The Palaeolithic diet or Paleo diet sounds on face value like a brilliant idea. The idea is to eat foods that our Palaeolithic ancestors would have eaten, removing refined, processed foods and eating all natural food sources. This is a great ideology to follow to remove some of the bad stuff out of our western diets and focus you on to many energy giving, nutrient dense, muscle building foods whatever your training goals. Foods included in this type of diet include grass fed meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthy oils. A list containing some foods undoubtedly beneficial to health and performance, so you are on to a winner with this diet, right? The exclusion list includes refined sugars, junk and processed foods (fair enough I hear you say), foods that are high in salt, cereal grains, peanuts, dairy, potatoes and legumes. Even our beloved, high protein, full of good fats, widely shown to be beneficial to health peanuts can’t escape! What did some of these foods do to end up on the banned list? The truth is we’re not sure, and the following sections we will hopefully explain why this diet has some deep routed unescapable limitations.
What are the disadvantages?
The first issue with this diet is the name Palaeolithic … The Palaeolithic era was from around 10,000 to 2 million years ago! It cannot be ignored that not only has our digestive system undoubtedly evolved over the course of this time period, and since then until modern day, more importantly we have co-evolved with bacteria that help us digest foods that we could not have digested back then. In conjunction with this the foods Palaeolithic men would have eaten, regardless of time period in the 2 million or so years they were around, would not be palatable today and many of these foods no longer exist or have been modified through farming techniques. This not only applies to fruits and vegetables but also to meat, the domestication and breeding of animals for meat has occurred relatively recently in human history, this undoubtedly impacts on their genetic makeup, basically meaning if you wanted to eat Paleo, in the literal definition, then well the fact is you just can’t and haven’t been able to follow a Paleo diet for a good few thousand years! This highlights the fact that the exclusion of foods that aren’t Paleo, such as certain crops that have been tinkered with through selective breeding, in my mind, becomes a null argument. Either you can eat all natural, unrefined unprocessed foods present today, or you don’t eat anything, or at least the approved list becomes a hell of a lot smaller! Surely the GI index and the macro and micronutrient content of foods is more important to us than the source and from what period of history they were, allegedly, the biggest part of our diet. There are also other logistical issues with the Paleo diet, for example in what area of the world should we base our Paleo diet, those living on wide open planes? Those in rainforest? Those in the cold snowy regions? These would have undoubtedly had different eating patterns and different digestive adaptations so which one is the best for you? Evidence of digestive system adaptation is around us in the present day, one example is that due to dairy being a large part of the northern European diet a majority of us can consume this and get all the nutrient benefits just fine, with less than 5% showing intolerances. However in certain parts of Asia where dairy isn’t a large part of the diet, they have high rates of lactose intolerance of up to 90%.. now please don’t get me wrong this is not highlighting dairy is bad, just that digestive adaptations have not taken place in some populations!
What's do I think?
I guess at this point you could say I am missing the point and being a little pedantic, and you know what I would be inclined to agree! But this highlights an issue with any kind of ‘lifestyle’ diet and that is that the restriction of foods or supplements that can be beneficial for health, performance and generally just variety in the diet, is inherently flawed when based upon no logic or reason or deeper scientific understanding of our evolutionary place in history. On a final and important note, I have noticed in a number of people who eat Paleo and in others who conform to other ‘consume as much as you want of these kinds of foods’ diets, that just because you are eating ‘Paleo’ does not give you license to eat as much as you like. Unfortunately the word Paleo does not remove calories and over eating calories, will eventually lead to the unwanted timber being laid down! In conclusion, there is no doubt that changing from a typically western diet to Paleo will get good results. But this diet should be used as a foundation, please as with any information in health, fitness, training, nutrition and supplementation do your research and figure out whether you are being fed nonsense that may be potentially limiting your progress. Thanks for reading, Peace, weights and protein shakes, Paul Rimmer (BSc, BSc)