Monday, September 2, 2013

Part 10: What About the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is based on the idea that humans are hunter-gatherers and should eat a diet that sustained human life during the Paleolithic era (think caveman). The notion is that humans genetically evolved to eat as a hunter-gatherer and should never have adopted a grain-based diet in conjunction with the discovery of agriculture. The Paleo Diet was created by Dr. Loren Cordain and is organized, has an official website, mobile apps to determine if something is Paleo-friendly, and multiple books and cookbooks. Something that you should know up front is that all of the "published research" listed on the Paleo Diet's website include Dr. Cordain as an author. Now, surely you can understand my skepticism at his claim in stating that the Paleo Diet is supported by unbiased research. To put it more bluntly: if a researcher (Dr. Cordain) is financially benefited from the outcome of his/her study, then there is a financial conflict of interest that must be called into question. His claim would go a lot further if he also referenced the research of other people, not including just his own research. But even so, his research and health claims are seriously flawed, as I will elaborate on in this post.

Based on the Paleo Diet's website, here are the foods that Paleo followers can and cannot eat.

 photo Paleo_zps5b5d71d4.png

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The Paleo Diet recommends unlimited vegetables, meat, eggs, fish/seafood, oils, and nuts/seeds. It also recommends eliminating potatoes, legumes, whole grains, dairy, refined sugars, salt, and processed foods. The Paleo Diet recommends limiting fruit if you are overweight or insulin resistant. Though there are some positive aspects to this diet, it will not lead you to optimal health.

What's Good and What's Bad?
While there are some good recommendations within the Paleo Diet (unlimited vegetables, avoiding refined sugar and processed foods, and eliminating dairy), what makes this diet especially difficult to unravel is that Dr. Loren Cordain mixes partial truths with lies to promote his agenda. The following sections focus in more detail on some of Cordain's food recommendations.

Meat (and Eggs)
The Paleo Diet is off track to recommend unlimited amounts of meat. If you've read the previous posts in this blog series, then you should already know where I'm going with this topic. Eating an abundance of meat leads to an over consumption of protein, which puts strain on your liver and kidneys and weakens your bone health as your body strips calcium from your own bones to neutralize the high acid diet. (This essentially means that you are urinating your bones into the toilet!)

What surprises me the most about the Paleo Diet is that Cordain actually talks about this issue on his website, but he ends it with a FALSE CLAIM: "The Paleo Diet recommends an appropriate balance of acidic and basic (alkaline) foods (i.e., lean meats, fish and seafood, fruits, and vegetables) and will not cause osteoporosis in otherwise healthy individuals. Indeed, The Paleo Diet supports bone health." Consuming meat (and fish and eggs) WILL result in a large acid load on the body. Large acid loads lead to bone loss due to calcium excretion through the urine because of the excess protein. Dr. Cordain says that you simply eat vegetables and fruits to neutralize this acid load. Let's look at a comparison of 250 calories eaten from meat versus grain, and see what implications this has for our diet.

Meat vs. Grain - Which is Better?
Chicken Breast
Brown Rice
You can have 50% more
rice for the same calories.
+26.21+5.38Chicken is 4.9x
more acidic than rice.
46.976.76Chicken has 7x
more protein than rice.
*Potential Renal Acid Load (PRAL) = 0.49 Protein + 0.037 Phosphorus - 0.021 Potassium - 0.026 Magnesium - 0.013 Calcium
*Nutrition content sourced from CHRON-O-METER

As you can see, the Paleo dish (chicken) results in 5 times the acid load on the body compared to rice. So you would need to consume 5 times more vegetables to neutralize the acid load of meat compared to rice.

Additionally, the chicken provides almost 7 times the amount of protein which is also hazardous to health. As stated previously, human protein needs are very low (~5% of calories). An abundance of protein harms your bone health. This study shows that when daily protein intake doubled (from 35-78 g/day), the bone loss via urinary calcium excretion increased by 50%.

Another detriment of consuming high amounts of meat, fish/seafood, eggs (and dairy for that matter) is that you will easily consume too much cholesterol. Recall the Fun Facts about Eggs from Part 6: What About the Vegetarian Diet? -- eating just two eggs will result in consuming more than the USDA's recommended maximum cholesterol consumption of 300 mg -- and this maximum consumption amount is 300 mg more than what people need to be consuming! Animals (including humans) produce their own cholesterol as the body needs it, so consuming extra is senseless and downright harmful.

Fun Facts about Heart Disease and Diet
The preponderance of scientific evidence clearly shows a link between blood cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease.

The Framingham Heart Study showed that people who maintain lower cholesterol levels have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease.

Specifically, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has shown (1,2,3), using low-fat whole food plant-based nutrition, that every single patient who followed his diet remained free from heart disease decades afterward.

In fact, this link is so widely known that most Americans would easily tell you that their cholesterol should be kept as low as possible.

Fish (and all other Seafood)
The Paleo Diet focuses heavily on its recommendation to consume lots of fish (and recall that in general, fish have 1.5 to 2 times more cholesterol than other meats). The FALSE CLAIM is that "perhaps the single most important dietary recommendation to improve our health and prevent chronic disease is to increase our dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids which are found primarily in fatty fish." This is incorrect, if you recall from Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?, fish, animals, and humans do not create omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids -- only plants create them. Hence, omega-3 fatty acids are not "found primarily in fatty fish", they are created exclusively in plants. Avoid the harmful aspects of eating fish (fat, cholesterol, and mercury) and skip the middleman -- eat plants directly for all your omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid needs!

He goes on to claim that fish can help reduce your risk of heart disease, improve brain health, and other conditions. These claims are FALSE primarily because fish are mostly fat, cholesterol, and mercury and these harmful substances overshadow benefits provided by any omega-3 and omega-6. Here are two articles that elaborate more about the hazards of eating fish: 1 and 2. As discussed above in the Fun Facts section, whole food plant-based diets (devoid of fish!) have been clinically shown to prevent and reverse heart disease.

The Paleo Diet also recommends "healthful" oils. I'll save you the confusion, there is no such thing...

Oils add no nutrients; only fat. Oils are 100% fat, and fat is fat (see Fun Facts about Olive Oil in Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet?). There's no such thing as good fat or bad fat or heart-healthy oils. All fat is bad for you if consumed in excess, as I've described previously. Plant foods naturally contain small amounts of fat, so there is simply no reason or need to add pure fat (oils) to your food.

Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are recommended as part of the Paleo Diet. Similar to oils above, I would caution eating unlimited amounts of nuts and seeds. Yes, these foods contain healthy nutrients -- flax seeds are a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they are higher in fat than other plant foods, and should be consumed less often than other plant foods like potatoes, whole grains, and vegetables that have trace amounts of fat. This is especially true if seeking to lose weight. See the Fun Facts about Fat in Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet? where it describes the fat content in 1 oz of walnuts.

Carbohydrates (Potatoes, Whole Grains, and Legumes)
The Paleo Diet creator condemns all high-carbohydrate foods. Dr. Cordain only includes a single paragraph containing four arguments. Cordain says he does not recommend these foods because of the (1) "glycemic index and glycemic load," (2) "low micronutrient density," (3) "high antinutrient content," and (4) "potential stimulation of autoimmune diseases." ALL FOUR OF THESE CLAIMS ARE FALSE. Let's break this down further.
  1. Glycemic Index/Load: IGNORANT - The whole obsession with glycemic index/load is completely misguided and only causes widespread confusion and poor eating habits. Fat causes diabetes, not sugar.

    Recall the Fun Facts about Fat in Part 8: What About the Raw Foods Diet? that says it's extremely inefficient for the body to store carbohydrates -- which are either complex or simple sugars -- as fat. But fat is stored effortlessly by the body, and when you have too much fat, it pads your blood cells, blocking the insulin from accessing the cells to "unlock" energy. An excess of fat is what leads to insulin resistance -- because all the chunky fat has plugged up the key holes!

    You want your blood sugar to spike after consuming carbs because that indicates your body is receiving energy (that the insulin successfully reached the keyholes in the cells)! Please take the time to read this very informative article by Dr. McDougall.
  2. Low Micronutrient Density: FALSE - Micronutrients are defined as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. I'll brag yet again about the plain and simple russet potato. It is a complete food - chock full of vitamins B6 and C (among others), calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and manganese. In fact, one experiment in 1925 showed that two adults (25 year old man and 28 year old woman) who ate white potatoes only for 6 months "were in good health on a diet in which the nitrogen [protein] was practically solely derived from a potato." All plant foods and only plant foods, including potatoes, have phytochemicals ("phyto" means plant in Greek), which includes things like antioxidants.
  3. High Antinutrient Content: WRONG - I'll simply say that as long as you cook your grains (which is a guarantee because they are inedible otherwise), then you do not need to worry about this antinutrient phobia. Dr. McDougall wrote a great article debunking this phobia as well.
  4. Potential Stimulation of Autoimmune Diseases: WAY OFF BASE - Whole food, plant-based diets have been shown to slow the development of autoimmune diseases, not stimulate them.

Potatoes, legumes, and whole grains are vital for energy, fiber, vitamins, nutrients, and sufficient calorie intake each day. These foods make up the bulk of every one of our meals, that's how important and healthy they are. Do not fall prey to the fad diet scare tactics, such as those listed above.

It's wrong for Paleo to forbid salt. There is no sound evidence to suggest that a sodium-free or low-sodium diet is beneficial for one's health. In fact, the opposite has been shown. Here's an interesting article about the salt phobia.

Bottom Line:
In short, the Paleo Diet is not healthy for you. Diets that recommend unlimited meat and are low in starches, whole grains, and legumes are essentially low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets, which have come up frequently in this blog series. These types of diets will harm your body's health in the long-run by promoting heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and many other illnesses. Furthermore, Cordain's clever blend of partial truths and lies gives people a false sense of assurance that their diet is health-promoting when it is in fact destroying their health.

In Conclusion:
A whole foods, plant-based diet is the key to better health because it is:
  • Sustainable - You can eat it for the duration of your life and at any stage of your life (in utero, newborn via breastmilk, baby, toddler, child, young adult, adult, and elderly)
  • Beneficial - Lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight; raises antioxidants; regulates hormones and pH levels; contains all the nutrients your body needs, without consuming an excess; provides ample energy; better for the environment
  • Affordable - Whole grains, legumes, and starches are the bulk of the diet, and are also cheap to buy

If you are currently eating or have tried to eat any one of the 10 diets I've covered, I hope you see the benefit to adopting a whole foods, plant-based diet instead. If you are interested in learning more about going plant-based, I would be delighted to assist you.

Previous -- Part 9: What About the Mediterranean Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series

No comments :

Post a Comment