Paleo Diet & Yoga?

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Tina asks:

What do you think of the Paleo diet and is it healthy?

For those of you who don’t know, the Paleo diet is also referred to the Paleolithic or the caveman diet. It’s become very, very popular in the past 10 years, particularly, I would say, in the past 3 or 4 years. The CrossFit community has also grown really, really quickly, and all the CrossFit people are very much into the Paleo diet.

For me, of all the diet movements that have happened in the past 5 years, the Paleo diet is the smartest and the most interesting of anything that’s happened, really since raw food became really popular. And so a lot of people think the Paleo diet is completely opposite to what I teach. The truth is, it’s very, very close. The only difference is a lot of people I work with move away from animal foods, and the Paleo diet is very heavy on animal protein.

The truth is, what I call the Paleo diet is something I’ve been calling reverse vegetarianism, for about 7 years. And reverse vegetarianism is when someone, instead of giving up meat and eating dairy, they give up dairy and they eat meat. Now, my vegetarians colleagues give me a lot of flack about this, calling it even vegetarianism, a lot of the vegetarians hate the Paleo people and they think they are doing terrible things.

I think it’s just the opposite. In fact, many people following a Paleo diet are actually more vegetarian, in my opinion, than a lot of vegetarians. From a health and nutrition standpoint, giving up dairy and eating animal proteins, especially if they’re from good sources, is much, much more healthy than giving up meat and relying on dairy for your fat and your protein. Dairy has lots of problems for adults. Depending on your ethnicity, it might have huge problems. For other ethnicities, it might be okay.

In any case, what a Paleo diet is, is essentially trying to eat like our Paleolithic ancestors. About 10,000 years ago, we started eating a lot of grains. Grains are seeds of grasses, things like rice, things like wheat, things like barley, millet, all those kinds of things. There are some that are particularly problematic, wheat being the biggest offender. It’s addictive, it’s inflammatory, it has lots of anti-nutrients, and it’s the basis of most Western diets. When I say the basis, anywhere from 10 to 50 percent of the diet, in some cases 80 percent-plus of your caloric intake is coming from wheat, which is a huge, huge problem.

Now, meat has a ton of problems as well. If we’re just talking about the environment in particular, if we’re talking about moral and ethical reasons, there’s all kinds of problems. But meat raised for consumption, as opposed to meat raised for dairy, the animals live a shorter life, they tend to live a better life. Dairy cows are treated the worst of any animals. So from a moral and ethical standpoint, eating animals rather than eating the milk of animals, in my opinion, from my research, from what I’ve seen environmentally, morally and ethically, it’s a better choice.

Nutritionally, there’s no question it’s a better choice. Dairy is inflammatory, dairy causes mucus, dairy causes digestive problems and all kinds of other issues. And aside from that, it tends to come from this industry that’s really a disaster.

The problem with the Paleo movement is it’s very, very hard to maintain and it’s very, very expensive. The tenets of eating a Paleo diet are fantastic. The idea of eating straight from the land, eating whole foods, natural foods, focusing on low-glycemic vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds to a smaller extent and lean, wild meats. The reality is, lean, wild meats are very, very hard to find. They’re almost nonexistent.

And so you’ll meet Paleo people who say they’re always eating grass-fed beef or they only eat wild fowl or these kinds of things, but it’s very, very rare. When somebody says they’re eating grass-fed animals only, I would say that probably means they’re eating about 10 percent grass-fed animals. Almost all of the animals all over the world are fed grains, and when we’re talking about grains we’re mostly talking about corn and they’re fed soy and they’re fed other things that are just not great.

So what you’re really talking about, when you’re talking about most meats, is second-generation grains. So predominately corn and other cereal grains that are fed to these animals, and that’s why they get so fat. So were you to compare, for example, a wild duck with a commercial duck, they look like two completely different animals. Were you to compare the meat of a wild rabbit with that of a domestic rabbit that’s eating predominately grains, you’ll be shocked at how different their meat looks, the color, the texture, everything about it, and the fat content is really shocking.

Now, fat gets blamed for a lot of the health problems in the world. It’s just not true, but bad fat is a big problem, and bad fat also includes improperly ratioed fat. So naturally, most of the animals that are commonly eaten, chicken, pigs and cows, they are very, very lean animals, naturally. Pigs would be fattier of the bunch, but still, when you look at a wild boar compared to a domestic pig, the fat content is just shockingly, shockingly lower.

And the reason is, because they’re fed the same foods that are fattening up our general population, which is grains, which really quickly turn into sugar, which is really quickly turned into body fat. So you’ve got fat animals feeding people, and it’s a big problem.

So back to the Paleo diet. Every diet has good things, every diet has bad things. The Paleo diet has many, many, many more good things than bad things. The biggest challenge about it is trying to maintain it financially, and it’s just not that feasible. But that doesn’t discredit any of the tenets that go along with it. There’s a whole lot right with it, and the Paleo movement, for me, just goes right off the back of the raw food movement, and you’ve got to figure out what balance works for you.

It’s also very unsustainable, a Paleo approach, for people who are highly athletic, for people who are younger and need a higher caloric intake, it’s very challenging. There’s also this over-emphasis on protein, which from my research and from my experience, that works for some people, people doing a lot of resistance training. For people who aren’t, they need to focus more on getting healthy fats.

But anyway, the biggest takeaway is if you’re looking at the Paleolithic diet, is to take a look at low-glycemic foods, and this is the emphasis of every important book that’s come out in the past 5 years, focusing on getting your sugar intake down. There is almost nothing more important than that in your dietary approach right now, as getting your sugars down. The simplest way to do that is to reduce or even eliminate the amount of grains, particularly breads, pastas, all this wheat-based stuff. That’s really the biggest takeaway.

The other takeaway is to make sure that you’re eating whole, natural foods, which kind of goes along with any diet. Anyway, it’s something worth checking out. There’s two books that I recommend, one is called Primal Blueprint, and that’s by Mark Sisson, and another book that’s called The Paleo Diet, which is by a guy named Robb Wolf, who’s a big pioneer of the Paleo diet.

Again, I don’t eat a Paleo diet, I don’t follow it, but a lot of my clients do, my kids do, and they do really, really well, in terms of their health. Everybody has to find what works for them. In terms of the science behind the approach, the logic, the research and the results, it’s really hard to beat a Paleo approach, raw food approach. There are lots of different things that work, but in terms of working long term, it’s a pretty interesting to take a look at.

Amy asks:

The front of my chest and along the shoulders are still very tight from years of bench pressing. Is there a good isolated stretch to help release those muscles, something I could hold it for long periods, like your gravity stretches?

Yes, Amy, what you want to do is Hangman Pose. Hangman Pose is really simple. It will really get in there. I’ll give you a quick audio explanation. It’s going to sound confusing, but close your eyes and do it with me.

Get on the floor, get on your belly, and slide all the way until your head touches the wall. So your arms are at your sides, head is touching the wall, you’re on your belly face down. Now bring your hands up the wall, straighten your arms, don’t move your body forward or backward. Keep it right where it is. Bring your hands up the wall, spread your fingers, now let your head drop and hang. This is called Hangman Pose.

You want to hold it initially for about 1 or 2 minutes, working up to 5-minute-plus holds, and this posture will really, really open you up.

I have a hairline fracture in my humerus bone near the elbow joint. It has been 7 months now since the initial pain, and my doctor just did a bone density scan and said I have Osteopenia. Besides taking your YOGABODY Stretch and Calcium with D, nutritionally speaking, can you please tell me the best foods to be eating to help build my bone density back?

This is a complex question, because there’s lots of things that we do that can decrease bone density. There’s lots of things we can do to increase bone density. In your case, you want to be doing both, and you want to be working very, very closely with your doctor.

For example, there’s a lot of evidence to show that carbonated beverages and drinking sodas your whole life can remove calcium from your bones. Eating overly acidic, like we talked about before, eating an excessively high protein diet can potentially remove calcium from your bones. It’s a bit controversial, but some interesting research there.

And then there’s things that can help strengthen your bones, one of which is resistance training. It sounds like you’ve done some resistance training, so perhaps that’s not the issue, but putting some weight on your bones is what brings strength to them. And also, yes, getting calcium and Vitamin D into your bones. Calcium, we’ve been taught by the diary industry that calcium is something that we need to have tons and tons and tons of. The truth is, calcium is really, really abundant in most peoples’ diets. What isn’t abundant often, are the cofactors that help calcium become absorbed. Things like magnesium, things like Vitamin D.

It sounds like you’re taking Vitamin D already, but you want to look at all your dietary intake and make sure that you’re eating an alkaline-based diet, which you don’t need to get overly obsessed with that, but just making sure basically you’re eating a lot of vegetables with every meal, and Vitamin D is also proven for bone density. Vitamin D2 is the vegetarian form of Vitamin D. It’s not so effective for supplementation, especially if you’re in a situation where you’re having some problems.

Vitamin D3 is the non-vegetarian source. It comes from lanolin. Lanolin, we don’t really know where it’s coming from. It might be coming from the wool industry, it might be coming also from the meat industry. So some vegetarians feel comfortable with it, others don’t. I don’t know whether you’re a vegetarian or not, but I just wanted to bring that up.

It’s a pretty disgusting supplement, to think of kind of having the oil from a sheep’s skin, but for any number of reasons, it might be necessary and might be very, very helpful for you. Vitamin D recommendations are generally too low, in terms of what the RDA and other governmental organizations recommend. Most alternative health practitioners talk about a supplemental phase, where you’re taking 5,000-plus international units per day. Most supplements will come in about 1,000 international units per day maximum, and so you’d have to take 5 of those pills or get stronger ones.

With all of these cases, Vitamin D is actually a hormone. You do want to make sure you’re getting a Vitamin D test. It’s possible to take too much. There’s a lot of people right now taking too much. It can screw up your hormones, can give you night sweats and other weird hormonal reactions. So I don’t think it’s a great idea to take tons and tons of Vitamin D, unless you’re working with somebody, getting your blood tested. It’s cheap to get your blood tested, so I would recommend doing that.

Other than that, I would just say take a look at everything you’re doing. Make sure you’re working with your doctor on that, but it sounds like you’re really on top of these things.

Carl asks:

I currently live in Korea and I constantly have problems with sitting cross-legged, which is required not only for meditation but also needed for sitting in many restaurants. The pain is not from the knees but from the hips, psoas, lower back and hamstrings. Any recommendations for this?

Carl, first of all, yes there are some recommendations. The whole hip series in the Gravity Yoga Series that we teach is very effective. Blaster Pose, Butterfly Pose and Lightning Bolt, which is taught as a backbend but will be helpful as well. These are all really useful.

The truth is, what you’re doing, just sitting and being uncomfortable, is also very helpful. And so the practice of sitting, I lived in Asia for a number of years and I’m still there. I’m still in Thailand a couple months out of the year, so I’m very, very familiar with the situations that you’re encountering. As soon as you spend any time in most parts of Asia, you end up sitting on the floor a lot.

People think of Asians as naturally flexible. That’s not really the case. Asians living in Western countries are no more flexible than the Westerners living there. It’s just a lifestyle. So you grow up, and if you’re used to sitting on the floor without a chair, if you’re used to sitting in restaurants like you mentioned, if you’re used to going to temple or any number of things where there are no chairs, you learn to sit on the floor and it’s a way to open up your hips.

So I would suggest, Carl, do some stretches and also just be okay with being a little uncomfortable when you’re sitting in restaurants, and you’ll find that your legs will open up quickly. I know lots and lots of Westerners living in Asia who are really, really stiff all over their body, but they have opened up their hips and they can sit comfortably on the floor after living abroad for years, just because it becomes a necessity. So just doing it is effective as well, but take a look at Blaster Pose, take a look at Butterfly Pose and think about doing those two every evening.