Chad K. Park's Blog

6, March 2011

Paleo diet

Filed under: Uncategorized — chadkpark @ 9:34 am

I’ve written in the past about how much I enjoy my gym. One thing that I really don’t like though is the association with the paleo diet.

But first a caveat – Remember, this is me, and my opinion and my experiments done with my nutrition in my body for my own reasons. You can stop your internal dialogue now. If you want to comment fine. Just remember that it’s my choices and my experiments done on myself as well as my selection of papers that I’ve read that help me determine my views on nutrition. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve never done a strict paleo diet. However, I’ve done several types of diets and have, more importantly, experimented with adding and removing foods and noting the results.

Human evolution, as well as diet and nutrition are highly controversial fields. Many people in nutrition and dieting are either trying to justify their own choices, or trying to make money. Many people just plain like to argue. Many people are not trained in rigorous scientific thinking – and this includes many scientists. They can think scientifically about their discipline (sort of) but when it comes to applying the scientific method outside the field of their degree it can get, well, hopeless.

Also, another thing to get out of the way. I don’t *dislike* the paleo diet. I think that anything that gets people paying attention to what they eat and thinking about their health is good. If you eat a cut of lean beef and avoid eating twinkies, well that’s probably good for you. I like how they focus on unprocessed foods. Well, you can get prewashed spinach, but tortillas are out. I also like how it’s kind of an extreme diet. That’s a personal preference from someone who went raw and still considers himself a certain percentage ‘raw’.

First issue with the paleo diet are the claims from people who either haven’t dieted well or much before taking their ‘paleo challenge’. They need to be discounted. Secondly, the people who rely entirely on other peoples’ claims or their own trials. Now, this may seem that I’ve discounted myself. However, I have gone back and forth several times with several types of food. So, to be valid, you should change your diet, note some changes (if any), change it back and see if the changes are reversible. That means I don’t accept peoples’ claims of how paleo changed their life – at least not until I really know that person. Sometimes, an effect like, cutting wheat out of the diet has a huge effect. That’s because the person is allergic or has Celiac disease. Bummer. But that doesn’t mean I should believe their ringing endorsement of paleo eating. Finally, I don’t care about how awesome crossfitter x or how amazing mixed martial artist y is and how they’re on the paleo diet. A lot of people were on different diets and on different training regimens before they became who they are. I think it’s like some body builder who’s huge, bulked out and ripped who suddenly takes up tiddlywinks or marbles and then claims shooting glass balls out of a circle got him/her where they are.

My second issue is with the diet’s content. There’s evidence that our paleolithic ancestors ate grains and at least had access to salt. I think there can be issues with calcium and vitamin A depletion. I worry that people will use it as an excuse to eat truckloads of meat. The diet calls for lean meats and I think they have guidelines as to how much (although not limits). Grass fed beef isn’t cheap and if you’re on a budget you can easily make some judgment calls that leave you eating tons of fats. That can be associated with heart problems.

The third thing that bothers me is that there’s this crazy notion about human evolution. Here my issues are less strong because I don’t know much about the topic. However, I find it hard to believe that something as important as nutrition would get locked in during paleolithic times and not change much afterward. There will be more about this topic a bit later.

When the ice ages hit and our opportunity to eat like the great apes dwindled, presumably we furthered our ability to catch and eat animals. However, we didn’t become complete carnivores. We became omnivores. Our comparative physiology still more closely resembles that of herbivores. I know, at this point, some may have a hard time drowning out the internal dialog that’s screaming how wrong I am. Go research it yourself and give me some scientific, peer reviewed journal articles that say otherwise. And I don’t mean one crazy article that’s never been cited again. I need to see mainstream reviews – because the one’s I’ve seen are pretty much done with that topic. The comparative physiology is pretty solid on that point.

This near-herbivore status makes me wonder about the quantity of meat in the paleo diet. I also think that we were probably pretty good about stealing eggs. I admit I’m not sure if paleo supports dairy eggs or not.

Further, evolutionarily, I wonder about people who retain the ability to digest lactose. That came on real strong. I think the Swiss and a few other European and traditionally dairy / agrarian cultures are the only groups of mammals capable of digesting lactose after weaning. Most of the rest of the world can’t do this without gastrointestinal distress. The enzyme that digests lactose stops getting expressed as part of the weaning response. These lactose tolerant people have a mutation that allows their guts to continue to express lactase enzyme. I think that mutation must have happened recently – certainly around the time the Euros became a people. This is an example of a trait that developed quickly on an evolutionary time scale.

My final issue with the paleo diet, and in fact, any diet that gives strict guidelines on what and what not to eat, is that individuals vary. They vary more than you might think. I know someone who loves milk, can digest the lactose, but can’t drink it raw or pasteurized – it has to be boiled first. So, he’s probably allergic to a nonlinear epitope in some milk protein. Boiled milk has unfolded the protein and he can successfully drink it. My uncle has a huge problem with peanuts. Not so for me. I’ve tested it. Eating peanut butter has entered and left my life probably a dozen times – with no change in how I feel. If we’re going to be considering some dietary restrictions, doesn’t it make sense to try them one at a time? Try it without for a few days, see if you feel better. Add it back after a few weeks off and see if you feel worse. That’s what I had to do when I had a troubled stomach during grad school. The doc told me to eat the brat diet b=bananas, r=rice, a=apple sauce, t=toast. Well, I’ve been experimenting and I suspect I shouldn’t be eating wheat. I’m trying corn chips tonight ;). I’ll keep you posted.


1 Comment »

  1. I still like corn chips. I just try to regulate them. I use a hierarchy of foods. (Should write this up soon). But when I get carb cravings I eat things on the ‘good’ end of the hierarchy and amp it up if my craving continues. Here’s what I *try* to use:

    strawberries ~ blueberries >
    sweet potatoe ~ apple >=
    banana > corn chips >= fritos >
    clif bars >= dark (>70% chocolate) >
    bread & pasta

    Comment by chadkpark — 27, January 2012 @ 11:06 pm

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