Art by Chris Chen
You’ve probably heard of the Paleo diet, or maybe you’ve even tried it. Maybe it was your New Year’s resolution to go Paleo. It seems like a quick route to weight loss and health. However, the Paleo diet is actually an unhealthy diet based on false presumptions.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Paleo diet is based on the supposition that those in the Paleolithic era primarily ate animal foods, because it is believed that they didn’t consume carbohydrate-rich foods, like grains and starchy vegetables.
Today’s Paleo diet seeks to follow the supposed diet of the Paleolithics, and thus requires high protein intake from animal products like meats and eggs, with 19 to 35 percent of calories coming from protein, compared to the average Westerner’s 15 percent. It additionally requires low carbohydrate intake, as starches are prohibited, and moderate-to-high fat intake. It is believed the diet will lead to improved health, less disease and weight loss, according to thepaleodiet.com.
About 1 to 3 million people in the U.S. follow the Paleo diet, according a 2013 article published in the Journal of Evolution and Health called “Modern Cavemen? Stereotypes and Reality of the Ancestral Health Movement.”
This number contributes to an even larger number of those who believe low-carbohydate, high-protein diets, like the Paleo diet, are healthy. But healthy isn’t the case.
Following low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets can cause heart problems, according to a 2012 article published in the British Medical Journal called “Low carbohydrate-high protein diets.”
Adherence to low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets has been associated with higher mortality from cardiovascular diseases, according to the article.
Additionally, the Paleo diet’s heavy consumption of saturated fats, cholesterol and acidic proteins from the high protein intake from animal foods has been debilitating for populations like the Eskimos, whose diet is similar to today’s Paleo diet, according to a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine called “Carbohydrates and the diet-atherosclerosis connection — more between earth and heaven. Comment on the article ‘The atherogenic potential of dietary carbohydrate’.”
Furthermore, in October 2015, the World Health Organization announced that red meat and processed meat (any meat enhanced for flavor or improved preservation) consumption is carcinogenic, after their cancer agency published a 2015 study in The Lancet called “Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat.”
But not only is today’s Paleo diet unhealthy — it’s incorrect. Paleo diet proponents believe the Paleolithics primarily ate meat, and didn’t consume grains or starchy vegetables. Several studies have proven the opposite.
For example, researchers found that one group of Paleolithic people consumed grains after grinding them into flours, according to a 2015 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called “Multistep food plant processing at Grotta Paglicci (Southern Italy) around 32,600 cal B.P.”
It was also discovered that carbohydrate consumption, especially in the form of starches, was actually necessary for accelerating brain growth during this time, according to a 2015 study published in The Quarterly Review of Biology, titled “The Importance of Dietary Carbohydrate in Human Evolution.”
So instead of trying to follow the cavemen’s diet, we should look to the diets of the leanest and healthiest people throughout history, like how rural Asian cultures thrived on rice, the ancient Incas based their diets on potatoes and Mayans on corn.
We can also examine current examples by learning of today’s longest-living populations’ paths to longevity, like research teams did when they studied the Okinawans in Japan, the Sardinians of Italy and the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, according to a 2005 National Geographic Magazine article.
Researchers learned the Okinawans primarily consume fruits and vegetables, which “contain compounds that may block cancers before they start,” and “… sweet potatoes, which formed the core of every meal,” according to the article.
The Sardinians’ diet includes many fruits and vegetables “that may reduce the risk of heart disease and colon cancer,” according to the article.
The Adventists discourage consuming meat and rich foods.
“Grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables constitute the diet chosen for us by our Creator,” wrote Ellen White, an early Adventist Church figure.
These populations are among the longest-living on the planet, eat little-to-no meat and focus on eating starches, fruits and vegetables. They demonstrate that health and longevity comes from eating plant foods, and steering away from animal foods.
So beware of diets like the Paleo diet. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets don’t equate to health. And don’t just jump into diets because everyone else is. Do your research. Short-term benefits like weight loss may be appealing, and claims of improved health may sound nice, but you could be heading down the road to disease by believing flawed claims.
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