I had intended to write a short article, er, rant, about this one-size-fits-all-everyone-should-be-on-a-Paleo Diet nonsense that is becoming so popular in some fitness circles – namely CrossFit circles, but who’s surprised about that? Speaking of which, what exactly IS a true Paleo diet? Oh? You have the answer? Are you sure? Because as the article below will show, you CAN’T actually know.
My main criticism is not the “Paleo Diet”; it is the one-size-fits-all-everyone-should-be-doing-the-same-thing prescription. THAT is the point of the problem.
Everyone should not be doing the same thing? Regardless of individual differences?
Should SOME people opt for a lower carb diet (for EXAMPLE, a more Paleo-ish approach)? Sure. Should everyone? Of course not. Someone with PCOS who is eating a fair amount of carbs will fare tremendously better on a lower carb diet due to their very suboptimal levels of glucose tolerance; similar for anyone with poor glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity issues. Will someone with certain food ‘allergies’ or sensitivities fare better by removing those offending foods? Well of course.
Does the above mean that EVERYONE should be doing this? That’s the point!
Optimizing one’s nutrition means FITTING a diet to the person, not plugging every single person into the same dietary strategy. THAT is not individualization. It’s an arrogant one-size-fits-all-this-is-the-best-way-no-matter-what way of thinking. In short, idiotic.
And THIS, once read, should strike a cord with everyone’s logic.
But let’s keep this nice and objective. There was a really great article posted on the www.leanbodiesfitness.com forums today called Beyond Paleo: Moving From A “Paleo Diet” to a “Paleo Template”.
Some key points:
I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to argue about what a Paleo diet is, because the question is essentially unanswerable. The more important question is, what is your optimal diet?
So what is a Paleo diet? Is it low-carb? Low-fat? Does it include dairy? Grains?
We’re not robots: variation amongst groups and individuals
The answer to that question depends on several factors. First, are we asking what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, or are we asking what an optimal diet for modern humans is? While hard-core Paleo adherents will argue that there’s no difference, others (including me) would suggest that the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial. Dairy products are a good example.
Second, as recent studies have revealed, we can’t really know what our ancestors ate with 100% certainty, and there is undoubtedly a huge variation amongst different populations. For example, we have the traditional Inuit and the Masai who ate a diet high in fat (60-70% of calories for the Masai and up to 90% of calories for the Inuit), but we also have traditional peoples like the Okinawans and Kitavans that obtained a majority (60-70% or more) of their calories from carbohydrate. So it’s impossible to say that the diet of our ancestors was either “low-carb” or “low-fat”, without specifying which ancestors we’re talking about.
Third, if we are indeed asking what the optimal diet is for modern humans (rather than simply speculating about what our Paleolithic ancestors ate), there’s no way to answer that question definitively. Why? Because just as there is tremendous variation amongst populations with diet, there is also tremendous individual variation. Some people clearly do better with no dairy products. Yet others seem to thrive on them. Some feel better with a low-carb approach, while others feel better eating more carbohydrate. Some seem to require a higher protein intake (up to 20-25% of calories), but others do well when they eat a smaller amount (10-15%).
The Paleo diet vs. the Paleo template
I suggest we stop trying to define the “Paleo diet” and start thinking about it instead as a “Paleo template”.
What’s the difference? A Paleo diet implies a particular approach with clearly defined parameters that all people should follow. There’s little room for individual variation or experimentation.
A Paleo template implies a more flexible and individualized approach. A template contains a basic format or set of general guidelines that can then be customized based on the unique needs and experience of each person.
But here’sthe key difference between a Paleo diet and a Paleo template: following a diet doesn’t encourage the participant to think, experiment or consider his or her specific circumstances, while following a template does.
In my 9 Steps to Perfect Health series, I attempted to define the general dietary guidelines that constitute the Paleo template:
- Don’t eat toxins: avoid industrial seed oils, improperly prepared cereal grains and legumes and excess sugar (especially fructose)
- Nourish your body: emphasize saturated and monounsaturated fat while reducing intake of polyunsaturated fat, favor glucose/starch over fructose, and favor ruminant animal protein and seafood over poultry
- Eat real food: eat grass-fed, organic meat and wild fish, and local, organic produce when possible. Avoid processed, refined and packaged food.
Within these guidelines, however, there’s a lot of room for individual differences. When people ask me whether dairy products are healthy, I always say “it depends”. I give the same answer when I’m asked about nightshades, caffeine, alcohol and carbohydrate intake.
Big difference between the one-size-fits-all approach we see versus the more realistic, flexible and individual point made in this article.
For the entire article, go here: