Over on his blog, Darrin describes what he sees as the five failings of paleo, which include:
See his blog post for more (HT Steve Parker for the link), but I think he makes a plausible argument. What say you paleohackers? Are these the five failings? Are there more? Less? Are these to be expected about the movement given its youth?
Note: keep reading past the objections that he considers straw men like "Cavemen died at 30 years old. Our modern diet allows us to live much longer." These aren't his main arguments.
Five failings of DOGMATIC paleo. Once you get beyond the whole WWGD (What would Grok do?) and what fill-in-the-blank-with-a-paleo-guru says is paleo or not, paleo just works. It doesn't matter what we used to eat, it doesn't matter that humans have continued adapting (not necessarily evolving) to various diets/environments, etc... It works, it does not fail.
Wow, had I known this would have been so widely read I might have had my editor (me) check it over a bit more to clear up any vagueness, but there it is.
The implicit question I'm trying to answer with this article is "why I don't think that dairy, grains, and legumes should be lumped with soda, pastries, and potato chips as 'bad food'… even for us Paleo folk." I think the answer to this question runs counter to what a lot of people assume about the logic and science behind trying to replicate the diet of our ancestors. I might have gotten so wrapped up in arguing my case that I neglected to bring this up in the first place.
As many of you have noted, YES, I was specifically referring to "Dogmatic Paleo" here, which is primarily what is catching on as it gets more and more media attention.
To be fair, I think that this "streamlined" Paleo message--which brings a lot of people onboard the bandwagon with well-fleshed-out marketing images of turning yourself into a red meat-eating modern caveman looking like some kinda badass warrior--is EXACTLY THE WAY TO MARKET THIS SUCCESSFULLY. I know it's what grabbed me at first.
But stick with anything long enough and you'll need to start personalizing, improvising, and riffing off the melody to see what works best for you. I think most of us are smart enough to do this, but I'm talking mostly to the people who dogmatically avoid, say, potatoes, rice, and corn, when they could possibly work just fine for them, or even (gasp) help improve their overall health.
Thanks for all your reactions and input. I know I've got more food for thought after reading some of your comments.
1.We Don’t REALLY Know What Our Ancestors Ate:
2.There Is No ONE Paleo Diet
3.Yes, We HAVE Evolved Since the Paleolithic
4.What Is Natural Is Not Necessarily Optimal
5.Nutritionism Is a Horrible Basis For a Healthy Diet.
For some of the reasons he listed, I have come to like the term “ancestral” more than “paleo”. Paleo also leads to people to argue about how many wild eggs someone could gather in a day and that sort of thing.
In regard to #4 – natural vs optimal, I think the human body is so complex that it can be very difficult to determine what is optimal, so I think “natural” probably has more importance than some hypothetical optimal. I do not see leaning towards natural really being a “failing” of paleo, but it might be a problem with a too rigidly applied idea of paleo.
And I think that is ultimately where paleo fails; people develop too rigid (and often contradictory) views often based upon insufficient information. “Avoid wheat, sugar, and vegetable oil” can be quite different than “eat like a caveman” or “eat like an Inuit”.
I'd say I disagree with the way he's argued a few of the points.
We might have a pretty good idea of how our ancestors ate, but not a good enough idea to say that all people would be better off if they avoided grains, legumes, and dairy completely.
By ignoring ancestral diets, we would greatly increase the phytate:[mineral] molar ratio during digestion and be less well-nourished as a result. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0308814694901090 It would take a long time before we showed outward signs of this malnutrition. Similarly, we could slowly develop compromised-/autoimmune, or nutrient malabsorption issues as a result of, for example, gluten ingestion without ever having any perceptible GI issues. I can stop eating gluten altogether for months and then eat a loaf of bread without any gut issues but I have no idea what sort of damaging effects it's having. In some ways this is a lot worse than an obvious reaction.
One well-studied phenomenon is the pattern of lactose tolerance. Most mammals lose the enzyme necessary to break down the sugar in milk as they grow up, but there is a minority of humans that still produce this enzyme their entire life and are able to consume dairy with no major issues.
Lactase persistence is a fairly minor evolutionary adaptation. Lactase itself goes back not only though hominin evolution but deep into mammalian evolution. We're talking tens of millions of years. All that some of us have lost is the off-switch. It's a gold medal, Carl Lewis leap to then say that means we can eat most grains with no ill effects. Show me a population of humans with glutenase or phytase in their villi alongside lactase and then you'll have an argument. Hell, show me a single human with those adaptations and I'll stand bare-headed in awe of you with a single tear traversing my cheek.
Similarly, just because we didn’t eat frozen pizza, microwave mac and cheese, and White Castle burgers during our evolution doesn’t mean they are inherently unhealthy to us!
Yeah but their high toxin:nutrient ratio means that they are inherently unhealthy to us. Few "natural" foods have so high a toxin load coupled with so low of a nutrient load. The pervading argument throughout these seems to be that grains probably aren't that bad, but few grains have much in the way of bioavailable nutrients. They're usually toxic forms of starch for which we have better alternatives.
In the late 90′s and early 00′s, the Paleo diet was a low-carb, low-fat, and high-protein diet. This has been lovingly labeled the “Faileo” diet by many today due to the incredible difficulty of eating little more than salads and chicken breasts (not to mention the silliness of thinking that our ancestors actually ate like this.)
As it turns out, that's a highly effective fat loss diet, especially if lean steaks are used in lieu of chicken. Our ancestors didn't eat like this, but then again, they weren't trying to lose body fat. When the fat is lost, adjustments are made to halt the progress and maintain weight.
You should always try things out for yourself–for at least 28 days–to give yourself the best idea of what you should and shouldn’t do in regards to your health and fitness.
It's far more efficient to learn from the mistakes of others than to insist upon making them yourself.
I agreed with pretty much everything he said--especially point #5. I think that is by far the biggest problem with paleo. Look at the whole nuts/legumes paradox. Too many people get too caught up in the labels and following rules instead of actually figuring out what is good for their body.
Quite frankly, for the average SAD eater just getting all of the processed foods, industrial seed oils, white flour, and sugar out of their diet while adding in pastured meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and more healthy fats would be a massive improvement. Many do better with no gluten grains, some do better with no grains at all (and no one needs the quantities the USDA recommends), some do better with no dairy at all, some do better with no legumes at all, some do better with no nuts at all. But some do just fine with all of those--gluten grains probably being the most questionable on that list. Each person needs to take the time to find what works best for them.
We're already seeing some paleo convenience foods appear online. I think the author is totally correct that it is only a matter of time before there are paleo frozen dinners at the local grocery store. And that is definitely not a good thing.
We Don’t REALLY Know What Our Ancestors Ate
Largely Correct. But while we cannot know with 100% certainty exactly what our ancestors ate, we can reach general conclusions with a fair degree of certainty. His argument seems to agree with this. While it is possible (even likely) that some paleolithic men ate some grains, legumes, or dairy in small quantities, that is hardly reason to eat bastardized versions of these foods in the quantities that most people do today.
There Is No ONE Paleo Diet
Again, this is true. However, we can draw general principles that are consistent among many different groups. I don't think the Paleo Diet depends on the premise that all paleolithic humans ate the exact same diet.
Yes, We HAVE Evolved Since the Paleolithic
Sure, in some regards we have evolved to our diet. But we are not 100% of the way there, and there is some pretty clear evidence that foods such as grains, sugars, and refined oils lead to obesity and disease.
What Is Natural Is Not Necessarily Optimal
Agree 100%. I don't eat honey; I don't care how natural it is, it's still mostly fructose. "Natural" should be a guide or a starting point, not the entire basis of your nutritional plan.
Nutritionism Is a Horrible Basis For a Healthy Diet
Observation may not be 100% accurate, but it's the best we have. And I absolutely think that it's reasonable to "demonize" some nutrients - most high carb foods spike insulin, cause fat gain, and have almost no nutritional value. It's logical and reasonable to avoid those foods and stick to those that have demonstrable health benefits.
I agree with all of the post except perhaps #3, since I really don't know how much we have evolved. I have other concerns as well, that he did not address. Lots of people on all sides of the recent argument have been nasty and dogmatic. For a group that generally rejects a religious point of view (deity-wise at least) in favor of a scientific viewpoint, it is becoming more and more like a religion, complete with a priestly hierarchy and rigid dogmatism. Calling each other Paleotards, really? You know, I am changing my mind, I think we haven't evolved all that much, and eating a perfect diet hasn't created a right mind. Until the Paleo/Ancestral/whatever "movement" works on that, it will never become massively popular. At least most religions have some redeeming qualities: love, prayer, faith, hope, everlasting life.
Adding "ism" as suffix ("nutritionism") demonizes before defining. It's a made-up word. Would someone kindly define "nutritionism" specifically, and add a "for instance" or two? Seriously: please name a few "nutritionists" so the villagers with pitchforks can storm their evil abodes?
I haven't yet read the whole article but just wanted to address this one: "Cavemen died at 30 years old. Our modern diet allows us to live much longer."
I don't think it's our diet that allows us to live longer. If anything, our (modern) diet kills us faster. I think we live longer because we can control our environment better and we have modern medical technology. We also don't need to worry about being eaten by large animals on a daily basis. And in developed countries, we don't really have pestilence and famine to contend with.
This is speculation but if a "caveman" was alive today and eating the way he did, I'm sure he'd live well into old age.
OK, on to read the rest...
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