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.
If you like my ranting, please do use the button below to share it on one of the linked social networking sites.