Me Eat. You?

Posted on August 7th, 2012 by in Nutrition

The Paleo diet trend is catching on.

It used to be called dieting. Now our food restrictions, most of them self-imposed, are called a lifestyle choice. From the vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free to nut-free, low-fat, no fat, no carb, and raw, pretty much everyone’s not eating something.

The newest abstainers may be followers of the Paleo diet, also known as the “caveman diet” and populated by Loren Cordain, PhD, author of three books on the topic: The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and The Dietary Cure for Acne. Cordain and other proponents of the Paleo diet argue for a return to prehistoric ways of eating, pointing out that the human body was designed to thrive on—and best digest—the foods available to us when we were hunter-gatherers: meat, vegetables,  and fruits, but not dairy or grains. Before the invention of agriculture and processed foods, we were fitter and less disease-stricken, he argues; those who’ve had success on a Paleo diet, meanwhile, credit it for everything from losing weight to lowering blood pressure and eliminating acne. Like nearly any other restrictive way of eating, including veganism, the Paleo diet has dedicated followers and ardent detractors.

Of course, the downsides of modern American agriculture—from environmental destruction to an overreliance on GMOs—have been widely discussed. Most of us are already trying to cut down on processed foods if not grains specifically. At the same time, there’s some question about whether Paleo man really did, in fact, eat a diet comprised largely of meat and vegetables; many researchers argue that our ancestors were, in fact, largely vegetarians. In any case, isn’t the Paleo diet just an updated version of the ill-fated, heart-stopping Atkins diet?

Not quite. Though thePaleo diet eschews dairy and all grains—even whole ones—it allows for any type of fruit or vegetable. And Paleo needn’t be based on a diet of red meat: followers can opt for fish, eggs, and chicken. And they should, according to John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs, and says that a Paleo diet can be healthful— with a few modifications.

“It’s right on to say that grains don’t do humans any favors,” says John. “Oatmeal, for example, might not be ‘turning on’ any genes that activate certain diseases, but it certainly isn’t contributing any nutrition to our diets. When it comes to metabolic improvement profiles, if you compare oatmeal to a bagel with cream cheese or, better, a Pop Tart, of course oatmeal is preferable. But oatmeal versus a handful of almonds and fruit? I’m quite sure oatmeal would not come out on top.” A Paleo diet heavy in fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, however, is invariably nutrient-rich.

What John doesn’t advise is a Paleodiet that favors red meat over all else. “The problem I have with the Paleo diet is that it often gives red meat a free pass,” he says. “Paleo eaters also forgo beans and legumes, though studies show that populations that eat beans on a daily basis are some of the world’s healthiest.”

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  • http://twitter.com/tracksbylinds Lindsey M

    I’ve been wondering what the Paleo diet is that everyone seems to be talking about. It can be overwhelming sometimes to keep up with all the ‘labelled’ ways of eating. I think I’ll stick to my own with modifications from different theories according to what my body needs/wants. Thanks for sharing! :)

  • Lizardpeanut

    Don’t knock oatmeal.  It has fiber and loads of B vitamins and a few minerals.  And, lean protein can be beans too.  Grains and beans are a great combination.  Have been since early civilization.

  • yogamatt

    The Paleo diet is absolutely devoid of many scientific concepts. 

    We have evolved to produce amylase in our mouth and stomach specifically for breaking down starchy granules. 

    Carbs are our main source of energy. That is why competitive athletes eat them. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1504555466 Michelle MA

    I have to agree with the article… sorry, but grains are known to cause inflammation in the body, leading to flu, ear infections, etc. Paleo is similar to, if not synonymous with the Phase One diet as researched and written about extensively by Doug Kaufmann (google Know The Cause). Since our family cut out most, but not all grains four years ago, we are the healthiest people we know with regard to sicknesses (which are virtually non-existent), visits to the pediatrician (close to never except yearly well-visits) and none of us get the flu shot, ever. Going grain free not a popular topic because, let’s face it, most of America’s diet today is comprised of grain (and sugar, same difference) and without it, all those tasty items, and convenience items, that come in boxes and bags are out. All that said, everyone’s body is different and some people are more sensitive to the problems generally associated with grains than others. Some people think that they are unaffected by the effects of grains but could quite possibly find that they feel a great deal better physically, generally speaking, without them, and seemingly unrelated health problems (chronic pain, migraines, asthma, whatever) all but disappear.