Thursday, February 14, 2013


I'm excited to announce that I'm about to embark upon a bicycle tour around the world. This has been my dream for a while, and I can't wait to begin. I'll be blogging on another site about my adventures, so I've decided to put this one on hiatus.

Zack's Nutrition Facts has been a lot of fun for me to write. It started with a suggestion by friends, who were sick and tired of hearing me talk about the paleo diet all the time. It became a great way to examine, synthesize and share all that I discovered, as I explored new foods and experimented with new eating habits. Hopefully you've learned a few things and had a few laughs.

I may pick it back up when I return to the USA, and if I think of a worthwhile nutritional topic to discuss while I'm cycling, I'll definitely post it!

You can read about my bike tour here:

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Paleo Velo

Paleo, a diet steeped in anthropology, looks to early humans as a model for health, fitness and wellness. Paleo has also developed an unofficial but strong marriage with the CrossFit movement. So, in addition to all the nutritional guidelines, Paleo gurus have plenty to say about exercise and fitness.


In short, they say our current infatuation with carb-fueled, intensive cardio activity is bad for us. Even Mark Sisson, a former Ironman, rails against hard endurance training. Instead, we should mimic the exercise of cavemen, which involved a lot of moderate, sustained, low-level aerobic activity such as hiking, walking, swimming, and leisurely cycling. We should also practice short, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), such as CrossFit, to channel the evolutionary "fight-or-flight" response that our ancestors sometimes expressed.

Paleo / CrossFit style trainers go further to say that one can actually train with HIIT to practice for endurance competitions, such as centuries and marathons.

I'm both a CrossFit enthusiast and a cyclist, so this piece of the paleo puzzle has caused a lot of angst. I didn't want to give up my long, hard bike rides, but I also was making visible gains in CrossFit that translated into all other athletic venues.

My response was twofold. On one hand, I took the paleo experts with a grain of salt. I love going on long endurance rides and I believe I'm better for it. The human body is an adaptable machine, and I don't feel the need to temper these rides by keeping my heart rate within a confinement deemed "low" or "moderate" by the paleo authorities.

On the other hand, I've begun including a larger range of intervals in my heart rate, to great effect. Mountain biking does this naturally -- when you're cranking up a hill and you just can't keep going, once you stop you're usually punished by having to walk the rest of the hill. This threat gets me into my red zone better than any personal trainer or spinning class. On the road bike, I've borrowed Tabatas and Volume training from my CrossFit classes (although Tabatas were actually originally used for speed skating and cycling). This has improved my cycling performance and also makes rides more varied and fun.

They did invent the wheel, after all

And I don't think I'd ever do any time trials. The metabolic pathway of just pushing it at your lactate threshold for an hour doesn't have an appeal to me from an evolutionary perspective. Also, in a paleo context, I believe cycling is preferable as a fun and rewarding element within an exercise mix, or a seasonal focus, rather than one's main workout vehicle. (see what I did there?)


That said, I need me some CARBS on my hard rides. The whole idea that you can be fueled by fat necessitates the slow, long, moderate pace described by Mark Sisson in the link above. Before, during, and after a crank session, I need quick-burning fuel from carbohydrates.

I usually load up on sweet potatoes with a hardboiled egg or two, and maybe a banana before a ride. In The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Loren Cordain advocates drinking gatorade and other sports drinks during the activity, then eating high glycemic index foods like bagels and bread after. But is there a way to make these foods paleo, or at least more natural? I am a big fan of Clif-Shots, but they're basically all processed sugar. And although they're convenient, Clif Shots are expensive and the packaging causes a lot of waste. Is there a way to make a paleo clif shot?

I started with this fantastic Origin recipe recommended by a friend. I immediately noticed that the fat from the coconut oil provided a sustained energy baseline, which stabilized the peak-crash cycle of the sugar.

From there, I experimented by swapping the peanut butter for almond butter, and the barley malt for honey. This means the only non-paleo ingredient is the brown rice syrup, and as I've mentioned in previous posts, rice is a gray area for paleo dieters. It's definitely the most benign grain, called a "safe starch" by Paul Jaminet and condoned by Mark Sisson.

I tried to completely replace the brown rice syrup with honey, too. But it's too sweet, and in my case the high fructose content translates into less sustained energy on the bike versus the starch in the rice syrup.

Add in one or two Starbucks via packets, and you can even control the caffeine level in your energy gel, as you can with the Clif Shots. Plus, the coffee adds great flavor. You can store the gel in Coughlin's camping squeeze tubes. Voila!

Happy paleolithic cycling!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Perils of Soy

Anybody who reads paleo diet books soon learns the long and frightening list of problems associated with soy. I certainly got my quick education reading The Paleo Solution and The Paleo Answer. But as I began to understand the way my body reacted to certain foods, and came across more evidence, I started to doubt that legumes were the boogeymen the paleo community made it out to be. The thing is, legumes such as lentils and chickpeas certainly have their issues, but soy seems to be in a category of its own in terms of deleterious effects on health. (I'm studying for the GRE. Bear with me on vocab.)

I acquired more knowledge as I read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Kieth, for the purpose of my Paleo and Sustainability post. The book has long since been returned to the library, so I'm going off of memory, but I think you'll be alarmed by what you read below.

Historically, soybeans were used as a cover crop in Asian cultures. The plant was only eaten in small amounts, and it was heavily fermented into miso or tempeh and eaten with nutrient- and mineral-rich fish broth, which somewhat neutralized the toxins in the soy. 

Soy exhibits all the problems of legumes, which I discuss in my principles of paleo post, and then some. Soy contains the usual paleo suspects of anti-nutrients, which bind to vitamins and minerals and prevent absorption by the body; as well as saponins, which damage your intestinal lining. As if that's not bad enough, due to its unique characteristics and also because of its high levels of consumption as a modern dietary staple, soy goes far beyond these issues. First, soy is a goitrogen, and can (sometimes permanently) damage your thyroid. This has been observed widely among Asian cultures, as well as infant populations fed soy formula. Second, soy has phytoestrogens, which lock onto estrogen receptors in the body as well as block the production of estrogen. Phytoestrogens result in reproductive failure along with a host of other hormonal problems. According to Keith, there are hundreds of plants that contain phytoestrogens; soy is the only one humans eat.

The prominence of soy in vegetarian diets, along with other nutritional deficiencies, may play a significant role in the menstrual problems suffered by vegan women. In one study cited in The Paleo Answer, 78 percent of women put on a vegetarian diet stopped menstruating within 6 weeks. Keith cites similar studies linking soy to infertility, notes side-effects similar to birth control pills, and references her own experiences while on a vegan diet.

Keith also accuses soy of harming men's reproductive health, but only points to animal studies. This is shaky ground, so I won't go into any more detail here. But the fact that monks have historically eaten soy in order to reduce their sexual urges, provides enough evidence for me to steer clear.

Soy has been shown to cause accelerated brain aging, reduced cognitive ability, and a heightened risk for Alzheimer's disease.

Soy-based infant formula is deficient in several key nutrients, and results in poor health and potentially permanent reproductive problems. Keith discusses how, due to successful marketing efforts and low-bid government contracts, children in the poorest populations both in the US and abroad receive the highest doses of these toxic soy formulas.

What about the theory that soy can reduce the risk of breast cancer? What about prevention of osteoporosis? According to Keith, these are the result of Big Ag twisting research to bolster unproven theories, and attempting to link together unproven hypotheses.

Lastly, almost all soybeans today are genetically modified, and if that's not enough, soy-based foods (from soymilk to that yummy-looking vegan "pepperoni pizza" in the frozen food aisle) are some of the most heavily processed frankenfoods the industry has synthesized to date. These features alone make soy a very fitting sort of paleo antichrist.

My mouth is watering

Even prominent vegan nutrition gurus steer clear of soy, including Brendan Brazier, the author of Thrive. This should provide encouragement to vegetarians and vegans who have made soy the mainstay of their diet.

Since learning all this about soy, I've certainly begun monitoring the ingredients lists of the foods I eat. I've found that -- almost without exception -- if it's processed, then it contains soy. Before paleo, my day sometimes consisted of Kashi Go-Lean cereal in the morning, a Clif Builder's bar as a snack, a tofurkey sandwich, and then some steamed edamame after they gym. I've cut most of this out, but still enjoy a Clif bar during a bike ride once in a while.

Full disclosure, of course: there is plenty of dispute in the nutritional world on soy. Just google "soy problems" and you'll see plenty of experts touting the benefits of soy, along with a slew of indictments. Based on what I've read and what my body tells me, I try to avoid soy at every turn.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yogurt, Vegans and Insects

I've had a bit of a lapse since my last post. I've been out of town every weekend, mountain biking and camping while the temperatures are still warm. Several people have requested the post about soy that I've been promising, and it is coming soon. But here is a brief one on a few topics that have come to my attention over the past month.

Vegan vs. Paleo

After I published the Paleo and Sustainability post, I found a couple great resources on the benefits of a vegan diet relative to paleo. The Wodcast Podcast is an "irreverent, hilarious take on the crazy world of CrossFit," and they recently interviewed a few vegan crossfitters. You can find the podcast here, or find them on Facebook or iTunes. One of the interviewees, Danette "Dizzle" Rivera, writes a great column on Breaking Muscle.

In a community that has been teased for cult behaviors, the Paleo fixation is arguably CrossFit's most cultish element. (Except for maybe the infatuation with lululemon). Indeed, some CrossFit coaches go as far as to refuse to train vegans. So it's refreshing to see CrossFitters breaking the mold and following a different dietary path, even if it's one I don't agree with. 

My sister also forwarded me an excellent article, bringing together some of the strongest minds from the paleo and vegan worlds. Here's the link; the page also has a few great live interviews. After reading the perspectives of IronMan Brendan Brazier, I'm looking forward to reading his vegan nutrition book, Thrive. As Dizzle Rivera said, vegans and paleo dieters have more in common than they may realize.

Insects: The other, other, other white meat 

Maybe the answer to a paleo-vegan compromise? I read an interesting article in Sierra Club Magazine recently, about how insects are not only healthy, they're highly sustainable. Insects are "high in protein, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc, and they're low in fat. Economical too: A pound of feed produces at least five times more cricket protein than beef protein, and while you can eat only about half of a cow, you can eat almost all of a bug." (I don't know whether this cow "feed" is grass or corn; it's probably the latter. Still, I bet crickets are more economical to produce).

What's more, growing insects requires far less land and water and produces no excrement, drawing far less on our resources.

Many people know that insects are considered a delicacy in parts of the world. But reading the paleo blogs, I've found that, not surprisingly, a significant portion of caveman nutrition may have come from insects. The paleo diet is about health -- not re-enactment -- but if it makes sense on so many other levels, why not?

Here's some further reading, for those interested.

Yogurt - it didn't work for me.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, it has been a challenge for me to gain and maintain muscle mass on a paleo diet. It's the same reason people see great weight loss results with paleo -- it's hard to overload on calories when eating naturally-raised meat, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables. These foods are more satiating than grains and sugary foods, i.e. they make you feel fuller for longer. They also don't mess with your insulin levels, which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, and leave you craving more.

I already try and eat starchy carbohydrates (including grains) in the evening with dinner after workouts, when my muscles are most primed to receive the calories. But to further meet my carbohydrate needs, I tried introducing grains in the morning as breakfast. Whether it was Kashi Autumn Wheat cereal, oatmeal, granola, or even quinoa, I felt bloated and gassy after eating. Not the best state to be in at the office. So I tried embarking on a different breakfast path: Yogurt.

There are several paleo gurus who tout raw, fermented dairy as a great nutrition source that is free of the problems associated with regular milk. Chris Kresser, Mark Sisson, and Sebastian Noel maintain this viewpoint. Even Robb Wolf, in an interview with Muscle Mag, said that dairy from grass-fed animals is "kind of a gray area," and could be a useful staple for hard-gainers. Then there's the GOMAD diet (gallon of milk a day), which is proclaimed as the most efficient way to gain mass.

While researching, I discovered that -- due to beneficial bacteria (probiotics) that predigest lactose -- yogurt can often be consumed by people who are otherwise lactose intolerant. But yogurt still offers the calories, protein and growth hormones of regular milk. So I figured I'd give it a shot. Every morning, I had 8 oz of whole milk yogurt with chopped fruit, a couple teaspoons of honey, and a handful of flaxseeds, which gave it a great crunchy "granola" texture. I tried several different styles, including European and Greek, over the course of about 3 weeks.

It didn't work out. Sometimes I was ok for a day or two, but usually by the third day I would have an achy stomach and diarrhea. I would take a couple days off and try it again, and experience the same results.

MAJOR TMI ALERT: Seriously, skip this paragraph if you don't want to be grossed out. Grandma, I'm talking to you! Every time I had yogurt for breakfast, even if I didn't have full-blown stomach pains or diarrhea, I felt like I had to work just a little harder throughout the day to keep my anus shut. With that came the occasional "sharting" false alarm. Luckily I didn't have any non-false alarms, but I realized this was the norm for me before starting paleo and going off dairy. Sorry, biceps, but I'm not going back to that existence for the sake of gaining muscle. Paleo poops are my favorite part of the paleo diet.

So, in conclusion, I have confirmed I'm completely 100% lactose intolerant. I'm happy to bend the paleo rules for legumes and grains, and I do so often. But I'm staying away from dairy in any form. I've replaced the yogurt in the breakfast I mentioned above, with So Delicious cultured coconut milk. This has worked well for me the past month or so, and I'm moving this yummy meal to an after-dinner dessert as I begin another round of intermittent fasting. 

Again, though, if you can tolerate yogurt, it could be a beneficial part of your diet routine.

Thanks for reading. More to come soon! ...once it gets too cold to bike, that is.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Paleo and Sustainability

Ok, I know what you're thinking. This is really darn long. I sat down and before I knew it I had a frickin' novella on my hands. But this is good stuff, I promise. It's a topic that has received far too little attention from the Paleo community. I think you'll be glad you read it. Oh, and publishers, please contact me directly if you're interested in signing me for a book deal :) 

Paleo and Confused

It used to be so simple. Like many left-leaning college-age kids, I was spoon-fed the conventional wisdom that a vegetarian diet is optimal for health, animal welfare and the environment. I read the PETA brochures being handed out in the quad and began a series of attempts at vegetarianism. My sentiment would get a boost from time to time after acquiring new material, such as my hippy ex-girlfriend's copy of Eating Animals. Before moving to the Southwest, I was for the most part pescatarian, meaning I ate seafood but no meat. Living in New Mexico, far away from any fresh seafood but close to local, humanely raised grass-fed beef, I rethought the equation a bit but still kept all animal products fairly minimal.

But I ate these animal products because I had a weak will and a passionate love for surf-and-turf. I wasn't strong enough to go with my family to Ruth's Chris and order the vegetable medley while everyone else chomped down on filet and ribeye. And yet, I still knew that a vegetarian or vegan diet was ideal: respecting animals, feeding the world's population, and achieving the best health and fitness possible. Back in college, my best friend's girlfriend (now his wife) was vegan, and she was in great shape and seemed perfectly healthy. Everything jived, and the environmental-fitness-humane paradigm worked: The fewer animal products I consumed, the better, across the board.

It's not so simple anymore. I've opened up a Pandora's box of nutritional knowledge, and in doing so have become aware of my own ignorance. I know a lot more about the importance -- indeed the essentiality -- of animal fat and protein. Based on anthropological and contemporary scientific evidence, I have grown more and more convinced that the human body has evolved over millions of years to thrive off of eating animals, and that it suffers greatly when deprived of this nutrition source. Plus, I feel so much better when I cut out dairy, minimize grains, and center meals around animal protein, and thousands of paleo dieters agree.

In other words, my whole paradigm is all kinds of F'd up!

My philosophical standpoint 

Before I dive into this conundrum, I think it would be helpful to provide my general philosophy on eating animals, which I believe is as true today as it was before I discovered the paleo diet. First, I am not opposed to the domestication and slaughter of animals, because I believe animals (besides pets and those in zoos) would be killed violently in the wild anyway. They're certainly not passing away peacefully surrounded by loved ones. In fact, some argue that animals domesticated humans just as much as humans domesticated animals. I AM opposed to any inhumane treatment an animal receives before its death. I define "inhumane treatment" as any unnecessary pain or discomfort caused to the animal and any deviation from a natural diet and lifestyle. I am not opposed to hunting, and I would hunt and kill an animal before ever condoning factory farming. I believe that before the industrialization of livestock, in our long history of animal husbandry, domesticated animals were most often honored, well-cared for and treated with respect. 

I also want to eat food that, calorie for calorie, contributes the least to environmental devastation and climate change. So if it takes 11 times more fossil fuel to produce meat protein than plant protein, and 40 to 100 times more water to produce beef than wheat, then I take into consideration how my food choices are contributing to our environmental crisis, and whether these food choices could support a global population hurdling towards 7 billion.

Lastly, of course, I want to eat food that contributes to my health, fitness and longevity. And that's what Zack's Nutrition Facts is about, so no further detail needed here.

The Vegetarian Myth


So luckily there's a book about this exact subject! It's called The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Whenever I quote in this post, assume it's this book. I found out about the book in an unfortunate manner: Paleo dieters chastising vegans on the Paleo forums. I've encountered a lot of paleo sheep (in the figurative sense, that is) waving off vegans who have questions and interest in a veg-style paleo diet. These paleo cyber-bullies generally say, "Just read The Vegetarian Myth, then you'll understand," as if the book somehow puts to rest all the dispute about food justice and sustainability. I don't want to do that here. As you'll see, I have compliments for the book, as well as some criticisms.

Lierre Keith can be described as a radical, militant eco-feminist. She was a vegan for 20 years. During this time, two things happened: First, her health disintegrated to the point where she couldn't stand upright for more than a few minutes. Second, she began gardening and exploring "Vegan" agriculture, realizing it's utterly impossible to produce any food without the help of animals or fossil fuels. These two elements frame the entire book.

My take on The Vegetarian Myth can be summed up as: Great idea, poor execution. As this thoughtful review points out, Keith cites many references from the internet, and even Wikipedia. Especially in the nutrition section, there isn't much original research and there are few references to original studies. It's more a clumsy amalgation of other authors, whose credentials may be questionable. Plus, there are more "ibids" in the endnotes than a college political science paper written by yours truly the night before the due date with a hangover. I will say, though, that Kieth goes into more detail than I've seen on the perils of soy, which will be the subject of my next post.

My other qualm with the book is a general arrogance towards vegetarians and vegans. I would have liked to see an ex- twenty year vegan take a nurturing, helpful and compassionate tone instead of a holier-than-thou attitude toward her former cohorts. I bet a lot of curious vegetarians were turned off.

The philosophical sections, on the other hand, are original and thoughtful. Keith makes several brilliant points that truly shake -- if not collapse -- the moral high ground of vegetarians and vegans. I summarize the most relevant of those points below. They are all somewhat related derivatives of the same general idea: animals comprise a necessary, integral piece of the moral and sustainable puzzle. 

1) Annual monocrops (the species of plants that live for one year, deposit seeds, and then die) comprise the basis of agriculture itself, and they are devastating to the environment. They require the constant clearing and re-clearing of natural, perennial habitat (think old-growth forests, prairies, wetlands). The process of plowing and tilling destroys topsoil, sucking it dry of its life and nutrients to the point that only synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufactured from fossil fuels can create growth. In agriculture, all native plant and animal species are treated as intruders -- pests that must be destroyed. Further, the water demands of these annuals result in drained rivers and depleted aquifers. Keith asks vegans a direct question: how many species of animals have gone extinct, and how many rivers have gone dry, due to the spread of these annual monocrops?

I sat in an activist conference. We were radical, righteous, and wrangling over food. The conference had served only vegetarian meals, but a growing number of us found that inadequate. Was there room for a range of options? No, because innocent animals shouldn't have to die. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, there was a whole shelf of lettuce in the fridge. Where was it grown? Who knows, besides far, far away. Probably California's Central Valley, where the waterbirds were once so thick over the Sacramento River that they blocked out the sun. But the river and its wetlands have been bled to death for agriculture, to grow lettuce, tomatoes, artichokes: non-violent, vegetarian, inherently more sustainable than animal source foods. Or such was the stand taken by my comrades.

...What can feed humans on twelve inches of rainfall a year? Extend the question with the clause: without destroying such a brittle environment? A brittle environment with a river running through it? Why go through all the trouble of damming up and destroying a river, a river dense with fertility and food, and then all the work of planting onions and alfalfa and wheat, when you could just sit back and wait for the fish, year after year from now until forever? Is this insane, or is it just me?

Keith goes on to blame agriculture for all the world's problems, and call civilization the root of all evil. While she makes good arguments, I don't see it as black-and-white as she does, and we disagree on the nature of progress and the beneficial aspects of civilization. But then, I'm a white American male, not an impoverished female servant in Cambodia. But I digress.

2) Properly raised meat is not the environmental nightmare I thought it was. According to VegFam, a 10 acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle. The nutritional deficiencies of the above foods notwithstanding, let's look at the bigger picture regarding those two cattle. As I discuss above, growing monocrops requires the wholesale destruction of native habitat and the death of the remaining topsoil. Without animal manure, monocrops also require fertilizer made from fossil fuels and a great deal of water. These monocrops are then shipped to a feedlot and fed to cattle, whose manure is considered a waste product that needs to be disposed.

Wendell Barry describes this process with a brilliant quote: "Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm — which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems.

But what if you take annuals out of the equation, and go back to the one solution described by Berry? The above VegFam stat assumes grain-fed cattle. (I talk about the ridiculousness of grain-fed livestock, the foundation of factory farming, in my budget post.) On ten acres of land, Joel Salatin, one of the "high-priests" of sustainable farming, can produce 3,000 eggs, 1,000 broilers (chickens), 80 stewing hens, 2,000 pounds of beef, 2,500 pounds of pork, 100 turkeys, and 50 rabbits. All while restoring the topsoil. Only the chickens get some supplemental grains; all other animals eat grass -- native, perennial grasses that cannot be digested by humans. According to Keith, this totals 6,800,050 calories, which can fully nourish nine people, without counting the organ meats and nutrients from bone broth. It's not the 60 people that soy can supposedly (mal)-nourish, but it's much better than just two from grain-fed beef.

What about water? Again, the stat that it takes 40 to 100 times more water to raise cattle than wheat only holds up in a grain-feeding scenario. Taking the average water consumption of pastured cattle, days to reach market weight, and pounds per cow (not even counting the useful fat and bone trimmings), Keith calculates that a pound of pastured meat requires only 122 pounds of water.  But that pound of beef contains almost twice the calories as a pound of wheat. At this point, beef and wheat are about even in terms of water needs. But the meat contains essential protein and fat nutrients that aren't found in wheat, and the meat originates from a natural perennial habitat rather than a clear-cut agricultural wasteland propped up by nitrogen fertilizer.

In sum, pastured livestock can convert the cellulose found in naturally occurring grasses -- which humans cannot digest -- into high quality digestible protein. All while fertilizing the ecosystem with manure. This is not the environmental plague that vegetarians associate with meat production.

3) Someone has to die for you to live. It's the circle of life. I've never questioned this basic tenet of the universe, and have focused my grievances not on animals' deaths but rather on the manner the animals were treated during their lives. Vegetarians and vegans, though, don't believe animals should have to die for their sustenance. They try to force this philosophical ethic onto nature, but nature is not willing to negotiate.

Keith recounts a visit to a vegan farm. She saw the operation as a noble but doomed attempt to create sustenance from the land, without the domestication or consumption of any animals. It is a chilling anecdote of malnourishment and forced compromises with an unwavering planet. The farm's produce was so delicate that nobody was allowed to walk on the grass. The farmers apologetically explained they need birds for nitrogen-rich manure, pigs and goats to clear the land, and draft horses for sustainable logging. Every meal consisted of some form of bread and lettuce, and the bread was sourced from grains imported from 2,000 miles away. All the workers were emaciated, slouching from muscle-wasting. Contrast this dark image with a normal, self-sustaining farm that values and utilizes animals as an integral and logical part of the ecosystem. 

According to Keith, some vegans actually want to feed their dogs and cats -- carnivores by nature -- a vegetarian diet. Some vegans dream of creating a fence across Africa, separating the carnivores from the herbivores so no innocent animals are eaten, ignoring the simple fact that the carnivores would immediately starve and the herbivores would overpopulate, all while the land on both sides would die. This sentiment just doesn't jive with the natural order of life.

Keith goes into detail in many other ways, with an extremely interesting account of her own failed attempts at vegan gardening, to make the one overall point: Nature is brutal, and nature isn't sympathetic to our idealism. Life requires death.

My thoughts on Paleo and Sustainability 


Can I rejigger my paradigm and retain my identity (or at least hang onto the farce of this identity)? Can I still be a Gym Rat-Paleo-Hippy-Bikeriding-EnviroDude? Or to put it another way, can I repair the hole in my Bro-zone layer?

The Vegetarian Myth provides a starting point. Now, railing against agriculture and civilization as we know it is pretty ambitious. But Keith is a radical, and good on her for fighting the good fight, damn it! However, I'm more realistic (read: complacent). What I got from her book is to keep things local. "What grows near you?" is the question she asks often, and the one you should be asking. Here in New Mexico, the Farmers' Market sells beef. In New Orleans, it sells shrimp. Neither of them (nor any farmer market I've ever heard of) sell grain. It's not a difficult concept, and with some foresight and planning I will strive to keep my diet paleo and local at the same time.

Can we feed the world on a paleo diet? Probably not. But we can't sustainably feed the world on a vegetarian diet either. Thanks to fossil fuels, we've exceeded the Earth's carrying capacity, and we may be screwed either way. But The Vegetarian Myth shows how it may in fact be more environmentally friendly to eat a local, organic and, yes, meat-containing diet, than a diet based on annual monocrops. The latter is an oil- and coal-powered war against the land, while the former is the well-oiled solar-powered food machine we've had for millenia.

These conclusions are far from certain. Keith's book is a great starting point, but more study and discourse are needed to show whether a paleo-locavore diet is indeed better for the Earth. This uncertainty and lack of evidence, though, won't keep me from staying Paleo. Why? Because I am fortunate to have great control over what goes into my body, while I have just about zero control over the behemoth that is global environmental politics. I sure as heck am not going to sacrifice my health to make a muted environmental statement. 

What about animal welfare? As I've mentioned, I'm all about humanely-raised animals. The paleo diet encourages pastured meat, which is not only healthiest but also best for the environment. There are certainly paleo dieters who think it's fine to eat factory-farmed meat pumped with antibiotics and hormones. Let me be clear: they're doing it wrong.  

I've read in the past that to be a vegetarian is to intellectually evolve, to transcend our brutish, violent existence that includes the need to kill for sustenance. I understand and applaud this sentiment, but there are real, concrete problems with taking your consciousnesses and conscience beyond nature's state of affairs. This is not only true for the planet, whose various ecosystems thrive off of the intricate and sometimes violent interaction between animals, plants and all other forms of life. It is also true for your body, which has evolved to eat animals and -- try as you might -- won't be evolving any further in your lifetime.

As for the nutritional side, I don't think there's any question about the inadequacies of a vegan diet. (contrary to some of the paleo blowhards, I think the lines are more blurry for a vegetarian diet). Keith describes her physical disintegration that came about due to a vegan diet, and her work with a doctor who specializes in recovering vegans. Personally, my friend's wife notwithstanding, I've run into quite a few vegans and they all look pale and sickly, with an alarming lack of muscle tone. Being vegan requires nutritional supplements to ensure the bare minimum in health, such as Vitamin B12, an essential nutrient only found in animals. If this is the case, could cavemen have been vegan? No. We are humans and our bodies require animal nutrients, plain and simple.

So, paradigm salvaged? Not quite yet. There are two chinks in the armor in this Enviro-Paleo premise. First, eating at restaurants gets a lot tougher. If I'm traveling or eating out, and the restaurant serves only factory-farmed meat, do I order a vegetarian dish -- say the soy burger or the fettucini -- and pay the gastrointestinal price? Do I break out a few cage-free hardboiled eggs from my bag? Or do I put my principles where the sun don't shine and order the steak? I would like to think I'd do one of the former, but experience proves different.

Second, I like to work out. It's a huge part of my life. To maintain this lifestyle, I'm literally eating for two at 4,000+ calories per day. Moreover, I strive to gain muscle for no reason other than to have a body that is attractive by our society's standards. While it's certainly a "paleo" behavior to try and look fit so as to better attract a mate and maximize chances of reproduction, it's not like I'm a fireman whose strength could be the difference between life and death. Is this much exercise justifiable on a planet strained for resources, where one in four American children go to bed hungry each night? If I cut back on exercise, I could reduce my caloric requirement and commensurate burden on the Earth. I'm fully aware that the choice between vegetarian and paleo is dwarfed in significance by the choice to exercise more and eat accordingly.

Stephen Colbert has a wacky take on produce abuse

Unfortunate but true


Can you be a Paleo Vegetarian? 


You can't be both completely, but you can certainly combine the best of both worlds. Below I list the options for vegans or vegetarians looking to better their health while still honoring animals and the Earth. I list them from worst to best.
  1. Vegan. There's not really much I can offer here. Please consider options to incorporate some humane and sustainable animal nutrition into your diet. But if you're truly in good health, who the heck am I to lecture you? 
  2. Ovo-Lacto Vegetarian. If you're doing Ovo-Lacto, I would suggest eating as many Omega-3 fortified eggs as you can handle. At least a couple per day. As long as you are minimizing refined carbohydrates and grains, and eating plenty of vegetables, your cholesterol levels should be stellar. In fact, your body internally produces 80% of your cholesterol, which is an essential building block of your cells. If you consume more cholesterol from outside sources, then your body will down-regulate the amount it produces. Learn more here. And, by all means, get your blood tested regularly to monitor it. I do. Also, if you can tolerate dairy, try to consume fermented and cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, which seem to be more beneficial than regular milk.
  3. Pescataleoterranean. This could be a great sweet spot for vegetarians. It incorporates the best of paleo, vegetarian, and the Mediterranean diet. In fact, I'll admit this is where my own dietary preferences lie, and definitely where I would be if I lived in a coastal area with access to fresh local seafood. Avoid grains and dairy, but don't kill yourself unless you have an intolerance. Emphasize fruits, vegetables, eggs and legumes (but stay away from soy). To the degree you are comfortable, ensure that wild caught, certified-sustainable seafood is part of your daily routine. Sardines are fantastic for this: They're packed with nutrients, reside at the bottom of the food chain, and have stable populations. And they're delicious. I've recommended Wild Planet in the past, but my new fave is Bela.
  4. Strict Paleo. Like I said, I'm probably somewhere between 3 and 4. The two are really on par with one another, in my opinion. In my post on the Principles of Paleo, I describe how properly prepared legumes, such as lentils, may not be all that horrible. I do eat red meat and poultry, but have a personal preference towards seafood.
Phew, that was a long one. I hope this post provided some insights. This took me an entire Sunday to write. I've had so many ideas floating around my head for so long; it was good to get it all off my chest.

Stay tuned for future posts on Paleo and Cycling, and The Perils of Soy!!