Weight loss diets are constantly evolving and reiterating themselves in different forms. The Paleo diet, which derives its name from the era in which we started to use stone tools extensively and start to become more spiritual and artistic, has emerged and become so popular that the dichotomy of "paleo hunter-gatherers vs grain-eating, non-carnivorous modern beings" separates the masses. Like every trend, the uptake was slow (the Paleo diet has been around for a while), but has recently taken off, growing at an exponential rate (who knew that nutrition bars could be paleo?). However, along with the rise to the top, the diet draws the scornful rebuke of vegans, sugar-lovers, bakers, and non-ketogenic folk worldwide. A healthy discussion on diet will always be passionate, as diets are closely tied to our culture and identity. The Paleo trend is at its apex and will ultimately fall off, as something new will dominate our discussion. Therefore, I'd like to make the case for Paleo. Although the trend will slow, I don't think that an attempt to reach back to our caveman days was all for naught. Paleo isn't a fad because it has led us to think differently about nutrition and weight loss.
Loren Cordain is the man associated with the Paleo diet. He has cleverly trademarked "the Paleo diet" and holds much credibility with his PhD. One of the reasons why Paleo has has exploded is due to its link to the CrossFit community. Paleo has ridden the coattails, or more accurately, ridden the shirtless, short short wearing, ripped denizens of the CrossFit world. Timing and a strong buy-in from the fitness industry has propelled this rather simplistic diet of eating like a caveman.
These guys are definitely not 100% paleo.
In short, Paleo refers to the following foods: meat, eggs, poultry, seafood, nuts and vegetaables. Legumes and grains are the devil while bacon is allowed out of jail for being too high in fat and has reclaimed its throne.
Much of the criticism surrounding the Paleo diet comes from those concerned about the diet leading to extremism and the harms of being ketogenic all the time. This argument is valid, however it is always easy to criticize extreme forms of anything (I'm alluding to religion here).
Many articles will be quick to point out that many things that we consume today, including coffee and almonds, would not have existed in the Paleolithic era. This is certainly true but this would not even be an argument if the diet was known by a different name.
Also a common argument that I've read has to do with the exlusive nature of the diet. The increased protein requirement is something that the poor simply can't afford. While this is unfortunate, perhaps this discussion should be taken to your local politicians. The question of why protein is not affordable should not be aimed at Loren Cordain and his disciples, but rather at the economists and law makers who could possibly provide a solution.
Butter is back!
After that lengthy, but necessary prelude, here are the five reasons why Paleo will not go gentle into the night:
1. Paleo has helped introduce the strategy of controlling insulin to control your weight. The glycemic index came well before Paleo, but dieters are now very aware that limiting sugars and not allowing your insulin to spike will cause you to lose fat.
2. The ethical standard for meat has been raised. The caveman would have hunted wild prey, which roamed around happily and was not in a cage. However, I'll make it clear that eating copious amounts of meat grass-fed, free range animals is certainly not a sustainable strategy for the planet.
3. Veggies are back and better than ever. There is more room on the plate now that starches and grains are taboo. This means we eat spaghetti squash for pasta and mash cauliflower to curb our desire for potatoes and are permitted to use our NutriBullets to make a smoothie with any green veggie you can find.
4. The Low-Fat myth has been kicked to the curb. For years, biochemists have known about the high energy potential of fat as an energy source, as opposed to carbs. The Paleo folk understand that fat is fine as a fuel; avocado, butter, and coconut oil consumption has resurfaced with no shame.
5. Diet as a lifestyle has been successfully promoted. Fitness enthusiasts have always talked about how diet and exercise have to be your lifestyle. Paleo does this nicely, by promoting the modern day hunter gatherer which is now embodied by CrossFitters alike.
In closing, when assessing the efficacy of a diet, try to understand what the driving principles are before making fun of the small nuances that are so easy to critique. Know your goal, then use the principle accordingly.