I’m sure you’ve heard of the paleo or caveman diet. The basic premise of this diet is that people are not adapted to eat a neolithic diet of grains, legumes and dairy.
Instead we should eat a diet of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts and seeds. Doing this will help our weight normalise and chronic health problems such as issues such as joint pains, type 2 diabetes and obesity disappear.
Advocates of the paleo diet believe we are riddled with health issues because we are not adapted to our modern lifestyles and way of eating.
“The Paleo Diet, the world’s healthiest diet, is based upon the fundamental concept that the optimal diet is the one to which we are genetically adapted. The therapeutic effect of The Paleo Diet is supported by both randomized controlled human trials and real-life success stories.” – Loren Cordain author of the Paleo Diet
Obviously any diet that emphasis more fruits, vegetables and less processed food is going to be good for us. Something the paleo diet does very well, in-fact we can quite easily say in theory the paleo diet is healthy. For people with autoimmune problems the restriction of gut irritants found in whole grains can also be very beneficial.
However do we really need to remove all dairy, grains, legumes and anything processed from our diet to be healthy?
If it isn’t paleo is it really off the menu? It’s a good question because thousands of people will now avoid certain foods because they are not paleo.
Here’s the first problem with a strict paleo diet, it bans certain foods just because they are not paleo. Not because they are unhealthy or bad for us, but because they are simply not from the paleolithic era.
However if we put a list on non paleo foods, not only is it surprisingly long. Lots of these foods are staples in many societies and considered very healthy.
Are all these foods really unhealthy?
- Dairy – Milk, yoghurt, cheese, whey protein
- All grains and legumes including peanuts
- Processed foods
This is where the paleo diet starts to breakdown and show more contradictions than Donald Trump.
Although the paleo has proven itself healthy, it has not proven non-paleo foods unhealthy.
In-fact when we look at many non-paleo foods, we actually find some of them have a better track record for being healthy than the paleo diet itself.
Potatoes for example are a great source of vitamins and minerals, contain moderate calories and lots of fibre. A man who ate nothing but potatoes for 60 days lost 21lbs and had a huge improvement in all his markers of health.
Corn or Maize is a huge staple of many cultures and has many health benefits rich in phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and selenium, and has small amounts of potassium and calcium. Maize is a good source of dietary fiber and protein, while being very low in fat.
Coffee seems to have so many benefits is almost unbelievable, it contains more antioxidants than almost any other food, it may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, improve brain health and so much more.
I could continue, but the main point is many non paleo foods are extremely healthy.
The healthiest diet in the world?
If the paleo diet is the healthiest diet in the world, we would assume the longest lived people all follow a paleo diet right?
Well actually no. Throughout the world certain areas have a large amount of centenarians people over 100. Known as the blue zones, researchers have found 5 places.
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
All these places have extremely low incidence of modern diseases and obesity.
If you are an advocate of the paleo diet you would quickly assume all these hot spots of longevity eat a paleo style diet right? Shockingly no, they don’t.
Although all these places eat differently, not one of them follows a paleo diet.
In fact beans are a staple of all 5 longevity hotspots, as is 2-3 cups of coffee a day.
Along with moderate red wine consumption along with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Diet is actually only part of the picture here though. A lot of evidence shows the high daily activity, investment in social connections and a sense of purpose are also extremely important.
So it is definitely possible to live a long healthy life without following the paleo diet. In-fact the longest live people don’t follow it. Making it difficult to rationalise why anyone would avoid so many foods when they only add to a healthy lifestyle.
In truth the paleo diet has many good points, but it clearly creates unneeded restrictions based on a lack of evidence.
Herein lies the problem with paleo, eating healthy can be challenging at the best of times, so why remove healthy food because it didn’t exist 10,000 years.
This simply makes things more challenging. Some people argue the paleo diet is a good template. But if a template needs constant alterations to make sense, surely at some point it needs rethinking altogether.
Not only are all these food restrictions unnecessary, they create an all or nothing mindset centred on perfectionism. Many people then agonise over creating the perfect plan and feel like a complete failure if they eat anything non-paleo often leading to binge eating.
For years people argued the earth was at the centre of the universe. Creating complex diagrams to keep this belief alive.
This reminds me a lot of the paleo diet, which now has many exceptions to the rule. Some variations allow coffee, some allow diary, potatoes and white rice. Others recommend an 80/20 rule of paleo to non-paleo foods.
With all these exceptions to the rule it soon becomes obvious the original plan doesn’t work.
Maybe a better solution is to focus on foods we know are healthy and making those the cornerstone of a diet. Then minimizing the unhealthy ones with gradual behaviour changes.