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 🙂

Advertisements

Posted on January 9, 2012, in Food. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I’m right there with you. I hadn’t heard a lot about the paleo diet until recently. Then with being pregnant and all, I’ve been reading about nutrition. There’s all this research on Omega-3 fatty acids and how they help babies grow brains and adults maintain them.

    I’ve long thought I should eat better for environmental reasons. Less packaging, fewer miles traveled, low processing all being things I should favor. Now I’m starting to fold in health reasons as well.

    It was this Tedx Talk by Dr. Terry Wahls on Minding Your Mitochondria (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxIowaCity-Dr-Terry-Wahls-Min) that really got my gears grinding. Her diet is a milder version of the paleo. Since watching the Ted Talk and reading her book I’ve been buying and eating more fresh vegetables and fruit. We are nowhere near the 12 cups of fresh produce a day that she specifies helped her reverse Parkinson’s and are good for brain health.

    I’ve also added fish back into our mostly vegetarian diet. We’re choosing fish that are low on the food chain and have strict regulations for overfishing and mercury contamination such as herring and sardines. Mercury contamination – something that didn’t exist in hunter-gatherer times, not to mention pesticides and growth hormones… not only have how we lived changed, but our food has changed.

    I can’t wait to have the summer back, I plan on preserving much more than I did last year. I have gone back to traditional fats like butter, lard and what my grandma would call “drippings”. They are replacing high temperature processed vegetable oils. I still use cold pressed olive oil for some things too.

    While I’m not sold on the paleo diet or Dr. Wahls eating plan, I am thinking more about food that was around pre-industrial revolution. I’m always interested in hearing how others think about their meals. I’m glad to know there are others out there assessing these diets that are pushing the far corners of current eating trends.

    • Hi Foy! Thanks for reading and for commenting – and congratulations to both you and Jeff on the baby! 🙂 So excited for you both! Thanks for the link to Dr Wahls’ article too – I’ll definitely check that out. I’m looking forward to the summer too and definitely plan on buying more local and organic produce from farmer’s markets whenever I can. I also just checked out your blog – gorgeous pictures! And I’m definitely going to try out some of your recipes. How long have you been blogging?

  2. Hey Farah! I’ve blogged since 2002, but started the blog I’m currently working on in Savanah! So what was that 2004? It wasn’t very organized at the tme. I was just starting to learn about urban homestedding and simple living. Somewhere along the line minimalist became a label used to describe the idea of living with less stuff. Then after Peace Corps I really got into food and recipes.

    Oddly most of the folks I know who have blogged are from SCAD. There’s you and Miranda (An Austin Homestead) and Marigold (Hideus Dreadful Stinky).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: