I am often asked about my thoughts on the Paleo Diet. Is it healthy? In this blog, I share all about what Paleo is, if it actually resembles what our ancestors ate, research about it, and finally, if I think it is healthy or not. I have also included a FREE grocery list with all of the must-have times for good health.
Table of Contents
- What is the Paleolithic Diet?
- Did Our Ancestors Eat Like Modern Paleo People?
- Does the Paleo Diet Provide Enough Nutrients?
- Vegan Diets Compared to Paleo Diets
- Do Carbs Trigger Insulin Spikes?
- The Final Verdict
- How to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Without Spending a Ton of Money
- Main Takeaways
1. What is the Paleolithic Diet?
According to Loren Cordain, an advocate of the Paleolithic diet and a researcher, the following foods can be eaten on a Paleo diet: grass-fed meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nus and seeds, and oils like olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut. What the Paleo diet forbids are cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and vegetable oils.
The idea behind Paleo is a return to our past, consuming foods like our ancestors to eliminate modern day diseases like heart disease, acne, autoimmune diseases, and insulin spiking.
See the YouTube video I made on this topic here:
2. Did Our Ancestors Eat Like Modern Paleo People?
Rob Dunn wrote an article in Scientific American about what our ancestors’ diet really entailed. Dunn argues that in order to understand what our true ancestors ate, it is most helpful to examine what they ate at the stage when their digestive system evolved to turn food into life. The best place to look is at monkeys and apes.
Currently, our digestive system stars in the mouth and ends in the anus. We are extremely similar to chimpanzees and orangutans. We both have a simple stomach that breaks down protein, a small intestine that absorbs sugars, and a large intestine that ferments whatever plant material is left after this process. Our large intestine is shorter than those of apes, though there is great variety in this from human to human.
The diet of most monkeys and apes is composed of fruits, nuts, leaves, and occasional insects or birds. In this diet, meat is a very rare “treat”. The great majority of food consumed by primates today and in the last thirty million years is vegetables, not animals.
If you intend on truly eating our ancestral diet (ancestors meaning the ones that had most of our own gut features), you will eat fruits, nuts, vegetables, and fungus-covered leaves just like this.
Plant-Based Grocery List FREE Download:
We did have some evolution after this point. For example, some developed an ability to deal with starchy food via amylase genes, a lactase genes for drinking milk, and even a gene for digesting seaweed. There are slight variations between us in our ability to consume certain foods, but generally, we all have the equipment for dealing with fruits and nuts.
FYI, even if you can tolerate milk, it does not mean it’s good for you. It just means that those who are sensitive to milk are more likely to die in the evolution cycle, or less likely to mate.
Caveman and Neanderthals also ate grains and wheat very early on (see the 3 studies on this in the References section). And of course, they were not eating oils.
As Dr. Greger explains, our ancestors ate over 600mg of vitamin C, massive amounts of vitamin E and fiber every single day. We got that mostly from the wild greens we foraged. We were getting so much vitamin C that our body stopped producing it!
So, to sum it all up, our ancestors were eating plants 95+ % of the time, for a majority of our evolution.
3. Does the Paleo Diet Provide Enough Nutrients?
So now that we have established that the paleo diet is nothing like what our ancestors actually ate, let’s take a look at something more important: how Paleo does on providing us nutrients.
Mic the Vegan did a great video comparing the nutrient profiles of his own high-carb vegan diet, to Paleo, to the typical ancestral Paleolithic diet. He found that today’s Paleo diet is much further from the typical Paleolithic diet in terms of nutrients than a vegan diet.
Here are some examples:
- A pretty bad essential fatty acid ratio: an omega 6 to 3 ratio of 11:1 (our ancestors’ was 4:1 at max). It is very important to consume a maximum 4:1 ratio of omega 6’s to 3’s for heart health, and many other functions. To do so, avoid oils, and emphasize foods containing omega 3’s (flax, chia, hemp, walnuts).
- Very high sodium
- Low micronutrient intake: low Zinc, Vitamin A, Potassium, and C
- Very low fiber
- Very high in saturated fat and cholesterol
What Paleo Dieters do great on:
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin E
- Avoiding processed foods
- Avoiding dairy
4. Vegan Diets Compared to Paleo Diets
Whole-food plant-based diets outdo Paleo diets in many areas, including micronutrients, fiber, and low fat and cholesterol. Vegans do well on their omegas if they make sure to. They also match Paleo on vitamin B, E, and iron. With the exception of B12 – nothing that a cheap supplement cannot fix. And why would you want to consume a (vegan) diet that requires you to take B12 supplements? For the following reasons:
- Low cholesterol. A 2007 study in Arg. Bras Cardiol found that veganism is the only diet that provides good levels of cholesterol. Because cholesterol was missing from our ancestral diet, our body holds on to it tightly, causing arterial damage. Unlike us, carnivores are used to getting rid of cholesterol constantly. During this last 10% of our evolution in which we began to consume a high-meat diet, we are still not adapted to all of that cholesterol.
- Disease prevention. The Paleo diet claims to prevent many of today’s leading causes of disease. When we look at rural China and Africa, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are virtually missing. These populations are eating the same diet that we ate for 90% of our evolution – a very high plant-based diet.
- Heart disease prevention and reversal. The research of Pritikin, Ornish, and Esselstyn, among others, shows that a plant based diet not only stops heart disease, but can actually reverse is. NO OTHER DIET HAS EVER DONE THIS.
5. Do Carbs Trigger Insulin Spikes?
- One of the main rationales behind Paleo is that eating carbs raises your insulin, causing a plethora of disease. However, this is a fallacy.
- In a 1997 study, it was found that compared to an apple, 1 cup oatmeal, a cup and a half of white flour pasta, a half of a salmon fillet, a big bun-less burger with no carbs at all produces the highest insulin levels. It was found that there is no big difference between beef, chicken, and pork in terms of how much they spike insulin.
- Vegetarians (lacto-ovo, laco, and vegans) have much lower insulin levels than omnivores. Meat eaters have up to 50% higher insulin levels. In fact, this research found that putting people on a vegan diet dropped their insulin levels in just 3 weeks. By adding egg whites to their diet, their insulin rose 50% in 4 days!
- In an MIT study, feeding people plant foods, doubling their carb intake, caused insulin to go down.
6. The Final Verdict
- Too much meat: what Paleo does great on is lack of processed food and dairy. However, this only provides its followers an excuse to eat tons of meat, which is nothing like what our ancestors ate.
- Tons of yucky bacteria. The contamination issue alone will convince you to eat plants. The journal of the American Meat Science Association reviewed meat, and found “arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, preservatives, and veterinary drugs such as antibiotic residues”. If you follow Paleo, you could consume more mercury than is recommended by the EPA. Scary!
- A study in the International Journal of Exercise Science took a bunch of young healthy people, put them on the Paleo diet coupled with CrossFit-based, high intensity circuit training exercise program. Losing weight usually means lowering cholesterol. But this study showed that after 10 weeks of crazy workouts and weight loss, the participants’ LDL cholesterol still went up, and it was even worse for those who started the study healthy. They had a 20% elevation in LDL cholesterol, and a drop in their HDL. The impact of paleo on cholesterol was so bad that even exercise could not counteract it!
- Eat plants – get lower cholesterol and insulin. If you put people on a plant-based diet and a modest exercise program, within 3 weeks, their bad cholesterol drops 20%, 30% drop in insulin.
7. How to Prevent and Reverse Disease, Without Spending a Ton of Money
A plant-based diet is proven by research to lower your cholesterol, and reverse many of today’s leading killers. A plant based diet is much cheaper, easier, and more sustainable for the earth and the animals. Imagine – if all humans began eating organic, pasture-grazing meat. There is no way we could sustain that. Furthermore, animals would continue to be killed needlessly, feeding our heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic disease, and more… and for what? To give us more chronic disease.
Shop for your health on a budget: get Soul in the Raw’s grocery list with must-have items in any vegan kitchen below
8. Main Takeaway
- The Paleo Diet aims to emulates what our ancestors ate. It includes grass-fed meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nus and seeds, and oils and excludes cereal grains, legumes, dairy, refined sugars, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and vegetable oils.
- Our ancestors ate 95%+ plants for the majority of our evolution.
- A vegan healthy diet provides more nutrients than a Paleo diet, and matches the Paleo diet on all positive aspects.
- A vegan diet also promotes low cholesterol, and decreased risk of many chronic diseases. It is the ONLY diet that can prevent and reverse heart disease.
- Unlike founders of the Paleo diet claim, animal products trigger the production of insulin much more than any other foods.
- Paleo triggers huge rises in cholesterol, that cannot be countered even by exercise and weight loss. It promotes exposure to a myriad of scary pathogens due to its promotion of eating meat. And it encourages the increase of insulin.
- A Paleo diet is not only unhealthy, but it is also not sustainable. Living on organic meats is not a sustainable practice – there is simply not enough room for such huge areas to be used for farming. It is also insanely expensive.
Cavemen and Neanderthals eating grains (3 studies):
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