The Middle Way


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Welcome to the site! This content is old and may not reflect my current opinions. I keep it up mainly for reference and because I hope at least some of it is still good, but I encourage you to check out more recent posts as well as my Start Here page

 Last year I met a girl who was trying the paleo diet and complaining she "felt weird" and her stomach hurt. I asked her what she was eating and it turns out she was eating 5 tablespoons of coconut oil for breakfast! I told her that wasn't food, that it was an ingredient you can use to make foods or a supplement and that maybe she should try eating food. Later she said she felt better. 

I guess there is some impression among certain people that because I and others don't think fat is *bad* that you should drown yourself in it. As far as I'm concerned it's a far cry from a certain Paleo cookbook that advocates trimming fat off of GRASS FED meat, throwing away the fat that is leftover from cooking grass-fed meat,  and avoiding grass-fed "fatty cuts" like shanks to eating a pound of bacon for breakfast with a side of heavy-cream flavored coconut milk. Let's be honest: I don't eat that way. I cook with tallow that I save from the whole goats and lambs I buy, I certainly don't ever throw away any "fatty" cut, and sometimes I use some ghee, bacon, butter, or coconut milk as ingredients. I go through a pound of bacon a month, mostly because of my boyfriend, and maybe a can of coconut milk every two weeks and a pack of Pasture Butter a month. I never make any "paleo" desserts anymore and I don't eat very much dairy unless it's well-fermented and raw. Heavy cream makes my digestive system into sludge. I do eat some grains: I find my stomach is happiest when I include some rice in my diet every few days or so. 

I suspect someone who is more athletic or who doesn't have IBS might tolerate more fat. But this is my personal "sweet spot." I do have experience doing almost-vegan paleo: starches, veggies, fruits, no added fats, and only shellfish as protein. Perhaps it could be perfected, but I found that my keratosis really was itchy and red. I also felt more depressed and had bloating. If I tried it again I would probably use some coconut milk with carrot juice or something in an attempt to get vitamin A, but maybe my body isn't suited for it because of my genetics and health problems. Maybe it's also different for people in different life-stages. I'm a woman of reproductive age, so it's possible my need for certain vitamins is higher. 

I also would note that food sensitivities don't care about the paleolithic. It's very possible to be allergic or sensitive to a host of "paleo" foods from types of meat, to nuts, to eggs, to shellfish. I am personally quite sensitive to vegetables like broccoli, onions, and cauliflower. Honestly, they do a number on my stomach worse than any grain. I think people get caught up in the "paleo" paradigm thinking that because we evolved with foods like it, it must be good. But modern food sensitivities don't discriminate. I find that interestingly my stomach feels much better if I get starch from regular potatoes rather than sweet potatoes. The latter is considered "more paleo" though that stems from botanical ignorance. 

Either way, I don't really follow an orthodox "paleo" diet either, though I do use what I learn about the paleolithic to think about what I eat. I think there is tons of room for experimentation, particularly as the evidence for starch consumption in the paleolithic becomes stronger and stronger.

I don't think there is much room for combining "paleo" with various religious philosophies and I'm a little dismayed that Chinese medicine has somehow crept in and become tolerated. I think if I blogged about how I use Christianity to tell me what to eat I'd get about a million angry comments. Remember, the mechanisms behind Chinese medicine are scientifically implausible and even if a few tiny studies show that Chinese medicine works, it's not because of supernatural forces like conveniently undetectable "energy fields" operating outside of the forces of biology, chemistry, and physics. I know plenty of people who follow a "paleo" diet that is compatible with their religion, such as kosher or halal folks, but they don't claim that their diet is somehow better because of it or that it explains their diet's success. 


There has got to be a scientific explanation or I'm just not buying it...


It seems that some people were upset with the idea that I was attacking alternative medicine in the last post. No, I was attacking scientifically implausible theories of food being integrated by the ancestral food community. It's because people don't want to believe there are both unverifiable supernatural beliefs AND beliefs worth investigating to find out whether or not they have some natural basis or benefit.

Acupuncture, for example, is a system worth investigating because of the possibility that the ancient literature refers to real physiological processes, as Chris Kessler points out, and not energy fields (scientists have looked for these energy fields and NOT found them).

The idea that some Chinese roommates once told me that going to bed with my hair wet would cause demonic possession leading to pneumonia made me wonder if perhaps people in rural China did get sick from chills, but otherwise it is a supernatural belief.

Likewise, I am a huge fan of traditional Chinese foods, but when my waitress at my favorite restaurant in Flushing tells me I eat too much fatty "Yang" food and will get acne and clog my blood (that would be awesome since I have a mild form of hemophilia) I think it's worth investigating, but most of the time Chinese traditional food beliefs have been investigated, they have found to be incorrect or vast simplifications. I'm impressed at the latter, but I won't be basing my food choices on whether or not foods are "Yin" or "Yang." I suspect these beliefs have very little to do with Taoism anyway, as they were probably added on as Taoism blended with local folk religions.

Some of these folk beliefs lead to some absurdly unhealthy behaviors. I know Thai people who believe it's good to wash down beef, which is a "hot" food, with Coke, which is a "cold" food. And Chinese people who follow their fried chicken with heavily sugared red date tea because it's "Yin" and replenishes their "Qi." Since these beliefs are not based on real concepts, they are particularly vulnerable to industrialization. 

Religions/folk beliefs and food: worth investigating and important tools for believers, but not always scientific.