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Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Go Paleo?

The paleo diet can be kind of controversial.  A friend of mine recently told me that he thought the paleo diet was kind of dumb, and that he didn't believe that it accurately replicates what ancient man consumed on a daily basis.  Well, that's a fair point.  The ancient hunter-gatherer cultures ate very different foods than grass fed beef and free range chicken.  However, there are some other good reasons why I tend to go with a paleo style diet that have nothing to do with evolutionary biology.

Calorie content of grains versus vegetables

One of the biggest knocks people have against going paleo is how you essentially shun grains.  This was hard for me, as I've been in a torrid love affair with pasta since childhood (please don't tell me wife, though I suspect she's the same way).  However, I made the adjustment and felt a difference.

That's just the small stuff right now though.

The big thing I want to point out is how many calories are inside of grains versus vegetables.  For example, one cup of cook brown rice is 215 calories according to FitDay (where all of the nutritional data is coming from).  That's twice as many calories as a like amount of cooked broccoli.  Not only that, but you need a whopping 28 cups of lettuce to match that one cup of brown rice!

Not only that, but if you want fiber, a bran muffin - with its 305 calories - has only 5 grams of fiber compared to the one cup of broccoli's 6 grams.

The truth is, with vegetables, you're getting more bang for your buck.  You get to eat more food, while still maintaining a caloric deficit.

 No gluten

The primary reason I felt a difference after shunning wheat products may have to do with what seems to be a gluten intolerance.  Recent studies show that, contrary to what was previously believed, it is possible to have a gluten intolerance without suffering from Coeliac Disease itself.  I, apparently, fall into that camp.

I admit, I tried the paleo thing without knowing this, but it became clear pretty darn quickly.  Yes, this one is personal to me.  There are a lot of people who show no symptoms of gluten intolerance and, despite the claims that man isn't engineered to eat gluten, so there's no reason for them to skip this one.  However, if you're like me, this is a big reason to go paleo.


Paleo is the one diet I've come across that doesn't either demonize meat, or treat it like a necessary evil.  The truth of the matter is that I love meat.  I love steak, bacon, turkey, bacon, chicken, and finally came to appreciate fish in adulthood...oh, did I mention bacon?  If it had a face, I want to eat it.  I also love to hunt, and paleo was the first diet I found that actually accounted for wild game, declaring it pretty much the perfect food.

The thing about meat is that while it is high in calories, it's also difficult for your body to process.  This is used by many as justification for skipping meat, but I think that's a mistake.  You see, contrary to the myths that say meat rots in your digestive system, the extra effort your digestive system makes to digest it means that it burns more calories in the process.  The result?  A 500 calorie piece of meat burns up most of its calories in the digestion process, while still providing the much needed nutrients.  As a result, you actually absorb fewer calories.

It's also interesting to note that the meats paleo diet gurus talk about are lean beef, chicken, turkey, and fish...as well as wild game, happen to be the same meats that other diets allow.  The exception seems to be foods like bacon that guys like me actually add to the paleo diet, rather than what's recommended.

So those are the reasons I opted to go paleo for the most part.  However, there are some criticisms that I figured I would address.  Many of these have been addressed elsewhere, but if this is your first time encountering paleo, I want to be as thorough as I can.


Ancient men didn't eat this stuff

OK, I'll be real clear here.  I don't know exactly what ancient man ate.  I'm not an archeologist, and I haven't discussed the issue with any.

There is validity to the idea that the ancient diet, even during the hunter-gatherer era, wasn't similar to ours.  Obviously, we have foods today that didn't exist back then.  In addition, much of our food is farmed or raised, which fundamentally changes some elements of the food in question.  In reality, paleo doesn't ignore this, but instead does its best to replicate our diet with the foods available to us.  Meat, vegetables, and starchy tubers are much more similar to what our ancient ancestors ate than a Big Mac ever will be.

Paleolithic man only lived to be 30 on average

I've heard this one repeatedly.  In fact, some paleo practitioners refuse to even discuss it, but I'm going to do just that.  Yes, they only lived to be about 30 years old.  However, look at the life they lived for a second.  Accident and standard disease probably killed many, many more of them than heart attacks and strokes ever did.  Medical skill at the time was nothing more than a few herbs, some singing and dancing, and maybe shaking some bones over the sick.  Of course a lot of them died from that.

The truth is, no diet will prevent all disease.  A healthy diet can help, but it won't prevent it from happening with 100 percent certainty.

Also, I'd like to point out that we can look at low life expectancies of ancient agricultural era people.  Was it higher than hunter-gatherers?  Absolutely.  However, that had more to do with a steady, year round food supply than a superiority of the diet.

People from X region have been eating grain rich diets and live long lives and have a low obesity rate

Hey, good for them.

I've never pretended that paleo was the One True Way (TM), though some practitioners do.  However, most of these regions have many key things in common with a paleo diet.  For example, in Okinawa, they have a lot of people over the age of 100, but they eat a lot of rice.  However, they don't eat a pile of processed foods like most Americans do.


Paleo isn't the only diet that will work.  I've known too many people who lose weight and kept it off with different diets to believe it's the only way.  This way works for me, and it can work for a lot of other people.

Regardless, there are universal principles that paleo uses that can be applied to diet in general that will lead to a healthier lifestyle, but that's a topic for another time.

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