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Be lean for life - a quick primer on healthy shopping and how to eat like a caveman.

eat like a caveman

In the modern, developed world we’re presented with so many choices and options. Supposedly we’re better off than in the past because of this myriad of choices, options and varieties. I beg to differ, I think all it’s done is over-complicate our lives and turn making the simplest of decisions into massively stressful events. 

Sure, some extra options and varieties do better our lives, but do we really need 400 different types of cheese in our local supermarket, do we really need a hundred different cellphone contracts to choose from?

Nowhere is this modern over-abundance of choice and variety more evident than in our supermarkets and when it comes to buying food. 

If you’ve read my nutrition guide, “Secrets of Nutrition”, you’ll hopefully remember in Rule #5 I said, “if a caveman wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it.” 

I’m a big believer that we’d all be a lot better off health-wise, if we adopted the ‘eat like a caveman’ approach. A very popular diet, known as the Paleo (Paleolithic) diet has taken this 'eat like a caveman' approach to heart and has people eating only what they could find if they were 'living off the land', not farming it - things like meats, fish, nuts, leafy greens, vegetables and seeds dominate. Pasta, grains and cereals are avoided.

The rationale behind it all, is that for most of our history as a species we ate only what we could find. Agriculture is a recent thing (evolutionarily speaking) and our bodies have not yet figured out how to deal with the massive insulin spikes and metabolic changes that eating a lot of farmed grains causes - they're still genetically adapted to the caveman diet which has no grains. This is why so many people have weight problems these days...

For a more detailed explanation of why this is the case, check out the video below:

Whilst the remainder of this article is mostly about how to shop like a caveman so that you can more easily eat like one,
Steve Kamb from Nerd Fitness, wrote a very interesting blog post about eating like caveman and a beginner's guide to the Paleo diet, you can read it here should you like to learn more.

The basics of eating like a caveman.

Right, so seeing as good nutrition starts in the supermarket, you should also adopt the mantra, “If a caveman, wouldn’t recognize it, don’t buy it” the next time you go shopping.

Before you head out to the supermarket, try to put yourself in a caveman or cavewoman’s shoes, think, what kind of things would they recognize and pick out in the supermarket? 

Embrace your inner neanderthal before heading out, but don’t take it too far - nudity, dragging your girlfriend around by the hair and getting into territorial disputes with other customers in front of the frozen foods section is probably not a good idea…

Going barefoot and just generally looking wild and crazy is okay though, it might even help you get into character a little better.

Okay, enough,..... time to teach you:

How to shop like a caveman, so you can eat like a caveman.

Before you head out:

Plan your meals for the week and work out exactly what you need to purchase, make a list. 

You don’t want to unnecessarily go to the supermarket more than you have to – every time you’re just bombarded with things you’re tempted to buy and shouldn’t be eating. 

Plan ahead, make your list, get in, get what you need and then get out!

Also, make sure you go on a full stomach, this way you’re less likely to be tempted by things you really shouldn’t be eating, and you are less likely to make impulsive buys of those treats the supermarket managers so strategically place where you’re most likely to buy them.

While you’re there:

Stick to the outer perimeter of the supermarket, where the fresh food and produce is kept. The further you move in and the deeper you go into the aisles, the more processed and modified the food is. There are some exceptions to this though, like your healthy oils (olive oil, avocado oil etc) will be in the aisles, but for the most part, stay out of the aisles!

Your goal should be to buy food as close to its natural source as possible, as untouched or modified by man as possible. By sticking to the perimeter, where all of the fresh food is, you’ll be able to abide by this to a large extent. You’ll only find meat, fresh fruit, nuts, vegetables, quality starchy vegetables etc over there. 

Always opt for real, whole fruit, over juices. Juices contain far too much sugar. Our bodies were designed to eat the fruit, not the super-concentrated version of it found in juices.

There are some things that will always be modified a little, but ideally always go for things untouched or unaltered by man as far as possible. Have a look at the food, and if you can’t answer the question of where it comes from or how it was made, within a couple of seconds, don’t buy it.

Generally speaking, the longer the shelf-life of the food, the more processed and modified it is. Food that can perish quickly and requires refrigeration is generally less modified and better for you. 

Remember, cavemen did not have all the wussy food preservation techniques we have today.

Try to buy natural and organic produce where possible.

Now I know this is not always possible, either due to availability and cost (organic is always more expensive), but as much as your circumstances allow, always go with organic and natural produce.

There are big differences in the fat profiles of many animal products when you compare the fats found in modern, commercially raised animals to those found in free-range, naturally roaming animals. 

You’ll see that they have completely different make ups, and cannot be treated equally. Different rules apply to each of them.

If you are unable to go for organic, free range animal products, always go for the leanest meat cut possible and for the low-fat/fat-free options. If you can go for the organic version, don’t fuss as much about the fat content of these products, because the fats are far better for you and can actually be beneficial to your weight-loss goals.

To give you an example of how big of an impact, the difference in the composition of the fats from the two different types of animals can be, consider this:

In historical Eskimo populations, their consumption of animal fat was extremely high (whale and seal blubber were a large part of their diet). Up to 70% of their total calories often came from fat, a level which is considered far too high today. Yet, there was almost a complete absence of heart disease, type-II diabetes and obesity in these native populations.

When they were introduced to the modern western diet where the animals are raised on a commercial scale, the incidence of heart disease, type II diabetes and obesity rose drastically. The same trend has also been observed in many Pacific Islander populations, where they traditionally had diets extremely high in fat, yet showed very few negative health effects, and as soon as they were introduced to the commercialized western diet, they started to pick up whole glut of health problems.

The bottom line is, if you’re eating commercially produced animal products always go low or no fat, or go for the leanest cuts possible. If you’re going organic, then you needn’t worry as much, because the fat is totally different and might even be good for you (within reason obviously).

Okay, so to sum it up:

  1. Plan before hand, get only what you need, get out. Don’t wander aimlessly around the supermarket. 

  2. Always go on a full stomach to avoid impulse purchases.

  3. Stick to the perimeter, the fresh foods and produce section. Eat food which is as unmodified or as untouched by man as possible.

  4. Always go organic or free-range where possible.

  5. Grunt and make animal noises as you shop to help you stay in character. 

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