It seems almost every week a new review or opinion piece is published that attempts to discredit The Paleo Diet; a lifestyle paradigm that has helped millions gain control of their health and combat disease without the need of pharmaceutical intervention. Other than those in the health and fitness industry or those who stumble across the merits of Paleo through self experimentation, the general public continues to be fed a rather biased view of the Paleo diet by the media. I feel its time to set a few things straight;
- The Paleo diet is NOT a High Meat Diet.
Nor does it have to be a 'Low Carb Diet'. The Paleo diet is 'high' in what are proven to be the most nutrient dense foods available to us. Meat is and always will be one of the most nutrient dense foods in the human diet. Regardless of anyone's ethical or religious beliefs this is indeed FACT.
However, meat does not define the Paleo diet as the media would have you believe; Forming the base and majority of a typical Ancestral-eater pyramid, is a plethora of fresh vegetables and fruit. A mixed array of colourful fresh produce are the forefront of the diet, not meat. Paleo's are as 'vegetarian' as most vegetarians and vegans are in this respect (*cue: hate-mail). In fact the only differences between the two paradigms of Paleo and Vegetarian is that the former choose to attain their protein from more bio-available sources (meat), avoiding plant based forms of protein (legumes) whose proteins tend to be less easily digested and utilised by the body. Other than this difference they are both diets centred around a goal of optimal health rather than weight-loss (a fortunate side-effect).
The legumes and carbohydrate sources that are avoided in Paleo are those that pose either high risk of being problematic for digestion and those considered to have what is deemed low nutritional density.
Logic -another cornerstone of Paleo yet absent in the media- would decree that omitting foods of low-nutrient density in a diet is extremely unlikely to create nutrient deficiencies in a person. The aforementioned plethora of fresh produce coupled with quality protein sources and an inflammation-free digestive tract means it is very hard to create a nutrient deficiency on a Paleo diet.
- It's not really a diet, it's a lifestyle.
"It has always been meant as a 'starting point' for those in search of optimal health, not a 'destination' " (Functional Medicine Practicioner, Surfer and and all round awesome guy Chris Kresser).
It can be as strict or flexible as you like and it certainly doesn't mean you have to say good-bye to chocolate, ice-cream or beer forever;
It works because it can be flexible once optimal health is achieved. Initially the stricter rules are necessary as they work extremely well as an elimination diet for the vast majority of people. Once gut inflammation and hormone optimisation is achieved through the diet, most people can reintroduce formally problematic foods, in moderation. Oh, and get lean and look great naked in the process. Remember cave men have very little clothing, so looking good and being able to move really fast was important at all times. Which brings me to my next point;
- No one really cares exactly what humans did or ate in Palaeolithic times (except anthropologists of course).
We can only theorise. But hey, the theory and main principles seem to be working for a LOT of people.
So why 'Paleo' as a name then ?
It's weird, I don't see anyone having a go at Coca-Cola about their name seeing as they no longer include cocaine as an ingredient? Talk about double standards.
I'll tell you why 'Paleo': Because the 'Avoid low-nutrient dense carbohydrates, avoid potential gut-inflaming food and no processed crap Diet' is a tad wordy and not so catchy as a title.
This point regarding what humans actually ate tends to be a favourite point of the haters- even though it has absolutely no bearing on the health and logic of the Paleo diet. Do we care what cave man actually ate? No. Do we want/need optimal health and an easy way to understand it? Yes.
- Early man only lived until his 30's, why would we want to eat like them.
There is this thing in mathematics called 'averages'. A huge 30-40% of hunter-gatherer children are thought to have died before age 15, most of those before age 5. If you do the maths, this means that even if 10% lived until their 70s, and another 20% to their 50's, you're going to get a really skewed view of an 'Average lifespan' being in the 30's. Factor in the advances in hygiene, dental and medical science, the lack of lions chasing us and you can start to see that early man -especially the bones found of those who lived well past their 50's-, did exceptionally well considering their circumstances! You really have to question the intelligence of authors that continue to cling to this point as an argument. Its probably the lack of animal- derived saturated-fat and other brain-healthy forms of fat missing from their diets. Go figure.
- The crux of it all: No Big Pharma and Big-Food corporations can make money off Paleo
So other than health conscious individuals and personal experiences, there is no financial gain to popularise Paleo by the media. That is also why this Paleo/ living in harmony with our ecosystem thing will only ever grow from the grass roots up.
Why? News flash; governments don't want you to stop buying bread and cereals from the huge food conglomerates the western economies are heavily invested in. Some companies have tried to make money out of 'Paleo' branded products (often as processed as their counterparts switching wheat flour for other forms of flour or sugar) and there are some excellent Paleo recipe books out there, but there is no huge corporate-level revenue in it.
At its roots, a diet advocating organic fresh produce -locally grown where possible-, and meat derived from naturally well raised and fed livestock by caring farmers, is simply not attainable by Big food conglomerates. The very essence of Paleo puts value into sustainability and the health of food instead of profit. This promotes small/local businesses that care about food quality and it gives power back to the people!
Viva le resistance!