When you hear the term “paleolithic diet,” it might conjure images of foraging for nuts and roots, gamey venison and raw fish. You might also picture emaciated, sodden people hiding out from woolly mammoths and sabertooth tigers.
In fact, it turns out that most residents of the paleolithic age were almost unanimously healthy. Scientists have found a noticeable lack of modern day ailments.
All of this led Paul Jaminet and his wife Shou-Ching Shie to begin exploring various ancestral diets, with the paleo diet being the most well-known, as a cure for various middle age ailments. They found that the paleo diet did help a number of health issues, but also exacerbated others. They combined their scientific backgrounds and modified the paleo diet for maximum efficacy, and the Perfect Health Diet was born.
Paul Jaminet took a moment to tell us about the diet, and also shared some tips for people practicing ancestral diets but still want to eat tantalizing whole foods that were around when people were still hunting glyptodon.
For people who haven’t visited, could you introduce us a bit to Perfect Health Diet? What inspired you to start the blog?
The Perfect Health Diet is an ancestral diet – meaning it is a natural whole foods diet of the kind eaten by our hunter-gatherer ancestors – that is optimized for nutrition. My wife and I got interested in diet as a result of our own chronic middle age health problems which doctors could not address. We discovered the Paleo diet in 2005, and found that it made some symptoms better but others worse by inducing nutrient deficiencies. So we started researching what the optimal amount of every nutrient was and identifying foods that would provide the optimal amount of every nutrient. It took us five years, but by 2010 we had fixed our own health problems and knew we had discovered something important that could help a lot of people. So we wrote a book and started a blog to spread the word and help others heal. It worked; thousands of readers have reported cures of their own health conditions.
Who is your main audience, and how does Perfect Health Diet meet their unique needs?
We are part of the ancestral health movement, which encompasses “Paleo,” “Primal” and other traditional ways of eating and living. But our audience has gathered people from all backgrounds and consists of a few hundred thousand people who want to be healthy and are interested in a science-based, proven, delicious way of eating and living.
What we offer is an approach to eating and living that is well adapted to the modern world; so it is easy and livable but extremely satisfying and healthful, because it is based on our ancestral, natural needs.
For people who aren’t aware, can you describe what the Paleo diet is? What are some health benefits of adopting the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet grew out of several observations. On the one hand, modern diets and lifestyles seem to be unhealthy in ways that older diets and lifestyles were not; thus, we have the obesity and diabetes epidemics, for example. On the other hand, archaeologists in the 1970s and 1980s were examining skeletons from the Paleolithic ages and finding that they were uniformly healthy; common modern ailments like osteoporosis evidently were extremely rare in the Paleolithic time period. It occurred to several researchers that until very recently, human ancestors had to hunt and gather their food; and so they ate natural whole foods instead of modern foods concocted in chemistry labs and often lacking micronutrition and fiber. They also spent much of their days in the sunshine actively hunting and gathering food, not sitting in chairs in dim offices. The thought naturally occurred that it might be healthier to eat and live in the Paleolithic manner – that we might be “adapted” to that lifestyle in a way we are not “adapted” to the modern lifestyle.
Then people began implementing various versions of a modern “Paleo” diet, and more often than not they found that their health did indeed improve. Word spread, people told their friends and family about this effective approach, and the movement has taken off.
We run an ancestral health retreat, the Perfect Health Retreat, and our guests often see health benefits in just a few days in the form of improved sleep, mood, and energy, as well as a start toward normalization of weight. Longer term, we’ve had many terrific health results from hundreds of diagnosed disorders, from obesity and diabetes to hypothyroidism to migraines and epilepsy to chronic fatigue to mental health disorders to constipation and digestive conditions and many more.
For people who subscribe to the Paleo diet, do you have any recommendations for what to do when dining out in restaurants? What are some things they can look for or substitutions they can make?
Generally speaking, the fancier the restaurant, the more healthful the food; so look for gourmet restaurants. Traditional cuisines like Thai or Japanese also tend to have great quality food as long as the ingredients are of good quality. We recommend substituting rice or potatoes for wheat, and butter or olive oil for vegetable seed oils. But for the most part, any meal made from natural whole foods in tasty proportions will be healthful.
You’ve got a lot of delicious looking recipes on your website, from Chilled Advocado Soup to Leg Of Lamb with Cinnamon Thyme and Fennel Rub. What have been some of the most memorable and decadent dishes you’ve encountered since beginning Perfect Health Diet?
My favorites are actually simple traditional dishes which acquire complex, delicious flavors due to the right selection and proportions of ingredients. For example, on our web site I would recommend Tom Kha Shrimp and Scallop Soup, a classic dish of Thai cuisine. Another is Bibimbap, the classic Korean dish of leftovers, which I have for lunch almost every day. Some dishes can be transformed in flavor by using bone stocks rather than water, as well as healthful flavorings such as vinegar, fish sauce, and grated aged cheese. In American cuisine, dishes are often a little lighter in fat than they should be, so adding a bit of sour cream or coconut milk can often improve a recipe.
What would you say to people who think that eating healthy means eating bland, flavorless food? What advice do you have for people who want to be healthy, but also want their food to be delicious?
That’s not true at all. Some authorities do recommend bland food as a weight loss technique – tasteless food discourages eating – but it is not particularly healthful. On the contrary, we evolved tastes and flavor preferences because those ingredients make us healthier; so delicious, satisfying food is what will be most healthful. Therefore, what we call “ancestral gourmet cuisine” is actually the best way to eat.
Do you have any advice for people looking for ingredients for the Paleo diet, especially if they live in more remote locations without access to a health food market?
If you have local farms or farmer’s markets or fishermen’s CSAs, that is a good place to start; they can help you eat “nose to tail.” Whole Foods and specialty butcher shops are also good sources of food, and often your butcher will special order food for you. If you don’t have local farmers, many quality farms now sell food over the Internet and ship on dry ice.
If you are on a budget, you can still find inexpensive food in most places. Potatoes are very cheap and are of good quality in all supermarkets. Buying less popular cuts can greatly reduce the price of meat; for example, from our local grassfed farmers, ribeye steak is $27 per pound but organ meats are only $3 or $4 per pound – yet they may be more healthful.
Wherever you buy, freshness is the biggest factor in the healthfulness of food. Organic food that is not fresh will not be as good as conventional food that is fresh.
If you have doubts about your food, use long but gentle cooking methods, such as simmering in water to make soups or stews, in order to optimize its healthfulness. Also, you may wish to briefly boil and discard water from less fresh meat to get rid of germs and toxins.
You’ve got a link to other bloggers who post recipes in accordance with the Perfect Health Diet. Where are a few of your favorite places to consistently find amazing food inspiration?
Sarah Atshan and Russ Crandall are two of my favorite food bloggers. But to be honest, my favorite place to find food is wherever my wife is cooking!
You wrote a post recently about your wife Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and how it may be exacerbated by mammalian meats such as beef, lamb, pork, and dairy. Could you briefly recap your findings?
It turns out that people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, which is autoimmune hypothyroidism, have antibodies to a special sugar found in the meat of mammals, but not fish, seafood, or birds like chicken or duck. There is reason to suspect that people with Hashimoto’s condition may benefit by reducing or avoiding beef, lamb, pork, and dairy and replacing them with fish, shellfish, chicken, and duck.
You’re holding the Perfect Health Retreat in May. What are some topics you’ll cover at that retreat?
We provide a comprehensive education about how to be healthy while in the setting of a luxury vacation. Over the course of one week, we provide science classes in diet, nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, gastronomy, and managing your health; movement classes covering everything from physical activity to relaxation and stress relief and healing; cooking classes; and personal health coaching. We provide delicious “ancestral gourmet” cuisine made by an elite chef. We are on a magnificent, almost-private beach in a warm season and have two heated salt-water pools, two hot tubs, and a beautiful setting. There is ample free time to enjoy the setting. We aim to give our guests all the knowledge, motivation, and experience they need to optimize their health and live long, successful lives.