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Don’t Eat Like a Caveman?

January 2, 2012

I couldn’t help responding to this opinion piece (note how devoid of research it is) from foodsafetynews.com: Don’t Eat Like a Caveman.

The article is bad enough, with the same old platitudes about how we need our whole grains and legumes to be healthy, warnings against eating too much meat, the supposed environmental unsustainability of a paleo/primal diet, and that paleo = low carb/high protein and that’s bad. Oh, where do I start?

Most of the comments were from people who claimed great success in weight loss, repaired health and boosted energy from changing to a paleo/primal diet. OK, let’s just call it an ancestral diet.

However, one comment was so inane I just had to respond. I know, I know—as if anyone is ever convinced of their own wrongness by a comment on a blog. But still, I had to try. Here’s the offending comment from “Shelley”:

As most nutritionist would agree, eliminating legumes from our diets is foolish, indeed.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/sc-health-0420-palos-diet-20110420,0,7758445.story

Meat, especially beef and pork, are inefficient protein sources compared to the protein you can get from legumes. Fish and chicken are better sources, but no longer sustainable approaches given the present world population.

Frankly, I find the premise of eating like out ancestors did several thousand years ago to be absurd. Should we also get rid of our cars and planes, and only walk, too? That would be healthier, but sure would put a crimp on our lifestyles.

Let’s also eliminate most if not all of our medical advances–after all, didn’t have those 12,000 years ago.

We could eliminate most of our art, too, as well as are technology.

Silly. Just plain silly.

My response here:

Anything that most nutritionists would agree to is probably a good thing to stay away from, as most of them are stuck in the lowfat, anti-cholesterol, “healthy whole grains” paradigm. If it works for you, go for it, but many of us have found it doesn’t. Plants want to avoid being eaten, too, which is why they’ve developed an array of defenses against animals: trypsin and other protease inhibitors, saponins, gluten and gliaden, phytic acid, salicylates, oxalates, goitrogens, phytoestrogens and other anti-nutrients. (That doesn’t mean don’t eat plants, but don’t eat just plants, and prepare them properly, and rotate.)

As to sustainability, pastured animal-based, nontoxic small-scale farming is not only very productive, it nurtures the soil, promotes biodiversity, sequesters carbon, and provides a healthful environment for animals, plants, humans and the invisible microflora we all depend on for life. Cows and pigs can eat plants, such as grass and corn stalks respectively, that humans can’t, and they help rebuild the soil while they’re at it. Grass farming systems such as Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, are extremely productive and actually build topsoil, while conventional monoculture agriculture destroys topsoil and wildlife habitat, pollutes groundwater, etc etc. Pastured farming is more productive per acre of land than conventional, partly because multiple species can graze at the same time or in sequence under an intelligently managed rotational grazing system that combines herbivorous ruminants and omnivorous poultry.

Eating like our ancestors has nothing to do with whether we use cars and planes. Our species evolved on a diet far different from the Standard American Diet, and our genes are adapted to that diet, the point of paleo/primal eating. Our ancestral diets are big clues as to what is optimal for modern humans to eat as well.

What’s silly, just silly, is conflating a return to our ancestral diets with rejecting all the trappings of civilization.

* * *

Another commenter named Chris Sturdy also responded to the “silly, just silly” bit with this:

What’s “silly” is your (il)logical leap from advocates suggesting that people eat a biologically-appropriate diet to suggesting that those same people are also suggesting that we turn our backs on all the amazing advances we have made that actually help us. This is utterly false and in mu opinion, silly, plain and simple.

I could have made a lot of other points, that other commenters did make:

  • Meat and animal foods are packed with nutrients, and are the very definition of nutrient-dense foods
  • Whole grains are indigestible and/or allergenic for increasing numbers of people; they also interfere with mineral absorption, with disastrous effects on bones and teeth
  • A paleo diet isn’t necessarily “low carb/high protein,” since macronutrient composition of the diet will vary depending on the person’s preferences, constitution, and energy requirements due to activity level
  • The typically high carbohydrate level of a grain-based diet tends to send blood sugar levels soaring, and that’s not healthy for anybody
  • While healthful traditional diets include varying amounts of animal foods, they all include some, and no long-term traditional diet is vegan. Vegan diets don’t provide enough of the key nutrients and fats that make reproduction possible
  • You can’t call it a fad diet when your species evolved on it.

The ultimate proof is in the results, and you just can’t shut up the paleo folks who have had success with this approach. I’m working on it!

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5 Comments
  1. jennincat permalink

    Love your response and agree whole heartedly. I also wanted to thank you for the kombucha and caffeine response on nourished kitchen. I genuinely was confused. Thanks for clearing it up.

    • KindFoodFarm permalink

      Hi, you’re very welcome! I hope you find you’re able to tolerate kombucha. It is a lifesaver for me!

  2. KindFoodFarm permalink

    Thanks Alisa! And thanks for stopping by.

  3. Brilliant. And I agree.

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