Lessons For Paleos From “The Blue Zones”
So what can the longest lived populations teach us about health in our youth? This is what Dan Buettner attempts to tease out of these isolated populations with his Blue Zone project. There is a lot to learn from these peoples, especially if you’re of a doctrinal paleo position.So knowing that lifestyle accounts for the majority of our longevity, which paleos are attempting to optimize. Here are 3 things to consider:
1. Grains Are Not Going To Kill You.
I eat a low carbohydrate diet. Not ketogenic low, but 90% of the time my carbohydrate intake doesn’t creep over 20% of my daily caloric intake. Most of that comes from fruit, berries, veggies, and seeds. However, I like hamburgers. Really, really, REALLY like hamburgers. Up until Sarah and I moved in together I consumed a burger of some sort everyday since about the age of 17. You can pry them from my cold, dead fingers. However, after reading an article from Clarence Bass, I switched to sprouted grain muffins as my bun. Only recently have I removed grain from my regular intake; I don’t fear it but I don’t miss it and have not improved composition or health substantially as a result.
Why bring this up? All of the Blue Zoners consume grain. Of course, those grains aren’t coming in a plastic bag (contained in a box, sealed with glue, under artificial light, etc.), so they’re as coarse and complex as possible. This is also in line with the Weston A. Price dietary recommendations which carry some weight with paleos. Further, as much as I love theory that comes from 50,000 year old skeletons, we have living, breathing data points to study right now.
Am I saying add grains into your diet if you currently aren’t consuming them? Not at all; diet is an n=1 experiment and only you can know how you feel in your bones. Rather if you can’t imagine yourself without them I’d suggest reducing intake and improving the quality by switching to sprouted. For instance, Darya Pino has noted that she feels better with a little bit of (coarse, heavy, minimally processed) grain. You won’t know until you try. If you’ve been orthodox paleo and feel something is not quite right, this might be something worth reintroducing in small amounts. Your mileage may vary.
2. Dairy Is Not Going To Kill You
This seems to be falling by the wayside for those who have been at it, thinkering to become their own authority. A large portion of these cultures consume dairy: raw goats milk in Icaria, Greece, hard aged pecorino cheese in Sardinia, and the normally available dairy in the Adventist population who are not Vegan. While it is currently vogue to dismiss diary for a variety of reasons depending on your circle, dairy is great for a variety of reasons. Lyle McDonald has written about the benefits of dairy before. Further, if you’re looking to gain quality bodyweight (like I’m currently doing) adding large quantities of milk to your diet gives you nutrient dense calories in an easy to swallow (ha!) package. Your mileage may vary.
3. Legumes Are Not Going To Kill You
Save for the occasionally extra meaty chili, I can’t stand legumes. I have no dog in the fight, but it’s worth noting that every one of these cultures consumes beans regularly. Ever. Single. One. This is especially important for the Costa Ricans on the Nicoyan peninsula, as the book stressed this point: “They asked centenarians what they ate and heard ‘beans, rice, tortillas and fruit’ over and over.” While I have no desire to add beans to my diet, you might find no problems consuming them on a regular basis. Your mileage may vary.
Your Mileage May Vary
So am I suggesting that one should add these to their diet right now no matter what? Not at all. Am I saying one can have great health while including these in their diet? Absolutely. More to the point, the “best” diet for human beings comes with a huge caveat, due to our omnivorous nature. Too often individuals who consider themselves paleo (or whatever) paint the world in black and white, us vs. them terms (see Richard getting kicked off the island for eating potatoes), when a healthy diet is much more fluid. In fact, if I could take everyone eating a standard american diet, remove all of the garbage and replace those calories with sprouted grains, whole dairy, and legumes, I have no doubt they would be healthier as a result. The fact that I see people on message boards agonizing about the little bit of diary or grain in their otherwise “perfect” diet shows me the plot has been lost.
Eat real food. Eat real food. Eat real food…