A while ago, my good friend asked me, “What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet? ” I thought I would share my exact email response with all of you:
So, here are my quick thoughts on the Paleo diet. First off, the plus side: I love, love, love that the diet kicks out the crap – sugar, processed food, etc. This is the stuff that is truly killing us. It’s not really food. And as mentioned, sugar is much more evil than putting pounds on our body. It’s fuel for cancer and it literally can deplete nutrients from our body. Not good. But, oh so addicting!!! In fact, “sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine.”
Beyond that, I appreciate the Paleo concept to eat like our ancestors. This again focuses on eating “real” food not chemical-laced, artificial food.
But, there’s a but. With this diet, I think people use it as an excuse to eat as much animal products as possible, which can certainly be incredibly detrimental to our bodies. Heart disease to name just one reason, and it just happens to be a big one as it is the #1 cause of death. As you might have seen in the news, red meat and processed meats are now on the WHO list of carcinogens. Do I think the entire world needs to stop eating meat? No. But, I think we need to eat much less and obviously only high-quality meat. Quality and quantity are the huge factors here.
With Paleo, the quantity seems to go up! And truly if we are eating like our ancestors, meat wasn’t freely available, three meals a day every day. Men hunted for days, sometimes weeks or even months to get food and then enjoyed it. And then, they went without it again until the next kill. That said, we really don’t know exactly what our ancestors ate and it certainly varied by region and availability of food and even climate (i.e., different foods grown in different climates). There isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula and we’ve never eaten exactly the same. This sentiment was even expressed by Michael Pollan in his book-signing event at Book People. I wrote about it here.
As for the grains, we can certainly eat much less. The old USDA food pyramid recommended excessive carb overload and even worse there weren’t guidelines on carb type (complex vs. simple). So, I feel like historically, we’ve totally eaten too much and of the wrong type (e.g., white bread and starchy, nutrient void carbs.). And, food has become more processed. And, the grains of today are not the grains of yesterday. Many are drenched in chemicals, so organic is an absolute must. And, celiac disease (autoimmune disorder from gluten protein in wheat) is a real thing, but the industry has taken advantage of it, as 1% of people have this disease. But, again our crops still need major clean up!! No pesticides or GMOS are a must.
So, long story short, I can typically find some truth and positives in any diet (aside from freaky gummy bear/ice cream diets), but at the end of the day, we are all different people and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. However, we can ALL benefit from clean, real food. So, kicking pseudo food out is a must for all! And, finding balance is key (i.e., no excessive amounts of any food. Even an all-broccoli diet wouldn’t be the best diet for our bodies.) Extremes are not the way to go!