What's Wrong with The Paleo Diet?


Previously, I haven't wanted to discuss this topic because I don't desire to be controversial. However, every time I see someone else write that they are trying out vegetarianism or veganism, there is inevitably someone who comments that it's completely against the body's nature to do such a thing. The author of the comment then recommends reading The Paleo Diet.

I'm doing a vegetarian basics lecture the first of December, and decided I'd better be prepared by reading the book in case someone brings up a question. I started my research by reading a good deal of the book on Amazon. And I've taken a look at a few of the Paleo Diet centered webpages, too.

I'll start by reminding you where I approach this topic from. I am a vegetarian by choice. I don't enjoy the taste of meat. But I do not look down on people who do eat meat. Secondly, my education situates around cardiology. My entire career is built around diagnosing, preventing, and in some ways saving people from heart disease and heart attacks.

The premise of the book is to help people eat the way the cavemen did during the Paleolithic Age. You might have also heard it termed "hunter and gatherer". The book recommends eating fruits, veggies, and lean meats only. Although some websites add in nuts and seeds.

  • This book was written by scientists, not by medical professionals. That being said, I would have expected more scientific evidence in their presentation. While there is an extensive bibliography, there are no citations on any facts stated in the book. This also means that there are no statistics listed to back up the statements. I certainly would have expected numbers from scientists. I also would be more inclined to support the diet if studies had proven its success.
  • Many paragraphs in the book end with what lean meats provide better when compared to other things like legumes, grains, and corn. But the food value of meat isn't compared to that of nuts and seeds. I would certainly expect these items to fall under "hunter and gatherer" foods. As I said above, other online sites mention adding nuts and seeds to the diet, but the book seems to omit it. Sometimes I suspected the reasoning to be that it would discredit the requirement of meat in the diet. For example, there was a statement discussing the high amounts of zinc in lean meats. However, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are quite high in zinc and are considered in nutrition textbooks to be a fine vegetarian alternative.
  • On page 57 of the book, I was shocked to read that on The Paleo Diet "you will never have to worry about. . .heart disease." Never is an awfully strong word. What about heredity? Don't genetics completely outweigh lifestyle choices in some cases? I've even seen it in practice. On many occasions, come to think of it. Also, Wikipedia says for those living in the Paleolithic Era "At age 15, life expectancy [is] an additional 39 years (total age 54)". Most of my patients were a over 54 before they had their heart attacks. Can you truly say "never" when you don't know what the cavemen's hearts would have looked like after that age?
  • Similarly, the section on Osteoporosis blames a good deal of calcium loss on eating too much salt. What about the fact that the bones actually begin to break down at about age 27 on their own? What about risk factors like being Caucasian, female, short and underweight to begin with? Does a no salt diet, as this one highly recommends, really offset genetic factors?
  • I'm unable to reference the page, but The Paleo Diet recommends unlimited intake of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Few physicians would support this statement. Calories consumed in the form of meats break down to fat just like calories consumed by anything else, even cake and ice cream. In addition, meat is more likely to provide more protein than the body needs (unless you are a body builder). That excess protein eventually turns to sugar and to fat, which means it won't provide the best weight loss for the body.

I support the book in its statements against processed foods and tremendous overintake of salt. I also appreciate its position on people not eating enough fruits and vegetables. I do believe we would all be healthier for that. But I just don't think it's a permanent or logical answer to America's healthcare problems.

If you are searching for a meat-eater or non-meat-eater diet and weight loss book, I recommend Eat, Drink and Weigh Less.