A recent US News and World Report article surveyed 22 experts and ranked the diets. One surprise which caused an outcry in certain circles was that Paleo was dead last. The experts point to one “thin study” to show that not a lot of research had been done on this diet and that it was pricey and difficult to stay on.
Everyone has a right to their opinion; the Paleo diet movement is popular right now, blogs and books support this diet and describe it as life changing.
For the record I’m not a registered dietician and I haven’t been on the Paleo diet. Actually most people who are proponents of the Paleo diet are not RDs (although here’s one) but that’s another blog post. I was a pre-med major long enough to learn how to read a study though, and I’ve read Gary Taubes, Loren Cordain, and Robb Wolf, all leaders of the Paleo diet.
The Paleo people went nuts when they said there had only been one study done, as there have been five. One very nice person went and delineated the five studies. I went right in behind him and counted the total number of participants in all the studies. I didn’t even need a calculator: it was only 65 people. Yes, all five studies combined had a total of 65 people on a Paleo diet.
That’s not much of a cohort.
I’m Not Against Paleo
I’m curious about Paleo, but I’m not against it. The diet centers on eating a lot of plants and lean protein and that’s way better than the standard American diet, so if you’re switching from Mickey D’s to Paleo, more power to you. Ditching sugar is definitely a good thing and eliminating refined products can only make you healthier. You’ll undoubtedly lose weight and feel better. The argument really is over the “carbs.”
First of all, it drives me nuts that people think plants aren’t carbs. They are. Lettuce = carbs, apples = carbs, any fruit or vegetable = carbs. There are only three types of macronutrients for food: fat, protein, and carbs (okay, alcohol is one too, but that’s kind of a separate category). Paleo combines all of them. Just deal with it.
What Paleo proponents really mean is cutting out all grains of any kind; whole grains are often touted as healthy by most health care leaders, but the Paleo folks cut out all of them; refined and whole grain all go away. This is great if you’re gluten intolerant, but might not be necessary for the rest of us.
More Paleo Studies Are Needed
Since the Paleo concept has been around since the 1970s, I actually was surprised there were only five studies done to see if it was effective or not. I contribute this to the snobbery of mainstream nutritionists and I do strongly encourage more studies of larger size to be conducted. Then we can get some real numbers and start talking.
The DNA of Paleo
My biggest problem with the Paleo diet is the assumption that we all have DNA remarkably similar and that it hasn’t changed in any significant way since the Paleo era. I just don’t buy it. This theory was first developed in the 1970s and what we’ve learned about DNA since then is nothing short of spectacular. The Human Genome project is one of my geek out moments; I love reading about that project and the subsequent research. We have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 genes in our DNA. That’s a lot of variation! Can we really advocate that an entire planet with its vast array of resources shifting from warm to cold climates all eat the exact same thing? Does it really make sense to say that our DNA around the globe isn’t varied enough to subscribe to different diets? Do you really think nothing significant in our DNA has changed in two million years?
It just seems a bit far-fetched to me.
Eat What Feels Right To You
Every mainstream diet can point to a slew of success stories and evangelists who think it’s the best thing ever. At the end of the day, you’re not going to know what diet is the most successful for you until you start doing it. From Mediterranean to Weight Watchers to Paleo, they all work well for some people and not as well for others. This is not just about DNA; we need to interact with our loved ones and continue within the framework of our lifestyles. All factors need to be taken into consideration.
Should you do Paleo? Sure, why not … Check with your doctor or an RD to make sure you’re healthy and give it a go. But if it just doesn’t seem to be right for you, know that that’s okay and feel free to try something else. Sometimes it’s not us failing the diet, but the diet failing us.
What do you think? I’m sure I’m gonna get bombed by the Paleo folks so have at it …