Boris Leite-Poco co-owns a Palaeolithic restaurant and believes that we have to look to the way our prehistoric ancestors used to eat in order to achieve the perfect human diet.
This diet changed my life. I was always looking for the perfect way to feed myself to gain health and to gain an optimal body composition but the more I tried, the further away I was from my goal. When I first found out about the Palaeolithic diet, which states that we ought only to eat the food that was available to us in the prehistoric era, it was hard to accept at first because it encompasses the opposite of what I was brought up to think was healthy. It says ‘fat is healthy’ and it says ‘red meat is healthy’. It says ‘vegetable oils are not healthy’ and animal fat is the best option. It’s really upside down. Suddenly full grain is totally unhealthy. From a Palaeo perspective, white bread is actually a better choice. You never hear that: it’s ‘crazy’. So it was difficult to step away from it. But I was kind of desperate so I just went for it.
I’ve suffered from a number of health problems in my life. I’ve had asthma from childhood. I was born three months early and my mother says that’s why I have a weak immune system. I got sick a lot. I used to catch a cold six times a year. I often got a heavy lung infection in winter and a weak respiratory system connected to my asthma. I had very bad skin problems. I started the Palaeo diet and a month later it was gone. It just vanished, along with a whole number of little things that you don’t even think of as being wrong with your health: being tired in the afternoon or not being able to get out of bed in the morning even though you sleep enough, or having trouble falling asleep. Being anxious, depressed. They’re all things that people go through from day to day and they’ve accepted it. Okay, you’re human; you’re weak. It’s normal and we need pharmacies, we need doctors and we need to get medicine now and then. Where does this idea come from and is it really true? If we are such a weak species, how come we survived for two and half million years? Now we live in protected surroundings. We have houses, we have heating, we have medicine, we have doctors and we have health insurance. Yet we seem to get sicker and weaker. It doesn’t make sense. If we were always like this, there’s no way we would have survived living in the outdoors every day, crossing a winter and even an ice age without becoming extinct. We must have been pretty strong. It made me think: What happened to that? How come we were so strong and now we’re not? I only see one difference, and that is food.
The way we’ve eaten has changed so much in the last ten thousand years, compared to the two and a half million years that we’ve been on the planet. That’s just a little dot on the whole scale of evolution and it’s just not long enough for our bodies to adapt to this new way of eating. We started to eat much more processed foods and we started to create foods which didn’t even exist in nature. That’s about the time that we started to get sick. Now we are living in an era where it has become perfectly normal to think you will die of disease. No one dies naturally anymore and that became a normal thought. I think that’s really wrong. It’s really wrong if a whole global population starts to think it’s perfectly normal that you die from some kind of disease. That doesn’t happen in nature. Most animals don’t die of some disease; they age or they die because they were severely injured, attacked or eaten by another predator. I don’t want to accept that idea. I don’t want to die from disease, so I really do whatever it takes to live to the fullest and die healthy.
In the Palaeolithic era, people would go through periods of time without eating, and then they would finally catch something and overeat. Before I was on the diet, I was eating six or seven small meals a day. Now I can spend the whole day without eating. It’s perfect; it gives me more time. I don’t get dizzy, I don’t get weak, or hungry even. I’m used to it. And at night I can just feast on a lot of food. I don’t get fat at all – on the contrary. One of the effects of the Palaeo diet is that you have very equal energy throughout the day. So you wake up, and you’re still full of energy from the meal you had the night before. If you wake up and you eat a breakfast of cereals with fruit and milk, you will have this energy spike in the next half hour. By the time you get to work you miss your bed. So what do you do? You need to stay awake, so you drink some coffee and you eat some sweets. And then you have this energy again for half an hour and then it slowly goes down again. Normally by then it’s midday break and you can eat some carbs again. Then around two o’clock, you fall in that hole again and you’re just dragging yourself back up. That was like me, every day. If I think about that, there’s no way I want to go back to it.
The biggest misconception of this way of eating is that it’s a diet. I think it’s a horrible name: Palaeo diet. It’s not a diet; it’s just the way you should eat, logically. ‘Diet’ always has this connotation that it’s tasteless and you can only do it for a while because it’s just so boring. But for me it really opened up my vision on food and it bought so many new flavours and tastes to me. It gave me a lot of energy. It became such a passion to cook, and to cook this kind of food – to explore it. That was the inspiration. I had no experience in gastronomy. I’d never started up a business like that before. I always had a love of cooking but this is a whole different level. It was mainly the effect of the food, of the diet on my personal life and my health that gave me that inspiration.
I think that in a sense, it is definitely the future, because we have tried so many things and we have been going through so many changes in our idea of what is healthy. We’ve been told so many lies about it. I think at some point, people will realise that it’s just not right, and question who is telling us these things. Why is my doctor saying this and why are big companies advertising that their stuff is healthy when it actually makes me sick? At some point, people will have to start thinking something is wrong and will search for another way. I don’t think we need to be the ones to say this is the solution and we have found it. I think that we will get there automatically. At some point, people will wake up and deal with it.