The Mediterranean and French lifestyles are somewhere in between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and many Paleo diets. They eat fewer processed foods. But, cornetti/croissants and gelato aren't paleo. Because as the SAD invades those countries, their incidence of diseases of civilization increases, I wonder whether the success of Paleo has less to do with "eating like a caveman" than avoiding over-processed foodstuffs and encouraging manageable exercise routines.
I find the evolutionary argument less convincing than empirical one. It's not that I don't care why a diet works or fails, but that I realize we don't know enough to buttress the statement "It works repeatedly & reliably." with theory. Also, not all forms of evolution leave changes in the DNA (mitochondria still have some of their own, epigenetics). And, didn't the "hardcore" hunter-gatherers get wiped out by the "guns, germs, and steel" of the caveman-cum-agriculturalists who are our actual ancestors?
What does everyone think?
Great Question. If you saw the queues outside Macdonalds here at lunch time, well, you would realise that the SAD diet is alive and well here in France.
I must just add a few things about the French diet, it is not just about cheese and wine. It is the WAY the french traditionally eat. It is a way of life here. All foodstuffs have their proper place and way of being eaten. Lunch is the main meal of the day, three courses are always eaten perhaps with an extra cheese course, wine is consumed by nearly every adult at lunch time as a digestive aid.
I believe that it is thus ATTITUDE towards food that is the key. OK sweets are eaten, bread is eaten, but the French believe in balance, a little of everything in moderation (soul food is just as important for our well-being) chocolate, tartes and pies, all made with pride and care. Many french people still have a smattering of knowledge of herbal remedies to aid digestion and they generally KNOW about food, REALLY know - from experience. I would definitely say it is the same in Italy, Spain etc.
Children are educated by their mothers and grandmothers in their own kitchens (which I believe is the factor common to all traditional diets) almost every garden outside of the city contains a vegetable patch which is used daily.
And it is this a way of life that is being encroached upon by the SAD diet, mainly through youth culture and fast food, but traditionalism is being valiantly upheld by the French as part of their heritage, because it is part of their identity as a nation, something the English or Americans lack......
There is a place for croissants and baguettes at the french table, but they are not eaten to excess, usually kept for breakfast. The french reject brown or rustic flour, saying that white flour is easier for the body to digest. Dairy is traditionally eaten raw and is still integral to meals here, giving the french a very high fat diet, in addition to other gourmet delights such as foie gras and pates, which are eaten regularly. Meat is always a very high standard, with the french preferring fattier cuts and organ meat leaving the leaner cuts for 'haute cuisine' which is more often found in restaurants than at the family table.
The French do not stress about their diets, they actually do not stress about much really (apart from such things as having to work a year longer before being able to draw a pension for example).
What I am trying to say is that perhaps the way of life, the diet represents and encompasses is just as important as what actually is part of that diet. Whether it is paleo, Mediterranean, French, whatever. Taken out of context - out of the way of life you need to live in order to REALLY appreciate it - it becomes just like any another diet to follow and stress about. OK, the SAD diet is obviously not good eaten in excess, but perhaps a range of high-quality food, lovingly prepared from the source, garden, local farmer etc (i.e. traditional) - which makes it automatically fat-rich and carb-poor, all eaten at its proper time and place, well-digested and eaten amongst those we love, stimulated with good conversation and in a relaxed atmosphere, is just as valid as another more 'politically correct' diet eaten on the run and with uncertainty.
Informed "paleo-ers" (?) are beyond the caveman metaphor, I believe, or at least it is only an inspiration. This is evident if you read the blogs, books, or forums of reputable paleo gurus. Unfortunately no one has thought of a better, snappier label for this internet movement than one that references an anthropological era.
I wanted to respond though, to say that I am all about french food crossed with paleo. i.e. paleo plus wine and cheese. Yeah! That is the purpose of life!
The French and Mediterranean people eat MUCH less carbs than we do on the SAD. I would say it probably falls into the 80/20 percentages that a lot of people like to follow. Also, the French eat their bread with gobs of butter and or cheese, and the Mediterranean people eat loads of pig. The lipophobes have skewed the profile of these diets to prove their points, especially the touted Mediterranean. Go to Sardinia, and you will find most of their diet is meat and veg.
If a lot of the food is made at home, that cuts out a lot of high fructose corn syrup and chemicals. And sounds like carb is eaten only as a fine food and not just as a filler food to tank up on. I think one of the main differences is that lots of healthy home cooked nutrient dense tasty foods are eaten daily in France. That's one thing we just don't see much of here anymore. Even those who are ostensibly cooking at home are often just putting together prepared box foods and/or heating stuff in the micro.
Mediterranean diet actually should refer to the traditional diet consumed in the Greek Island of Crete before the 1960s. It may share something with the current habits of French or Spaniards such as heavy consumption of olive oil, but it is quite different from what you would observe today in most Parisians or Madrileños. The beneficial effects were studied for a traditional diet, and today most people in Mediterranean countries do not follow a traditional diet (although their habits are still somewhat better than the Standard American Diet).
I think processed foods are definitely the worst part of SAD. Then again, like you said, there's the SAD, there's paleo, and there's French or Mediterranean diets that may fall somewhere inbetween. So, I think it comes down to unhealthy (SAD), healthier, and arguably the healthiest (paleo).
You can be healthy, though not optimally, with homemade bread, some pasta, legumes, and other carbs/foods we primal/paleos generally admonish but you probably won't be as healthy if you adopted a healthier Paleo lifestyle.
I think SAD and processed foods are a big problem, of course. I also think they're a problem which is a part of a whole. It's part of a culture that cares more for convenience than for quality and which, I think, generally doesn't make a great effort to get informed about what's really important. Sure, you can buy McDonald's for cheap and it's not very good for you, but you can get home and eat something that's quick and kinda tasty [though no one will admit to it on this site and which I am tempted to deny as well :)].
Processed foods are not going to be better for you than REAL food but I do think there is a big difference between bread you can make yourself and 'fruit' loops/Mcdonalds/Taco Bell/etc. I cheat every now and then and make homemade corn tortillas and make some delicious lamb or beef tacos, but I won't fret it too much because my other 99 meals are going to be paleo/primal.
I think 'eating like a caveman' and avoiding processed foods are, in some sense, one in the same. It's just that 'eating like a caveman' involves cutting out most to all processed foods (I don't think too many paleos crack open coconuts for their coconut milk, I certainly don't lol) whereas the two diets you mentioned allows for more processed things like butter/bread/cheese/yogurt/grains/legumes/etc.
As for evolution v science (Guns, Germs, and Steel is a great book, btw), I would argue that those colonists/invaders were based on the same prehistoric human beings that indigenous peoples were and that relatively new technology and civilization doesn't really change their genetic makeup. I may be able to use my phone or a gun or antibiotics but, really, I'm no different from a caveman 20,000 years ago at my most basic. They had just been exposed to more illness (built up immunities) and had better weapons and the ability to drive out/kill indigenous peoples than indigenous peoples had to defend against diseases or, well, bullets.
By the way, when I say 'you' I don't mean you specifically, I mean any person, in general, just in case you thought I was getting too preachy haha
I actually like to think of my eating as a Paleo-inspired French diet. If you allow some full-fat dairy into your diet like PaNu or Perfect Health Diet recommend then classic French cuisine is about as healthy and tasty as you can get IMO. Check out my comment here for some Julia Child Paleo inspiration!
As for what role evolutionary theory plays compared with empirical results, well, there is almost no science done without a theoretical framework guiding experimentation. When forming hypotheses or analyzing data, the dimensions are so large that you must constrain your search in order to make timely progress. The book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" describes the author literally going crazy over the infinite possibility space of hypothesis generation and becoming skeptical of science because of this.
So think of Paleo as using what evidence we do have of human evolution to provide a framework that inspires our lifestyle habits instead of defining them.
I live in France. The notion of mediterranean diet is far away the actual lifestyle of the biggest part of the population. Traditions and facilities are the main word, white bread and liquid carb are too much present. I'm young and my studies are done, but when I pass around a school it's visible, young childrens are fatter and fatter. Most people don't know what they eat and why ....they don't want to change, you can spend one hour explain food effects and how to make better choices and hear " can I have a little bit of bread with my pizza " !