safe consuming unlimited quantities of nonorganic dairy, as it will invite issues with hormone overexposure, the insulin-provoking effect of whey, and immune disease–activating effects of A1 beta-casein protein. Fermented cheeses, yogurt, and kefir are among the least problematic, given the denaturation (breakdown) of casein and reductions in whey and lactose introduced by fermentation. Of course, only full-fat, organic cheese, yogurts, and kefirs should be chosen (or made yourself).
Also, the butyrate contained in butter is a powerful anti-inflammatory and intestinal health–maintaining factor. Butter and ghee are also nearly entirely fat with little casein or whey proteins and are also among the more benign forms of dairy. But we’ve got to be careful with dairy: small quantities; organic; favoring fermented cheeses, yogurt, kefir, butter, and ghee.
There are other differences, such as with issues of saturated fat consumption and use of salt. I encourage consumption of saturated fat or at least discourage limitation, and I believe that higher levels of salt are perfectly safe, provided they are not the obscene levels obtained by eating at fast-food restaurants and drinking carbonated soft drinks that are responsible for intakes of over 10,000 milligrams per day. One of the difficulties with the paleo diet is that there are as many variations as there are proponents (there is no one paleo diet). Some limit saturated fat, others do not. Some limit salt, others do not. Some say oats, quinoa, and buckwheat are okay, others say they are not. Think of it: The Paleolithic diet of the African savanna was different from the Paleolithic diet of northern Europe was different from the Paleolithic diet of southeast Asia was different from the Paleolithic diet of the Amazonian basin, and so on. Rather than thinking about a “paleo diet,” I think it makes more sense to ask: What was common among all preagricultural human eating habits regardless of location and climate? Several common behaviors emerge: All humans hunted and consumed the flesh and organs of animals, all consumed nongrass plants, all relied on some source of intestinal butyrate, and nobody consumed the seeds of grasses (grains). Nobody limited fat or saturated fat, and salt was something we needed and sought.
In the Wheat belly and Undoctored program, we do not just re-create the diet of primitive humans; we also work to restore nutrients lost by living modern lives, something not addressed in paleo diets. Failing to address nutritional deficiencies would be like getting your car washed and cleaned, with a new set of tires, but forgetting to change the oil and spark plugs; your car will not run correctly, even fail in time. Addressing the nutritional deficiencies of prior wheat and grain consumption, as well as other nutritional blunders, will take you yet another big step closer to ideal health.