Sydney Morning Herald: Paleo Diet Criticism

Paleo Diet Criticism

The Paleo Diet has been rising in popularity recently. So too has Paleo Diet criticism.

This post is a bit longer than usual – and hopefully not too ranty!

Paleo Diet Criticism

On the 5th August 2014, this article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper:

http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/nutritionists-warn-of-dangers-in-paleo-dieting-20140805-100iup.html

This article is both interesting and error filled. Here are some points with which I took exception. (Some important, some trivial). My critique of the Paleo Diet Criticism will make most sense if you open that article in a new window, read it, and then read it in parallel to the points I’m making. I also wish to clarify certain misconceptions this newspaper article propagates about Paleo. Please don’t misunderstand me. My article is not a knee-jerk reaction to criticism of a lifestyle modification I think works for many people. It’s a reaction to a mischaracterization of Paleo. At the bottom of this article I have linked to a well written piece that is a legitimate Paleo diet criticism. Anyway, here we go!

“The Paleo diet might be heading for extinction, like the cavemen who inspired it…”

Cavemen are not extinct, they are our ancestors. If they were extinct we wouldn’t be here!

“…modern Paleo eating mimics the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors…”

Let’s be clear from the outset. Modern Paleo seeks to emulate rather than replicate hunter-gatherer diets. What do I mean by that is? Get ideas of officeworkers carrying clubs while wearing leopard skins out of your head. Forget starting fires with two sticks. This is not modern Paleo. Modern Paleo is eating unprocessed foods. Simple. If you can eat grains and legumes unprocessed, be my guest. Meat, you can. Vegetables, you can. Fruit, you can. Get the idea? That’s all Paleo is – unprocessed foods.

Stanton says we should applaud the low content of processed foods, sugar and salt advocated in Paleo diets but asks, “why exclude plant-based foods such as wholegrains and legumes when a wealth of evidence confirms their health value?

There is an argument to eating minimally processed grains and legumes, if you can tolerate them. (No abdominal bloating / gas / discomfort.) A lot of people (myself included) have ‘gastro-intestinal issues’ with beans. :/
I’m not convinced that grains and legumes do anything for you that a variety of vegetables don’t. Grains and legumes often displace vegetables on the plate. I think vegetables offer more nutritional value.

The article then says

…the chief executive of the Dietitians Association of Australia, Claire Hewat, says there is no scientific evidence to support eating the Paleo way.

yet then quotes her as saying

“A recent search of the published studies looking at Paleolithic diets revealed no more than 10 studies, all with very few participants over very short time frames – most less than three months. And many people dropped out of the studies, claiming the diet was difficult to follow,” Hewat says.

“No more than 10 studies” is not the same as “no scientific evidence”. So either the article mischaracterises or oversimplifies Hewat’s position, or, less likely, she conflates scant evidence as non-existent. It is the case that there have been few scientific studies of the Paleo Diet. These studies tend to be positive (like this one) but also tend to have small sample sizes. These are red flags. For what it’s worth, there is a study about Paleo being healthier than the Mediterranean diet. All nutrition studies have drop out rates.

“Any diet excluding whole food groups should raise suspicions”

yet the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) has no problem with vegetarianism…

“…eating more meat than is needed by the body certainly has risks”.

Yes. So does drinking too much water. Not limited to red meat, the only risk of consuming too much protein I know is for people with existing kidney disease.

“Claims that our ancestors did not experience heart disease, cancer and diabetes ignore the fact that few people lived past their reproductive age and physical activity ensured people were lean.”

I don’t know about historical disease rates, so won’t speak to that. Staffan Lindberg’s Food and Western Disease talks in depth about Papua New Guinean hunter-gatherers, nutrition and disease. Follow that rabbit hole if you dare! In any case, few people living past reproductive age is a great example of not understanding ‘life expectancy from birth’. (A population without sanitation, for example, will have higher infant mortality – which will bring down the life expectancy figure. Fewer people making it out of childhood doesn’t necessarily mean adults died before they got old…

“Two major hazards associated with the Paleo diet are the high content of red meat and the lack of wholegrains”

Covered the wholegrains thing above.
Red meat. Ahhh!. I sigh for two reasons.

  1. Red meat is delicious!
  2. The (too much) red meat is bad for you trope. Or tripe. :p

Let’s address number two, as number one is self evident to most people. 🙂
Most ‘meat’ studies don’t discriminate between red and processed meats. D The ‘red meat increases your risk of obesity / diabetes / cancer boat is turning. Slowly, but surely.

This review and meta-analysis from 2010 found:

Consumption of processed meats, but not red meats, is associated with higher incidence of CHD and diabetes mellitus. These results highlight the need for better understanding of potential mechanisms of effects and for particular focus on processed meats for dietary and policy recommendations.

Then there’s this study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, September 2014 studied approximately 75,000 people over 15 years, looking specifically at the difference in survival between red and processed meat eaters. This is what that study said:

High red meat consumption is associated with an increased mortality risk. This association is partly explained by the negative effect of processed meat consumption, which is widely established. The role of nonprocessed meat is unclear.

Not too controversial so far… let’s see the conclusion!

We found that high total red meat consumption was associated with progressively shorter survival, largely because of the consumption of processed red meat. Consumption of nonprocessed red meat alone was not associated with shorter survival.

So sausages and porterhouse steak don’t have the same effects on health? Wow!

The Paleo diet can be expensive. So is medical care in later life. If you’d like to see how you can manage the Paleo Diet on a budget then please check this out

Paleo is often characterised as ‘low-carb’. It can be, but often it’s just ‘lower carb’ than eating cereal for breakfast, a roast potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Pretty much any version of Paleo you see will have the proponent suggest you match carb intake to activity level.

Paleo (done right) isn’t a fad. It’s a healthy way of eating that works for many people.
Effort = results. If you aren’t committed to making lasting change then no lifestyle change will last.
That’s not Paleo’s fault or a controversial statement. That’s reality.

That being said, if Paleo doesn’t work for you – do something else!

If you’re really keen – you could have a look at the Dietitians Association of Australia website. Specifically the sponsors – major partners and associate partners. I believe the DAA has a conflict of interest in their position. Feel free to draw your own conclusions as to why this criticism of the growing Paleo movement may have come about…

Please don’t settle for half-baked criticisms and straw men.

If you’d like to read an excellent article that makes legitimate criticisms of Paleo then check out 4 valid criticisms of the Paleo Diet by Jaime Hartman at GutsyByNature.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments.

Try delicious Paleo Chocolate Brownie Bites

Paleo Chocolate Brownie Balls

This delicious Paleo Chocolate brownie recipe is a version of the one I found on Paleogrubs.com.
Where they used walnuts only, I decided to use mixed nuts. You can get a 250g or 500g bag of almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans from the supermarket.

For a dessert or sweet snack this is hard to beat. This chocolate brownie mix is easy to make, delicious and nutritious. You know exactly what’s in it. There are no additives or preservatives. The nuts provide a good source of protein and healthy fats. The raw cacao is high in antioxidants. The only trouble you’ll have with these brownies is having them last long!

Ingredients

  • 250g of raw mixed nuts
  • 100g of pitted dates
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 1/3 of a cup of raw cacao powder
  • A pinch of salt

Instructions

  • Add nuts and salt to a blender or food processor. Mix until the nuts are finely ground.
  • Add the dates, vanilla, and cacao powder to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined.
  • With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together.
  • Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm.
  • Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

For other sweet deliciousness, please check out this Paleo Cheesecake recipe.

Recipe: You want Paleo Pizza? Hello Meatza!

Paleo Pizza, known as Meatza is delicious and nutritious.

When I went Paleo I missed pizza. Thankfully, there is something you can have that is even better.

Try it and you’ll see. It is at least as good as, if not better than, pizza.
This is a recipe suggestion. As with pizza tastes do vary considerably.
If there’s something on here you don’t like then by all means remove it or substitute something else. Better that than not trying meatza-goodness!

Try googling Meatza and see the variety.

Preparation Time: About 10 minutes
Cooking Time: About 40 minutes

Ingredients:

(For the base)
1 kg beef mince
1 egg
Herbs (chilli, basil and oregano)
Tomato paste or passata sauce

(Toppings)
Olives
Tinned Peas, Carrots and Corn
Tinned Asparagus
Tinned Pineapple
Fetta Cheese
Shredded tasty cheese

Cooking Instructions:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees
Crack the egg into a large mixing bowl
Add herbs
Add mince
Mix thoroughly
Grab a flat baking tray with a decent lip as there is some meat juice
Flatten the mixture on to the baking tray about 1/2 cm thick
(You could make it square, circular or make multiple mini ‘pizzas’ at this point

When the oven is at temperature bake the base for 20 minutes

Take it out and drain the juice (you could keep it for stock)
Add tomato paste or passata sauce in a thin coat – leaving space at the edge for fingers!
Add olives, peas, carrots, corn, asparagus, pineapple and fetta.
Layer the tasty cheese over the top and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

Bon apetite!

Paleo Diet Position Update

Science encourages us to constantly update our ideas – so here’s my update on my position on “Paleo” eating.

We start with a hypothesis, work out measurement criteria, and rigorously test.
If the hypothesis is supported by evidence we accept it – until such time as something better comes along. If the hypothesis is not supported by evidence we reject it – and hopefully something better comes along.

As someone who tries to base decisions on these tenets – I feel it’s time to give you an update on my position on “the Paleo diet”.

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been a proponent of the Paleo diet for a few years now. The reason for choosing it was at the time it seemed to have a sound internal logic to it that elegantly encapsulated what is now starting to be referred to as “evolutionary medicine.”
A fundamental principle being the Dobzhansky quote “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Paleo espouses:
“eat what your ancestors ate because that’s what you have adapted to eating.” The ‘trouble’ is there is no one “Paleo” diet. Depending on your latitude you may be eating a huge variety of food, and to suggest there is only one way is misguided.

I would describe humans as opportunistic omnivores.
There is no such thing as a toxic substance – only a toxic dose.

Rather than thinking about food in binary terms: as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, perhaps a more useful way would be so visualise a scale or continuum. I would grade the scale based on nutrient density per kilojoule (this is the volume of vitamins and minerals relative to the energy load.) “Real food” tends to be at one end, some processed foods appear in the middle, and what everyone would agree is ‘junk’ appears at the bad end. Then the trick is eating the ‘good’ stuff, having some ‘middle’ stuff, avoiding the ‘bad’ stuff – and not eating too much of any of it.

Paleo Diet

The common theme that’s running through the “optimal diet” is eating real food.
Unlike processed foods there tends to be high nutrient density relative to kilojoules contained.

Wild Salmon Broccoli Sweet Potato Potato White Rice Pasta Kit Kat

The links above point to nutritiondata.com. Here you can find nutritional breakdowns of a huge variety of food, including macro and micro nutrient ratios (vitamins and minerals), protein profiles, inflammation factor, glycaemic indices, fullness factor and other information.