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Dietary Facts verse Dietary Fads: What can we learn from our Palaeolithic Ancestors about the Health Benefits of a High Fat Diet?

November 27, 2019

Dietary Facts verse Dietary Fads: What can we learn from our Palaeolithic Ancestors about the Health Benefits of a High Fat Diet?

This guest blog by the wonderful Sara Aguilar considers the lessons we can take from our Paleo Hunter Gatherer ancestors for our modern day life.

The problem:

Navigating through dietary and nutritional advice can be one of our biggest challenges.

It seems as if every year there is a new diet in fashion; one year eggs and cholesterol are vilified while low fat foods take reign; another year Atkins is in and carbs are shunned. Currently, high fat diets such as keto, paleo and low carb are making a comeback, particularly with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian touting it as their ideal diet for weight loss.

How do you know which diets are gimmicks and what is really, truly ‘healthy’ for you?

The American Dietary association has removed cholesterol as being a nutrient to fear, yet they have failed to overtly publicise this hefty error to the wider public—us! Our own UK government promotes a ‘healthy living’ traffic light coding on packaged foods that suggests low fat, low salt, high carb foods are the healthiest. This is despite all of the recent research demonstrating the benefits of healthy fats for our bodies and brains and ignores our nutritional necessity for real mineral salt.[1]

So, who can you trust? How can we distinguish between what is and is not healthy? And is there anything to be said about a high fat diet?

A simple formula for understanding the human diet would be to consider: a) What would humans eat in a natural environment and how healthy were they?, and b) Which foods have recently been introduced into our diet and do they coincide with any increase—or decrease—in health?

From a Palaeolithic perspective—AKA our Hunter Gatherer days—we relied predominantly on animal sources of fat and protein as well as foraged berries and wild plants for our fibre, carbohydrate and micronutrient nutritional requirements. We literally ate what we could either hunt or gather—according to the season and geographical location—allowing us to live off the land.

Which strongly contrasts the way that we are currently advised to eat. Acutely expressed by Nora Gedgaudas, one of the pioneers of the Palaeolithic diet: ‘No human society in history has consumed a diet remotely resembling what the USDA pyramid suggests as optimal.’[2] Furthermore, this also conflicts with the UK dietary guidelines presented though ‘The Eat Well Plate’ which suggests that we consume up to 40% of our calories from grains and starches.

Life Expectancy of Our Hunter Gatherer Ancestors

It is a misconception that our Palaeolithic ancestors had shorter life expectancy. The predominant causes of death for our Palaeolithic ancestors would have included infectious diseases, violence, accidents, predation and food shortages.

In a civilised, medicalised and modern society we are protected from the majority of these causes of mortality. However, we are plagued by a new set of man-made illnesses which strongly correlate with diet.

In addition, it has been argued that Palaeolithic societies did not suffer diseases of ‘old age’ –which include stroke, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

However, more recent archaeological research has further debunked this myth and in fact, life expectancy between contemporary and Palaeolithic ancestors is the same: we are not living as vibrantly as we could—despite advances in health and medicine—probably because the standard western diet is so poor of nutrients and highly inflammatory![3]

Similarities between the Mediterranean and Paleo Diet

Interestingly, there are number of scientific research papers[4] which demonstrate how the Paleo and Mediterranean diets demonstrate similar benefits with regard to reducing deaths caused by chronic illnesses. These are cardiovascular disease, stroke and cancer—the three main causes of death for us modern humans. The main difference between a Paleo and Mediterranean diet is that the Mediterranean diet contains grain and dairy—two inflammatory foods which makes the Paleo diet even healthier—in the context of inflammation.

 

Simply by examining our historical eating patterns we can surmise that the high fat paleo and Mediterranean diets are more likely to protect you from the three main causes of death today. That is a pretty big benefit of a high healthy fat diet!

So, if you are still not convinced by the high fat diet. Let’s have a look at the other benefits of a high fat, low carb diet.

Did you know…

‘Both the heart and the brain run more efficiently, by as much as 25%, on ketones than on blood sugar…healthy, normal brain cells thrive when fuelled by ketones.’[5]

On a high fat paleo diet you convert nutritional fat and body fat into ketones. Ketones are another source of energy, originating from fat. They are known to have anti-inflammatory properties and provide a more efficient source of fuel for the body and brain.

In contrast, glucose, lactose and fructose from carbohydrates can cause inflammation and oxidation—particularly if processed or overconsumed by people living a sedentary lifestyle. Ketones are known to be a clean burning fuel and are medically regarded as the optimum fuel sources for brain cells—hence why the ketogenic diet was invented in the 1920s as a cure for paediatric epilepsy.

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Why are fats so good for you?

Healthy Fats—this includes saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats— have proven to stabilise blood sugar levels, improve neurological function, protect brain membranes, decrease hunger and even to increase your fat burning ability.

Saturated fats are particularly beneficial for the body and brain and research demonstrates the following:

  • Saturated fat – lauric acid (coconuts) and conjugated lauric acid (from ghee) strengthen your immune system and improve cell communication (this can decrease cancer).
  • Surfactant, found in saturated fat helps air cross over the lung membranes – so your lungs work better and you are less likely to have asthma[6]
  • You need saturated fats for healthy hormone production, especially testosterone and oestrogen[7]
  • It is critical for nerves and a healthy nervous system function
  • Fats suppress inflammation: in particular, the omega 3s found in fatty fish and eggs.
  • Saturated fat includes the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K
  • MCTs and coconut oil have shown to reverse liver damage[8]
  • Increased fat loss – especially as MCTs convert easily into ketones (energy) as opposed to being stored as fat.

Our ancestors did not have direct access to concentrated MCT supplements, but they did have an abundant access to fats from wild fish and game as well as foraged nuts. In addition, they involuntarily practised intermittent fasting which encourages ketosis: the fat burning metabolic state.

Nora Gedgaudas confirms that: ‘Our (Palaeolithic) ancestors got preformed EPA and DHA by consuming large quantities of naturally and exclusively grass-fed wild game and organ meats and wild-caught, cold-water fish, where available.’ [9]

Eat Fat, Burn Fat

Did you know that dietary fat can even increase your metabolism, particularly the consumption of Medium Chain Triglycerides that can seriously boost your metabolism as they increase energy expenditure and fat oxidation. When consuming MCTs, men can burn up to 460 extra calories and women burn up to 190 extra calories per day.[10]  

Dr Trudi Deakin has done some amazing work on debunking the energy balance myth, proving that eating fat does not make you fat; and that it is in fact carbohydrates and sugars that prevent you from burning your own fat stores.

It is never as simple as calories in, calories out. Food is information; fat triggers leptin–the hormone that signals to the brain that you are full. So, on a lower carb, higher fat, diet you are less likely to feel hungry. Find out how to lose weight on the ketogenic diet here.

In summary, a high fat diet can protect you from the diseases of ‘old age’, support weight loss, reduce inflammation and optimise your cognitive function—you will feel more like a Hunter Gatherer and have the energy too!

Blog post written for Hunter & Gather by Sara Aguilar, MSc Anthropologist, Sports Nutritionist & Supplements Advisor Founder of Keto Supplements and Co-Founder of LIV NRG “Passionate about fitness, nutrition and ancestral living; Sara set up Keto Supplements to source supplements and products to alleviate her husband’s epilepsy. Keto Supplements is now the leading Ketogenic Food Supplement site in Europe.”
[1] The Salt Fix: Why the Experts Got it All Wrong and How Eating More Might Save Your Life, Dr James DiNicolantonio, 2016.
[2] Primal Body, Primal Mind Nora Gedgaudas p. 19
[3] https://www.sapiens.org/body/human-lifespan-history/
[4]  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5368578/
[5] Grain Brain, p. 25 David Perlmutter
[6] Wijga AH, Smit HA, Kerkhof M, et al; PIAMA. Association of consumption of products containing milk fat with reduced asthma risk in pre-school children: the PIAMA birth cohort study. Thorax.2003 Jul;58 (7):567-72
[7] Hamalanen E, Adlercreutz H, Pua P, Pietnen P. Diet and serum sex hormones in healthy men. J Steroid Biochem, 1984 Jan; 20 (1): 459-64
[8] Nanji AA, Jokelainen K, Tipoe GL, Rahemtulla A, Dannenburg AJ. Dietary saturated fatty acids reverse inflammatory and fibroticchanges in rat liver despitecontaining ethanol administration. J Pharmaceutical Exp Ther. 2001 Nov ;299 (2) 638-44
[9] Primal Body, Primal Mind Nora Gedgaudas p. 233
[10] Dr Mark Hyman, Eat Fat Get Thin, 2016 p. 149.



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