Paleo for the Brain
As I described here and here, I’ve been following a somewhat Paleo food regimen since Spring 2012. Also, in addition to my regular swimming, I started running a two mile route, and later a three mile route. Instead of just biking the few miles between light rail stops, I started riding home the nine miles from work a few times a week.
By Fall 2012, I had lost thirty-seven pounds and felt great. Over the winter, I stopped biking, but ran longer and more often. Due to mental inertia and crowded lanes I stopped swimming in December and January. We got the usual gifts of holiday treats in the office, and the usual big office dinner, and I succumbed, but I returned to avoiding snacks after New Years.
My wife is often out of town, caring for relatives, so not cooking healthy dinners for me. Instead of cooking my own, I had gotten in the expensive habit of visiting the Whole Foods steam table. I could grab a chicken breast, lots of steamed broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, squash, asparagus, cabbage, etc. Very healthy, but it often cost twenty dollars for one meal. She was away a lot this spring so I had the idea that I could eat my salad for dinner, and buy a cheaper low calorie lunch at Subway. That would save me time packing a lunch, and money. I worried about the buns, but I thought Subway couldn’t be that bad what with Jared and all.
I love the crew at Subway, and the owner is a character, but eating there regularly didn’t work out. I didn’t buy their cookies, and didn’t add cheese, just tuna or seafood or chicken subs with veggies. But I noticed I was gaining a pound here, and pound there, so I returned to packing my lunches. But I kept eating salads for dinner, too. I’m currently ten pounds above where I was last fall. I’m biking again, not taking hills quite as well, but I still feel pretty good.
As with anything promoted as a diet, there are Paleo promoters, enthusiasts and skeptics. Google paleo and someone will either sell you a book, claim it has changed their lives or warn you away from a big fraud.
I ran across a Salon review of Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet and How We Live, by Marlene Zuk. She noted that there could be no one Paleo diet because of course, people ate different food in different climates, and that we adapt more quickly than many folk assume:
… generalizations about the typical hunter-gatherer lifestyle are spurious; it doesn’t exist. With respect to what people ate (especially how much meat), the only safe assumption was “whatever they could get,” something that to this day varies greatly depending on where they live. Recently, researchers discovered evidence that people in Europe were grinding and cooking grain (a paleo-diet bugaboo) as far back as 30,000 years ago, even if they weren’t actually cultivating it. “A strong body of evidence,” Zuk writes, “points to many changes in our genome since humans spread across the planet and developed agriculture, making it difficult at best to point to a single way of eating to which we were, and remain, best suited.”
On the other hand, my wife ran across a very inspiring youtube video success story, Minding Your Mitochondria: Dr. Terry Wahls at TEDx IowaCity. Briefly, Dr Wahls had been healthy and athletic in her youth, but after medical school, marriage and children, she found herself succumbing to progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). With MS the insulating myelin sheaths around nerve cells are damaged, which affects communication between cells in the brain and spinal column. She felt her mind slipping away in many small ways. Following the advice of her doctors and taking the prescribed drugs – which she described as the best medical care available – did not slow down her decline.
Dr Wahls was certified in both Ob/Gyn and Internal Medicine and began researching the substances needed by the brain. Her list included B1, B6, B9, B12, Omega-3, Myelin, Sulfur and antioxidants. Taking supplements of all those seemed to slow her decline, and she decided to look into getting what she needed directly from the food she ate.
Dr Wahls found that the diets of hunter-gatherers, while diverse, regularly contained many times the daily allowances of the vitamins and substances on her list.
She began eating three heaping dinner plates per day (three cups each) of Green Leaves, Sulfur-rich Vegetables, Bright Colors, Grass-fed Meats, Organ Meats and Seaweed.
Green Leaves include kale (and kale chips!), and parsley. Sulfur-rich include cabbage, broccoli, onions, mushrooms. Bright Colors include beets, carrots, peppers, oranges, berries. Grass-fed meats are obvious but include fish. Organ Meats are (yuk) liver, brains, tongue. And Seaweed is just that.
I eat a lot of green leaves, though not much kale. I eat a lot of sulfur-rich and bright colors. We have been tending towards grass-fed meat and wild fish. I’ve generally avoided organ meats. Tongue is tasty, but I don’t look forward to liver or brains. I’ve only had seaweed in my mouth at the beach, but I suppose they sell it somewhere.
Update 2013-04-06: In this 58-minute IC People interview, Dr Wahls greatly expands on the success story she presented in the TEDx video above. For example, she shows an portable electromechanical stimulator that she uses to exercise and regrow muscles. She discusses product placement in the USDA food pyramids. “As a nation, we are addicted to food that is destroying our health.” She also describes her clinical trial of the effects of her plan on ten people with MS.