Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

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Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#1  Postby CandiceTu » May 07, 2010 7:36 am

I've been having an ongoing discussion of sorts with an acquaintance of mine about the Paleo Diet. Note that this is the type of woman who is easily mislead by any flimsy argument that might sound even remotely controversial or conspiratorial. She witnessed a young man being interviewed on the Colbert Report one night who looked physically fit -- his presence on the show was for the purpose of exposing the media to the Paleo Diet concept, one which this man did not invent, did not write a book about, did not write an article or a blog about, nor does he have a functioning website about it. He simply abides by the dietary requirements. His hypothesis (which he claims to be of absolute truth) is that people should return to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and diet, as it will make them healthier and increase longevity. He also claimed that hunter-gatherers, before the Neolithic movement and widespread agriculture/domestication, lived well into their 80s and all had perfectly straight teeth. My (ahem) acquaintance presumes this man, who harbors no legitimate credentials in order for me to allow myself to presume his assumptions about homo sapiens before the Neolithic revolution as correct, is accurate in his statements.
She even went so far to make statements to this effect: "I think that there is a possibility that scientists are just telling us what they want us to think about our health and our dietary needs in order to further some sort of political agenda that deals with the agricultural industry, which is making us all sick and unhealthy."

My argument was this: First of all, in regard to that last paranoid conspiracy theory statement, one should always consider the simplest explanation to be the most accurate. This explanation for what seems to her to be the most unhealthy lifestyle (one of our current agriculture being mostly based on corn -- she had just watched Food, Inc. -- and mostly sedentary) is most definitely the most complicated notion, that it would need SO much evidence to support even a sliver of her claim, that the probability that it is even remotely correct is too slim to even take it seriously -- not even for a moment.
Secondly, you cannot generalize "hunter-gatherer" societies this way. There are too many across the globe to simply categorize them as having eaten the same foods, accomplished the same tasks required to obtain their nutrients, were able to feast on large enough amounts to adequately sustain their body's nutritional needs, etc. "Hunter-gatherer" is too vague a term to be able to base an entire fad diet (which is what this is) on this concept. It's like saying "I'm on the 19th Century Diet!" You have to be more specific!!!
Thirdly, there is no way -- absolutely no .. freaking .. WAY -- that the claim that "hunter-gatherers" lived to their 80s and all had perfectly awesome dental features. All evidence acquired through years of research and discovery has pointed to the contrary. They generally lived short lives (compared to today's), their teeth were not perfect (what does that matter, anyway?), and these two aspects of their lives were not determined solely upon their diet. What about the times when their resources were so scarce that some ended up starving to death? What about the circumstances that it took in order to obtain their meat? Some died trying to get their protein intake. To say, also, that these people were happier because they were healthier than we are now is a judgment that we are not prepared to make! They spent a good deal of their time fighting for and working to get food, some time doing leisurely activities, but often didn't live past 30s. Since the Neolithic revolution, the long-term consequences have been civilization, culture, arts, intellectual expression, writing, and eventually scientific discoveries that lead to the understanding of ourselves, our world, medicine, etc. It's more than just about the diet!!
Fourthly, during the research conducted upon current hunter-gatherer societies in places like the jungles of Congo in Africa, it has been noted that these individuals are generally not healthier than those who live in the modern world with agriculture. Although, hunter-gatherers usually don't work all day long for their food, especially if they've moved to an area rich in resources. Despite this, though, their lives are not usually very long-lasting (unless they are fortunate enough to receive outside assistance with medication), their teeth aren't perfect (again, why was this such a huge deal?), the probability of women dying from childbirth is higher than it is for one who does so in a hospital setting, the mortality rate for infants is higher, and the women usually do not reach puberty until about the age of 16. The reason for this is because of slight malnourishment. Ever heard of the fact that women who are anorexic tend to lose their periods? That's because their bodies aren't receiving enough nourishment. Why are women in places in the United States and western Europe (and elsewhere where there is an abundance of food) reaching puberty at a much younger age, around 12 years? Because they are better nourished. So, no, "hunter-gatherers" are not healthier than those who follow the agricultural movement.

After the presentation of my argument refuting the notion that a Paleo Diet is better than what we have now was met with adamant refusal to acknowledge my points. She argued with every idea that I presented, even though I've had far more involvement with anthropological studies than she ever has. She basically wanted me to take her back in time when there was some kind of hunter-gatherer society among the plains of Africa or in the forests of Western Germany and physically show her the mortality rate and their unkempt teeth.

Is there anything that I missed here? Am I somehow erroneous in my argument? Is there any credence to the Paleo Diet? How does one reason with someone who expects so much out of a rational discussion, to the point that it's impossible to give her what she demands in order to be proven wrong in her assumptions? Should I just give up on this quest to show her how her thinking is skewed and incorrect?

To answer a question that I feel may be asked: Why do I care so much that she change her mind about this? It's mostly because I'm the type of person who wants to work on my debating abilities, and also because I can't STAND it when someone is incorrect in their beliefs or their perception of something (and, no, I don't think that most knowledge or understanding or reality is subjective). There are some things where subjectivity rules, but there are many more where either something is factually correct, or it is incorrect. I would like to see if anyone else has any information that I may have missed in this discussion or if there is something that I may have misunderstood, myself. I want, more than anything, to build upon my knowledge, and to prepare the best answers possible for other people who may know even less than me about a particular subject. Plus, I'm just one of those people who can't get off the computer at night because I'm debating with some idiot on a Facebook status for hours... "I can't go to bed, honey. Someone's wrong on the internet!!" :)
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#2  Postby debunk » May 07, 2010 7:47 am

You can also apply the principle of parsimony to the claim that this one man is right while all those scientists are collectively conspiring to further their political agricultural agenda. The simplest explanation is simply that this one man is wrong.

That's about all I can think off, I think you did a marvelous job debunking this paleo diet :cheers:
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#3  Postby Mazille » May 07, 2010 7:55 am

Although one could say that most of your arguments don't tackle a palaeolithic diet per se, but rather the general circumstances palaeolithic hunter-gatherers used to live in, i.e. no medical care, times of scarcity, etc.
One could argue that taking the good things from our modern society (medical science, abundance of food resources, etc.) and at the same time changing our diet to something more hunter-gatherer like could have positive effects. Of course, we would first have to define what kind of food that entails and then see if that really is healthier than an agriculture based life-style. (i.e. apply scientific methods to find out.)
Also, that's where your "What kind of hunter-gatherer society do you mean?" argument comes in.
I'm by no means a nutritional/dietary scientist, but I'd wager that even if we do the above it would turn out that this idea is horse-shit, though.

And don't even get me started on that conspiracy guano.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#4  Postby chairman bill » May 07, 2010 8:53 am

There is archaeological evidence that health status diminished in early farming communities compared to contemporary hunter-gatherers. It is also interesting to note that both wheat intolerance and milk intolerance are widespread in human populations, and both forms of food were absent in hunter-gatherer diets, but mainstays of the early farming diet. Personally, I'd be less quick in dismissing the potential health benefits of a diet rich in organic low-fat meat, fish, eggs, roots, herbs, nuts & fruit.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#5  Postby MrFungus420 » May 07, 2010 2:20 pm

chairman bill wrote:organic low-fat meat, fish, eggs, roots, herbs, nuts & fruit.


There is no such thing as non-organic meat, fish, eggs, roots, herbs, nuts and fruit.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#6  Postby CandiceTu » May 08, 2010 8:00 am

I'm not saying in this argument against the so-called "Paleo Diet" that the raw, natural form of most of the foods obtained weren't healthy. There are TONS of healthy foods that many different hunter-gatherer societies consumed (though many times not enough to sustain the basic functions of their bodies), most of which we continue to consume today (though processed foods are higher on the grocery list than, say, nuts, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, etc). But to claim that they were WAY healthier and happier than we are today? Preposterous! Again, you must also consider the other variables, not just the diet, but the agricultural revolutions ultimately lead us to where we are today in our technological age.

I have studied that those who lived in communities based largely upon agriculture and not free-based, nomadic hunting and gathering tended to have shorter life spans than their hunter-gatherer contemporaries. However, this was more based on the fact of poor hygiene, cramped quarters (aided in the spread of diseases), living closely with domesticated animals (created diseases), and just their general ignorance of germs and bacteria -- not necessarily because the food they consumed was not nutritious.

What I find to be particularly hilarious is when I wonder where these individuals who follow the "Paleo Diet" obtain their food. They don't live out in the wild and hunt their own boar or unearth their own tubers and pick their own legumes (most of them, anyway...I'm sure that there's at least a couple out there) from the dense forests in their environment. They either a) buy their food from the grocery stores, or b) grow their own food. In either case, THEY UTILIZE AGRICULTURAL METHODS TO OBTAIN THEIR FOOD. hmmmm *scratches chin :think: * Hypocritical/ironic, no? ;)
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#7  Postby Warren Dew » May 09, 2010 5:17 am

CandiceTu wrote:I would like to see if anyone else has any information that I may have missed in this discussion or if there is something that I may have misunderstood, myself.

There are some things that your friend has misunderstood, and some things that you may have misunderstood as well.

First, though, some background: the paleo diet is based on the conjecture that the healthiest diet for modern humans is the one that we are evolved to eat, and that the relevant period of evolution is during the paleolithic - roughly the 2,000,000 years prior to the advent of agriculture and herding in the neolithic. The reason the paleolithic is chosen is because the neolithic - roughly the past 10,000 years - is only sufficient time to expect a few point mutations, and is not sufficient to fully adapt to entirely new foods. The idea is to follow the older, paleolithic, diet as closely as one can within modern constraints.

To anyone who truly believes in evolution, this hypothesis should be compelling. The problem is that we don't actually know for sure how humans ate during the paleolithic. There is some data - enough to establish things like the eating of meat - but not a lot, not enough to fill out all the details one needs to, say, put together a weekly menu.

Hunter gatherers are one proxy people use to try to figure out what we ate during the paleolithic. Unfortunately, modern hunter gatherers may be a poor proxy, as they have generally been pushed onto marginal lands by agriculturalists - unlike paleolithic hunter gatherers, who would have had free rein over all the best lands. However, there may be something to be learned from them, and perhaps more to be learned from accounts of first contacts with hunter gatherer groups which had not previously been exposed to agriculturalists.

I note that with respect to hunter gatherers, both you and your friend seem to harbor some misconceptions. Contrary to what your friend says, few hunter gatherers live into their 80s. However, the frequently cited life expectancy figure of about 30 is life expectancy at birth, and is low primarily because of infant and childhood mortality. Hunter gatherers who survive to 20 typically have a life expectancy of about 40 more years - 34 for the San, 41.4 for the Hadza, and 39.8 for the Ache, for example - so they can expect to survive to an average of 60 years old or so. As pointed out elsewhere in this thread, the main difference between that and modern life expectancies is not diet, but medical technology.

The emphasis on dental features is due to two facts. First, some of the early researchers in this area were dentists. Second, dental caries are easy to examine from collected skulls.

Moving on to what "science" says: most of the accepted wisdom with respect to diet is not actually based on solid science. The actual science suggests that modern agricultural carbohydrates are associated with a plethora of problems including diabetes, heart disease in women, and possibly cancer. Unfortunately dietary recommendations have often been based on medical studies that select correlations to observe but fail to track down actual causations as real science would do. Read Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories for an excellent analysis of it - or watch a video of one of his presentations at various hospitals, such as this one:

http://www.dhslides.org/mgr/mgr060509f/f.htm
or
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid ... 7661765149

CandiceTu wrote:What I find to be particularly hilarious is when I wonder where these individuals who follow the "Paleo Diet" obtain their food. They don't live out in the wild and hunt their own boar or unearth their own tubers and pick their own legumes (most of them, anyway...I'm sure that there's at least a couple out there) from the dense forests in their environment. They either a) buy their food from the grocery stores, or b) grow their own food. In either case, THEY UTILIZE AGRICULTURAL METHODS TO OBTAIN THEIR FOOD. hmmmm *scratches chin :think: * Hypocritical/ironic, no? ;)

Actually, one of the ones I know hunts a lot of his own food. A bear and a moose each year can go a long way. However, as noted above, the diet is about approximating the paleolithic diet within modern constraints, not duplicating it exactly.

Is your friend on the paleo diet? If so, is it working for her? If it is, does it matter whether her reasons for using it are valid or not?
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#8  Postby Berthold » May 15, 2010 4:07 pm

chairman bill wrote:There is archaeological evidence that health status diminished in early farming communities compared to contemporary hunter-gatherers.

On this topic, I can recommend this book.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#9  Postby chairman bill » May 15, 2010 4:22 pm

MrFungus420 wrote:
chairman bill wrote:organic low-fat meat, fish, eggs, roots, herbs, nuts & fruit.


There is no such thing as non-organic meat, fish, eggs, roots, herbs, nuts and fruit.


'Organic' in the sense of not intensively reared, pumped full of various chemical additives etc - see Soil Association
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#10  Postby Elena » May 15, 2010 7:41 pm

CandiceTu,

Here is a good medical review. It's freely available as a full text article. A fragment:
The typical Paleolithic diet compared with the average modern American diet contained 2 to 3 times more fiber, 1.5 to 2.0 times more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, 4 times more ω-3 fats, but 60% to 70% less saturated fat. Protein intake was 2 to 3 times higher, and potassium intake was 3 to 4 times higher; however, sodium intake was 4 to 5 times lower. Finally, the Paleolithic diet contained no refined grains and sugars (except for seasonally available honey). Clearly, the ongoing epidemic of cardiovascular diseases is at least in part due to these striking discrepancies between the diet we are designed to eat and what we eat today.

The references at the end are also worth a read; most provide free abstracts in PubMed.

It is true, as you say, that a strictly Paleo diet is impossible for us westerners who don't fish nor hunt nor grow our own vegetables. It is possible, however, to follow the general principles. That is: eat vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, fish, eggs. Limit refined carbs, salt, and all processed foods - or eliminate them entirely.

This diet consistently reduces:
- cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure
- diabetes type 2
- excess weight
- chronic inflammatory diseases

Another important "ingredient" of the Paleo lifestyle is exercise. Our ancestors spent probably hours per day running --from their predators and as hunters themselves. It was their ability to outrun prey (by staying at the task for hours ) that gave them a survival advantage, I have recently read.

So, a Paleo-like diet plus exercise seem the best natural ways to remain healthy. Oh, and add dark chocolate to that. For the antioxidants :grin:
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#11  Postby chairman bill » May 15, 2010 7:46 pm

Is that stone age chocolate?
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#12  Postby kiore » May 15, 2010 7:59 pm

Elena wrote:CandiceTu,

Here is a good medical review. It's freely available as a full text article. A fragment:
The typical Paleolithic diet compared with the average modern American diet contained 2 to 3 times more fiber, 1.5 to 2.0 times more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, 4 times more ω-3 fats, but 60% to 70% less saturated fat. Protein intake was 2 to 3 times higher, and potassium intake was 3 to 4 times higher; however, sodium intake was 4 to 5 times lower. Finally, the Paleolithic diet contained no refined grains and sugars (except for seasonally available honey). Clearly, the ongoing epidemic of cardiovascular diseases is at least in part due to these striking discrepancies between the diet we are designed to eat and what we eat today.

The references at the end are also worth a read; most provide free abstracts in PubMed.

It is true, as you say, that a strictly Paleo diet is impossible for us westerners who don't fish nor hunt nor grow our own vegetables. It is possible, however, to follow the general principles. That is: eat vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, fish, eggs. Limit refined carbs, salt, and all processed foods - or eliminate them entirely.

So, a Paleo-like diet plus exercise seem the best natural ways to remain healthy. Oh, and add dark chocolate to that. For the antioxidants :grin:


I have worked extensively with hunter gather peoples who were in the process of transferring to sedentary lifestyles and they certainly did benefit rapidly from a return to their more traditional diet/activity when they seasonally returned to their old lifestyle. Transferring this across to other people is perhaps not so easy, the exercise and status syndrome effect should also be taken into account. It was also exaggerated by the the extremely poor diet they ate when sedentary selecting the worst of western foodstuffs with intakes of things like sugar hitting 400gm per day per person on average (yes that's right almost half a kilo) contrarily when speaking of kilos I have seen people sit down and eat several kilos of meat in one go immediately post a successful hunt.
If this 'new diet' is to be read as
eat vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, fish, eggs. Limit refined carbs, salt, and all processed foods - or eliminate them entirely.
plus plenty of exercise this seems entirely reasonable, but to characterize this as a hunter gather diet is perhaps not so accurate or useful.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#13  Postby Elena » May 15, 2010 8:22 pm

kiore wrote:If this 'new diet' is to be read as
eat vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, fish, eggs. Limit refined carbs, salt, and all processed foods - or eliminate them entirely.
plus plenty of exercise this seems entirely reasonable, but to characterize this as a hunter gather diet is perhaps not so accurate or useful.

Agree; the hunter-gatherer label is just a good way to remember what's in vs what's out.

Your work sounds interesting, kiore. Where did it take place?
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#14  Postby kiore » May 15, 2010 9:15 pm

Elena wrote:
kiore wrote:If this 'new diet' is to be read as
eat vegetables, nuts, fruit, meat, fish, eggs. Limit refined carbs, salt, and all processed foods - or eliminate them entirely.
plus plenty of exercise this seems entirely reasonable, but to characterize this as a hunter gather diet is perhaps not so accurate or useful.

Agree; the hunter-gatherer label is just a good way to remember what's in vs what's out.

Your work sounds interesting, kiore. Where did it take place?


Australia. Central desert, Kimberlies and Arnhem Land.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#15  Postby Elena » May 15, 2010 9:49 pm

chairman bill wrote:Is that stone age chocolate?

Certainly:

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:grin:
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#16  Postby kiore » May 15, 2010 10:30 pm

Elena wrote:
chairman bill wrote:Is that stone age chocolate?

Certainly:

Image

:grin:


What an amazing rock painting ! Think I've seen similar when I visited Lascaux, but it may have had spears sticking out the side..and I think it was a chocolait moose very difficult and dangerous to hunt the wild chocolate moose.. but certainly worth the effort when to can bring one down.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#17  Postby wunksta » May 15, 2010 10:46 pm

sedentary lifestyles is what does a lot of the damage to 'civilized' societies, combined with other problems such as diets high in trans fat etc as well as other lifestyle problems such as drinking and smoking. many of the health problems affecting america at least, can be directly attributed to lifestyle.

as for their lifespans, its on par for the most part with other industrial societies. the main problems with tribal lifespans seems to be infant mortality rates, women dying during child birth as others have pointed out and occasionally lack of fresh water and nutrient deficiency.

as for the teeth, yes logic alone indicates that their teeth should be generally healthier as the main problems for our teeth stem from our diets which are high in refined sugar.

so does that mean a paleolithic diet is best? no, it means that lifestyle and unhealthy forms of sugars and fat are what causes problems.

this whole hysteria of diet and trying to find the 'perfect' one is ridiculous.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#18  Postby Elena » May 15, 2010 10:59 pm

wunksta wrote: so does that mean a paleolithic diet is best? no, it means that lifestyle and unhealthy forms of sugars and fat are what causes problems.

There is no contradiction here. There is substantial research supporting the superiority of a Paleo-like diet for overall health.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#19  Postby wunksta » May 15, 2010 11:05 pm

Elena wrote:
There is no contradiction here. There is substantial research supporting the superiority of a Paleo-like diet for overall health.


what i mean is that most of what is advocated in these diets are already being advocated. if people eliminated smoking, excessive drinking, fatty foods and large quantities of sugar, as well as exercised then they would see largely the same improvements that are considered to be apart of the paleodiet.
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Re: Paleo Diet: Rubbish?

#20  Postby Elena » May 16, 2010 12:55 am

wunksta wrote:
Elena wrote:
There is no contradiction here. There is substantial research supporting the superiority of a Paleo-like diet for overall health.


what i mean is that most of what is advocated in these diets are already being advocated. if people eliminated smoking, excessive drinking, fatty foods and large quantities of sugar, as well as exercised then they would see largely the same improvements that are considered to be apart of the paleodiet.

What the "Paleo diet" name does is it provides a unifying theory regarding each of the elements of the diet. Many people still think that nutrition is a matter of counting calories, and that diseases are only related to genetics, and maybe, to some junk food. The rationale for a healthy diet, however, is that we have evolved to eat certain foods and not others.
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