Archive for September 20th, 2011

The modern affordability of Paleo

One of the common arguments against the Paleo diet is that it’s too expensive to maintain. The diet’s preference for grass-fed beef & game, wild-caught fish, local organic plants, eggs, fruits & nuts, and unfiltered raw honey has put a rather high price tag on the diet’s reputation. Things don’t get easier either when lots of Paleo recipes online call for almond flour, or coconut products (exotic products that are not available at all in many rural places, e.g. my hometown in Greece).

The truth is though that you don’t have to go for these types of food if you don’t have the money for it. If you really want to follow the diet’s core you can still buy the cheaper corn-fed meat, farmed fish, veggies and fruits from your local super-market. Even with this lower quality food, you’ll still be miles ahead than with the standard Western diet. And that’s something significant already, if you’re serious about your health. Remember, Paleo is not a weight loss diet, even if overweight people happen to lose weight on it. Paleo is a lifestyle, a return to balance and normalcy.

Since I started Paleo I’ve been swarming to local farmer’s markets. Most of the vegetables & fruits there are cheaper than in super markets, and of much higher quality and freshness. Because I don’t buy sugary/grain products anymore, and since I stopped going out to (starchy) restaurants, I believe we’ve saved money overall. I don’t buy higher quality meat & eggs yet, but I’m thinking of going towards that path too — although my husband still resists to the idea.

One thing that got me thinking is that if Paleo was the prescribing diet for a number of “modern-world” ailments in the Victorian Era, it wouldn’t have been feasible to follow it — unless you were an aristocrat or a rich businessman. While fish, game and good quality farm meat would have been easy to find, plants and fruits were difficult to find in that era. Pretty much, the only mass-produced non-grain plants that grew well in UK were tubers, which are loaded with starch. As for fruits & honey, they would be rare and expensive to find in the market. Just think how good we have it nowdays, where the various foods are easily available.

And this brings me to the Mediterranean diet, which is named by some nutritionists as the “healthiest diet in the world” (especially the Cretan version). The Mediterranean diet is not that healthy actually (especially these days). It’s simply healthier than the standard Western diet because people could produce a lot of different veggies & fruits and nuts and honey on their own — since the weather allowed it. They were blessed to be part of the advanced Europe and maximize their yields. This led to a somewhat balanced diet between fresh produce & wild plants, and starches.

Judging to how my grand parents lived, and how my parents grew up, there was some bread, rice and pasta, but it was overrun with plenty of fresh veggies from their own garden, even more wild greens (e.g. amaranth greens, sorrel), cheese & lactose-free probiotic yogurt from their goats or sheep (they’d go up to the mountain all by themselves and come back alone at night), eggs from their own free range chickens, fish from the river, and some meat occasionally (either from a goat that broke a leg and had to be killed off, a hen getting too old to have eggs… or some game like wild birds, hares, and boars found in the mountain above the village). Sugary products were extremely rare. Even fruits were rather rare, except when in season.

So there was some balance there. I started hearing about uber-modern diseases (e.g. multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia) in these villages in the late ’80s. “Cancer” was a word I didn’t hear before 1985 in respect to my local people. Before that, most people there would just die of natural causes (with stroke and heart-related disease following). In my opinion, the Mediterranean diet only has a positive effect when you live the kind of hard life these people lived, and use that high quality of plants and meat they had. But it’s still not an ideal diet.

If the Mediterranean diet is, let’s say, 25% better than the Standard Western one, then Paleo is many times as good. Paleo is believed to be able to reverse some “incurable” modern diseases, and heal the body after years of grain & sugar abuse. The forums are full of accounts of people who had various conditions reversed (and I’m on that camp too). The few cases of heart-disease or strokes that took down these Mediterranean people before the ’80s (when the Mediterranean diet became Westernized and hence worse), could have been avoided if these people were Paleo- or Primal-dieting (they could have kept their yogurt & cheese). All they had to really do is to say “no” to the tons of grain products that “International Help” gave away to families, especially in mountain villages.

I was extremely surprised when I saw someone this past Summer in Greece taking out of his pantry a large pasta box and a big bag of rice. I took a good look, because I wasn’t accustomed to see such quantity at someone’s home pantry. These were not commercial bags of food. They were sent from the European Union to “poor” Greek families (not that poor btw). I really had no idea that grains were pouring into Greece in these modern times too (despite the financial crisis). I thought that the “international help” of food stopped in the ’80s. But no. They continue raking people’s lives and health with their free non-food foods: “let’s give everyone cheap food. And make them all eventually sick and skyrocket the health system’s costs instead.”

In all truth, grains are easy to produce, and so it does sustain the world’s population in one way or another. Without grains all the 7 billion of us on this planet would be unsustainable. But instead of feeding people undigestable crap, maybe we should rethink about our (exploding) numbers first. I prefer quality, not quantity. And that goes about people too, not just food.