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Parmesan Cheese & the Hunter Diet

By Andrea Boldt

Parmesan cheese adds an irresistible savoriness to recipes, including pasta dishes, salads, soups and pizza. Whether Parmesan is on the menu depends on your interpretation of the hunter diet. Certain proponents of the diet declare dairy isn't a food that was consumed by your paleolithic, hunter-gatherer ancestors and that it doesn't support good health. Other versions of the hunter diets promote a lower intake of carbs and do permit the cheese.

A Paleo Hunter Diet

A hunter diet can be another name for the Paleo Diet, which -- as presented by one of its original developers, Dr. Loren Cordain -- is rich in meat, vegetables, fruits, eggs, seafood, fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils, including olive and avocado. Strictly prohibited on the diet are grains, beans and legumes, dairy, potatoes, refined sugar, processed foods, salt and refined oils.

On this diet plan, you eat as societies did prior to the agricultural revolution, and by doing so, you can supposedly avoid certain modern-day health conditions, including obesity, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. In such a strict interpretation of the hunter diet, Parmesan cheese is not included because it's a dairy product and contains about 390 milligrams of sodium per ounce.

Hunter-Farmer Diet

The hunter-farmer diet, developed by Dr. Mark Liponis, does permit Parmesan cheese for "hunters." Liponis proposes that though everyone has a unique metabolism, people often have characteristics that fall into one of two categories: hunter or farmer. Hunters are more likely to be apple-shaped, with a round middle and thin legs, while farmers take on the shape of a pear, heavy in the hips, buttocks and thighs and slim in the upper body. He argues that each body type reacts differently to the hormones insulin and cortisol, which dictate where you store fat on your body.

If you're a hunter, Liponis says you can eat meats, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, as well as fresh nonstarchy vegetables, freely. Hunters want to avoid refined grains, such as white bread and pasta, as well as sugary drinks and sweets. Farmers, however, should emphasize whole grains, vegetables, pasta and cereal, while moderating intake of fatty meats, cheese and fried foods. In this incarnation of the hunter diet, Parmesan cheese is allowed for hunters -- and in modest amounts for farmers.

What's the Problem With Dairy?

According to Cordain, dairy could not have been a food consumed in hunter-gatherer times because milking a wild animal just isn't realistic. Milk only became a regular part of the human diet in the past 10,000 years, which is a relatively short time in evolutionary terms. He argues that milk and dairy raises inflammation and may contribute to ailments, including heart disease, metabolic syndrome and acne. He further contends that the nutritional benefits of milk are exaggerated by dietitians and health organizations.

Liponis takes a measured approach to eating on the hunter diet, that is far less didactic and restrictive than the strict Paleo plan. He is more concerned with how the carbohydrate and fat content of foods affects people's weight and health, not the role of these foods in prehistoric societies.

Parmesan Cheese and Your Diet

Whether you include Parmesan cheese in your diet depends on your personal preferences. If you find a sprinkle makes salads, roasted vegetables and broth-based vegetable soup taste better, add it so you're more likely to eat more of these nutritionally dense foods. Many healthful diet plans, including some anti-inflammatory diets, include modest amounts of the cheese as flavoring in recipes. Ultimately, a balanced diet plan that includes a variety of foods from all the major food groups helps you achieve a healthy body and desirable weight. Dairy can be a healthy, nutritious addition to meals with plenty of protein, calcium and vitamin D.

Parmesan has a pungent flavor, so you don't need large amounts to add flavor. But, if you're committed to a strict Paleo plan, you can leave it out of recipes that call for it as a finishing ingredient.

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