‘…but I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.’
-William Shakespeare (via Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Twelfth Night)
mocked the referred to the Paleo diet in a couple of previous posts, so I thought I should probably just devote an entire post to it already and be done!
Just in case you don’t know (but I’m sure you do,), the Paleo diet – which has now been around for a few years – is the latest in a long line (Atkins, Zone, South Beach) of low-carb, high-animal protein diets; yet this time the premise is that it’s good to eat like Paleolithic peoples, who were hunter gatherers that ate lots and lots of meat, fish, some nuts and seeds, and some non-carby, watery veg and fruit. According to the inventors of the diet, they ate no grains, beans or legumes either. The benefits of eating this way, supposedly, are increased health and easy weight maintenance.
The only silver lining is that it also prescribes eliminating dairy and processed foods.
These guys (1, 2, 3,) have made all the scientific points against Paleo in much greater detail than I have space for, so if you are seriously considering trying Paleo, or just need info to convince a friend or loved one NOT to try it, please, PLEASE take time and go click one of these links.
But, in a nutshell (ok, a bloody HUGE nutshell), these are the reasons why eating like Captain Caveman (I adored him, by the way!) does not make sense:
- There is NO EVIDENCE that Paleothithic people ate this way!!!
- This diet is heavy on the meat. All meat contains cholesterol and saturated fat, which contribute greatly to heart disease. See this study; published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, that concludes that low-carb, high-protein diets (such as Paleo) are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. As we know,, there is also overwhelming scientific evidence that meat consumption puts you at risk for lots of other chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. Some people initially feel great on a Paleo diet because it excludes dairy, refined starches and processed food. This does not mean a Paleo diet is good. It means the person’s previous diet was extra crappy. In the long term, to consume meat, and at the levels prescribed by the Paleo diet, as mentioned above can be seriously detrimental to health.
- It is way too resource intensive. If everyone ate meat like cave people supposedly did according to the creators of the Paleo diet books, there wouldn’t be enough land on the planet to accommodate this. And the more meat you eat, the more you are contributing to all forms of environmental damage, including climate change, topsoil loss, air and water pollution.
- Grass fed, pampered, manicured, blissfully happy animals are even more environmentally unsound than intensively farmed ones.
- No beans and no whole grains? Are you kidding? Beans are full of necessary fibre, and are a good source of protein and iron. They lower cholesterol and help eliminate excess hormones. Whole grains provide us with the perfect fuel. They also contain fibre, vital vitamins and minerals, and help the body secrete waste and metabolise protein. To miss out on these two incredible food groups is utter crazypantedness (the correct medical term).
- You are probably a caring, compassionate person who would like to live in alignment with your values of not participating in or contributing to cruel practises. Some Paleo types hunt animals, believing they are emulating their Paleolithic ancestors. Hunting when there is no need nutrient-wise for us to do so IS unnecessary and cruel. But even if they don’t hunt – the amount of meat they eat? Well that’s just a whole lot of needless slaughter.
- The Paleos that hunt feel this is a more authentic, primal way of eating. However, after hunting, they probably go back to their air-conditioned or heated house, put the meat in the fridge, check their social media accounts, and watch Top Gear or some dudely sport on the TV (yes, I’m stereotyping. Totally wrong but I can’t resist it). Anyway, my point is; waaaay to be selective with all the primalness and authenticity.
- Paleolithic peoples probably did lots of other stuff too. Why would you pick ONE thing you THINK they did (except they didn’t), and use it as a gold standard in one area of your life?
- EVEN IF it were found to be true that Paleolithic peoples had eaten a shit tonne of meat – why are we looking at the past? We know now that we don’t need meat to thrive and that in fact it’s extremely problematic for our health, the environment, and all beings. Shouldn’t we be aiming to PROgress, not REgress?
It’s pretty easy to see why Paleo caught on. In the face of rising awareness of vegetarian and veganism, when meat consumption in the ‘west’ has significantly dropped as we become aware of the health and environmental harm it causes; this diet validates and justifies the continued consumption of meat. It gives those that are so emotionally invested in meat a pretext for continuing to eat it (sure, you have to clean your diet up a bit – but you can still eat meat – yay!)
What next – the Bronze Age diet? The Ancient Egyptian diet? The Restoration diet?