I saw it out of the corner of my eye. “How To Keep Feces Out of Your Bloodstream” That’s an odd Google Ad, I thought to myself. And disgusting. I continued reading.
Lately, Tim Ferriss’s blog has become a touchstone for me of inspiration, practical advice, and thought-provoking subject matters. As I wandered from post to post, though, I kept seeing the same link. Ok, that’s really odd. Each post can’t have a term for which feces-in-the-bloodstream is relevant. Then I realized it was under the “most popular posts” section.
Obviously, that’s the next one I read.
The Paleo Diet
The post was guest-authored by Robb Wolf, author of The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet.
According to his website, Mr. Wolf is a former research biochemist, competitive athlete, and gym-owner. Essentially, the post asserts that grains of all kinds are unhealthy for us because of the composition of grains and their evolutionary survival strategy. To illustrate the latter point, he explains that blueberries ensure their propagation with a strategy that lures animals to eat them (bright color, sweet taste), thus facilitating seed dispersal. Grains, on the other hand, are more like poison oak, he asserts. They have defenses that are harmful to humans. The bottom line: stop eating all grains (including legumes) and only eat nuts, meats, fruits and vegetables.
Sounds reasonable enough, until you apply it to everyday life. No more morning oatmeal, whole grain bread for my almond butter sandwiches, or black beans to go with my spinach and grilled chicken – foods that I selected based upon their purported health benefits.
You can imagine my confusion.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Jiujitsu
The comments after the post were contentious, and often, dogmatic. It seems everyone has a study to support their position.
This is exactly what Michael Pollan was getting at in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. We have so many choices for food in the modern (and affluent) world [I do not dismiss the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who are undernourished], that it’s hard to thoughtfully decide what to eat, a questions that’s probably important to many of us who train jiujitsu.
It was easy as a child. Eat what mom cooked (being the son of a Puerto Rican mother made it quite easy since it was the bomb!) and, occasionally, as a treat, have pizza or a chocolate chip cookie. Then, I remember the no-fat craze when I was a teenager and zealously demanded that my mom cook with as little oil or fat as possible. (You can only imagine how difficult this was for her.) Then, in the early 2000s, it was the no-carb craze. (I just ignored that one.) Today, especially where martial arts and CrossFit converge, I’m hearing more and more about Paleo.
But, do I just give up foods I love and that I reasonably understand to be good for me?
The Gracie Diet
Later this month, Rorian Gracie’s publisher will distribute The Gracie Diet, a comprehensive text on the famed dietary guidelines that many in the clan follow.
Here, the emphasis is not on avoiding grains. Rather, it’s on proper food combinations and spacing out of meals with no snacks in-between as a way to facilitate digestion and uptake of nutrients. What’s more, as far as I can tell from all of the Gracie Diet videos published on YouTube by Rener and Ryron, the Gracie Diet is largely a plant-based diet, with plenty of grains. Well, geez, that seems counter-Paleo.
But Wait…There’s More
Penny Thomas and Jake Shields, top jiujitsu athletes in submission grappling and MMA respectively, have both gone on the record as following a vegetarian diet.
So, what is a regular jiujitsu guy or gal to do?
More Than Meets The Mouth
Why am I eating? Beyond survival, which can easily be accomplished given the resources at my disposal, why am I completely vexed over this question? Is it because I want to look good? Feel good? Perform well on the mats? For the sheer enjoyment? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. From this point, the next logical question would be: How should I eat to achieve those goals? And it seems that Robb Wolf, Rener and Ryron, my mom, Jake Shields and Penny Thomas, and others not mentioned here all have a different answer.
However, are those the only questions we should be asking ourselves?
Enter Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, and a recent reading and talk he gave. (Credit to Tim Ferris for sharing it on his blog.) It is a thoughtful and articulate reflection on how our consumption has far reaching consequences beyond looks, or health, or athletic performance. Not necessarily new ideas, but important ideas argued in a compelling manner. How does our modern agricultural system impact the hungry and poor? The environment? Our health? Workers rights? It’s not a short-form video but I highly recommend it during your down time. Skip the first ten minutes and go straight to his talk.
This section heading is a misnomer, because I have no conclusion. I am daunted by the research I would have to do on my own to feel confident in any assertions or theories. I can share that I seriously thought about following a Paleo regimen but could not bring myself to eat that much meat, or afford to buy that much meat in the quality I would have wanted (and frankly, could not see how a bowl of oatmeal can be that destructive for me.) However, I hope the post will provoke reflection, curiosity, and debate in you, both as a jiujitsu practitioner and as a person, around what we eat and how it impacts us as individuals and around how we consume and how that impacts everyone.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.