How to Feed your Pet Human
By Craig Valency, CSCS
I didn’t have any exotic pets growing up, but a few of my friends had snakes, turtles, lizards, and other critters my mother was not very fond of. What I most remember are the feedings. The toads always needed a good supply of crickets, supplemented by any earthworms we could did up. But the snakes were the most fun. My friends loved getting mice from the pet store to feed to the snakes. It was like watching Animal Planet live in my buddy’s bedroom!
But how did my friends know what to feed their pets? The secret was to see what they ate in the wild and then – surprise – feed it to them. It would have been easier, cheaper, and less dramatic to give the snake some of our breakfast cereal and milk; but I think we would have had an unhappy and unhealthy snake on our hands.
Consider that animals in the wild are not obese or even overweight. Lions eat plenty of red meat, but they never seem to need a stent or coronary bypass surgery. The absurdity of feeding our pets engineered human food is apparent. But for some reason, we have no problem giving ourselves and our children alien substances that we were never meant to eat. Our pet snakes, lizards, and turtles are fed whole foods that match those found in their natural diets. Why then do we feed our human family members unnatural foods that are pulverized, reconstituted, and processed?
Let’s imagine that the movie Planet of the Apes is a reality, and Cornelius and Zira have a couple of human pets they are studying. It’s feeding time. Being clever scientists, they know that the natural human diet comes from a bounty borne of hunting and gathering. They understand that their human pets have adapted to using fire. So they toss some steaks on the grill, dig up some roots and tubers, and gather some berries. For a crunchy treat, they also crack open a few nuts once in a while so the humans have something to snack on as they watch Jeopardy. Of course, the baby humans drink their mothers’ milk; and as they grow older, the milk stops. In an effort to save money, Cornelius gets the bright idea to give the humans some milk from domesticated cows, and what a disaster that is! Gas and bloating ensue. Zira is furious. Unhappy pets, unhappy apes!
Now let’s get back to our planet. Early humans were generally lean with athletic builds. They did not suffer from the diseases of modern civilization. This same phenomenon can be seen in modern hunter-gatherer societies as well. Although macronutrient ratios and food sources varied based on geographical regions, hunter-gatherers ate protein-rich diets. They also ate plenty of seasonal fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, and nuts. This is how homo sapiens ate for the first one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand years on earth. But about ten thousand years ago, the Agricultural Revolution changed everything. Humans could now cultivate and process foods they had never eaten before. Today, we have strange new foods at our disposal all year round. Unfortunately, most of us have not actually adapted to eating them. The natural balance of eating human-appropriate foods in the right quantity at the right time was lost.
Grains are not human foods. Most humans are not well adapted to eating them. It is not in any grain’s best interest to get eaten. Grains want to reproduce, so they wreak havoc on predators like us by using anti-nutrients such as phytates, lectins, and saponins. These substances irritate the lining of the gut. This can cause gut permeability, which leads to all sorts of diseases and autoimmunity. The gluten in most of these grains is highly problematic for most people, even those who do not have diagnosed celiac disease.
The fiber from grains isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. Insoluble fiber, which is the indigestible outer portion of the grain, irritates the gut. This literally forces your body to expel the foreign invader, and it also adversely affects the absorption of minerals. Early man actually consumed more than twice the fiber of modern man, but it was in the form of fruits and vegetables, which contain mostly soluble fiber. This type of fiber is fermented in the colon by beneficial bacteria and is subsequently converted into short-chain fatty acids for energy. Soluble fiber also reduces the glycemic effect of meals, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, and promotes overall colon health.
Low-fat dairy has been praised as an effective and healthy weight-loss food. The experts want us to consume several servings of low-fat dairy on a daily basis. The problem is that as humans age, they lose lactase, which is the enzyme that breaks down milk sugar. Additionally, milk contains many of the same sorts of anti-nutrients that are found in grains. Milk consumption often leads to digestive upset, weight gain, hormonal dysfunction, and a host of other problems. Milk proteins cause an especially dramatic insulin response that is similar to that induced by sugar consumption. Why are we the only species that drinks the milk of another animal?
Today, we eat beans and legumes that early man could never eat. Even after soaking and hours of cooking, somehow we think that the gas that comes with eating beans is just normal. Perhaps we need to rethink this assumption.
Another issue with these food-like substances is the dramatic insulin responses they cause. Chronic, high insulin levels lead to metabolic problems, insulin resistance, infertility, type II diabetes, and seemingly unavoidable weight gain.
By contrast, human foods, such as berries, don’t mind if you eat them. They are counting on you to poop out their indigestible seeds on some fertile soil so that they can reproduce. But just because our ancestors ate something, it doesn’t necessarily make it healthy. By the same token, just because they never ate a food, it doesn’t mean that we can’t thrive on it. Our ancestral past should be seen as a template to begin our search for what real humans ought to eat. We are not trying to do a historic reenactment of Fred Flintsone’s family dinner. Rather, we are looking to the past to inform our current research. Fred, Wilma, and Pebbles didn’t eat dark chocolate or olive oil. They didn’t drink coffee or alcohol either. But there is evidence of the health benefits of moderate consumption of these foods today, so live it up once in awhile and party like it’s 19,000 BC!
For the first time in my life, the perfect human diet has revealed itself to me, and it makes sense. It is not a diet at all. Here it is: Eat real, whole foods that humans have evolved to eat. There is no need to count calories. You don’t have to micromanage your portions and meal frequency. My wife and I have been eating this way for the last 6 months. It started when my wife was experiencing some health problems. Her good friend, who is a doctor specializing in women’s health, told to her to immediately go on a strict Paleo diet. Coincidentally, the day before, I had just bought Robb Wolf’s book, The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. I was certainly intrigued to find out what humans originally ate. But I was still “Moderation Man” and I wasn’t about to go all the way. In the interest of household harmony, I finally relented. We dumped out all the Neolithic foods in the house. Within a month, I was astonished when the many digestive disorders I had suffered from for so many years, including IBS and GERD, disappeared. I shed fourteen pounds of fat, and I had more energy. My wife’s health improved dramatically, and she’s hotter than ever!
It’s easy to eat well when you have a roadmap that is based on scientific evidence of how humans have evolved to eat. It will never be a fad to eat real food. There are no food groups that are off limits when you’re on a Paleo diet, because all real food is allowed. Just because it’s edible, it doesn’t mean that its food. Just because you don’t die or immediately feel sick, it does not mean that it’s optimal to eat. The easiest way to start eating like a human is to go to a farmers’ market. There, you can easily find local, chemical-free, seasonal foods. Focus on eating pastured meats and eggs and wild-caught fish. Also emphasize seasonal fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I urge you to give it a try. See how it works for you.
If you are intrigued and want to further explore your inner caveman, stay tuned for my teleseminar with Robb Wolf, author of the New York Times bestseller The Paleolithic Solution: The Original Human Diet. He will be answering many of the most controversial questions about weight loss, sports nutrition, disease prevention, and health. For more information on the Paleo lifestyle, visit www.robbwolf.com.
Konner, M., & Eaton, S. B. (2010). Paleolithic nutrition: 25 years later. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(6), 594 – 602.
Wolf, R. (2010). The paleo solution: the original human diet. Las Vegas, NV: Victory Belt Publishing.
Craig Valency is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (CSCS). He is also certified in CPR, AED and first aid. He earned a bachelors degree from UCLA and has completed coursework in Kinesiology & Exercise Physiology at UCLA, UCSD & Miramar College. Presently he is pursuing his Masters degree in Kinesiology at San Diego State University.
Craig specializes in developing holistic training programs promoting lifestyle change for permanent results in weight loss, athletic performance, strength, dynamic flexibility, balance & whole body functional fitness. He integrates his knowledge of nutrition and exercise to develop individualized programs for maximal long-term results.