Many people as they age notice their memory isn’t as good as it once was. Because this tends to happen as we get older we naturally tend to point the blame on “aging”. But could it be that as the years roll by the colony of microbes in your gut is slowly deteriorating, causing a lowering in your mental acuity? The more we understand about the gut microbiome the more we understand that, though “normal aging” may be the norm for our culture, age related diseases are not just a function of birthdays. Gut bacteria are in large part responsible for the health of our immune system, create important nutrients and enzymes for our health, and now, appear to have a direct relationship to our cognition and mental acuity. The gut microbiome is like a garden in your gut. Like any garden, this ecosystem needs a particular type of care and feeding for the system to remain in balance and flourish? Many people believe that by simply taking a probiotic or eating yogurt they are doing all they can to maintain their gut health. But this falls woefully short of the attention needed to create a happy microbiome. In fact, the notion that yogurt is good for you leads some people to eat copious amounts of yogurt every day, which can actually create an adverse terrain in the gut, causing the microbial flora to be out of balance. Instead of putting emphasis on getting in “good bacteria” you want to shift your attention to supplying the existing bacteria, some of which you can’t supplement anyway, with the type of food they want to eat. What do bacteria like to eat, you ask? Soluble fiber (not sawdust), which comes from eating vegetables and fruits (note the order of importance). So once again we are back to the fundamental truth, that you (and your microbiome) are what you eat, and that tending your garden properly can make all the difference in how you function and experience life as you age.
The Paleo Diet also known as the stone age diet, caveman diet or Paleolithic diet. The premise of the paleo diet is that the human body will function optimally by returning to what might have been eaten during the Paleolithic era (2.5 million-10,000) years ago.
Supporters of this diet claim that the human body is genetically mismatched to the modern diet brought on by farming practices and the science of packaging food. You may have never thought about this but farming radically changed what human ate on a daily basis. Dairy, grains, potatoes, sugar and all processed foods slowly became a major part of the human diet.
So what would a caveman diet look like??
The paleo diet is focused on lean meat such as wild game, grass fed animals and fish. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are important staples of this diet. Note that this menu doesn’t include modern urban fare such as sandwiches, dairy, sugar and processed foods. Consequently, many find they need to figure out creative adaptations, for example, substituting lettuce wraps for the traditional sandwich.
Weighing the Benefits and Costs?
No one can argue that the average American diet could benefit from less processed foods and a simplified diet that doesn’t include corn-fattened meats and sugared grains. However, grains and beans are cheap and a major draw back of the Paleo Diet for some may be the increased financial cost of purchasing meat, fish, and vegetables. Additionally, some suggest that foregoing the more affordable whole grains and legumes brought on by farming can lead to a deficit in fiber vitamins and other nutrients, while proponents say that more fiber can be obtained by eating copious amounts of vegetables.
When weighing the decision whether to transition to a paleo diet, it is important to remember there are pros and cons of every diet. Some research suggests that in the short term the paleo diet helps with weight loss and glucose control. Others, however, suggest this same goal can be achieved by focusing on some of the key points of the paleo diet, which are really just the basics of a healthy diet. In the final analysis, we are probably not genetically the same as a caveman and thus, as some evidence suggests, we likely process foods differently than our ancient ancestors. So while the validity of the paleo diet continues to be debated, it is important to note that its key principles include the focus on diet rich in basic foods and the elimination of the modern emphasis on processed grains and sugars. And if the decision to “go paleo” seems overwhelming, remember that the key to the success of any large change is not in making a radical shift all at once, but in consistency, and dedication to moderate adjustments over time.