Considering a Paleo Diet?


So… as a health, fitness and weight loss blog I have come across some interesting trends.  One of them being the so-called “Paleo” diet/lifestyle.  I wasn’t familiar with it so did a little reading…

According to http://www.paleolifestyle.com:

Paleo diet, also known as paleolithic diet or caveman diet, is all about natural foods to help achieve great health and a perfect physique. The human body evolved for more than 2 million years with the food found in nature: game meat, fish, vegetables, wild fruits, eggs and nuts. The human race was thriving on this diet high in animal fat and proteins and low in carbohydrates, but things changed when we introduced unnatural foods to our bodies.It sounds warm and fuzzy and appeals to our sense of ‘natural’ and is a sort of throw-back to our ancestors.

My Critique

1. Eliminating Entire Food Groups – I am generally not a fan of diets that eliminate entire food groups.  Paleo recommends that you do not eat any: dairy, grains, vegetable oil, legumes, and ‘excess’ sugar.  The premise is that these products were not available to the paleolithic man and so our genetic makeup does not properly accept them as a food source.  All of these products have been shown to provide essential nutrition.  Dairy is a great source of probiotics (yogurt), calcium, and protein.  Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber.  Olive oil and legumes are excellent sources of essential fatty acids.  I’m not sure what ‘excess’ sugar means…

2. Evolution – In doing research for “Are Starchy Foods Making You Fat?” – I found that research has shown that we have, in fact, evolved.  Just because the paleolithic man (supposedly) did not have these foods available to him does not mean that he would not have benefited from them.  Neither does not mean that he would not have been able to process them.  Even if paleolithic man could not process these foods – it does not mean that WE can’t.

3. Availability of Foods – I find it highly doubtful that paleolithic man did not have access to legumes (peas, beans, lentils and soy are pretty easy to find…)  No access to dairy products?  Really?  If they were eating goats I’m pretty sure they knew that it produced milk… The paleo diet also promotes eating eggs… ummm… that would qualify as a ‘cultivated’ food by farming… probably not commonly eaten by hunter-gatherers.  Grains are also pretty difficult to avoid – have you seen the rice fields in asia?

4. Health – So, yes, we know that “Syndrome X/ Metabolic Syndrome” that encompasses Obesity, Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, Hypercholesterolemia, Cardiovascular disease etc. has been increasing over the past 100 years.  Does this mean that the paleolithic man had a longer lifespan?  Was he healthier?  Have you ever met one?  Exactly how are we supposed to know that these ancient people didn’t die at 35 due to a heart attack from atherosclerosis?  Perhaps they all died from wars with neighbors, being eaten by giant tigers or other accidents before they died of heart attacks.  In other words, how much do we actually KNOW about the health of ancient people?  Last I heard we didn’t have any of their electronic medical records…

Conclusion

With all that said, yes, I do take issue with the premise of the diet.  I don’t think it is founded on solid scientific evidence.  Just because our ancestors believed in tree spirits doesn’t mean it was right or that it was better for the human race…  And, just because they ate certain things then doesn’t mean that it is the right way for us to eat NOW.

HOWEVER: I do agree that the way we CURRENTLY eat is seriously flawed.  The scientific community is trying to determine exactly what we are doing wrong.  What makes sense?  We know that fruits and vegetables are good for us.  Lean meats and whole grains.  Antioxidants and Probiotics.  Reasonable portion sizes and regular exercise.  (Yes, those are fragments – just making a point.)

But, I don’t think it is a BAD diet… I think you could get all of your nutrition within the limitations of this diet provided that you ate the right balance of foods.  Moderate portion sizes and regular exercise would still be essential.  Animal fat DOES increase cholesterol and is high in calories.  I don’t think it is better, nutritionally than other ‘healthy’ diet.  I don’t think it is the answer to all of your health conditions or to magical weight loss.  But, if you wanted to try it I wouldn’t try to talk you out of it.  I would just encourage you to visit your MD on a regular basis to get your cholesterol checked. 🙂

What are your thoughts?

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  1. #1 by ramblinann on February 6, 2012 - 12:47 am

    I have not tried this diet but I have been struggling with another very popular one. It is supposed to balance low glycemic carbs, with proteins, and fats. I have lost some weight and do feel better but some of the thinking just confuses me. It is bad to have whole grain breads because they break down into sugar too quickly, but I can count pepperoni as a protein? I think everyone needs to take their own medical issues into consideration when deciding what diet to start.
    As for the cavemen I don’t think they were living into their 80s and 90s. Then again who does know. I’m old, but not that old. I think our digestive systems have evolved some since then.

    • #2 by Fitness PhoenixX on February 6, 2012 - 11:25 am

      Ann,
      You are absolutely right that you should consider your own medical conditions when deciding what kind of diet to follow/adopt! You are doing the Zone, right? Yeah, that kind of thinking IS strange… I’m glad you’ve seen some results, though! It looks similar to the Atkins diet. Generally protein & fat keep you full longer than carbs so you won’t be hungry as quickly and will eat fewer calories. (Taken from the Zone site: Your success in constructing a Zone meal is indicated by lack of hunger for the next four to six hours.) I’m glad that it encourages eating lots of fruits & veggies and LEAN meats. But, I couldn’t give up reese’s cups forever either… I CAN commit to limiting them though. 🙂 Best of luck!!

  2. #3 by Melanie on February 6, 2012 - 9:24 pm

    This was a great, thought provoking post. I share a lot of your same opinions about this diet. I know a lot of people have had great success in losing and keeping weight off with it, however. I think it could be a great, short-term way to lose weight, but not a way of life, IMO. Thanks for the post.

    • #4 by Fitness PhoenixX on February 6, 2012 - 10:16 pm

      Thanks, Melanie! 🙂 I am not opposed to people trying it but I don’t think it is necessary and, like all fad diets, not a way of life- which can result in re-gaining the weight after you return to ‘normal.’ Thanks for reading!

  3. #5 by Frankie on February 7, 2012 - 4:12 am

    It seems like another fad diet. People want instant fixes. I’m all for cutting out processed and junk foods, but not entire food groups. People ate like that because they were hunter/gathers. Starvation was a common way to die and they frequently suffered malnutrition illnesses. We know about food science and nutrition today so should use that to eat healthy. For me that means clean eating, not regressing to hunter/gather diet.

    • #6 by Fitness PhoenixX on February 7, 2012 - 10:28 am

      Very well put, Frankie! 🙂 Thanks for commenting- some good points I failed to include.

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