Why I Don’t Eat Paleo

by Sarah Healthy LivingComments: 161

Despite the many grain free recipes on this blog and my frequent admonition to eliminate refined grain based carbs from the diet and limit even properly prepared grains to a moderate level, I don’t choose to eat paleo or primal.

I especially don’t want my children to eat this way.

My reasons are pretty straightfoward when it comes to Paleo. They are more subtle with regards to Primal.

Paleo Diet – Misguided from the Get Go

The Paleo Diet as written by Loren Cordain can be quickly dismissed as unhealthy because it makes a number of wild claims that are completely unsupported through close examination of Traditional Societies as studied and documented by Dr. Weston A. Price in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

For starters, he says that wild animals are low in fat, but buffalo fat is more saturated than even beef fat from domesticated cattle.

He recommends canola oil as a source of omega 3 fatty acids yet most canola oil is deodorized during manufacturing which destroys these delicate fats.

Cordain extols the virtues of lean meats but Traditional Man prized the fatty, cholesterol rich liver and other fatty cuts.

Perhaps Cordain’s most ridiculous suggestion of all is to rub flax oil on meat before cooking.   Flax oil should never be cooked as it turns rancid and would be toxic and carcinogenic to consume!

His recommendation against grains and all starchy root vegetables (tubers) goes against discoveries of grains in the ashes of some of the most primitive humans and widespread use of tubers by many Traditional Societies.

Finally, his claim that primitive man did not consume salt is just plain baffling.   Just because a salt shaker wasn’t on the dinner table doesn’t mean that salt was not consumed via other methods!

Ashes from salt rich marsh grasses were added to food in African tribes.   Salt rich blood from hunted game was used in food preparation after being carefully collected.

In the final analysis, there isn’t a whole lot that is paleo about The Paleo Diet!  

With so many misguided recommendations in the book as a whole, embarking down the path of the Paleo Diet is clearly fraught with a clear and present danger to health!

Primal Diet – Traditional But Is It Optimal?

My reasons for not eating Primal, however, are a bit more subtle.

Folks who eat Primal typically base it on the book The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.  The diet excludes all cereal grains and recommends against all conventional dairy although raw dairy is considered acceptable.   Saturated fat and cholesterol are rightfully embraced as health supporting.

The book warns against soy, transfats, phytates, processed foods, and of course sugar.

In essence, the Primal Diet does indeed recommend a way of life and eating that is in harmony with Traditional Wisdom and following this approach to eating can be a healthy choice for some.

For example, the Fitness Editor for this blog, Paula Jager CSCS, eats Primal.   No doubt she is a picture of health.  Strong and vital, her approach to eating is very much based on Traditional Cultures and her health is a testament to her thoughtful approach to eating.

Despite this, I don’t choose to eat Primal and I do very much insist that my children include properly prepared cereal grains and starches in their diet on a moderate level.


Not All Traditional Diets Are Created Equal

In Dr. Price’s travels, he noted that some Traditional Societies were healthier and had more excellent physical form than others.

For example, during Dr. Price’s travels in Africa, he examined several five cattle keeping groups:  The Masai of Tanganyika, the Muhima of Uganda, the Chewya of Kenya, the Watusi of Ruanda, and the Neurs tribes on the western side of the Nile near the country of Sudan.

These groups were largely carnivores with their diet consisting primarily of blood, meat and milk.  Fish was also eaten by some.  The liver was highly priced and was consumed both raw and cooked.

Grains, fruits, and vegetables were consumed in small amounts.

These largely carnivorous tribes were very tall with even the women averaging over 6 feet in height in some tribes.  All these tribes had marvelous physiques and perfectly straight, uncrowded teeth.  Six tribes had no dental decay whatsoever.

On the other extreme, Dr. Price also examined largely vegetarian tribes such as the Bantu.   This agricultural group’s diet consisted primarily of sweet potatoes, corn, beans, bananas, millet and sorghum.  A few cattle or goats were kept for meat and milk and frogs, insects, and other small animals were also consumed.

These tribes were dominated by their carnivorous neighbors and they did suffer from low levels of dental decay – about 5-6% of all teeth.

The final African group Dr. Price researched were the Dinkas.   The Dinkas followed  a truly mixed diet of whole foods without the tendency toward the extremes of the carnivorous Masai or the agricultural Bantu.

While not as tall as the primarily carnivorous, cattle herding groups, they were physically better proportioned and had greater strength.

The Dinka diet primarily consisted of nutrient dense, properly prepared whole grains and fish.

Dr. Price’s close study of these African groups convinced him that the best Traditional Diet – one that encourages optimal physical development in children – consisted of a balance of properly prepared whole grains along with animal foods (especially fish), and not tending toward extremes in either direction.

This is surely one of the most important lessons from Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.  Avoiding of extremes particularly when it comes to the diet of growing children, is the best and most wise approach when their optimal development is the goal.

So while I am not against eliminating grains in the diet particularly when a temporary period of gut healing is called for (such as with the GAPS Diet), the long term optimal way of eating is a balanced one that includes grains as described and noted by Dr. Price.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Sources:  Nasty, Brutish and Short?

The Paleo Diet, Thumbs Down Book Review

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