THE PALEO DIET -Another Low Carb Disguise?

A man is waiting in the doctor´s office for a diagnosis. The doctor emerges and says, “I´m sorry to tell you but you have cancer. The man replies, “I´d like a second opinion” and the doctor responds, “You´re ugly too!”

The problem is that opinions are like noses…everyone has one. That´s especially the case nowadays with regards to the topic of nutrition on Social Media which is giving us access to a constant flow of enormous amounts of information. There are so many online summits, documentaries, symposiums and websites, on the subject, which seem to attract a lot of attention and viewers. I don’t see how providing the opinions of so many so-called experts who all have different opinions would, in any way, help anyone. I used to join these online seminars only to find them confusing because of the conflicting opinions, each in the name of health and well being.

The main problem is that many of these “experts” actually recommend approaches to nutrition that are not necessarily healthful. How can we know if someone is an expert or not? Is it because they´re a doctor or wrote a book or have a popular website? After all, if a person is a featured speaker at a conference doesn´t that make him or her an expert? Not necessarily. While some people can tell the difference, someone who’s new to the topic of diet and nutrition may not be able to. To them all featured speakers would sound like experts. As a result, in so many cases, the only thing that these different opinions create is doubt, confusion, misunderstanding and frustration. In the end people are afraid to make any change at all.

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Recently, there was a Doctor´s presentation here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on the topic of Alzheimers Disease and it´s relation to diet. Although I didn´t have the opportunity to attend the lecture, I did check out the guest speaker´s website, which covered various health topics and their relation to nutrition. Although I was in agreement with some of the Doctor´s opinions, there were critical areas where I was not. At the healthy age of 76, the following is my perspective…based on my research and personal experience following a Whole Food Plant Based diet for the past 8 years, preceded by 32 years as a vegetarian.

On her website the doctor outlines the dos and don´ts of a healthy diet, not only to prevent Alzheimers, but other chronic illnesses as well. On the healthy side, which I wholeheartedly support, she calls for the elimination of processed foods and dairy. What I don´t support is her insistence that eating meat (in abundance) is an important component of a healthy diet while consuming whole grains, beans, lentils, chick peas and cruciferous vegetables (i.e., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, kale) are not. According to her, carbohydrates, refined or not, should be avoided. On her website she shows her complete support for low carbs and even No Carbs. This goes against everything I´ve personally experienced and researched during these past years. I found that the Doctor´s beliefs are very similar to proponents of one the latest diet fads…The Paleo Diet, based on a book that was first published in 2002 and written by Loren Cordain. an exercise physiology professor at Colorado State University. It basically emphasizes a high protein (from animals), saturated fat and low carb diet. It´s actually a spinoff of other previous and what I consider “unsustainable” low carb diets…such as Atkins, South Beach, Eat Right for Your Type and Enter the Zone. Why they are unsustainable is because the great majority who go on these diets, mainly to lose weight, last for a few weeks or at best a few months…eventually returning to their original eating habits, which were not very healthy to begin with. Maybe you or someone you know has had this experience. Furthermore, I found a lot of vague and controversial information regarding 1) the benefits of the low carb diet she recommends and 2) the shortcomings of Whole Food Plant Based Nutrition.

On her website, the Dr. replies to the question, Do Vegans Live Longer?

“All we have are epidemiological observations to attempt to answer this question, but these do not show any difference in mortality between vegans and omnivores.”

First of all, the term “vegan” itself is vague, because eating vegan doesn´t mean you´re eating healthy. Eating a daily diet of cupcakes, donuts, french fries and refined and processed plant foods is vegan but not much healthier than the Standard American Diet that leads to the chronic diseases that we know so well. Instead, what she needs to consider is a Whole Food Plant Based Diet. With that difference we can say that there definitely are populations in the world that not only live longer but are almost free of the same chronic diseases that cause us so much suffering and premature death. We´re talking about the people living in rural China, Japan and Africa as well as the populations discovered by National Geographic´s Dan Buettner in the world´s Blue Zones:
• The Italian island of Sardinia.
• Okinawa, Japan.
• Loma Linda, California.
• Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula.
• Ikaria, an isolated Greek island.

These people all eat a Whole Food Plant Based Diet!!

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With Regards to the Paleo Diet:
1) Loren Cordain´s conclusions regarding what the Hunter – Gatherers ate during the stone age is based on what present day Hunter- Gatherers eat (70% meat). Previously, in 1968, Richard Lee and anthropologist Richard Daly published an article based on the study of 58 hunter gatherer societies. They found that only 33% of the consumed foods were animal based. Until Codain´s findings this was the consensus among anthropologists. How can we know for sure which is closer to the truth?

2) Since Cordain makes his claims from present day Hunter – Gatherers. Can we be sure that their diet is the same as Paleolithic Man?

3) Because there is doubt as to how long Paleo man lived there is no way we can know if they lived long enough to get chronic diseases. Thus, we really don´t know how healthy they actually were as a result of the foods they were consuming.

4) With its focus on consuming large quantities of meat, the new paleo diet could be a poor imitation of the diet of early humans. We’ve been evolving for 25 million years since our common great ape ancestor, during which time our nutrient requirements and digestive physiology were set down, and therefore probably little affected by our hunter-gatherer days which was at the tail end (2.5 million years). So what were we eating for the first 90% of our evolution? What the great apes ended up eating – over 95% plants.

5) Unfortunately the Paleo dietary pattern also ignores:

a) the numerous health risks associated with eating meat (high cholesterol and saturated fat, no fiber or antioxidants).
b) the moral and ethical issues associated with an increased demand for food animals from the Factory Farms.
c) the effects that eating meat has on the environmental (pollution of the atmosphere from farm animal gases, pollution of the earth and rivers from farm animal waste, destruction of forests in order to plant grains to feed animals…instead of humans.

I believe that once we decide on a nutrition path to follow we need to find out if it´s right for us…and that is by our experience and personal observation. What are the results? Am I feeling better? Do I have more energy? Are there certain foods that don´t agree with me? These are some of the questions we need to ask ourselves…on our way to the destination of optimal health and wellbeing. In the end…we can become our own experts.

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