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Is Paleo Sustainable for 7 Billion People? | The Paleo Diet

Can our planet support 7 billion people following the Paleo Diet? We cannot dispute that there are negative environmental factors, such as excessive water and fossil energy use and large emissions of greenhouse gases, resulting from the standard process of agriculture and livestock farming. These methodologies make it seem unrealistic that even our current food production system can sustain our planet, let alone support the Paleo diet alone.

Obviously, no one wants to contribute to an ecological collapse. If 7 billion people adopted a diet higher in animal meat under the existing methods of production, it would continue to tax our planet. However, the rising numbers of diet related illnesses1 indicate that something has to change when it comes to how we produce food and how we choose to eat. Let’s take a closer look at how we can all participate in following a sustainable, environmentally friendly approach to the Paleo diet.

PURCHASE ORGANIC, PASTURED MEATS

We are truly what we eat. Although pastured meats cost more, this money is an investment in both the environment and your future physical wellbeing. If we suppose there is a greater demand for sustainable animal protein, then agricultural boards and organizations can provide more research and education to ranchers to reduce their use of water, pesticides, and feed grain. In turn, this may bring the price per pound down as it becomes more desired on grocery shelves.

Commercial livestock production stresses the land. However, with proper methodologies, ruminants can actually be benefactors to preserve ecosystems, produce food from inedible sources, restore soil fertility, and recycle plant nutrients. 2EAT THE WHOLE ANIMAL

Boneless, skinless chicken and tenderloins of beef taste good, but there is more to the animal than muscle to embrace on a regular basis. As previously covered in Offal, Not So Awful: Organ Meats and the Paleo Diet, our hunter-gatherers ancestors consumed the entire animal from nose-to-tail and recognized the wealth of nutrients obtained from the brains, liver, kidney, heart, blood, lungs, and all other visceral organs.4 The carcasses and bones can also be used to make rich, nourishing bone broths, and the fat can be used to make high-quality cooking oil.5 The whole animal offers minerals, nutrients, and calories to properly fuel our bodies, while also respects the food source where it came from.

EAT BUGS

Ingesting insects, or entomophagy, is probably completely off your radar and most likely more repulsive than eating organs. However, insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people in the world, including individuals in Mali who hunt and eat grasshoppers. There also existed a long history of insect eating 25-50% of North American tribes.6

Significant environmental benefits exist to support cultivating insects for food. They are highly efficient to produce. For example, crickets require only 2 kg of feed for every 1 kg of bodyweight gain, compared to the 8 kg a cow needs.7 Insects produce very little greenhouse gas, and can be cultivated on using very little water or land, such as an organic side-stream, which reduces environmental contamination.8 Insects are also a great source of fat, protein, vitamin, and minerals.9 Ease into the idea of eating insects by using cricket flour or cacao covered ants, which can be incorporated into your Paleo cooking.

If we evaluate the current food production system and dietary norms based on the rising levels of lifestyle related illnesses, the obesity epidemic, and the negative environmental impacts of farming, we can conclude that the entire system needs to change. The Paleo diet has been shown to reduce inflammation,10 improve waistlines, and regulate blood sugar and insulin response.11 We cannot afford to not choose the foods that best serve our bodies genetically, while also protect our planet.

 

REFERENCES

[1] WHO, Joint, and FAO Expert Consultation. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1990.

[2] Janzen, H. H. “What place for livestock on a re-greening earth?.” Animal Feed Science and Technology 166 (2011): 783-796.

[3] Cingolani, Ana M., et al. “Can livestock grazing maintain landscape diversity and stability in an ecosystem that evolved with wild herbivores?.” Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 16.4 (2014): 143-153.

[4]  Cordain L, Eaton SB, Brand Miller J, Mann N, Hill K. The paradoxical nature of hunter-gatherer diets: Meat based, yet non-atherogenic. Eur J Clin Nutr 2002;56 (suppl 1):S42-S52.

[5] Webb, E. C., and H. A. O’neill. “The animal fat paradox and meat quality.” Meat Science 80.1 (2008): 28-36.

[6] Available at: . Accessed on February 4, 2015.

[7] ATES, S., et al. “Performance of indigenous and exotic× indigenous sheep breeds fed different diets in spring and the efficiency of feeding system in crop–livestock farming.” The Journal of Agricultural Science: 1-16.

[8] Paoletti, Maurizio G. Ecological implications of minilivestock: potential of insects, rodents, frogs and snails. Science Publishers, Inc., 2005.

[9] Available at: . Accessed on February 4, 2015.

[10] O’Keefe, James H., Cordain, L. “Cardiovascular disease resulting from a diet and lifestyle at odds with our Paleolithic genome: how to become a 21st-century hunter-gatherer.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol. 79. No. 1. Elsevier, 2004.

[11] Ballard, K et al.Dietary carbohydrate restriction improves insulin sensitiv­ity, blood pressure, microvascular function, and cellular adhesion markers in individuals taking statins.Nutr Res.2013 Nov;33(11):905-12.

The Intentional Eating of Insects

Insectivory is the intentional eating of insects. It is common in many cultures around the world and likely contributed essential nutrition to our ancestors throughout evolution. Sound gross? Sure, at first, but many insects are very nutrient-dense and may be coming to a grocery store near you.

One component of the Paleolithic way of eating is “nose-to-tail,” which is to say that people should look to incorporate all parts of an animal (liver, kidney, heart, brains, feet, etc.) into their diet. But in reality: 1) many people do not do this; and 2) even those who do aren’t eating the whole animal. Possible exceptions to the latter: whole sardines and potentially, insects.

From an environmental sustainability perspective, insectivory is unmatched.

Many insects are a great source of protein, and are very rich in micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc, and the vitamins riboflavin (vitamin B2), pantothenic acid (B5), biotin (B7), and folate (B9).5 100 grams of caterpillars, or a little over 3 ounces, can fulfill almost the entire daily required amount of protein and vitamins. In a recent study, the nutrient composition of a variety of insects showed that cockroaches, beetles, flies, ants, moths, crickets, and many others could theoretically replace a great amount of the meat in our diet, while also providing more fibre.5 Some bugs, butterflies, and locusts have also been found to be rich in healthy fats.

While feeding studies in humans have yet to occur, one rodent study showed the protein quality in crickets was equal to or greater than soy protein, despite both being “complete” proteins.1 Furthermore, supplementing a diet of broiler chickens with 10-15% housefly larvae improved growing performance and carcass quality.2

OUR HISTORY WITH INSECTIVORY

One recent study discussed evidence of harvesting termites for food on artifacts from the Lower Paleolithic era in South Africa.2 It has been very difficult to assess this quantitatively,3 but Raubenheimer and colleagues suggest up to 20% of caloric intake may have been supplied by insects in some populations of hunter-gatherers.4

WHAT TO EXPECT?

Eventually, our grocery stores may start stocking bags of sustainably raised, organic insects. Some vendors, as you may have seen, are actually manufacturing protein and energy bars made with cricket flour. Is it for you? For many people, I suspect the “ick” factor will be strong at first, but if this movement gains in popularity, which I see no reason why it shouldn’t, it just might catch on.

William Lagakos, Ph.D.

William Lagakos, Ph.D.Dr. William Lagakos received a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry and Physiology from Rutgers University where his research focused on dietary fat assimilation and integrated energy metabolism. His postdoctoral research at the University of California, San Diego, centered on obesity, inflammation, and insulin resistance. Dr. William Lagakos has authored numerous manuscripts which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, as well as a non-fiction book titled which explores the concept of calories and simultaneously explains how hormones and the neuroendocrine response to foods regulate nutrient partitioning. He is presently a nutritional sciences researcher, consultant, and blogger.

References

1. Finke MD, DeFoliart GR, Benevenga NJ. Use of a four-parameter logistic model to evaluate the quality of the protein from three insect species when fed to rats. J Nutr. Jun 1989;119(6):864-871.

2. Hwangbo J, Hong EC, Jang A, Kang HK, Oh JS, Kim BW, Park BS. Utilization of house fly-maggots, a feed supplement in the production of broiler chickens. J Environ Biol. Jul 2009;30(4):609-614.

3. Lesnik JJ. Termites in the hominin diet: A meta-analysis of termite genera, species and castes as a dietary supplement for South African robust australopithecines. J Hum Evol. Jun 2014;71:94-104.

4. McGrew, William C. The ‘other Faunivory’ Revisited: Insectivory in Human and Non-human Primates and the Evolution of Human Diet. Journal of Human Evolution 71 (2014): 4-11. ScienceDirect. Web.

5. Raubenheimer D, Rothman JM, Pontzer H, Simpson SJ. Macronutrient contributions of insects to the diets of hunter-gatherers: A geometric analysis. J Hum Evol. Jun 2014;71:70-76.

6. Rothman, Jessica M., David Raubenheimer, Margaret A.H. Bryer, Maressa Takahashi, and Christopher C. Gilbert. Nutritional Contributions of Insects to Primate Diets: Implications for Primate Evolution. Journal of Human Evolution 71 (2014):59-69. Sciencedirect. Web.

7. Rumpold BA, Schluter OK. Nutritional composition and safety aspects of edible insects. Mol Nutr Food Res. May 2013;57(5):802-823.

 

 

 
 
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