The Myth of the Paleo Diet

I have been hearing about the Paleo Diet for a few years now, ever since a close friend of mine was convinced by her trainer that the Paleo Diet was the ultimate method for weight reduction, health, and well-being.  The rules were you couldn’t eat anything a cave man wouldn’t have eaten, ostensibly subsisting on lots of red meat, poultry, seafood and fish, eggs, fruits and nuts.  You were also allowed non-starch vegetables and fruit, but the trainer emphasized loading up on animal products.  You couldn’t eat any grains, legumes, potatoes, or anything refined or processed.  The reasoning for this, at least according to trainer extraordinaire Odie, was that the diet of Paleolithic man is the one most perfectly suited to human evolution.  Evidently diet and nutrition were perfected in a desperate time when cannibalism was rampant and the life expectancy of a man was 35.4 years and 30 years for a woman (click here and here for reports).

Dr. McDougall has written a detailed article refuting all the tenets of the Paleo Diet, citing numerous research reports to emphasize how unhealthy and utterly ridiculous its claims are.  He believes the popularity of the diet lies in the fact that it reinforces bad behavior, mainly America’s tendency to load our plates with gigantic proportions of animal flesh.  More than half of a Paleo dieter’s food consists of meats, organs, fish and seafood, a diet based on artery-clogging saturated fats, cholesterol, and highly acidic, bone-damaging animal proteins.  Moreover, the Paleo diet contradicts the irrefutable fact that healthy people throughout verifiable human history have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch.  There have only been a few small, isolated populations such as the Arctic natives, living in an extreme environment, who have eaten otherwise.  Starch, not animals, is the traditional diet of humans and in fact the longest living populations subsist mostly on starch-based, low animal food diets.  Examples include the people of Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece, and the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.

According to Dr. Cordain, the author of the Paleo Diet, “The Agricultural Revolution changed the world and allowed civilizations-cities, culture, technological and medical achievements, and scientific knowledge-to develop.”  The efficient production of starchy staples such as grains, legumes and potatoes-foods forbidden by the Paleo diet-allowed civilization to progress.  Dr. Cordain finishes by saying, “Without them (starches, like wheat, rice, corn, and potatoes), the world could support one-tenth or less of our present population.”  So the author of the Paleo Diet himself admits that human progress would have been retarded without the efficient production of starches and that a diet based on animal proteins would have grave ecological and environmental effects.  Dr. McDougall, a staunch advocate of plant-based, whole food, low fat eating has an alternative to the Paleo Diet: a diet based on complex carbohydrates rather than proteins and fats to promote weight loss and prevent illness.

-Jayme Catalano