Over the past couple years we’ve all seen a number of articles, reports and blog posts from “health” and “nutrition” experts that try to define what it means to be Paleo and then give a plethora of reasons why you shouldn’t do it.
Well another voice from the blog-o-sphere has chimed in with some thoughts on Paleo entitled “The Top 10 Reasons I’m Not Paleo“, by the Cheeseslave, Ann Marie. As with many of the folks who criticize Paleo, there is a lot of things we agree on and the Cheeseslave is no different. Ann Marie is a lover of whole/real foods like bacon, butter, fermented foods and raw dairy; most of which are also enjoyed by the Paleo / Primal community.
Now I don’t want you to think that I’m picking on Ann Marie, but bear with me, there is a great deal in this blog post that is incorrect and misleading and is worthy of a little “discussion”.
I appreciate that Ann Marie emphasizes that this is why SHE is not paleo and that if paleo is working for you “more power to you”. If there’s something that I’ve learned during my paleo journey its that:
- Everyone is different (metabolically)
- There’s no one way to “paleo”
Keep these 2 thoughts in mind as we go through her “10 reasons”. Which start with:
1. I Really Like Cheese
Of course the “Cheese Slave” is going to love all things cheesy and I can’t blame her. I certainly love it as well, but have definitely cut WAY back on my dairy consumption since going paleo. Ann Marie asks a great question, “Do we really need to throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw out all dairy (and the foods of domesticated animals) and all grains? If so, why? Is there evidence for that?”
The answer is, for the most part, yes.
Lets start with dairy, we’ll get to the grains in reason #2. For a significant number of the population the casein and/or the lactose in dairy can be problematic. The fat in dairy is “the least problematic macro-nutrient in dairy” according to Mat Lalonde and Chris Kresser. Most people can tolerate butter (and especially ghee which is butter without the milk solids) and heavy cream because they’re mostly fat. If you’re sensitive to lactose, you may be able to tolerate dairy products with the exception of milk. Hard cheeses and fermented dairy have little lactose. If you’re casein sensitive then you may be able to enjoy fermented dairy but perhaps not.
Some people may not eat them because of the “caveman” thing, but that misses the point. The reason not to eat dairy products is because of your likely sensitivity to the irritants contained within it. If you find that you are NOT sensitive to dairy and the fat is part of your “balanced paleo diet” then fine, enjoy.
Full Disclosure: As I seem to tolerate it well, I put Kerrygold or ghee in my morning coffee and occasionally cook with it. I never drink milk and I rarely eat cow-based cheese, but will throw some goat cheese on a salad once in a while. Goat cheese is type-2 casein which is better tolerated than most cow dairy which is usually type-1.
I hope that helped to shed a little light. Lets move on to reason #2.
2. I Really Like Bread
Ann Marie asks another great question: “… is bread really that bad for you? How can it be, when humans around the world have been thriving on it as a staple in their diet for over 10,000 years (and possibly up to 50,000 years)?”
The root of the problem here is the misconception that we’ve been “thriving” on wheat based products. While we have been surviving on a diet based on grains, I disagree that we are “thriving”. Look around you. We are fatter and sicker then we’ve ever been in history, would you call that thriving?
The fact of the matter (and yes it is fact) is that grains like wheat contain proteins that are their natural defense mechanisms for predators and similarly, when consumed by humans cause inflammation and gut permeability which leads to a host of health issues and potentially autoimmune diseases. Now there is a spectrum of intolerance and sensitivity here, but there internet if filled with studies and anecdotes of people who were suffering with skin conditions (like excema and psoriasis) all the way up to full blown Crohn’s, Multiple Sclerosis and Lupus that have reversed their conditions by going gluten and grain free paleo.
- If you haven’t seen Dr. Terry Wahl’s video on how she reversed her MS with a paleo diet, you’re missing out.
- Here’s a great testimonial on a woman who reversed her Lupus
- Great article on Robb Wolf’s site about gluten and autoimmunity
- Check out this great infographic on Why (refined) Carbs Are Killing You
In addition, eating wheat spikes your insulin like almost nothing else. These insulin spikes lead to weight gain, insulin sensitivity and possibly type-2 diabetes. Check out this testimonial from a Type-1 Diabetic who tracked his glucose as he went gluten free. So, now do you want to eat those croissants? I sure don’t.
3. I Really Like Cookies. And Cake. And Pies.
Perhaps we can just title this one, “I like sugar.” Of course you do, we all do. We are genetically programmed to eat sweet things in abundance (when available in the summer) because they are rare in nature and cause us to gain weight (there’s that pesky insulin again), so we can last through the winter. I won’t go into too much depth here, but recommend the following when you have the time:
- Sugar: The Bitter Truth by Dr. Lustig (90 minute video)
- The Dish on Sugar & Sweeteners by Balanced Bites (highly recommend this article as it goes into depth on ALL sugars and sweeteners, natural and otherwise)
- Here’s a study that shows fructose actually triggers hunger as well, while glucose suppresses it.
I am not a big sweet eater in general, aside from the occasional dark chocolate and piece of fruit. I never drink sweetened beverages as they are a vehicle for sugar (natural or otherwise). If you think you have a problem with sugar, I recommend going on the Balanced Bites 21 Day Sugar Detox.
So of course we “like” sweet foods, but there’s some pretty compelling reasons to severely limit their consumption.
4. Paleo is Low Carb
Well this is indeed an interesting one because if we remember the two things that started off this post, its that “everyone is different and there’s no one way to paleo”.
The Cheese Slave herself wrote a terrific post on how she went low carb paleo and it threw her hormones out of whack, so when she upped her carbs she felt better. This is great because it shows someone who is in tune with her body and listened when she knew something wasn’t right. This is ABSOLUTELY what the paleo lifestyle is all about.
Anyone embarking on this journey needs to realize that while some people may treat “going paleo” as a religion or may get angry if you aren’t doing exactly what they’re doing, that is not what paleo is about. To quote Andrew Badenoch (aka: @evolvify), “Paleo is a logical framework applied to modern humans, not a historical reenactment.” Emphasis on the “logical” part of that.
Nobody should blindly dive into anything. You should understand the “why” behind what you’re doing before you start doing it so that if things don’t go as you expected or as your body changes, you can tweak based on your knowledge to optimize for your own particular needs and circumstances.
Chris Kresser wrote a great post on moving to a “Paleo Template“.
So back to the “low carb” question, there isn’t anything that says you MUST be low carb or you’re not paleo. For MOST people who have a lot of weight to loose or are type-2 diabetic or otherwise metabolically deranged, going low carb paleo would definitely be helpful, but again, if its not working for you , add in some carbs and see how you feel. The use of “N=1″ experimentation is of vital importance.
My problem with Ann Marie’s approach is that she “ups her carbs” with muffins, bread, cookies and pies, while I would choose to up my carbs with some some fruit or sweet potatoes. See the difference? A carb is not a carb, in the same way that a calorie is not a calorie. Quality matters. Ingredients matter.
5. The Paleo Diet is Too Restrictive
On the surface, the Paleo diet can certainly seem very restrictive. “What? I can’t eat bread or pizza or pasta or cookies or cake or soda or ice cream or candy?!” Indeed that’s true, but when you begin to eat Real Food, you realize that you are nourishing your body in a way that it really wants and needs and that those foods you are restricting could NEVER hope to accomplish, not matter how good they taste.
As your palate begins to change, adapting to the flavors of unprocessed and healthful food, you will find that you no longer crave the “foods” you initially felt you couldn’t live without.
Ann Marie makes a good point about making “healthy” versions of the foods we restrict like pizza and chocolate chip cookies. She makes some of these items using sprouted whole wheat flour which is certainly better than using refined white flour.
If you spend a few minutes Googling “paleo” and insert your restricted food of choice here (pizza, cookies, brownies, cake, etc) you will definitely find hundreds of versions of these items that are made with almond or coconut flour, coconut oil, organic chocolate, raw honey or coconut sugar, etc. If you are at the start of your paleo journey and having a “paleo” version of pizza helps you to stay paleo (or almost paleo) without falling completely off the wagon and calling Domino’s, so be it. The trick here is to keep in mind that some of these items really are “treats” and should be treated as such. With few exceptions these foods are not something you want to make into a habit.
When I started (over a year and a half ago) I would make almond flour cookies or crackers and similar things. Over time though I made them less and less because (as I stated earlier) I don’t need or even want them anymore. If you are eating a diet that has significant protein and fat with carbs from vegetables (and some fruit, nuts, seeds) your desire to snack is greatly diminished.
I eat better than almost anyone I know, with the exception of my fellow paleo compadres. I don’t feel like I’m restricted in the least. Everything I eat is nutritious, delicious and I know exactly where it came from.
6. Paleo is not Scalable
I’m sorry but the argument made here again misses the point completely.
Ann Marie starts off with “There’s a reason the hunters and gathers died out. Nothing against hunter-gatherers, but they were all almost completely wiped out by people who ate cheese and bread.”
What does this have to do with anything?
Quoting from the book “Guns, Germs and Steel” she mentions the “benefits to growing grains, which will store for very log periods of time. If you’ve got a silo of grain, and a cow that gives you milk every day, you no longer have to spend your days hunting and foraging and scheming how you’re going to get your next meal, you have more time to do things like invent new kinds of technology. Like steel weapons, guns — and iPads.”
On the surface this seems like a compelling argument, but this is EXACTLY the short-sighted thinking that got us into the “cheap food” mindset we’ve been in for the past 40 years. It was Secretary of Agriculture, under Nixon, Earl Butz who believed if we just had an abundance of cheap food, the American consumer would be better off because they could then spend the rest of their money on other stuff. Mr. Butz encouraged farmers to plant “fencerow to fencerow” and to “get big or get out”. This caused the explosion of corn, wheat and soybean farmers to grow as much of these commodity crops as possible. This has also caused those same farmers to be beholden to the folks at Monsanto for their seeds and the processors for their pay. Many of these farmers couldn’t make a living wage and went bankrupt. Most of the “farms” growing these commodity crops are run by AgriBusiness giants.
These commodity crops also fuel the processed food producers. Look on any bag or box of anything you buy at the store (cereal, cookies, bread, whatever) and it will contain one if not all three of those ingredients (wheat, corn, soy). These foods do not give our bodies what they need to be healthy and in fact cause us to be overweight, insulin resistant and autoimmune. “Cheap food”, indeed.
Still think we’re better, or know more, than our hunter gatherer ancestors? There has been NO modern diet that has been shown to be more nutritious than an ancestral diet.
Please checkout not only what I’ve written on the scalability of the Paleo diet but what these other folks have as well.
- My post on the future of food.
- A book review of Joel Salatin’s “Folks, this ain’t normal.”
- Joel’s rebuttal to NY Times article on “The Myth of Sustainable Meat“.
- Please see the great documentary “King Corn“
7. Paleo is Based on Fantasy
Here again Ann Marie jumps to the conclusion that people going paleo are doing so as a reenactment of our hunter gatherer ancestors. That we are all running around with sharp sticks and loin cloths and only eating what we can kill with our bare hands or pick off of a tree. She mentions, again from “Guns, Germs and Steel”, that cannibalism may have come about due to the lack of protein available. Does that mean that ALL hunter gatherers were cannibals because there wasn’t any protein around? I don’t think so.
If you look at the various hunter gatherer tribes spread throughout the world, they each had a diet that was based on animal fat and protein (cow, pig, fish or fowl) in addition to fruit, nuts, starchy tubers (like cassava, taro, yams, etc) and even in some cases dairy (the Masai consume a significant amount of dairy from Type-2 Casein cows). So is it so unreasonable to think that we should do anything differently?
We are fortunate that all we have to do is go to our local Farmer’s Market, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to “hunt and gather” the food we need to live. This doesn’t make me any less “paleo”. I am not literally trying to imitate the life of a “caveman”, and frankly I don’t know anyone who is, but I AM going to do my best to eat like one, because it is the optimum diet for health and longevity.
8. Paleo is Impractical
Sorry Ann Marie, but these same “I don’t want to forage for my breakfast” arguments are getting tiresome and just plain silly. You already said you have a freezer full of meat and if you’d rather buy frozen vegetables for your family than always having to buy fresh, go for it. Again, stop with the dogma already. Please remember this:
There’s a lot of people who are doing just fine being Paleo but don’t shop at Whole Foods and certainly don’t ambush their own breakfast. There are a vast number of sites that have suggestions for feeding everyone from college students to big families on paleo. Clearly you haven’t bothered to look and again are just making assumptions.
- Checkout Everyday Paleo for great tips and recipes from a Paleo mom
- Paleo on a Budget is a great site for finding deals
- For college students – Primal University
If you wanna eat Costco hamburger instead of grassfed beef, fine. If you want to eat frozen instead of fresh vegetables, find. Cans of sardines, fine. It’s not the absolute best, but its much better you do that, than corn dogs, cookies and soda as the alternative.
9. Paleo is Expensive
First of all, see the references from #8. Paleo doesn’t have to be expensive.
Ann Marie mentions that she can make a 1lb loaf of wheat bread for 50 cents to $1 but 1lb of ground beef is $4-12/lb. Indeed the bread is “cheaper” but the meat is going to have higher nutritional content. Take a look at this comparison of 2 slices of whole wheat bread vs. 1/4 lb of cooked ground beef:
The ground beef has 31g of protein while the bread only has 3g!
Which one is going to spike insulin? Which one is going to make you hungrier sooner? Which one is less nutrient dense? That’s right, the bread.
Also, with regard to stretching a dollar, its the same argument as the last few. If you really want to eat rice and beans, fine. Rice is one of the more benign starches you could eat. Beans, as long as you soak and cook them properly, while not a great source of nutrients are perfectly fine as long as you tolerate them well. If you can work in those good fats and organ meats, even better.
10. The Paleo Diet is a Waste of Time and Energy
The Cheese Slave’s main complaint here seems to be that some folks in the paleo-sphere discuss things like whether or not honey or other foods are “paleo” and that this is a waste of time and we should be focusing on other things like “alternative energy and a cure for cancer.” Hmmmmmmm.
While there are people who definitely get into the minutiae (and yes even the dogma), I would say for the most part that they do so because this stuff is incredibly interesting. I can say personally that I have learned a great deal over the past year or two on nutrition and I, like many other folks who have been duped for the past 40 years over what we should be eating, enjoy learning about food and the effect it can have on our health and our quality of life.
There are a great number of people who have dramatically changed their lives by changing what they put in their mouths (see aforementioned testimonials). With the current state of the world’s obesity epidemic and health care crisis, I can’t think of anything more important than that. If helping people to loose weight, reverse their autoimmune conditions and generally feel like a healthy, vibrant human again is a waste of time, so be it. I’ll keep wasting my time.
What about you?