Solving the Paleo Equation: Stress, Nutrition, Exercise, Sleep
By Garrett Smith, ND and Matt Stone
Victory Belt Publishing, 2014
Solving the Paleo Equation is a multifaceted book. The two authors cover four primary topics: stress, nutrition, exercise, and sleep and recovery, as well as a number of subtopics that relate to the main points of discussion.
The information on sleep, exercise, and stress is generally very good. In a sense, stress is the framework for defining the remaining three topics, since if you are not getting good nutrition, proper exercise, and sound sleep, you will be creating significant stressors for your body.
The exercise section, written by Dr. Smith, is a wonderful counterbalance to the exercise mania that at times sweeps up people getting into health and nutrition regimes. He points out the many dangers of the modern obsession with hardcore exercise and self injury that has somehow become the hallmark of American-style fitness programs.
The section on sleep primarily covers grounding, the importance of being in nature (forest bathing, getting yourself outdoors), and the deleterious effects of EMF exposure. Thus, in some ways, there is little to do with sleep proper and a lot to do with lifestyle issues that affect how we sleep and how we live in general and the resulting effect on our overall health.
Packed in the midst of all this material is a lengthy section on nutrition containing a great deal of information, much of it very good. Stone warns about the dangers of cruciferous vegetables and other metabolically meddlesome foods, the importance of salt and carbohydrates, the ridiculous recommendations regarding high amounts of water consumption, and more.
Regarding the Paleo diet, his views are best summed up by this zingy one-liner, “To be frank, to solve the Paleo equation, you must first subtract the Paleo diet” (page 41). Stone follows this assertion with five points refuting certain Paleo-associated dicta, such as the Paleo movement’s dismissal of grains and dairy products. His section on fats again takes to task the idea that grains and dairy are the cause of obesity, food sensitivities, and other modern degenerative conditions, pointing to the abandonment of traditional animal fats as perhaps the major culprit in modern health issues. He also makes the interesting observation that what may cause some people to do better on a Paleo diet is how our improper fat consumption has predisposed some to become sensitive to the Paleo no-nos of grains, legumes, and dairy (page 1).
The section on fats is in many ways the heart of the nutrition section and the longest chapter in the book. The section has many good aspects, yet is also what prompted my desire to speak with Stone directly. The section contains ten recommendations for making sure your fat consumption doesn’t sabotage your health. The first four in particular caught my attention: 1. Choose red meat or wild-caught fish over pork and poultry.
2. If you do occasionally eat pork…choose lean cuts like loin and tenderloin; bacon, sausage, and ribs contain the bulk of the AA [arachidonic acid] found in pork.
3. When you eat poultry, don’t eat the skin (or if you do, eat it only occasionally).
4. Don’t eat whole eggs every day; try them once or twice a week as an ingredient in your baked goods…. If you go to great lengths to obtain eggs from wild-fed, pastured hens, you can probably consume eggs more frequently, as the fats in the yolks are much more balanced.
Now, before I comment on these recommendations, context is important. First, Stone is very pro-saturated fat. Second, a few paragraphs earlier, he discusses the unnatural diet of modern factory-farmed animals, specifically addressing soy and corn and their negative effects on the fatty acid composition of the animals and their overall healthfulness (pages 82-84). To some extent, we would concur with his assessment and warning about consuming large amounts of such animals. If the only pork or chicken you have access to is CAFO-raised, with the accumulation of not just poor quality fat in the tissues but a host of toxins, avoiding their fat and skin is surely prudent as is minimizing your overall intake of such animal foods.
But as a general dietary recommendation, Stone’s conclusions are worrisome. As WAPF readers know, pork fat is a wonderful source of vitamin D—for inland people, a crucial source, especially given the impracticality of large numbers of people choosing wild-caught seafood as a dietary staple to replace chicken and pork. Many foods that are higher in linoleic acid and arachidonic acid are also important sources of various vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. In traditional diets, the varied components and overall low intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids as a percentage of calories appear to protect against any ill effects.
Stone’s dietary recommendations are driven by his concerns about the arachidonic acid content of these foods. Chris Masterjohn and others have written on this subject pointing to AA’s complex role and relationship to inflammation in the body, a view that differs from Stone’s in important ways and one I encourage readers to read and review in Masterjohn’s various articles, such as “Precious and Perilous” from the Fall 2010 issue of Wise Traditions.
The final dietary section (page 94), gives a practical exhortation to “eat it off your plate…” which here means to eat food you actually make from things that are actually food. This is dietary advice that all camps can whole-heartedly support and encourage. Since Solving the Paleo Equation emphasizes eating wild-caught seafood for those that can afford it, there should be little risk of insufficient fat-soluble vitamins in their diet. However one wonders if the lack of other balancing foods and nutrients in certain types of foods will itself create problems that a more robust and diverse diet that does not unnecessarily shun properly raised animals would avoid.
Garret and Stone’s book receives one thumb up for getting so many things right and covering so much good ground, with a caveat about their views on arachidonic acid and how they then play out in the dietary recommendations. Given that chicken consumption has increased almost ten-fold since the early 1900s, there is no doubt that most Americans can and should dial back their cluck affair. And there is also no debate that CAFO-raised pork and poultry are disasters for the eater, the eaten, and the environment. But nutritionally and environmentally, chicken and pork when properly raised are vitally important foods, especially their fats, and they are also ecologically and economically important species for small farms.
One hopes that continued research into the issues that Stone and others raise about possible dietary imbalances that result from eating improperly- raised animals will help us better understand how this part of the equation affects human health. This knowledge can help guide each of us to tailor dietary principles so we can best reach our potential of vibrant health.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2014