Keith's food intake in 2008

(This page updates my ideas and practices on food since 2002-03)

Highlights (listed alphabetically)

Alcohol Grains Plastics Supplements
Beans Groceries Potatoes Taking time
Cheese Herbs Preparing food Vegetables
Chocolate, coffee Legumes Quantities FAQ for this page
Compromises Lifestyle Recipes  
Dairy products Meat Salt Answers to questions
Evolution Mental life Sources of food  
Fruit Milk Storing food  

Introduction: Remember three things as you read through the following. First that the optimal human diet is fundamentally a question of human biology and that "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" [1]. Secondly hold in your mind the Evolutionary Health Principle [2]. In terms of optimal diet, the simplest way of thinking about it is to adopt a chaotic approach, stress[ing] the removal of variables (agricultural diet, sedentary lifestyle) that aren't part of the body's "initial conditions - naked with a sharp stick on the African savanna"[3]. Thirdly, that food intake and physical activity have a variety of interacting effects on the human body, particularly the endocrine system (hormones); we each have one body, not 'body A' affected by the food we eat and 'body B' affected by the type and frequency of our physical activity. (See the 'Reflection on activity and diet' here .)

None of the following is prescriptive: it's just how I live now and the reasoning behind my current choices. Don't expect to find the following totally 'pure palaeo', but it is a truthful and fair representation - we all make compromises as we live with others under a dominant, non-palaeo cultural hegemony. (As evidence that the following is direct and unvarnished, I refer you to the first picture of myself on this page - not the sort of pic you'll find on many other websites whose owners espouse their own healthful lifestyle!)

There is no typical day, but a couple of recent actual days after 8 years living this way are outlined at the foot of the page.

Meat: all red meat (beef, lamb [10], kangaroo, goat - including organ meat) is organic - more Palaeo than what Canada and US call 'grass-fed'. I check with suppliers that the animals roam free, pasturelands that are not artificially fertilized and are not grain finished or fed antibiotics or homones as growth-promoters. I look for 'organic' and 'bio-dynamic' as a guide and take it from there in discussion with the supplier or grower. I also eat fish about once a week and eggs from my own chickens - and the chickens themselves. I eat bacon that has no nitrite/nitrate and comes from free-range pigs.

Examples: (a) Back in September I bought a dozen 8 week-old chickens; 5 turned out to be male and I killed, dressed and ate them as soon as they began crowing (in their fifth month, November). (b) The seven remaining chickens have begun laying and I eat about 35 (mainly small) eggs a week at present. (c) Last week I rang an organic butcher in town and asked him to put aside for me 3 kg of suet; I rendered it and used it to make pemmican. (d) This week a local bio-dynamic farmer brought me 10 kg of biodynamic lamb through the local farmers' market. (e) I feed my chickens fresh meat and greens every day, supplemented with grains (wheat, oats and sunflower - grains are not a natural staple for chickens any more than they are for primates [including humans] or livestock) and 'layer pellets'. They have a large run and can scratch for insects and worms in the 12" deep moist litter, dust-bathe in the sun and shelter in the leafy shade. (f) Occasionally acquaintances and hosts seem to think I give the impression i can't do without red meat; in fact I'm happy to go without a meal or two, though this is difficult for hosts to accept with equanimity.

Fruit and vegetables: all my fruit, vegetables and herbs are fresh and raw. None are frozen, tinned or in any other way preserved or processed, though I know some producers or wholesalers add chemicals to the air around fresh fruit and vegetables to retard the natural ripening and the decaying processes. I buy my fruit in small amounts rather than storing them for days. I know the stocking cycles of my greengrocer so I buy when the produce is at its freshest. For grapes I prefer dark red varieties with pips as I want to chew and eat the pips.

Vegetables and herbs: almost all my vegetables and herbs are from my garden: I have 100 square metres for vegetables and this ensures everything is both fresh and in season. I don't use any pesticides other than snail pellets.

Examples: (a) My salad last night contained cress, three varieties of lettuce, chives, two varieties of corriander, rocket, wild rocket, beetroot leaves (two varieties) and grated carrot. There is basil, endive, parsnip, and more varieties of carrots, lettuces, onions and celery maturing as well as 19 varieties of tomato. (b) Although I have a salad most evenings, there is plenty of variety in my salads - a fact that can be obscured by the umbrella term 'salad'. These salads have no mayonnaise or other standard dressing that serves to reduce the variety between my salads (check salad dressings for the usual sugar, soy derivatives (I avoid all soy), 'vegetable oil', vegetable gum, 'flavours' and other 'food-like substances'; these insinuate the standard diet under the kitschy 'gourmet' label and swamp the subtle, non-generic flavours of the real food). (c) Not only is variety compromised and pushed into conformity with the the cultural non-palaeo norm, by dressings (and sauces for that matter) but also by cooking. (d) The vegetable garden is mulched each summer with barrow-loads of litter from the chicken runs. In autumn I replenish the litter with about 200 garbage bags of autumn leaves gathered from neighbours. (e) I must admit that I have learnt from rare and unintended experience what fresh earwig tastes like. More frequent are ladybirds (I take them carefully outside) and greenfly; as I see these walking around the rim of my salad bowl, I assume there are others that never get up to the rim. (f) I don't wash vegetables from my own garden, but I do use a pastry brush to remove any obvious dirt or aphids (I don't worry about a little bit of 'dirt' - see the hygiene hypothesis). (g) Art DeVany gives good advice: keep your meals colourful with red, orange, yellow and fresh green - and avoid what Art calls "a mound of brown".

Quantities: large compared with recipes in books by Cordain, Audette and others. I generally eat my main meal for the day - salads - out of a 2 litre rice bowl and the bowl is often heaped.

Rob Faigin's Natural Hormonal Enhancement: I followed the NHE eating pattern for a couple of years, but dropped it in December 2003 for two reasons: (1) although sound in terms of cycling high-carb / low-carb eating, it required an un-palaeo degree of regularity (2) I tried a bit too hard and ate more than Rob's recommended 100g carbs on my carb-load meals (up to 200g in my case) and this may have been too much of a shock to my system. It may have been the excessive twice-weekly carb-loading which precipitated night cramps which began at this time.

Sources of food: My main sources of food are (a) my garden, (b) the local farmers' market, (c) an organic butcher (d) a wholefood food co-op I have belonged to since 1979, (e) an organic fruit and vegetable shop and (f) my suburban supermarket - for tinned fish and meat offcuts for the chickens.

Groceries: In general, I don't eat groceries. The exceptions are tinned fish and the few other groceries mentioned on this page.

Coffee: I have a 750 ml mug of black coffee most mornings, hand-grinding the organic beans immediately before making it.

Cocoa and chocolate: I have a few dried cacao beans some mornings - natural and unprocessed. I also ate 100% chocolate (the American Dagoba brand's Prima Materia is available locally) - a couple of bars a month through 2008, but dropped it in 2009.

Other drinks: occasional herbal teas (pure, not packaged - some have soy additives!) - but it happens I've had none for the past 6 weeks. The rest is rain water (from my 9,000 litre tank). No fruit juices. I should add that I use tank water on the vegetable garden because mains water has chlorine added to it to kill bacteria and I do not want to soak my garden soil in dilute antibiotic - nor, for the same reason, would I want to disrupt my stomach flora with an anti-bacterial. I also prefer to avoid the fluoride that's added to our water supply where I live.

Alcohol: No aversion to it, but I find myself presently drinking 0 - 10 glasses of red wine a month, not more than a couple of glasses a day. No other type of alcohol. No good reason for not brewing and drinking beer; it's just something that doesn't interest me.

Dairy products: I have swung in and out of dairy products - out of them when I apply logically the palaeo-anthropological evidence - into them when I look at the evidence from from Weston Price and about unspoiled traditional agricultural societies. My present feeling is that, providing an individual does not have a genetic intolerance to milk products, dairy can be part of a diet without adverse health consequences if (a) they are taken irregularly, (b) they do not dominate the diet and (c) the rest of the individual's lifestyle is Palaeo, particularly exercise. By definition, however, a diet with dairy products is not Palaeolithic - it would have been impossible in the Pleistocene. See also Loren Cordain's concerns about betacellulin. [4]

Examples: (a) Over winter I drank a mug of 100% cocoa powder (note the 100% - no sugar) if fresh, unpasturized cow's or goat's milk for breakfast in place of my usual black coffee. (b) Now it's summer I find I am eating cheese once every week or so; more often when travelling, visiting and eating out [5]. (c) I prefer artisanal cheese and my favorite is Ironstone cheddar, a very mature cheese, aged in cheesecloth. Another is the distinctive cheddar from the local Small Cow Farm. Most other cheeses I eat are also mature cheddars. Of the imported cheeses I prefer peccorino or other hard sheep's milk cheeses. King Island Dairies make my favourite blue cheese, with Stilton a close second.

Nuts: I eat a variety of nuts, mainly macadamias and walnuts in season. I use nutcrackers to shell them immediately before eating them. The nut shell goes on the front garden (native trees and shrubs) as mulch. I never eat peanuts (a legume) cashews or pistachios (both members of the Anacardiaceae family which includes mangoes and poison ivy) - these are not nuts.

Supplements: I have dropped all regular supplementation and now have just 5-10 fish oil capsules once a fortnight or so. I also take a magnesium supplement to help prevent or reduce night cramps. I do not take multi-vitamins or any anti-oxidants - I regard all supplementation is non-palaeo - and rely on my own garden and the rest of my food to provide these micro-nutrients in natural form. No pharmaceuticals (nor have any been recommended). My toothpaste is an organic product free of fluoride, sodium lauryl sulphate and other ingredients devised for marketing advantage to companies, not for the health of consumers [6].

See Richard Nikoley's typically excellent discussion of vitamin supplementation in a palaeo diet here and here.

Grains, beans, potatoes: These three food staples of the modern world are also its major monocultures, users of genetic modification and users of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. They are full of energy but all are inedible in the raw state as they contain many enzyme blockers and toxins - toxins they use to protect themselves from predators. Even cooked, traces of these toxins remain and eating them stresses our pancreas especially. Dr Ben Balzar discusses these foods from a palaeo perspective here.

My approach to grains: No grains. None. Grains include wheat, corn/maize, barley, rice, sorghum, millet and oats. Grain based foods include the products flour, bread, noodles, polenta, cous cous and pasta.

My approach to potatoes: I eat them rarely and in small quantities (a small proportion of what appears on my plate) when eating out. Perhaps ten times a year. I also grow three or four potato plants each year as my wife eats them occasionally and I make a rich mash (with butter and egg yolks) in the Weston Price tradition once or twice a year.

My approach to legumes: Legumes include beans, peas, peanuts (aka groundnuts). I don't grow any of these legumes in my garden, but I do grow clovers and lucerne for soil health. I occasionally (say 5 - 6 times a year) eat cooked French beans, and snow peas eating out. I try to avoid all foods with any soy products or derivatives; I don't consciously allow them under my guard at all.

Salt: Most commercial salt brands contain an anti-caking agent - usually an aluminium or cyanide compound. These are examples of the many substances that are added to our foods to suit manufacturers', retailers' or our own cosmetic preferences - and are all definitely non-palaeo. I recently located sea salt with iodine which I use, as our local soils are deficient in iodine. Otherwise for iodine I rely on tinned fish (sardines, salmon and anchovies) and the small amount of iodine I absorb through my skin when I apply it as an antiseptic.

Foods scraps and waste: All of these I toss, meat included, into the chickens' run.

Food preparation and storage: I generally use an electric cooker, but am hoping to replace it with a wood stove. I never use a microwave. I also use an electric refrigerator with a small freezer compartment [7]. I keep my knives sharp (two very sharp) and I also use a non-palaeo plastic chopping board (I'll make my own wooden boards some day). I generally avoid the use of plastic, storing the coffee beans in a glass jar, cooked meat in a ceramic bowl covered with a plate rather than in a plastic bowl covered with cling film or in Tupperware or similar. I use only wooden or steel implements in the frypan. My frypan is a Le Creuset - cast iron and, like all my other cooking implements, not coated with Teflon or other 'non-stick' material.

Examples: (a) Check links between the phthalates in plastic (which are endocrine - hormone - disruptors) and human fertility, age of puberty etc. (b) Check links between Teflon, silicon etc. and cancer. Because plastics have become so ubiquitous and so convenient over my lifetime, many people regard it not only as eccentric - but even traitorous to civilization - to avoid them [8]. (c) I wash all my cooking and food preparation utensils under hot running water (solar water heater) with a scrub; I have not used kitchen detergent even once in a full year. (d) My only other electric tools are the electric light, the blender I use to shred the jerky when making pemmican and the booster for our solar hot water. (e) There's no MDF/particle board in our kitchen and I hope to re-do the kitchen with natural surfaces (eliminating off-gassing of formaldehyde etc. in the food preparation area - esp important when there are children, cancer sufferers or otherwise sensitive people around).

Recipes and cookery books: I don't follow any recipes as my meals don't rely on the reaction of wheaten flour or other starches to cooking temperatures and duration - these reactions are often non-linear, as when dough is transformed into bread, or when an egg solidifies with boiling. The cooking of meat is more linear with time and temperature related progressively to the outcome. My ingredients vary from those listed in recipes according to availability and personal preference. I feel almost insulted by instructions about the size - and even shape - into which I should cut ingredients. Most recipes are just a bit too twee.

Examples: (a) I have never watched a television program on cooking as I have no wish to learn what is regarded as 'correct' according to celebrities and their directors who chase ratings by playing to the insecurities and egos of viewers and the desire to produce entertainment rather than food and meals that will help lead to the best possible health. (b) The sort of food preparation advice I do value highly is the kind provided by writers like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: for example, he explains how and why to roast in three phases: a brief 'sizzle' followed by a slow roast followed by a 'rest' about as long as the initial sizzle. Most recipes are for people who have no affinity for food preparation, no understanding of substitutes and no desire to learn how to create their own textures, tastes and appearance, and who are too wary to innovate beyond the template laid down by the 'experts'. (c) Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions is a book drawing on Weston Price's research in the 1930s which provides thought-provoking recipes for rich foods in the pre-electricity / pre-gas / pre-convenience era. (d) Both the Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fallon books are for people who grow their own food plants and animals, They're books for people who have a small-holding and a wood-fired Aga or Rayburn stove and who make time for living close to nature; people who invite family and friends around for convivial unrushed feasts of food, companionship, conversation and music - and who see everything in this sentence as seamlessly part of a whole way of life.

Time taken: Yes this takes more time than buying food grown by others or meals prepared by others. But it's easy enough and something I genuinely look forward to. (I am preparing now (in summer) for the meals I'll have in winter.) I like to pick the salad from the garden in the hour before sunset; which means mealtimes vary according to the season. It takes me about 1 1/2 to two hours daily for me to pick the produce, cook the meat, prepare the salad and eat it all slowly while I read and chat. I regard this a rewarding use of my time.

Compromises: My wife and I have been together continuously since 1973. She's not palaeo, but indulges my 'hobby'. Living as described above is easy at home. Visiting and travelling is not as easy, but I still don't compromise on the core. I still don't eat grains. At restaurants and motels this is what I gravitate towards:

For breakfast I have bacon (with the nitrites/nitrates) and eggs (probably cage-laid) or lamb chops. No toast. No sausages.

For lunch I go for a chicken caesar salad without the croutons or a Greek salad (feta cheese, greens, tomato and olive oil)

For dinner I choose oysters for firsts and red meat for mains: kangaroo or venison if it's available, lamb or steak if it's not. I avoid meat that is advertised as 'grainfed/finished' but don't ask when the menu doesn't specify. I usually ask for the main dish "without the potatoes/polenta/rice" and order a side salad. I leave most of the sauce or gravy. If there are no oysters I'll chose the next-best entree and look for wild fish for the main course. I avoid farmed fish. I usually have a glass of red wine with an evening restaurant meal. I still avoid grains. If there is a cheese board, I'll choose that while my wife has dessert or coffee.

If driving long distances, I chew sugar-free gum to help keep my mind alert.

I can't claim to live a Palaeolithic lifestyle. On the positive side, my food probably has a very similar effect on my physiology to the effect of a hunter-gatherer's food on his body 40,000 years ago. My exercise includes activities that mimic some of features of a hunter-gatherer life from 40,000 years ago - particularly the extremes - but also includes much that is quite unlike the historical model (hunter-gatherers didn't sit, didn't work in the garden, didn't busy themselves with hours of 'chores' around the house, didn't have resort to clothing (particularly synthetic fabrics) or shoes, hygiene). On the negative side, mentally, my mind is working in a 21st century way: my stressors and meliors are quite un-palaeo, and this has its own effects on my hormone profile. I don't need to think about survival, I don't live in a tribe, but in a nuclear family (I have relatives, friends and neighbours - but I don't 'live in their pockets' in the way tribal people live closely with others). I get my ideas from the media, including books and the internet, as well as directly from conversation and my own thoughts. Overall, my body experiences Palaeolithic inputs from food and exercise and these affect - and effect - my genes in the Palaeolithic way, but the inputs from my mental life and my non-exercise activity are distinctly non-palaeo, although the contrast is probably less for me than for most other suburbanites. I have to admit that, objectively, my palaeo way is a little more than an absorbing hobby.

Have I missed anything? Please e-mail to ask.

A couple of actual days in 2009:

(These are both late Spring days when there was no seasonal local fruit)

Pre-breakfast: 300-500 ml rainwater
[9] coffee, seven fresh-laid eggs - scrambled with parsley fresh from the garden
Lunch: skipped - working in the garden most of the day; a dozen macadamias freshly shelled as a snack early afternoon
Dinner: 350g minced biodynamic lamb - three varieties of lettuce, cress, chives, fresh corriander, rocket, wild rocket, beetroot leaves (two varieties) and grated carrot; 1/2 cup macadamia oil and all the fat from the meat.

Pre-breakfast: 300-500 ml rainwater
coffee, 10 cacao beans
Morning tea after the gym: ~150g diced cold beef heart - left over from previous day's dinner
Lunch: none
two tins of sardines with their olive oil on a salad of lettuce, celery, onion, garlic, nasturtium leaves and flowers, parsley, wild rocket, an avocado, lightly boiled asparagus and broccoli; 1/4 cup additional olive oil.


1. Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution – title of a 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky   Back to text

2. Stephen Boyden's Evolutionary Health Principle is a touchstone for making choices and decisions about any aspect of our lifestyle: "if the conditions of life of an animal deviate from those which prevailed in the environment in which the species evolved, the likelihood is that the animal will be less well suited to the new conditions than to those to which it has become genetically adapted through natural selection and consequently some signs of maladjustment may be anticipated."   Back to text

3. Ray Audette gives us this simple and memorable guideline on page 14 in his book Neanderthin.   Back to text

4. Loren Cordain writes: "Although dairy foods comprise nearly 11% of the energy in the typical U.S. diet, these foods were never consumed [by humans regularly] as recently as 500 human generations (10,000 years) ago. Increasingly, data from tissue, human, animal and epidemiological studies demonstrate that this staple food has the potential to adversely influence health as would be predicted by the evolutionary template.  

“Betacellulin is a very stable hormone in that it is not degraded by the heat of pasteurization and is even found in high concentrations in cheese. When you drink cow’s milk or eat cheese, you are, in effect, dosing yourself with betacellulin. The amount of betacellulin that you get from drinking ... a single cup of milk (457 nanograms) has the capacity to stimulate the EGF [Epidermal Growth Factor] receptor ten times more than what normally would occur during a 24 hour period from EGF in saliva.

“So, what’s wrong with increased stimulation of the EGF receptor? First off, when a member of the EGF hormonal family binds the EGF receptor it sets off a chemical cascade that ultimately causes more EGF receptors to be synthesized. ... A higher betacellulin concentration in the bloodstream along with increased numbers of EGF receptors causes an increase in signaling ... through the EGF receptor pathway. [This] occurs in a wide variety of cancers including: breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, lung, pancreatic, bladder, stomach, and head and neck cancers. Higher concentrations of the EGF receptor increases cancer recurrence, reduces survival and increases tumour progression and development. Activation of the EGF receptor by the EGF family of hormones, including betacellulin, promotes cancer...[a practical cancer prevention] strategy, ... particularly for cancer patients or those with a family history of cancer, would be to stop drinking betacellulin-containing cow’s milk ...”
Extracted with excisions from the December 2006 issue of "The Paleo Diet Newsletter". See also a detailed discussion of cow milk in the human diet at the Modern Forager website.   Back to text

5. I don't eat out often - say 10 times spread across a year. I have not eaten a take-away meal since the early 1970s.   Back to text

6.  I avoid mainstream soaps, detergents, shampoos, laundry products and everything with 'ben' in its ingredients (including parabens - these are all benzene derivatives). Each month's edition of The Ecologist magazine contains an expert disection of a regular supermarket or pharmacy product and examines the marketing, product positioning, ingredients (and their possible hazards) and alternative, safer products.   Back to text

7. I use the refrigerator for meat, but not for vegetables - ever: they are always available fresh in the garden.   Back to text

8. See the discussion of plastics in Derrick Jensen's What We Leave Behind (2009) p. 107 ff   Back to text

9. More on breakfast in note 1 at the foot of this page   Back to text

10. My lamb comes largely from Vince and Janet Heffernan's Moorlands, an 1,100 hectare biodynamic property near here. I visited the farm on 18 May 2009   Back to text

FAQ for this page

Why does this page range so widely? It doesn't stick to the topic of food and diet. This page is one of many on which strays out beyond the traditional disciplinary boundaries. We do this deliberately because each page reflects an aspect of the Palaeo way; it's all the one lifeway, but there are many windows into it. For example, our bodies respond to the way our genes react to the many hormones affecting them differentially. The relative intensity of the hormones varies according to physical activity, diet, sleep, stress, the time of day etc. and the hormones reach their respective peaks at different times after the initial stimuli and the hormone flushes last for different durations and also affect each other. On this page I have covered this four-dimensional complexity using diet as the starting point, but not drawing a line which, although compatible with academic disciplines and popular understandings of diet, would fail to represent adequately the way our bodily processes operate.

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Page up-dated 10 April 2010