Paleo Diet Criticism: Understanding “Negative” Aspects Of Our Favourite Diet

As with anything slightly contraversial, fringe or a little different, there is paleo diet criticism. This criticism often originates from critics who are nit-picking or attempting to expose a fatal flaw in paleo and it’s eating guidelines. While in some cases there are, I agree, area for exceptions and occasional allowances (such as dairy), many critics treat some of the specific limitations of the paleo diet as achilles heel’s that invalidate what the diet stands for. Am I being a little dramatic? Perhaps… To work out just how in depth these criticisms go, I’m going to write up an article based on what I find people are saying about the paleo diet from search results, and then try to understand their reasoning for the criticism in order to work out if it’s justified. That sounds fair, right?

Common Areas Of Paleo Diet Criticism…

  • Firstly, grains. You all knew that was going to be right up here with the top topics for criticism. Ultimately, one of the paleo diet’s key areas of focus is on grains and why they are not good for the body. This is both a reflection of scientific understanding of the body’s operations as well as an indicator of society’s dependance of grains for food and food production.
  • Legumes. Beans, peas and peanuts, they are all legumes and they are all eaten pretty extensively around the world. They are, like grains, a hot topic for discussion both from critics of the paleo diets and diets in general, as well as people and authorities within the paleo diet ecosystem itself.
  • Vitamin deficiencies: Some critics believe that the paleo diet can cause vitamin deficincies. Specifically, Vitamin B12. t
  • Eating too much meat. As with many criticisms, there are some areas which can easily be taken out of context and stretched to support the agenda of the critic. Here, many accuse the paleo diet of being an atkins diet where the focus is on eating more meat than anything else. This is of course not the case at all.
  • Low carbohydrate intake. Because the paleo diet includes low amounts of carbohydrate intake, many critics use this as a leverage point to point out why the human body needs carbohydrates. In reality, humans are not as reliant on carbohydrates as society dictates.
  • It isn’t sustainable. This will be with respect to the individual and their commitment to the diet and to their body’s health. Food for the paleo diet is easy to find and in more cases than not easier to prepare than modern food, specifically foods on that of the western diet.

Why grains are bad for the body

Grains are often full of gluten and lectins. Both of these are potentially damaging for the human digestive system. Gluten, a protein often associated with with giving foods such as bread texture and volume, is also bad for the intestines. Gluten can “stick” to the intestinal walls, ultimately damaging them and allowing food molecules to enter the blood stream. This is of course a big red flag to the body’s immune system, and can cause inflammatory responses, like bloating and water retention. Take a second and think about it logically; there are no obese or overweight hunter-gatherers, yet these people are healthy and live long lives. This is where the paleo diet is coming from, eating for the function of fuelling the body, not sending taste-exploding-nuclear warheads into our mouths that leave our digestive systems alone in the post war cleanup. Another point for why grains are bad for the body is that they have a high glycemic index. The GI(glycemic index) of food is a measurment of how much the blood sugar level increases after the consumption of a specific food. This is of course not only limited to a specific carbohydrate source such as grains, but grains are for the most part the largest offender in modern man’s diet. For a simple reference, glucose on its own has  a GI score of 100. Anything beneath this is “better” than eating neat glucose, but just because it’s lower than 100 doesn’t mean it’s a good food. White bread has a GI of around 73, and micro-waved potatoes are at around GI 80. That throws potatoes out the paleo food basket too. Due to the lack of carbohydrate intake on the paleo diet, it can help prevent diseases and conditions such as diabetes as well as heart and organ damage from obesity. 

What’s so bad about removing grains from your diet?

Nothing really, other than the fact that you wont be able to enjoy doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, burgers, breads, sandwiches, samoosas, cupcakes, cakes, most deserts, biscuits etc. That may seem daunting now, but in time you (or at least I) will begin to resent those foods. As you will notice as well, most foods that have grain in them are bad foods in any case.

Why legumes are bad for the body

Legumes are like grains, rich in lectins. Lectins are part of the “anti-nutrient” group and so should be avoided because of their nutrient absorption inhibiting properties. Lectins build up in the body and damage the body’s ability to utilise nutrients effectively. Unfortunately, legumes are common in many a persons diet and include foods such as beans, some nuts and animal products too. Basically, lectins exist in some capacity in almost all foods. These concentrations differ from food group to food group though, with grains being the biggest carrier. Previously, and I’m talking waaay previously, our ancestors figured out that fermenting certain foods would destroy, at least partially, the lectins in commonly eaten foods. This fermentation process no longer takes place though, and so more lectins are consumed.

How to deal with lectins?

Start by diversifying your foods. Raw foods are great, but cooking does decrease lectin amounts and their effectiveness. Unfortunately, lectins contain nutritional benefits as well as their negative drawbacks, and so they should both be eaten sparingly, such as in steamed vegetables and nuts, as well as part of a very diverse diet. Remember that lectins are nature’s own pesticide, designed by plants to repel predators and potential eaters of their leaves, etc. Note: Soy is one of the top lectin offenders. Bad news for vegetarians.

Dealing with “vitamin deficiencies”

Firstly, I’d like to think that the average paleo diet folower is more in touch with their body than those people who eat according to a high-carb, low everything else diet (westernised diets). By saying that I mean that these people who follow the paleo diet are more than likely seeking to optimise their nutrient intake, alleviate a condition induced by foods such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or OAS (oral allergy syndrome), and just generally be as healthy as possible. Having said that, the paleo diet does need to be followed pretty rigorously in order for a person to reap all its benefits. While the diet, like any diet, can benefit from vitamin supplements, the best sources of “rare” nutrients is obviously going to be the natural ones. Vitamin d should be obtained from our natural ability to synthesise it using that big glowing ball of life giving light in the sky, the sun of course. Just 15 minutes a day of sun on skin contact is all you require. The commonly stated accusation that the paleo diet doesn’t present the follower’s body with enough vitamin b12 argument is another example of selective criticism. In reality, a few eggs every few days can keep vitamin b12 reserves in check, and once again, a supplement can be used if not enough b12 is being taken in. This should obviously not be solution number one, and eating more red meat is a great source of vitamin b12. Take a look at this youtube videoon b12 blood tests in a paleo dieter.

Why you should eat heaps of meat, and love doing so

While I agree that too much meat is not beneficial to anyone diet, the idea that meat is a “fatty”, as in “fat generating” food is a misconception. Fatty meats are not the enemy as many critics (mainly vegetarians) would peddle. I think that a lot of this accusation of the paleo diet’s affinity with fat intake comes from the fact that fat is the problem. Ironically, fats sourced from meats are in fact some of the best fats you could possibly eat. They form the base for a large amount of the paleo diet’s fat quota, and have more benefits for the body then just providing a source of energy.

Meats, and in particular meats like grass-fed beef have less hormones and “alien” stuff in their meats. Our ancestors would have only eaten meats from animals that fed on natural foods such as grass. This is important fundamentally because toxins etc are stored in the fats of animals, and because eating animal fats is such an important part of the paleo diet, the “cleaner” the fat the better. It is for this reason that grass-fed animals produce better quality fats, such as beef fat, fish fat and poultry fats. Grass fed meats generally have a higher omega 3 content. Animal fats are also saturated fats, fats that are essential to maintaining proper bodily functions.

The grass-fed “obsession” in the paleosphere is actually quite an elitist one, and in fact, one could get away with not eating grass-fed meats as long as the intake of omega 3’s was ensured and maintained elsewhere.

On a side note, animal fats are great for cooking, they are very stable at high temperatures and don’t leave lots of oily residue on foods after frying, for example.

Low carbs, low shmarbs

At some point in our not so distant history it was “shown” that high carbohydrate diets were the better, healthier options. Many paleo authorities state that the affinity modern man has with carbohydrates (read grains and subsequently breads) comes from a place of efficiency. Not efficiency in terms of nutrition, but in terms of economics. Grains can be farmed almost anywhere and have an impressively long shelf life when kept in storage. Many cultures in fact kept grains in storage for winter months and for times when food was hard to come by. It wasn’t their “go to” food, and in fact grains only really became prevalent after industrialisation.

Not that grains are the only source of modern man’s over zealous intake of carbohydrates, there are many vegetables which are bad offenders too…

While the problem in vegetables isn’t that they contain carbohydrates, it is that they contain a variety of toxins. Some of these toxins can only be mitigated through cooking. An example of a commonly eaten toxic-if-raw vegetable is that of broccoli. I have personal experience here, where one day I was hungry and ate two smallish pieces of broccoli that left me in gut wrenching pain for most of an afternoon. Rookie error perhaps, but a lesson learned hard.

The point I’m trying to make is that carbohydrates are commonly sourced from vegetables on the paleo diet, and because of that a large amount fo plant based toxins are probably going to be ingested over time. Diversity is key.

The paleo diet isn’t sustainable

I’m not really sure where this argument really comes from. I’ve been eating as close to paleo as possible for what feels like ages now and it has never been unsustainable. The only problems I’ve run into are those associated with actually finding foods to eat when at restaurants. In terms of cost, I guess some items on the paleo diet can be more expensive, but again, this can be mitigated if looked for in the right places. For example, grass-fed beef is pretty hard to come by in supermarkets, but no so difficult at farmers markets etc. While it might take more effort to find these sorts of meats, the pay-off nutritionally is worth the extra effort.

While I’m not going to accuse anybody of being lazy because they can’t find great quality foods, or refuse to go out of their way to get them, I do think that a certain level of dedication is required to make the paleo diet work in it’s entirety. I like to think that the paleo diet is better applied as a lifestyle decision rather than merely a healthy diet, and because of that it might require more effort than other diets.

I think that if you start to practice things like growing your own foods, saving good animal fats for cooking and generally make sure you have made sufficient plans in terms of meal design you’ll be fine in terms of sustainability on the paleo diet.

 

I hope that I’ve successfully dispelled or at the very least watered down some of the criticism of the paleo diet and the health benefits it can have on your body.

 

Thanks for reading,

If you have a second, please spread the love!

 

Keep well,
Andrew.

 

 

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