The Paleo Diet Trap

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Call it Paleo Chic. The eating habits of cavemen have not been more popular. But should we be taking menu cues from our ancient ancestors?

And celebrities from Miley Cyrus are apparently devoted followers.

While the Paleo diet has been around for a long time, it’s just now gaining some mastodon-like momentum. But a lot of nutrition experts will not be impressed. The magazine implied that the caveman the movement was imagining–“a tall, thin, rent and agile 30-year old” was an invention. Though cutting back on preservative-packed processed foods was smart, the article noted, the idea that prohibiting “any form of food unavailable to Stone Age hunter gatherers,” including dairy goods, grains and beans, was nutritional poor-think.

“Pros took issue with the diet on every measure,” the magazine scolded.

What exactly is the pros’ steak, as it were, with all the diet? When it first surfaced in academic groups in the late 1970s, so that as popular diet books started appearing in the 1990s, the plan was encouraged as a lifestyle including a weight loss system, first cousin to Dr. Atkins and the low-carb craze.

The theory behind the diet is simple: our hunter gatherer forebears, who survived on meat and fish that was not saturated with development-stimulating antibiotics or hormones, together with on fresh fruits and vegetables, were on the best track until the Agricultural Revolution introduced toxins to the food chain some 10,000 years past. Hence the goal is for citizens of the 21st Century to lean back–way back–and eat the way primitive people did in the Paleolithic Era, circa.

But dieticians find for example sticking with quite slender, plants and pure meats the goal’s restrictive finicky, requirements, unrealistic. As Scientific American put it, “The Paleo diet is founded more on privilege than on sense. Hunter- fathers gathered because they had to and hunted. Paleo dieters attempt to consume like hunter gatherers because they want to.” Any diet that accentuates others and restricts specific food groups isn’t unbalance, these specialists say, and there isn’t powerful science to show that Paleo- eaters live longer, or are fitter than people who don’t follow the diet.

Marlene Zuk, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Minnesota, has an alternate gripe. In her new book, “Dream: What Development Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live,” she rips apart a number of the modern beliefs about our Paleolithic ancestors. “I didn’t write a diet book,” she says, “and I don’t wish to tell individuals how to eat. But I do need visitors to understand evolution.”

But the Paleo crowd passionately protects its ancestral diet. Kellyann Petrucci, a nutritional clinician who’s the composer of three popular “Dummies” novel about the Paleo lifestyle (“Living Paleo,” “Paleo Cookbook” and “Paleo Workouts), offers herself as Exhibit A of the benefits of primal customs. “I was gaining weight like crazy…my skin appeared dead, my hair began thinning and I had no energy. It was clear that something was happening on a deep cellular level once I followed the Paleo template. Not only did I get myself back, however a fitter, more energetic version.”

Kresser, who practices integrative and functional medicine in Berkeley, Cal., credits the diet with re-establishing his own health after years of a debilitating digestive disease. “Now, myself’m blessed with exceptional health, a loving family, and also a thriving practice,” he says.

He rejects the claim the diet is overly labor intensive for the average individual, or that it’s difficult to discover the ingredients of the early diets, citing a plethora of eateries and new convenience foods like gluten-/sugar-/soy-free beef jerky, kale chips and grain-free crackers and deserts.

Within the past three years, he says he’s treated 900 people in his Berkeley, California office. “My practice was closed to new patients for nearly all of the last two years,” he says, “because there’s this type of high demand for clinicians who espouse Paleo within their work.” Kresser says the diet is booming in popularity because “Many people experience a profound transformation in their well-being after changing to Paleo and they’re excited to share that with others. It has established a strong, grassroots, word-of-mouth movement of men and women enthusiastic to spread the word.”

That word isn’t enough, however. New York nutritionist Jennifer Andrus sees some nutritionally wise principles in fruits and vegetables, including the lean meats and fish, and the diet, but says it is not necessary to go to the extremes of the Paleo crowd. “It eliminates dairy, legumes plus some other foods that might be healthful part of a person’s diet.” She is also concerned about our present-day gluttony, while she shares the Paleo bunch’s concern and sweets.

Andrus suggests a common sense strategy, one that Kresser says in his novel he is able to endorse. “Some folks prefer to abide by the 80/20 rule; if 80% of your diet is perfect, there’s wiggle room for the rest,” she says. After all, “There’s a lot of space between Paleo and also a crappy diet of Pop Tarts and