Debunking the Debunking of the Paleo Diet

Cooking dinner in our apartment in Mexico.

“If your ‘shade’ of paleo … works for you, your health and your goals then it doesn’t matter what the Militant Paleo says.  Find the hue that’s right for you – there is no ‘one perfect formula’ for everyone…” ~Robb Wolf

Over the past couple months I have come across several articles “debunking” the Paleo Diet. They all have had three things in common:

  1. The author did not do very much research about what we call the Paleo diet.
  2. The author did not eat Paleo. If so, not for more than a couple weeks.
  3. The author actually was doing the opposite of their intent. They weren’t debunking it at all. Instead, they were arguing in favor of the Paleo Diet.

Recently, a friend posted this TEDx Talk on my Facebook page and, before I even gave it a look, I wondered if the three things mentioned above applied to this talk. They did.

Before I try to defend my beloved way of life, let me point out that I have yet to see a headline or first line of an article that says, “After 30 days, I have found the Paleo diet to be (insert something negative).” I do not know of anyone that did it for 30 days and did not look, feel, and perform better. Yeah, they may have quit and gone back to their old ways but it was not because they didn’t get any results. More likely, it was because they found their attraction to their favorite addiction too strong. Maybe it was the beer or donuts, but it was definitely not the results that caused their dislike of eating paleo.

Common Paleo Diet myths are themselves misconceptions. What people often think we in the Paleo community believe or say is sometimes just not true at all. Below are some examples.

“We claim to have adapted to be or are designed to be carnivores.”

Actually, I’m pretty sure we claim to be omnivores. There seems to be this perception that we are at war with the vegetarians. We couldn’t care less about vegetarians, to tell you the truth. This is not an all-meat diet, nor do we claim it to be. Many of us try to eat as many cooked or raw veggies as we can. In fact, for some of us, we eat more vegetables now than we ever did before Paleo.

In her talk, Christina Warinner shows a picture of a guy with a big plate of raw steaks and claims that these are from domestic cattle and that Paleolithic Man would not eat this. We know this and do not encourage people to eat this very meat she is talking about. We also know that not everyone can afford to get $18.99 per pound cuts of meat from Whole Foods as well. She claims that Paleolithic Man ate wild game to include organ meats and bone marrow. We know this too and encourage this type of meat consumption. Again, we know that this is not feasible for everyone.

“We claim the Paleolithic man did not consume grains or legumes.”

Yes, we claim this. Christina Warinner has evidence in the form of fossilized tools and plaque that disproves this. I’ll give her this one but what her 30,000 year old evidence is proving is that Paleolithic man did not eat Neolithic crops. The grains from only 100 years ago are not the same as the grains we find today, much less the grains from 30,000 years ago. She also claims there is evidence Paleolithic man ate tubers. Again, a little more research would have shown her that we do not disagree with this.

Do you know who Ötzi is? Ötzi is a man whose body was found in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. His body was preserved in ice for about 5,000 years. His body has been kept “on ice” since he was found and, as technology advances, he is being brought out for more research. What is interesting is that scientist were able to find that his diet consisted of domestic grains such as pollen, einkorn, and barley. What is even more interesting is that Ötzi was predisposed to heart disease, had cavities, Lyme disease, was impotent and lactose intolerant. Nope, Ötzi was not Paleo.

“Our modern Paleo Diet is not the diet of Paleolithic man.”

No shit! I’ll tell you this though, we are doing the best we can with what is available to us and it is making a lot of us healthy in the process.

Christina Warinner references the banana being the ultimate farmer’s food. Most people would find the banana inedible if they were find it in the wild. She has a very good point here. This is why the some of the Paleo elite do not recommend eating bananas and why fruit in general should be reduced to the occasional treat. Fruit is seasonal and geographical and is not recommended to be consumed in high quantities, like in a smoothie, for example.

She also claims that, “olive oil is the only natural oil that can be harvested without the use of chemicals,” and that “rudimentary tools would be needed.” Tools not possessed by Paleolithic man. Regardless, she just affirmed that olive oil is a great food to eat, paleo or not. This is why I refer to olive oil as “accepted” in the Paleo community. A primitive food, if you will.

To be fair, I think I can see her point. If anyone were to do a search on Amazon.com for the “paleo diet”, they would be inundated with recipe books full of ideas for paleo pancakes, breads, tortillas, desserts, and even drinks. Many of us would agree with her that these concoctions are not paleo. Personally, I am not a fan of these books. If you follow me at all, you know that I do not post recipes. Just one look at my Instagram account and you can see that I am a fan of eating meat and vegetables. It is the recent sensationalism of paleo that is giving it a bad name.

At about the 14:00 minute mark of her TEDx talk, Christina Warinner actually starts to speak in favor of the paleo diet, she just doesn’t know it.

“3 billion people cannot eat like foragers on this planet.” I agree. That is part of the problem. (See Ishmael and My Ishmael)

“If you take a processed food off a grocery store shelf… there’s only three species in almost everything we eat, you have corn, soy, and wheat. That’s the opposite direction we need to be going.” Yeah, I and the rest of the paleo community couldn’t agree more. I thought she was against us.

 Yes, ma’am. We sure did.

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