More than a year ago, when Whole 30 was all the rage (not that it isn't today), I wrote an article about why that type of diet challenge just isn't for me. At the time, it seemed like everyone was jumping on the Paleo bandwagon. I felt the need to address this new craze on my blog and give a different perspective in a world that seemed overly saturated with Paleo proponents.
My 'Why Whole 30 Is Not For Me' post actually turned out to be one of the most popular posts on my website. I still get new comments on that post to this day from people who find it refreshing to hear the 'unpopular opinion' about a diet that seems to be all the rage right now.
It's true...the Paleo craze has not died down. In fact, more people seem to have adopted the lifestyle. Simultaneously, CrossFit has grown and as a result the diet has seem to taken more and more converts. My stance on it however, has not changed. In fact, I've expanded my opinion on Whole 30 to include the Paleo diet as a whole.
I do not judge those who choose this type of lifestyle/eating philosophy, but for me, it just doesn't make sense based on my knowledge of food, health, and nutrition.
All my previous reasons for avoiding this diet hold true today. I feel almost exactly the same way as I did back then about the restrictive nature of the Paleo diet. The difference now is that I have done a lot more research about the scientific basis for why Paleo just doesn't make sense (for me). Prompted by my recent reading of the book Diet Cults, by Matt Fitzgerald, I've explored the false information that makes up the basic foundation of the Paleo philosophy. Here are a few of the reasons why I just can't support the Paleo diet as being the 'one true way' we are supposed to eat...
The creator has no formal training as a biologist-Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet author) has claimed the Paleo diet as the 'One True Way' to eat and that we are genetically programmed to eat in this way. However, his statements have no real merit because he himself is not a man of biological or evolutionary science. In fact, a lot of true experts in the field have come forward to discredit the core concepts of Cordain's diet philosophy.
The diet has no basis in archaeological reality-It's not true that our ancestors ate 50% of the their calories from meat as Cordain claims. Yes, in some regions more meat and fish were consumed than in others. However, citing the fact that there is no overarching 'original human diet', it is naive to say that all of our ancestors subsisted on mostly meat. In reality, diets differed greatly from place to place and the evolution of our species is proof that we can flourish on number of different dietary lifestyles.
People ate grains long before the Agricultural Revolution-One of the basic tenants of the Paleo diet is that grains and legumes should not be consumed because our paleolithic ancestors did not eat them. Cordain is wrong again in this regard because there is archaeological evidence from before the Agricultural Revolution that shows grains were being prepared and eaten using certain tools. In addition, DNA extraction from dental plaque on Neanderthals and Paleolithic people shows they regularly ate tubers, beans, grains, and seeds. All of which are decried on the Paleo diet. Not only are grains and legumes, safe for us to eat but real evidence has been found to show grain consumption is correlated with reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and death overall.
Every food we eat today is different from our paleolithic ancestors-Virtually every food we eat today is genetically and molecularly different from the foods that were available to our ancestors. We have radically altered food to suit the needs of our modern world and modern tastes. Additionally, Paleolithic people ate what was around them. You wouldn't see an ancient man delighting in a breakfast of avocado, bacon, plantains, coconut oil fried eggs, and blueberries....all foods that come from very different areas of the world.
There is no "original universal diet"-Just to reiterate, all the archaeological findings from around the world from the Paleolithic era, show diets varied immensely from place to place depending on climate, availability, geography, season, and culture. Some civilizations, ate mostly carbohydrates, some ate moderately from all the macro nutrient groups, and some were high in dietary fat. They ate based on need, not on arbitrary rules or the impassioned proclamations from a false guru.
The human body HAS had enough time to adapt to post-paleolithic additions to our diets-Popular Paleo proponent Mark Sisson said "while the world has changed in innumerable ways in the last 10,000 years (for better and worse), the human genome has changed very little and thus only thrives under similar conditions." But this simply isn't true. For example, certain societies have evolved to benefit from milk drinking by developing a gene variant that allows humans to digest lactase. Similarly with grains, people who lived places where a grain centered, agricultural based diet was adopted showed higher levels of amylase in their systems, an enzyme that aids starch digestion. Evolution, especially in regards to dietary changes, is not slow. Humans are able to respond rapidly to changes in their environment and in their food sources. Frankly, the changes in the human genome that allowed for higher consumption of foods like dairy and grains were only beneficial for us considering we live a lot longer than our Paleolithic ancestors.
If any of these arguments resonate with you, I highly suggest checking out Christina Warinner's TEDTalk on "Debunking the Paleo Diet." It's riveting and delves into a lot more detail behind these arguments than I have here.
I want to reiterate that I am not criticizing those of you who choose this diet. What I am remarking on are the claims that Paleo is the be-all end-all of healthy, optimal diets (as insisted upon by its creator). If this way of eating works for you, great. But it's naive to consider it as the 'best' or 'only' true way to eat. Remember, the perfect diet doesn't exist. The science just isn't there and people are quick to rush to its defense when the evidence supporting it is proven to be lacking.
As I discussed in my initial post on this topic, my biggest problem with the Paleo diet is its demonization of food. It creates fear around whole food groups and marks them as out right bad for you. We should not be living in a world of extremes. All food has a place in our diets (barring those who have legitimate allergies) and I don't think it's fair to label some as 'bad' just because it's trendy.
Do I eat foods that happen to be Paleo? Sure. Do I make recipes that happen to be Paleo? You bet! But when a diet philosophy consumes your whole being and you are constrained in what you can eat by dogmatic rules from a non-scientific book, THAT is where a problem lies.
As I've stated time and time again, my diet philosophy is as follows: eat real, whole foods in moderation from ALL food groups. Simple, easy to follow (because there really are no rules), and generally results in healthy living for those who practice it.
It works for me and I'm happy with that approach.
This post originally appeared on HealthyHelperBlog.com.