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Diet Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 6, 2016 - 7:09:18 AM

Fact or Fiction: Debunking the Myths Surrounding the Paleo Diet

By Staff Editor
Sep 6, 2016 - 7:00:25 AM

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( - Diets come and diets go. Many of them seem to involve doing things in a counter-intuitive way, relying on fairly shaky evidence which is rapidly debunked. One that is different has attracted a lot of attention in recent years. The logic of the Paleo Diet makes sense. But even so there are plenty of myths surrounding it.

Paleolithic People Had a Very Restricted Diet

The principle behind the paleo diet is that the human metabolism evolved over hundreds of millennia to make the most of a hunter-gatherer existence. It was a long, slow process. In contrast, our reliance on cereal and dairy as major components of our nutrition has only happened over the last few thousand years, much too short a time for our bodies to change their inherited ways.

Of course, those ancestors lived over many eons and in many different environments. So there was not one specific diet that kept them all going. The main point is that they did not depend on the grains, sugars, and milk which characterize so much of the modern diet.

People ate what was available, and it was not always the best for them. A recent discovery found that one group ate a lot of acorns and suffered from bad teeth. But they were probably the exception, and generally bad teeth seem to be a product of the agricultural revolution.

The Paleolithic Diet Caused People to Die Young

It’s true that our ancient ancestors did not live very long lives—perhaps 30 to 40 years was the most they could look forward to. But there are plenty of reasons why that was the case, and their diet does not seem to have been chief among them. They faced many dangers from predators, natural disasters, accidents, and diseases. They were much more dependent on the climate to produce the food they needed, and when the weather let them down the results were often fatal.

It’s All Meat and Raw Vegetables

The idea that the paleo diet is all about meat is probably a spin-off from Hollywood images of cave dwellers sitting around the fire chewing on huge joints of aurochs. In fact meat was, and is, only a part of the paleo diet—an important part, no doubt, but not the only part. Paleo recipes favor vegetables and fruit, some recommend in the proportion of about 3 to 1 against meat. Hunter-gathering was always more about gathering than hunting.

Non-starchy vegetables predominate, supplemented by nuts, fruits, and root crops. There is no need to avoid carbohydrates, which have always been an important source of energy for humans. It is the dependence on cereals for our main source of carbohydrates which is suspect.

There is no need to eat everything raw. Our savanna-dwelling ancestors started cooking an incredibly long time ago, and the fireplace has even been referred to as an extra stomach, as we have adapted to the fact that much of the digestive process starts there. Plenty of foods release their nutrients much more effectively when they are cooked.

The paleo diet allows for a huge range of ingredients prepared in a variety of ways. To get an idea of what is possible you only have to look at the 21-day meal plan to be found on the PaleoHacks website. And that is just the beginning.

It’s All or Nothing

Some people are put off the paleo diet by the assumption that they will be confined for ever to a restricted range of foods, and especially that they will never be able to eat their favorite treats again.

It is true that to get the full benefit from the diet, you need to take it seriously and follow the main principles carefully. But within the possibilities there are good recipes for treats. Also it is not going to kill you to have the occasional reversion to things you really enjoy which are not on the approved list.

What about when you are invited out to dinner? Do you have to send your hosts into a panic about what they can serve? Of course not. On these odd occasions good manners count for more than strict rules.

A Final Myth

That brings us to the final myth, that paleo is only about food. Yes, food plays a big part, but the more you look into paleo, the more you can see that it is also about lifestyle and attitude. Getting in touch with the ancestor inside you is a great way to deal with the stresses of modern life.

Tom Hughes is a dietitian who loves sharing his knowledge with a whole host of people online. From healthy recipe ideas to making the shift to a paleo diet his articles appear around the web!


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