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Is the Paleo diet extinct yet?

The Paleo diet seems to be on its way out (every BS fad diet dies after its 15 minutes of fame), but in case anyone out there still wonders about its efficacy - and to drive those last few nails into its coffin - here's a question we had over on the Karina Inkster Healthy Living Academy Facebook page.

Q: What’s your take on the Paleo diet?

A: Here are 8 reasons why it's 100% BS.

1. Paleo supporters argue that whole grains weren’t part of our prehistoric diets. Well, neither were broccoli, artichokes, lettuce, grapefruit, and most of the other produce we enjoy today. But you don’t see any Paleo people banning those, do you? Also, there are countless research studies supporting the role of whole grains in increasing longevity, decreasing obesity, and lowering risk for heart disease.

2. Paleo people are obsessed with grass-fed beef. Reality check: there’s not much difference between grass-fed and regular grain-fed beef. Most cattle eat grass for the first two thirds of their lives – whether they’re labelled as “grass fed” or not. Nothing special here. Regular beef cows then get fattened up with corn and other grains while grass-fed cattle continue eating grass (and contributing to soil erosion, methane emissions, and manure run-off). Grass-fed cows – just like other cows – can be pumped full of hormones to fatten them up before slaughter. If the average American were to switch all of his/her meat consumption to grass-fed instead of grain-fed, he/she would save about 1300 calories per month. That’s only about a third of a pound of weight loss.

3. There are countless inconsistencies between what our ancestors likely ate 10,000 years ago and what today’s Paleo people eat. Turkey was introduced to Europe in the 16th Century, but it’s on the OK list for Paleo. Yams are on the Paleo no-no list. They’ve been eaten in Africa for eons. Also, there’s evidence that our ancestors ate grains (on the Paleo no-no list) as much as 200,000 years ago. Take that, “haven’t had time to get used to grains” theorists. The modern animal that most resembles those eaten 10,000 years ago is the antelope. It’s only 5% fat. Beef contains 50-60+% fat. Turkey breast has about 35% fat. The animals available today are nowhere close to the wild ones eaten 10,000 years ago. When’s the last time you saw wild boar or woolly mammoth at the grocery store?

4. Nobody’s certain what people 10,000 years ago ate anyway. It’s all based on guesses and limited evidence. Also, what Paleo people don’t seem to talk about is location. Just because people in Europe ate a certain way 10,000 years ago (apparently what the Paleo diet is modelled upon) doesn’t mean people in Africa ate that way (in fact, much research supports the notion that prehistoric diets consisted of up to 80% plants, depending upon location).

5. One of the most important critical thinking questions you can ask yourself is, “Compared to what?” A few studies have showed that Paleo style eating is healthier than the typical Western diet. So are pretty much any non-typical-Western diets. Just because a Paleo diet may have health benefits, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective or most healthy option out there. I’d love to see a peer-reviewed study with a significant number of participants that pits the Paleo diet against other non-typical-Western diet options to see which one comes out on top. As far as I know, there’s no such research.

6. The Paleo diet hasn’t received much clinical research attention (that should be a warning sign). But meat consumption has. For example, a two decades-long study of 110,000 adults found that eating red meat – in any amount – significantly increases the risk of premature death. Just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat per day was linked to a 13% greater chance of dying during the study. (See the study abstract). 40 years of clinical nutrition research (summarized in The China Study) found that animal protein (again, in any amount) increases one’s risk of developing cancer. Plants, on the other hand, have the ability to “turn off” the expression of cancer genes, and can reverse heart disease rather than create it.

7. The Paleo premise that we’re somehow best suited to the hunter/gatherer lifestyle of our ancestors is based on a flawed understanding of human evolution. We’re never perfectly suited to our environments, and our biology hasn’t magically stopped changing since the dawn of agriculture. It’s ridiculous to assume we can pinpoint a single way of eating to which we’re best suited.

Marlene Suk, professor of ecology, evolution, and behaviour at the University of Minnesota, writes, “The notion that humans got to a point in evolutionary history where their bodies were somehow in sync with the environment … reflects a misunderstanding of evolution. What we are able to eat and thrive on depends on our more than 30 million years of history as primates, not on a single, arbitrarily more recent moment in time.”

8. In 2011 the US News and World Report ranked the top 29 popular weight loss diets. The ranking criteria included nutrition, safety, effectiveness for weight loss and disease prevention, and ease of following. Paleo came second-to-last.


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