Paleo in the Spotlight

Apparently the paleo diet is now bad for you. A report came out this week claiming that it can cause an increase in weight of 15% in a short period of time. Well, I can’t say I’m that fussed. Any diet is bad for you if done incorrectly, without proper care or at least a passing interest that you are getting all the right nutrients. I’m vegan, and if I want I can clog my arteries, double my weight and suffer from malnutrition all at the same time. Clearly that is not what is wrong with the attitude to adopting a paleo diet.

I recently watched a documentary called ‘The Perfect Human Diet’. I didn’t know what angle it was going to take but it became pretty clear that it was going to be no more insightful or scientific than the conclusion it wants us to all reach – that we evolved on a diet that consisted of meat and no processed food, therefore that must be what is best for us!

Clearly, processed food is not what is best for us, but hey, in the words of Kevin Smith “life is hard and we all deserve to check out once in a while.” And if we do that by enjoying a meal with little nutrition but high taste bud satisfaction then surely we deserve that! Of course we do as long as it isn’t at the expense of anyone else.

The film and philosophy of the paleo diet focuses on evolution. High intake of protein apparently fed the growth of our brains and therefore the development of our high intellect. I’m pretty sure that intellect has since led us to discover that it is in fact carbohydrates that fuel the brain. You know, the sort of carbohydrates that we gain in abundance from grains, starchy vegetables and rice. Anyway, surely the true success of evolution is in survival of the species. On that basis the human race is at a turning point in evolution where we need to use the intellect we have to start making decisions that make sense.

How can we continue to eat meat when we know that it’s a leading cause in the change of climate that will destroy the environment? How can we not protect the ocean’s inhabitants by ending industrial fishing, whaling and the exploitation of the invaluable apex predators who are vanishing through the black trade of shark finning? No ocean eco system, no human survival. By allowing the speciesism’ that is ripe in our culture to continue, we continually promote the violence that leads to non-equality within the human race. There is a link between that and cheering for a matador to kill an innocent bull or shooting a duck for no reason other than ‘sport’.

There are many ways to live a long, healthy life. Not many of us do everything we can, but even if you did you can do them all and still die prematurely. The reality is that the paleo diet is not the perfect human diet. It was present throughout our evolution through lack of option and lack of knowledge regarding our nutritional needs and what different vegetation can give us. Within the paleo diet thinking(or at least as observed in ‘The Perfect Human Diet’) agriculture is blamed for the epidemic of unhealthy diet, obesity, weight related illness and premature death. From an evolutionary perspective, surely we are still thriving. We are evolving through intellect to advance ourselves safer and safer in the food chain. Our population is growing every day to reinforce our dominance. Our failing isn’t really in what we are eating, it’s our failure to act to preserve the planet that we live on. The paleo diet has nothing to do with what is best for the human race or a healthy life. It is a fad diet that promises to make us slim. It preys on the distraction of celebrity and aspirations to look how they look so we lose focus on what is really important in life.

A commentator in the film laughs off the label of a fad diet as it is based on what we apparently ate through key evolutionary periods. Well, that just helps give it a name. Evolution by definition surely means that our needs change, or rather what is necessary to sustain us as individuals does. Most of us are lactose tolerant, not something I would promote as heathy, but if an individual needed to they could, and millions do, consume dairy and live a full and healthy existence. To claim that we were at our peak before the agricultural revolution and therefore is what we should model a diet on is ignoring how we may have adapted through evolution since. I don’t have the facts, but this isn’t addressed and besides, to me it is irrelevant. We, as a species, like to put ourselves on a pedestal above all other beings because of our intellect and awareness. Well, isn’t it time we used that to make intelligent decisions based on what is actually good for us and the planet? We don’t need animal products to live long, happy, healthy lives, so why do we use and abuse animals? The planet’s ecosystems are falling apart at such an alarming rate that to quote another Smith, this time Agent Smith from The Matrix, “humans are a cancer to the planet.” The next evolution should be a conscious one; nature can’t keep up with our destruction to fix it for us.

The strange thing about ‘The Perfect Human Diet’ is that the presenter had a serious illness, which lead to the prognosis of just a 50% chance of surviving the next two years. He initially overcame this by adopting a raw vegan diet for the next five years. He re-evaluated this when he suffered the personal loss of a parent and felt, mentally, like he needed more. There is no discussion within the film about the nutritional benefits his new diet was going to give him or even what was lacking in his raw vegan diet. There is no mention at all about what he eats or ate, just the basic principals of the two lifestyles. And that is where the film falls apart. It’s not scientific. In fact it is more like a history lesson through diorama.

The ‘Paleo Prince’, Pete Evans, leaped to the defence of his lifestyle by pointing out a glaring problem with the study and the assertions being reported, and he isn’t wrong. Not surprising that a click bait article has more holes than a tennis racket I guess. You see, Paleo Pete has labeled the science and results behind the report from Melbourne University as rubbish because it was all carried out on mice. He is right of course, as humans aren’t mice. We wouldn’t carry out tests on a banana and conclude anything relatable to ourselves, yet we share 50% of the same DNA. I wonder what his views are on the medical studies and conclusions we draw on from similar experiments on mice, monkeys, dogs, rabbits as well as many other species by the million. Surely the ridiculous legislation we have in place requiring cruel animal testing on so many products intended for human consumption must be open to the same criticism. Hey, here is a chance to get the paleo people on board the anti-vivisection arguments.

So why vegan over paleo? My transition to a vegan diet in 2014 was the best thing for my health. I easily maintain a healthy weight, I never have to count if I’ve had my 5 a day as it’s normally done by lunchtime, and I get to enjoy decadent meals and snacks to indulge my mood. My mind has never been in a more calm and peaceful place. I feel like everything is aligned, and I am always looking to reduce the negative impact I have in any part of my life and try to put more back into the world. Most importantly, the suffering caused due to my dietary and living choices is ever decreasing. Cutting out meat and dairy is only the first step. I have made the first small steps towards organic home farming as well as sourcing from local organic farmers. I’m sure my vegan lifestyle doesn’t have all the answers, but it is making me ask all the right questions.

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