I wrote something on Facebook that I thought I’d post. Here’s the article we were talking about:
So this is the latest in a line of articles and books ‘attacking’ the paleo diet; the most recent previous to this were ‘The Paleo Fantasy’ by Marlene Zuk (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/new_scientist/2013/04/marlene_zuk_s_paleofantasy_book_diets_and_exercise_based_on_ancient_humans.html) and the TED Talk ‘Debunking the Paleo Diet’ by Christina Warinner (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMOjVYgYaG8). Each of these critiques are, in my view, mixed in terms of their value: some criticisms add something to the debate around diet, some don’t help at all. This article is particularly bad, but rather than talk about any of them on their own, it makes more sense to me to explain what the ‘paleo’ diet is, so that people have a better idea of what’s actually being advocated by people on the ‘other side’ of this critique.
The Paleo Diet is nothing more than a logical framework for looking at medical problems that’s been, yes I admit it, poorly named. Essentially, advocates of ‘an evolutionary approach to medicine’ look at how and where humans evolved, and use that as a basis for asking questions about health, much the same way The Standard Model is used to ask questions and make hypotheses in physics. From our perspective, as the famous quote goes “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”: if we see health problems (and we do), we advocate first looking at, and experimenting with, the environmental factors that differ significantly from those involved in our evolutionary milieu. It’s a simple, logical and uncomplicated approach.
NO ONE IS SAYING THAT HUMANS HAVE STOPPED EVOLVING. Nor is anyone saying that paleolithic environments were/ are all the same. Well, no one sane, no one whose opinion is worthwhile, is saying that. It’s annoying, but most of the time articles like these are arguing against this less-than-sane faction, and then throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Indeed, when Chris Kresser posted this same article to Facebook he commented: “Another preposterous “Paleo critique” full of straw man arguments and mischaracterizations. I don’t even know where to start.”
The other big criticism that wasn’t brought up in this article, but anyone familiar with the topic will be quick to point out: there there are examples of animals changing their diets or other environmental factors and getting along just fine (proto-humans beginning to consume meat, as one good example). Its a good thought, but we don’t seem to be getting along just fine: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-obesity-us-idUSBRE88H0RA20120918
Logically, this seems like the best place to start when thinking about how to address problems, and the recommendations of this framework have done a lot of good when actually tested. What are those recommendations? Handily, I wrote that blog-post already.
For any go-getters, here’s Robb Wolf’s critique of the TED talk ‘Debunking the Paleo Diet’ I linked to above: