Primal Body—Primal Mind Empower Your Total Health the Way Evolution Intended (…and Didn’t)
By Nora T. Gedgaudas, CNS, CNT
Primal Body—Primal Mind Publishing, 2009
Nora Gedgaudas, a nutritionist for over twenty-five years, has written a densely endowed guide to total health based on years of study to answer one organizing query: how did our ancient biological history as human beings condition us to eat? The answer to that question informs all of Gedgaudas’s recommendations for improving health and for addressing or preventing the scourge of degenerative diseases common among modern populations.
As the image of the Lascaux, France Paleolithic cave paintings on the book cover hints, the clue to our successful future as a species lies in our past. Gedgaudas is not the first to point out that modern humans are essentially genetically identical to our ancestors of more than forty thousand years ago. Over the course of about one hundred thousand generations, says Gedgaudas, nature refined our design and conditioned us through specific selective pressures so that “we are all—biologically, genetically, and physiologically, without exception—hunter gatherers.”
This implies that the “natural” diet of humans centered primarily on animal source foods, which provided adequate amounts of protein with generous quantities of fat—always coveted as a concentrated energy source, especially in colder regions. Depending upon climate and geography, fibrous fruits and vegetables, with some nuts and seeds, were also part of some of our ancestral diet. In this pre-agricultural proving ground, humans had very little dietary exposure to starchy carbohydrates, and grains were notably absent.
The truly critical understanding that Gedgaudas emphasizes to the reader is the fact that carbohydrates are the single macronutrient that is not required for human health. Fats and proteins—the other two—are absolutely essential, however. Only red blood cells require glucose as fuel, and the body can manufacture that from a combination of fats and proteins when needed. All other tissue cells in the body—including those of the brain and heart—prefer ketones, energy units metabolized from fat, as their fuel source. Most medical authorities and conventional nutritionists completely ignore this fact, says Gedgaudas, even in the face of “abundant evidence that many modern disease processes, including cardiovascular disease, elevated triglycerides, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cancer, to name a few…are the product not of excess natural fats in the diet, but of excess carbohydrates.”
Modern humans have become, for the most part, dependent upon glucose as their bodies’ source of fuel, whereas our ancestors used ketones as their primary metabolic energy source. This is a crucial distinction to understand, since the maintenance of proper blood sugar levels is something the body is “literally obsessed with,” stresses Gedgaudas. While excess blood sugar can theoretically be burned off—by taking a hike after eating a sugary dessert, for example—the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels—insulin— cannot be burned off. And it is constantly circulating blood insulin that causes so many health problems. In fact, regulating blood sugar levels is a rather sideline function of insulin, according to Gedgaudas; the main function of this hormone is to store fat. While insulin is present, body fat cannot be burned.
Yet insulin itself is regulated by another hormone that was only discovered fifteen years ago in, of all places, our fat cells: leptin. Researchers were amazed to discover that our fat cells are not merely ugly excess baggage, but constitute a complex and sophisticated endocrine organ. Further, the newly discovered hormone leptin was not only very important, but revealed itself to be “the major hormone which orchestrates and regulates all other hormones and controls virtually all functions of the hypothalamus in the brain. . . . A primary purpose of leptin is to coordinate the metabolic, endocrine, and behavioral responses to starvation. It powerfully impacts our emotions, cravings, and behavior.” Leptin is also involved in inflammatory responses in the body, and, like insulin, is affected by carbohydrate consumption.
Primal Body—Primal Mind presents the reality of our modern-day sea of degenerative diseases, including the many newly diagnosed mood disorders and conditions such as autism and ADD/ADHD, in light of dietary changes that have harmed us more than we might have expected. The leptin-insulin axis of endocrine dysregulation wreaks havoc on all systems of the body; Gedgaudas emphasizes that without addressing leptin, one cannot fully recover adrenal or thyroid function, for example. Complicating dietary matters for modern humans are the harmful rancid and fake fats in the industrial food supply, chemical additives, GMOs, and environmental hazards such as ubiquitous xenoestrogens, heavy metals and other pollutants. Countless other stressors take their toll on our already compromised health—perhaps we moderns are living in more dangerous and uncertain times than our cave-dwelling ancestors.
Gedgaudas addresses the remediation of health in calm measure and frequent good humor. Her larger answer to a return to vibrant health and energy is, on one hand, entirely simple: “Eating a diet as similar as possible to what our ancestors ate is purely common sense and based entirely on how we have been genetically molded for the vast majority of human evolution. No gurus needed. Eat the way your body was designed for you to eat, and a lot takes care of itself.” For numerous conditions of compromised digestion, metabolism, and illness states she provides important and detailed recommendations (and caveats) for the reader to explore with a trusted health care provider. These include the use of supplements, single amino acids, and other additions to diet. Gedgaudas’s very informative website, www.primalbody-primalmind.com is a useful companion to her book, and includes a forum for posing questions and sharing recipes.
Primal Body—Primal Mind shares with the reader fundamental principles that lead to a true understanding of how both the body and mind function based on essential human physiology. Our most basic nutritional requirements—as conditioned by our long history as hunter/gatherers—point the path to vibrant health. Here is another book, thank goodness, to lead us out of the benighted influence and “conventional wisdom” of modern diet dictocrats. As Gedgaudas puts it herself, Primal Body—Primal Mind describes “an approach to diet, nutrition, and health so simple even a caveman can do it.”
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2009.