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The Paleo problem

By Linden Chuang 2 min read

You’d have had to be living under a rock in recent years to miss all the chatter about the Paleolithic (Paleo) diet. In a way, Paleo enthusiasts would be proud of you. The diet is, after all, a throwback to our “caveman” or “Stone Age” approach to nutrition. And what’s more caveman than living under a rock?

Just in case you are indeed Paleo illiterate, here’s a quick rundown of the diet.1

Okay to eat Avoid
Fruits Dairy
Vegetables Grains
Lean meats Processed foods and sugars
Seafood Legumes
Nuts & seeds Starches
Healthy fats Alcohol

At a glance, things aren’t all that bad. One would expect fruits and vegetables to be given the green light, and alcohol and processed foods appropriately red flagged.

But a closer look reveals some problems.

Health experts have voiced their concerns at the diet’s dismissal of grains and legumes, despite the wealth of evidence confirming their health value.2 Paleo enthusiasts avoid grains because they believe such foods were absent from prehistoric man’s diet. The recent discovery of oat starch on an ancient pestle, however, may dispel such a claim.3

Red meat, another staple of the Paleo diet, meanwhile, has been shown to be a catalyst for weight gain and a host of other diseases.4 The way we source meat today also differs greatly to our ancestors.5

The real problem with the Paleo diet, however, is not the food; it’s fame.

In Australia, interest in the “caveman” diet over the past few years has coincided with the rise of hit TV show My Kitchen Rules and its celebrity chef judge, and Paleo advocate, Pete Evans. Prior to the show’s launch in 2010, interest in the Paleo diet was almost non-existent (see graphic below).

table-1.png

Interest in the Paleolithic diet (blue), My Kitchen Rules (red) and Pete Evans (yellow) in Australia. (Courtesy: Google Trends)

This growth trend since 2010 can also be seen worldwide, as a growing number of celebrities, like Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Biel, have reportedly become Paleo devotees.

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Worldwide interest in the Paleo diet. (Courtesy: Google Trends)

The Paleo diet’s rise to prominence demonstrates the growing—and concerning—power of celebrity endorsement. There once was a time when the greatest celebrity endorsement simply prompted people and children to “Be Like Mike” by drinking Gatorade. Now, it seems it’s not enough to “be like” someone. We need to “live like” them too, even if some aspects of that lifestyle are questionable.

Quite frankly, it’s a recipe for disaster (food pun intended). The voice of a celebrity should never replace authentic research.

Paleo is just one of a growing number of fad diets and lifestyle trends. Here at The Table, we’re not going to tell you which ones you should or shouldn’t try. We’ll only recommend one hard-and-fast rule: do your research before you dig in.

  1. Table from http://robbwolf.com/what-is-the-paleo-diet
  2. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/nutritionists-warn-of-dangers-in-paleo-dieting-20140805-100iup.html
  3. http://theplate.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/11/ancient-oat-discovery-may-poke-more-holes-in-paleo-diet/
  4. https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/216318/popular-caveman-paleo-diet-is-labelled-as-dangerous-by-health-experts/
  5. http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2013/09/10/3842158.htm

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