Today a good friend of mine asked me to comment on the Paleo diet from my point of view. So many people swear by it now that we all probably know someone on it. Well I’ve been reading up on the Paleo tenets, and I think that some of them are great, but some are a bit misguided. There is definitely something to the notion that we should eat the way our paleolithic ancestors did, because they did not suffer obesity or many of the chronic health problems now afflicting humanity. But I would always be wary of gimmicks like this one. Let me break it down.
Great: higher fiber intake and higher intake of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant phytochemicals (translates to: eat fresh fruits and veggies)
The conventional Western diet does not provide nearly enough fiber. Fiber is this fantastic material only found in plants that makes you feel more full, aids digestion, and helps keep cholesterol down. And of course plants are the best place to get all your micronutrients.
Misguided: lower carbohydrate intake (translates to: don’t eat cereal grains, legumes, or potatoes)
I’m not going to deny that low carb diets aid in weight loss; for most people I think they do. The thing is that glucose, abundantly found in grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, is your body’s preferred energy source. When your body has to burn fat instead it works a lot harder, so going low carb is bound to make you feel less energetic. Legumes and some whole grains are also a good source of plant-based protein, which as I’ve written before is preferable to animal protein. Whole and non-processed grains, legumes, and potatoes are also good sources of fiber and other nutrients.
Great: Don’t eat dairy
You have to admit, it doesn’t make that much sense to feed the milk from one species it evolved for like the cow, and feed it to another species like humans. Dairy can be high in saturated fat and very easy to overeat, especially the way it’s incorporated into many dishes these days. I don’t think it’s necessary to completely give up dairy to be healthy; obviously I still can’t part with it, but reducing your dairy intake is probably beneficial.
Misguided: higher protein intake (translates to: eat grass-fed meat, eggs, and fish/seafood)
It’s not the recommendation to increase protein intake per se that I take issue with, because I think having a good proportion of protein is important for satiety. And, if you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle it’s important to have adequate protein intake. The thing is that the Paleo diet encourages you to eat more meat, and to center most of your meals around it. From my point of view, plant protein is highly preferable to animal protein. As I understand it, ancient man did eat meat, but not nearly in such high proportions as is suggested in the Paleo diet. Beyond that, today’s farmed meat is very different from a nutrition perspective compared to the wild animals of old, and by that I mean much higher in saturated fat, even the grass fed kind. But if you are going to eat meat, free range and grass fed is certainly the way to go. Check out my Plant Strong Declaration to see more of my views on meat.
Great: Make monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats a higher proportion of your fat intake (translates to: eat nuts and seeds and healthful oils like olive, walnut, flaxseed, avocado, and coconut)
These fats are great for making you feel full and satisfied as well as lowering your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. They’re also delicious, of course.
Great: Don’t eat refined sugar, salt, processed foods, or refined vegetable oils
Do I even have to explain?
So I think the people behind this diet missed the mark a bit but the theory is right on- let’s get back to whole foods! So let me know what you think- would you go Paleo?