Paleo in Ohio – Adventures in Inflammation

I am back from my 9 day trip to Central Ohio. When I last visited Ohio 3 years ago, I wasn’t full Paleo/Primal. My focus back then was on reducing bread, not eliminating it. I also was not paying attention to cooking oils. My diet got super clean after returning from my 2009 New Orleans trip. Since then my only trip outside the Pacific Northwest has been the month I spent in Southeast Asia.

What did I learn? Eating clean in Thailand and Cambodia is MUCH EASIER than eating clean in Ohio. The basic dish I had in Thailand, Cambodia, and Malaysia was meat plus veggies plus white rice. Add in some coconut milk and you have an extremely nutritious and toxin-free meal.

The 4 Toxins

Whenever I leave my kitchen, I expect to take a hit nutritionally. My goal is not to maximize nutrition on the road, but to minimize toxins. Some people believe that everything in moderation is OK. I find these people are never the pillars of excellent health. Moderation is not an acceptable strategy for toxins. Unless one has a serious food allergy, trace exposure is probably fine and maybe even beneficial (hormesis). Anything more than trace exposure is not healthy.

I see the 4 main toxins as:

  1. Gluten
  2. Veggie Oils (canola, soybean, corn, etc)
  3. Sugar
  4. Legumes (except long-fermented soy)

For me, gluten is the worst toxin. I get splitting headaches and skin inflammation. And once you read up on the dangers of veggie oils, you will do everything in your power to remove them. However, they are everywhere and it can take 2 years to get out of your system. Sugar has never been a problem with me, nor has legumes. Plus they are the easiest to spot and avoid. Before I recount my toxin exposure, let me share what I got right.

What I Got Right

Despite picking the best food options available and cooking some of my own meals, there were a few helpful strategies I used during my trip.

  1. Intermittent Fasting – On the flight to Ohio and the return to Seattle, I fasted. Both fasts were over 20 hours. Fasting allows the cells to self-clean via a process called autophagy.
  2. Kimchi – Early in the trip I was exposed to some sickness, so I purchased some kimchi at Whole Foods. I spaced out the portions and finished a full jar by the end of the week. Many health professionals list fermented vegetables as a strategy for supporting a strong immune system. I totally agree. Since I began consuming kimchi and sauerkraut on a daily basis, I no longer get sick. And I was able to keep a strong immune system throughout my trip.
  3. Fish Oil – I am highly skeptical of the supplement fish oil. Some sources I respect believe that most brands are rancid. A better strategy for improving your Omega 3 ratios is removing as much unhealthy Omega 6 as possible (veggie oils, chicken fat). That was going to be hard away from home, so I took some fish oil capsules. Not sure if it helped. The jury is still out on this supplement. I do not take it at home.
  4. Activated Charcoal – The Bulletproof Exec podcast recently discussed the supplement Activated Charcoal. It absorbs toxins in the GI tract and removes them safely from the body. After a few meals when I wasn’t clear on the quality, I popped a few of these capsules. To what benefit they provided, I am not sure. It is cheap insurance.

What Went Wrong

I figured out early on that not only is Ohio 20 years behind Seattle in espresso but they also are still stuck in the 1990s low-fat lipid hypothesis thinking when it comes to nutrition. Cholesterol and saturated fats are still considered evil, despite all the evidence now showing their innocence in causing heart disease.

The real evil, which is the highly inflammatory vegetable oils are everywhere. I tried my best to avoid what I could, but it was a near-impossible task. Within days, my skin got extremely dry with signs of inflammation. I even looked a little puffy. Prior to changing my diet, I had dry skin and flaking for almost 20 years. All my skin issues went away when I went Paleo. Now they were returning within days.

I dodged gluten like Neo from the Matrix, but it was everywhere. Far more than I expected. It seemed Ohio was just beginning to hear about the damage caused by wheat. On the Kbler-Ross model, Ohio is still mainly in the Denial phase when it comes to the damage caused by gluten. Through great effort, I was able to dodge gluten right up until my last full day. Then I got nailed with an Asian salad. I looked closely at it and did not see the broken-up Ramen noodles in it. Only after finishing a sizable portion did I learn they were in the dish. The dried cranberries masked their taste. My stomach hurt and I had a splitting headache that lasted all night long.

Dodging Gluten in Ohio

Dodging Gluten in Ohio

My back also started to hurt towards the end of my visit. There is nothing wrong with my back. It was a stress response to my lack of control over my diet. I was on edge that the next meal would make me sick.

Last Words

I give full props to my fellow Paleo people who live in places that do not support your diet. I am grateful that I began my journey to improve my diet while living in the Pacific Northwest. Sterling’s Best Places ranks Seattle as the 4th most healthy city in America and Columbus as the 6th least healthy. When I visited a local grocery store, I saw 100% grass-fed beef and bison prices twice as high as in Seattle. That sucks. I really hope that my old hometown does a better job embracing a toxin-free diet in the coming years.


Add yours

  1. i live in ohio and have been paleo for 5 years. it has become so second nature to me that i am desensitized to the issues you wrote about. it may not be as easy as it is in seattle but it becomes easier with experience. as you have learned, the more hands that touch your food, the less likely it will meet your standards. the grass fed products at my local grocery store are imported from australia. ridiculous when you consider there are many great grass fed farmers in ohio and pennsylvania.

    my back tends to bother me when i sit too much. stress tightens it up too.

  2. @Chuck – I am reading disturbing reports that Australia is now grain finishing their grass fed beef. It is ridiculous that we should have to import beef from the other side of the planet.

    Congrats on being 5 years Paleo in Ohio. That is impressive. In the war on nutritional nonsense, I consider you a Marine or a member of the Resistance.

  3. Do you feel that the stress you put yourself through trying to control that which was out of your control was more harmful than the noodles?

    If so, what does that mean for the next time you travel?

  4. @Stuart – I came into the trip with more confidence that I could handle the challenge. Then came the veggie oils and skin issues. It was obvious. Mid trip, I was in the most control of my meals. It was then that I was able to dodge the cold with kimchi. The tail end of the trip was the problem. That is when the back issues surfaced (slightly). And the noodle issue played out exactly like I remember when I ate the pizza in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    So the control issues resulted in back issues, whereas the noodles had a much stronger and predictable effect on my gut and headache.

    Next time I travel? By my next trip, I hope to have mastered my pemmican recipe. 🙂

  5. @mas

    out of respect, i cannot call myself a marine but definitely a member of the resistance. we are in the conservative midwest you know. are things that different in seattle or do you just know how to navigate things better there?

  6. @Chuck – Seattle is definitely more aware of gluten and other food allergy issues. Both the citizens and the restaurants. There are far fewer fast food options and the people are noticeably healthier.

  7. MAS, it was great visiting with you while you were in cow-town! It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Columbus is way behind Seattle in progressing toward a more sensible diet. As we talked about I get deer-in-the-headlight looks every time I mention the slightest thing about the evils of wheat/grain or vegetable oils. Perhaps in time…

    I’ve never tried the charcoal…seems pretty weird! But I do often pop a DGL licorice. These are sugar-free and extremely calming to the stomach if you’ve encountered something inflammatory. They are also recommended by Chris Kresser.

  8. @Dhammy – Nice to meet up with you too.

    I did some searching that suggests every house have activated charcoal on hand in case of ingesting poison.

    I took small doses. Dave from the Bulletproof Exec uses it more liberally.

  9. @mas
    been 14 years since i’ve been to seattle and i ate thai almost every night while on a business trip. that was before i ever considered the safety of the food i put in my mouth. the funny thing is, columbus is progressive compared to akron where i live.

    i don’t talk about nutrition very often because people are so far behind what the latest research is they think i am nuts. or they just listen to dr. oz. i talk to many fitness trainers who tell me they just don’t get much buy in when they ask clients to consider diet changes. it really is sad. so much positive could come from cleaning things up.

    if you go by appearances, ohioans appear to be very unhealthy. i always laugh when i go into a health food store like whole foods and 75% of the people look to be carrying excess body fat. people in ohio keep banging their head against the proverbial wall.

  10. @Chuck – So true. I did visit a few grocery stores while in Ohio. I like to see what people buy by looking in the cart. With the exception of one fit Asian mother, everyone had some form of processed food in their cart. You could see the shoppers were focused on meal assembly and not cooking.

  11. Laura Keenan - Paleo People Snacks

    Dec 15, 2011 — 12:40 pm

    I manufacture 4 delicious Paleo Grain/Gluten Free Granolas. Apple Crisp, Cacao Nut, Banana Nut & Cappuccino Crunch. You can purchase them online so you have Paleo snacks for travel. I would like to get into some stores in your area, just let me know which ones I should contact. Thought you may want to know about them + I have a holiday promo. You can check them out on my website & input coupon: paleoholiday for discounts.

  12. I’d like to learn more on the issue with Veg Oils.

    The little I’ve read seems to warn away from Peanut, Sesame, Corn and “Vegetable” oils, unlabeled, (that usually means corn oil) because they contain either very little omega-3 and too much omega-6.

    It seems to be this ratio between O-6 and O-3 fatty acids that is used as a metric for determining which oils are better for your health. From WikiPedia:

    “Modern Western diets typically have ratios of n−6 to n−3 in excess of 10 to 1, some as high as 30 to 1. The optimal ratio is thought to be 4 to 1 or lower”

    Men’s Health (yeah, not the best source) cite Canola Oil as having a “near-perfect omega ratio” of 2:1. I use it cause it can withstand high temperatures without becoming carcinogenic, unlike Olive Oil which has a low smoke temp.

    According to the same article, Olive oil has a 13:1 O-6 to O-3 ratio, but is “loaded with disease fighting antioxidants”. I use this for low temp cooking and as a dressing.

    Butter comes in at 7:1. Peanut has nearly no O-3. Sesame at 138:1, should be avoided except in small quantities. “Vegetable”, Corn and typical Margarine should be avoided.

    Would love to know more about this.

  13. @Justin – Probably the best thing I’ve ever read on the dangers of vegetable oils is in the book Deep Nutrition.

    Labeling laws in the USA (not Canada) permit these veggie oils to declare themselves trans-fat free, but they aren’t.

  14. It’s too bad you had a hard time eating clean in Ohio. I live here and find it surprisingly easy. Ohio has a strong local and organic food movement. We have access to hundreds of good farms and plenty of restaurants who are supplied by them. It probably takes more research and driving time then in Seattle but everything necessary to a clean lifestyle is available.

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