Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
6 Jun

Which Fork Is for the Grubs?

Sometimes, I really miss the old days of tearing into mouthfuls of raw carcass and foraging for bulging grubs on the forest floor. Other days, it’s the memory of cliffside danglings in pursuit of a choice lingonberry that mists my eyes. In this era of vending machine manna from carb heaven and canned chemical sweetness and gleaming aisles of ever-sturdy trans-fat delicacies, living life on the primal side of health ain’t easy. Here’s how I cope.

What is Primal Health?

Last week I riffed at length about my passionate philosophy I’ve nicknamed “primal health”. Don’t worry – no grub ingestion required.

Quick recap: I believe human health issues – from nutrition to stress to weight loss to fitness – must be considered from a biological perspective. Our Primal blueprints – our DNA – tell us everything we need to know about optimal health. The reasons for my point of view are many, but primarily, I’m a biology buff and I love a bloody steak. To borrow an apt phrase I once overheard, if the cow stood in the sun, that’s cooked enough for me. (OK, OK, I’m kidding! I’ve gone years at a time without eating red meat.)

We’ve all heard the commonly asserted “fact” that humans are living longer than they ever have in history. You hear about people in the Middle Ages dying at 35, and early humans evidently fared even worse.

This is a little misleading. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, lived longer than most Americans do today – well into his 80s by most accounts. The reason people “back then” croaked so soon was because they had to worry about tribal wars, broken limbs, deficiency diseases and starvation. And because humans had recently decided it would be cool to live together in really crowded conditions – but hadn’t yet invented sewers – millions died from infectious diseases and plagues. It’s not as if the absolute human lifespan was any shorter than it is now. There just happened to be a lot more obstacles getting in the way of a decent lifespan.

Going back further, the earliest humans had to concern themselves with such pleasantries as ice storms and mammoths, and pesky campfire annoyances such as marauding wolves and tigers with four-inch teeth. But provided you (you’re now my proverbial early human) didn’t fall off a cliff, starve for lack of roots and berries, or become lunch for a predator, you could live a nice, long life not unlike people today. Those ice age ancestors were – to borrow a tech phrase – extremely robust. In fact, more than most of us today.

Which brings me to people today. We don’t have to worry about the elements, the animals, or starving to death (in this country, anyway). And it gets better: we don’t have to stress too much over broken limbs, infections and epidemics. The flu killed 50 million people just a few generations back. Now it typically kills a few thousand people every year – not a happy number, but certainly an improvement. However, I don’t think our high success rate, defined in terms of the majority of people making it to their 70s, is much of a success. I don’t want to “make it” – I want to relish every second. We “make it” by hobbling along with multiple drugs and surgeries, but are we really doing any better than the folks of yesteryear who had to deal with beriberi and scurvy? (Deficiency, by the way, is a problem right here in the United States, right now.)

We’re living longer, on average, but are we living better?

We have tremendous potential to harness our critical intelligence, myriad resources and powerful knowledge into a truly healthy society. But something’s been lost in translation. And the past, as represented in our DNA, offers clarity. As my contractor friends say, “When in doubt, refer to the blueprints.”

While I’m not advocating a diet of slimy grubs and still-steaming flesh, it is clear that humans evolved following some basic parameters:

- Diet: mostly raw, always whole, generally fresh foods.

Modern translation: meat, seafood, eggs, berries, roots, fruits, nuts and greens.

- Exercise in spurts: occasional cardio, but mostly walking, pushing, pulling, heaving, and hauling.

Modern translation: resistance training, weight-bearing activity, hiking, sports, yoga, stretching, pilates, walking.

- Appropriate stress response: “fight or flight” kept early humans alive and kicking (often literally).

Modern translation: address the stress of commutes, bills, and teenagers sensibly, because your body still thinks it’s fighting those mammoths, tigers, and wolves.

That’s how our DNA blueprints were drafted and, like it or not, that’s what our bodies still expect of us. How we choose to “adapt” to those primal instructions can determine whether we thrive and enjoy a long fulfilled life or whether we start down that slippery slope towards illness, depression and dependency.

In the coming weeks, I’ll address each of these issues specifically, offering my perspective, practical applications, and helpful references (including, of course, insightful scientific studies). Taking a walk on the primal side is actually incredibly easy, intuitive and natural. And I’ll show you how.

What are your thoughts? What lifestyle works best for you?

Further reading:

Most Popular Posts

My Carb Pyramid

My Thoughts on Carbs

My Thoughts on Fat

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Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. “To borrow an apt phrase I once overheard, if the cow stood in the sun, that’s cooked enough for me. ”

    Love it. My favorite reply when asked how would I like my steak cooked is
    “So a good vet could save it”

    Alan wrote on July 10th, 2009
  2. Since you advocate the primal diet and I have read on the blog (just found it last night) about other things that are used in the rest of the world, yet that are uncommon in America, I was wondering (the title of this blog got me thinking). If using modern day tribal groups as an example of some that are more like Grok than the average American, what ARE your thoughts on the consumption of things like grubs, insects etc? They seem to be used in the rest of the world as sources of food? Has there been any research that you’ve seen into it? Just wondering… if we’re the “weird” ones for sitting as opposed to squatting… aren’t we also going against the “natural” grain in excluding those sources? I can’t say I’ve ever looked much into it, nor do I feel the need to rush out and try some grubs… but I just had the thought since it was mentioned in this article with sort of a “Don’t worry, we wouldn’t do THAT” feeling to it (or that’s what I read). It made me flash to the squatting article where it mentioned we are the minority, yet think the rest of the world is “weird” for not sitting :-) None of this was written to be argumentative, so hope it didn’t come off that way…. just a thought that passed through my head as I read… Thanks.

    Rob wrote on September 23rd, 2009
    • Hello Rob – Eating insects for most westerners isn’t cost, time or stomach effective. But yes, bugs can be a good source of nourishment. Check out this article: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/edible-bugs/

      Thanks for your comment and for being a new reader. Come back often and tell your friends!

      Mark Sisson wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  3. Thanks for the reply Mark! I had searched “insects” on your blog to try not to post a question there was already an answer too… should’ve tried “bugs” too. Sorry! Thanks again for your time. Great Blog!!! Look forward to getting your book and learning more. Already signed my wife up for the newsletter too. -Rob

    Rob wrote on September 23rd, 2009
  4. I want to live and eat healthy could help with that and six packs exercises I can do in my room

    Albert Combie wrote on March 20th, 2010
  5. I’m not criticizing your diet or mentality.. but your referance to a “primal” and original diet. Diets of paleo humans were (obviously) radically different at different times in different places. I doubt paleo sub saharan africans ate much meat (in relation to fruits and greens) because large mammals (elephants, rhinos, hippos) are innedible, and small mammels (monkeys) hardly seem worth the calories with an abundance of greenery. and no grains because we didnt encounter grain until the middle east in human expansion. Like wise i doubt the paleo americans ate many veggies due to the fact that corn is the only native new world veggie and that took a long time to migrate up the sierra madres. In fact paleo americans dined mainly on large mammals (most of which are extinct, the buffalo and the bear i believe are all that survived). Not even delving into paleo eskimos and thier seal and whale blubber.

    Id recommend you read Guns, Germs and Steel. Your generalization of a “primal diet” doesn’t take in to account the real matters that affected our paleo ancestors: location, necessity, availability, consciousness of or whether the community in question is sedentary or not (did Aborigines farm veggies? nope)…

    and in regards to this history lesson Im a big fan of the zen buddhist diet or macrobiotics because it takes into account things like location and season, IE: *here in maine* I eat a potato in the winter because it keeps warm with all its starchy metabolism slowing wonder (local, root, earth, away from sun = Yin) and blueberries in summer (local, sun-reaching, metabolism speeding energy booster
    supplemented by deer, moose and bear based on availability. all balanced obviously

    Poops MacGee wrote on January 26th, 2011
  6. I have two (2) questions. 1) what, if anything, can take the place of sprinting? I can sprint in place on a rebounder, but not really spring. At 75, with a bum knee I literally couldn’t sprint to save my life. 2) Can isometrics take the place somewhat of weight lifting? Both isometrics and weight lifting raise blood press. I have controlled high bp.

    Richard wrote on September 5th, 2011
    • ^ one can sprint in the pool, either by simulating running/sprint mechanics in waist deep water (obviously with far less joint pain (this method I’ve found to be less taxing on ones resting heart rate), or one could practice simply swimming sets of short distances at a much faster pace, and focusing on using not only upper body, but lower as well. Explosive movement is key, but it does not simply have to be on land.

      Yosh wrote on September 20th, 2012

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