Without any adieu, it is time to take on the Paleo Diet (PD). Yep, I have suffered long enough. It is time to make things right. (The kin of this premise have acted as lead-ins for countless folks, prompted most likely from an enthusiastic blogger, who decided to revamp their diets to meet the criteria set down by Paleo ‘gospels’)
I am taking on PD in a slightly different manner. This philosophy, and its followers to the extent that they really believe it (sorry, but it is true), are nuts! (No pun intended) Since this is a culinary-type blog, I promise not to wander too far from that beacon, allowing my polemic traits to overshadow my cooking and food knowledge.
Let me begin with some background. Although PD has been around since the 70s, it seems that it has really taken root in the minds of the suggestible, and those susceptible to misattribution, over the last few years; it is one of dozens of trendy food, weight loss and improved health related lifestyles. Excluding the diets meant to purge, starve or reform the physique of the individual in a matter of days, I conclude that what all other diets and food lifestyles say is good for a person. I also see all of these ‘systems’ as being flawed in that they ALL distinguish themselves by suggesting to eliminate something from one’s diet unnecessarily. Of course, if a diet said one should eliminate trans-fat and cholesterol from his or her diet, they might be on to something (Is it a coincidence that I have yet to see a trendy diet push that way of life?)
PD tries to justify its argument by purporting that the diet of man before agriculture, the time of the hunter/gatherer, resulted in a genetic adaptation that suits modern man better than any other. Included in the Paleo arena are lean meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. There is a select list of items in a gray area, for which I will explain in a bit. ‘Sinful’ foods include all dairy products, all grains, all legumes, starchy vegetables, foods with added salt, fatty meats, processed drinks, and desserts with added sugar (http://www.paleodietfoodlist.net/paleo-diet-food-list/#Foods You Should Avoid).
Now, this gray area I mentioned earlier includes foods that are debated by practitioners of the same diet, perhaps because of hazy, historical accounts? This list varied every time I went to a different site searching for Paleo-approved foods, some sources approving and some disapproving. The gray items are starchy vegetables, honey, alcohol, and dried fruit.
Having become acquainted with PD’s overview, it is time for the Q&A portion. The most obvious is whether or not the lifestyle of man was better before agriculture took root. (yep! Another pun) It was agriculture, beginning 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, on the Fertile Crescent, that led to more consistent supplies of food, higher yield with less effort, specialized skills, and the emergence of the first permanent civilizations. Every animal except man fits into the category of hunter/gatherer. Therefore, they spend much of their lives seeking food. Inconsistencies, like drought, mean death for many. Agriculture not only freed up time to be put to other productive uses, but crops and livestock could be cross-bred to favor the most desirable traits. The bottom line is mankind flourished due to agriculture (http://www.ecifm.rdg.ac.uk/history.htm).
Sticking to their guns, let’s say the ‘Paleos’ are convinced I am wrong. PD is built around what we evolved to eat. We are the only animals, for example, that consume dairy outside of infancy (my dog loves cheese, by the way). Therefore, dairy must be bad. I am not sure what the rationale is for not allowing honey, since it is not only old enough to have been around during pre-agriculture days, but it is also the only food product manufactured by nature. Interesting logic…
Okay. Fine. Perhaps we should consider which foods were available to hunter/gatherers, based on their geographic location. That is, before agriculture, before the rise of civilization, and before people jumped in boats to check out what was on the other side of the water, people in Europe ate things people in the Americas did not eat, and vice versa. Americans abiding by the PD do not get to eat almonds, apples, carrots, artichokes, cantaloupe, cabbage, pears, and pistachios, just to name a few. Europeans do not get to eat blueberries, chiles, eggplants, pecans, tomatoes, zucchini, pineapple, etc. This seems a little extreme. Then again, so does a diet that suggests lentils, perhaps the single most nutritionally dense food on the planet, which sustained people throughout history and today, as being unhealthy.
Very quickly, I saw foods with added salt and had to address it. Salt is the earliest preservation method man had for extending the viability of much of his food supply. Except for a minority that is predisposed to experience adverse reactions to salt, there is nothing that says salt, consumed in moderation, will negatively affect one’s health. On the other hand, scientific research has concluded that salt reacts with taste buds, and therefore one’s brain, when ingested with food, and it chemically accentuates the flavor of said food.
Would it be too extreme for me to bring up the fact that 99.99% (a rough estimate) of people following the PD are buying their food from grocery stores, or other places that source food that was cultivated agriculturally?
While I am teetering on the slippery slope of defending a food group that so many people have an allergy to (those afflicted might want to take a glance here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychosomatic_medicine), that grains, and legumes, are among the best sources of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients on this planet, is indisputable.
I would include dairy in my argument, but while I consider yogurt and milk to be good sources of protein and calcium, I am not convinced dairy deserves the same label as the other foods I have fought for. I will continue eating them, as my concern for trace amounts of chemical additives that made it from the livestock feed to the livestock, to its milk, to me, is nullified every time I drive over a newly paved road and smell the freshly laid tar, or breathe in the smoke of other people’s cigarettes, both known to contain carcinogens.
I will admit, given the occurrence of Hurricane Isaac, I had some downtime and wrote this draft in advance of posting it. I am glad that I did, as I just realized something relevant that you also might find interesting. Now that I am in debt for more money than has ever passed through my hands, I augmented my diet, both to save money and time. I am sure if I tell you that I also wanted to maintain a high consumption of protein, you can guess where I am leading you…rice and beans. For the last month, I have consumed rice and beans at least once a day, and usually three times. These foods are considered edible poison to Paleos. Maintaining my fruit and vegetable intake, the only change I have made is swapping out meat for grains and legumes, and I have not noticed a change, for better or for worse, in my energy level or simply how I feel. I actually have a pot of winter wheat simmering away on the stove right now.
I will close by pointing out the almost implicit pride Paleos take in pointing out that something they ate was not ‘Paleo.’ You are not on the PD if you periodically have cheese, if you only have cake on special occasions, or if you go out every weekend and get tanked. It does not work that way. Someone who is allergic to penicillin will die if he or she gets a shot of penicillin; it is not something he or she can have in small doses. If it makes you feel better to think you are Paleo, or profess to others that you are Paleo, even when you violate the practice every week, I say go for it. Who am I to judge?
P.S. If you are curious about healthy food choices, before you go to a biased, agenda-pushing diet website, check out www.whfoods.com. It’s a site devoted to highlighting some of the healthiest foods we know of, assessing their nutritional strengths, and also providing applicative recipes.