I get asked often about various diets – Paleo, Atkins, Low Carb, High Protein, High Fat, Dukkan, Sugar Free – the list is endless.
My go to answer is that I’m not a fan of any of these ways of eating. They all have their redeeming features but I cannot endorse any of them in good faith. Boring as it may seem moderation is key. Sure there are some ‘foods’ that no-one needs to eat ever – think McDonalds, primary coloured lollies, deep fried Mars Bars.
By far the most common diet I am asked about is the Paleo Diet. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the last couple of years The Paleo Diet advocates eating like our ancestors supposedly did. Lots of meat, fish, eggs, non starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Whilst I agree that eating less processed foods and refined sugar is laudable I have real objections to any diet which rules out whole food groups.
Healthy, wholegrain carbohydrates are NOT your enemy. Carbohydrates are our bodies go to source for energy, they are necessary for good gut flora health, are an essential requirement of many cellular functions of our bodies and are necessary for regulation of mood.
Too much carbohydrate can lead to weight gain and spikes in insulin but this generally occurs when we are eating too much carbohydrate (or anything) of the wrong kind. The simple rule is avoid eating white carbs. No magic tricks, no need to get too complicated – just steer clear of white bread, rice, flour, potato etc.
The thing that drives me crazy about the Paleo Diet is that there is very little evidence that our ancestors ever actually ate this way. Sure, they may have killed a beast and eaten it but this didn’t happen every day. There are also the many studies by anthropologists (people who actually know what they are talking about and not those trying to make a buck out of fad diets) who have proven that a varied diet of meat, seeds, grasses, fruits and grains was closer to the truth. Wild meat was thought to have been much lower in fat and the plant component of ancient diets would have been around three times higher in fibre. The lack of cancers and heart disease that Paleo proponents attribute to this diet is more likely a result of the high fibre diet and lack of artificial ingredients and the fact that our ancestors simply didn’t live long enough to develop these types of diseases.
I can fully appreciate the benefits of eating less processed foods and I applaud the move away from chemicals, excess salt and sugar but lets not give this diet kudos for things it doesn’t deserve.
On an environmental level I can’t help but feel that this type of diet is a nightmare for the animals involved, the greenhouse gasses produced and the high costs of water and grain that meat production requires.
My other problem with Paleo eating is the well known increased risk of bowel cancers associated with meat consumption and lack of dietary fibre. Eating a plant based diet as vegans and vegetarians do provides much higher levels of fibre (about 60 grams per day). The Paleo diet is far lower at an estimated 25 grams. Some particular health conditions do better on grain free diets – mostly auto-immune disorders – but this is a specialised situation which requires monitoring by health professionals who know what they are taking about to ensure adequate micro and macro nutrients.
There is plenty of evidence that healthy carbohydrates like wholegrains and legumes are a great source of nutrients and fibre and there is absolutely no reason why they should be excluded from a healthy diet.
There is no doubt that reducing refined carbs, eating lean proteins, fresh vegetables and fruits leads to healthier weight management. I used this method myself recently to lose quite a bit of weight. I reduced my carbohydrate intake quite markedly for a short period of time then reintroduced healthy carbs in reasonable quantities to maintain my weight and look after my health.
My motto has always been ‘If you can’t pronounce it don’t eat it’. Eat like your grandmother is another good idea – simple meals of reasonable size. Lean proteins in small amounts, lots of veg and salad, some healthy carbs like beans and pulses and the occasional treat.
If only we spent our money on growing food, eating local seasonal produce, demanding healthier options and the regulation of chemicals and preservatives instead of fad diets and diet cook books I think we would be a whole lot healthier in body and soul and our planet would thank us for it.