As with any new trend or movement, the paleo diet is often scrutinized and portrayed as being unrealistic, nutritionally unbalanced and meat heavy among others.
Below, Irena Macri debunks some of the most popular Paleo diet myths!
Paleo myth #1 We eat and live like the cavemen. Didn’t hunter-gatherers die young?
Before the introduction of processed and refined grains, sugar, industrial oils, we just didn’t see many of the modern diseases in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Most died of infections diseases, accidents, harsh conditions, high infant mortality – all of which have nothing to do with diet.
Although there are a few fanatics trying to imitate hunter-gatherers’ lifestyle – the rest of us drive cars, shop in supermarkets and use #lol hashtags as much as next guy.
Paleo simply looks to our ancestors to learn what we as humans are more adapted to eat and what changes might have contributed to modern diseases. It’s about formulating new hypotheses that can be further studied in controlled settings in order to really understand what should be eaten to optimize health.
In fact, accurately mimicking our ancestors is impossible and unnecessary. People shouldn’t take the term ‘paleo’ too seriously as it can lead to confusion, unnecessary dogma and even – dare I say it - a form of eating disorder.
Paleo myth #2 It’s nutritionally unbalanced
Paleo excludes grains and legumes, which we’ve been told are good for us, so it’s only logical that many dismiss it for being nutritionally unbalanced. Grains and legumes are not as nutrient dense as the foods promoted in the paleo diet - grass-fed meat, eggs, seafood, healthy fats, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds.
Others are concerned with calcium and fiber deficiencies. Although dairy is the highest source, calcium is also readily available in such foods as oily fish and seafood, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, dried fruit and herbs. In addition, grains and legumes are high in phytic acid, an antinutrient that binds to minerals (like calcium) preventing their absorption into the body. By excluding those and by maintaining a varied paleo diet, calcium deficiency becomes obsolete.
When it comes to fiber, vegetables and fruit are some of the best sources around. Sure, you will get your daily fiber needs from a bowl of cornflakes, but you won’t be getting much else except for processed carbs and sugar.
Still unconvinced? Enter a typical paleo day’s worth of food into a nutritional analyser to see how recommended nutrient requirements are met. You’d be surprised by the balanced ratio of all necessary amino-acids, minerals and vitamins.
Paleo #3 All we eat is meat and it will kill us
It might be news to some but people following a paleo diet often eat more vegetables than most vegetarians and only 10-25% of calories come from protein. Even though, there are some risks that we should address.
For starters, meat gets put in the risk category because of its saturated fat and cholesterol content. The fact is our body needs cholesterol for many of its physiological functions and it’s only a specific type of lipo-proteins (LDL) that carry the cholesterol around the body that are considered damaging. This damage is caused by inflammation, which is now believed to be one of the major causes of hearth disease and cardio vascular disease.
It’s also a myth that meat rots in the colon. It gets broken down into amino acids and fatty acids, which are absorbed into the blood stream with the rest travelling to the exit gate, so to speak.
So, is meat safe to eat then? It depends on the type of meat and how it’s prepared.
Most of the meat we buy today is muscle meat, which is high in methionine, an essential amino-acid thought to speed up the aging process when consumed in high doses. However, when consumed together with another amino-acid called glycine, the methionine seems to perform its duties without any damage. Glycine can be found in all the unappealing parts of the animal - connective tissues, gelatin, bones, offal – stuff we as a society don’t eat often anymore.
And then there are carcinogens – dangerous compounds that develop in high heat processed, charred meat. These are linked to certain cancers but can be reduced by avoiding highly processed meat; using wet, braising and slow cooking methods; cutting off the burnt bits of the steak; and marinating the meat in an acidic mixture for an hour before grilling, which decreases the production of carcinogens by 80-90%.
The moral of this meat story is pick your protein wisely – grass fed, free range, nose-to-tail, unprocessed as much as possible – and use a variety of cooking methods rather than defaulting to a BBQ.
There are more myths we could address – paleo is low carb, the food is boring, all that fat will cause a heart attack – but the main thing to remind yourself about paleo is that it’s more than a diet. Sure, it often focuses on nutrition but it’s even more concerned with the lifestyle – sleep, stress management, movement – which is believed to have an even bigger impact on our well being.