What are the smartest anti-paleo arguments? And our responses to them?

by (1648) Updated May 30, 2014 at 12:01 PM Created September 22, 2010 at 7:59 PM

Intellectual honesty demands that we understand and respond to the smartest & best arguments our critics make.

What are the best anti-paleo arguments?

And what are our responses to them?

Note: I'm interested in logical, factual arguments -- not in the stupid sort of, "it's stupid to imitate what people thousands of years ago did" or "paleolithic man lived until 30" - those are stupid arguments not worthy of our time. I mean, what are the sophisticated critiques, like: "paleo theory has an internal contradiction of believing X yet also Y which is mutually exclusive" or "according to scientific study (and the paleos have not disputed the merits of the study) X is true, and if paleo theory were true, then X couldn't have been true" etc etc

Also: any URLs of very smart/good anti-paleo article? And the URL of any responses to such articles?

Note: I ask this as a dedicated paleo guy (6 months ago I was 80% paleo; today I'm 90% paleo!). Why do I ask? See the "intellectual honesty" point above: I'm worried about us falling into the ideology trap of believing in something and thus losing our ability to evaluate how true it is - and the only way to combat that is to read what your really really really smart and fair critics are saying. The problem is, all the paleo critics I've found so far have been stupid, therefore I'm appealing to you guys :)

Total Views

Recent Activity

Last Activity
1436D AGO


Get Free Paleo Recipes Instantly

46 Replies

best answer

4531 · September 22, 2010 at 10:05 PM

I don't know that he offers "a smart anti-paleo" argument, per se, but Dr Ornish's program is highly divergent from Paleo when it comes to red meat, fat, animal sourced foods. He also includes grains, legumes and other non-Paleo foods in his program. His plan is very CW centered (calories in, calories out, and that red meat, saturated fat are evil), but does have some actual data backing it's success in heart disease reversal.


You can find loads of info on Ornish and his "Spectrum" program via the Google.

But all that said, a big part of his program is transitioning OFF the Standard American Diet processed foods, smoking cessation, meditation/relaxation techniques and the like. Undoubtedly those moves are beneficial and would be part of any Paleo Program as well! It's like the Ornish Program takes a half step from SAD towards Paleo, notes great results, and then vilifies the no-grain and acceptance of animal sourced foods that Paleo espouses. FacePalm!

Dunno that that is helpful to the original question, but I do think that the Paleo elements of Ornish's program are what makes it work.

346 · September 23, 2010 at 4:14 AM

I have no doubts that for me this diet is ideal. My only anti-paleo argument is one I think about constantly.

Is the paleo diet sustainable on a global scale?

Agriculture (specifically grains), and more recently genetically modified agriculture is what has essentially staved off mass starvation in most of the third world. Removing that from the diet of the world would leave a massive deficit in the world, that I don't think the paleo diet could support.

I have an inkling that this is also why major world governments wont recommend the diet and push grains in their dietary guidelines. Having a look at the Australian dietary guidelines, shows that the people who wrote it, do understand that grains are a 'new' food, but they need to push it, or face issues with the food supply.

I have sat around and thought about this heaps of times, and still have come up with an answer that I am satisfied with.

My Random Thoughts: Thinking that only the rich should eat healthy, and the poor should eat the grains, is wrong. The poor shouldn't have to eat unhealthy because they can't afford it. But is eating unhealthy better than eating nothing at all?

454 · March 23, 2011 at 9:18 AM

I'm shocked to see that in these responses, no one has mentioned anything other than calories and nutrients. The people who live in these regions live so long because of EVERYTHING in their lifestyle, not just what they eat. They have good family ties and are active in their community. They are dancers, they craft, or they farm, they're musicians, etc. These people have well balanced, full LIVES, not just well balanced, full DIETS.

265 · October 13, 2011 at 11:33 PM

  1. Any diet that reduces overall caloric exposure has been shown to lengthen lifespan (see pubmed). A logical inference from this would be that what causes aging, "disease of civilization" etc. is more rooted in how much exposure to environmental factors (calories being one of them) that you obtain rather than the quality of the caloric sources.

  2. (related to #1) We've all heard of the scientist that went on a twinkie diet or pizza diet or some other extreme and simply ate in moderation and lost weight, had better lipid profiles etc. This seems to point to the fact that diet may matter less overall than we suspect.

  3. All of the studies are of people on caloric maintenance or restriction. What happens to people who are overeating on a paleo diet, what of their lipid profiles and overall health measurements.

  4. Anti-Nutrient arguments utilize an inference that binding to minerals etc. is bad, and that saponins etc. are toxic etc. This however is not settled science, its conjecture. Plenty of long term exposure studies showing anti cancer properties, blood sugar regulation etc. exist.

  5. It always annoys me when I see the celiac argument featured because its used to draw what I think are overly broad conclusions. Statistics show 1% of people have celiacs and 20% have milder reactions to gluten that are unfavorable. The same body of research can be pointed to to show 20% of people have cholesterol sensitivity or some other arbitrary condition preventing them from sticking to certain diets.

  6. The conclusions you can draw from food research is largely correlation based rather than causation based. Remember that in the previous research it was shown that elevated levels of cholesterol were correlated with high risk of heart disease. Hence a conclusion was drawn that a limitation of fat/cholesterol was necessary and the whole low fat/high grain based dietary AHA diet came about. Its wise therefore to keep this in mind before following any one particular dogma too strictly.

  7. Toxicity in-vivo is notoriously hard to show because so many environmental factors, genetic predispositions etc. come into play. Also, we don't have perfect models of human digestions, organ interactions etc. What might be bad for one organ or system, could be good for another organ or system.

  8. Evolutionary arguments require good models of how evolution vs adaptation works. The science isn't that comprehensive/conclusive yet. Additionally it tends to be forgotten that several microorganisms exist within the human body to help us with digestion. While 30,000 years may not be enough time for evolution of your digestive track to take place, it is certainly enough time for evolutionary adaptation of the symbiotic microorganisms within us to take place.

  9. Selective adaptation to grains would have occurred during the neolithic period anyway... Its not evolutionary but people who couldn't flourish with certain types of food would certainly have less of a genetic footprint.

  10. There are a ton of additional environmental factor change caused by civilization. In Area's of the US for example background radiation levels wen't up significantly following WW II with the increase in use of coal, fallout from nuclear devices, power plants etc. It doesn't amount to much but we don't really know what effects it might have on the human body. Similarly Cell phones, power lines, poison exposure from things like BPA, chemical run offs, the increase in use of hair and skin products etc. etc. etc. greatly increased. There have been random studies showing correlation between Depleted Uranium casings and diabetes and heart disease oddly enough. The point being that in the "Western" world we have heightened exposure to a lot of factors that can help accumulate toxins in both our food and ourselves. This is in addition to sitting on our asses all day using computers. To me this makes the dietary-"civilization disease" causation theories a lot more dubious - for all diets, not just paleo.

  11. Drawing on the Environmental factor change and taking it a step further produces another argument altogether and thats regarding animal fat sources. PCB's and Dioxin etc. are on the rise within our food products at every level, they tend to gather in animal fats. Paleo-Man did not have to deal with chemical run offs and fat pollution from plastic byproducts and what not. One of the Best arguments against a high fat diet - especially from fats derived from animal products is the toxin/contamination argument....

24343 · September 22, 2010 at 8:06 PM

  1. The increased saturated fat intake of modern paleos may be fine for most, but the effect of certain saturated fatty acids may be net detrimental for some, depending on disease or genetic makeup.

  2. Animals today are different today then animals of paleolithic times. They are exposed to a quadrillion times more pollutants, even if raised naturally. Maybe some of this stuff is concentrated in animal fat, and maybe some of it hasn't been accurately measured yet.

  3. People coming from equatorial and warmer regions may be adapted to eating a higher percentage of carbs than most modern paleos eat, even though paleo tends to be a one-size-fits-all recommendation. Not that eating a standard paleo diet would be terrible, it just might not be optimal.

  4. Eating donuts and ice cream is fun. You might die tomorrow, and if that's what you enjoy and it isn't making you obese, there is a case for continuing to patronize Krispy Kreme.

160 · September 23, 2010 at 12:38 AM

I am not a paleo follower, but I very much enjoy learning about the concept and might one day make the transition. I eat like all of you (organic--almost--everything, a lot of healthy fats, an enormous amount of veggies, nuts, seeds and almost no sweets), but I also eat A LOT of whole wheat grains, soybeans, whole-grain cereals, and many types of legumes. I consider myself to be in excellent health, but I am always looking for ways to be healthier.

I lived in Okinawa (since I'm in the military), Japan for 4 years. While there I read a National Geographic article about the 3 countries with the highest rate of centenarians in the world (#1: Okinawa, #2 Sardina & #3: Loma Linda: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0511/feature1/). Living in Okinawa, I had the first-hand experience that I needed to answer my questions about optimal health.

I am no expert, since I am not actually Okinawa, but I saw that the Okinawans do eat a low-carb diet with a whole lot of veggies and fish, but they also eat a lot of soybeans and white rice. I spent time with many people over 100 in Okinawa. There was a home that I volunteered at on an outlying island (Ie Island) that was for the elderly, many of whom were centenarians. I remember dancing with a woman (yes, full-on dancing) who was 105. After we danced, we all ate bowls of rice, snacked on soybeans, ate goya with egg and soy tofu and also some other purple sweet potato cakes (which didn't have much sugar at all). For this reason, I am skeptical that Paleo is the only way to go. If Okinawans outlive the entire world with a little fat and a lot of rice and soy products, then how can this be wrong?

Here is a good article about what Sardinians eat: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/VitalityProject/sardinian-diet-hold-secret-longevity/story?id=8875605&page=2. These people seem not to eat much meat, and they also eat cheese, wine and bread on a regular basis. How can someone say this diet doesn't work?

I am still looking for answers. I read these blogs often. Keep it up everyone! However, how can someone refute the fact that the two longest living populations in the world eat things that paleo followers say kill you at a young age. They don't just eat these food items, they eat them often.

Enough ranting. I eagerly await comments to criticize my ideas. Without criticism by ourselves and others, we would never grow.





I don't know why I can't add a comment on my post, so I will simply add them here as I see fit:

@ Melissa: Actually, not much of the Okinawan diet is fermented soy. Natto, a disgusting (purely subjective) fermented soybean paste is often eaten, but it's in such tiny amounts that it wouldn't compare to how much they consume in soy and tofu.

I have not read the Okinawa thread. I will though.

@ Lisa: I fully agree that the lack of processed American food is a huge factor in the Okinawan diet, along with many other very healthy countries. However, the debate at hand is whether or not Paleo is the healtiest diet and why. None of these responses sheds any insight as to why Okinawans are so healthy into old age with such a large amount of "toxic" rice and soybeans.

@ Jon: I fully agree. Low calorie diets have consistently shown that they assist in longevity. Yet, again, this doesn't support paleo over an Okinawan diet.

336 · June 13, 2012 at 6:15 PM

I have found that I feel worlds better on a Paleo Diet. For me it is difficult from an ethical perspective. I was vegetarian and then vegan for over 12 years. I truly love animals, and have spent my life caring for them and advocating for them. However, as a vegan (even with B12, nutritional yeast, tempeh etc.) I became very ill and had extremely low energy. I was only 20 and felt absolutely exhausted and depressed.

After adding eggs, raw milk, and fish oil I began to feel better, but not completely. I had adrenal fatigue and hormonal imbalances, so I started researching and slowly came around to the idea of adding organic meats to my diet (which, as a PETA protesting avid and radical animals right activist was NOT easy).

I cried the first time I ate meat, and expected to feel very ill since I had not had it in over 12 years but instead my body literally rejoiced. Since then I've become well-versed in the health arguments for eating meat (pastured, organic) and fully believe, from a health perspective, that the Paleo diet is most healthful.

However, I still struggle daily with the fact that I am eating animals. Even if they have been pastured and "humanely" raised, I struggle with the idea that my health is somehow worth more than their life. But then I realize, my cats could not live on a vegetarian diet, so why should I?

For me it is a very tricky area since emotionally I feel very connected to animals. My first best friend was a cow and growing up I often spent more time hanging out in the field with the chickens and pigs than I did anywhere else. Animals have very true personalities and emotions, and are all individuals. You can connect with them in a very strong way, just like you can with another human.

So for me it is trying to figure out how to manage my health and well-being and also my love for animals- is it worth the stress and sadness I feel over eating meat? How do I come to terms with both caring for animals and contributing to killing them?

55320 · September 22, 2010 at 10:22 PM

On metafilter some of my most interesting "opponents" are followers are of CRON (calorie restriction with optimal nutrition). The evidence for methionine restriction increasing longevity are fairly compelling.

But I did try CRON myself for awhile and the side effects can be somewhat alarming. I've had CRON men tell me that they enjoy the non-existent libido because it allows them to focus on other things. I say: what could be more important than food or sex? Particularly when intermittent fasting shows results similar to methionine restriction.

I like to read Disease Proof too, which is Dr. Fuhrman's blog. His followers seem to get some good results, but with some much scientific evidence showing that sat fat is not evil, why would I follow such a diet? Paleo = no cookies. Fuhrman = no cookies AND no bacon= fail.

Also why is my non-paleo grandma so healthy at 92? I just did a post about her http://huntgatherlove.com/content/traditional-american-diets-interview-my-grandma

1548 · February 20, 2011 at 1:03 AM

I cannot think of a smart anti-paleo argument because most criticsisms asked of it are by people that do not fully understand the concept. One top of that, many critics are clinging to some sort of convention, usually involving some type of maelevolent masochistic tendencies.

I got to paleo because I was tired of suffering. I got here through experimenting and testing myself. It was afterwards that I found a community of people that ate like me.

Paleo is not about self denial. It is not about suffering. It is not about ingesting unnatural and expensive products and supplements. It is not about hurting yourself. It is the opposite of these things.

Sometimes the hardest part of being paleo is trying to overcome the learned guilt of indulging myself in something fatty.

1204 · September 23, 2010 at 4:16 PM

Nordic and Germanic people.

For example Dutch people are the tallest in the world on average and they eat nothing but cheese, bread and milk.

How do you argue that they're wrong.

4090 · September 22, 2010 at 9:51 PM

I <3 this thread, love a good game of devil's advocate.

  1. Pretty much all people who live to 80+ happy and healthy do not follow a paleo diet. Maybe diet isn't as important as other factors, or maybe you can achieve pretty much the same thing from following a much less restrictive (let's face it) approach?

  2. It's impossible to know, never mind truly replicate what paleolithic people ate, especially in our dysfunctional food systems

  3. Raw vegan could really be the optimal diet!! (Ha! No, just kidding.)

77338 · September 23, 2010 at 12:16 AM

Ok, I might get a lot of flak on this one! Here goes:

The argument/evidence against grain consumption still doesn't have a solid scientific foundation. There are many theoretical concerns about the various problems like antinutrients, lectins, low nutrient density and the hormonal disruption/nutrient deficiencies associated with these problems. It is also well-established that gluten grains cause problems for susceptible populations e.g. people with coeliac disease. There also seems to be a correlation between various autoimmune conditions and gluten (or other plant compounds).

However, we are sorely lacking clinical evidence regarding gluten intolerance/sensitivity in the general population. The claim that only 0.4% of the population is immune to gluten is only based on the website of one guy who is selling a test he developed himself. We have a lot of indirect evidence and even more anecdotes that grains aren't all that great. I personally think they're crap, but I'm not going to fool myself into thinking that it is a scientifically established fact. I tend to see a number of paleos extrapolating the effects of grains in a sensitive subset of the population to the general population. You just need to look at the studies that people cite; most of them deal with coeliacs or people with established disorders.

I'm not aware of any RCT that explicitly tests the health effects of grain/gluten consumption (please let me know if there are any.. the one by Lindeberg is a good start but it doesn't separate out the effect of grains). Even on the epidemiological level, we don't have any clear evidence either way (confounders like whole grains vs. refined, health conscious people may eat grains but not as much junk food, etc). As tempting as it might be, observations of native tribes losing their health upon the adoption of the western diet is NOT solid scientific data.

290 · July 16, 2011 at 8:31 AM

I haven't read through all the replies yet, but my initial thought is that the question presumes that paleo is the same for everyone who follows it. It's not. In the end, the only consistent things in paleo are the we avoid grains, we avoid processed foods, we avoid sugar, and we avoid industrial seed oils. Therefore, any real argument against paleo says that all those things are necessary. No one argues that gluten is necessary. No one argues that rice is necessary. I always tell people that I just don't really eat the unnecessary, nutritionally empty things and I focus instead on real, whole foods i.e. meat, vegetables, and fruit. No one can argue with that.

I actually think Harley Johnstone aka Durianrider is one far extreme of paleo, the other far extreme being an all-meat diet. Even Robb Wolf says repeatedly that paleo is macronutrient agnostic, and as we've seen with several paleo bloggers lately, some people function better on high carb low fat, some people do better on high fat low carb. My definition of paleo is just avoiding crap and eating the best quality food possible.

I think rather than framing paleo as an argument, it's more important to draw out what we have in common with other people who care about food and health. I'm actually seeing more and more convergence between vegan, raw, paleo, and even haute cuisine (check out Eric Ripert's recipe for cauliflower "couscous" with market vegetables), and I think that's great. I'm not trying to 'beat' the vegans or stump them, I want us to all just remember real food and appreciate it.

Medium avatar
10077 · July 16, 2011 at 3:40 AM

I'll play one round!

A Darwinian argument: survival of the fittest. What has occurred in the last 500 generations is not random, but very directed selection, like animal husbandry. Suppose that 50% of the paleo population was incapable of grain digestion. The half that could digest grain survived famines and prevailed in fights for food over the less-tolerant half, and relatively few generations were needed for the grain digesters to become more common in the population. This line of reasoning is supported by loss of pigmentation and lactose tolerance in Northern European populations, adaptations which occurred over a similarly short period of time.

What is the counter argument? Well, perhaps that grain and dairy are sub-optimal diets even though the vast majority of the world has adapted to eating them. The Inuit and Siouxans are Neolithic groups that successfully back-adapted to high meat diets. The difficult part is proving that these diets, while quite survivable, are superior to agricultural diets in some quantitative way. Longevity for instance could be argued but cannot be proven by Siouxan or Inuit populations.

17816 · June 23, 2011 at 12:47 AM

Well I think the main one, which has been said before, is that "Look at X population who aren't completely and utterly dead and diseased, they eat bread, therefore paleo is bunk", and I think that within this context of discussion this is an unfalsifiable claim. Nobody is saying that unless you eat a paleo diet you are going to wither and die imminently; many of us aspire to have god-like health in every way, it's fun, and there is no reason to assume that X bread-eating population has optimal health that is going to let them live to 120 with little degenerative and full vitality the whole time, then drop dead of end-game senescence within a week like it looks like Art Devany and Mark Sisson are going to do. And I just can't see grains of any kind being the foods that help us do that. White rice is a decent way to not starve and not harm yourself but it's also nutritionally poor. I don't want to have any more lectins from the seeds of plants as I have to because they look to be especially pernicious. That goes for nuts and seeds, too, although I do have some macadamias sometimes since just judging by a "gut-grumble" test nuts aren't so bad. Actually I eat grains sometimes but it's not a frequent thing and paleo only really says "grains are bad foods, best to avoid them for optimal health", we have cheats and 80/20 and whatnot.

There are definite mechanisms by which these foods, even when prepared properly, are damaging to the body in excess of anything you would find in peeled tubers, fruits, or various root vegetables, and I think Denise Minger's post on grains and The China Study lend some credence to the argument. Rice wasn't associated with disease (although I think peeled potatoes are far superior foods) but millet, wheat, and another grain were strongly associated, my guess is it is the grain toxins which they produce as their biological niche would dictate. We have animal studies like that one in pigs where a diet without grains is healthier than one with grains. We have clinical paleo studies that really only exchange grains for fruits and vegetables (it didn't seem like any of the groups would have a particularly strong micronutrient advantage), there is that recent one that replaces grains with fruits. I am sold on no or low grain diets and I think the science supports it.

Cherry-picking X epidemiological study where those who ate more whole grains in a society that looks at whole grains as fucking godly foods so all of the health-conscious people eat more and those who don't care about their health eat less is inane. Going back to Ms. Minger's post, maybe these people in China who ate the wheat and millet weren't diseased in excess of what you'll find in the Southern United States where they are inundated with junk food, but that doesn't mean that these people were Kitavan healthy, I seriously doubt they would be based upon the statistics.

Also clinical studies where whole grains vs. white flour made whole grains look good are equally inane. Grains are a good source of various important nutrients like magnesium which are grossly deficient in people not eating enormous amounts of vegetables and fruits or taking supplements (everyone in western populations, basically) so indeed I wouldn't be surprised if resolving a deficiency in something that is absolutely vital for proper functioning of the body would be good, but you don't need grains for magnesium if you use your head.

It's going to be reeeeeeeaaaaaaallllllyyyyyy hard to convince me that I should consider grains to be a desirable food for optimal health given the evidence. Doesn't mean I think that a piece of bread a day is going to completely kill you dead, it might for some and it might not for others. But it's hurting, not helping. Show me bread-eaters with sensitive CRP of 0.1 like mine, then I'll eat my hat.

5100 · July 16, 2011 at 2:58 PM

If you observe most ethnic groups, you realize that meat did not figure heavily in their diets. Only the Inuits and Masais relied heaviliy on meat. You realize that most indigenous peoples around the globe relied on plant-based, starchy diets that include potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, poi/taro, cassava, rice, millet, wheat, rye, barley, beans, peas, corn, etc.

Let's take out the ones that are problematic -- gluten grains. Let's also take out the legumes and other varieties that either have antinutrients or have been modified genetically (corn, legumes).

Most people did not eat meat daily. While there seem to be no vegetarian tribes, meat was a rather small portion of most tribes' diets, occurring infrequently and occasionally.

Then which would really be Paleo: heavy meat consumption or light or occasional meat consumption (i.e., part-time vegetarianism). Based on recent evidence, meat cosumption isn't unhealthy, since saturated fat isn't associated with CVD, as those who subscribe to plant-based diets believe.

However, the burden is on those who eat meat daily that they're truly approximating Paleo. Those who eat animal products at every meal are doing something the Paleolithic man really couldn't do.

If so, shouldn't Paleo really be closer to what Don Matesz is advocating now? That is, not high fat but medium or even low fat. True Paleo seems actually closer to vegetarianism with some meat consumption, not ad libertum meat consumption.

77338 · February 20, 2011 at 5:41 AM

Assessing the sustainability of a Paleo diet may seem like an effective argument against it, if you don't take into account that factory farming grains and soy ie mono crops is extremely unsustainable. It's about the topsoil, erosion and poisoning of the water. Factory farming meat is no better but really no worse in terms of ecological sustainability.

Although it's about vegetarianism and refuting it from a moral, health, and ecological point of view, the book The Vegetarian Myth lays out the idea that the grain diets are not sustainable on a global scale either.

However, if any diets are to be sustainable all kinds of factory farming production needs to be seen as unsustainable rather than trying to play one off the other. If animals for food were being carefully raised on lands where farming should not be and the land was taken care of it might lead to something approaching sustainability. If farming became diverse and synergistic it might begin to approach sustainability. If agriculture were not subsidized in a way that makes good food too expensive and SAD food super cheap then maybe there would be a chance for change. I think this is interesting evidence and the book good reading for those wanting to debate sustainability and food production.

3428 · February 20, 2011 at 2:04 AM

I think the best anti-paleo argument , as stated above is "Is the paleo diet sustainable on a global scale?"

I understand the least-paleo countries in terms of eating habits, and the ones where most Western disease appears are the USA and Western Europe, some of the richest countries on Earth. And I am sure that these countries do have the resources to shift their populations to a paleo diet. Also for the Third World countries, which are poorer, the local production of poultry, cattle, etc could bring people much closer to a paleo diet, although surely with the complement of some grains such as rice which is not really harmful.

20469 · September 23, 2010 at 4:08 AM

What I hear a lot is:

-"What about the Asians, they eat tons of rice all day and are very healthy!" My response-they don't eat as much overall carb as Americans and they eat more fresh nonprocessed foods than we do

-"Well I eat foods XY and Z all the time and I am perfectly healthy so why should I change?" My response-You do not know if you are as healthy as you can be unless you try and experience becoming healthier. I dare you to try it and just see what happens.

And here is another one "Well I just can't live without food X." I haven't yet found a response that breaks through such armor. Sure there are logical responses, but they have already decided against anything you say at this point. The best that can be hoped for is to say they would still benefit by giving up other unhealthy things and they could still eat X.

Edited to add: Oh yeah, forgot about the classic argument from the more well read and that is "What about the Kitavans?" My answer is that starch and an active lifestyle is far less harmful that high fructose corn syrup and processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle.

28 · July 16, 2011 at 2:10 AM

How about ethical arguments:

  1. 27,000 Children die of starvation every day. It takes 20 calories of food to produce 1 calorie of chicken flesh. Eating chicken is like throwing 19 plates of plant food in the trash every time you eat one plate. Throwing away food is wasteful and could be fed to the starving. Simplistic version of a much more complex argument.

  2. Livestock are the number one cause of humans related global warming, even above transportation (source: 2007 United Nations, Livestock's long shadow). Destroying the planet for future generations of humans is unethical.

  3. Every developed nation has animal cruelty laws. Livestock are animals. Killing is cruel. Killing some animals and protecting other animals is ethically inconsistent.

  4. Many people thrive and live long lives on plant based diets. Plant based diets use less resources. Plant based diet kills less sentient beings. Eating meat is unnecessary. People should eat a plant based diet.

5330 · September 23, 2010 at 3:10 AM

One of the standard arguments that I get from friends/family is that taking something out of your diet is bound to cause a perceived problem upon reintroduction if that substance or item is removed for long enough. I know from experience that going 100% gluten free for a month and then having a bunch of pizza is the quick road to a bad reaction.

Is this simply because I have remove gluten or am I truly intolerant to it? After reading Robb Wolf and learning more about grains I would like to say that it proves intolerance but I can't be sure. Does anyone have information about false intolerances due to removal?

Hmmm I wonder if that is more of a start my own thread comment...

4813 · September 22, 2010 at 11:29 PM

To me one of the most interesting challenges is how fast humans really evolve. On one hand we know that it takes hundreds of thousand years. on the other hand we have studies and proofs that sometimes changes and adaptations may happen much faster, a few thousand years. So what if we did adapt to some aspects of neolithic diet?

other argument might be that we simply can't turn the clock back. Paleo might be great for some individuals, small groups, but is impossible for humanity as a whole. The human population exploded after the agricultural revolution, more and more people could settle and be fed. The lives were of worse quality and shorter, but more of them could be brought to life.

Today's world is overpopulated in terms of paleo diet. we can't just reset the world. Paleo works best when there isn't too many people around...

806 · June 27, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Militant vegan, Dr. McDougal, asserts that humans have waaay more amylose (Enzyme which is ONLY for breaking down starch into glucose) than any other primate. He has even written a book called The Starch Solution, I believe. He further argues that since the brain needs over 100 grams of glucose per day, that also shows we are "obligate starch eaters" - and that gluconeogenisis is only an emergency backup system for ensuring adequate brain-glucose in the face of carb deprivation.

336 · June 22, 2012 at 9:54 PM

Also- Dioxins which ARE carcinogenic and always present in high amounts in animal products- so one could argue that there is just as much risk in consuming dioxin containing animal products as there is in eating phytic acid laden grains/legumes

2198 · May 26, 2012 at 5:30 AM

This question is focused on low(er) carb paleo but applies across the board:

If animals store toxins in their fat, wouldn't eating a high animal/fish fat diet mean eating a high toxin diet? Mercury, dioxin, pcbs, Prozac, estrogen all these things are floating around our environment and are concentrated in the fats of the animals we eat.

Also, let's not compare this to eating grains that may or may not be more toxic.

10 · March 14, 2012 at 8:37 PM

I am a recent Paleo follower and I have been filled with doubt concerning the elimination of grains- which is how I came about finding this site. After reading all the posts and, doing my own research, and using my own intuition I feel that all things in moderation is key (except for fruits and veggies and spices- which should be consumed as often as possible). Aside from that though, everything has served a purpose somewhere- dairy, meats, legumes, grains, etc. And I am pro a growing Earth population as I love people and think everyone should be given a chance to experience life. That being stated, I feel is why I think grains (in their most natural state) are a benefit to humanity as it economically feeds a giant population. I don't propose we all go binge on white sugar and fried bread, but I do believe the invention of agriculture and grains and dairy have ultimately been a benefit to mankind. But harvesting them in ways to be used in a functional diet is key. I feel that current average Western diets are a bit crazy, but consuming all foods in the most natural state you can get enhances nutritional value. As a Registered Nurse working with old people, I am fascinated by the health, vigor and strength of certain people who are well in their nineties- a common theme of hard work, fruits and veggies dominate with a mix of everything in between.

3681 · October 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM

I think any diet whose goal it is to eat whole foods whether it be raw vegan or a raw zero carbohydrate carnivorous diet has at least half a brain. I think one thing both extremes and everything in between can agree on is that eliminating modern industrialized foodstuffs is central to the idea that diet is the cornerstone to maintaining an optimal quality of life as well as protecting the individual from the various diseases and disorders manifesting in our present time.

The biggest question left unanswered by any dieting dogma is how individual is a human being. For instance we know that we are able to thrive on a variety of diets. Different cultures around the globe demonstrate this flexibility on a day-to-day basis while maintaining optimal health and maximizing quality of life into advanced age.

However, the idea that diet is the cornerstone to long and optimal health is constantly challenged by those that maintain a diet and lifestyle that many in any dieting regime would consider somewhat paradoxical. We often define and simultaneously dismiss these individuals as fortunate, having good genes, etc. I insist that considering these examples is extremely important in determining exactly and to what extent diet plays a role in quality of life and maximizing longevity.

I would also suggest that the holy grail of optimal health and longevity is not a specific set of foods to eat and not eat, but rather a multiple variable formula taking into consideration the different aspects of the human condition. Nutrition and stress are in my opinion two key variables but they are complex and interrelated.

In one sense ancestral dogma is in my opinion correct in its failsafe approach of eliminating modern industrial and recently introduced foods. In the pursuit of truth it is quite sloppy at explaining exceptional cases. In that arena nobody is asking "Why?"

From a productivity standpoint it is probably wise at this point to ignore these cases. But if we are truly seeking an all encompassing model then at some point these cases will have to be confronted and explained even if that means throwing out the current assumptions.

The ancestral paradigm for all the good it provides in people's lives is based on more fiction than fact. Most of the fiction stems from the ultra speculative nature of our behaviors as hunter-gathers. But one glaring fact is that for most people, especially those with health ills, are largely able to recover and go on with their lives.

Inherently the nutritional aspect and the fact that changing this variable leads to better quality of life means we are at least beginning to explore a portion of the truth but far from the complete picture. So we are at least in the right direction in our approach but not in a direct fashion. We are correct in my opinion at pursuing the source of a health problem verses pursuing the symptoms but ancestral eating is merely an indirect interface, it’s a hack, it’s an approach that we witness working, but because it cannot explain exceptional cases it is merely a half-wit theory. For some this is enough, results are results why ask more. I certainly respect this position. People have jobs, friends, family, hobbies, etc. which they want to be in good health to enjoy. That is wise. For some of us, thinking about these puzzles and trying to solve them defines enjoyment.

My biggest problem with “Paleo” is the “group think”. There are very few people in this community who haven’t fallen prey to the herd instinct at one time or another, myself included. Herd instinct is not necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely can be counterproductive when we are trying to solve a problem. Reason and logic are meaningless. Reason and logic can be applied to any particular framework giving the appearance that you are following a reasonable and logical way of thinking. So as long as you’re within the guidelines of the framework the appearance is given that you are a reasonable and logical human being. This is somewhat backwards and is typical of present day thinking. I would suggest that this should be the exact opposite. The framework should appear taking into consideration all of the typical and all of the exceptional because at a fundamental level one equalizer is the fact that we are all humans and therefore we have something within to work with. Theories have their place and they compartmentalize things so that we can make progress but theories have a tendency to be inflexible because typically the originator of the theory is an individual with individual thoughts and experiences and like minded people are typically attracted to like minded ideas i.e. herd instinct. Again this is not necessarily a bad thing but given enough time these theories have a tendency to get further and farther away from the truth because they necessarily eliminate exceptional cases in order to maintain the rigid authority on which reputations and institutions eventually become based off of.

All the diets in existence past and present are all part of the same house. But I assure you that “Paleo” in its present state is not the foundation.

1090 · October 21, 2011 at 11:18 AM

Vegans always argue but the Inuit only live 50-60 years of age

I always say you live to be as physically healthy and in shape as possible. However long you live is fine. There's no such thing as feeling shitty now and then living longer tomorrow. Any takes??

10 · October 21, 2011 at 7:27 AM

When one realistically investigates the nutritional requirements and biochemical physiological processes and dynamics of humans, we see that we can live quite well (by most peoples standards of function and contemporary life expectancy) under various diets; however there are certainly differences which many medical and statistical studies continue to highlight; it isn't my objective here to sight volumes of medical research - explore online. Let's proceed with the investigation and look at the practical reality of these following factors: public health, environmental health, animal ethics, ecosystem impact, political and economical dynamics and influence on population, and cultural health. When we thouroughly investigate all of these dynamics the picture is that the animal foods in current and developing operations and scale are the following: significantly environmentally damaging due to toxic bacterial, fecal, and chemical waste streams, plus emmisions-per-pound of produced and delivered food (animal vs plant: drastically imbalanced - stats must see), consumptive of a large portion of plant foods that can be allocated to respond to national and international hunger, highly unsanitary and a directly related risk factor in the leading disease and death-causing health issues in USA, highly unethical in actual practice (no fantasy of contesting that), occupationally depressing and dangerous work environments (Check out the fact that it is among the most dangerous jobs in america along with higher rates of depression and suicide in meat factories etc), financially motivated rather than by health thus directly manipulative in politics, large subsidies capital allocation resulting as poor investments, and global messaging encouraging over-eating and poor diets, combatant to higher sanitation and environmental regulation etc which has the overall effect of misleading the population while damaging the environment further rather than supporting improved standards on all levels, with the cumulative effect of all this being culturally depleting as a whole and to further the problem more, imaging & exporting poor leadership and practices on a world stage. This landscape of dynamics has significant influence on all of us worldwide; we have a choice in our evaluations and health on every level.

Now to make the excuse as I have seen on this blog that unsustainability is not isolated to meat industry as an exemption argument is false, and just that, searching for a way to excuse oneself. The truth is that large scale food/agri practices are not ideal (to say the least) and certainly not isolated to the animal food industry, including plant food as well. I infer that the underlying point of this entire page and seed question is to genuinely explore health in the individual through our diet, considering ALL aspects. There is no doubt that all aspects of our lives relate to our health including food, excersize, genetics, social and environmental influence and more. I submit that the main goal should be to continue learning about the full spectrum of our health in regards to what we eat, taking into account the reality of our practices rather than considering just theoretical arguments such as was suggested in some rebuttals, and truely seek to cultivate a healthy existence individually and globally, through committed exploration rather than diet defending. Through the process of uncovering the details, whether the chemical processes in the body, incentive models of industry, or global implications on life, we can pragmatically proceed in our pursuit of a 'healthy diet' as all of these various factors play a role in reality, not on paper. Aim to achieve our greatest and proceed committedly.

As a contextual note: my grandfather was a teacher and director of cancers programs at major universities and a notable cancer surgeon at Dana Farber in Boston, named in the titling of the Center for Population Sciences; his son, my father was also a doctor, manger at one of the largest public health companies in the US, Chairman of Environment on the board of Massachusetts Medical Society, Chairman of Ethics at American College of Occupational & Envrionmental Medicine, and part-time faculty at Boston University School of Public Health, both graduates of Harvard.

Best wishes and blessings of health to us all. Stay resolute on the journey of life toward health, wisdom, and peace.

280 · July 17, 2011 at 6:41 PM

Here is an anti paleo argument. Paleo does not exist or to the extent it does, it makes no falsifiable claims that you could argue for or against.

Some senses of paleo: (a) a way of eating (b) a way of thinking

(a1) paleo as low carb, paleo as high fat, paleo as high protein

(a2) paleo as avoid gluten/wheat/grains and fructose and omega 6/industrial oils

(a3) paleo as WAPF diet + a somewhat different way of thinking about it

(b1) don't ignore evidence from the paleo era that might be relevant for nutrition

(b2) eat what paleolithic humans ate or try to approximate it (no re-enactment)

as a way of eating as far as reliable evidence goes the paleo approach says nothing beyond a WAPF-type diet. where one or another paleo faction added something to those guidelines, strong evidence for it being generally useful has been lacking

as far as a way of thinking is concerned, again it in fact does not exist. (b1) is obvious and not particularly paleo: never ignore any potentially relevant evidence. as for (b2) this cannot be the correct guideline for maximal health-span because 1. it ignores the possibility of intervening major genetic changes (or minor ones with potential cascade effects in a complex organism) and 2. it ignores the fact that health-span is not equivalent to value for reproductive survival. the diet of the paleo humans must have been optimal for reproductive survival (quick early growth and successful reproduction) so it is most unlikely to have been optimal for (postreproductive) healthspan, --even if any version of it clearly beats SAD any day. So if you are interested in (postreproductive) healthspan then 'paleo' thinking cannot provide the answer. (I'm not saying it's not relevant). So if paleo does not answer this question, what question is it meant to answer?

In other words what is paleo if it is not uniquely identifiable as a diet and not identifiable as a specific answer(-frame) to some specific question? It is an tool for hypothesis generation. You can use it well or badly. But the tool itself is not something you can argue for or against.

24412 · July 16, 2011 at 9:50 AM

That we were on our way to evolving into a species adapted to wheat, HFCS, and seed oil and by passing on our SAD intolerant DNA we're simply setting up future generations for suffering in a world where those are the most abundant nutrient sources.

987 · July 16, 2011 at 7:36 AM

For me, it's the question of what percentage of the population is actually gluten sensitive. I don't care to take my chances, and I know that more people suffer adverse effects from gluten than just people with celiacs disease - but I could imagine that a large percentage of people (perhaps the majority) may be able to eat a fairly large amount of gluten without any adverse effect. I mean, I trust Robb Wolf - but it is a matter of trust right now; I don't really know for certain, and it would shock me if it turned out that the dangers were exaggerated.

10 · June 22, 2011 at 11:43 PM

sorry but there are no smart ones i heard off

777 · May 30, 2014 at 12:01 PM

IMO the best argument is that we haven't stopped evolving

So for example we may have evolved to eat animals thus far but we'll keep evolving and our diet will quite likely change aswell

That doesn't mean we'll evolve to eat grains & refined vegetable oils, but it could mean eating less animals & more plants, less carbs & more fats, who knows...

Medium avatar
0 · May 30, 2014 at 11:11 AM

In response to the argument 'the paleo diet isn't sustainable'

There are many people who like the attitude that the only way to solve modern issues is with contemporary solutions, they will triumphantly disregard anyone who looks at lessons from the past as antiquated and twee.

On the subject of agriculture and food be careful not to overlook the vested interest of enormous companies in keeping agriculture and food production industrialised. Everything from seed supply to monopolising the shelves in a supermarket is worth a lot of money to some of the players in these industries. Huge marketing budgets maintain the notion that we need GM, factory farms and space age technology to be able to deliver a growing populations food needs. Well actually that is where (in my opinion) they are wrong. And it’s not just ‘little hill billy me’ either, there is a growing choir of voices singing the same song. The ONLY way we can feed a large population is through a sustainable agricultural system that is not depleting the very reserves that grow our food in the first place. It is true that we are likely to have to feed approximately 9 Billion mouths in the next couple of decades. But to use the US as an example, it takes 41 tonnes of plant protein to produce 7 million tonnes of animal protein. Does this make sense! AND in doing this it uses vast quantities of fossil fuel, water and has a huge detrimental effect on the environment. Grass land grows food for animals all year round, the manure from the animal naturally fertilises the soil with no transportation or storage required, the grass grows deep roots so is resistant to drought and flood. Healthy soil grows deeper and richer by taking atmospheric carbon and locking it down in the ground which in turn grows more nutrient dense food for the animal to grazing upon. Some fields are cultivated to produce vegetables and cereal grain for human consumption and are naturally fertile, these crops are rotated to maintain a natural fertility minimal loss of carbon. Factory farming is in essence moving the animals from a given area of grassland and putting them in a shed. You need to feed the animals and get them fat quick so you plough the pasture and grow a crop, each year the soil depletes and carbon is released into the atmosphere. The poor soil is vulnerable to flood and drought and there is a huge amount of work, money, chemicals and fossil fuel required to sow the seed, kill the weeds, harvest the crop, dry, store and feed this to the animals. The animals are not really designed to eat this stuff and get sick so we give them anti biotic’s to prevent this. The manure is collected in huge tanks causing toxic gas and potential contamination and is then transported to spread back onto the fields. But can we produce enough food from a pasture based system? Well this is hard to prove or disprove and it depends on what people want to or should eat, how much they eat and how much we waste. In the USA 35 Million cattle are slaughtered every year for food. It is estimated that in the past the Great Planes of North America alone supported up to 75 million bison (twice the weight of a beef steer), the bison would have co-existed with millions of other mammals and thrived on a diverse resilient eco system. This area alone could easily produce more than enough healthy 100% grass fed meat for the US population’s current requirements. And do they require all that food anyway? Well, it’s a bit of a politically in-correct subject, but the answer is NO. Americans eat approximately 815 billion calories a day, 200 billion more than needed to stay healthy, this is enough to feed 80 million people! There are nearly one billion malnourished people in the world, but the approximately 40 million tonnes of food wasted by US households, retailers and food services each year would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them. Can we afford not to feed the world on a pasture based system? The State of Iowa has lost one half of its top soil in 150 years of farming, this soil took thousands of years to form. Water is a finite resource and with population growth will have to be managed VERY carefully. Industrialised agriculture accounts for 87% of fresh water consumed each year, livestock themselves only drink 1.3% of this. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that if a traditional system of crop and pasture rotation was adopted and un-cultivatable land was grazed by meat animals, there is a very good chance we could not only feed the world a more nutritious diet but also reverse climate change in the process!


1637 · August 14, 2013 at 4:18 AM

My answer to any anti-paleo argument is...


2036 · January 22, 2013 at 6:22 AM

Here's mine, specifically in the more broad sense of paleo, specifically, being grain free. This is a consideration of all four points:

Grains are scorned for these reasons: gluten, antinutrients, carbs, & low nutrient density.

1) Most varieties of grains and grain-like seeds in existence are gluten free. It's just the handful that we've picked out and hybridized to death and grown on an appalling scale that typically have gluten.

2) Antinutrients are largely neutralized through "proper preparation." In addition, most nuts and seeds, allowed in the most basic paleo guidelines, are far more dense in antinutrients than any grain, and people are not widely encouraged to "properly prepare" those. A bread made with white rice flour might seem pretty inoccuous, antinutrient-wise, compared to a bread made with ground, raw almonds and then baked at a heat that might damage oils. Some, like Sisson, say that it's an issue of context, and SADers are more likely downing large portions of grain at every meal, versus someone who snacks on a small handful of nuts here or there, and in that small amount, the antinutrients are unlikely to amount to much. But you don't hear that same "contextual exception" for eating a small amount of gluten-free grain.

3) Whether you're in the "safe starch" camp or not, there exists a solid belief in the paleo community that some starch consumption is generally safe, and often beneficial, for those with healthy metabolisms. With this in mind, how is 50 g of carbs from soaked, sprouted buckwheat any different than 50 g carbs from a peeled, white potato?

4) Grains are low in nutrients, true, but if white rice is DEVOID of nutrients and is considered acceptable by many, why not a bit of soaked quinoa instead? Compared ounce for ounce, cooked quinoa and teff are more nutrient-dense, marginally, than a cooked potato (white OR sweet, beta carotene aside). Cooked buckwheat runs about on par with potatoes for overall nutrient density. Sure, peeled potatoes and soaked grains will never be as nutritious as eggs or meat, even conventional forms, but I don't understand why we hate on the occasional consumption of a grain versus the occasional consumption of tubers, at least on a dogmatic level, considering the inconsistencies above.

Personally: I don't eat many grains because potatoes taste better, and I don't eat as many carbs as I used to, because I feel better when I'm not riding the blood sugar roller coaster. But the arguments don't add up to me to make me feel bad about eating nixtamalized maize in my Mexican food. My metabolism is resilient enough and my immune system doesn't think twice about it, so I count it as a starch and move on. I believe many people have good reasons to avoid grains (just like some people have good reasons to avoid eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, etc.), but I don't believe it's necessary or beneficial to make the avoidance of grains gospel.

10 · November 27, 2012 at 5:57 PM

I have my experience and what I see the American public do around food. I read the Research of Linda Bacon Phd and I also work within the eating disorder community at Beyond Hunger ( book "it's Not About Food )

We obsess over it because of many reasons, we want to live longer, healthier, not be fat etc.

I see that the food issue gets so complicated, because we have complicated it. Yes, food had been tampered with since we were cave men and women. But so has every other natural aspect of life.

A human being needs to feel they are valued and loved in the community in which he or she lives. A human being needs to feel a sense of connection and belonging. A human being needs to feel their contribution is worthy of the community. If they do not feel this, stressful emotions are produced. Feelings produce strong chemical reactions in the body. Negative and stressful emotions on a chronic basis create damage to the body.

Eat your palo, your vegan or your SAD diet if you will,or just listen to your body and trust it. Trust your emotions. If you feel crappy a lot it could have more to do with the difficulty you have in creating and sustaining a healthy sense of community. A perfect diet can never do that for you. It didn't for me.

0 · December 25, 2011 at 10:50 AM

the paleo diet is healthy because you eat less! Which is linked to living longer and a high carbohydrate diet is linked to disease and a shorter life span. However its not about strict paleo all the time but taking bits and pieces making sure to do your research then costumizing your own health plan. Did you know that if you feed ducks bread they get tumors and cancer" So I know its just ducks and maybe other animals too but dont you think that bread can affect us too? Please respond.

Medium avatar
8187 · December 11, 2011 at 5:36 PM

"Intellectual honesty demands that we understand and respond to the smartest & best arguments our critics make."

There's an implied "we in our movement or our camp" in this argument. An implied solidarity among leading-edge Paleo eaters whose moral responsibility stems from being an evolutionary vanguard.

Yawn. So not interested in that proponent/opponent binary angle.

I evaluate food choices based on the science I happen to encounter (non exhaustive, yet I tend to mine for conclusions that seem rational and empirically grounded). I tracked the Ancestral Health Symposium and its presentations, not because I felt a belonging to the group, or a desire to belong, or anything related to sympathy for Our Side versus Theirs. I tracked the arguments of that forum to educate myself.

So, no, not really. I don't feel any obligation to face down data of some putative group of others. Dean Ornish has lost any claim he might have hoped to have on my attention. Not because I have trouble focusing. Rather, I came. I heard (Ornish's nutritional case). And I found his case wanting, hence stopped listening. If he says something new/different on nutrition — or more likely, if I hear that he does — I may listen to him anew.

20222 · December 11, 2011 at 12:04 PM

Just one more that I think of from time to time. Any restrictive diet may be problematic for people with eating disorders. For example, trying to restrict the diet of a binge eater may just lead to more bingeing. Or it can lead to more obsessive-compulsive food issues than existed previously.

77338 · September 12, 2011 at 6:20 AM

From what I have read, people on the paleo diet tend to get lower lipid counts, better results with diabetes and lower blood pressure. Maybe it is just me but I have not heard of too many diets that will do that in so short a time. I have some articles on this site. http://thepaleo.net

63 · August 31, 2011 at 9:47 PM

http://blog.cholesterol-and-health.com/2011/08/against-dietary-dogmatism.html visit this site for the hands-down best anti Paleo argument ever

77338 · July 16, 2011 at 4:24 AM

People who do paleo are too lean, and rigid, while SAD people are nicely filled out, laid back, jokers. Just an observation from watching people.

220 · March 23, 2011 at 11:54 AM

Questioning out loud here. Isn't rice gluten free? I suspect that could be why people seem to survive on it without health risks. Just a though. My very basic understanding of the problems with grains is that the gluten is the problem. If rice doesn't have it, then the main problem with rice would be the insulin increases and the loaded calories?

Maybe someone with more idea of what they're talking about can expand on that for me. I admit I'm a paleo numpty just starting out with this lifestyle.

Answer Question

Login to Your PaleoHacks Account