The Paleolithic (Paleo) Diet is probably the biggest diet trend of the last ten years. And there's some serious strengths to it.
The Benefits Of Paleo
No processed foods or refined sugar. Eat vegetables, delete the dairy. Absolutely brilliant, these principles should be the foundation of every diet.
But No More Legumes
This is a huge red flag for me. Firstly, legumes existed in the Paleolithic era. Which is just one of many inconsistencies that you'll find with the Paleo diet.
I understand that some people have particular intolerances to specific legumes. For instance, a friend of mine feels discomfort on lentils. However, to put a line through one of the most sustainable protein and fibre sources we have is absurd.
If you read the nutritional profile for chickpeas, you'll think you're reading about kale. They are SERIOUSLY nutritious. As are cashews, peanuts, black beans, peas, green beans, snow peas, alfalfa, kidney beans and any other food that ends in 'beans'.
If you ban all of these healthy foods, where do you get your protein?
The primary concern for me is the consumption of meat. Paleo is all about protein but they ban half the plant-based sources. So you're left with meat and eggs in most meals.
Now before you yell “hippie” and close the browser, I don’t choose to follow a vegan lifestyle. I love grass fed scotch fillet more than Pistol Pete Evans. But there's a big difference between enjoying high quality meat in moderation and empowering it as a nutritional necessity that is superior than plant-based proteins. Besides being incredibly selfish (you have to watch Cowspiracy), we grossly overestimate the human requirement for animal protein. Meat is nowhere near as critical as vegetables. Primates, our biological brothers, eat 95%+ plants so why would our food pyramid be so different? Have a look at your teeth, do they look closer to a carnivorous white shark or a passive plant eater?
The other important point to make is quality and ethics. I am constantly educating myself on where my meat is coming from and how it's been raised. If you don’t know the farmer, or the farmer’s story, or their packaging isn’t full of buzzwords then alarm bells need to go off. The quest for more protein shouldn’t be attempted if you’re a Tight Ass Tim buying the cheapest meat packs in supermarkets.
Speaking of supermarkets, let’s recognise that it was a little harder to get your hands on a dozen eggs, a roast chook and a few steaks back in the Paleo days. As someone who has spent time with Indigenous leaders in outer Alice Springs, the hunter gatherer lifestyle is a little more challenging than a stroll through the supermarket. It took a team of Indigenous leaders several hours to catch a free-range, grass fed (!) kangaroo. The next time Crossfit Chris tries to tell you that his animal consumption matches his clean eating ancestors, send him to outback Queensland with a sharp stone. He’s more likely to be found under a farmed banana tree than trying to make nice with a wild boar.
So, Should You Go Paleo?
If the Paleo principles transition you away from sugary cereals, white pastas and processed junk, then brilliant. Just be careful with your interpretation of the fundamentals. Meat, in my un-humble opinion, is best enjoyed about as often as your Paleo ancestors caught something.