Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Primal [Diet] Piety

For a period of over seven years, Seventh-day Adventism had a significant influence on my life. Though I never became a member of a Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church or agreed with some of the SDA distinctive doctrines, some of my closest non-family associates and friends were SDA. A distinguishing characteristic of SDA's is their endorsement of a vegetarian "Genesis" diet. Genesis 1:29, the fundamental passage for Genesis diets reads:

And God said: 'Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed--to you it shall be for food…

Following the unified narrative of Genesis chapters one through nine (the seven-day creation through the end of Noah's Flood), a progression is seen. In Genesis 1, before Adam and Eve are cursed with death, before they eat of the tree of knowledge, God gives explicit allowance for a plant-based diet. After the Fall, when Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise and given mortality, Genesis chapter 5 expresses that human longevity is in the hundreds of years with some like Methuselah living into their 900's. As Noah disembarks from the Ark, God establishes a covenant with him and his progeny. However, in this covenant allowance is given for the eating of meat. Note the following (Genesis 9:3-4):

Every moving thing that liveth shall be for food for you; as the green herb have I given you all. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.

Notice reference is made to the allowance in Genesis 1 for the "green herb" (1:30). Now humanity is given dispensation to eat animals, to eat meat. The Seventh-day Adventists and others note that human longevity suddenly drops after the introduction of meat into the human diet. Where Noah lived yet into his 900's, his near progeny, the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all only lived into their mid-100's. It is thought that the introduction of animal flesh into the human diet sped up the aging process because humans were not made to eat animals; they were made to eat a plant-based, Genesis-1 diet.

Due to the environment that I grew up in with mainstream media promoting low-fat diets and vegetarianism being idealized to minimize the risk of heart disease, it was no hurdle for me to be easily influenced by the Seventh-day Adventists and their "biblical vegetarianism" as reasoned above. I bought into this, and my first forays into healthy living were characterized with lacto-ovo vegetarianism with occasional accidental or intentional veganism. I lost a lot of weight. I felt healthy. I ran roughly thirty miles a week, and I began to lift weights at the gym. I lost a lot of weight.

Just over two years into my preference for vegetarianism, a preference bolstered by my kosher-only diet, and I was a bit of a health nut. My then three-year old daughter was having dietary problems, and we were able to source them to gluten intolerance. She needed to avoid grains, especially whole wheat—the cornerstone staple of the SDA Genesis-1 diet. This discovery was attended with a lot of books and articles on health, and through my research into raw-food diets I began to encounter paleo and primal diets that emphasized the human evolutionary diet of our hominid ancestors. I came to terms with the fact that the Agricultural Revolution was a late change in human diets, and the human body has not evolved to handle the increased sugars, starches, and grains along with the decreased bio-availability of vitamins and minerals. I came to the realization that not only my daughter but that I also had gluten intolerance. I discovered that gluten intolerance is common, especially in ethnic population groups that encountered wheat, barely, and oat (gluten-containing grains) later and at further distances from the epi-center of the Agricultural Revelation—the Fertile Crescent hence leaving them less time to evolve to gluten.

This model put my young-earth creationist timeline of Creation-Fall-Flood-Disbursement off kilter. In my young-earth model, humans were created recently with a proclivity for grains, fruits, and vegetables. The evolutionary implications of gluten intolerance made more sense to me than the Creation-Fall-Flood model. I learned further that meat-based, paleo or primal diets are extremely healthy and health-promoting. How could this be? These discoveries fit well into the mainstream scientific, evolutionary model in which humans evolved and in which meat was a cornerstone of human diets until very late in our history. These discoveries did not fit the expectations of the Genesis-1 diet.

There seemed to be few believers in my circles that I could discuss these implications with. Few seemed interested in learning about meat-based, primal or paleo diets, and none wanted to learn about how such diets offered better dietary benefits than the Genesis-1 diet. I felt as though I had circumscribed a significant body of knowledge that betrayed reconciliation with Genesis and that fit well into human evolution. This lead to some of my earliest realizations that human evolution was true.

Paleo/primal diets and gluten intolerance played a significant role in my migration away from young-earth creationism and toward my re-acceptance of evolution. Diets that emphasize minimal grains such as primal and paleo diets are still very much a part of how I try to live and eat healthy (when I try). Now as I have recently (last week) resumed a very low to no gluten diet, a diet that some would call primal, I am feeling better and am experiencing some needed weight loss.

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Jamie G. said...

Weird... I've been interested in the Primal/Paleo diet as of late as well.

I came about through my research into running injuries and how to be a better runner. I came across the barefoot/minimalist shoe camp and have been running in huaraches for a while, to great success. I ran across the paleo diet on a few of the bf/min. websites and blogs.

I also watched to recent documentary called "Fathead" about diet myths and such.

Peter said...

Yep, primal diets were part of the "in-my-face" information that confirmed evolution for me.

I am an advocate of eating healthy fats, and I try to eat a more calories from fat than carbs, though less than protein.

Do you run barefoot? I toyed with the idea for a while. i am just now one month back to the gym and some 30lbs over what I was when i was working out in 2009...got a little way to go.

Jamie G. said...

Yes, I started barefoot running/minimalist shoe running last year. I was suffering a terrible bout of ITBS. I started doing some strength training and came across the barefoot runners society, and Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run" book.

I don't run barefoot very often (I go barefoot around the house) because knowing all the stuff that gets on roadways (road tar, dead animal guts, vomit, grease, blood, etc.) I don't like getting that crap on the bottom of my feet.

I have been running in huaraches (Mexican running sandals) that I bought from invisibleshoe.com. I bought their do-it-yourself kit... absolutely LOVE them!!!

I'm also holding out to pick up a pair of Altra's Adams, a minimalist shoe that is to be released at the end of May.

Going minimalist has really helped my running form and keep me injury free. I can't recommend it enough.