As you may know or not the hunter gather movement called “Paleo” is gaining steam. It is growing for several reasons. I would say two main reasons is because Paleo is connected with Crossfit, and the other is because it is extremely seductive where it caters to bad, high fat, high protein dietary habits. If a diet told people that cupcakes were good against cancer and heart disease people on this diet would jump on it like there is no tomorrow. People love to hear good news about their bad habits.
Crossfit is an amazing system of circuit training created by a guy called Greg Glassman. It really can turn any wimp into a hardcore fitness machine. I can’t say enough good things about CrossFit. I think the community is awesome and how it keeps on building, the high intensity workouts, and the continuous push for innovation and improvement is unmatched. So in regards to CrossFit as a program and community I can only speak highly of it. The unfortunate side is that attached to push either of two nutrition programs, Paleo or Zone. This may not be the common rule for all “boxes” (CrossFit Gyms) but many CrossFit box websites have a Paleo or zone page on it. In addition I have seen enough interviews where Paleo and Zone were talked about. What I found interesting is that most of the top 10 percent of the Crossfit athletes don’t stick to either of these and carbs are often found in their diet.
So why is there a problem with this push for Paleo or Zone diets? Well my critique is again not to demean anyone or anyone’s business but I think that if a open source community pushes a particular diet on people when they are not qualified nutritionists they may put people’s health at risk and in many cases it is absolutely against the law to give dietary advice and recommendations such as giving people prescribing meal plans without having a dieticians or nutritionist license. Most of the Paleo Guru’s that many people follow do not have either of these or nutrition science background.
Atkins and Paleo share very many common similarities. Carbophobia. Carbohydrates are usually all lumped together as bad. One looks at a donut and will call it carbs. One will look at oatmeal and call it carbs. Yet the media and trendy diet books have lumped all carbs as bad foods to eat. These foods are not all and one the same. Removing the good nutrients like fiber out of carbohydrates is a recipe for disaster.
Most of the U.S. population and other world countries that share the same fate of obesity are mainly due to excess calories. Our portion sizes have increased at a rapid rate and with empty nutrients being a large source of many people’s diet. In return people’s bodies will seek more food to attempt to get the nutrition that it needs. Try this experiment at home. Try to eat a big bowl of black rice and black beans (cooked of course). You will find that this will keep you full for hours and not craving those empty calorie foods. In return from eating this kind of complex carbohydrates you will get many added benefits, high antioxidants, phyto-nutrients, phyto-chemicals and polysaccharides like beta-glucan ( a pectin). Beta Glucan for instance is currently being studied to fight cancer. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta-glucan).
Then there is the new gluten free diet. This demonizing of gluten has gone on for now several years. A small portion of the population is gluten intolerant and needs to eliminate gluten (about 6%). This does not affect the rest of the population. Here is another example of how carbs are demonized. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gluten_sensitivity#cite_note-0) So when examining carbohydrates as food we must look further than just a group name and lumping all carbs together.
So what is the lure with Paleo. Well for the first part it has been found to help people loose weight at a very high speed. With the weightloss obsession in this country which is rightly so people will try or do almost anything for a quick fix. I could list them all but they are not relevant to this post. So yes eliminating refined carbohydrates will help one loose weight even with a high fat high protein diet. So what are the benefits? Lower lipid profiles and lower cholesterol scores from the point of starting the diet. There are varying genetic factors that can help keep and keep the cholesterol score low in certain individuals but for the general portion of the population this is not the case. The problem with paleo is that many end up finding out that their LDL has gone up after a while. Past reading several Paleo blogs I have found this is a great concern among this community. The Paleo veterans will just tell these fearful individuals that high cholesterol is not bad that as long as they take care of the inflammation they will be good to go. Enter the fish oil. So then there is this fish oil crazy that starts telling people that inflammation is bad. Inflammation is a way the body helps repair damaged mechanisms in the body but of course chronic inflammation is a bad thing. So here is the bigger question is what is causing this inflammation? Oxidized plaque sitting on the artery walls is this problem. The way the body works best is if things move along and get cleaned out. Saturated fat is much harder for the body to get rid of than mono and poly unstaturated fatty oils. High saturated fat diets is a big culprit of this atery clogging. In addition those who are on the standard American diet the excess refined foods add more to this problem. My point then is if you’re on a high fat paleo or zone diet why do you have a need to take fish oil? You can search almost every paleo website around and you will find the talk about fish oil.
In addition many of the Paleo followers are athletes which also has been shown to lower blood pressure and other blood markers. This is still not a “get of jail free card.” Because western disease is grows long term looking at instant results is misleading. In addition Paleo often will quote their short term studies but unlike most of the science done on dangers of increasing animal protein and fat their science is lacking. Now if I were waging my life on the facts I would not jump to conclusion and be so quick to jump on the high meat diet specially when there is not enough long-term studies done and scientific evidence. For now they are just theories based one caveman ancestors that left no written record of what they did. We just can guess based off of archeological studies and modern day hunter gatherers.
I think the problem also is that people think biomarkers are the only way to detect or prevent disease which is not true. There are underlying mechanisms that can be found with high tech equipment that search far deeper into cardiac problems. Dr. Dean Ornish has examined several of these such as blood flow problems.
Paleo will be first to tell you that the science out there and being done is flawed. What better way to seduce people with this information. “We have found otherwise,” they will tell you. That large population studies, questioners, is faulty science that we can without a reasonable doubt claim that animal foods and saturated fat cause disease. You could do the same with cigarette smoking by observing a group of people who eat badly and smoke and go hey it is the food not the ciggarretes that is killing them or it is their genes. There is obviously many variables that come into play but many of these studies attempt the best they can do to control for these. To say the science is wrong is like saying prove to me we are actually alive and it is not a dream. It is nonsense. Enough studies have been done to show a high connection with these foods and disease. There has been and inverse affect with whole grains, tubers, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Grassfed is the next resort they will argue. Oh but I don’t eat industrial meat I eat grassfed. This is nonsense. The majority of paleo will buy whatever meat. Grassfed may be their angle but they will drop buy a Five Guys burger anytime. Oh but that is ok because Paleo allow people to have 20 percent cheat in their diet. This means they could even cheat on carbs. Then they will tell you that the grassfed meat is powerfully filled with omega 3s which is just not true the amount to omega 6 is obviously better than industrial meat but not enough to make a difference to thwart of heart disease. I will look to Ausralia as an example which a large portion of their meat is pasture raised and cancer and heart disease are rampant. So, so much for that omega 3 protection.
A critique at vegans and vegetarans is the next step. You will this attack on vegans and vegetarians by often ex vegans or vegetarians gone Paleo. Such as they will need every supplement known to man, it is unsustainable, they are sickly looking, they are weak and so on. Whatever else they want to throw at veg people. The fact is if they were truly interested in optimal health then Paleo does not reach the levels of nutrition that Veganism can. Veganism lacks one main nutrient which is B12 which is not from meat but bacteria that reside on meat.
This can easily be attained by eating fortified foods or supplementing. No diet is perfect but if you measure calorie per calorie the amount of nutrion on a vegan diet far excels one on a Paleo diet. When I do talk to Paleo they claim they are in it for optimal health. Well apparently I am confused because animal foods are dwarfed by powerful protective nutrients that come from plants. Animals foods are a middle man. Every time one consumes meat protein they take away the opportunity to consume powerful nutrient rich plants. So before Paleo and alike criticize vegans and vegetarians as weak they should think again. As for supplementing Paleo blogs and site often sell massive amounts of supplements. Especially that fish oil to thwart off that inflammation.
There is now plenty of science to show that low carb diets are not a good idea, that getting enough of the macro nutrients and micro nutrients can be done easily on a veg diet and there is no need to consume animal foods to do so for optimal health and in exchange if you eat a whole food plant based diet you will probably come out more nourished.
This topic could go on for pages but the point of this post is to show that before you get lured into a fad diet maybe you should use better judgment no matter how good the marketing sounds. Use common sense fad diets are just that a fad.
If you want to see what a fad diet like Atkins as a reaction to peoples critism of high cholesterol they added a vegan version of the Atkins. ( http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-eco-atkins-diet )
Here below is a interesting low carb study.