Monday, February 25, 2013

Why You Should Leave The Paleo Diet To The Caveman

You may want to pass on this fad diet!

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The Paleo Diet
I've heard quite a few people talk about the Paleo diet, many of whom are athletes. Not surprising really. Athletes are always looking for an edge and for those who want to do it naturally, eating what they consider to be "a healthy diet" is a no brainer. And cavemen certainly appear to be trim, fit and strong, carrying around those big manly clubs and hunting for their food. 

The "Paleo Diet" was originally published as a weight loss  book by Dr. Loren Cordain who subsequently targeted athletes in the book, "The Paleo Diet for Athletes". Quite simply, Dr. Cordain feels that the best diet for our general health and for optimal athletic performance is one that mimics that of our cavemen ancestors. It consists of food that can be hunted or gathered and is composed of lean, grass-fed meats, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, healthy oil (such as avocado, flaxseed, etc.) , nuts and seeds. It avoids grains, legumes (including peanuts), potatoes, dairy, refined oils, salt, processed food, sugars and alcohol.

Other than the health benefits of giving up processed foods, dairy, sugar and unhealthy fats, and consuming more fruits and vegetables, there are many reasons to pass on this diet. Here are a few of them.

Eight Reasons Not To Go Paleo

#1 - Too Much Animal Protein
The suggested menus on the paleo diet website recommends meat at every meal. Diced turkey in your morning omelet, beef slices on your lunch salad and pork or fish with your veggies at dinner. This amounts to 21 meat meals per week or 19% to 35% of calories coming from meat. This compares to the 15% found in the average western diet.

Eating too much animal protein can cause a host of problems. 
* Animal protein increases the acid load in our bodies. To neutralize this acid in the blood and tissues, calcium is pulled from our bones which can lead to increased risk of bone fractures. A high protein diet can have devastating results on bone health as it literally washes the calcium out of our body.
* This causes the excessive excretion of calcium in the urine. Long term, this could lead to kidney stones and osteoporosis.
* Too much protein can put a strain on the kidneys as it tries to eliminate the wastes from protein metabolism. Although there is debate whether or not this is a problem for healthy individuals, studies show that those with reduced kidney function would experience further decline on a high protein diet.  

#2 - Too Much Saturated Fat
Although the Paleo diet recommends lean, grass-fed, pasture-raised meat, only 1% of the meat sold ever saw a grassy pasture. The other 99% were raised in factory farms and do not have the beneficial fatty acids, like conjugated linoleic acid, found in grass-fed meat. And irregardless of how "lean" the meat eaten on this diet is, 21 meat meals per week could lead to too much saturated fat and cholesterol. 

I know you athletes out there will think that this won't effect you because you  plan to "burn it off" but that attitude can take you down a slippery slope. Sometimes when we work out a lot we feel we "deserve" to eat whatever we want. In the case of the Paleo diet, that may equate to meat that's not as lean as the diet dictates. But the opposite is true. When you work out hard is when you should be providing the very best fuel for your body. So if you are eating lots of animal protein and, therefore, more saturated fat and cholesterol than you should, some of that cholesterol can end up in your arteries regardless of your workout routine.

* Excess saturated fat in a diet is a major risk factor for heart disease.
* High fat diets cause the build up of cholesterol in the arteries which could lead to stroke, cardiovascular and coronary heart  disease. 
* The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of total daily calories and 7% to further reduce risk of heart disease.

#3 - The Diet Avoids One of Nature's Best Foods - Legumes
Beans are one of the healthiest foods you can serve your family. Not to mention a life without hummus, bean chili, and a salad topped with garbanzos is unimaginable!

* Beans are an economical source of high quality protein that provides essential amino acid building blocks without the saturated fat and cholesterol contained in meat. 
* They are one of the most concentrated natural sources of the B vitamin folate and are rich in thiamin. Beans contain minerals such as potassium, zinc, iron, copper, phosphorous, manganese, and magnesium.
* High in antioxidants, a half cup of dried small red beans has more antioxidant capacity than a cup of wild blueberries. 
* Beans are a excellent source of dietary fiber.
* The Nurses' Health Study II linked the consumption of beans to a lower risk of breast cancer. 
* Soybeans, made into tofu, is an excellent source of calcium.  One half cup of calcium set tofu delivers nearly 900 mg.


#4 - A Diet Without Whole Grains - Really?
The Paleo diet avoids healthy grains such as brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, barley, rye, buckwheat, cracked wheat (bulgur), popcorn, millet and sorghum.  These are important foods and can contribute greatly to good health.

* Whole grains provide healthy, complex carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugar during digestion and the resulting glucose is used as your body's main source of fuel (remember the good old days when we runners carbo loaded before that big race!).
* The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates make up 45 to 65 percent of our daily calorie intake. This is extremely difficult to do without the consumption of  grains (and beans).
* Whole grains contain protein, fiber and antioxidants.
* They are rich in B vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, copper and magnesium. 
* The consumption of whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers. 
* Whole grains promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon which promotes bowel health.

Whole Grains

#5 - Not Enough Fiber
The Paleo diet brags about providing lots of fiber because it includes fruit and vegetables. However, without beans and whole grains it is very difficult to achieve a minimum of 25 to 35 grams per day, especially when 35% of the calories come from meat which contains zero fiber. 
For example, on the Paleo diet, even if you ate 1 cup of strawberries at breakfast, an apple for a snack, a cup of coleslaw at lunch, 3 cups of salad and a cup of cooked spinach at dinner (as an accompaniment to all the meat contained in each of your three meals), you would barely get 15 grams of fiber. A single cup of lentils, forbidden on the Paleo diet, provides almost 16 grams!

A healthy diet must have adequate fiber.
* Fiber is critical in bowel health. Insufficient fiber can lead to constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticular disease.
* A diet high in fiber helps control and stabilize blood sugar. This is particular important with people at risk for type 2 diabetes.
* High fiber foods help you feel full longer and help control weight gain.
* Soluble fiber, like that found in beans or oats, can help lower cholesterol.
* High consumption of dietary fiber has been linked to lower risk of heart disease and colon cancer. 

#6 - The Paleo Diet is Very Expensive 
Grass fed meat is very costly. Let's be realistic. How many people on this diet would be willing to spend $26 a pound for a grass-fed steak? Do you think most restaurants are going to? As I already mentioned, only 1 percent of the meat sold is raised on a pasture. The rest is factory farmed. So what does this mean?

* It means that most of your meat meals, especially those eaten in a restaurant, will most likely be from factory-farmed sources.
* Non-pasture raised meats are not as lean and contain more saturated fat. 
* Non-pasture raised meats may also contain growth hormones, antibiotics and toxic pesticides.

#7 - And What About the Planet
Having the world convert to a diet with 21 meat meals per week is environmentally unsustainable.

* Animal agriculture is already considered the greatest contributor to global warming and produces more greenhouse gas emissions that all of the planes, trains, ships and automobiles in the world combined. 
* Animal agriculture utilizes an enormous amount of the earth's land and water for pasture and growing feed for animals. It also drives deforestation for additional pasture land.

What about the planet?

#8  - You Don't Have To
Perhaps the biggest reason to not go on the Paleo Diet is because you don't have to. Believe me, if there were a Whole Foods available during the Paleolithic period, that cave man would certainly not have chosen this restrictive diet. In fact, if he were to beam himself down right now and saw people purposely avoiding delicious grains, beans and yummy baked sweet potatoes, he'd be scratching his head in wonder. 


Dian Hardy said...

Wonderful post, thank you for this. I'll pass it forward with pleasure. In fact, this is the best writing I've seen on this issue.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Thank you very much!

Julie said...

EXCELLENT POST! Couldn't have said it begtter myslef, and I have shared it! Thank you!

Unknown said...

Amazing post. I tried the Paleo diet temporarily when I was trying to figure out what was causing my stomach issues. I felt terrible. I've since switch to eating a whole-foods plant-based diet and have never felt better. Beans, grains and veggies healed me!

Angel said...

Let's also not forget that our lifespan is much longer now! That kind of diet worked well for our caveman ancestors during their shorter lifespan, but it's been proven to wreak havoc on our bodies over time.

Unknown said...

This guy has done a lot of research on these topics. Id consider giving them a read if i were you.