The Ideal Nutrition Plan for The Modern World
The Nutrition Plan That Combines the Strengths and Counters the Weaknesses of The Paleo Diet and Intermittent Fasting
In the 15+ years I have been working with nutrition and natural health, I have done a lot of contemplating and experimenting with what might be the ideal overall diet for the modern world, that allows one to maintain ideal weight or lose weight, and keep the gut functioning at a healthy level, yet also be a social, interactive hum being at the same time.
The standard questions I have asked thousands of clients, are; “what is your average daily diet, as in everything you eat and drink in the day, and when?”; “when are you most likely to feel hungry during the day or crave sweet or savoury foods?”; and “when, if any time of the day’ do you feel most tired or flat energetically?”.
I noticed a very clear pattern in most people where they ate little or no breakfast, or their breakfast was insufficient in protein, and their snacks were non-existent, sporadic or full of sugar or refined carbohydrates. As a consequence, they were unable to regulate their blood sugar levels throughout the day with the usual flat or craving spots being mid-late afternoon and post dinner. The consequence of this is hypoglycaemia and insulin resistance, which results in a system that produces energy poorly, puts on weight more easily and is inflammatory, meaning that it promotes chronic illness.
On top of that, they often relied on caffeine to get them going and maintain energy levels throughout the day, which further exacerbates insulin resistance, and exhausts the nervous system and drains the adrenal glands over time.
The solution to the ideal diet seemed to lie in a plan that regulated blood sugar levels. To gain more insight into this, I started investigating the research coming out from anthropological, evolutionary biology and genetic sources, which suggests that the body we have inherited is that of our hunter gatherer ancestors from some 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Meaning that we are ideally built to eat and drink the way our hunter gatherer ancestors did (not our cave man ancestors who existed many thousands of years prior to this).
Research has suggested that they ate only animal protein, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, and we drank only water. That’s all they had access to.
In fact, grain only became available to humans when the agricultural revolution began around 2,000 to 10,000 years ago, and the grains we consume now, courtesy of the industrial and technological revolutions, have become vastly different to these ancient grains. Even so, according to this research mentioned above, 2-10,000 years is not long enough for our bodies to fully assimilate such foodstuff.
We are simply not built for a high intake of grain. And certainly not sugar which entered the food chain only a few hundred years ago.
Whilst the agricultural revolution was wonderful from an economic perspective as it allowed the population to increase exponentially (as we now had storable foods that lasted longer and we could move into villages), it was a catastrophe for our bodies as it increased the carbohydrate content in the food chain dramatically. And it got worse and worse, the more we advanced as a species.
This motivated the evolution of nutrition programs that reflect our ancient diet. The Paleo diet is the most well known, but it was by no means the first of this type of program. Elimination or detox diets, and controlled ketosis diets, had been in existence for well over a decade before the Paleo craze came in.
All of these programs are extremely effective when adhered to strictly – the common denominator being a small amount of protein regularly to regulate blood sugar levels, and lots of vegetables and some fruit. In essence, grains and dairy are replaced by vegetables. This makes sense, given that of all the research done on nutrition, the one unequivocal fact is that the more vegetables you eat, the better your immune system and the greater you chance of preventing chronic illness (which accounts for 90% of deaths in the modern world).
However, the one weakness of these programs is that they don’t allow for much deviation. You have to adhere to them quite strictly to see the benefits. Which is hard if you lead a healthy social life.
The question then beckons; ‘how do we compensate for this whilst living in the modern world?’
Enter intermittent fasting. I have practiced fasting for over 20 years (as it had been an integral part of my recovery from chronic fatigue syndrome – CFS), and have long known the benefits. Whilst therapeutic fasting had been extensively researched in the former Soviet Union, the research in the West has only started to wake up to its’ benefits.
It makes sense from an evolutionary biology perspective as we were often exposed to periods where food supply was scarce. Our body knows how to adapt.
It has been understood for some time that whilst calorific restriction has very positive health benefits, it is also very restrictive and not fun. However, a good deal of research has found that intermittent or occasional fasting can have great benefits to weight, the digestive system and in treating and preventing chronic illness. The BBC documentary by Dr Michael Mosley, and the evolution of the ‘Fast Diet’ or ‘The 5:2 Diet’ really made this understanding more mainstream.
This program can work spectacularly well, however it also has a weaknesses. The two (or three or one) fasting days per week are not a pure fast – it involves consuming about ¼ of the average calorific intake (500 calories for women and 600 for men) for 2 days per week, and eating ‘normally’ for the other 5 days. Herein lies the weakness. As discussed above, many or most peoples’ normal eating is far from ideal, as they fail to regulate blood sugar levels and eat far too many carbohydrates and saturated fats.
Whilst this program is effective for some as they do eat quite well during the 5 days of ‘normal’ eating, for a number of individuals this program can fail to create the desired effects.
The solution to this for me that would create the ideal eating plan that allows for weight loss or maintenance, a healthy gastro-intestinal system, a robust immune system, plenty of vitality and great sleep was to combine the strengths of the hunter-gatherer (or Paleo) programs that help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce carbohydrate intake, with those of intermittent fasting programs, that can compensate for the odd deviation or freedom meal. The beauty of this is that each program counters the weakness of the other.
For example, eating in a way that regulates blood sugar levels will mean that when you are not on your fast days, your ‘normal’ eating will be more ideal, and the fast days allow you to have 2-3 freedom meals per week yet still maintain ideal health. This allows for a few drinks and a meal that does not entirely resemble that of our hunter gatherer ancestors when we are in social situations. In other words, we get to eat in a way that really explores optimal levels of health and well-being, yet be human at the same time.
Not a bad outcome. And it is really starting to work with clients. And compliance is far greater.