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There are many lofty claims being made about the benefits of the Paleo diet, but are they really true? With such a bombardment of dietary advice from so-called experts—much of it based on outdated standards and flimsy science at best—it can be difficult separating fact from fiction.
If you're the careful sort, you may want to know what the latest science says before pitching most of the food in your pantry. The truth is, no one diet is perfect for everyone. Our individual genetic backgrounds, histories, lifestyles and epigenetic factors are far too complex for one dietary edict to hold true. However, many of the tenets of the Paleolithic diet are based on sound science and good common sense.
One fact is inarguable: the standard American diet is a metabolic nightmare and is leading us down a very grim path.
Today's diet is loaded with sugar, glutinous and processed grains and chemical additives, and creates the perfect storm of inflammation, a major driver of the chronic diseases so rampant today. Many recent studies have supported the benefits of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet—and yes, this includes animal foods. Recent science has brought us some surprises, such as the heart-healthy benefits of eating 50 to 80 percent fat! Yes, you read that right.
As popular as the Paleo diet is, there are many misconceptions floating around, and I would like to dispel three of them right now.
1. To go Paleo, I'd have to eat a ton of meat.
Probably the most common Paleo myth is that it's mostly meat. First of all, this is not how our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate, nor is it what the Paleo diet advocates. The Paleo diet is not a high protein diet, but is actually rather moderate in protein.
Animals were not the most reliable food source for our ancestors. Large game was probably hit and miss, depending on the season, geographic region, and skills of the hunter. It's more likely they relied on the plants they foraged daily, nuts and seeds, and smaller "animal" protein sources, such as insects, reptiles and rodents. Those living along coastlines, lakes and rivers had the benefit of fish.
High protein diets are risky, with protein toxicity being a serious concern—consuming too much protein can put a strain on your kidneys.
Nutrition expert Ron Rosedale, MD,[i] recommends your consuming about one gram of protein per kilogram of lean body mass. Here's how that works. If you body fat is 25 percent, then your lean body mass is 75 percent of your total body weight. You would then divide your pounds of lean body weight by 2.2 (converting pounds to kilograms), to calculate the grams of protein you should be eating each day. Keep in mind this is only a ballpark figure. Of course, if you are extremely active or pregnant, you'll need to bump this up accordingly, by about 15 to 25 percent depending on your situation.
The quality of the protein you consume is every bit as important as the overall quantity—maybe even more so. Most people get too much low-quality protein, far too many carbohydrates, and not enough high quality fats.
2. The Paleo diet is just another low-carb fad.
The most fundamental principle of the Paleo diet is returning to foods that more closely resemble those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This means organically grown vegetables, roots, nuts and seeds, fruit in moderation, and meats, fish and poultry. We should also be consuming naturally fermented foods, as the gut microflora so critical to our immune function has taken heavy losses from its assault by the Western diet.
The Paleo diet is naturally low in carbohydrates, especially carbs from sugars and starches. And this is quite beneficial for your health—actually necessary if you wish to restart your fat-burning engine, which for most of us has become quite sluggish from today's constant carbohydrate infusion.
The Paleo diet is not a fad. Various renditions have actually been around for decades, long before Dr. Loren Cordain popularized the Paleo diet with his book by that name. There are as many versions of "Paleo" as there are proponents, each with their own particular focus or orientation.