The Problem with Paleo – Guest Blogger Tommy Caldwell

If you have any interest, participation, or aspirations in the world of health, you have no doubt heard about the Paleo Diet. In fact, if you even subscribe to any social networking avenue you have surely been exposed to the current trend. The Paleo Diet is a hit. In fact, it is a booming hit that hasn’t been seen in the wellness world since the South Beach Diet or the Original Weight Watcher’s program. But as with most ever-popular trends, the Paleo Diet has spread faster than the general public’s ability to comprehend what is good and bad about it. In this article I will highlight the great aspects of a typical Paleo routine, but I will also touch on the aspects that you may need to put a little more logical thought into before you blindly subscribe to the diet as a ‘whole’. The Paleo Concept For those who perhaps don’t know exactly what the Paleo Diet is, here is a brief description. The Paleo diet is a theoretical and research based diet that follows the consumption of foods that were most likely consumed by our longest living genetically indentical relatives. Basically- the foods that the human race has been exposed (and therefore adapted to) for the longest period of time over human history are the foods that our bodies are most likely to ‘handle’ in a favorable manner. Adversely, the foods that the human race has been exposed (and there for adapted to) for the shortest period of time over human history are the foods that are bodies are most likely to ‘handle’ in an unfavorable manner. An example of this would be vegetables and wheat. Vegetables have been available for human consumption since the beginning of man- therefore man has had apt time to regulate the digestion of the food. On the other hand products like wheat have only been manufactured for human consumption for the last 10,000 or so years- making them fairly new to the human diet- therefore man hasn’t necessarily had apt time to regulate their consumption… get it? It is a very logical and theoretically sound basis for what you put in your body- but that doesn’t make it a flawless system. The Good I view the Paleo trend the same way as I view the Crossfit trend: Considering that it is indeed considered a trend (or ‘fad’ or what have you) it is far superior and a ‘breath of fresh air’ when compared to what else you will find in the same category (think Jenny Craig, WeightWatchers, Slimfast, and all the other terrible diets that are far from health based). But, that doesn’t mean it is ideal for any one person or that it is an optimal way of viewing your health approach. With that in mind, there are far more positive aspects than there are negative- and that is why I feel it is important to highlight them first. Real Food First- The Paleo diet focuses on real food that grows from the ground and roams the earth. It doesn’t promote eating things from a box, magic potions or snake oils. It is just a system of real food consumption. It’s Based on Logic- Even though much of the logic is theoretical; it still has a very ‘human’ and plausible basis. It isn’t a total ‘blind faith’ approach like what you would get in a 90’s weight loss shake craze. It is built upon a foundation you can wrap your brain around. It Promotes Overall Lifestyle- Paleo dieting discusses food first, but it also discusses all aspects of self improvement as well. It covers how you move (exercise) as well as how you live day to day (lifestyle) which is a very important approach to health success. It isn’t really selling a ‘product’- Paleo isn’t a service. It isn’t a product or a subscription. It is merely information that you can either choose to implement into your life or not- for free It will give you weight loss/body composition results- Any time you cut grains, sugars, and junk from your diet it will give you a positive result. If you are an average person who sticks to the Paleo Diet, you will gain positive results from it. The Bad I’m hesitant to call this section ‘the bad’, because all things considered it is hard to put the Paleo Diet into the ‘bad’ category. Especially when you see what it is up against in the health world- you can’t argue its dominance in effectiveness, health basis, and plausibility. That said there are still some components that need to be investigated and challenged a little more openly. We Are Not Our Ancestors- The Paleo diet is affectionately known as the ‘caveman diet’, and this stems from the diet being generally identical to what we assume our cave people ancestors would eat like. The issue with that is we are not cave people. Human beings have survived as long as we have and become the dominant species on the planet (from an evolutionary perspective) because of our ability to change, adapt, and grow. If we did everything now like our caveman ancestors did in their time we would still be cave people. Why This Matters When It Comes to Food- If the human race has flourished on change and adaption, we can’t start eliminating foods outright because they may not have been eaten by cavemen. It’s really quite stupid when you think about it. This isn’t to say that the foods that are available now are as good, better, or even worth eating when compared to what composed our original long-standing diet- but you’ll have to come up with better logic than “if cave people didn’t eat it, we shouldn’t”. If that’s how you feel life should be lived than go back in your cave and unlearn the English language- see what that does for your future. Meat Meat and More Meat!!!!- Along with the Paleo diet comes a huge love for meat. Most Paleo ‘Guru’s’ will even tell you that meat should be eaten with every meal or ‘in abundance’ or ‘with abandon’. What these people fail to recognize is that meat was the most difficult and dangerous form of consumption for our distant relatives. Killing an animal for food meant the need for tools (labor), the need for a hunt (spent energy), and an inevitable fight (danger). I wasn’t around back then, but I can guarantee that our ancestors weren’t eating various sources of meat 3-5 times per day with every meal… in fact; I doubt they even ate meat on a daily basis. Considering that plants have always been the most abundant source of nutrients on this earth for all herbivores and omnivores, it is safe to say that our ancestors likely at plants in abundance, and meat when they could. If Paleo people promote eating as close to your ancestral code as possible- how do they get to the conclusion that people should be consuming steaks 5 times per day without thinking twice? Why This Matters When It Comes to Food- Our modern cravings are based directly upon what was rare for us to come across in the wild. This is what kept us driven to hunt and gather (much like how sex drive ensures human procreation)- therefore tastes like sweet (high up and far between fruit plants) and salt/fat (animal meat) weren’t sources we came across or consumed regularly- if they were abundant to us back then, we wouldn’t require a crave mechanism to locate them. This is also why humans don’t crave vegetables- they were so abundant to us and easily accessed in the wild that we didn’t require extra motivation or drive to find them. They were always available and always our main source of nutrients. Don’t get me wrong- I love meat, and I think it is an essential part of our diets- but if you subscribe to the thinking that you should be eating in line with an ancestral code, eating meat with every meal does not add up. Contradictions in Adaption- One of the biggest rules in Paleo eating is to not eat grains (which for the most part I am 100% on board with). The reasoning behind this is that the agricultural age came so late in our history that our bodies are not properly adapted to consume grains. I understand and agree with most of this logic, but I also don’t consider myself a pure Paleo eater- so I can disagree without conflict. What Paleo advocates fail to mention is that human beings were most likely originally vegetarians whom learned to cook and consume meat (as well as cook all foods)- thus leading to a huge jump in evolutionary progress, particularly in brain size/function. Now, if the one piece of food that Paleo’s hold in such high regard (meat) was once a new introduction to the human diet (un-adapted) that allowed us to better ourselves as a species- where do they get off saying that people shouldn’t eat grains because they aren’t yet adapted to it? It is quite contradictory and a bit senseless. Don’t take this as me being an advocate for grains, because I am not. For the most part I loathe grains and feel as though a very small percentage of the population should consume them- but- my reasoning has nothing to do with adaption and more to do with grains not being the most optimal food that can be put in the body. They can be easily replaced by more nutrient dense and less problematic foods that will give you more bang for your buck. It’s like the old race car analogy- your body could run off grains and get from point A to point B, but you wouldn’t be breaking any records getting there. Bottom Line- you can’t outright condemn a food source (Grains) because we haven’t been exposed to it for a million years, yet turn around and push another food (meat) when at one point it was brand new to the human race and was partially responsible for the brain power we have today. Why This Matters When It Comes to Food- Some foods are good for everyone, some foods are bad for everyone, and then there are some foods that are good and bad on an individual basis. If you follow some preconceived notion that you shouldn’t consume something solely because it wasn’t available to you 100,000 years ago you may be missing the boat on human progression and adaption. Especially when the people telling you this information are being slightly hypocritical (remember the meat history). Take supplements for example- they aren’t the majority basis of a healthy diet, but even a Paleo eater will take Vitamin D, Fish Oil, Multi-Vitamins and Whey Protein. I’m aware that all of the bases of these products come from ‘Paleolithic’ sources- but they are definitely processed and digested in ways that our bodies haven’t been adapted to for the majority of human existence. I guess my question is how much do you bend until you break and contradict your own principles? Our Lifestyles/Demands/Activities are not Paleolithic- The modern day human being (particularly the athlete) does not participate in the lifestyle that our ancestors would have. Our ancestors (like all animals) would conserve energy whenever they could and use it only when necessary. Modern day athletes on the other hand search to put vigorous demands on their bodies multiple times per day in order to create resistance and adaption that makes them stronger, faster and fitter. Rice, potatoes, and other starches are a great way for an athlete to up their recovery time and energy reserves. This as well as higher doses of fruit for glycogen replacement (the energy source that our muscles need to recover and perform). These foods may not have served a great purpose in Paleolithic times as they do now for modern day athletes, but that doesn’t mean that an athlete should avoid certain foods because cavemen didn’t eat them or consume them in that volume/frequency. I wouldn’t recommend rice, potatoes, heavy starches or lots of fruit to an average person, and definitely not to an overweight individual- but to those with extremely high energy demands and the need to perform at high levels day in and day out- I would absolutely recommend adding grains (but not gluten) to your diet on a fairly regular basis. Why This Matters When It Comes to Food- Lots of us have much different energy demands and lifestyles than our ancestors did. The very act of searching out repetitive strenuous activity day in and day out that doesn’t result in direct food consumption or protection goes against our very human nature. Therefore when you can make certain foods work for you and serve a direct purpose that others may not need to worry about- you should do it. White Jasmine Rice is blasphemy in the Paleo world, but in the world of a high caliber athlete it can be the difference between 1st and 2nd The key here is understanding history, contradictive statements, and most importantly-yourself. None of us come from the same place, live the same lives, or have the same goals- so what makes us think that we should all be subscribing to the exact same food habits? The key to a good diet is understanding what is good for YOU and eating those things purposefully. If you can justify each piece of food you put in your mouth by having a realistic and effective purpose for how it will serve to better your particular life- you are on the right path. And don’t get me wrong- the Paleo diet is a great start towards a healthy life, especially if you are an average person who is new to life change. But it isn’t the optimal solution for food supremacy and it never will be unless you understand exactly why it is perfect for your lifestyle and fulfilling those specific demands. As far as general diets go- Paleo is the best out there, but, it still has a lot of obvious cracks, contradictions, and missing information. So like most things in this world you should be ‘combing’ through the info and throwing away what personally doesn’t make sense to you- otherwise you are generalizing what should always be a specific approach to health.


3 thoughts on “The Problem with Paleo – Guest Blogger Tommy Caldwell

  1. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say excellent blog!

  2. One last thing AMRAP in 15 minutes, of: 250m Row 25 Game Standard Push-upsDay
    28 of the Paleo diet, could result in deadlock when it comes to snacks recipes.
    The paleo for athletes is a change in the way that we
    think about and approach the foods we are eating it.
    And double: First, this blog is dedicated mainly to the paleo/low-carb diet and the Fluorine
    and its impact on health is one of the most important.

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