So I finished my paleo diet/ for athletes trial, culminating in running the Copenhagen marathon on 23rd of may. I will be honest and say that looking a couple of months back I had hoped for a better finish time (I actually don't have my exact time – but it was more than 4 hours and 30 minutes) however seen in the light of the situation, I had pains in both my knees the entire time, and from about 7 kilometers to about 15 my right foot kept falling a sleep.
So what is my general experience of the diet? And what measurable results have I got?
My general experience of the diet has been that it is doable, but it takes a lot of planning and preparation time, and on top of that it is expensive and hard (not impossible) to keep interesting. One of the pratical tips, for anybody out there interested in trying this diet – make some sort of 'pot dish' like say bolognese or chicken in curry (without the pasta/rice) for breakfast (you want to make it the day before, not in the morning). I found this sort of dish a lot more easy to chow down first thing in the morning than say a steak is.
I felt pretty good generally during my paleo trial, however I can't say that I have felt any particular surge of energy, or anything else indicating that this diet was just right for me. I may have felt less tired, and I defintely can tell you that meat in the morning keeps you full a lot longer than grains do (even oat porridge) however besides from that I haven't observed anything special.
Measurable results -
Body fat -
36 mm skinfolds (between 13 and 16 %)
27, 33 mm skinfolds (8%)
weight – 62,1 kilograms
then – 14/3 - 10
Body fat -
30 mm (13%)
24 mm (7%)
weight 64,7 kg
So if these results are credible, then it seems like I have lost muscle mass, which may very well be the case, though it may be due to my changing training patterns (from medium distance and interval training 2 - 3 times a week, to long distance once a week) up to the marathon.
BTW. the different skinfold measurements are because I have come across two different sets of instructions that give two different results (says something about the reliability of this method), so I decided to include both.
I also filled out a health questionnaire by Mark Hyman, M.D. where you give points for how often and severe different ailments you have are, then add them together - the more points the worse you're off. I had 47 points when I began, and 36 after the first 60 days. It will be interesting to see what I get after the vegan challenge.
New vegan 30 day trial -
Thursday the 27th (of may 2010) I will begin my new diet trial; a vegan diet made up of what i would call real foods – meaning foods that have not have had all their nutritional value processed out of them. This is obviously not a very strict or clear definition, so to clarify; whole grain products are generally acceptable, whereas white flour is not. That being said I may choose to add in supplements, like fiber rich seed husks or vegan protein powders made from brown rice or yellow peas, that are highly processed and have had their fiber and starchy components removed. The difference however is that these things have been done with nutritional goals in mind, and that in some cases, these products have a lot of their micronutrional contents preserved, unlike white flour. For the record undamaged fats and oils are on the to eat list, while damaged fats and oils are not – that means cooking is mainly with coconut oil, and possibly olive or avocado oils (at low heat) while margarine and oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids are no gos in cooking (however polyunsaturated fats can off course be consumed as part of spreads, dips, smoothies etc.).
Now why would I want to eat a vegan diet?!
First of all this blog is about trying to get an idea of what diet works the best for me, and that will include trying out different approaches, with radically different theoretical stand points, like the paleo diet and a vegan diet.
While I think the theory behind veganism, as a nutritionally superior diet, is fairly weak, the anecdotal evidence is somewhat strong, and it provides an important 'scale' (in lack of a better word) for me to compare the paleo diet against. Furthermore, adding in small amounts of high quality animal products after a period on a vegan diet may tell us something about how a frugivore great ape inspired diet compares.
This is interesting because: while the argumentation, for eating no animal products at all, is weak (in my opinion), the arguments for eating a lot less animal products, than both followers of paleolithic diets and the 'standard american/western diet' do, is a lot stronger - our closest human contemporary relatives – the great apes (more specifically Bonobos and Chimpanzees) all consume, small but highly priced portions of meat and insects (are insects classified as meats? - I mean it is a lot more than that – it is truly a whole food). Now this certainly does not prove that we should eat this way, in fact vegans would emphasize that meat is a small,unstable, and calorie wise rather insignificant part of the different great apes' diets, while proponents of paleo/primal diets would argue that this is were our ancestors diverged from those of the great apes; that, due to different factors like easier access to calories (less time spent gathering compared to hunting or finding and eating carrion, as well as less energy spent on digestion, because of less fiber, and higher energy density) and long chain omega 3 fatty acids, our gut size was decreased and our brain size increased (along with other changes).
This clearly shows that this theoretical standpoint is not clear from counter arguments, however it is a lot easier to defend than the more extreme vegan approach – when comparing this diet to both the 'standard american/western diet' and paleolithic type diets (as well as other diets containing medium or high amounts of animal products) the great ape inspired diet basically has all of the pro vegan arguments (I will get into some of those in another post), but at the same time it can pretty much avoid all of the (often strong) counter arguments against eliminating all animal products from one's diet. In a sense its taking the best of both worlds.
So to sum up there are three reasons why I am giving the vegan diet a chance: first of is off course because the diet concept is, in my opinion, at least worth trying (it is not the most convincing from a theoretical standpoint but there is a lot of people reporting success with it). Secondly it is very much in contrast to the paleolithic type diet I just tried, and thus will make for a good comparison. And thirdly it may tell us something about the great ape inspired diet, which has a lot more going for it on a theoretical level, and in my eyes is one of the best bets at a starting point for trying to find the optimal human diet.
PS. I am still planning on finishing the discussion on critique of the paleo diet theory, however it takes some time to put together - but it is still in the works :)