The Paleo Diet.
Simply uttering these three words in my presence a couple of years ago would have pushed my blood pressure into dangerous heights.
Much of my ire came from the marketing and that it is factually inaccurate that paleolithic man ate this way (that is a whole other article in itself).
I also could never support a nutritional plan that excluded rice. Rice is probably one of the most important components in the modernizing of the developing world. It is an inexpensive, readily available nutritional source and to malign it is bordering on irresponsible.
Plus, I love rice.
Did I mention that I love rice?
With that out of the way, I have begun to soften on my stance regarding the Paleo Diet (which I will refer to as Paleo from here out).
For those of you unfamiliar with paleo, go find your nearest Crossfitter. Within 3 minutes you will know more about Paleo than you ever cared to.
Since you might not have immediate access to a member of the CF community, allow me to take the reigns.
Paleo Uncool Bro
What They Get Right
Look, most people find nutrition and diet to be the most confusing and intimidating part of living a fit lifestyle. And with good reason. There are constant studies contradicting themselves and an industry that makes billions by keeping consumers confused.
Where Paleo has done a service is that it has told people what they should be eating. I find most of my female clients could do with more animal protein. My male clients could all stand to eat more vegetables. If a diet can accomplish these two goals simultaneously it is steps ahead of a lot of other programs.
A familiar Paleo saying is to shop around the outside of the grocery store, where fresh ingredients are kept. A lot of people have no idea what the nutrition labels on a box mean. How are they supposed to make wise decisions when the labels are set up to confuse? If people buy fresh, whole food ingredients they are going to make reasonably sound choices.
What They Get Okay
There are parts of Paleo that I am on both sides of the coin. Part of me wants to rail against it because it is stupid due to semantics but the other part of me realizes that most people don’t care. They just want to be healthier.
Elimination of certain foods. Ignoring the fact that Paleo may be responsible for the uptick in rich white people who have been convinced of gluten intolerance and forced it upon the restaurants of the world, food intolerances are real.
A good portion of the population will show some sort of intolerance to dairy. I might, I just refuse to admit it and give up ice cream.
Legumes may bother some people and not others. I know that I can eat them there will just be consequences for me and anyone who happens to be sharing communal space with me that day.
Then there’s the whole processed foods thing. What does this mean? Everything is processed in some manner. The word processing is used to describe everything from butchering a cow to bleaching hair.
In context it is almost meaningless.
But, for the average consumer it means something in a box or bag. While that is probably an oversimplified approach to nutrition it probably wouldn’t hurt for most Americans to eat less shit from the freezer and cereal sections.
Refined sugar. It’s not bad for you per se but it is an easy way to add in a lot of extra calories with little to no satiety. So most would be best to avoid it.
Paleo fucks the pooch in that they recommend agave, honey, and fruit juice as sweeteners. Do you know what your body recognizes these as? The same thing!!!
So every time someone tells me that they are so afraid of falling back into a sugar addiction if they stop eating Paleo I get to rain on their parade with that factual nugget.
Sometimes I love being the killjoy.
Grains. This one tears me up. On one hand I eat bread and rice and pasta at all stages of dieting and have never had issue. On the other hand, I have watched many, many clients remove only grains and sugar from their diet and see weight loss where they had plateaued for months.
I will rarely prescribe a low carb, high fat diet for my clients. That said, my clients have personalized nutrition coaching. Most people cannot afford that nor would they have access to it.
Where They Go Wrong
Grass-fed, organic, local, non-GMO. This is bullshit. Not just because there is no nutritional benefit to the aforementioned but it’s classist. Most people cannot afford to buy grass-fed, local beef for a family of 4.
I don’t buy organic because it’s too expensive for me and I am in a 2 income household with no children. (My wife buys her organic chicken because mine grosses her out. I also eat about 5lbs more chicken per week than her.)
A focus on higher fat, lower carb. This is tough for a lot of reasons. Number one is that a lot of people came to do Paleo through Crossfit. High intensity exercise and low glycogen stores are not a great fit. Performance will suffer and energy will be low.
Another reason is that high fat, low carb diets just don’t seem to be anymore effective at weight loss than a diet low in fat and higher in carb. Combine that with the issue of adherence long term and it just doesn’t add up to an effective nutrition plan.
The final problem with the higher fat model is overall caloric intake. Especially in the form of nuts and seeds. Many clients of mine, particularly women, vastly underestimate the amount of calories consumed in a day due to fat content.
Women’s mags are partially to blame for the promotion of “healthy fats”. The vitamin and mineral count in nuts and avocados is great but if you are consuming a couple hundred calories over maintenance because you accidentally ate a handful too many almonds or couple ounces of avocado you will gain weight.
I often say “fat doesn’t make you fat, until it does”. The description above illustrates how that might occur.
I have had my beef with paleo (pun intended) and it’s proponents in the past. Part of it is the zealotry that many of it’s adherents approached it with. Many of those same people have taken on a new religion with the popularization of the Renaissance Diet, a program I agree 98% with.
Guess what? Those people still drive me crazy. I guess I just have a problem with people becoming dogmatic about nutrition.
When you take away the dogma and bad science behind the creation of Paleo, it is probably a good start for most people. It is easy to get hung up on athletic performance and ideal body composition but for most people it is about taking small steps to leading a healthier life.
If the Paleo Diet is the catalyst for someone making a change in their lives and the lives of their loved ones than I am 100% for it.