Thinking about going on the paleo diet? Perhaps you’re still on the low-carb train that crashed Dr. Atkins into the morgue. Let’s take a journey back to life. Life 200,000 years ago.
The paleo diet is based on the premise that our bodies were not designed to digest food commonly found in today’s agriculturally-based diet. In short, if humans of the Paleolithic era did not eat it, neither should we. Bet you wish you paid attention in that high school history class now, don’t ya?
You don’t need a textbook to tell you that the body of man circa 9,000 BC had a different biological makeup than ours today. These men, women, and Brendan Frasier (Encino Man, anyone?) were built to survive under vastly different conditions, and we have since evolved. They ate what was available to them, and consequently were unable to live well past the age of 40. This poses the obvious question: Why would we want to eat like cavemen? We don’t. In fact, today’s longest living individuals do not follow a paleo diet.
If you were really trying to eat like a cavemen, you’d have to go out and hunt the food yourself. It’s not so easy. Case in point: Chris McCandless attempted to live off the land in the early ’90’s, and within four months had inspired the book Into the Wild. Because he died.
The paleo diet does appropriately emphasize eating healthy animal proteins, fruits and vegetables, and avoiding refined and processed carbohydrates. However, it also forbids cereal grains, legumes, dairy and potatoes. Overall this way of eating is nutritionally inadequate – with calcium, fiber, iron, and carbohydrates of primary concern. The truth is that the body functions best on a balanced diet including all food groups.
The main issue I have with the paleo diet is the ever present elimination of carbohydrates that our society is so obsessed with. Coincidentally, our society is also obese. There is no proven correlation, I just made that up. What people don’t understand is that carbohydrates are the most essential fuel source for the body. When you workout at the gym, all that whey protein you bought from GNC and drank on the way to the lateral pulldown machine cannot be utilized without the proper amount of carbohydrates available. You may need protein to build muscle; but you need carbohydrates to perform the exercises that stimulate muscle growth.
If that hasn’t convinced you to throw down your spear and arrow, chew on this:
The brain can only function by using glucose for energy. Glucose is the product from the breakdown of carbohydrates in the body. The brain cannot use any other fuel source (i.e. protein, fat), except for carbohydrates. Therefore, if you’re largely carbohydrate-free, the lack of nutrition available to the brain may cause you to experience “brain fog”, diminishing your mental capacity to that of, say, a caveman. Like they say, you are what pre-historic homosapien you eat like.
What’s interesting to me is that the “experts” behind the paleo diet claim to know exactly what ancient man was eating hundreds of thousands of years ago that made them so buff and agile (until they died before middle age). Yet, somehow, we’re unable to pinpoint the diet of the present day that is making all of us diabetic and allergic to peanuts. It’s not that cut and dry. Nope, not like a freshly slaughtered slab of bison. We know what was available, but we can only speculate about the eating habits of those in another era.
The bottom line is that there is little scientific evidence to support the Paleolithic way of life. As Registered Dietitians, the experts in the field of nutrition, we promote only dietary behavior that is backed by evidence-based research. The paleo diet may be ostentatiously called “the world’s healthiest diet” on the website, but that claim was made by a doctor. Of philosophy. Not a Registered Dietitian.