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Natural Awakenings

Ancestral Diets: A Lighter Shade of Paleo

Sep 30, 2013 03:53PM ● By Sayer Ji and Tania Melkonian

recipe photos by Stephen Blancett

Vegetarian Awareness Month provides a timely opportunity to realize that a plant-focused diet does not derive exclusively from plants. Just as a carnivore does not subsist on meat alone, the same applies to a vegetarian.

What can we learn from our Paleolithic, or Stone Age, ancestors? The recent trend toward recreating a Paleo-era diet emphasizes the importance of vegetable nutrition to prehistoric communities, correcting the misperception that they were primarily meat-eaters.

The original Paleo diet, before the advent of agriculture, reflected the hunting and gathering of lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and was absent of grains, dairy, starchy foods, sugar and salt. Today’s updated version might comprise foods naturally available and/or abundant before the cultivation of food in gardens, crops and livestock.

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., author of The Paleo Diet and Nutritionist Nora Gedgaudas, author of Primal Body, Primal Mind, each contest the premise perpetuated by many in the weight-loss industry that fat, especially naturally saturated fat, is unhealthy. Those same proponents that maintain low-fat/non-fat food is a panacea for modern illnesses also purport that cholesterol is the chief cause of heart ailments.

Gedgaudas writes that the diets of hunter-gatherers inhabiting varied landscapes, from the Inuit of the north to tropical forest hominids, included large amounts of fat and cholesterol, which is essential to maintaining cell membranes and regulating hormones. She points out that obtaining cholesterol from food is necessary to augment the liver’s function of creating cholesterol internally.

Cordain agrees that even saturated fats in meats can be beneficial, providing the animals are grass-fed, lean and live in clean surroundings. He emphasizes, however, that when our prehistoric ancestors ate fat, they did not also eat grain carbohydrates, sugar and salt, and contends that it is these components, not meat, that can be detrimental to the body.

Doctor of Naturopathy Maureen Horne-Paul adds that organic, lean and game meats are exempt from the acidity inherent in corn-based animal feed. Plus, “When an animal is insensitively confined and killed, stress hormones are released that result in acidity. So, we are changing our pH from a healthy alkaline state to a more acidic condition when we consume meat from conventionally raised animals.”

Scientific studies published in the Journal of Gluten Sensitivity, Medical Hypotheses and by the Mercola group attest to key problems related to human consumption of grains. Anti-nutrients such as phytic acid in grains lead to the poor absorption of minerals and related deficiencies. Improper absorption of dietary protein caused in part by enzyme inhibitors in grains also tends to damage the pancreas. Individual sensitivities to proteins in specific grains can further interfere with functioning of the neuroendocrine system and subsequent emotional difficulties like addiction and depression may arise. All of these difficulties have been exacerbated by irresponsible prenatal diets that have made younger generations extra-sensitive to the challenges posed by grains to the human system.

Menu Board Paleo SpecialsWhile Cordain doesn’t recommend dairy, Gedgaudas suggests organic or raw milk products, provided they retain their full fat content and come from grass-fed cows. She reasons that the presence of the anti-carcinogenic fatty acid conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) and the Wulzen factor anti-stiffness agent in the fat benefit joint lubrication.

Experts suggest that the dietary formula established by our prehistoric ancestors can be the foundation for a modern-day, healthy, non-confining, creative eating experience. We can exchange grains for quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat (not technically grains at all), and include tubers and legumes, due to their folate and protein content. Blue and sweet potatoes also contain high levels of anthocyanins and potassium. Nearly every category of food, in the proper amounts, can be part of such a balanced diet.

When we explore what makes sense and eat clean and natural foods, we have a good chance of finding our body’s own sweet spot.

Sayer Ji is the founder of and an advisory board member of the National Health Federation. Tania Melkonian is a certified nutritionist and healthy culinary arts educator. Learn more at


Paleo Menu Recipes

Kale WrapsKale Wraps recipe

1 head kale (suggest cavolo nero or dino kale)
1 bell pepper, sliced into julienned strips
1 avocado, julienned
3 oz grass-fed sirloin, grilled to medium and julienned
Chili flakes and cumin to taste

Wash and dry kale.

Hold the blade of a long chef’s knife along the rib of the kale leaf and pull the leaf away from the rib. Repeat on the other side of the leaf to produce two long flat wraps. Set aside the ribs for stock.

Bring a pot filled with 2 cups of water to a rolling boil. Lower the heat to simmer and set a metal colander inside as a steamer basket so it sits on top of the water, not immersed.

Line the colander/basket with the kale “wrap” leaves. Cover and steam for 3 minutes until the leaves are just wilted.

Remove basket from heat and lay out leaves on a clean work surface, lined up vertically.

Stack 1 slice meat, 1 slice avocado and 2 slices pepper horizontally near the edge of a leaf. Add cumin and chili flakes and roll leaf away from the cook into a wrap. Repeat with all leaves.

Curried Carrot Soup

2 Tbsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup diced onions
3 Tbsp curry paste
2 cups coconut milk
2 cups vegetable broth
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 stalk lemon grass
3 leaves Kaffir lime
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup finely chopped red pepper

Set a heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat. Add turmeric and cumin, to toast. Add oil and stir to combine with spices. Add onions; sweat to cook until translucent, but not browned.

Add curry paste and stir. Add coconut milk and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

With the back of a knife, bruise the lime leaves and lemongrass stalk.

When the stock comes to a boil, reduce to medium heat and add leaves, add half of the carrots and stalk. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat, cool and then remove leaves and stalk; blend soup until smooth.

Return soup blend to pot, add peppers and the rest of the carrots and then simmer on low heat for 40 minutes.

Grilled Pineapple with Cream recipeGrilled Pineapple with Cream

1 organic pineapple, cut into rounds
2 Tbsp grass-fed, organic butter
¼ cup organic cream
1 vanilla bean or ½ tsp organic vanilla extract

Heat butter in a sauté pan until melted and bubbling (not brown). Place pineapple rounds in the pan and grill for 2 minutes each side.

Slice vanilla bean pod lengthwise to scrape out vanilla granules. Mix granules with cream until incorporated.

Serve pineapple rounds warm with a drizzle of vanilla-scented cream.

Paleo Parallel Tips
• Make plants the center. For any meat, choose organic, grass-fed lean cuts and use small portions as sides or garnish.
• Limit dairy to items with full fat content. Choose sheep or goat dairy when possible, followed by organic cow dairy.
• Limit grains, but explore pseudograins such as buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth to add safe, starch-like body to meals.
• For legumes, eat lentils. Blue and sweet potatoes are good choices for tubers.

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