This is the Paleo article I didn’t want to write.
No wait. I take that back. I desperately wanted to write it, because the Paleo obsession with meat and its attack on starch drove me up the wall. But at the end of the day, I couldn’t stay angry at the Paleo Diet. Though the original popularization of Paleo was aggressively put forth by Dr. Loren Cordain with a meat pyramid that made my environmentalist-anti-industrial-meat-production sensibilities shudder in horror, many of the spin-offs of the Paleo movement have a much more docile message: don’t process your food.
Oh yeah, and don’t eat refined “fast-carbs,” as I like to call them (i.e., fine flour products, sugars, syrups, extracts, alcohol).
That’s easy. And that sounds just like every other sensible diet that works.
But what kills me is the Paleo avoidance of whole food starches like whole grains, bean, legumes, and potatoes. What gives?
If you had given me sixty seconds to say it all, I would have sucked up a bunch of air like Ace Ventura and proceeded rapidly with something like this:
- Carbs are essential for performance, especially for endurance.
- Our anatomy far more resembles than of an herbivore than it does that of a carnivore. In light of this, as omnivores, it makes more sense to lean toward the herbivore end of the food spectrum.
- Carbs are overwhelmingly abundant in nature compared to fats and proteins, though marginalized terrains don’t offer enough of the carbs we can actually eat, and therefore lead us to rely more heavily on animal-sourced calories.
- Carbs have a unique ability to make us fat if we eat too many of them; this would actually be an evolutionary advantage, especially with fructose consumption. Interestingly, it is nearly impossible to become fat on a high whole carb diet if fat intake is limited.
- Carbs regulate serotonin and digestive contraction.
- Carbs mostly break down into glucose, which is our preferred energy source; glucose metabolism is the oldest form of energy metabolism identified.
- The Paleo movement is egocentric, especially for men; any diet that makes us feel more manly, more aggressive, and more dominant over our environment (read: top of the food chain) would clearly gain favor, as demonstrated by the Crossfit movement.
- Crossfit, a popular and generally-looked-down-upon, dangerous and poorly-implemented fitness fad (at least from my surveys of other exercise physiologists–I’ll save this critique for another article) promotes a style and intensity of fitness appropriate to the limitations of a low-carb diet. Metabolic conditioning workouts lasting 5-20 minutes do not draw heavily on glycogen stores.
- Re: Crossfit and its Paleo appeal to functional training – I can’t think of any circumstance in which a paleolithic human would ever need to perform a true Olympic lift, or could actually handle such weights in their natural, awkward, unbalanced forms (logs, rocks, etc.). Olympic lifting, at least, requires considerable and impressive technique; power lifting, also a mainstay of Crossfit, is less technical and certainly another ego-driven endeavor. It comes as no surprise to me that meat-eating and Crossfit are happily married.
- High protein, low-carb diets are not only dehydrating, they require much more intensive digestive and metabolic effort, and the net energy gained from such diets is poor. While this is helpful to a sedentary fat person who wants to lose weight without working out, it is not beneficial to people who must move all day.
- Blood samples from plant-based meals are cleaner and less cloudy than those from animal-based meals; this, too, should have implications on cardiovascular efficiency.
- High meat consumption–especially red meat–is acidifying and overly “yang.” This can be no better than a “yin” dominated diet of refined foods, alcohols, and stimulants. The name of the game is balance, and Paleo is nothing more than a re-packaged Atkins diet with marginal flexibility around fruits and vegetables (as long as they don’t grow underground).
- Intermittent fasting packaged as “replicating” paleo life is a joke. This is nothing more than promoters establishing–through their dietary protocols–a guarantee to deplete glycogen stores (the first to go during a fast) so that you must always be in a state of gluconeogenesis (a metabolic pathway that results in the generation of glucose from non-carbohydrate sources).
- Paleo Diet is nothing more than a fad diet book that makes impatient, lazy people happy with a scientifically proven (thanks to the attention drawn from the Atkins movement) failsafe way to burn fat.
- The Paleo Diet’s environmental impact (if applied on a large scale) is nothing short of a suicide mission for the environment, considering our capacity for land animals.
- The Paleo Diet completely ignores less glamorous aspects of paleolithic life: namely, consumption of insects, parasitic infection rates and their inhibition of autoimmune disorders and allergies, and the inevitable consumption of feces and dirt.
- The Paleo Diet unfairly names protein and fat consumption as being responsible for encephalation (increase brain size) in relation to a decrease in the size of the gut. It is far more likely that encephalation resulted from the implementation of cooking food, thereby reducing its mass, “pre-digesting” it, creating greater bio-availability of its nutrients, and increasing net energy after digestive effort.
- The Paleo Diet claims that agrarian life led to shorter, weaker, sicker humans. This is unfounded. The evidence points in all directions; many agrarian peoples fared better than hunter-gatherer groups; the inverse is also true. Ultimately, height and strength is a factor of nutrition, parasitic load, and physical activity more than it is a factor of meat consumption.
- Meat and animal sources of protein are high in certain amino acids which are strongly linked to cancer growth (i.e., methionine).
- The Paleo Diet denies (or at least tries to ignore) the well-established lipid hypothesis, which has established the link between cholesterol and heart disease. Saturated fat, a mainstay in the paleo diet, is strongly associated with increased LDL (bad) cholesterol. (Learn more about lipids in this reader-friendly article.)
- Bad breath is usually a sign of a health imbalance. Bad breath is a common sign of ketosis, which is a desired effect of low-carb diets. Constipation is also strongly correlated with high protein consumption.
This was just my superficial rant.
I’ll stop here. I won’t dig any deeper, because Plant Positive does it so much better, and I’d much rather give homage to his thorough, well-reasoned, calm discussion of scientific research he uncovered.
It you are serious about your health–I mean, if you really are on a mission to avoid all the bad diseases of affluence and live a long, energetic life–then I DARE you to take the time to watch the entire PRIMITIVE NUTRITION series by Plant Positive.
Budget about 9 1/2 hours.