Stone Age Diet - this is a diet which we all should follow
More often I now prescribe the ketogenic diet - please see Ketogenic diet - the practical details and My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds.
Our gut evolved in harmony with the environment
Human beings evolved over millions of years eating particular foods. Neanderthal man's diet was based on flesh, fish, plants and seeds. Fat would have been a treasured food. The carbohydrate content would have been, for much of the year, very low. Furthermore many plant foods would be seasonal. It is only in the last few thousand years since the Persians, Egyptians and Romans that we began farming, and grains and dairy products were introduced into the human diet. A few thousand years from an evolutionary point of view is almost negligible. Many people have simply failed to adapt to cope with carbohydrates and dairy products and it is very likely that these foods cause a range of health problems in susceptible people.
Modern studies on ancient tribes who continue to eat a Stone Age diet show that these people do not suffer from diabetes, obesity, heart disease or cancer. If they can survive the ravages of the cold, infectious diseases, childbirth and war wounds, then these people live healthily to a great age.
I am coming to the view that whatever our medical problem may be, or even if we simply want to stay well, we should all move towards eating a Stone Age diet based on protein (meat, fish, eggs), fat and vegetable fibre. Recent Western diets get 70% of their calories from wheat, dairy products, sugar and potato and it is no surprise that these are the major causes of modern ill health such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and degenerative disorders.
Traditional Chinese diets have no dairy products, no gluten grains, no alcohol and no fruit.
Do have a look at "Homo Carnivorous" - a presentation by Barry Groves, which explains why fat is so important to our diet and does it in lovely pictures! Thank you Barry Groves for this!
The principles and the practice of the Stone Age diet
There are six aspects of modern Western diet and gut function which commonly cause symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome to fatigue. These are:
- High carbohydrate intake - this is probably the largest single cause of modern diseases such as hypertension, obesity, syndrome X, heart disease and cancer
- Low fat intake
- Allergies to foods
- Toxins in the diet (toxic fats, artificial additives, colourings, flavourings; artificial sweeteners; pesticide residues, plasticiser residues, etc) social chemicals (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco etc)
- Poor digestion of food due to low stomach acid - see Hypochlorhydria and poor pancreatic enzyme production - see Pancreatic exocrine function which may result in.....
- Fermentation of food instead of digestion - see Fermentation in the gut and CFS The Stone Age diet tries to address the top four problems at the same time, since they often co-exist in the same patient. This is the diet I like all my patients (including me) to eat long term. This is because it is the evolutionarily correct diet and by eating this we can avoid long term health problems and postpone degenerative conditions. I would settle for getting my Parkinson's disease when I am 120!
As a general principle it is important to remember that:
- Carbohydrates (CHO) cause fatigue even in "normal" people. Carbohydrates lend themselves to a fermenting gut, which causes all sorts of other problems!
- Food allergy is a common cause of many symptoms such as irritable bowel, asthma, mood swings, headache, arthritis, allergic muscles and, of course, fatigue. The commonest offenders are grains, dairy, yeast and toxins in the diet. One may also become allergic to fermenting microbes in the upper gut - indeed, I see this as a common cause of muscle and joint pain, i.e. arthritis.
- Chemicals in the diet inhibit enzyme systems and slow down metabolism - this applies to drugs as well as food additives and pesticide residues, hormone residues, antibiotic residues etc.. Inshore sea fish can be expected to have a mercury load. Avoid additives, colourings, flavourings etc, avoid plastic wrappings (especially if heated!) on food and try to switch to organic foods wherever possible.
- Gut dysbiosis and poor digestion of foods results in malabsorption of macronutrients and essential micronutrients.
This diet, therefore, is based on protein, fat and vegetable fibre. It avoids the common allergens and is as free from chemicals as possible. Actually, in the long term I see this as a diet for life. My view is that we should be mimicking Stone Age principles. The following is the evolutionarily correct diet. Once the diet is established, one can allow occasional indiscretions and the nature of these will depend on individual responses! For example, I can get away with occasional fruit, but not on a regular basis or my gut simply starts to ferment.
There is no one size fits all stone age diet, but general principles that need to be honed to individual needs. The basic diet is as below, but changes may need to be made if there are allergies to foods and/or problems with the fermenting gut. The general principles are as follows:
For otherwise healthy people with no symptoms and no disease: No added sugar or refined carbohydrates. Use addictions such as alcohol and caffeine judiciously. Breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a king, supper like a pauper. Only eat at mealtimes with knife and fork. Eat slowly and chew. No fruit juices on a regular basis because these are rich in addictive sugars especially fructose. Berries are fine. High sugar fruits should be avoided. Avoid chemical additives. As organic as possible. One day a week of fasting or major calorie restriction eg 500kcals at breakfast and none for the rest of the day. Eat foods in season, locally grown for freshness.
For pregnancy and breast feeding: All the above but be particularly strict to avoid addictions and chemicals. No fasting.
With age: All the above Cut out dairy products, except butter. It is the milk protein which contains growth promoters and may be carcinogenic.
With almost any symptom: All the above. Allergy is the great mimic and can produce any symptom. Cut out major allergens – dairy, gluten grains, yeast and other suspect foods.
Fermenting gut: All the above. Cut out carbohydrates since these are readily fermented. Some people have upper gut fermentation by anaerobes and they may, in the short term, also need to cut out vegetable fibre.
Any major pathology eg heart disease, cancer, organ failures, CFS/ME, psychiatric disease, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, auto-immunity, autism and other conditions that impact greatly on well-being: All the above. Allergy, fermenting gut, carbohydrate intolerance,
- Any meats: choose from chicken, beef, lamb, pork, turkey, duck, 'game' meats such as venison, pheasant, goose etc. Bacon and ham. Salami. Liver, kidney and offal are fine too. Fatty meat is ideal and tastes wonderful!
- Eggs - an excellent source of lecithin (eat soft yolks).
- Any fish: salmon, mackerel, cod, haddock (care with smoked fish which often contains dyes). Tinned fish in brine or olive oil is fine. Tinned shrimps, prawns, mussels, cockles etc.
- Any green vegetables
- All salads: avocado, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, celery, peppers, onion, cress, bamboo shoots, mushrooms etc.
- French dressing: make your own from olive oil, lemon juice or any vinegars, garlic, mustard.
- Use cold pressed nut and seed oils liberally such as sunflower, olive, sesame, grapeseed, hemp, linseed, rape and so on.
- Lard and dripping, ghee, clarified butter for cooking and frying.
- Spices and herbs: chilli, cumin, ginger, coriander, pepper, cloves, vanilla pods (so long as sugar free), etc
- Herbs, salt (ideally Solo - a sodium reduced sea salt), olives, pork scratchings
- Xylitol, Stevia, Kefir, fermented foods like sauerkraut, lemons, lemon juice, baking powder - no added wheat
We need two types of fats - long chain fatty acids to build membranes (vegetable and fish oils) and medium chain fatty acids as a fuel to burn (animal fat i.e. lard, coconut oil, cocoa butter fat). Eat both types of fat, medium chain fatty acids in abundance to fuel your body and brain - the brain is particularly in need of animal fats. Vegetable fibre is fermented by friendly bacteroides in the lower gut to short chain fatty acids - another good fuel source.
Fermented foods are excellent because the carbohydrate content has been fermented out and gut friendly microbes grow. Sauerkraut is an example of a fermented vegetable. Kefir can be used to ferment soya milk or coconut milk and is very easy to work with - one sachet lasts a life time since cultures can be grown from previous.
The following foods are very low in carbohydrates. Initially avoid them, but whether to include them subsequently depends on whether or not there is a fermenting gut problem and how bad it is.
- Dark chocolate at least 70% cocoa solids, cocoa powder, carob, cacao powder and cacao nibs
- Seeds: sunflower, poppy, sesame.
- Nuts: peanut, Brazil, hazel, cashew, pistachio, walnut etc.; nut butter spreads, tahini (sesame seed spread).
- Pulses: when cooked these are rich in starches and vegetable fibre the latter is excellent but some people will ferment the starch in pulses
- Oats and oatcakes - again some people with fermenting guts will not tolerate oat cakes.
- Bottled or filtered water
- Herbal teas: redbush ("rooibosch", "11 0'clock tea"), rosehip, ginger, fennel peppermint, dandelion drinks 100% chicory root coffee.
- Tea and coffee in moderation are fine so long as caffeine is tolerated
AVOID fruit! Fruit is high in sugar in the form of fructose, which is readily fermented. In some people this interferes with the mechanism by which the liver corrects low blood sugar thereby making this problem very much worse. See Hypoglycaemia - the full story and fructose intolerance.
Most foods from packets and tins will have hidden additives, so avoid these. Be careful with sausage which contains rusk.
ALL OTHER FOODS ARE FORBIDDEN!!! - this means unfiltered tap water, alcohol, all grains including wheat (bread, biscuit, cake, pasta, pastry), rye (Ryvita), other grains (corn, rice, millet), dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt, dried milk), and sugar. Avoid high carbohydrate vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, parsnip, swede. Try to avoid drugs and medicines, many of which contain fillers of corn, lactose, colourings etc. Standard 'supermarket' toothpaste should be avoided - instead try a neem toothpaste such as this one from my online shop - neem toothpaste
Think of carbohydrates as an addiction - in this respect a "no carb" diet is easier than a "low carb" diet. Low carb simply keeps the craving.
Getting Worse on the Diet
This is almost to be expected. The reasons for worsening are as follows:
- Hypoglycaemia - this is the commonest reason for worsening and may take weeks to settle. There are some nutritional interventions which help greatly (see Hypoglycaemia)
- Caffeine withdrawal - again common. Usually results in headache which clears in four days.
- Food allergy withdrawal may cause many different symptoms. Some people report feeling 'flu like. Typically this last four days, but symptoms like eczema, arthritis, allergic muscles and fatigue can take weeks to clear. One patient with prostatism took 4 months to clear his symptoms!
- Bacon, eggs, fried tomato.
- Smoked fish (kippers, mackeral with lemon juice).
- Nuts and seeds with soya yoghurt (see Probiotics)
- Cold meat, fish (tinned fish in olive oil is fine), prawns, salami, smoked fish, rusk free sausage (ie 100% meat), avocado
- Salad (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, celery, peppers etc), French dressing.
- Green vegetables with nut/seed oils
- Home-made soup (made from meat stock, not cubes, only with allowed vegetables).
- Nuts and seeds with soya yoghurt
- Meat, fish or eggs, green vegetables.
- Berries, soya yoghurt.
- Nuts, seeds
Initially be careful with root vegetables such as potato and parsnip, which are relatively high in carbohydrate. Whether to include them in the diet later depends on if there is a fermenting gut problem. Most people can introduce some; others not at all!
Always remember: Breakfast like an Emperor, lunch like a King and supper like a pauper!
You will find some excellent, clever recipes for the more difficult aspects of the menu here Recipes for Stone Age diet
A whole lot of great recipes!
One of my patients, Sally Phillippe, has produced a fantastic collection of recipes for the Stone Age diet and for anyone with a fermenting gut. Enjoy!
What to do if you are no better on the diet
Stick with it! This is the evolutionarily correct diet and greatly reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer and degenerative conditions! The three common reasons for not improving are:
- Because of multiple allergies to foods (so that there is something on the diet that you continue to react to). In this case consider a rotation diet, or starting on desensitisation. See Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation (EPD)
- Because of a gut dysbiosis - i.e. the wrong bugs in the gut. Consider a gut fermentation test or Comprehensive Digestive Stool analysis to look for parasites, bacterial overgrowth or yeast overgrowth. See Fermentation in the gut and CFS
- Poor digestion of foods - see Hypochlorhydria, Pancreatic exocrine function
More reasons why not to eat wheat and dairy
Problems with eating wheat
- Refined wheat (i.e. white flour used to make white bread, biscuits, cake, pasta, etc) is quickly digested and has a high glycaemic index. This means that blood sugar levels will run high after eating wheat, which in the long term causes obesity, diabetes, syndrome X and heart disease. Running a high blood sugar stimulates release of insulin which is a growth promoter and is undesirable if you wish to avoid cancer.
- Wheat contains gluten. This small tough molecule, especially in a person with inefficient digestion, gets into the bloodstream, where it acts as an endogenous opiate. This means that it has morphine like qualities and so in susceptible individuals will be addictive. This may cause problems such as:
- Gluten endogenous opiate like activity may be a cause of symptoms in autism
- Wheat may be addictive for some people and cause psychiatric problems
- Endogenous opiates switch off natural killer cell activity, which may reduce resistance to viral infections and cancer.
- Wheat bran for some people is directly irritating to the gut and can be a cause of diarrhoea.
- Wheat contains toxic substances called lectins, which in susceptible individuals can cause haemolysis of the blood and other such damage. Indeed coeliac disease may be due to lectin damage.
- Wheat allergy is extremely common. It is estimated that 40% of the population are allergic and wheat allergy may cause headaches, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, depression and fatigue. Wheat allergy in the gut can also present as coeliac disease. Undiagnosed coeliac disease is a major risk factor for stomach lymphoma (a cancer)
- Wheat has high levels of phytic acid. This chelates minerals, thereby preventing their absorption and puts one at risk of mineral deficiency syndromes such as anaemia and osteoporosis.
- Wheat protein, gluten, is a tough molecule and readily passes from the gut into the bloodstream without having been properly digested. In some individuals this will elicit an antibody response and if it just so happens that those antibodies fit one's own antigens, then this is the basis of autoimmunity. Indeed, eating wheat has been associated with autoimmune disorders such as underactive thyroid, pernicious anaemia, Addison's disease and so on.
And here is a scientific paper discussing the relationship between eating wheat and other grains and inflammation The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation, published in Nutrients. 2013 March; 5(3): 771–787
Problems with eating dairy products
Dairy products are foods meant for growing calves. Nature did not mean them to be consumed by humans, or even worse adult humans. Whilst dairy products are promoted for their nutritional content, such as B vitamins and calcium, actually there are great problems associated with eating dairy products:
- Fresh milk contains lactose, which requires an enzyme lactase for its digestion. Only 10% of the world's population carry this enzyme and so the vast majority of people will be unable to digest lactose. Lactose intolerance can present with irritable bowel syndrome, wind, gas, pain and diarrhoea. Following gasteroenteritis, even those people who can digest lactose will develop a temporary lactose intolerance. With any gut upset, all sufferers should avoid eating dairy products for at least one week.
- Milk proteins are very allergenic and allergy to milk is common. The common symptoms are catarrhal problems, headache, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, anxiety and chronic fatigue, but allergy is the great mimic and sensitivity to dairy products can cause almost any symptom. Milk passes readily from the gut into breast milk, where it may cause colic and projectile vomiting in the baby.
- Dairy allergy is the commonest allergy in children, often presenting with hyperactivity, catarrhal conditions, asthma, recurrent tonsillitis and sore throats, sinusitis, migraine and later on, premenstrual tension.
- . 30% of the population make antibodies to whey protein which cross react with platelets to make them more sticky. Eating dairy products, therefore, causes sticky blood, which is a major risk factor for arterial disease.
- The ratio of calcium to magnesium in dairy products is 10:1, whereas our physiological requirements are for 2 parts calcium to 1 part magnesium. Since calcium and magnesium compete for absorption, taking dairy products induces a relative magnesium deficiency. Magnesium deficiency is common in heart disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue and osteoporosis.
- Milk is generally believed to be a good source of vitamin D. This is untrue. The worst cases of Rickett's occur in Asian inner city children, who avoid sunshine but have a high consumption of dairy products. Dairy products are a poor source of vitamin D. We should all be taking 2,000 i.u. vitamin D daily - see Nutritional Supplements.
- Dairy products are meant for young growing calves. From an evolutionary point of view calves had to grow very quickly in order to avoid being eaten by a sabre toothed tiger and therefore dairy products contain growth promoters. This is undesirable in anybody who wishes to avoid, or indeed has cancer. In China, where there are no dairy products consumed because everybody is allergic to them, there is a very low incidence of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Anyone who is in doubt about this, I recommend that they purchase "Your Life in Your Hands" by Professor Jane Plant, who cured herself from breast cancer simply by avoiding dairy products.
Some more principles of a healthy diet for all
- Correct minerals in soil. In addition to choosing the right foods to eat, one can further improve their nourishing value. The first is that ideally these foods should be grown from a soil in which the mineral content has been corrected. Modern farming simply applies three elements, namely NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium), resulting in soils which are grossly out of balance. There is a net loss of minerals such as selenium, zinc, magnesium, cobalt, copper, manganese (to name but a few) from the soil into plants, animals and humans, and out of this natural cycle.
- Free from toxins. Foods must also be as free from toxins as possible, such as pesticide residues, hormone residues, antibiotic residues etc. To achieve this, buy organic as much as possible. One of the criticisms I have against organic farming, however, is they do not routinely treat the soil and correct mineral levels.
- Inshore seafish can be expected to have a mercury load.
- Fresh foods, unprocessed. Food which tastes good is likely to be good food. Taste is a sense which is trace element sensitive - i.e. foods which are deficient in trace elements don't taste so good. Furthermore zinc is necessary for taste buds to work and so food for the zinc deficient is tasteless. These people tend to go for salty, sweet or spicy foods to compensate and end up eating junk, thereby worsening the zinc deficiency. Most people can tell you the difference between home grown fresh vegetables and 3 day old shop vegetables. The true free range chicken is a rare beast but quite different in taste from the factory bird. This "food vitality" may be difficult to quantify but it makes it no less real!
- Locally grown foods in season. As soon as food is stored, it starts to rot and loses quality. Eat fresh, whilst in season. Varying the diet with the seasons protects against developing allergies and a varied diet makes it less likely to become deficient in any one micronutrient.
- Healthy fats. As a Nation we have been brainwashed into believing that fat is bad for you. This suits the food manufacturers well because fats are expensive and it is difficult to profit from them except cooking oil and margarine, which they have erroneously convinced us have health benefits.
Carbohydrates, however, can be bought cheap and sold expensive -potatoes can be bought for £100 per ton and sold for £10,000 per ton as crisps. Fat is good for you - it is a case of eating the right sort of fats.
For example, margarine is bad for you. It is artificially prepared by heating oils to high temperatures. This causes formation of trans fatty acids, which are poorly metabolised in the body. Use best quality "cold pressed, virgin" olive oil for cooking and salads. Other oils have often been heated and therefore denatured. The mono-unsaturated fats are thought to be best in protecting against heart disease.
Our Western diet is relatively deficient in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids - eat oily fish twice weekly and use a variety of cold pressed organic nut, seed and vegetable oils.
- Meat. The worst nourished patients I see are often vegetarians! I believe that being a veggie is a major risk factor for CFS. It is hard work to prepare and eat the right foods for optimum balance of protein, fat, vegetables and essential micronutrients. Proteins are essential in a diet, especially for someone who is ill or stressed. The problem with meat appears to be how we cook it (primitive man would have eaten his meat raw!). Burned fats are oxidised fats, which are full of free radicals which are damaging to arteries and possibly carcinogenic. If you do have highly cooked meats (eg roasts and barbeques), make sure you have something with it to "neutralise" the free radicals, for example, lots of vegetables. Meat which is boiled (stews, soups) does not contain oxidised fats.
- Water. Drink good quality water. Spring water (direct or bottled) is undoubtedly the best. Some people with severe allergies can only tolerate water in glass bottles. Second best is filtered water (water filters should be changed regularly), with tap water a poor third. Many drinks (tea, coffee, cocao alcohol, pop) contain substances which are diuretic and make you pee out minerals. Tea is the main cause of iron deficiency anaemia in the country. Tea is high in tannin which binds minerals into insoluble tannates which cannot be absorbed. It is better to drink these beverages between meals and not with food. Instead, fruit juice (not fruit "drink") will enhance absorption of trace elements because of its vitamin C content, so drink this at mealtimes, but it must be diluted otherwise this will present a high sugar load.
- Variety. Have as varied a diet as possible - everything in moderation is the key. Eat at least 8 oz of green vegetables daily.
Four white devils
- Sugar has no nutritional value but is highly addictive. Avoid it. (Read more under "'Hypoglycaemia"). Avoid refined flours - for example, white flour has been stripped of the outer layer which contains most of the nutrients and fibre.
- Excessive salt in prepared foods is too high - too great a proportion of one kind of mineral (i.e. sodium) can cause deficiencies in others. However on a true stone age diet you will have to add salt, ideally sea salt.
- Avoid dairy products. Our physiological requirements of calcium:magnesium is in the ratio 2:1. Dairy products contain them in the ratio of 10:1 and since these two elements compete for absorption, excessive consumption of dairy will result in a relative magnesium deficiency. They are also highly allergenic and contain growth promoters. They are a likely cause of type I childhood diabetes. (Read more under Cow's milk allergy - a common cause of problems in children and adults.)
- Avoid Preserved foods. As soon as something "dies", the decay process begins and it and loses it's goodness. So avoid such "dead" foods as those in tins and packets. Buy fresh, "alive" foods. However, high quality frozen produce is probably a close second. Help maintain what's there by cooking foods lightly. Vegetables which are boiled to death lose most of their trace elements in the water. Or if you like your vegetables done this way then you should drink the cooking water (or use it in the gravy). Eat foods as unprepared as possible - raw foods are excellent.
Choose food which has "had a life". Eat meat which has "had a life". The fatty acid content of factory farmed fish, pork and poultry reflects that of the food it eats - i.e. poor quality. Eat free range - lamb and beef probably offer the best value in this country. There is a myth that chicken is a healthy meat - if one could see the conditions under which chickens are kept and the quality of food they eat one would understand why chicken is a low quality food.
Make breakfast a substantial meal. Breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a king, supper like a pauper! This is especially important for people suffering from fatigue.
- Breakfast: protein/fat (eggs, meat, nuts, seeds, fish)
- Lunch: meat, fish, vegetables.
- Supper: ditto
- Snacks: nuts, seeds and berries.
- Eat meals at regular times.
- Take time over eating.
- Chew food properly.
- Ketogenic diet - the practical details
- My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds
- Recipes for Stone Age diet
- Pancreatic exocrine function
- Enzyme Potentiated Desensitisation (EPD)
- Getting worse on the regime of Stone Age diet and micronutrient supplements when these interventions should make you better
- Fermentation in the gut and CFS
- CFS - The Central Cause: Mitochondrial Failure
- Pancreatic exocrine function
- CFS - diet - stoneage, digestion, probiotics - a powerpoint presentation
- Recipes for the Stone Age diet and fermenting gut diet
- Nutrition secrets from cavemen - an interesting page from the website of Dr Joseph Mercola
- "Homo Carnivorous" - a presentation by Barry Groves
- The Dietary Intake of Wheat and other Cereal Grains and Their Role in Inflammation
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