The Paleo Diet Myth

As the New Year gradually wanes, so are many diets. One diet that refuses to die is the Paleolithic or “Paleo” diet. Indeed, in 2013, the term paleo had more hits on Google’s search engine than any other diet. Yet one would be hard pressed to find a doctor that actually recommends consuming large quantities of saturated fat; and on the off-chance that one does find such a doctor, find another doctor. So why do so many Americans embrace a diet that, scientifically speaking, is a myth?

For those unfamiliar with the diet, the term paleo is derived from the Paleolithic era humans inhabited roughly 2.6 million years ago prior to the Agricultural revolution. A host of food related illnesses began to plague humans—from diabetes to heart disease—with the rise of industrial agriculture. Therefore, the reasoning behind the paleo diet is that we ought to revert back to foods our ancestors likely ate. These diets consist mostly of protein and the avoidance of grains. In addition, paleo dieters abstain from drinking milk, since humans were reared to only consume milk at a young age. In short, the basic maxim behind the paleo diet is that if the food is new, then it is bad; and if the food is old, then it is good.

There are a variety of reasons that the paleo diet fails. One issue concerns the term health itself. Although we all have an intuitive grasp of what it means to be healthy, the concept quickly becomes ambiguous upon further reflection. The term health encompasses biological, mental, social and even economic well-being. The problem with so many diets is that they leave the output parameter of the diet undefined. Is the diet intended boost energy levels, build muscle or decrease total body fat?

In addition, the paleo diet fails to grasp the basic concepts of evolution. In particular, just because our ancestors may have consumed a particular food does not mean it was healthy. Natural selection is concerned with maximizing gene reproduction rather than health. Therefore, if a particular diet is efficacious for gene reproduction and is a ticking time bomb for a malady set to detonate in the winter years of life, then that diet will still be seized by natural selection. For example, our palates are tuned to seize upon sweets but that does not mean sweets are healthy.  Thus, whatever our ancestors may have consumed, it was not consumed because it was necessarily healthy.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with the paleo diet is that there was no transparent diet that our ancestors shared. Humans that occupied the paleolithic era were distributed throughout time and place. The environment our ancestors inhabited varied from the rainforest all the way to the Arctic. Therefore, whatever one particular group of savages consumed was not the same as another group of savages. If paleo dieters really want to revert back to a diet our ancestors likely consumed, they would best be directed to look at the diet of our closest living ancestors: the great apes, gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans. These diets consist mostly of nuts, fruits, vegetables and the occasional lizard.

The original intent of the paleo diet to ground a diet that is consistent with human nature can be appreciated. Unfortunately, once the facts are checked and arguments are probed, the reasoning behind the paleo diet quickly falls apart. In short: don’t swallow the paleo diet.

By Nathan Cranford

US News
ABC News

8 Responses to "The Paleo Diet Myth"

  1. Carla   April 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    It hasn’t died for a reason, numbnuts.

  2. Hanto Moato   April 15, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Is this piece intended as satire?

  3. Denis Voronin   March 26, 2014 at 8:07 am

    The author is completely devoid of brain. Or been lobotomised and not once. Dead end of evolution I guess

  4. Paul Getson   March 13, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Please, Nathan, keep eating junk, wheat, HFCS and chemicals. We want you to get as unhealthy as possible as quickly as possible so you get removed from the species.

    Paleo is not about eating like cavemen, it’s about eating real food that is good and healthy. It’s about knowing what goes into your body. It’s about seeing changes in your health and learning to eliminate toxins. (How do you suppose we as a species learned not to eat certain foods? It was tried, and found to make us sick, and we stopped eating them.) Unfortunately food products are designed to be tasty to hide the lack of available nutrients and toxic chemicals. Food products are also designed to be addictive (keep adding sugar and HFCS to the products to make you crave it.)

    Meat protein isn’t bad for you. Just recently there was a study that proved meat protein kept your brain functioning properly.

    (High-protein keeps you sharp as you get older
    Just a week after researchers likened a high-protein diet to smoking 20 cigarettes a day, different researchers have said the diet is important for healthy brain functioning as we get older (and as we pointed out last week).
    Older people eating a high-protein diet are 39 per cent less likely to suffer cognitive decline than those eating very little protein.
    Only animal protein has a protective effect, say researchers from the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and they didn’t see similar benefits from plant protein.
    The researchers had tracked for seven years the lifestyles and diets of 1,007 people aged from 67 and older. Their findings suggest that we are less able to process protein as we age and so need to eat more in order to compensate.
    (Source: Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2014; doi: 10.1111/jgs.12690)
    Story from WDDTY:

  5. Naworb McGee (@naworb)   March 13, 2014 at 8:04 am

    This article is complete and utter BS. “These diets consist mostly of meat and the avoidance of grains.” That’s not what the paleo diet consists of. Where do you get your information?

    Paleo is about eating real food. Veggies, meat, nuts, seeds and fruit. Not “food” that comes in a box or package.

    While it’s true we cannot replicate exactly what our ancestors eat, that’s not the point. The point is that we use that as a guide for our own diets. Stop drinking pop, stop buying anything with a food label. Buy and eat real food. Don’t buy food created in a lab or factory.

    Btw.. WTF is “saturated meat”?

    • sarah   March 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

      Did this author even finish first grade? Check your facts or at least your grammar!

  6. John   March 12, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Also note between the paleo period and now, nearly 10,000 years of farming and animal husbandry (drinking mil) has occurred. In this period too, natural selection and evolution has occurred, sometimes that selection has been rather strong given that lactose tolerance (not found in any other mammal) is quite common in the west but not in the east.

    Agriculture too has left an impact on us.

    • Naworb McGee (@naworb)   March 13, 2014 at 8:15 am

      While many people have adapted to dairy, it does not mean that we’re adapted to Coke, pizza pockets and the gluten that’s in today’s wheat.

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