Let me start by saying that I can see what original Paleo dieters were trying to do, and at its core the Paleo diet has some great principles that people can definitely benefit from. But, as with many ideologies, philosophical, religious or political, even if they start out well intentioned in theory they usually end up divisive and destructive in practice.
The actual Paleo diet does several things right. If you’re going to eat meat it is best to buy grass-fed, organic, free-range, or hunt your own, avoiding factory farmed, processed meats. Also, eating a lot of vegetables is a great idea! It suggests avoiding dairy, sugar, and refined carbs which is wonderful. They lose me at cutting out beans/legumes. And, at the suggestion that large amounts of animal protein and saturated fat are healthy, even though there’s endless scientific and anecdotal evidence which shows it causes cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and countless other ailments.
Here’s another problem. Most Paleo dieters do not eat the way it was intended. It’s nearly impossible in our modern society! Many bloggers, authors, and fitness pros are cashing in on the Paleo craze and creating their own spin offs.
I have wanted to mention something about this topic for a long time, but it is such a heated and passionate debate I’ve avoided chiming in. It’s to the point where I feel like I can no longer sit back in good conscience and do nothing while people eat bacon fat brownies and red meat pretending like it’s the healthy choice.
Paleo has turned into is little more than the Atkins diet. If you’ll recall, that did not end well for Dr. Atkins. He died obese after having had at least one heart attack. Here we are a decade later and I’m hearing the same high protein, low carb rhetoric.
In fact, according to NPR, “Atkins Nutritionalists say this renewed faith in the low-carb approach is helping the company grow again. Sales of Atkins’ branded products have grown by nearly 44 percent since 2011… the folks at Aktins are also hoping that the popularity of the paleo diet can give the brand a boost.”
There is no doubt that low-carb, high protein diets help you lose weight in the short term. If you have an event coming up soon that you want to get skinny for then by all means eat steak wrapped in bacon for breakfast. You’ll lose weight. I also hear that methamphetamines are an effective weight loss supplement and cocaine improves energy.
Just because something works does not mean it’s healthy.
The premise of Paleo is that we should be eating the way our ancestors ate a 2 or 3 million years ago, pre-agriculture/farming, because that is how our bodies were meant to eat. It is very true that society and technology are evolving faster than we are in many respects. But, the assumption that because something is “new” (or less than a couple million yrs old) it’s bad, and that if it’s old then it’s good is a flawed hypothesis. Personally I think beans/legumes are a part of any healthy diet and they’re completely off limits, yet lard is a staple in Paleo.
I decided to look up some credible research studies to share with you to support what I’m saying. There is no need to take my word for it when there is scientific evidence to back it up.
Here are just a few of the studies results:
- A growing body of scholarly data suggests that no such thing as an evolved human diet exists and that popular notions of returning to a diet that is more true to human nature are inconsistent with the ways in which metabolisms and eating habits develop in humans. (Nutrition Reviews, Aug 2013)
- Increasing scientific consensus that eating more plant foods but fewer animal foods would best promote health. One challenge to this consensus is the idea that palaeolithic man consumed more meat than currently recommended, and that this pattern is genetically determined. If such exists, a genetic basis for ideal proportions of plant or animal foods is difficult to determine; hominoid primates are largely vegetarian, current hunter-gatherer groups rely on foods that can be obtained most conveniently, and the archeological record is insufficient to determine whether plants or animals predominated. Most evidence suggests that a shift to largely plant-based diets would reduce chronic disease risks among industrialized and rapidly-industrializing populations. (The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 1999)
- Studies have linked high protein intake with cancer, especially of the breast and colon. Studies also show that diets high in meat have a strong positive correlation with atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, but such diets are presently linked with high intakes of total and saturated fat, which probably accounts for a large part of the association (Committee on Diet and Health, 1989).
- High fat content may promote obesity, because high fat diets may elevate serum insulin levels, and because breast/colon cancer incidence consistently shows strong positive correlation with dietary fat.
(Department of Nutrition and Food Studies: New York University, 1994)
Bacon is a very popular food in Paleo recipes. It’s used in promotional materials, and widely accepted as a perfectly “healthy” food in the diet. The idea of this seems almost comical to me. Bacon is heavily processed, and smothered in sugar, sodium, and nitrates.
Is it that Paleo dieters actually believe bacon is healthy, or is it wishful thinking? I’m really not sure. But, I do know that people tend to hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. So, diets that tell you eating lots of grease and lard and bacon is good for you is much sexier than me telling you to eat more beans.
One teaspoon of bacon grease contains 38 calories. It is almost 100% fat, with little nutritional value, and it’s about 40% saturated fat. Oddly, butter is popular among Paleo dieters as well. Though I can’t imagine a time when cavemen added butter to their coffee and fried up bacon for breakfast.
And, just because I’m a science nerd, here’s a couple studies cited on Wiki that I thought were interesting:
- A study by Columbia University suggests a link between eating cured meats (such as bacon) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found in 2010 that eating processed meats such as bacon, preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives, was associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and diabetes.
The Paleo diet is right when they say to cut out added sugar and salt, processed foods, simple carbs, and dairy, yet in practice it doesn’t look much like that at all. It appears like an excuse to eat butter and bacon without feeling guilty because it’s diet friendly. I learned a long time ago that if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. It doesn’t look to me like this is any different. You can’t actually have your Paleo cake and eat it too.