The Paleo Diet. When I hear this diet mentioned I think this:
Every few years, a restrictive new diet like this becomes popular, promising its practitioner’s quick weight loss, freedom from disease and endless energy. But before we get into the nitty gritty of why I think this diet is just another fad without any basis in science, let’s define what the Paleo diet actually is.
The diet is based on the premise that our agricultural diet today contributes to our high rate of chronic diseases and that this type of diet does not mesh with our biological makeup. So in order to achieve better overall health and live longer (and also achieve an ideal weight), we need to abandon our current agriculturally-based diets and eat like our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago.
Diets like Primal Blueprint promise to literally “ reprogram your genes in the direction of weight loss, health, and longevity by following 10 immutable “Primal” laws validated by two million years of human evolution”
The Paleolithic diet is:
- Vegetables and fruits supplement the meat
- Some nuts and oils are also thrown in there
What is excluded from this diet:
- Grains (especially processed grains)
- Legumes (peanuts, lentils, beans, peas)
- Any processed sugars (honey is ok)
This all sounds well and good, right?? Well, actually…..
According to archeologists, this type of diet has no basis in the actual archeological record. (OMG they made it up to get people to buy their product!!)
- Humans are well adapted for plant consumption. We actually have no genetic or physiological adaptations for meat consumption!
- Examples that support this include the fact that our bodies cannot make vitamin C, however all carnivores can make vitamin C by themselves. We must eat vitamin C in order to absorb this beneficial nutrient. And guess where vitamin C comes from…..plants!
- We also have molars which are made for shredding fibrous PLANTS, not sharp fangs for shredding meat like carnivores have.
- Our anatomy and genetics HAVE changed since the stone age. Take milk consumption. In the past 7,000 years, humans have actually developed lactose tolerance. Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down milk sugars, originally stopped being present in the body after infancy, however as dairy foods became more prevalent in our food supply, genetic mutations caused lactase to continue its action throughout life. But as with any other genetic mutation, not everyone has it today, hence lactose intolerance.
- You don’t actually want to live like a Paleolithic person, because they didn’t live very long. Most Paleolithic people didn’t make it past 40, and many didn’t even survive past the age of 15! An article in the Scientific American states: “A recent study in The Lancet looked for signs of atherosclerosis—arteries clogged with cholesterol and fats—in more than one hundred ancient mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter–gatherers around the world, including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern U.S and the Aleutian Islands. A common assumption is that atherosclerosis is predominately lifestyle-related, and that if modern human beings could emulate preindustrial or even preagricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided. But they found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions.”
Not to mention, avoiding grains, legumes and dairy means you are missing out on a whole swath of important nutrients and health benefits (calcium, fiber and plant protein to name just a few). And just as the Atkins diet proved, a diet primarily composed of meat is a surefire route to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
While I don’t recommend the Paleo diet for its nonsensical restrictiveness, there is one thing it does get right: limiting your intake of highly processed foods, which are chock full of not-so-yummy chemicals, preservatives, sodium and added sugars. Foods like white bread, processed meats and cheese, chips, packaged cookies, sugary cereals and packaged diet “foods” are mainly empty calories, any nutritional benefit they might have had is usually lost in the processing.
If you really want to live like a Paleolithic person, here are my two tips:
- Eat LOCAL. Hit up that farmers market, COOK for yourself, and avoid processed foods.
- Get MOVING. While we aren’t being chased down by lions and wildebeest, living an active life is one of the best ways to ensure longevity and good health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise 3-4 times a week. And don’t forget that “active” means active all the time – standing at your desk, walking more, taking the stairs – these all count too!
Until next time…