Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Response to 'Debunking the Paleo Diet'


When a friend posted a TED talk 'Debunking the Paleo Diet' on my facebook page I was immediately skeptical that this woman, Christina Warinner, probably had some hidden vegan agenda. I was surprised to find the talk interesting, informative, and not at all 'debunking' of the Paleo Diet. If anything her talk supports Paleo.

Here is the link to the talk, followed by my comments:


'Debunking the Paleo Diet' is a misleading title. If anything this video is almost completely in agreement with the Paleo diet. Warinner's main points "debunking" Paleo are:

1) That we aren't carnivores and didn't eat only meat but a lot of plant foods too.

2) That there are some archeological records that our ancestors ate grains up to 30,000 years ago.

3) That we can't eat a paleo diet in modern times because nearly all the plant and animal products available for consumption today have been 'invented', modified or selectively bred and are therefore vastly different to their Paleolithic origins.

4) That there is no one Paleo diet and that our ancestors ate hugely varied diets depending on where they were located geographically. The underlying suggestion here is that it is wrong to prescribe one Paleo diet therefore Paleo diet books are misleading.

My Rebuttal:

1) No one ever said we or our Paleo ancestors were carnivores! However, just because we don't synthesize Vitamin C does not make us herbivores. We are in fact opportunistic omnivores meaning we prefer meat (or seafood, eggs etc) for its nutrient density but eat whatever is available if we can't get meat - mainly plant foods that can be gathered.

2) 30,000 years ago is still a very short time period compared to our 2.5million years of evolution. A mortar & pestle from 30,000 years ago doesn't mean we as a species can tolerate gluten now from genetically modified "franken-wheat". The question is not 'what is possible to eat?' Rather, 'what is optimal to eat?' I'm sure if a Paleo dude stumbled across a Krispy Kreme tree 30,000 years ago he would have eaten the donuts. Does this mean that we, too, should eat donuts today, even if we were adapted to tolerate them? No.

3) Of course we can't eat the same diet as our paleo ancestors did. No one well versed in Paleo claims that. Founder of 'The Paleo Diet', Dr Loren Cordain, explains that we are not trying to exactly replicate a paleolithic diet, which is impossible, rather that we should do the best we can with what we have in neolithic times to roughly emulate a more Paleo-looking diet. i.e. Eat lean, preferably wild or at least grass-fed meat, green leafy vegetables, some nuts and berries. Don't eat Twinkies and drink soda.

4) Once again, if we look to Dr Cordain's work, he bases his recommendations on the finding of his study on over 300 modern hunter-gatherer tribes, concluding that their diets varied greatly yet the basic principles are the same - eat the most nutritious, least harmful, non-processed whole foods available to you and you will avoid most (preventable) diseases of modernity. Whether this involved eating mainly fat and protein from sea mammals and barely any plant foods (Inuit), or eating mostly starchy tubers, fish, fruit and coconut (Kitavans), the basic tenets still hold. Anyone who has even a basic understanding of Paleo will be very familiar with these two often-cited examples of just how different a healthy diet can be.

Every single one of the most credible Paleo-champions (Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, etc) constantly iterate the fact that there is no one magic diet - every single person is different and thus requires a different diet to achieve their health and performance goals.

My conclusion - there was not one single convincing argument against the Paleo diet in this presentation. To think that making the above points would somehow debunk the Paleo diet is very naive indeed. If anything Warinner's presentation supports eating Paleo… Right on sister!

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[Photo courtesy of TEDxOU]



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