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Don’t Jump Into the Paleo Diet

Paleo_Diet_Chef_MeatUFC champ Ronda Rousey is tough enough to slap you six ways back to the stone age. Much of that is talent and her aptitude for throwing chicks around the octagon. Yet Rousey credits much of her success to her training regimen. She’s well-known for having just one meal a day – and that meal is often from the infamous paleo diet.
Rousey’s not the only celeb doing the paleo diet. Presidential hopeful Jeb Bush is doing it too in his effort to slim down and fight off ‘younger’ rivals with eyes on the White House. That means little to no starch, dairy or sugar from the man who hails from a state where obesity hovers north of 30%. He’s reportedly lost 30 pounds for his efforts, though he’s consistently hungry and always on the treadmill.
So does this make the paleo diet worth your efforts? Well, not really. Researchers take issue with just about every factor that makes this popular diet, from the methodology to results and ease of application. Nutritionists don’t like it either – in fact, it came in dead last among 35 diets reviewed by U.S. News Health.

What is The Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is a caveman’s diet. It’s based on the premiss that our sabretooth cat-clobbering ancestors were healthier than us because they caught or picked what they ate. Think meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, along with nuts and a few other stragglers we think folks of old would consume. That’s about it – dairy is gone, along with pizza (sorry Jeb), processed foods and anything ‘invented’ in the so-called modern era.
For reference, the paleo diet is 19%-35% protein and meat, with moderate to high intake of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats. Fruits and vegetables make up 35% to 45% of the paleo diet, and they’re the main source of carbohydrates.

There is much evidence that we’ve evolved in just 7,000 years. For example, we’ve become tolerant to lactose – the gene that encodes an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down sugar in milk, typically shuts down after infancy. But many people evolved a mutation that kept this gene turned on when dairy became common.

Folks who follow the paleo diet believe the human body has not evolved fast enough to adapt to the many foods available to the modern consumer. Snack foods, preservatives, grains and even ‘health’ foods like dairy are responsible for many of the modern ailments we face, like cancer and diabetes. Our caveman cousins were healthier, theoretically, because they ate whole foods. And they hunted, foraged and scavenged off the land.
This works in theory. The paleo diet is heavy on foods we know are healthy, like fish and berries. It’s low sodium, which is never a bad thing, and even the most critical of nutritionists like that it skips processed foods. Add those whole foods in there and the paleo diet should be magic.

Flawed Logic

Well, here’s the thing. The paleolithic era lasted from 2.5 million to about 10,000 years ago, with the introduction of agriculture and domestication of animals. Paleo dieters claim this is where things went sideways because the body did not adapt to these factors – but critics say there is evidence our ancestors ate grains and legumes. And we’re more nutritionally flexible than given credit for.
Confused_DoctorProponents say the paleo diet allows folks to express their genes. Critics say it’s dangerously restrictive – Scientific American points out that it excludes calcium-filled dairy and the protein and nutrients from fiber-rich legumes. Moreover it fails by deifying a narrow slice of evolutionary history that, quite frankly, doesn’t really stand out.

We’re Always Changing

The paleo diet insists we’re biologically similar to our caveman ancestors, and denies the benefits of our modern palate. But there’s a problem with that: if our bodies never changed, we’d never evolve, and mankind would quickly be removed from the planet.
In fact, there is much evidence that we’ve evolved in just 7,000 years. For example, we’ve become tolerant to lactose – the gene that encodes an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down sugar in milk, typically shuts down after infancy. But many people evolved a mutation that kept this gene turned on when dairy became common.
Natural selection has even modified peoples’ immune systems where malaria is common so they’re more resistant to the mosquito-transmitted illness. And we know that our microflora are different than the probiotics in our club-toting pals from 10,000 years ago.
Heck, the genetic mutation responsible for blue eyes probably occured within the past 10,000 years.

So Is Your Food

Consider too that we’re not the only ones changing with time. Our foods have changed drastically since the paleolithic era, be they fruit, vegetables or animal. We’ve done much of this through artificial selection – we’ve bred cows and livestock for more meat and eggs, and sown seeds for bigger fruit. Kernels are bigger, and bred for plants with sweet flesh and fewer toxins.
Does that sound unhealthy? Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and kale are all from the same plant species – and they’re among the healthiest foods on the planet.

Defining ‘The Caveman’

There’s another hole in the paleo diet. Scientific American claims our cavemen ancestors weren’t all the fertile, six-foot warriors we take them to be. They died quite young – typically at 40 – and many died before turning 15.
A study published in the journal The Lancet found atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in an exam of more than 100 mummies around the world.

The paleo diet clocks in at a measly 35 out of 35 diets analyzed in a major health review last year. It fails because it’s based on faulty logic, it’s difficult to follow and severely restricts much-needed nutrients.

Even if heart disease, diabetes and cancer were not common in the paleolithic era, our ancestors faced other health issues, like parisitic and bacterial infections, that have all but eliminated by advancements in sanitation and medicine. We’re now better off thanks to such developments. So does it really make sense to argue our prehistoric ancestors were healthier than us?
Finally, just who is the caveman that paleo dieters want to emulate? Is he Inuit of the far north? Or is he Hiwi of what is now South America, or does he belong to the early peoples of Africa? Each had different dietary patterns. And frankly, the surviving Hiwi, who live in Colombia, are shorter, more lethargic and less well-nourished than another tribe – the Ache – of Paraguay.
Hardly the genetically pure warriors that the paleo diet feeds would-be followers.

Where it Works

The paleo diet clocks in at a measly 35 out of 35 diets analyzed in a major health review last year. It fails because it’s based on faulty logic, it’s difficult to follow and severely restricts much-needed nutrients.
With that being said, there is some value to the paleo diet. No dietician anywhere will tell you that it’s bad to eliminate foods that are processed. The paleo diet is big on fruits and vegetables too – that’s a plus for sure. Here’s the lowdown on where it works, and why some people stick by the paleo diet despite its shortcomings:
Paleo_DietYou’re in the kitchen (and you’re cooking!) – No TV dinners in the microwave here. The paleo diet does indeed get you buying fresh produce and whole foods. You’re free to experiement too, and find plenty of tantalizing ways to indulge in paleo recipes.
You’re getting (some) nutrients – The paleo diet is famous for restricting legumes and whole grains. But at least the foods you’re eating are packed with nutrients, with plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with healthy, non-starchy carbs. You can even get the calcium you’re missing from dairy with almond and coconut milks.
You’re eating healthy fats – The paleo diet takes a few knocks for its high fat content. That fat is typically the healthy variety though, with plenty of good, unsaturated fats from nuts and fish.
You’re getting quality food – Whole foods figure prominently in the paleo diet. Think grass-fed beefs, pastured pigs and wild-caught seafood – all of which offer high nutritional value.

The Final Word – Pass on Paleo

While it has redeeming merits, the paleo diet is at the wrong end of healthy diets. It’s too restrictive, say the experts, and based on logic that’s easy to pick apart.
Think about what you’re trying to do as well. Are you aiming for better health, a flatter stomach, a healthy heart and/or all of the above?
The paleo diet should help you temporarily lose weight, but those restrictions limit the variety of nutrients required for long-term wellness. That hurts. Stick to the Dash diet or, my personal favourite, go mediterranean. You’ll be happier, probably healthier and might be surprised to find you hit the goals that led you to consider the paleo diet in the first place.

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