Debunking the Paleo Diet

Posted: April 23, 2013 in Uncategorized
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For those of you who have not seen this presentation by Dr. Warinner I encourage you to watch it in its entirety before you read on,  Also, Robb Wolf did a really great write-up on his site explaining the video here,

Now it is my turn, although it may not be a good idea because after all she went to Harvard.  I think Dr. Warinner brought up some interesting points regarding the evolution of wild foods and agriculture.  I do not argue that foods today are different then they were during the paleolithic times, but haven’t we evolved as well? 

She refers to the paleo diet as a fad diet.  I am only addressing this point because other members of my field will refer to it in the same manner.  Weston Price mentioned dietary cause of disease in his book in the 1930s, but my first read was Paleolithic Nutrition by Boyd Eaton and colleagues.  Here is the 25 year follow up,  With the explosion of Crossfit and paleo diet books geared to the general public, mass media took this concept and ran with it.

Nowhere in Cordain’s or Eaton’s work did I ever read anything about paleo cupcakes.  Evolutionary biology is a starting point of research, not an ending point.  As a population we were and still are getting fat and sick at an alarming rate.  Researchers then looked back to when these diseases were not a concern and compared the differences in lifestyle.  Here is a good read by Cordain,  Are other fad diets found in reputable journals?  Nowhere did I see the Cookie Diet mentioned in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Cordain shows in that study some specific differences and suggests some nutritional protocols that may limit chronic disease.  He basically recommends eating more “real” foods such as fruits, veggies, and animal meats and removing all processed foods.  What the flip is the issue with that?  How does removing processed foods from your diet constitute a fad diet?

Dr. Warinner then goes on to explain that we did not adapt to eat meat.  This could not be further from the truth.  Anthropologist, Dr. Aiello came up with the Expensive Tissue Hypothesis (ETH).  In her 1992 paper she argues that humans began to eat meat about 1.5 million years ago.  Animal meat was a source of high-calorie food.  Brain tissue requires much larger amounts of energy then the tissues of other organs.  Animal meat may have made the difference.

Humans now were able to take in enough calories to allow the brain to grow in size.  Animal meat is also more easily digested requiring smaller stomachs and intestinal tracts.  The ability to digest these foods more easily, allowing a decrease in size of GI organs may have been a secondary reason the brain size in humans grew.  Less energy was required for intestinal cells.  Apes eat mostly twigs and berries, is this where we separated from them in cognitive improvement? (  To think of it logically which diet would you thrive on more: twigs and berries, or twigs, berries, and meat?

Dr. Warinner then mentions that we ate grains and legumes at earlier times.  Whether this is true or not is not my main concern.  As many of you know I am not totally against grain consumption as long as you soak, ferment, and mill your own.  This is not the case with a single person I know.  We all run to the food markets and grab a bag of “whole-grain” bread.  That shit is processed!  It is not soaked, fermented and milled the way our ancestors did it.

Now let us get to some positive parts of her talk.  I really liked her piece on how our fruits and vegetables have been altered over time.  This may be why there is such a variety in the tolerance of fruits, vegetable, nuts, and seeds.  I found this part fascinating and I will definitely try to look into it more.  Perhaps the differences in chemical structure of these foods has led to an increase in allergies and perhaps explains the addictive properties of some nuts and seeds.

As a whole we need to take the information we have and do the best we can to get nutritional guidelines out to the masses.  Evolutionary biology is a starting point for this research.  From there we have great information on how food affects other areas of our well being.  I believe Dr. Warinner made some really good points in other parts of her talk and I do encourage everyone to listen to it because there is lots of valuable information contained throughout it.  Just keep in mind what I stated above.

  1. Ryan Ochoa says:

    I think there are many points of view about all diets. Some people like atkins, some like vegan, some like meat and potatoes, and some even like McDonalds and Taco Bell. Regardless of what people say, I know that the Paleo diet has changed my life and I don’t see any reason to go back to eating “normally.” Fad or not, to me it is a lifestyle and one that has changed my life.

  2. Guy Thurgood says:

    I think the best Paleo diet tips and techniques are here A lot of people are benefiting from it.

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