The Top 5 Misconceptions About Paleo
Over the past couple years, the Paleo diet and lifestyle have gained quite a bit of popularity and traction. Popularity comes with a price, however.
Bloggers and mainstream media outlets have begun to come out of the woodwork to talk about the Paleo diet and to try to decide if they love or hate it. As with anything, a few people are simply irrational or mean – these people criticize and hate the Paleo diet for any or no reason.
Lately, however, I’ve read quite a few critiques of the Paleo diet that are well-thought-out, but which rely on information that is either outdated or simply wrong. And they’re not doing this maliciously – this misinformation exists, and unless they spend hours digging around, it’s hard to know what’s correct and what’s not.
Here are the top 4 misconceptions I’ve seen about the Paleo diet:
- There is a Single Paleo diet.
Of course there’s no single Paleo diet. Humans ate whatever they had access to, and that varied immensely both over time and from place-to-place.
There are certain civilizations that get talked about regularly to make this point – for example, the Inuit ate predominantly seal and fish with very little plant matter and the Kitava relied very heavily on root vegetables and coconut with relatively little access to meat. Those are extremes to some degree, but the point is that, depending on when and where a human lived over the past 2.5 million years, his or her diet was very different than someone living elsewhere or at a different time.
In a way, there is no Paleo diet. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain Paleo principles that allow us to be healthier. For instance, grains and legumes do almost nothing positive from a nutritional perspective, and they often cause many health problems.
The Paleo diet can’t tell you exactly what to eat, but it will provide you with guiding principles to regain your health.
- We should eat a certain way because our Paleo ancestors ate that way.
This is probably the biggest misconception, and it’s largely the fault of the Paleo community itself. What our ancestors ate is simply a starting point.
Let me repeat that again: What our ancestors ate is a starting point. We develop hypotheses about what’s good for us based on how Paleolithic humans lived. That’s it.
Once we’ve got hypotheses, we test those out on both a personal and scientific level. Paleolithic humans didn’t eat grains? Great – let’s see if eliminating grains from our diet improves our health, and let’s figure out, through science, if there’s a reason that grains aren’t very good for us.
Personally, I couldn’t care less what someone ate 1,600,000 years ago. I don’t want to live their life. But if I try eating more like them and it makes me feel and look better, then you can bet that I want to figure out why it works and try to recreate it as much as possible.
The Paleo diet starts with historical observations but is based on science and testing.
- We All Want to Live in a Cave.
OK – some people actually do want to live like cave-folk. Not me. And not the vast majority of the Paleo community.
I really like modern amenities. I like electricity, running water, and being able to fly on planes. For that matter, I really like modern medicine, even if it is focused a bit too much on treating symptoms and too little on preventing or reversing illness.
Additionally, although hunter-gatherers were generally healthier than modern humans, it’s not true in every way. A million years ago, the flu, a broken arm, or food poisoning probably would have killed you. Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore.
Just because certain parts of Paleo life weren’t so great doesn’t mean we can’t learn why their diet was actually better in many ways. Being Paleo doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s eat better and keep the smart phones at the same time…
- Paleo is Raw.
I find this to be the most surprising misconception, but I guess I shouldn’t. There’s a lot of conflicting evidence about when humans generally started cooking food, but it was most likely within the past 200,000-300,000 years (you can Google this and find 100 different estimates…).
And there is a small subset of Paleo that eats mostly raw meats and vegetables.
Still, cooking is generally great from a nutrient availability perspective and also quite appealing in terms of hygiene and taste. Again, the fact that Paleolithic humans weren’t always able to control fire doesn’t mean that I’m going to automatically toss out my stove and oven.
Humans have cooked for quite a while, and that’s a tradition that most of us prefer to keep around.
- Paleo is All Meat.
I love meat. Always will. But I also eat veggies and fruits.
Admittedly, some Paleo folks probably eat mostly meat. And some vegetarians eat pizza most of the time. Doesn’t mean in either case that it’s the right or best way.
I have friends who are not Paleo because they don’t like meat all that much. I have a hard time convincing them that veggies are a huge part of a good Paleo diet.
Real foods people. Meat is not the only real food.
What About You?
What common misconceptions do you regularly encounter? I’d love to hear what your colleagues and friends say when you tell them you’ve gone Paleo…