Fitness Fail

Assorted ramblings on training, nutrition, social issues surrounding these areas and a generous side of irrelevancy

Paleo is a sledgehammer

Posted on | June 11, 2009 | 7 Comments


I always feel very odd when I find myself defending the Paleo diet. Especially since I’m NOT one of the more fanatical or outspoken proponents of it. If you want to really examine the scientific underpinnings behind it, I suggest you look up some of the peer reviewed journal articles on the subject, starting here. If you want to read the ramblings of a recently converted fanatic who now wears a loincloth and kills his food with a spear (that he made himself) you won’t have to look around the internet very hard to find it. I’ve taken issue with this very attitude before in the past. (For a self assessment of your fanaticism, take this survey on paynowlivelater)

Yet, maybe because I’m neither of these, and bring a healthy amount of skepticism to the table, I often find myself getting into debates about this. A recent one got me thinking and as usual the result is this rant. When I attempt to argue the science with people, it nearly invariable comes down to debates about specific food groups. If grains are really unhealthy, which grains? The same thing with legumes, etc…. My first response here is to tell people to do their own homework and make up their own mind. The more complicated response is that the answer to a number of these questions is “we don’t know”.

This seems to be lost on people. Our understanding of nutrition and how it effects the body is really in its infancy. The good nutritionists (even the registered dietitian types that this community so likes to vilify) will admit this freely. This is why I prefer to think of the strict Paleo approach as something of a sledgehammer. To my knowledge there are no peer reviewed, double blind, large-scale, long-term studies in humans indicating that the consumption of unfermented legumes has statistically significant adverse health effects. Now how about fermenting them as some traditional cultures did? Call me when you get the funding to run one of these. I can do this all day. Those of you wanting proof that the paleo approach is ideal can leave now, I don’t have proof.


In the meanwhile, the rationale behind this approach is that while we can’t replicate our evolutionary diet, we can eliminate foods that were clearly not present in that time. Until we can show that they are not harmful. No one credible is saying that all types of food that we did not evolve to eat are a problem, we’re saying that we don’t yet have sufficient understanding to know which are harmful or not. History is filled with examples of new, supposedly “better” products having big unforeseen surprises. The fact that hydrogenated oils used to be considered more heart healthy due to their higher EFA content is a great example of that. Is this approach overkill? In my opinion, it probably is and I suspect that a number of more recently developed foods will turn out to be healthy or at least fairly benign. Until then, I’d rather not be surprised by yet another unforeseen “gotcha”.

P.S. Sometimes I eat brown rice.

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Comments

7 Responses to “Paleo is a sledgehammer”

  1. jodi
    June 11th, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    my boyfriend is from PB so we visit often… thanks for stopping by and saying hello! :)

  2. GeriMorgan
    June 12th, 2009 @ 6:27 pm

    I suppose I’m one of those sledgehammer types – with my incredibly low tolerance for starches/sugar, I have to be militant about the foods I ingest.

    For others, though, I’m sure a bit of brown rice now and again isn’t going to kill you.

  3. Jessica
    June 16th, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

    Love the rant! To NOT be hard-headed is to be hard-headed to some people. :)

  4. Rosalie
    June 28th, 2009 @ 8:23 am

    THANK YOU for this post! I generally read a blogs from a wide variety of athletes (endurance, strength, running, basketball, skating, lifting….etc) who have VERY different diets (IF, lots of carb, low carb, paleo, primal, low fat, vegan, ad nauseum). Most people will preach that what they do is the universal solution, when in fact, if it’s the only thing they’ve tried, how can they make ANY conclusion that they will have better results on a different diet?

    In the end, I’ve come to my own conclusions about how I’m going to eat. Low carb/paleo appeals to me, but I don’t adhere to it all the time because I enjoy eating my parents’ cooking too (I live at home). I’m also hesitant about giving ANY unsolicitated advice or even commentary on how/what to eat, because I figure if it’s important enough to the individual, he/she will do his/her own research and come to his/her own conclusions, and it doesn’t concern me.

    :)

  5. Rob - @formerfatguy
    August 16th, 2009 @ 3:28 pm

    and sometimes I eat oats

  6. DR
    September 15th, 2009 @ 10:52 am

    That was the most common-sense rant I have ever read on the interweb.

    It’s funny how people in clearly defined camps (diets {paleo, low-carb, high-carb} or training {cardio junkies, HIITers, Crossfitters, etc}) get very defensive when their cult is threatened.

    You approach seems to be more of a search for truth than the adoption of a specific dogma.

    …and sadly, my weakness is nacho chips with homemade salsa

    BTW, I tweeted this post

  7. aaron Curl
    December 20th, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

    Good post. I take heat all the time for my food choices. I usually explain why I eat the paleo diet and tell them to google it. Most people are just so set in their ways!

    P.S. I just ate black beans….I try not to.

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