Will the Paleo Diet Stand the Test of Time?

paleo dietAn article published this week on National Public Radio (NPR)’s blog was critical of the current “Paleo Diet” movement.

The author’s point was that our paleolithic ancestors were actually quite diverse. Rather than an all-or-nothing composition of meat and vegetables and no dairy or grains, paleolithic diets evolved to reflect regional environments. To make all-or-nothing claims on entire food groups is oversimplified.

I was surprised that she had failed to even acknowledge some of the evidence-driven insights that the food approach is based on in the first place.

While I frankly agree with some of the author’s insights, I felt the title “The Paleo-Diet: Not the Way to a Healthy Future” was misleading and a bit careless as the discussion was overwhelmingly one-sided.

The author contends that the paleo diet is not based on great science, by mostly criticizing its high emphasis on meat intake.

It introduces the idea that true paleolithic diets were based on local adaptations to separate regions of the United States: coastal diets vs. game-dependent diets, vs. grain-dependent diets.

The author contends that the anti-dairy, anti-grain, pro-meat, pro-vegetable position espoused by most Paleo diet advocates is still not the one-size-fits-all approach we’ve been looking for.

The author actually shares some of my own criticisms, but I feel that the headline was dangerously misleading, and brings up more questions than it gives support to its headline’s assertion.

What I Wish I Had Read:

  • A discussion bringing up the controversy of the land needed to sustain grassfed-beef and organic produce. Secondly, what are the for-profit and non-profit efforts taking place to solve this very real dilemma (what efforts are delaying advances?).
  • How most grain that is currently produced goes to supply animal feed (farmed fish, cattle, poultry industries), not feeding the third world, and that eating grain-fed beef actually makes the problem worse.
  • How grains may have supported the ability of the population to exceed seven billion people in the first place, but how it may be associated with the growing influence of costly chronic disease.
  • How protein intake puts greater demand on land and grain supply (because of feed, land needed to graze on or to grow organic produce)
  • Pros and cons of the push for GMO products and the industry push against GMO-labeling initiatives.
  • A discussion on grain and dairy subsidies and if alternative practices are feasible.
  • The industry influence of Monsanto and other big players on the Farm Bill and other legislative initiatives.
  • The impact of the recent Supreme Court decision that allows corporations uncapped ability to fund political campaigns in the 2012 election cycle – potential impacts on the agricultural industry.
  • How the protective health impact of vegetable and moderate fruit consumption is greater than the negative health impact of animal protein consumption, and explore comparisons between the influence of grass-fed vs. grain-fed meat, fish, and poultry intake on environmental concerns, antibiotic and hormone usage, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, pesticide-resistant crops, etc.
  • How many who think they are following the Paleo diet are really following the Atkins diet which has fallen out of favor due to legitimate concerns backed by sound science, with the big variable still being intake of green leafy vegetables!
  • We generally eat too much protein and too little vegetables…but that protein is harmful in certain contexts (sedentary lifestyle, eaten with refined carbs/pasta with little intake of green leafy vegetables, nitrate/nitrites found in deli meats, or charring from preparation under high heat,)
  • How certain populations based on ancestral background may be at more risk for certain food sensitivities to dairy and grains in particular, but probability does not equate to individual reality.

But of course these discussions don’t make for a nice “black and white” headline that gets clicks and earns advertising revenue.

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