Ahem. Let’s make this clear up front. This is my personal opinion. But as an RD, it’s my job to evaluate diets, and because it’s my job, I hear from a lot of people day in and day out who try different fad diets, and so I get to see how they work in “real life,” not just what the textbook says.
Here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what a diet is supposed to call for, it matters how people tend to interpret it. Just like the Atkins diet wasn’t meant to be a free-for-all of bacon and salami doesn’t mean that didn’t happen.
Here’s what I generally think of the Paleo Diet, a diet based on eating the way our prehistoric ancestors did. I’ll give you a hint: The obsession with the Paleo Diet makes me want to crawl out of my skin.
An RD’s Take on the Paleo Diet 1 of 8
Paleo, Primal, Caveman… whatever you call it, it's driving me nuts. It's like the low-fat and low-carb crazes all over again. Now, much of my gripe is with the general population's interpretation of Paleo: not what the exact facts are, but how people apply them. Like how calling yourself vegan doesn't mean you don't eat junk food. (And why does being vegan makes you a tree-hugging hippie weirdo, but being Paleo makes you cool?)
Meat vs Plants 2 of 8
The Paleo Diet isn't a "meat diet," but some people are taking it that way. I'll be the first one to tell you that nutrition research changes all the time -- it's one of the things that I love and hate about my profession. That being said -- Are we supposed to cast decades of research aside that shows the benefits of plant-based diets? Studies show that vegetarians live longer, have lower cancer rates, and less heart disease. Meat-based diets may stress the kidneys and pull calcium from your bones, not to mention the potential for hormones, antibiotics, and fillers found in an alarming number of conventional meat products. (And yes, you can follow a vegetarian paleo diet, though I'd venture to guess that's not the norm.)
Break the bank 3 of 8
Fruits and veggies may not seem cheap, but compared to a cart full of animal products they certainly are. Let's not even talk about the price of "grass fed" and other well raised meats - holy cow! (Pun intended.) Grass fed, organic, hormone & antibiotic free meats aren't required on the Paleo diet, but they are preferred. Even if you can find a local source or Farmers' Market that provides these options, you still usually need to cough up a bit of extra dough. Again, you don't HAVE to eat a ton of meat, but look at the food diaries of most Paleo-ites: meat, meat, and more meat.
Mess with your head 4 of 8
Categorizing foods as "good" and "bad" is one of the prime ways to head down the path of disordered eating. Saying you CAN'T have something is the best way to make sure you crave it and feel unsatisfied. I agree we can live without certain food groups (cough, cough dairy), but saying you can never have these things is just a way to create obstacles and struggles when it comes to "lifestyle change" vs. "diet." Which leads me to my next issue…
Not all bad 5 of 8
I appreciate that the Paleo diet acknowledges that phytic acid and lectins interfere with nutrient absorption and can aggravate certain diseases. But beans are also a good source of fiber, iron, and folate. Lumping them into the "not-so-good" category with dairy and sugar makes this a very confusing issue, especially for non-meat-eaters. Perhaps a distinction between beans and soaked & sprouted beans would be helpful. Ditto to the above on grains, but I have less hate against the no-grains thing since many people have issues with gluten and go overboard on grain-based carbs anyways. I wouldn't mind a distinction between gluten and non-gluten grains, as well as the whole soaked and sprouted thing again. And if phytic acid is so bad, why are nuts advocated on the Paleo diet, as they have phytic acid too?
A cookie is a cookie is a cookie 6 of 8
When you eliminate a food, the tendency is to replace it with something. I'm not talking artificial substitutes here, I simply mean calories. I'm all in favor of the incredible, edible egg getting it's rep back after a serious bashing a few years back, but "Paleo-fied" recipes tend to load up on the eggs in order to replace a whole laundry list of ingredients the Paleo Diet eliminates, like gluten and other grains. Is a loaf of bread with 15 eggs in it really doing your digestive system any favors?
Add to that -- Just because you Paleo-fy something doesn't mean it's "healthy." A cookie made of almond flour, dates, and eggs instead of flour, sugar, and eggs is still a cookie.
Processed vs Natural 7 of 8
While most processed foods will automatically be eliminated on the Paleo Diet due to other guidelines, there's still not enough distinction to make me satisfied. I don't really care what else you're eating, if you have sodium-laden, nitrite-filled bacon every morning, you're not better off than Sally No Name eating a bowl of oh-so-bad oats. While there are healthier versions of processed foods (like bacon without nitrites), that gets you back to the whole budget issue again.
Just because the cavemen did it 8 of 8
I don't give a crap about the cavemen. They lived til they were 20.* How are we ever supposed to know what diseases they'd have in their 70s?
And cavemen didn't sit around playing video games all day. Until we change our exercise problems, we can't compare ourselves to them. The truth is, we live in a different world than cavemen did, we've adapted in different ways, and we may have to account for that in our diet and digestion.
*I have no idea the actual lifespan of a tried and true caveman, but it certainly wasn't old.
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