Why I Won’t Go Paleo

21 Oct

Every year before my birthday I start toying with the idea of going on some sort of a diet. You know, to make sure I start the next year of my life extra proud of myself and in the best possible shape. Now I should mention that I can’t remember a single year in which I actually followed through and stuck to this. Diets are so not my thing. It usually goes something like this: days 1-3, awesome. Day 4 – Phone call from  husband or a friend asking “hey, do you feel like Mexican?” Me: “Absolutely. I’ll pick you up in an hour.” So I just don’t do well with “dieting” and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. But that didn’t stop me from poking around and perusing the Internet for some ideas. Naturally, the first (and only, I should note) option I looked at was the Paleo Diet.

Why? Because Iit seems like everywhere I look, a reference to “Paleo” is jumping out at me. My Facebook feed boasts pics of friends who’ve dropped 20 pounds from “going Paleo.”Pinterest (aka, my favorite Friday night) is littered with pictures of Paleo-friendly recipes.  I’ve even tailored a handful of the recipes I post to various outlets to fit Paleo standards, because it’s just all. over. the. place.

After a little bit of research, I realized the idea of the Paleo diet was bugging me and I wasn’t sure why. The truth is, all diets bug me and it only took about 30 seconds of poking around before I realized that a birthday diet just wasn’t gonna happen. But I did have the pleasure of realizing just how jam packed the Interwebs are full of Paleo this and Paleo that.

paleo3

Paleo outlaws the consumption of grains, legumes, even quiona, based on plenty of valid research that they’re not as good for us as we’d like to believe.  I understand that Paleo diehards carry all sorts of data about the pitfalls of lectins, saponins, and phytic acids in their back pockets, but guys, let’s call a spade a spade. For every bit of “valid” research, there’s an equal amount of valid research to the contrary. Eat olive oil  // don’t eat olive oil. “Good” carbs are necessary for brain function // carbs are the scourge of society. Eat soy to prevent cancer // soy is linked with cancer. Beans are a superfood and excellent source of protein// beans will  leech nutrients and do strange things to your insulin levels if you eat them. Eat lean grass fed meat for a long healthy life //people who eat a mostly plant based diet have a much lower risk of cancer.

W.T.H.?

It’s no wonder we look toward the latest books and diets to save us. We want direction, and we want hand holding.

Which is precisely what Paleo does. It gives us a detailed outline of what not to eat and why. It (brilliantly) attached itself to CrossFit which has really helped garner the media attention that it needed. But it’s my personal opinion that in order to differentiate itself from any other successfully mass marketed diets, Paleo had to exclude something new – in this case, legumes, some seeds, all grains. Of course, duh,  it will work for some people and will probably work very well. In fact for some people, it’s probably a perfect solution. My problem lies in the fact that it’s not marketed to “some people.”  It’s a widely marketed diet plan essentially stepping in and, regardless of intentions, is making the claim that Paleo is the new dietary gospel, the end-all-be-all of diets that will turn your freaking world upside down. And that’s the kind of stuff that has the power to shape a cultural outlook on food in general.

Let’s flashback to the 80’s in a little trip down memory lane: we were told to stay far away from fat- all fat. Avocados were the devil in a little green suit. We ate plates of spaghetti in soupy, sugary, low-fat tomato sauce. Fat-free everything in the quest for perfect health. And this idea became truth because it was scientifically proven, until it wasn’t anymore. Fast forward 10 years to the 90’s.  A gentleman by the name of Atkins used new scientific proof to convince us of the opposite: carbs are the real devil, not avocados. The doctors and scientists had it all wrong! Go ahead and indulge: top your steak with cheese, toss your salads in ranch, garnish with bacon (you could pluck the low-carb disciples out of a crowd: they were skinny, saggy looking peeps with terrible breath).  It became a widely accepted truth that fat and meat are good, carbs are bad, because it was proven.

The the carbs-are-the-enemy craze had finally began to slow down. We were even beginning to embrace some complex carbs: oatmeal, potatoes, beans, when enter Paleo, calling for the elimination of all of the aforementioned. Even quinoa is banned because of the concentration of saponins (a compound that can be toxic in high amounts).  But spoiler alert: many of these nutritional claims are surrounded in controversy and contradiction. Lectins in beans can be greatly reduced by proper preparation and soaking overnight – there is still plenty of “research” supporting the consumption of legumes. Most of the saponins in quinoa are removed in the washing process (most commercially sold quinoa is pre-washed) and some journals claim the toxicity is negligible in human. Others even state that saponins are phytonutrients and help fight off cancer and heart disease.  Oh, and in the spirit of looking at contradictions (<-see what I did there?), wine is high in saponins, however, many Paleo dieters validate it’s eligibility and deem it acceptable because it is not a grain.

Heh?

Am I trying to trying  make a statement one way or another about how healthy beans or quinoa are or aren’t? Ummmm….no.  I’m a blogger, not a scientist. I’m just pointing out the fact that I think we forget that science is always evolving. New studies rule out old studies, and newer findings challenge the latest studies. And every time a new idea gets widely adopted, we’re left even more confused and frustrated. We feel lied to and our outlook and relationship with food becomes even more complex. So wtf are we supposed to do about it?

Call me crazy, but at some point I think it comes down to common sense. Instead of relying on the latest trend in dieting and letting it be your end-all-be-all, take a deep breath and realize there is more than one way to skin a cat. Look around the world as an example. The French and Italians eat carbs. They eat white freakin’ flour every day for the love of God. Like hello, gluten, they must all be dying. But hey, about that – they’re not. They have more longevity and lower obesity than their diet-crazed frenemies across the pond. Look at the Okinawan people (Okinawa is an island near Japan, btw). Their dietary staples include soy and white rice, two foods that are demonized here in the US. But these guys have the longest lifespans on the planet. Like, they practically live forever. So what gives?

It’s my belief that as individuals, no two people are the same and we all have different nutritional needs. Spoken as a health enthusiast and (again) not a scientist,  I think principles of Paleo sound pretty respectable: lots of greens, nothing processed and no sugary yucko stuff. I’ve heard amazing testaments about this diet – in fact, one of our writers, Rachele, shared with me that her husband gave it a shot despite her early skepticism. He had a leaky gut, a gluten sensitivity, and a host of other health problems. And 30 days on Paleo completely turned his life around. So I’m not saying, DON’T do Paleo, cause clearly, it’s the right answer for many people.  And BTW – it’s pretty freaking cool when you can solve a health issue using food.

But no Quinoa, no beans, no oatmeal? That doesn’t work for me. Not only does my body tolerate all of the aforementioned foods absolutely fine, but they help me thrive. When I’m regularly running long distances a bowl of oatmeal makes all the difference in my performance. I eat (rinsed) quinoa a couple week in place of meat, with absolutely zero adverse effects and I have a difficult time believing it’s going to cost me my long-term health. There are other things I’ll cut out of my life (such as the stress that comes from over-thinking what goes in my mouth!) to add to my longevity.

Broadly demonizing whole, real foods or cutting out entire food groups seems dangerous. It’s confusing, the mass adaptation of dietary theories can have lasting effects and seriously, eventually we’re all going to fly off our rockers one of these days because we’re so confused about what the heck to eat. I think preaching that beans and oatmeal are making you an unhealthy fat@ss is kind of redick… because ummm…sitting on your butt all day watching TV with your hand in a bag of Doritos is making you an unhealthy fat@ss (unless you’re really, really lucky). It’s time to pull your common sense out of your you-know-what’s, people. There is no single best diet. There is not one diet for everyone. There is no quick fix. Learn what works for you, get in touch with your body and feed it what makes you feel your best. For me, that doesn’t happen to be Paleo.

And this year as my birthday gift to myself, I’m swearing off those ridiculous birthday diets. The end.

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2 Responses to “Why I Won’t Go Paleo”

  1. Beka January 29, 2014 at 6:35 am #

    Hallelujah and THANK YOU! I’m a crossfitter and probably the only one at my gym who hasn’t thrown out wheat, beans, dairy and happiness.

    I’m also married to a Physician Assistant and have a brother-in-law who is a doctor and they have told me how Paleo is NOT linked to proven studies. Yes, a few studies have proven it beneficial but not the medical field in general.

    There is a new Mom at our gym and she is doing Paleo. It makes me cringe. Seriously, how are you going to breastfeed with no milk intake? Ah! I could go on and on but I’m so glad someone else is seeing the other side.

    • Meg January 30, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

      Thanks!!! And you’re so welcome. Personally, I’m just not a fan of fad diets in general- I know for me that the second I tell myself “no,” whatever I’m eliminating becomes all I think about!I have a really difficult time believing that beans and quinoa are horrible for our health and at some point I think the best answer is just common sense. I imagine different diets work for different people, but I’m definitely more of a believer of all things in moderation 🙂 Thank you so much for you input- it’s great to hear about medical professionals who are not necessarily in favor of the Paleo diet 🙂

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