As a Crossfitter, I have to hear all about the benefits of “Going Paleo” at the gym. While I love the premise of muscle confusion to increase strength, agility and overall fitness, I can’t find any good reason to recommend a protein-packed, hunter-gatherer diet. Since there’s no evidence that our ancestors lived long enough to experience the chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease that we get, I’m not sure how proponents of the diet make that case. The one benefit of the Paleo Diet that I have seen with others is that it makes you realize all the added sugars and overly processed carbohydrates that we eat every day.
Luckily, mounting research from anthropologists is proving that our ancestors’ diets included ancient grains and probably alcohol as well. New research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December reported that DNA from human teeth remains found from the hunter-gatherer era reveals that our ancestors did, in fact, eat grains, among many other foods that we previously thought they did not consume.
Will this new news finally knock some common sense into my X-fit friends who swear by their meat-, nut- and veggie-based diets?
The Paleo Premise
The premise of eating “Paleo” or the “caveman” or “hunter-gatherer” diet, is to mimic the diet of our ancestors ate from the Paleolithic era until the agricultural revolution began about 10,000 years ago. As hunter-gatherers, it was thought that we subsisted on grass-fed meats, game, free-range birds, fish, fruit, veggies, and nuts. That means no dairy products, no processed foods, no sugars, no grains, no alcohol.
Problem is, the Paleo diet has been made popular by minimal research and is more hype than anything else. I also believe it’s completely unsustainable for most individuals. Maybe that’s why it’s promoted by exercise specialists who graduated from the “school of hard knocks” rather than nutrition professionals.
When you break down a typical Paleo diet, it gets the majority of calories from animal foods and just under 50% of calories form plant foods. The diet is higher in protein (almost twice as much) as we currently recommend in the Dietary Guidelines and fat intake is higher, although the fats are primarily healthy omega 3s and other unsaturated fats.
I’m all for diets that get rid of excess processed foods and help to eliminate the “junk” in our diet. Paleo, however, is just not based in credible science and until I see evidence as to why we can’t enjoy whole grains and some lean dairy products, I’m sticking with my 21st Century approach to healthy eating by:
Eating a primarily plant-based diet
Including lean proteins, especially from seafood, poultry, lean meats, nuts, seeds and beans
Enjoying whole grains as primary source of grains
Minimizing added sugars, sodium and sat fat
Using olive, peanut and canola oils as my major fat sources