Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dear Friends,

As I've been reading, researching, and posting about the important of ancestral eating/paleo lifestyle I have come across a number of important quotes and viewpoints of Native Peoples from the past. Here's what I consider to be one of the most  is an important views of ancestral eating and the consequences of not - that was made by a Karuk woman back in 1932. What I appreciate most is her statement about "world come to an end food:

"All did the same, the way that the Ikxareyavs used to do. And what the Ikxareyavs ate, that was all they ate. They told them: 'Ye must eat this kind.' The Ikxareyavs ate salmon, they spooned acorn soup, salmon along with acorn soup. And they ate deer meat. Andy they claimed the Ikxareyavs had two meals a day, and they also did only that way. When the whites all came, then they said: 'They eat poison, poison food, world come to an end food.' The middle-aged people were the first to eat the white man food. When they liked it, they liked it. They told each other: 'It tastes good.' They said: 'He never died, I am going to eat it that bread.' But the old men and the old women did not eat it till way late. We are the last one that know how the Ikxareyavs used to do, how they used to eat, the way our mother's told us. And even we do not eat anymore what they told us to eat. And what will they who are raised after us do?" --Phoebe Maddux (Karuk), 1932

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Skunk Warriors

Minding the Indigenous Mind
                                                                    Skunk Warriors

Greetings Mindful Friends and Relatives,
Ecclesiastes 11:9 says “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes.” This passage about celebrating one’s youth reminds me of the boyhood days that I shared with several young friends and relatives when I was growing up in White Shield, ND. In this column I share a two-part short story about how I and a number of other young boys rejoiced in our youth and became warriors on a hot July afternoon in 1964.
The Vision
As young boys in our reservation community in White Shield, ND, we spent much of our summers searching for ways to initiate ourselves into warriorhood. We knew that becoming a warrior was a very difficult undertaking, especially since our role models were our “old Indian” warrior ancestors, whom we had heard were the toughest, bravest, and most daring guys in the world. As far as we knew, there were no people on earth as courageous and daring as these Indians.
In our secret boy circles we gathered together to discuss how the old Indians could go for days without food and water; how they could run for hundreds of miles over the roughest terrain without stopping – sometimes barefoot. We spoke of how they didn’t need a saddle or bridle when they rode their horses, and how some of them could run faster and further than any horse. We talked about how they could swim across the widest part of the Missouri river and back again and then do victory dances all night, without getting tired; We talked of how when an enemy cut them with a knife or shot them with an arrow they could tough it out and keep on fighting while singing their death song. Man, they were they tough.
We admired the old warriors because they got to camp out wherever they wanted to, and as far as we knew, they didn’t have to eat slimy canned USDA commodity spinach or other nasty canned vegetables that we were forced to eat in school. Instead, they lived off “the fat of the land.” They drank fresh river water whenever they were thirsty, and dined on wild berries, turnips, and onions, and ate huge chunks of fire-roasted buffalo or deer meat. They sat around a fire under the sacred stars recounting the origins of our people, and as far as we knew, they didn’t have to clean up after themselves or be in bed by nine o’ clock.  And because they were so brave and respected, they didn’t get yelled at by their mothers to fix their beds, clean up their mess, or take out the garbage.
In all honesty we didn’t know much about our warrior ancestors since many of our parents would only occasionally mention a few things to us about them, while the books we read at the BIA government school we attended never mentioned them at all.  But it didn’t matter to us what they said or didn’t say since most any group of prepubescent boys is the same: what they believe is what matters. And, what was fact to us was that our warriors were the toughest, bravest humans on earth and it was our responsibility to carry on their legacy.
The Preparation
The night before several of my friends, an older and younger brother, and I became warriors, my mother said I had to take out and burn the trash. This duty turned into a special time because many of the neighborhood boys would come to our house in the evening and gather around to watch the fire and trade stories about how the old warriors had lived.  That evening was particularly meaningful because we decided that the next morning we would gather together and go out to face the enemy. We had made new bows and arrows, tested them, and decided they were ready for battle.
The trash was reduced to ashes in a large, fifty gallon steel drum barrel that was given to us by the Bureau of Indian Affairs; all the families in our community had one of the containers for burning their garbage. Every week, the green BIA truck would come by and pick up everyone’s burned garbage and haul it to the local dump grounds where it would be deposited into the trash pit. This place was a boy’s dream come true since it was patrolled by strange rez dogs that could be brought home and made into pets, and filled with rats that could be either captured or used to perfect one’s practice of counting coup. 
Amongst the burned remains lay broken toys, bikes, wine and beer bottles, old washing machines, and tattered clothes.  The earth in the pit was blackened and scorched by the fires that continually burned the waste. Sprinkled about like snow was white, USDA commodity powdered milk that seeped out of broken box containers; millions of flies buzzed in and out of the shiny empty cans of USDA chopped meat as they glistened in the sun. Every once in a while a rez dog would get its nose stuck in a can of opened chopped meat and we would have to chase it down to remove the can.
This evening of trash burning was special, because for the first time I was allowed to light and burn the garbage without supervision from one of my older siblings or parents. I had planned most of the day what I would do to make sure the fire burned a long time since I knew more tales could be told if the fire had a long life. I had quietly and secretly collected and added several medium and large pieces of wood to the garbage to make sure the fire would last longer than usual. As the fire burned down, and it got later, my friends said goodnight and headed home. I remained alone at the fire watching until the last of it had smoldered out and then went inside to bed.
When I got up in the morning I could smell the odor of smoke and burned trash on my skin and in my clothes. I went downstairs and could hear my older brother saying to our mother that when he was sleeping he was dreaming that our house was on fire. My mother answered, “Well, your brother Michael built a big fire last night when was burning the trash. I don’t know what he was burning.” I smiled to myself as I went downstairs and sat down at the kitchen table to have a bowl of hot oatmeal and fresh baked bread. As I quietly ate, I remembered most of my dreams had been about me running side by side with all kinds of animals who trying to escape a huge never-ending prairie fire that I had started when I was burning the trash. Some of them had chopped meat cans stuck on their noses. I think these were the holy ones.
The Mission
I stepped outside and was greeted by a hot, windless July morning. The heat waves were shimmering in the distance to the east as the boys begin arriving at our house for our sacred mission to find our bravery and manhood. Our band of brothers were a ragged bunch of earthy, brown boys with lean bodies and crew cut hair styles. We wore no war paint on this day because there were no veteran’s in the community to paint us and send us off. Most of us wore dusty, worn out Levi jeans and white tee shirts that we pulled over our heads like hoods to protect us from the summer sun.
We begin heading to the east towards several groves of trees, streams, and high grasses. As the sun rose and we begin to swelter, wanting the feeling of coolness upon our heads, we dipped our shirts into stagnate pools of water that has collected for weeks in the ditches along the roads we were traveling. Even though the water smelled of decaying vegetation and was filled with all kinds of water beetles and snakes, we dove in for a swim and didn’t let it bother us, because we believed it wouldn’t bother the old Indian warriors.
Footgear is one of the most important items for a warrior since it helps him move without delay to the field of battle. Some of the members of our war party wore old basketball shoes, sometimes mismatched in size and color, and laced up with twine from an old white farmer’s hay bale. It didn’t bother us that we had to take twine from the hay bale for our shoes and the bales fell apart and became useless to the farmer. Because, in our minds, we reasoned that our warrior ancestors would have counted coup on the white man’s hay bales in the same way if they were wearing basketball shoes. Others in our squad wore the cowboy boots of an older brother or father that were too large and gave them blisters. But still, they looked cool and the person wearing them could always be put on point whenever we suspected that we were in rattlesnake territory.
Despite our ragtag look, we were well armed with straight, long, strong bows we had made from carefully selected branches of willow trees that we had found near small bodies of water and springs that flowed near the community. Our arrows were made from last year’s tall, straight hollowed weeds or from perfectly round, small, long branches that we had hardened over the trash fires. Each was tipped with metal pop bottle cap that was bent in half and pounded together to make a very sharp, sturdy point. When we shot them from our bows we could flatten a tire or neutralize a fearless, charging warrior rat at the dump grounds.   (To be continued…)

Michael Yellow Bird, MSW, Ph.D., is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and a professor and the director of graduate education  in the Department of Social Work at Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA. His teaching, writing, research, and community work focuses on social work with Indigenous Peoples, decolonizing social work, neurodecolonization, neuroscience and social work, and employing mainstream and traditional Indigenous mindfulness practices in tribal communities to promote health and well being. He can be reached by email at: 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Paleo Mama

Minding the Indigenous Mind

Paleo Mama

I have a beautiful 8 x 10 black and white picture of my mother and father positioned on an unpainted wooden side table in my living room. The picture was taken in front of my grandma Nellie Yellow Bird’s old house when my mom was 19 and my dad was 20. Mom looks like a model with her thick, wavy black hair, and her well-defined cheekbones and flawless, smooth skin. I’m not sure what the occasion but, she is wearing a 1940s style tea dress with high heels. She has a beautiful, soft, serene smile on her face. Dad is wearing a dark long-sleeved shirt, a white tee shirt underneath, and Levis. He is exceedingly handsome and has thick black hair that is combed back to the left. He has a big grin on his face and his eyes are closed; possibly a polite and humorous protest at having his picture taken.

I’ve looked at the photo many times and what I’ve noticed most is the glowing, good health that radiates from both of them and how fit they look. My mother said she weighed 115 pounds when the picture was taken and guessed that my dad weighed about 145 pounds, which is about six pounds more than I was when I graduated from high school. When I asked my mother about how she managed to keep herself at this weight she said we ate a lot different than we do today; we also ate much less and we were much more active. She then joked that, “if we wanted to eat fried chicken we had to chase them around for a while and after we caught them we were too tired to eat!”

In this column I wanted to share with you some of the diet and lifestyle “secrets” that I believe kept my mother and father healthy, disease-free, strong, happy, and filled with a sense of wellness. My mother is still alive at age 86 and is doing well, despite her having diabetes for the past 46 years. She remains optimistic, has a sense of purpose, a good sense of humor, loves to learn new things and visit with others, and leads a very prayerful life. I’m convinced that had she remained on her original diet and continued her active lifestyle, she could have easily passed 100 years in a very healthy condition.

My father passed away at age 72 from complications related to diabetes. But, I now know that it wasn’t the diabetes that killed him. Diabetes is only a symptom of the sickness that is created by eating the Standard American Colonized Diet. My father, like many in his generation, transitioned from a healthy traditional diet to one that is overloaded with bad fats, unhealthy carbohydrates, processed, packaged foods, and sugary drinks and desserts. If my father had continued to eat and live as he did as a young man, I believe that he could have made it well into his nineties without any chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.    

What My Mom Ate – Meat Protein and Raw Milk

When I asked my mother a bit more about what she ate growing up she replied, “We ate what we could get from our gardens, from the animals we raised, the berries we picked, and the wild game we hunted or fished. We didn’t eat very much store bought foods since we could raise or get our own and we didn’t have a lot of money. A lot of the people lived like this back then; maybe that’s why we didn’t have diabetes or obesity like we do now.” One thing that she made very clear is that they did not eat meat all of the time or for every meal. In fact, she said “there were a lot of meals that we ate that were meatless. Sometimes my mother would tell us to go gather eggs when we got back from school and we would have roasted squash, eggs, and other vegetables for dinner.”

When she did eat meat it included a variety of domestic and wild creatures: “We raised cattle, pigs, chickens, turkey, ducks, and geese. We also ate wild fish and game like deer, duck, geese, pheasants, and sage grouse; and we ate a lot of fresh chicken and duck eggs. We also canned deer meat, pork, beef, and chicken that we used during the winter months.” All of these foods are standard proteins in the Paleo diet and are healthier than the non-Paleo meats you get at the local grocery store. The meats that my mother ate were leaner, had more vitamins and nutrients like beta-carotene, and were higher in omega-3 fatty acids (good, healthy fats). Because they came from organic, wild, and free range sources, the animals were not stressed or mistreated and their meat did not contain antibiotics or synthetic hormones.

One of the protein foods she ate that is not on the Paleo list is cow’s milk. However, she grew up drinking raw milk from cows that were clean, healthy, stress-free, and pastured-raised animals that she knew by name. I asked her if she ever got sick from drinking raw milk and she replied, “No! None of us ever did. We always milked our own cows and drank the fresh the milk; it tasted really good and we made fresh cream and butter from it.” (Both cream and butter are included on the Paleo).

Raw milk became the boogeyman some years ago with the claim that it was dirty and caused disease. Both claims are untrue if it comes from cows like my mother’s family had. Yes, raw milk is much different than pasteurized milk: It is a living food that is loaded with high quality protein and important minerals; it has 20 of the standard amino acids, is easier to digest, has a lot of calcium, and is loaded with enzymes; and it also has beneficial bacteria that aid digestion and boost our immune system. Pasteurizing (heating) the milk destroys most of the benefits that raw milk has to offer.   It is considered a “dead food” by many health advocates. My advice, ditch the pasteurized variety and if you’re going to continue drinking animal milk and try raw goat or cow’s milk if you can find a good, clean, reputable source. But read about it first to see if you agree with my mother and I and whether it is appropriate for your diet. I personally drink lots of almond and coconut milk but am looking to try raw milk in the near future.

Veggies and Fruits

 Fresh veggies and fruits are the foods of the gods; high in healthy antioxidants and a lot of other hard to pronounce phytochemicals; some of them almost as difficult to say as some Arikara words. But, what is most important to remember is that these compounds play an important role in keeping us healthy. Among other things they are an important first line of defense against heart disease, cancer, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, tumors, arthritis, and many autoimmune disorders. When I asked my mother about her intake of veggies and fruits she said, “We ate lots of fresh vegetables from our gardens and canned (jarred) many of them for the winter. We ate lots of vegetable soups with fresh meat. We grew lots of different vegetables: different kinds of squash, cabbage, celery, tomatoes, Swiss chard, lettuce, beets, green peas, green beans, and cucumbers.”  She said that when she was a young girl she thought that the best tasting foods in the world were tomatoes eaten right after they were picked off the vine, or carrots that were eaten right after you pulled out of the ground. She laughed and said “Sometimes we didn’t even wash the carrots. We just brushed them off and ate them with some of the dirt still on them.” 

In regard to fruit she said, “We grew cantaloupe and little watermelons and we ate wild juneberries, chokecherries, plums, and bull berries and canned them and made jams, jellies, syrups, and dried some. We had apples and oranges once in a while and some canned or other fresh fruit from the store, but not so much.”  I think it’s important to note that most of the fruit she ate were of the low sugar varieties.

 Beans, Grains, and Coffee

Many people feel that beans and grains are an important part of a healthy diet due to their nutrient and fiber content. However, because they are hard to digest and can cause inflammatory problems in our bodies, they are generally not considered to be optimal for our health and are excluded from a Paleo diet. As far as coffee goes, some folks that follow a more moderate version of the diet drink a couple of cups a day. My mother consumed all of these foods when she was growing up.

My mom said that her family raised a lot of northern and red beans and harvested them by hand and stored them in large sacks. When there was enough meat and eggs, beans were generally more of a side dish than a main meal. When I asked her about eating grains she replied, “We ate grains because we grew our own and took them to Garrison, ND, and had them ground into fresh flour that we put into 100 pound flour sacks. We used the flour in our baking to make fresh bread, pancakes, and biscuits. The breads we made were simple. We used live yeast, flour, salt, sugar, lard, and milk or potato water. ” I want to point out that the grains that my mother ate were fresh, clean, organic, and very likely had much less gluten protein in them.

I’m a coffee drinker and know that drinking no more than a couple of cups a day has a number of important health benefits, including preventing heart disease and some types of cancer.  My mother has been a coffee drinker for as long as I’ve known her and I wondered how long she had been drinking it. When I asked her she said “When I was about 11 or 12 years old I started drinking coffee. I only drank a cup or two a day. We drank it mostly for the warmth on cool and cold days and then I ended up drinking it for most of my life.”

How Much Did You Eat?

Most research that looks at the relationship between how much we eat and how long we will live says that when we eat less we will be healthier and live longer. In the world of anti-aging medicine this is called the 80% rule: eat until you are only 80 percent full. In my last column, I mentioned a 112 year old man by the name of Walter Breuning from Great Falls, Montana (who died in 2009). He credited his long life to not eating too much (he ate only two meals a day and took one daily aspirin).

When I asked my mom what was the usual amount of food she ate when she was growing up she said, “We ate simple and we couldn’t take too much food, we had limits on how much we could eat. We could take a second helping if we wanted but most of us didn’t. We didn’t eat that much, but we never felt like we were hungry or being starved. We generally had one serving and we felt satisfied.” As you can see my mother followed the 80 percent rule. 

Desserts, Exercise, and Paleo Indians

The world we know is bursting with sugar. It is in nearly every packaged, processed, fast food and is in most everything we drink. It is linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health problems. I wondered how much sugar my mother consumed when she was growing up and posed this question to her. She replied, “We didn’t have sweets when we were growing up and we rarely had sugar, except in the occasional dessert that we ate. But, even then, if we did eat cake or a pie we would get only one piece, and we would only have a dessert maybe once a month, or during some special occasion.”

I asked her what kind of exercise she did when she was young. She laughed and said, “We were exercising and moving all the time with all of the work we had to do to take of our farm, gardens, and animals. We worked hard and either walked or rode horseback wherever we went. We milked, fed, and took care of our cows. We helped our dad with all the chores and put in a lot of time on our garden; pulling weeds, cultivating, planting, harvesting, and watching over our crops. We rode horseback when we took our cows to water or rounded them up. We did housework, took care of little brothers and sisters, cooked, cleaned, helped with laundry, and did everything else that needed to be done or were told to do. We didn’t have a TV, but even if we did we would have never had time to watch it.”  It's  important to mention that constant movement that includes a variety of physical activities such as pushing, pulling, lifting, walking, squatting, bending, laying on the ground and getting up, etc., are now considered to be the most optimal type of exercises for increasing wellness and longevity. This type of workout is fundamental to a Paleo lifestyle.

My mama has deep healthy Paleo dietary roots. I’m sure that her early healthy eating days shaped her genes to protect her for a long time against the diabetes she now has. I know that the optimal way for her to eat is Paleo. The last couple of summers when I have come home to White Shield I’ve put her on a Paleo diet and watched her blood glucose levels drop to the normal range in a matter of a few days. When she eats this way she sleeps better, has less pain, feels better, is more alert, and sleeps less during the day.

What she and my father ate back then helps to explain why they looked so handsome, healthy, and beautiful in the picture on that sits on the side table in my living room. Back in the day they were Paleo Indians. Isn't it time we all returned to the traditional lifestyle of our Paleo ancestors? Can you imagine a world of healthy, fit, happy, diabetes-free Indians? I can. 

Michael Yellow Bird, MSW, Ph.D., is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and a professor and the director of graduate education  in the Department of Social Work at Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA. His teaching, writing, research, and community work focuses on social work with Indigenous Peoples, neurodecolonization, neuroscience and social work, and employing mainstream and traditional Indigenous mindfulness practices in tribal communities to promote health and well being. He leads a regular morning mindfulness practice for staff, students, and faculty in his department. He can be reached by email at: 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Minding the Indigenous Mind Returning to a Paleo Native peoples’ Lifestyle to Cure the Diseases of the Standard American Colonized Diet

Greetings Mindful Relatives and Friends,
Chris Kresser, a leader in an emerging nutritional lifestyle known as the Paleo diet reported on what we know about the health of people before and after they started eating the Standard American Colonized Diet: “We know, for example, that a modern diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, autoimmunity and heart disease were rare (or even nonexistent) in Paleo people and are still rare in the few hunter gatherer groups around the world that have been lucky enough to preserve their traditional diet and lifestyle. We also know that when modern foods like wheat flour, industrial seed oils and sugar are introduced in these populations, the incidence of modern diseases goes up commensurately. And, even more telling, when these groups return to their traditional ways, the modern diseases disappear again. This suggests that it wasn’t some genetic vulnerability that caused them to develop modern diseases with the introduction of modern foods.”
In this column I want to share some of my thoughts about a way of eating called the Paleo lifestyle. I’ve read a great deal about it and I’m convinced that it may be one of the most important approaches to helping Native folks reverse the chronic health problems they’ve developed from eating the Standard American Colonized Diet. It is a nutritionally appropriate, balanced, and healing diet for Native folks and matches the “traditional” eating patterns of our ancestors, who didn’t have the food related health problems that we do.
I don’t want give the impression that the Paleo diet is the perfect way for everyone to eat, or that if you do not follow this way of eating you will not recover from serious chronic illnesses. Sometimes all one has to do is exercise, stop eating sugary foods and drinks, and lose weight, and their health will improve. What I’m hoping is that this column will spark some interest in this lifestyle so that folks may give it a try to see how it works for them.
History of the Paleo Lifestyle?
The idea behind the Paleo lifestyle is that if we return to eating as closely as we can to the way our ancestors did 10,000 (plus) years ago, our health will improve. The Paleolithic Age (Old Stone Age) covered a time period from 500,000-10,000 ago; before most of humanity practiced any type of agriculture. While it is hard to know exactly what our Paleo ancestors ate, most experts agree that it was a time when they lived on a diet of wild game, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, shellfish, eggs, and tasty insects. There were no processed, packaged, artificial, additive-laden foods and no sugar, with the exception of the sweetness that came from wild fruits and honey.
The foods that our ancestors ate were in a much more pristine state; the animals they dined on were not fed inferior diets of genetically modified corn, soybeans, or grains, nor were they saturated with antibiotics, and hormones, like our meats are today; every wild plant, seed, nut, fruit, and vegetable was organic and free of pesticides and other man-made chemicals. Fish and shellfish contained no man-made pollutants or heavy metals and the water they drank was clean and fresh and chlorine and fluoride-free.
Research on ancient human diets concludes that as humans began practicing more agricultural lifestyles, health problems began to crop up (no pun intended). The theory is that the dependence on domesticated foods, rather than wild sources contributed to a decline in health because agricultural foods were not part of a natural diet that the human system had evolved to eat. In their book, Perfect Health Diet, nutritional scientists Paul Jaminet, Ph.D., and Shou-Ching Jaminet, Ph.D., reported that the adoption of farming caused the height of people to shorten while their muscles became weakened; tooth decay and osteoporosis became widespread and malnutrition, infections, inflammation became common.
In an important scientific paper about Paleolithic nutrition, scientist Dr. Boyd Eaton, M.D. concluded that pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers did not eat cereal grains, nor did they grow them. Neither did they consume milk or dairy products. And, despite the problems with grains and cereals, especially for many Native people, the USDA and the grain and dairy industries push both as healthy foods that we must have in our diets. However, Loren Cordain, Ph.D., a respected scientist and the founder of the modern Paleo food movement, has found plenty of research that shows that eating cereal grains worsened the health of early agricultural people.
Today we know that cereal grains such as wheat, rice, barley, oats, corn, and beans are not only genetically modified and treated with dangerous chemicals, they are very starchy foods that can raise one’s blood sugar very quickly. We also know that many folks are sensitive or allergic to the gluten protein that is found in grains, and for some ingesting it can result in a very serious autoimmune reaction if they have celiac disease. Non-organic milk, the most widely consumed dairy product, has measureable amounts of herbicides, pesticides, dioxins (up to 200 times the safe levels), antibiotics, and growth hormones, such as IGF-1, which is suspected to fuel the growth of cancer in our bodies. Many Native people cannot drink milk because they are lactose intolerant.
 What’s included in the Paleo Diet?
There are different versions of the Paleo Diet. One proponents of this diet, Mark Sisson, a world class athlete and Paleo diet expert, says that if we want to follow it we must concentrate on: “eating quality sources of protein (all forms of meat, fowl, fish,). It is important that your protein sources are clean, organic or free-range. Eat lots of colorful vegetables, some select fruits (mostly berries), and healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil). Observe portion control (calorie distribution) week to week more than meal to meal. Eliminate grains such as wheat, corn, rice (even brown rice), cereal, bread, and pasta. Eliminate all forms of sugar and sugary drinks; and trans- and hydrogenated fats from your diet.” Free-range eggs are an important source of protein while coconut oil is an important healthy fat that can also be included.  It is important to eliminate all processed meats.
Another Paleo diet advocate Chris Kesser is very clear that some the everyday foods that we eat are toxic and should not be on our menu:    
  • Avoid cereal grains (especially refined flour)
  • Avoid omega-6 industrial seed oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, etc.)
  • Avoid sugar (especially high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Avoid processed soy (soy milk, soy protein, soy flour, etc.)
  • Avoid improperly prepared cereal grains and legumes

Kesser believes we must nourish our bodies by emphasizing saturated 
monounsaturated fats while reducing intake of polyunsaturated fat; we should favor eating deer, buffalo, elk, and beef and seafood over poultry; we should eat real food such as grass-fed, organic meat and wild fish, and local, organic produce when possible. We must avoid processed, refined and packaged food.
Benefits of the Paleo Diet
When one eats the broad variety of vegetables, select fruits, and high quality, lean meats, the Paleo diet is nutritionally sound, safe, and easy to follow. Since the Paleo is patterned after the diets of our ancestors, if we follow it, we can expect to improve our health. In fact, many proponents of the diet are convinced that returning to this way of eating reprograms our genes so that our disease causing genes get turned off and our healthy ones get turned on.
For some folks, “intermittent fasting” is an important part of the Paleo diet lifestyle. When most people fast from foods their health improves significantly and they live longer, healthier lives. For instance, in 2009, Walter Breuning (now deceased), a 112 year-old Great Falls, Montana man credited his long life to not eating too much (he ate only two meals a day and took one aspirin).
Intermittent fasting means one alternates the times, or days, or amounts they eat each day: some folks fast completely from food on one day and eat normally on the next day; some do a 5:2 plan where they eat for five days and fast for two - sometimes the two days are spread out in the seven day period and sometimes they are back to back; and some eat 2 meals and a snack a day between a six hour eating period and then fast for 18 hours for the rest of the 24 hour day; some people, like Walter Breuning, eat only twice a day. Most research agrees that overeating shortens our lives while intermittent fasting is looking more and more like it will increase the length and quality of our lives. One thing for sure is, fasting is a part of our nutritional eating heritage: our ancestors were very accomplished at fasting due to food shortages and for health and spiritual reasons.
Since the main sources of food in this diet are healthy proteins, fats, veggies, and select fruits, anyone that follows it will get plenty of essential nutrients, fiber, and much, much more. Research on the benefits of the Paleo Diet continues to grow as more studies examine the health of people that practice this way of eating. Some of the health benefits include: healthy weight loss, significant drops in blood pressure and cholesterol; and improved blood glucose tolerance, arterial function, LDL and triglycerides. If you’re interested in this research check out Dr. Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young, published in 2012.
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the Paleo diet and have been working on incorporating the diet into my lifestyle for about a year. Most times I am very good at following it but at times I slip off. One of the reasons that do the Paleo diet is because I’ve developed a sensitivity to gluten, so I’ve given up eating bread, grain cereals, fry bread, pasta, etc. Eating no grains has been one of the best nutritional decisions that I have made. I also stay away from corn and legumes such as beans and lentils. Even though our ancestors ate them, I’m now convinced they were not the healthiest foods for them or us to eat. Just like grains, beans and corn contain phytic acid (an anti-nutrient in foods), which contributes to our inability to absorb the nutrients found in these foods.
If you are interested in trying out the Paleo diet check out these websites: Chris Kesser (; Dr. Loren Cordain (; Mark Sisson (, and Rob Wolf ( I also encourage you to read more about intermittent fasting and give it a try if it seems appropriate for you. I fast one to two times a year generally from 10 to 15 days each time and the benefits have been amazing. This year I was aiming for 21 days (three weeks), but after reading about the science and benefits of intermittent fasting I’m now interested in giving it a try to see how it works. I am on my way to becoming a “Paleo Indian.” Remember, if you give the Paleo lifestyle a try I’d love to hear about it. Wishing you a long, healthy, happy, drug prescription free life!

Michael Yellow Bird, MSW, Ph.D., is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes and a professor and the director of graduate education  in the Department of Social Work at Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA. His teaching, writing, research, and community work focuses on social work with Indigenous Peoples, neurodecolonization, neuroscience and social work, and employing mainstream and traditional Indigenous mindfulness practices in tribal communities to promote health and well being. He leads a regular morning mindfulness practice for staff, students, and faculty in his department. He can be reached by email at: