Just had an interesting conversation with a guy about the latest panacea diet, Paleo.
If you’re not familiar with it, the main staples are almost exclusively meats, nuts and seeds, berries and some veggies. It’s based on the Paleolithic Era where modern agriculture was non-existent and we were hunting and gathering for sustenance. Here was his stance…
He argued it’s the way we should all eat, that it’s best for fat loss and is an effective strategy for anyone looking for higher levels of health.
Those are some lofty statements so I thought I would share my feedback as I have tested this diet (and many others) myself.
We know there is no panacea. *which was claimed otherwise in this conversation* We should know this. Wait, we do know this. Why do we fall for it every time? Actually, I know why. We want results YESTERDAY.
We often get caught up in the initial weight loss, but this is not lasting. It wasn’t for me. Again, I’ve done it and the weight didn’t hold. Biochemistry 101 tells us that when you eat carbohydrates, they pull water into the muscles and tissues. In fact, the word ‘carbohydrate’ means, watered carbon. When you cut carbohydrates you also lose the water, hence the large amount of weight lost in the first week or two of any such diet.
Okay, let’s first look at how Paleo gets it right. Every diet has something we can take away.
1) It focuses on eliminating processed foods, and specifically processed grains, to control insulin levels. If you signed up for my ‘How To Drop BodyFat‘ guide then you know I am a huge fan of being flexible with insulin. It’s one of our most potent hormones in the body and regulates how you use fat as fuel. The more flexibility you have with it, the greater the chance you’ll use fatty acids or lipids as energy. That’s a good thing, as I will discuss later. I’ve noticed for myself and my clients that being more choosy (in selection and amount) with those carbs that I take in is ultimately the key to insulin balance.
2) It focuses on real food, but not always the kind I talk about here. To me there are two types of real food; commercial and non- commercial. Commercial real food is the conventional beef you buy in the store. It may still be given antibiotics or growth hormones and is on a corn based diet. It’s not best, but it’s better. It’s still technically real, but non-commercial, high quality real food is where it’s at for lasting results and increased vitality. In this example it would be grass fed beef, pastured chicken etc. Higher quality with better fats and more nutrient density. This is the key to any lasting weight loss. Check out my ‘High Quality Food Guide‘ to the right of this page if you haven’t already.
3) It allows ample room for good fats like coconut oil, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil and the like with the reduction of rancid prone vegetable oils. This is huge in that vegetable oils or hydrogenated oils have been shown to create inflammation in the joints and tissues (including the arteries surrounding the heart). Eliminating these can prove to benefit your health. I’ve written numerous posts on what I have experienced adding coconut oil and other higher quality animal fats to my diet. It’s helped me feel sustained longer leading to greater levels of fat loss.
So where does the Paleo diet go wrong?
1) It virtually eliminates whole categories of food! Grains, dairy, root veggies, natural sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup or even dates. For the most part, these are a no-no on this diet. I get it. I understand why. I see the theoretical biochemical shifts in the body that can take place when we eat these making it harder to drop fat. As we stated above, dropping bodyfat is largely associated with managing insulin. Grains and sweets in particular (and some root veggies) can give large swings in the body’s insulin levels creating an environment that uses glucose from the carbohydrates as fuel instead of fatty acids. So then we must deduct from that equation that we should cut grains, right? Unfortunately we know that life isn’t cause and effect. These foods that are cut in and of themselves are not a bad thing and in fact have many healthy roles in the diet (including weight management). They should not be demonized as being responsible for the body’s bodyfat storage ‘problem’. So how does it all work?
When you break it down a little further we find out it’s not quite as simple as cut this out and you lose fat. The body is always volleying back and forth between using fat as fuel, glucose (carbs) as fuel and sometimes (rarely) protein as fuel. Being that we have consumed grains for thousands of years (roughly 10,000 by some estimates), we have become ‘flexible’ to switching fuel sources and using them appropriately. The problem now isn’t grains themselves but the quality and processing of the grains that are being used. Nearly 99% of the grains people use are not prepared in a traditional manner which allows them to be more effectively used by the body. I’m referring to things like sprouted grains, soaked nearly every grain before cooking it (rice, oats, quinoa etc). Again, if we were to focus on quality and proper preparation, the grain argument would likely not exist.
Now, let’s assume you ARE using higher quality grains AND you are preparing them appropriately.
It seems that by sticking to a Paleo diet you are actually, in a sense, devolving by not allowing yourself to adapt to as many quality foods as possible.
You are teaching your body to be LESS flexible with those grains. The next time you eat them (as you will again), you don’t handle or process them as well. It’s sort of like the muscle you never use. You do a workout that you haven’t done in a while leaving it overly sore. If you keep working it, it’s stronger, better, less sore. If you leave it dormant, it’s a struggle when you use it again(use it or lose it, right?) Turns out that Metabolic Flexibility, as Mike T Nelson states here, is the same way, and it’s what we should strive for in my approach to eating.
2) It’s unsustainable. We live in a modern, industrialize world. There’s a reason we no longer eat the Paleo way. We have a thing called choice. That choice will make it damn near impossible to maintain this diet for any length of time. We have adapted to choosing from too many different foods.Again, met flex is the best approach because it allows for these things in varying amounts without the unwanted side effects of body fat storage, decreased energy, health and vitality. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. What I have realized is it can be too difficult for me to totally exclude grains. I’ve also found that it makes a HUGE difference in how I look and feel based on how they were prepared. I eat varying amounts dependent upon the day and have been successful of achieving the look I want.
I will be offering more content very soon teaching you how to properly prepare grains.
3) There has never been a time in history that we ALL ate the same foods or consumed them the same way. We are all unique and different. Back then diet wasn’t necessarily based on choice. You simply ate whatever was in your region; tubers, berries, animals, insects… you did what you had to in order to survive. Obviously this is not the case now, and can we not argue that our life expectancy is greater for that? (modern medicine of course has some role, but food is thy medicine).
You chose. Quick non-lasting results, or forever sustainable dietary happiness? Question Paleo, question me, test everything.