Every time there's a study that claims that meat will kill us and that a vegan diet will save us Denise Minger and others are quick to point out the fatal flaw that correlation and causality are two very different things. I.e. getting rid of meat wasn't the salvation, it was getting rid of the crap carbs, bad fats, and processed foods that restored people's health.
Are we in the Paleo world guilty of doing what we accuse others of doing? I no doubt do much better with real food and I eat plenty of meat and fat but I'm not so sure that, for many of us, it's about completely or mostly avoiding the grains and legumes. Sure, some of us don't do well with grains and other neolithic foods and really need to avoid them. But, I wonder how many of us are healthier because we found the religion of real food not because we went Paleo.
To me, just eating real food is the main key aspect of our diet that makes it work. Personally I think any diet that advocates that is going to make you healthier and therefore produce results over SAD.
That being said, eating real food means slightly different things to different folks. From the paleo world this does not include grains, diary, and legumes. For a vegan they would choose to include grains and legumes.
This is where it gets interesting. I think most of the people on Paleo are doing well because they are eating real food, and for the first time are providing their body with wide range of nutrients. For many the avoidance of grains, diary, and legumes can have immediate effects since they might have allergies/sensitivities to these foods. For others, it might more of a long term prevention. The point is Paleo stresses that foods that are toxic to our body should be avoided, eliminated, or limited. All food has toxic elements, but some more than others.
To me paleo provides a framework, blueprint, and long term solution for healthy diet. Some of these benefits we get right away, others, hopefully later in life. I don't think we are guilty of anything other than looking for the most optimal diet for humans.
To me, Paleo is a starting place framework, not an ideological hammer. Evolution makes an excellent foundation for biological processes. Other foods are then considered in light of that.
I think the vast majority of the benefits of paleo come from removing processed foods, seed oils, and gluten.
I am coming from a position of personal experience and not science. For me personally, eliminating grains, legumes, and in my case dairy completely has made a significant difference. I was eating no processed or junk food of any other kind when I made the move to Paleo. So, from my perspective, Paleo makes a big difference when compared to "real food" alone.
I never bothered cooking at all before paleo. Now I even make my own mayonnaise... I think even if I stopped bothering about paleo, I'd still have a bunch of good habits.
Definitely the real food thing, as you say. I'm trying food I never have before too which is awesome. But wheat stinks. I definitely have trouble with it.
There are a ton of studies out there that will support anything you wan them to. Grains: Good or Bad? Pick a study! Same with legumes, dairy, meat and on and on.
What they all agree on is that crap food makes crap health and crap body composition.
Paleo, therefore, is guaranteed to make you healthier just by avoiding crap! I personally don't eat many legumes, but the only other lifestyle diet I've tried relied on them heavily (Tim Ferris' "Slow Carb Diet"), and both were great. I prefer paleo because there are only so many times in a week I can face down a plate of beans!
I totally agree. I think that a HUGE number of the health benefits of a Paleo diet could be obtained by eating plain "real foods." Obviously if you're celiac or something that's not the case, but personally, I can get 99% of the benefits with about 50% of the work/deprivation by just sticking to whole, unprocessed foods, without having a conniption about whether the vegetable soup has Lima beans in it.
Do you want to avoid toxins or just neutralize them? Yes, grains and legumes can be made mostly safe and harmless, but personally I would rather just not bother with them. Not with enough regularity to consider them a staple of my diet, at least.
Just to add to what has been said. A big benefit to me is the reduction of chronic inflammation. Before paleo I ate fairly healthy (just with grains) but my O6:O3 ratios were way off the charts. Since I switched I have been more focused on my O3s. I definitely have better joint health and seem to have better control over my asthma symptoms.
All my health improvements came from simply eating real food and keeping an eye toward balancing all my carbs with protein. I experience negligible changes between that and wholly excluding grains and legumes. I naturally exclude them most the time because they're pretty carby and they don't satisfy like a good roast with potatoes do, but heck yes, I'll bake with some gluten free grains when the desire strikes. If I actually did experience any improvements, it'd be worth me eating grain/legume-free, but I don't believe in excluding real food for the sake of dogma. My personal health and sanity are more important than adhering to a label and pleasing the crowd. Especially since I do gain some nutritional balance from including them on a moderate basis.