The purpose of the series is to educate people on every aspect of primal eating and living. It’s also intended as further education for those interested in making changes to their current diet: I truly think a major reason why so many people have been successful with primal eating is because they’ve done their research and understand how it works, inside and out. It’s not simply about what to eat and what not to eat; it’s about understanding how our body reacts to different foods and what to do about it.
If you’re considering dabbling in ancestral eating, or simply feel like when I use certain terms on this blog you haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, this series is for you. It will cover everything.The purpose of this is to inform, and clear up any misconceptions people may have regarding this facet of low-carb eating.
Disclaimer: I’m not a registered dietician, I’m just someone who has done their research and successfully implemented a primal way of eating, and has seen major benefits. I do, however, plan to certify in the next year.
Today’s lesson is on the science behind primal eating
Primal eating from a scientific point of view is essentially about eating low-glycemic foods in order to keep our blood glucose levels (aka blood sugar) stable, which allows our metabolism to function properly. Metabolism refers to
… the set of life-sustaining chemical transformations within the cells of living organisms, and to all chemical reactions that occur in living organisms, including digestion and the transport of substances into and between different cells… (source).
That last bit is very important as our cells, and how they function, are a key player in weight gain and loss. Let me explain.
Between meals, your fat cells release fatty acids in your blood stream to feed your other cells (tissue, muscle, bone, etc). This explains why you’re not perpetually hungry. Most times, our feelings of hunger aren’t actually coming from our stomach but rather our cells saying ‘I’m hungry, feed me.’ (sometimes, our cells can also be saying “I’m thirsty, drink water”). So we eat, we drink water. When we eat a diet of mostly carbs – especially fruit, grains, sugar and processed food – it triggers something that protein and fat consumption don’t: a spike in blood glucose levels. This means that all of a sudden, our blood stream is flooded with sugar, which is toxic to our body. Insulin is released to combat this and bring our blood glucose levels back down to normal. Unfortunately, insulin also tells our fat cells to stop releasing fatty acids, so they get stored until the glucose is eliminated from our blood stream. Insulin takes the sugar and basically feeds our cells with it instead. Once the sugar is eliminated, the fat cells are again open for business. For us, this feels like the rush of energy you might get after consuming something high in carbs and/or sugar, and then the low you experience afterwards, feeling lethargic and like you want to sleep. And because you feel this low, and you want to feel better again, you consume something that will give you energy, which is always carbs.
The issue isn’t carb consumption here and there, it’s constant over consumption of carbohydrates and sugar, even fake sugars like Splenda and Asparatame, and ‘natural’ sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. If we consume too much, and on a regular basis, we are constantly releasing insulin to fight the glucose in our blood, meaning we are constantly storing more and more fat because our bodies never get a chance to use it. Our cell membranes change with carb- and sugar- consumption too: they’re not as permeable and will require even more insulin to feed them. Over time (talking years), and for some people, our cells actually become completely resistant to insulin. And if it gets really bad, Metabolic Syndrome can develop, which is a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, artherosclerosis, even cancer.
By carb consumption, I don’t mean just grain-based foods like bread, pasta, scones, cookies, etc. I also mean over consumption of fruit (I ate far more fruit than veg), sugar from junk foods, and added sugar to many foods we’re told are healthy. Some of these food choices are actually really bad, despite your good intentions. It’s like we never had a fighting chance in the first place.
It’s a vicious cycle, and what leads to most western world diseases and health issues. This is your metabolism and how it gets damaged. Primal eating is about your metabolism, but rather than it being slow and making it fast again (a common health misconception), it’s about repairing the damage that’s caused through long term consumption of sugars and carbohydrates. Yes, weight gain is due to a damaged metabolism and not your metabolism slowing down. And no amount of exercise can help you lose the weight once you have a damaged metabolism; you need to deal with the food issues.
From a low-fat diet point of view, we’ve been told for decades we should eat to prevent heart disease and heart problems; in reality, we should’ve been eating to prevent Type 2 Diabetes all along. The good news is, all of this damage can be reversed through proper dietary choices, leaning towards good sources of protein, fats from animals and plants (except grain-based oils), and carbohydrates from some fruit, lots of veg, tubers (sweet potatoes and white potatoes) even rice if for muscle glycogen purposes, and if your guts agree with it.
The good news is that the damage can be reversed, and you can get your metabolism back to healthy again. I was on the path to a pretty damaged metabolism – my colleague’s fancy scale told me I had the metabolism of a 49 year old – but through primal eating, I reversed the damage and now have the metabolism of a 30 year old, four years younger than my chronological age. I also suffered from the highs and lows, and constant hunger due to carb consumption (and maybe my cells becoming more resistant?). I didn’t realise it at the time, but I wasn’t nearly as healthy as I thought I was. I was just ‘healthy.’
Anything to add?
Check out the first primal lesson on early humans and their diets.