I’ve been preaching this for years now and I’ve finally got (more) proof, Paleo doesn’t work. For those of you that are unaware of what the Paleo diet actually is, it’s a trendy high protein/ low carb diet that is inspired by the diet of our ancient ancestors in the Paleolithic era, approximately 2.6 million years ago. What this means is the diet (or lifestyle depending on who you talk to) means you’ll be eating mainly meat, fish and a predetermined list of vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates depending on what existed 2.6 million years ago. Still following along? Good. What this also means is that you won’t be able to eat anything that uses the cooking technology that we have now, meaning breads and most other baked goods are off the table.
The issue with the Paleo diet aside from it’s many contradictory flaws (eg. There is archeological evidence to support a wider array of foods that our ancestors did eat 2.6 million years ago, such as cooking tools used for grains) is that it simply does not work. According to a new study in the Quarterly Review of Biology states that the low-carbohydrate portion of the diet is completely wrong. The researchers found that our 2.6 million year old ancestors loved and needed carbs; they just gathered the carbs instead of cultivating them. The research reviewed archaeological, genetic and physiological evidence to conclude that plant based carbohydrates and meat were both necessary and complementary aspects of their day-to-day diet. In fact examination of 3 million year old teeth show evidence of having a regular diet of tube/ starchy vegetables.
This makes a lot of sense right? 2.6 million years ago our ancestors didn’t have refrigeration so they’d have to eat their meat almost immediately and therefore the idea of having high protein amounts at each meal is flawed. Aside from that think about what else you’d be able to eat regularly if it wasn’t meat (I’m hoping your answer was vegetables and carbohydrates). And then you add the archaeological evidence upon a greater reliance upon carbohydrates and you’ve got the answer, Paleo debunked. Still not convinced? Well start to think of what fuel sources the body uses, carbohydrates, fat/ fatty acids and protein. If you’re ever using protein as a fuel source this means your body is not healthy, that it’s basically eating away at itself in order to stay alive and to survive (after all the body’s primary goal is to survive), so that means we’re left with fat and carbohydrates as a fuel source. The body and brain’s preferred fuel source is Carbohydrate and will start to burn fat based on many other factors related nutritional and physical activity. With that being said, the low-carb aspect of Paleo simply doesn’t hold up at all.
Still swear by the Paleo diet for whatever reason? Well there’s more evidence to two other major evolutionary developments at the time. Genetically, saliva was starting to evolve to better breakdown starchy foods/ plants, the enzyme: Salivary Amylase. Secondly, our 2.6 million year old ancestors started learning how to cook, as evidenced by multiple archaeological finds in cooking utensils. Cooking helped make the vegetables more palatable but also slightly easier to digest, giving the brain its primary and preferred fuel source, carbohydrate, allowing the size and functionality of the brain to grow and evolve. Further more, additional carbs meant support for “improving reproductive functions” (according to researchers) which means fetal development and providing extra calories for lactating mothers.
At this point you should be convinced that the Paleo diet isn’t going to work and it’ll actually hold back your physical development. In fact, the multiple cross fit athletes I’ve gotten off Paleo they started performing better and placing at competitions almost immediately (I say Cross fit because for some reason Cross fit and Paleo seems to go hand in hand) once I got them off Paleo and eating “regularly” again.
That being said, aside from the multiple flaws of the Paleo diet, there still are many benefits to it. The promotion and emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables along with swearing off fast food are ultimately good things for any eating style. The issue is when it becomes about strict adherence to an eating style. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got medical conditions that require you to eat a certain way such as Gluten Free for (Diagnosed) Celiac disease, or carb counting for Diabetes, then stick to that. But if you’re just a health nut looking for the newest trend to be healthy, well that’s the issue isn’t it? This type of behaviour mimics a ‘yo-yo dieter,’ jumping from one diet to the other for whatever reason. What I ask people when they ask me about what I think of X diet, I just ask them “Is this something that you can sustain for more than 5 years?” at that point they basically talk themselves out of it.
Healthy eating is about harmony and balance. Finding room for sweets, treats, restaurant meals amongst many other foods or eating styles deemed “bad” is not only going to be more enjoyable, but it won’t socially isolate you at dining events. And this is a big deal. Every culture or religion in the world uses food as the centerpiece for most of its celebrations. Imagine going to a Christmas dinner and only being able to eat something that’s been pre-decided, if you can’t then it’s because you already know it’s a socially isolating thing. Food is much more than calories, macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, food is a celebration of culture, religion, tradition and identity and no fad diet will ever be able to include those elements of your eating style that is ultimately your unique and personal identity. So being able to have foods that are “bad” (for a lack of a better term) foods in moderation but still managing to eat “healthy” (for lack of a better term) is what good nutrition is all about (unless you have a medically necessity to eat a certain way). So please, get off Paleo as there’s overwhelming evidence that it does not work and start reintroducing the foods that you’ve been missing for a very long time and be happy!