Does the paleo diet work, or is it just another low carb diet fad?
In general, with only one major gripe I have, (ok, maybe two), I think the paleo
diet offers some valid points and valuable insights about what we should be eating for fat loss and for good health.
In fact, if you're going to choose one of the lower carb diets, paleo is arguably one of the better choices.
The premise of paleolithic eating is that "since our genetic code has changed less
than 0.02 percent in 40,000 years, this means that our bodies
are still expecting to get the same foods and nutrition they
were getting 40,000 years ago.
Forty thousand years ago, you had to eat nature-made food. There
was no food in cans, boxes or packages was there? The packaging
was a peel, a skin or a shell!
There were no TV dinners. There was no drive in fast food. There
were no convenience stores.
There was no corn syrup. There was no white sugar. There were no
hydrogenated oils. No chemicals. No preservatives. No artificial
There was only what could be hunted and gathered: Meat, fish,
nuts, seeds, plants, vegetables, fruits.
By eating what our "stone age" ancestors ate,
says the paleo philosophy, we will be eating our proper evolutionary
diet and we will rid ourselves of the health and obesity problems
that have only recently begun to plague us as a result of modern
lifestyle and processed manmade foods.
Sounds pretty good so far, right? so....
What's the Paleo Flaw?
By all means, we should be eating more unprocessed foods,
similar to the way our ancestors ate. Frankly I don't think
we have to dive into anthropological theory or research to
draw the conclusion that hunter-gatherer diets are healthier than twinkies and Coke - that's common sense isnt it?
My only major constructive criticism is that some of these
paleo programs not only recommend removal of all kinds of
grains and starches (and even dairy, which is a SUPERB source of high quality muscle-building proteins), they outright condemn
them as inherently bad, in an absolutist fashion.
Why? well, they claim that agriculture arrived on the scene only
10,000 or so years ago, so any foods produced as a result of the
modern agricultural system should also be on the "banned" list
because our bodies aren't genetically engineered to consume them.
The truth is, there are some starchy carbohydrates and grains
which are very minimally processed or completely unprocessed.
Furthermore, some people can metabolically handle starches
and grains just fine, while others cannot (many obese sedentary individuals are likey to have metabolic syndrome and not handle concentrated carbs very well, even natural ones).
To condemn natural foods like brown rice (a staple food for
centuries in the Asian cultures, well known for being among the healthiest and longest-lived), 100% whole grains, sweet potatoes,
oatmeal, legumes and so on for healthy carb-tolerant people,
especially those who are highly active and already reasonably
lean, doesn't make a whit of sense to me.
For one thing, I'm not sure if anyone knows EXACTLY how our
ancestors ate, but I'm pretty certain that it depended a lot
on the culture, climate and geography. Therefore, the amount
of carbs eaten could have varied quite a bit, so I don't think
there is just ONE type of paleo diet.
What all paleolithic diets would have had in common is the
absence of processed and refined foods. The foods were natural;
whether they were proteins, fats OR carbs.
Of course, the carb intake wouldn't be very high, since there
would be no refined sugar or processed carbs. But even
according to Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet, a "paleo" diet could be as high as
40% in carbs, a far cry from many of the low carb diets today (which condemn all carbs to the point of even putting restrictions
on fruits and veggies to meet some arbitrary carbohydrate gram limit).
Should all grains and starches be completely avoided?
There is a HUGE difference between natural starches and grains
and refined starches and grains.
For example, look at white flour cereal grains versus old fashioned rolled or steel-cut unsweetened oatmeal - a body-
building STAPLE. How can someone lump those together into the same category?
They are no where near the same, yet there are Paleo (and low carb) advocates who dogmatically cling to the notion that
NO ONE should EVER be eating grains or natural carbs like oatmeal and brown rice.
Almost every bodybuilder I know eats oatmeal for breakfast plus lots of rice, sweet potatoes and other natural carbs. They are the leanest muscular athletes on earth, and the ones who do it naturally, like I do, are among the healthiest as well. If there's some kind of cause-effect relationship between all starches and grains and obesity, independent of calories and activity/training level, how do you explain that?
Certainly, many people need to avoid gluten and lactose, but not everyone is intolerant.
Furthermore, what about biochemical individuality? Is there really one perfect diet suited to every human being or do we
vary depending on:
1. your metabolic/body type
2. your current body composition (fat or lean)
3. your genetic predispositions
4. your current state of health
5. your goals; fat loss, muscle growth, athletic performance
In particular, for endurance athletes with a high energy expenditures, eating the concentrated starchy carbs and grains
is not only beneficial, it's often crucial to sustaining energy and performance.
Even bodybuilders and strength athletes can benefit from fairly generous starchy carb intakes when increasing muscle mass is the goal.
Aside from that minor quibble I have with some of these paleo programs being too strict with their no grains/starches dictum, I do think that most of the intentions behind the "paleolithic" eating concept are in the right place.
I do believe that the modern Western diet is giving many people an overdose of refined carbs and sugar (contributing
to the energy imbalance that causes obesity) and that moderating intake of concentrated carbs almost always
helps with fat loss, even if that's simply because you are reducing caloric density.
But I don't believe that agriculture, cooking or the modern food system and everything that came with it is inherently "evil."
Despite all the crap fast food that is manufactured today, (which we can easily avoid by choice with just a little bit of education and awareness), modern technology is a boon to society and I think today is the greatest time to be alive in all of human history.
If you really want to be 100% like a cave man, why not ditch your car and your computer too, because that will certainly get you off your butt more won't it? Heck, ditch your electricity and your refrigerator while you're at it because that would be on the same level of thinking as universally condemining all natural carbs for the sake of being more "paleo."
Nutritional dogma doesn't help anyone; it only confuses and restricts you. Flexibiliy and the ability to customize nutrition for the individual, on the other hand, gives you power and freedom.
That's why in my programs I never prescribe only one list of foods or one ratio of protein, carbs and fats for everyone - the macronutrient ratios can vary widely based on a person's needs. But what ALL my nutrition programs have in common is they are high in protein, high in fibrous carbs/vegetables, and they are based on 90% or more natural, unprocessed foods - that's also what the
"bodybuilding diet" has in common with the
You can get info about my Burn The Fat program, which is based on bodybuilding nutrition methods for burning fat and building lean muscle by visiting the home page: www.BurnTheFat.com/home
Train hard and expect success,
PS. There IS actually one more little complaint I have with *some* of the paleo diets: The paleo supplement line
and the paleo protein bars. Think about THAT oxymoron for a while!
About Fat Loss Coach, Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is the author of the #1 best seller, Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: Fat Burning Secrets of the World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom is a lifetime natural bodybuilder and fat loss expert who achieved an astonishing ripped 3.7% body fat level without drugs or supplements. Discover how to increase your metabolism, burn stubborn body fat and find out which foods burn fat and which foods turn to fat by visiting the home page at: BurnTheFat.com
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