If you read this blog, there’s a good chance you’re part of a community that champion a particular nutritional philosophy. Two seemingly popular diets that regularly pop up in my universe are the paleo diet and vegan diet.
The paleo crowd looks to early hominids to determine what foods early humans evolved to eat. There seem to be a lot of arguments about some foods like potatoes and beans, but generally meats, fruits, and vegetables are okay. Grains and sugars are bad, so drop that hoagie and Ho-Ho! Basically if it couldn’t be eaten raw, it’s not paleo.
The vegan crowd rejects the idea that humans evolved to eat meat. They point to things like our jaw shape, teeth, length of intestines, etc. as evidence that we’re supposed to be herbivores. Meat is like savory, juicy arsenic.
Both camps have followers that may subscribe to the diet for other reasons. Some paleo people may have a gluten intolerance (like Shelly.) Some vegans may do so for ethical reasons.
So which of these diets is “correct?” In an attempt to offend as many people as possible, I’m going to assert the logic behind both dietary practices is flawed.
In This Corner… The Paleo Diet!
The paleo crowd is basing their diet on hominids that lived 10,000 years ago or more. First, the archeological evidence supporting paleo man’s diet is based on a few remains found in various parts of the word, though most tend to be centered around the Euphrates Valley. Is this really a good representative sample of the food all hominids ate? Furthermore, the paleo crowd eats something like 30 servings of meat per day.
Ever try killing an animal with modern technology? It’s pretty tough. Now imagine you have primitive weapons and no reliable means of food preservation. It’s pretty clear paleo man wasn’t eating meat with a side of meat at every meal.
Finally, why is it inconceivable that humans haven’t evolved to process grains and other non-paleo food? Ten thousand years is a lot of generations, and we’ve had entire societies that have subsided on a primarily grain-based diet. It’s entirely plausible we’ve physiologically adapted to eating cooked foods.
And In This Corner… The Vegan Diet!
What about the logic of the vegan diet? They avoid animal-based foods. I think it’s even more absurd to claim humans didn’t evolve to eat meat. First, almost all (maybe all) primates will eat meat if given the opportunity. Second, the vast majority of cultures throughout human history have included meat in their diet. Third, isn’t meat the only complete source of essential amino acids available anywhere in the world? How would early man survive when the supply of fruits and veggies dried up? Modern vegans can get necessary nutrients though a well-planned varied diet thanks to their local Whole Foods store. Our ancestors did not have that luxury.
Both sides like to use science to justify their position. Indeed, there is research that supports both ideologies. There is also research that refutes each side. I know, I did the research. In fact, I fully expect the majority of the comments for this post to be links to various studies supporting one ideology or the other. Interestingly, many of the people that quote research don’t seem to be able to argue against their point of view- a tell-tale sign they haven’t applied a healthy dose of skepticism to their dogma.
So if neither diet makes sense, should we abandon either one?
Absolutely not. If you subscribe to either one and it’s working for you, keep at it. Both can assist weight loss, make you feel subjectively better, and make for a fun conversation-starter. Just don’t get too preachy. There’s a good chance the logic you use to justify your diet is flawed.
I’ve tried both. They seemed to work well. It was a fun little experiment. Ultimately I stopped both due to the annoying restrictions. I want the freedom to eat a McDonald’s hamburger on occasion. Or a Snickers. Or beer.
Here’s my own diet philosophy- The Moderation Diet.
It’s simple. Eat about the same number of calories you burn. Eat a variety of fresh foods from the perimeter aisles of the grocery store in roughly equal quantities. Try to eat foods of different colors on a daily basis. Limit processed foods and fast foods, but indulge on occasion. If you’re craving a particular food, eat it. If you have an adverse negative reaction to a food, test it out at least one or two times before abandoning it altogether. And for the love of Raptor Jesus, don’t stop eating one particular food because the popular media hyped it as causing cancer, obesity, or the gout based on the results of a singular questionable study.
What do you think?