5 REAL Reasons to Go Paleo
I was talking to some folks yesterday who generally knew a little bit about Paleo diets. They were very curious, and so we got into a discussion.
It was an excellent discussion, since these people were smart, nice, curious, open-minded, and willing to offer their opinions. (I hate it when folks are EITHER unwilling to listen or, conversely, unwilling to contribute anything meaningful to a conversation. You gotta do both, folks.)
But like in most conversations I have with people who haven’t read a whole lot about Paleo, they had heard various things about Paleo diets and lifestyles from friends and colleagues.
And it occurred to me that one of the biggest sources of confusion about Paleo diets is WHY. That is, why call it Paleo, why look to our ancestors, why eat this way, etc.
It’s Not About Nostalgia
Neither I nor 99% of people who are Paleo want to live in caves. It’s not appealing AT ALL.
I love my technology (within reason), I think modern medicine is fantastic, and I can’t imagine giving up electricity.
Most importantly, I don’t want to eat just like my ancestors from a million years ago. That is not the reason to be Paleo.
I don’t really care if you do want to give up all those things – maybe you’ll live a happier and more fulfilled life. I wish you the best. But being Paleo – for myself and everyone I know – is not about trying to get back to some mythical time when we were happier and healthier.
So what is it about?
1. Reason #1: Eliminate (Limit) Toxins. Eliminate is too strong a word, because it’s not practical or even possible. But limiting toxins should be the primary purpose of a Paleo diet.
Toxins is a very broad category, but it includes industrial seed oils, pesticides, excess sugar, various chemicals, gluten, and a variety of other substances that cause our bodies and minds to function less than optimally (and sometimes to completely break).
This is the single-most-important reason to eat a Paleo diet. Processed foods (including grains and pasteurized dairy) are toxic to some degree or another for humans, even if you don’t experience immediate symptoms. It’s like having termites in your house. You might not even notice them for years, but eventually, they’re going to eat away the wood and cause your house to fall down.
2. Reason #2: Maximize (Increase) Nutrients.
If your body can’t function properly with toxins, then the same is true if you’re deficient in nutrients.
Nutrients are also a very broad category, including fats, vitamins, proteins, minerals, and other substances that typically occur naturally in the plants and animals that humans have eaten for most of our evolution.
These nutrients are necessary for our bodies to thrive, and in general, our modern diets are missing many such nutrients. Not every single food you eat needs to be a multi-vitamin in disguise, but if the majority of foods that you’re eating are processed grains, sugars, and legumes, then you’re missing out on a lot of nutrients.
And take time to actually learn which foods are highest in nutrients – it’s not what the government and corporate food companies tell you. In general order: (a) organ meats like liver and kidney, (b) seafood, particularly shellfish, but also fish, (c) vegetables of all types, which does not include grains and beans (neither are vegetables), (d) muscle meats like beef, pork, and lamb, (e) tubers like sweet potatoes and yams, and (f) fruits, which are nutritious but notably at the bottom of this list.
What’s even lower and therefore not on the list? Legumes, Grains, and anything that’s processed.
3. Reason #3: Food Quality Matters.
This is really an extension of #1 and #2, but for too long, we’ve been led to believe that all we need to worry about is how much we eat. Does anybody really believe that?
Think about it this way. If you eat 2,000 calories per day of cookies for the next year, do you think that you would look and feel the same as if you ate 2,000 calories per day of meat and vegetables?
No. Nobody believes that.
That’s an extreme example, but the point is that it makes a difference what quality of food you put in your mouth. Organic vegetables are healthier than pesticide-covered vegetables because they’re lower in toxins. Grass-fed beef is better than industrial corn-fed beef because it’s higher in nutrients. These things make sense, both scientifically and practically.
4. Reason #4: Science. This is going to be the shortest reason because I talk about science in a million other places. Also, everyone thinks that they know what they’re talking about because they’ve found 3 studies that seem to support what they want to prove.
I love science and have read medical, nutrition, and science journals religiously for the past decade or so. Still, I know practically nothing compared to people like Robb Wolf or Chris Kresser (who will both modestly tell you just how limited their own knowledge is).
Still, there’s a ton of uncontroversial science that supports eating real, whole foods. We know that industrially processed foods disrupt our gut flora, throw our hormones out of whack, and cause us to overeat. Eating a real food, Paleo diet won’t fix everything, but there is a whole lot of science to support that it helps.
5. Reason #5: Try it Out.
This should really be reason #1, and the list should end there. I can show you scientific articles all day long, along with never-ending success stories.
Nothing is going to really convince you until you spend a month or 2 actually eating a Paleo diet.
Once you do that and start feeling 100% better, that’s really the only thing that will ultimately convince you. And I’m not so naive as to believe that every single person who goes Paleo will have this experience, but I’ve seen it happen enough to believe that the great majority of people will.
Stop Listening to Haters
I’ve gotten annoyed on occasion at all the people who try to argue that Paleo diets are based on faulty assumptions.
In general, those critiques set up straw-man arguments. That is, they attack something that’s not actually Paleo. It would be like me saying that a vegetarian diet is bad because they eat too many dogs. Of course that makes no sense because vegetarians don’t actually eat dogs. But that’s how people attack the Paleo diet. They say that it makes no sense because our ancestors didn’t live a long time, may not have been in perfect health all the time, or because they ate a ton of different foods.
None of that matters though. Sure, we use research into hunter-gatherer health and diets as one starting point, but you should ultimately be far more concerned with what’s actually working for you and your body. That’s truly Paleo. Your ancestors wouldn’t have kept eating something if it made them sick.
What Do YOU Think?
What are YOUR reasons for going Paleo? Do you get frustrated by people attacking the reasons for the way you eat? What’s your response?
Let me know in the comments below!