I have never read an article criticizing the paleo diet where the author actually understood what the diet is. They always list what they think the paleo diet is – and get it grossly wrong or provide common misconceptions.
It is frustrating to say the least.
The diet is about nutrient density and eating real foods that your body understands. It’s not about replicating the diet of the caveman, it’s about utilizing ancestral wisdom to guide and influence our decisions. It’s not a one size fits all diet, it’s not meat heavy (at least it shouldn’t be), and there are many shades of paleo.
It mainly involves eating meat
This is the most common misconception and the one I hear the most. Does the paleo diet include high quality, ethically treated animals foraging on natural food? Yes, it does. Is that all we eat? Nowhere close.
In its essence, the paleo diet isn’t a high meat diet, it’s a high veggie diet. Or at least it’s supposed to be.
Sure, many people eat too much meat, but that doesn’t describe the diet as a whole.
But isn’t red meat bad for you…
Yes, red meat from cows shoved full of antibiotics and hormones, put unnaturally into small spaces, and fed processed food their bodies don’t understand is bad for you. When you see a study touting the dangers of red meat it almost universally does not account for the difference between a pasture raised animal ruminating on a natural diet and the sad state of the meat that comes from factory farms.
It’s a fad diet
Eating whole real food that our bodies understand is not a fad diet. Most people that I know who choose to eat a diet that resembles the paleo diet began due to health issues. Eating real food heals, plain and simple, and that’s no fad. The paleo diet focuses on optimal human nutrition through eating foods that are nutrient dense.
It’s unhealthy because cutting out entire food groups is unhealthy
Humans have evolved for hundreds of thousands of years yet only in recent history introduced grains and even more recently introduced many of the processed foods you see today. Consequently, there is no biological basis for needing these foods.
Most people think this because of its place on the food pyramid, which was largely the result of heavy lobbying many years ago and not based on any legitimate science. Big Agriculture has a lot of clout in government dietary recommendations; a sad truth, unfortunately. For more information on this topic, check out Denise Minger’s book, Death by Food Pyramid: How Shoddy Science, Sketchy Politics and Shady Special Interests Have Ruined Our Health
There are no essential micronutrients, amino acids, or fatty acids found only in grains, dairy, or legumes. However, these do exist in animal products. Yes, you can live a full life as a vegan but that doesn’t change the fact that plant based diets lack essential nutrients such as Vitamin B12 that cannot be found in plant products. There are health consequences to choosing to go against biology. Choosing a plant based diet for ethical reasons is one thing, but choosing it for health reasons is another. Why I don’t think a vegan diet is natural.
A post from Chris Kresser, Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian and Vegan diets.
It’s one thing – you can eat this and can’t eat that
Among paleolithic people, no one group ate the same diet. Diets varied based on availability. No one is claiming to eat an exact diet.
Most of this misconception comes from older books and blogs on the paleo diet. Today, the paleo diet is largely seen as a template. You eat foods based on an ancestral perspective but you’re not tied down rigidly to those principles. I eat bananas, yet I don’t believe there are any natural occurring banana trees in the continental United States. I eat white rice. Oooh it’s a grain, it’s not paleo, I’m a cheat, a lie! Organic white rice is generally clean, not inflammatory like many other grains, and it is a real food without processed additives. My body handles it well, it doesn’t make me sick, and I have no problem occasionally adding it into my eating template.
The paleo diet, lifestyle, template – whatever you want to call it, is not rigid. Its principles are flexible and are based on individual biological needs. Everyone has their own path to optimal health.
The quality of the foods we’re eating and their nutrient density is by far the the most important factor.
The paleo diet is a diet
Yes, I often call it a diet, because that’s how people understand it. But it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
The paleo diet is literally trying to replicate the caveman diet
That would be impossible. The plants and animals we see today aren’t the plants and animals of the past. The tomato of today did not exist 10,000 years ago. Cavemen weren’t eating cows.
We get it.
It’s not about complete replication, it’s simply about eating foods our bodies can recognize, are nutrient dense and aren’t inflammatory or otherwise harmful to our health (I’m talking to you, white frosting filled donuts of my past).
I, and most of my paleo peers, enjoy modern life. I prefer not cooking my food over a fire and I enjoy flying to exotic destinations on a plane.
I’m perfectly content with the benefits of modern living.
But with modern living comes modern disease. And this is what the paleo lifestyle is about… minimizing the effect of everyday burdens on our bodies.
Didn’t cavemen only live to 30 years old
Yes and no. Was that their average lifespan, yes. Is it fair to compare? No.
These statistics factor in infant mortality and death rates were extremely high under the age of 5. Without modern advances in medicine, minor infections and diseases often had disastrous results. In addition, shelter, weather, predators, etc. played a role.