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 :)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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....
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
I <3 this thread, love a good game of devil's advocate.
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?
It's impossible to know, never mind truly replicate what paleolithic people ate, especially in our dysfunctional food systems
Raw vegan could really be the optimal diet!! (Ha! No, just kidding.)
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.