Thankfully proponents of the Paleo Diet aren't suggesting we abandon the supermarket for the Savannah.
At age 12, I knocked out two of my hockey coach’s front teeth with a single swipe of a hockey stick so I may have a latent talent for bludgeoning small, slow-moving animals to death. I just wouldn't want to stake my survival on it.
Or, just possibly, I am going to be eating food which will miraculously improve my health by reducing inflammation, stabilising my blood sugar levels, improving my mood and sleep, and give me better teeth and clearer skin into the bargain.
Yes folks, I am joining the Clan of the Cave Person and eating a (liberal) version of the Paleo Diet, known in some circles as a low carb/high protein diet. This will involve eating large amounts of saturated fats (including butter, cream and cheese), meat, fish, leafy greens and a few nuts and seeds. I am turning my back on the poly-unsaturated fats, fruits and whole-grains so beloved of the New Zealand Heart Foundation.
In a nutshell, the Paleo diet is restricted to the types of food eaten by hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic area. The advocates of the diet do not suggest that we abandon the supermarket for the savannah, but they do suggest that modern man and woman would be healthier eating only the foods which our distant forebears gathered and hunted: meat, nuts and berries. They argue that as soon as our cave-dwelling ancestors began growing and consuming grains their health deteriorated. Humans got shorter and had more tooth decay.
Opponents may dismiss it as another diet fad but it’s a very big fad indeed. The New Yorker, Time magazine and National Geographic have all published features about it this year, and a Google search for Paleo returns over 37 million hits.
The problem for the layperson is that each side in the debate argue their case so vehemently and so convincingly. How is one to know who to believe when each side often quotes the same health and nutrition research to support their conclusions? I’ve decided that the only way to test the theory and practice of the diet on my own body.
A desire to lose weight is not a motivating factor although the Paleo diet was the most-searched-for weight loss method on Google in 2013. I sometimes feel fat - an awful lot of modern women do - but by all the most commonly-used measures of obesity I’m not actually fat. I’m 1.75 tall and weigh 62 kilos so my Body Mass Index is at the low end of normal. My waist to height ratio is low. And just in case you’re wondering, my blood pressure is also in the low to normal range.
I want to find out if the Paleo diet is as good for depression and inflammation as its proponents claim it is.
I’m hoping it is, because I am black-dogged by bouts of depression. I also suffer from pericarditis - an inflammation of the sac in which the heart sits. In its acute phase it caused chest pain so severe I couldn’t walk upright and could only sleep in an armchair, if at all. Four years on, the condition is merely chronic: aching ribs and pains in the chest which come and go at seemingly random intervals. The symptoms can be relieved with anti-inflammatory medication and analgesics, but there is no actual cure.
I'm also tempted to believe that the Paleo Diet that I just might be the Palaeolithic type: I was brought up on meat roasted in lashings of lard; I’ve always enjoyed meat with bones to gnaw on, marrow to suck out, and connective tissue to chew. And I have a natural penchant for faux fur and leopard-skin print. In purely practical terms I’m probably not really cut out to fully embrace the Paleo Lifestyle. My spear-throwing skills are negligible so the chances of my spearing a cave lion, or even a mastodon, are close to nil. However, at age 12, I knocked out two of my hockey coach’s front teeth with a single swipe of a hockey stick so I might have some small talent for bludgeoning small, slow-moving animals to death. I wouldn’t want to stake my survival on it though.
To prepare for My Big Fat Eat Off I’ve chewed my way through a dozen or so Paleo guides and cookbooks from the library. I’ve assembled a collection of practical Paleo recipes - excluding those that involve Bison, pemmican or blood sausage. I’ve tried to digest the vast amounts of nutritional research, theory, advice and proselytising available on-line. I’ve reorganised the pantry. My darling carbohydrate chums - noodles, pasta, couscous, rice - have been relegated to a shadowy back corner while my soon-to-be-best-friends, cans of Omega-3-rich sardines, mackerel, tuna and salmon, have been moved to the front lines.
Preparations complete, I’ve just wolfed down two prophylactic helpings of self-saucing chocolate pudding. So here I go … off on my experimental journey into humankind’s distant, carb-free past. I’ll be keeping a travel diary while I’m away and I’ll be reporting frankly on how it feels to eat like a Palaeolith in my next column. Wish me luck.