A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Laura Schoenfeld, the blogger behind the awesome paleo blog, Ancestralize Me. Laura is a nutrition student at UNC, the same school that PhD candidate Adele Hite, RD MPH attends and recommends for those looking to get an RD from a school that is not too entrenched in the old school, flawed dietary recommendations (for more on this topic, check out the interview I did with Adele a couple of weeks ago – she shares some fascinating stuff!)
For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the Paleo movement (maybe ‘eat like a caveman’ will jog your memory), here’s a great intro post on paleo eating from Laura’s blog). In a nutshell, meats, wild-caught seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, a little fruit (especially berries), and some nuts and seeds are the foods recommended in the Paleo lifestyle; while pasteurized dairy (some believe that raw dairy is okay) as well as grains and legumes of all kinds are not encouraged. This goes without saying, but processed foods are completely shunned (as they should be!).
From the moment I stumbled on Laura’s blog, I found the information she shares to be both interesting from a scientific standpoint, and still super applicable for daily life. See, that’s the thing with those who have a strong nutrition background: it’s hard to maintain a balance between knowing too many details, and still being cognizant that a practicality is needed to effectively apply that knowledge to most people’s lives. I find that Laura has that balance, and it’s very relatable! One of my favorite posts from her blog is a recent post titled “Paleo Women Are Phat”. Laura addresses a salient point that often goes unexpressed in the world of health and nutrition: there is no “ideal” weight for women; in fact, she shares that extreme leanness and very low body fat, both prized qualities in the world of fitness, aren’t necessarily ideal or even healthy for women who wish to conceive at some point. Makes sense … and ’bout some someone well-versed in the subject spoke up about it!
Here’s an hour-long video where Laura shares some basic paleo lifestyle principles at an ancestral nutrition seminar at Fit Boot Camp. Check it out if you’re curious about paleo eating, and read the interview below for more personal details and healthy living tips that Laura shares!
An Interview with Nutrition Student and Health Blogger Laura Schoenfeld
1. How’d you get into blogging about food? Was there an “a-ha moment” for you that inspired you to look more deeply than most into the human diet?
I was raised since about the age of 12 on a Weston A. Price inspired diet, thanks to my mother doing her own independent research. It was a rough transition for our family at first, but eventually we got used to things like raw milk and sprouted grains. I became more interested in food and nutrition in college when I started making my own food choices and saw how poorly my friends ate. The more interested I got in nutrition, the more I realized that I wanted to get a graduate education in nutrition and health, and I wound up applying to UNC Chapel Hill for the MPH-RD program. Being a part of the Weston A. Price community, I had heard a little about the Paleo diet and thought I’d give it a try. My 30-day Paleo challenge was the inspiration to start blogging about my nutrition experiences, both as a grad student and as a general reader of many different sources of information about nutrition. Since then, I’ve gotten very excited about learning about the optimal human diet and trying to determine what kinds of foods we should be eating on a regular basis.
2. As the author of the real food blog Ancestralize Me, you obviously have a lot of respect for the way the early humans (our ancestors) ate. Why is that, and how did you come to look into ancestral behavior?
As I mentioned before, much of my nutritional knowledge has come from both my mother and prominent members of the Weston A. Price community, such as Chris Masterjohn and Chris Kresser. More recently, I’ve been reading books like “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” by Dr. Price and listening to podcasts such as Robb Wolf’s “Paleo Solution”. I think it’s pretty obvious to most people that what Americans are eating now is outrageously inadequate, and I think it makes intuitive sense to look to more primitive cultures and historical societies that have been immune to degenerative diseases of civilization, and to consider what qualities in their diet contributed to their improved health. Truthfully, as much as I appreciate the ‘early human’ evidence, I think we can look at more recent evidence, such as that outlined in Dr. Price’s work, to show that most non-Western cultures had a diverse range of diets, yet none had the same type of chronic disease and obesity that we do. While the major components of each culture’s diets vary widely, we can see there are certain commonalities in types of foods that they did or didn’t eat.
3. In a recent post, you share that while you do appreciate the contributions of many paleo and primal diet experts, you think it’s important to think for oneself and not simply follow the diet recommendations like sheep. What is one example of how you’ve managed to pull away from the “flock” in regards to paleo food tradition?
I get a little concerned sometimes that people can get caught up in the ‘idolization’ of certain experts in our field, for whatever reason: their looks, their charisma, or even the evidence of their arguments. That said, I don’t think any one person has all the right answers, and it makes me nervous when I hear more prominent members of the community making statements that may not be entirely accurate for every person. A good example of this is the safe starch debate. There are certain people who do quite well on a very low carb diet, and there are others who crash and burn. Not that Paleo is by nature ‘low carb’, but it can become that way if you’re not careful and paying attention to your food choices.
If someone is telling you to follow a certain diet and you feel terrible on it, I don’t care how strong their evidence is: stop following the diet! It’s so important to learn to listen to your own body and use the expert opinions as a guide, but not as a dogma. No one knows what is best for your body and your health except you, and don’t be afraid to challenge the ‘experts’ if something isn’t working for you. That said, don’t completely throw away the idea of something like Paleo simply because you’re struggling with it. See what you can do by playing around with macro or micro nutrient amounts to find an intake that best supports your life and circumstances.
4. You’re currently in grad school earning your RD-MPH. How to do you hope to use your degree to make strides in the field of nutrition?
To be honest, I don’t really know yet! I’ve played around with the idea of opening a multidisciplinary wellness center, writing a book, getting involved in food policy… right now my options are pretty wide open. I really want to have the greatest impact possible, so its just about finding my niche and figuring out where I can make the biggest difference in people’s lives. That said, it would be pretty amazing to collaborate with more prominent folks like Chris Kresser or Robb Wolf in the future, since they’re really making waves in the Ancestral Health community. As of right now, though, I’m really just open to any opportunities that come my way!
5. What’s wrong with what most Americans (and increasingly, people all over the world) think is ‘healthy food’?
Well that article spells it out right in the first paragraph: “We all know the rules of basic nutrition: whole grains, lots of veggies, lean protein — as well as less sugar, salt and saturated fat.” I would have to disagree with 90% of that statement. I don’t think whole grains are specifically healthy (and certainly not necessary), protein does not have to be lean, salt is an essential component of the diet, and saturated fat is generally benign and possibly beneficial. Notice the ‘basic rules’ didn’t mention anything about trans fats, polyunsaturated vegetable oils, refined grains, food toxins, or artificial flavors and preservatives. People have a completely skewed sense of what food is healthy or unhealthy thanks to a really inaccurate food pyramid and lots of shoddy ‘science’ circulating the media.
The sad part is that American nutrition policy is starting to infiltrate other areas of the world who have been eating a healthy, nourishing, traditional diet for centuries, and the idea that we have any right to tell other countries what to eat, considering the state we’re in, is absurd. Part of this is the government’s fault, part of it is science’s fault, and perhaps even more of it can be blamed on the food industry which has taken these dietary guidelines and created a whole range of processed garbage that aligns with these inaccurate guidelines. Part of my goal as a future nutrition educator is to teach people what real food is, which includes saturated fat from animal products and natural seasonings like salt, and move them away from eating the highly processed, nutritionally devoid junk that lines the shelves in the grocery store.
6. What do you think is the biggest problem with our industrial food system? Can you think of actionable ways to gather together like-minded people beyond the grass-roots level to effect real change?
I think the biggest issue is people rely way too much on convenient, processed, and packaged foods. No one knows how to cook anymore, and the food industry has capitalized on this. That, and we’ve become way too reliant on commodities like corn, wheat, and soy to feed both us and our animals. It’s not a natural way of doing things. I’m working with a group right now called the Healthy Nation Coalition to start getting some top-down changes going. The project is still in its infancy, but we’ve got a lot of really good ideas about how to get the conversation going about how to fix our food in this country, and where we see the future of food policy and food production. It’s a huge issue to tackle, but we know that whether or not we do something about it, the way things are going now is going to eventually fail. So we can either take action now and change it, or wait for the inevitable collapse of our food system.
7. Grains. Lots of contention about whether or not we need them for good health. Primal and paleo circles are strictly against grains and gluten-free cooking has become mainstream, while many people in the WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) camp are zealously defending properly prepared grains. What are your thoughts, especially as some archaeological evidence shows that wild grains and tubers were eaten by our ancestors 100,000 years ago?
Yikes. Well, I’m not a huge fan of sweeping nutrition prescriptions, but I’ll take a stab at this one. For me, I don’t really see the point of eating grains, particularly glutinous ones. From all the data I’ve seen regarding the problems with modern wheat and excessive gluten consumption, it appears that avoiding gluten may be a smart move for most people. I feel that its easy to get plenty of carbohydrates from non-grain sources, and the supposed nutrition they provide is easily obtained through animal and other plant sources.
That said, if someone is adamant about eating grains, I think its really important that those grains are properly prepared by soaking and fermenting. This might sound crass, but I personally don’t really care what humans were eating 100,000 years ago. I look at the diets of the most healthy cultures in the world in the last 100 years and see that most of them weren’t eating grains whatsoever, and if they were, they were ‘properly preparing’ them. So when it comes to grains, eat them at your own risk, but just be smart enough to prepare them in a way to minimize the damage they may cause to your gut.
8. Making healthy changes in diet and lifestyle can be overwhelming for most of us on a tight budget and with little time for recreation. What are some simple tips for gracefully transitioning from the SAD to a balanced diet and a primal fitness program?
As a graduate student with limited time and resources, I totally understand being overwhelmed by the prospect of changing to a more ‘primal’ lifestyle. I think a big first step can be simply making the switch from processed foods to whole foods. That alone will make a huge difference in most people’s health. Once you’ve started cooking with real ingredients and cut out the processed junk, then you can start looking at food quality. I think its more important to focus on the quality of your meat, and try to look for grass-fed and pastured food products. Figure out things you’re spending money on that you don’t really need. This might sound a bit crazy, but I don’t have TV in my house. I don’t have time to watch it, and it would be a waste of money that I’d rather spend on feeding myself well. You need to be okay with making sacrifices on things that don’t really matter in order to funnel that money into something that will seriously improve your quality of life.
As far as exercise goes, a little goes a long way. Even if all you do is walk every day for an hour, or do some squats and pushups in your living room, you’ll be good to go. It shouldn’t take more than an hour a day to fit in a workout. As Robb Wolf said at PaleoFX this year, “You can eat well, sleep well, and square dance, and you’ll be lean and healthy.” Long story short, people just need to rest more, relax a bit about their diet and exercise, get adequate sleep, and just start enjoying themselves more.
9. Offal. You wrote a post not too long ago about including more organ meats into the diet. What are some reasons you choose to eat things like liver, tongue, and heart? Why do you think SAD-eaters usually find these gross?
Well, I’ve eaten tongue several times mainly because I just like to be weird like that! But as far as liver goes, even though I’m not obsessed with the way it tastes, I can’t overstate the nutritional quality of grass-fed ruminant liver. As Chris Kresser has pointed out, liver is nature’s most potent superfood, and it’s especially high in the important fat soluble vitamins A and D. If I don’t eat liver, I’m at least taking [fermented] cod liver oil on a regular basis. People who are eating a typical American diet find these foods gross mainly because they’re not used to them. It wasn’t that long ago that families were regularly cooking things like liver and onions, or eating chicken liver paté. They also get grossed out by the idea of it being an animal’s organ, which just demonstrates how disconnected our country has become with where food comes from. My goal is to try and show people that eating organ meat is totally normal, and an inexpensive way to get an incredible nutritional boost in your diet. Every time someone comments on my blog telling me that they’ve tried liver for the first time, I get a little burst of joy: I feel like I’ve made a difference in that person’s life, and hopefully it’s a lasting one!
10. What’s your favorite food quote?!
Here are a couple of good ones (I can never pick ‘favorites’!):
- “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” ~ Edward Stanley
- “To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” ~ La Rochefoucauld
- “Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork.” ~ English Proverb
Who is Laura Schoenfeld?