Food Is Not Your Enemy


The Paleo Diet: Myths and Realities

The Paleo diet is based on the notion that we should eat the way our ancestors in the Paleolithic age did, before we started down the road of agriculture and industry, and before we were faced with an epidemic of such chronic illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Also known as the “Caveman diet,” Paleo followers are meant to avoid anything allegedly not eaten by hunter-gatherers—so no grains, no beans, no dairy, no sugar, no processed foods.

There are certainly good aspects of this diet—avoiding sugary drinks and chips and muffins and ice cream will lead to weight loss and overall better health outcomes. For this reason, when clients or friends ask me about the Paleo diet, I tend to shrug my shoulders and tell them it’s certainly not the worst diet in the world. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bit of a gimmick.

Why the insistence on avoiding healthy foods, like whole grains and beans and legumes? This is where the diet devolves into a bit of fantastical thinking, according to evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of California, Riverside, who penned the book Paleofantasy. The Paleolithic age was long—ranging from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, and there was no one particular unchanging diet eaten during those many years, all over the world. The human diet is always evolving, our bodies are always adapting, and the species of plants and animals we eat have drastically changed since that period in our history as well. Cavemen were not eating chickens or cows as we know them today. So what exactly are we trying to recapture with these strict Paleo rules?

Any diet that looks to seriously restrict entire food groups can be tough to follow over time, and sometimes leads to overeating of the “approved” foods on the list—I don’t think it’s a great idea to be gorging on steak, for instance. But hey, I’ll take this diet any day over those diets I remember from my youth, when the moms in my neighborhood were doing the “7 hot dogs, 7 bananas a day” diet, or eating these little chocolate chewy candies called “Aids” that were meant to suppress their appetite. At least cavemen, even somewhat fictionalized cavemen, ate better than that.

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