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Debunking The Paleo Diet

Please take a look at the following video before reading my response.

Most advocates for healthy dietary guidelines will agree with most of what this speaker is saying here. I do, and I think she presents some useful info for people involved in the diet debate.

While I appreciate her compelling commentary, and what she adds to the conversation, she describes a complete misrepresentation of what modern “Paleo” means.  Perhaps she has succeeded in debunking the pop version of Paleo, but certainly not my version. To me, and to other people who mindfully attempt to mimic a pre-Neolithic diet, it’s obvious, and borderline dogmatic that the vast majority of our food must come from plants.

Speaking of plants, her description of the human digestive tract as wholly herbivorous, is not accepted by most experts, as we have several evolutionary adaptations for eating and digesting meat. Humans are on a unique evolutionary branch of the vertebrate tree, so comparisons to other animals’ evolutionary adaptations are not always appropriate.  Instead of evolving razor sharp canines and claws, we have dexterous thumbs, capable of fashioning spears and razor sharp cutting tools. (See homo habilis) Rather than possessing wings, we possess a cerebrum which is has the imaginative and cognitive capacity to achieve flight. (See SR-71 blackbird, voyager probe, etc).

Her statement that humans used grains and legumes before the Neolithic is, of course, valid. However, her data comes from only 30,000 years ago. The Paleolithic era goes back 2,500,000 years! At 30,000 years ago, yes, our ancestors had been processing some amount of grain, in simple stone grinders. I think it works to call this the grey area where the shift was occurring between paleolithic/neolithic.  Today, modern wheat is a man-made, gluten-loaded hybrid. It didn’t exist until 10,000 years ago. Furthermore, today’s wheat has been completely modified in the last few decades.  Grains like wheat and corn (another hybridized aberration) are cultivated in such vulgar quantities, that their availability and consumption are exponentially higher than any pre-Neolithic person could have accessed.

She mentions tomatoes as having been bred from older, more toxic nightshades and therefore shouldn’t be on the Paleo diet. Tomatoes and other nightshades are forbidden under the strictest Paleo dietary rules.

Her critique that Paleo food sources come from distant foreign countries is applicable to veganism, vegetarianism, and the modern western crap diet. 3/4 of her presentation is a critique of veganism.

Mainly, she has illustrated the differences between modern cultivated foods and their Paleolithic/wild counterparts. It’s important to know these things…that our food is not the same as Paleolithic food. No intelligent Paleo dieter would make that assertion. The goal is to approach a diet where macro/micronutrients are SIMILAR to those from antiquity.

She mentions soda and sugar at the end. What Paleo practitioner drinks soda? Again, she is lending credence to the Paleo plan!

This video is not a debunking of Paleo. She has succeeded, however, in debunking an erroneous, bastardized version of Paleo, where people (mostly men) eat red meat as their primary food source. For me, and for many science-literate followers of Paleolithic nutrition, this Ted talk is an extremely elementary introduction to the most basic science comparing modern and ancient food.  Ms. Warinner is far more scholarly and intellectual than this Ted talk would suggest.

The title: “Debunking The Paleo Diet,” is an unfortunate and sensationalist choice. It should be entitled, “Clarifying The Paleo Diet,” or, “Debunking The Modern Western Diet.”

Paleo, by definition, should be an attempt to find the perfect, healthy matrix of foods and behaviors which lead to optimal human wellness. Unlike veganism or other diets, the guidelines of Paleo are constantly changing, as science develops. It’s the only food plan that I know of that’s obligated to evolving with new findings in science, and exists as a spectrum of foods, so that many people can reap its benefits.

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3 thoughts on “Debunking The Paleo Diet

  1. I almost quit after the first few minutes- she was just so WRONG about what modern paleo is described as. But after watching it through and participating in the comments at Youtube, it became clear that she was actually advocating for what paleo IS and debunking what she thought it was. She did us a HUGE favor. =)

    ~Huntress

    • I totally agree with you. I wish they hadn’t titled it the way they did. There sure is a lot of bad Paleo out there, eh?
      (EDIT: syntax)

      • Absolutely… but I think that if anything, the inflammatory title with DRAW both Paleos and Vegans and the information is GOOD. If anything, it simply makes her look uneducated about the topic she portends to debunk. What kind of researcher debunks “public opinion” rather than researching the subject thoroughly first?

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