The Big Fat Lie, Part Three

Read Part One

As I hinted in Part One, I spent a couple of hours pacing off the grocery shelves at the Pagosa Springs City Market last week — something I had never before had an inclination to do. And no, I wasn’t doing it for the exercise. I wanted to have some real numbers to validate my theory that we Americans are killing ourselves in the grocery store aisles.

But before I share the numbers collected that day in my little notebook, I want to share a few photos of a very different research project: my partner Cynda Green’s “Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner.”

paleo diet thanksgiving

Cynda Green poses on Thanksgiving Day with her experimental “Paleo Thanksgiving Dressing” made without any breads or cereal grains. The foundation of the dish focused instead on mushrooms, pork sausage, apples and green peppers.

Some of you are already aware of the “Paleo Diet” that is currently attracting so much national attention. The term “Paleo” is short of “Paleolithic” — as in, “the Paleolithic era,” which lasted about 2.5 million years, and during which time humans lived as hunter-gatherers (we assume). But about 10,000 years ago (we assume) humans began to develop diets based on agriculture and domesticated animals, and ceased living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the more ‘civilized’ areas of the world.

paleo mayonnaise fresh vegies

No carbohydrate-rich potato chips or corn chips in this appetizer. Just healthy stuff. The dip is a dairy-free version based on a ‘Paleo’ homemade mayonnaise.

The “Paleo Diet” is a modern fad diet popularized by Colorado State University professor Loren Cordain in his 2001 book with the fittingly simple title: “The Paleo Diet.” Numerous other scientists had written about the “Paleotlithic diet” long before Dr. Cordain got around to popularizing it, but no one had yet had the temerity to trademark the phrase “The Paleo Diet” — as Dr. Cordain has now done.

paleo thanksgiving with all the trimmings

The main “Paleo” course: turkey with bread-free stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans with walnuts, sweet potato medallions baked with coconut oil, gravy made with coconut flour. The “Paleo” qualifications of the organic red wine remain a hotly contested issue.

Other popular weight loss diets — notably the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet — have been built around a similar nutritional focus on high-fat-and-protein accompanied by a minimum of carbohydrates. But the “Paleo Diet” was the first to propose the theory that we actually evolved as a species eating a diet low in carbohydrates and high in fat and protein. The theory has apparently appealed to the American psyche; the “Paleo Diet” was the most-searched weight loss diet on Google last year.

paleo dessert made with coconut milk

A Paleo Diet dessert at Cynda’s. Sugar free, it consisted of mixed berries layered with whipped coconut ‘cream’ in Martini glasses. Presumably, cavemen had Martini glasses?

Of course, there really was an authentic “Paleolithic Diet” some 2.5 million years ago when (some believe) mankind was evolving from apehood. But we have very little knowledge what that diet consisted of. Mastodon Smoothies? Wild Roots Fricassee? We simple don’t know much about it; no archaeologists have has yet dug up a Paleolithic refrigerator and settled the question once and for all. So we use our imaginations.

Imaginative proponents of the “Paleo Diet” claim that human metabolism has been unable to adapt fast enough to handle many of the foods that have become available since the advent of agriculture. We modern humans are supposedly maladapted to eating foods such as grain, legumes, and dairy — and even more to the point, our bodies are unsuited to the high-calorie processed foods that are a staple part of most modern diets. Our inability to properly metabolize these comparatively new food types has led to modern-day problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Proponents claim that followers of the Paleolithic diet may enjoy a longer, healthier, more active life.

paleo diet turkeys for thanksgiving

One traditional dish that didn’t require any adjustment to fit the “Paleo” requirements: a “natural” turkey from Safeway.

We might reference here, the little chart that I posted in Part Two, that shows the dramatic increase in diabetes since the beginning of the 1980s, when the U.S. government and American nutritionists told us to stop eating saturated fat (which, for many of us, implied the consumption of that insipid food known as skim milk.)

diabetes increasing in u.s. carbohydrates

Since America started cutting out dietary fat in the 1980s, and especially since we began steering clear of animal fats, numerous chronic diseases (as well as obesity) have approached epidemic proportions. But our government and our university-trained nutritionists have yet to concede that.. maybe, a mistake has been made? A Big Fat Mistake?

According to the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for example, Alzheimer’s disease went from number 32 in 1990 to number nine in 2010 in the ranking of leading causes of death in the U.S. Only 879 people died from Alzheimer’s in 1979. According to a report published by the National Center for Health Statistics, “In 2010, Alzheimer’s disease was the underlying cause for a total of 83,494 deaths and was classified as a contributing cause for an additional 26,488 deaths Mortality from Alzheimer’s disease has steadily increased during the last 30 years…”

As far as I can tell, no one can explain this frightening increase. But we know it began around 1980.

From a 2010 report by the American Heart Association — the folks who first told us to cut out dietary fats:

Although there is some debate regarding the amount of excess mortality associated with overweight, it is clear that obesity (body mass index >30 kg/m2) is associated with marked excess mortality in the US population. Even more notable is the excess morbidity associated with overweight and obesity in terms of risk factor development and incidence of diabetes, CVD end points (including coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure), and numerous other health conditions, including asthma, cancer, degenerative joint disease, and many others.

But isn’t it a scientific fact that eating fat causes people to become fat? Or is it, rather, the lack of dietary fat that has made America so enormous?

obesity in the u.s. carbohydrates

It’s becoming more and more evident that French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin hit the bull’s-eye when he wrote in 1825, “The second of the chief causes of obesity is the floury and starchy substances which man makes the prime ingredients of his daily nourishment. As we have said already, all animals that live on farinaceous food grow fat willy-nilly; and man is no exception to the universal law…”

Let me share with you, my disturbing stroll through City Market last week…

Read Part Four…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson spent a pleasant 18 months living in downtown Salida, during which time he did his best to understand the inhabitants and their motivations. He then escaped back to Pagosa Springs to resume his work at