This blog is about the intersection between evolutionary biology and food. But also about practical applications, sustainable agriculture, and general tasty things.
Living in Queens, one of the most diverse counties in the nation, I have been able to experience many interesting traditional cuisines. But I'd also been able to observe people losing their traditions without even really noticing. There are two examples that come to mind, both involving fermented rice. One is the Indian Idli, which Stephan has blogged about.
The spicy coconut chutney in the middle and the sambar soup are SO DELICIOUS.
The other is the Filipino Puto.
SO chewy and delicious with butter!
If you go to the market and ask a random elder woman of each culture who she makes these dishes, you will probably get wildly divergent answers. Some women still ferment the rice, but a lot of them are using modern ingredients. For both you can now buy batter mix with leavening agents so you don't have to ferment at all. Some people also now add wheat flour to these dishes. I'd had 70 year old women tell me that baking powder is the traditional way to make idli.
It's a shame because fermentation produces a rich flavor that can't be compared to those made with mixes. It's very possible that the fermented versions also have some health benefits. Though probiotic bacteria are probably killed during the steaming process and white rice doesn't have many anti-nutrients, they may endow the rice with more vitamins. Idli probably has more benefits because it also contains skinless urad dal, which has some antinutrients and lectins, though much less than the skinned version.
A dosa is the pancake version of the idli. THere have been some studies on the fermented batter. "They produced flavour, enzymes and helped in the saccharification of starch. Both bacteria and yeasts were contributed by the ingredients Oryza sativa and Phaseolus mungo. The prevalence of bacteria and yeasts was affected by seasonal variations but bacteria always dominated the overall microbial load."
There is also some evidence that fermented rice improves cholesterol markers and reduces fatigue in animals. though these studies have used more grainy fermented rice like red rice or brown rice. I've had very good results with fermented white rice, but a lot of the fermented brown rice products make me feel somewhat ill. However, some of them, like the health food store drink Amazake, contain considerable amount of sugar which could confound things.
With most big proponents of the paleo diet being male and the general taboo against this subject, it's not surprising that menstruation and the paleo diet is little discussed. That's a shame, because the beneficial effects of the paleo diet on menstruation is one of the main reasons I keep to the diet.
In most of the modern world, getting your period is a pain. It can last as long as a week and be accompanied by all manners of maladies ranging from irritability to stomach upset. Young women are getting their period earlier and earlier, at the ages of 11 and 12. This has been tied to disease later in life.
It's hard to know what menstruation was like in the paleolithic, but the modern hunter-gatherers studied provide some insight. Foragers, and most women in the rest of the world, get their period around 16. That makes sense because if women started earlier it might make for risky pregnancies. In Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman, menstruation is described as a "thing of no account." It's the conventional narrative that menstruation would have been rare for hunter-gatherers, but this is not true. It would have been less because of breast feeding and pregnancy, but still part of the female experience.
This excellent article about that myth talks about how sometimes !Kung women will have periods but will have not released an egg. It also talks about the myth that exercise causes amenorrhea
I learned, by studying runners, what is true for all women - ovulation and menstruation are not the same. Regular periods can and do occur with no ovulation or with disturbed ovulation[8,13,14]. However, like most doctors (and consequently, ordinary women), Is Menstruation Obsolete? implies that periods mean ovulation. It also infers that amenorrhea is (just) anovulation. In fact, amenorrhea means both estrogen and progesterone levels are low-a situation that always causes fast bone loss and the risk for osteoporosis.
She contrasts low fertility caused by living an active and natural life, with the Western illness of amenorrhea, which seems to be unrelated to those things.
My own experience is that prior to starting the paleo diet, I had very heavy periods lasting as long as a week and accompanied by irritability, stomach sickness, and headaches. After I had been on the paleo diet for awhile, my periods became shorter, lighter, and easier. The times I have gone off the paleo diet and had bad periods again have been a huge incentive to stick with the diet.
Why are my periods so much better now? Well, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 has been linked to PMS. The reduction in body fat also probably decreased the length of my period.
The problems with modern periods can be linked to various modern habits from contraceptive pills to environmental toxins to delayed childbirth. However, it's clear that appropriate nutrition plays a role.
Some women have reported amenorrhea on the paleo diet. The causes of amenorrhea seem to be varied and some are serious, so a visit to a doctor might be in order.
A cookbook that nourishes the body and the soul. Explore ancient traditions and learn how they can improve your life. This cookbook makes a great gift because it is a simple introduction to healthy eating.
Learn how to use fermentation to get the most out of your food. And Sandor ferments pretty much everything in this book. A huge variety of valuable information for anyone.
Outside Magazine recently had one of their reporters try the Paleo Diet for Athletes. His cholesterol improved, but he felt hungry and irritable, which caused him to ultimately dismiss the diet. I think one of the problems with The Paleo Diet for Athletes is that is doesn't do a complete paradigm shift. Eating lots of lean protein and continuing to fear fat is actually not a paleo diet.
I don't believe that paleo diet is a magic diet that I want everyone to follow. However, I do believe thinking about diet in terms of human evolution is extremely valuable. Many of my close friends and family members aren't going to be paleo any time soon either whether it's because they oppose eating animals or because they can't imagine breakfast without oatmeal. Luckily, I think there are simple steps anyone can take to improve their diet using evolution as a lense.
I write this from personal interest. While my boyfriend is interested in health, he doesn't see the need to go paleo and he really doesn't like eating meat. But it's very easy for us to eat nourishing meals together with things like pumpkin soup, sauteed mushrooms, buttered yams, pickled carrots, and garlic kale. Admittedly, I try to steer him away from things like Boca Burgers/soy milk and towards alternatives like homemade fermented dosas, properly soaked beans and farro, and traditional sourdough bread, but those things are delicious, so it doesn't take much convincing.
Erwan Le Corre, John Durant, and Andrew at the farm
So the Eating Paleo in NYC Meetup Group just did its first meatshare! We met bright and early in the morning to go to Glynwood Farm in Cold Spring, NY to pick up a lamb we ordered several months ago, as well as assorted other meaty goodies. Glynwood has been a farm since the 1700s, but these days its mission isn't just farming, since it is also a non-profit dedicated to improving Hudson Valley sustainable agriculture. Going there was a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture and the benefits of quality meat. Our tour was very diverse: WAPFers, paleos, raw meat eaters, and people just interested in grassfed agriculture!
Farmer Ken Kleinpeter gave us an overview of how livestock agriculture works. Most of the breeds he raises, like the White Park Cattle, are heritage breeds that do well in pasture. He explained that putting the average factory farmed cow out to pasture does not make for quality grass fed meat. He also told us about how government regulations make it difficult for him to bring meat to market. For example, it can be hard for them to book a date at the slaughterhouse they use, which is one of the few available that is certified humane. The really exciting thing to hear was that he is part of a regional task force that is developing mobile slaughter units for large livestock, which is huuuuuuuuuuuuge. It will make it much less stressful and expensive to process a large animal like a buffalo. Personally, I think slaughter regulations are ridiculous and it's too bad they have to jump through hoops for such nonsense as the regulation that the USDA inspector has to has their own office (they are going to have an office trailer). Furthermore, why is it OK to process chickens on-farm without an inspector but not cows? Are cows magically safe (haha) because of the USDA, but not chickens? Guess this is getting into rant territory, but you can read more on the unfortunate regulatory situation here.
The reason he can only sell frozen meat is that that it's expensive to keep meat fresh and distribution channels are slower. The animals are all very valuable on a small farm like Glynwood and the staff there takes great care during the slaughter process to provide as much comfort is possible. Ken also talked about how eating local grassfed animals raised on land that cannot grow anything else is the most sustainable way to eat, far more sustainable than a veggie diet utilizing grains grown in industrial monocultures or vegetables grown far away using lots of pesticides and petroleum fertilizers. The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is a good primer about this.
Ken said he feels comfortable eating his own meat raw and talked about how much higher the risk is eating meat raw from industrial sources because it is not just farm to fork...it is processed, shipped, handled by the grocery store... and meat from many different animals is mixed together, which means that it's hard to trace any problems that do arise. Pastured meat also is higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and other beneficial nutrients. Ken believes Americans should eat less meat and even though I'm part of this diet is is really kind of meat-centric, I agree. I personally feel better eating less meat, but meat that is higher quality: pastured and fatty gives me the energy I need without overloading me on protein, which makes me feel sluggish. I'm of the camp that thinks you should eat the amount of protein that your body actually needs, which really isn't much. Ken told us he often has trouble selling the really fatty cuts, but all of us eagerly snapped up fatback for making lard!
In terms of the actual lamb we got, I realized we next time I needed to plan more lbs per person, but I hope everyone enjoys their cuts. My own personal tip, having done a meat CSA before, is not to be afraid if your cut has a weird name. Last month I got pig cheeks and I wasn't really sure what to do with that, but a quick Google search revealed tons of delicious recipes! So I discovered an interesting and cheap cut AND
There are more meatshares in the future! If you are in NYC, vote for what animals you are interested in.
Hungary is one of my favorite travel destinations, partially because of the pork. The Hungarian Mangalica breed is a wooly fatty beast that makes one hell of a sausage. Some Americans have imported the breed, but the Hungarians really know how to make a spicy sausage right. Also delicious in Hungary is the incredible goose liver! And duck! Hungary has some delicious meat, and with the Forint pretty low, eating well (and paleo!) is affordable. I suggest Cafe Kor, where I ate absolutely the best silky tender goose liver with sour cherries. Besides that Hungary is a beautiful country with a culture that is fairly exotic to most Americans.
Didn't eat the bread or the onions...eeeewww
I digress, because the reason I was reminded of all this was that one of my favorite Hungarian food blogs just posted about the winter Mangalica festival. Of course there is a comment from someone who admits that while this pork is delicious, they don't want to eat much because "I look at my Hungarian neighbours - don't want to be like them, diabetes and high blood pressure and..." I just saw another comment like this recently- someone was saying how they are vegan because their Polish family suffers from so many health problems because they eat meat.
Hmm, which do you think is the problem: a food we have been eating for millions of years without a problem (meat) or the absurd amount of sugary desserts and alcohol that many Central and Eastern Europeans consume? These were my nemesis as I traveled through these countries. In Hungary most people were drinking shots of a fairly heavy brandy called Palinka alongside their sausages. Next to the sausage stand was a stand selling cakes and doughnuts and another selling FRIED bread doused with cheese. Yeah, it has to be the meat's fault.
I think the post at Whole Health Source is a good summary and has a good discussion in the comments. Really, the whole theory that some foods are alkalizing and others acidifying doesn't seem like anything more than a hypothesis based on a some epidemiological studies and anecdotes. Its a particularly popular theory in raw vegan circles, which is kind of ironic. The main point of not eating "acidifying" foods is so that your skeleton isn't robbed of calcium, but the biggest problems with raw veganism is tooth decay and bone loss! Guess eating massive and massive amounts of so called alkalizing foods doesn't protect the teeth or bones ! Contrast that with the healthy cultures Weston A. Price studied: some ate net acid and others ate net base and it didn't seem to matter. They had healthy bones and teeth regardless as long as they didn't eat trash like sugar and ate plenty of things like offal, bone stock, etc.
The idea that the Inuit suffered from early onset bone loss seems to come from studies after their diet included grains and sugar, because the studies on older skeletons show no problems. That's even though their calcium intake is LOW and they get waaay more protein than the probably optimal! Same for the Masai and other populations that eat foods that should leave their bones completely withered.
Even the author of several epidemiological studies trying to prove the acid base bone theory admits "The role of protein appears to be complex and is probably dependent on the presence of other nutrients available in a mixed diet." That's jargon for "this doesn't really prove much, but I really really want it to be published."
The real truth is that Americans probably suffer from bone loss more because they eat so many antinutrients and that 73% of us don't get the basic RDA for calcium. Maybe there is some evidence I'm overlooking, but overall I'd worry about eating real foods and not about calculating net acid load.
PS Don at Primal Wisdom recently posted a takedown of the Eskimo osteroporosis myth.