Yea or Nay: The Paleo Diet

meat and asparagus

We’ve talked about the Paleo Diet here before. Basically, folks who ascribe to this lifestyle eat animal protein along with fruits and vegetables. The idea is that this mimics the way that our ancestors ate the the Paleolithic Era, before the dawn of agriculture.

I’m not sure I buy that this is a healthy way to eat. Here’s my two cents, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Paleo Diet, too!

Paleolithic Food

Yes, our ancestors probably did eat meat pretty frequently, but there is new evidence that they did indeed eat their fair share of grains. In fact, these stone-ground grains most likely gave people in that era greater food security, since they could dry and store them to eat during leaner times.

Is the Paleo Diet Healthy?

Saturated fats, like those found in most animal-based foods, are not healthy in excess. They’re linked to health conditions from heart attack and stroke to high cholesterol.

Another thing to consider is that our bodies need carbohydrates for things like brain function. While you do get carbs from fruits and veggies, grains also help supply your body with that crucial macronutrient.

The diet does not just exclude refined grains. It also cuts out starchy foods like corn and potatoes.

A healthy diet is all about balance, and any diet that emphasizes meat is suspect in my book. Heck, look at what happened to Dr. Atkins. If anything, we need to focus on upping our intake of fresh fruits and veggies rather than eating more meat.

What do you guys think? Do you feel like the Paleo Diet is legit or just another fad?

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by sparktography

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11 thoughts on “Yea or Nay: The Paleo Diet”

  1. You state: “A healthy diet is all about balance, and any diet that emphasizes meat is suspect in my book.”

    Paleo does not emphasize meat so much as it de-emphasizes any processed foods and other bad carbs and fats. In addition, Mark Sisson, one of the diets main proponents recommends an 80/20 approach. Do the diet 80% of the time and take a break the other 20% of the time. Pretty moderate by any measure…

    I have eaten paleo for the past 6 months. I would say that I am a “90 percenter”–so I take it a little more seriously than Mark recommends. Since March 2010 to present (mid-October 2010) I have dropped over 45 lbs and have never felt better physically, mentally, or spiritually.

    Personally I am sold on the paleo diet–or better stated the paleo lifestyle. Because it truly is a lifestyle–it is sustainable, unlike a common diet.

  2. The article uses the word grains to mean small particles of starch. If you read the article you see that no grains were harvested at all. None. Of the nine plants mentioned one is a seed, the rest roots and bulbs. All foods already considered paleo.

    A diet that we ate for 2.5 million years can’t be called a fad.

    Apparently you believe in the lipid hypothesis. It has never been proven that high intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol are detrimental to our health. The American Heart Association bases their “low-fat” prescription off of five studies:

    (1) The first one was Ancel Keys study done in the 70’s that generated “The Lipid Hypothesis” which argues that eating saturated fat and cholesterol give you high cholesterol, and high cholesterol gives you heart disease… totally bogus, and debunked numerous times. The debunking is best explained in Gary Taubes’s “Good Calories, Bad Calories.” [Basically he had data from 22 countries but he cherry picked the seven countries that showed what he wanted to show.]

    (2) The Los Angeles VA Hospital Study (1969): Researchers didn’t collect data regarding smoking habits for some men, and stated later that half the participants strayed from the prescribed diet.

    (3) The Oslo Diet-Heart Study (1970); basically proved nothing regarding deaths from heart disease and a low fat diet.

    (4) The Finnish Mental Hospital Study (1979): almost half of the participants either left or joined half way through the 12 year study.

    (5) The St. Thomas’ Atherosclerosis Regression Study (1992): 74 men showed a reduction in heart disease by those who ate diets low in saturated fat… but they were also required to eat less sugar. Since the message needed to be “saturated fat bad” that little detail is often left out.

    Let me sum it up: Cholesterol doesn’t lead to heart problems. Cholesterol is absolutely essential to good health. A major factor is the small dense LDL particles that cause problems.

  3. I don’t subscribe to a paleo diet, so I may not be the best person to address this, but I think you may be oversimplfying the diet. It is meant to be heavy in fruits and vegetables, with only “high quality,” grass-fed, free-range animal flesh eaten on occassion. Paleo (in my understanding) involves no dairy and less meat, which makes it decidedly better than traditional Atkins (although Atkins can be done as a vegan diet, if one so chooses). Of course, there are very sound arguments that today’s animals, which have been bred into weird mutations of their ancestors, can never replicate what prehistoric man may have eaten. That said, any diet that moves away from eating meat and dairy in the disgusting levels that are typical of the Standard American Diet, is a step in the right direction.

  4. I think the “no processed food” part of the diet is a good idea, for sure. But the rest of the diet has some serious health problems, in my opinion.

    The thing is, there’s a reason our ancestors (and all of humanity up until the last few hundred years) ate the foods they did: in the paleolithic era, humans were eating in order to avoid starving to death. Food was rare, and difficult to get, and so our ancestors needed the most calorie-dense foods possible, in order to stay alive. If you might only eat once every few days, you’d better hope that meal has a whole lot of nutrition in it.

    In fact, our human enjoyment of fatty and sugary foods is an evolutionary advantage, or at least WAS an advantage. Back then, those fatty sugary foods were the ones with the most nutritional “bang for your buck,” so those humans who could find them survived best.

    But now that we live in the modern age, we eat 3 meals a day, plus snacks. We are not in constant peril of starvation. So the same foods that were great back then because they preserved our lives in the face of starvation… now, those foods are more caloric than our bodies need if we’re eating 3 meals a day. The same saturated fats that were able to miraculously sustain our bodies for weeks at a time on one meal… now we have them in overkill, and we get enough of them for weeks at a time EACH DAY. Our ancestors who ate these things, moreover, didn’t have desk jobs, and spent most of their days moving around outside, helping to convert those fats into usable calories. Most of us, these days, don’t have such an existence.

  5. I agree with Don Weiss’s post, but here’s a note to add to your article.

    Yes, brain function depends on glucose. It however does NOT depend on you actually eating it. Fact: your body can make glucose without carbohydrates. Look up gluconeogenesis. There is no such thing as an “essential” carbohydrate.

    One of the major reasons to avoid grains is the presence of lectins and gluten. These 2 things are major disruptors for the GI system. While you’re looking up gluconeogenesis, check out “leaky gut” on Google too.

  6. I can only speak for myself, having been on the Paleo diet for 6 months. I have lost about 10 pounds, but eliminated massive amounts of abdominal bloat. My use of asthmas inhalers went down significantly. I stopped snoring. Eliminated heavy use of antacids. Just generally haven’t felt better in many years. If I keep on like this, I’ll never eat another bagel and, somehow, I don’t feel personally at risk.

  7. As with a few other bloggers about this topic, I’ve noticed you are leaving out the important science behind this eating plan that is published in peer-reviewed journals all over the world. Many diseases and chronic conditions – arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, etc – are absent in the fossil record before agriculture. Beans and grains have compounds in them to fight off insects that actually prevent you from absorbing vitamins, not only from the grain itself but the meal you are eating with it. the vitamin deficiency diseases Pellagra and beriberi were huge problems for years in the US south and in Asia, where poor people ate mostly grains, up until manufacturers began fortifying these products with B vitamins. If it needs fortifying, I don’t need to eat it. All our nutrional requirements are met eating only pre-agricultural foods. This plan emphasizes adding Omega 3 healthy oil and lean cuts of meat to reduce the impact of saturated fat, and taught me that many beans, grains, etc are acidifying to the system, causing the body to leach calcium from the bones to counteract the acidity. I was a vegetarian and leaned that way for years but never lost weight; instead I gained it. Now I have clearer head, no colds, tons of energy, and I’ve lost 30 lbs in six months. Thank you, Dr. Cordain and Paleo peeps everywhere.

  8. “”” Saturated fats, like those found in most animal-based foods, are not healthy in excess. They’re linked to health conditions from heart attack and stroke to high cholesterol. “””

    Wrong. Below is a peer-reviewed meta-analysis study (a study that looks at lots of studies done in the past) in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

    Here’s the result:

    During 5–23 years of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, 11,006 developed [coronary heart disease] or stroke. Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of [coronary heart disease], stroke, or [cardiovascular disease]

    Also, as Don said, read “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Gary Taubes.

  9. I agree with some of the other commentors. I think you over simplified the diet. I am considering going on to a modified Paleo diet for my health conditions. I think that many people need to consider this type of diet to solve their health issues, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, celiac disease, etc. For you to dismiss it completely is not the answer…

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