Musings on The Paleo Diet
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing quite a few people mention The Paleo Diet and how it is supposed to be able to help you accomplish various goals from losing weight and reducing acne, to becoming leaner and stronger. Since I didn’t know anything about The Paleo Diet, I thought I’d read up on it and post my thoughts on it as a topic of conversation. According to what I’ve read, The Paleo Diet lifestyle advocates eating in a manner that’s as close to our paleolithic ancestors as possible, which means consuming a diet based on foods found in nature, such as meats, fish, poultry, vegetables and naturally occurring fats. It also recommends eliminating dairy, legumes, grains, sugars and oils, and eating higher amounts of saturated fats (?!), including beef tallow, fatty cuts of meat and organ meats.
Although proponents of the diet say that it is based on scientific research and experiments, and many people have seen positive results with it, I’m hard-pressed to buy into the claims. For one, I think it advocates eliminating or reducing many foods and food groups that provide important nutritional benefits (foods like legumes, beans, fruits and whole grains), and secondly, I don’t believe that eating high amounts of saturated fat, whether they originate from plant sources (like coconut oil) or animals (butter, beef tallow etc) is good for anyone following any type of dietary lifestyle. Our paleolithic ancestors had to hunt their food down and they might not have been able to find prey or eat for long periods of time…that’s why they ate everything they could (like the fattier parts of the animals they hunted). They couldn’t be sure of when they’d have their next meal and needed the intake of higher fats as a buffer against periods of starvation. We do not face the same problem. We don’t chase our food (unless you consider driving/walking to the supermarket or restaurant as ‘chasing’ your food), nor do we need to expend any excessive force or energy to struggle with our prey, kill it and then prepare it for consumption (and preparing a home-cooked meal, microwaving or calling for takeout do not even come close…even when you’re REALLY tired 😉
I know I’m being facetious, but do you see my point? We don’t live like our ancestors and after studying biology that last 2 semesters and learning about evolution, I know that species adapt over time to changes in the environment. Our environment has certainly changed since paleolithic times and as a species we’ve evolved in response to these changes. Unlike proponents of the Paleo Diet who argue that our bodies and our digestive systems have not changed over time and that we would still function best on an “ancestral diet,” I would argue that we have changed. We live in a different world now and have different lifestyles. Moreover, every individual has different dietary needs and preferences, and we need to keep this in mind whenever we hear of a new diet or fad.
I could go on about various other arguments against trying a strict Paleo Diet (for one, I don’t agree with the emphasis on animal proteins as opposed to plant based sources of protein, which I think more easily digested). However, I do think that it has a few good recommendations from which we could all benefit: the emphasis on eating less processed foods, eating organic and local (and humanely-raised beef, poultry etc), eliminating dairy, getting adequate sleep, exercising in moderation and allowing time for rest and relaxation. Overall though, I think that the diet is very restrictive and would be difficult to maintain in the long-run, and I also don’t think that it is very ‘healthy’ with it’s emphasis on saturated fats and animal proteins.
On a final note, food is also about pleasure, taste and enjoyment – not just about sustenance for survival. We eat things now first and foremost because we like the way they taste – not because our life depends on it, and so it’s not a “bad thing” to enjoy some of the pleasures that we’ve created over time….As a society, we’ve created a plethora of processed foods (which we could very well do to cut down on), but we’ve also produced things like red wine, chocolate, peanut butter and tiramsu…Indulgences that are great to enjoy in moderation (and I have to add, crucial to my existence :)).
So as much as I believe whole-heartedly in eating as naturally and as minimally processed foods as possible, I also believe whole-heartedly in enjoying food, and enjoying the pleasure of eating a meal with friends and family. So Paleo…Not for me…I don’t chase my food, and I’ll take a glass of red wine and some peanut butter and chocolate over beef tallow any day thank you very much 🙂