I’ve been meaning to write about the Paleo Diet for quite sometime. I am asked about my thoughts on it almost daily but I guess I had sort of hoped that the fascination and popularity would fade away over time, as is the fate of most fad diets. Paleo, however, continues to hang on tight with its fervent followers shunning grains, embracing meat, and in general, remaining steadfast in their belief that our diets should emulate our earliest ancestors. The concept is enticing and at a first glance, makes sense, but there are fundamental problems with this diet that you should know before committing to it.
The Paleolithic diet (shortened to the “Paleo diet”) is sometimes referred to as the “Hunter Gatherer diet”, the “Stone Age diet”, and the “Caveman Diet” and is built on the premise that if the cavemen didn’t eat it, then you shouldn’t either. Herein lies the first, and fundamental problem with the Paleo diet; there was no one caveman diet. Caveman were spread out around the globe, living in very different climates with very different resources available to them. Therefore there were huge differences between cavemen diets. Probably the only thing that one can definitively say was the same between them is that cavemen ate what was locally available and in season. Now, that is a concept that I am completely on board with and you can model this healthy behavior by participating in a CSA, and buying locally produced foods. Here is a video from a TED talk by Christina Warriner, an expert of ancient diets. It is a fascinating look at what our ancestors really ate.
One of the other important points that is mentioned in this talk is that each one of us is now very genetically diverse, having a large number of cavemen from different parts of the world as our ancestors. Not to mention that evolution has taken its course over the past millions of years and many people have evolved to be able to digest things like dairy and wheat; things that cavemen didn’t have available to them. Typically, it is the populations that became dairy or wheat farmers early on in our history that thrive eating these foods. For example, if you have a Northern European background, you are more likely to tolerate dairy than someone with an Asian background because Northern Europeans have had dairy in their diets for longer than Asians and have evolved to digest it.
The last major point that I want to make is that while the Paleo diet does encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, it is also heavily based on eating meat. Based upon the Paleo recipes that I’ve seen, fatty, processed meats like bacon are prevalent ingredients. This is concerning because the evidence is clear that the saturated fats found in meat are extremely dangerous for your heart and other parts of your body.
So, is there a way to do the Paleo diet in a sane and balanced way? Yes, but I think that there would need to be some modifications. First, focus on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and lean protein (with a limited amount of processed deli meats, hot dogs, red meat), and ditch the fear of grains. Whole grains are bursting with energy-boosting B vitamins, good carbohydrates that your brain and muscles need for fuel, and fiber for digestive and heart health. Choose grains that are as least processed as possible for the maximum benefit. For example, Ezekiel 4:9 bread uses a variety of whole grains that are full of nutrients. Repeat after me, “Grains are not the enemy!”.
What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet? Anyone have firsthand experience?