Debunking the Paleo Diet: Christina Warinner at TEDxOU (feb 2013)
I have had several emails, comments and jokes made about the below video and also the new book with a similar topic: Paleofantasy: . The questions and comments come from 2 types of people. The first are looking for reasons that paleo/ancestral diet is wrong to justify their approach and the second group are those who have tried the approach are upset that they could be eating cookies, regardless of their experience with the approach.
*The PaleoFantasy is discussed well in several places including here, and here , and here so I will not discuss further
** Mat Lalonde is really good at looking at the evidence for all things health and nutrition, this is a link to his interview on Chris Kresser’s Podcast (includes written transcript)
I will discuss my thoughts below the quick summary and embedded video below.
Main Takeaway from Ted talk: There is no one correct diet , we need diversity and need to eat fresh/whole/local foods
Ideas presented by Christina *my wording/order
1) Current foods are modified (farmed) or didn’t exist/have changed so they are not paleolithic
– Today’s Foods are GMO, selectively bred, bigger, different, not local
2) There were many ‘true‘ paleo diets . seasonal and specific to what is available.
3) Paleo Ancestors did consume grains/legumes/tubers (dental analysis) – tools allowed for processing. Corn ,soy and wheat are large percentage of what we eat.
4) we use preservatives, artificial flavors vs. foods that preserve naturally
– salt, smoke, pickle etc to inhibit bacterial growth . Fermenting important
– we do not know consequence of eating foods with no bacteria, with flavors/preservatives
7) We are supposed to eat whole foods. Foods not a sum of calories/macros. The whole package is important (fiber etc.)
8) Eating processed foods leads to over-consumption (ie. 1 soda = 8.5 ft of sugarcane)
So after watching the video and/or reading my summary it becomes fairly clear that Warinner is actually pointing out more reasons that a whole foods approach makes sense. Her criticisms are all generally good. The idea that we should do exactly what our ancestors did is ridiculous and not the reason anyone should do something(*the caveman did it argument was the original basis for the paleo diet*). There was variety in the paleolithic diets, but many commonalities as well. There were foods that could not be eaten then that we can eat without problem now due to cooking/preparation method and there are people that will tolerate certain things better then others.
What this ‘evolutionary’ approach does provide is a starting point, which Robb Wolf discusses frequently via a 30day trial/elimination. The idea is to try something for 30 days then assess if it improves any issues or general well being (sleep, energy, emotions, digestion etc.). If Quinoa is something you feel adds to your life and you feel better with it then without it then there is no reason not to eat it and there should be no remorse about ‘not being paleo’. This Ted Talk recommends this same theme of eating whole foods while removing allergens (grains, legumes, dairy) and processed food.
There are a few ideas missing from this talk and many discussions of nutrition. There are many variables outside of diet including stress, activity, age, disease state. Everyone knows someone who eats what they like, is skinny, energetic, sleeps well and enjoys live (hint: they likely don’t care whether paleo diet is good or bad). These people mind their business, are rarely stressed, enjoy where they are (being present) . That is to say, if someone is able to go with the flow they experience lower stress and any dietary ‘imperfections’ are not as big a deal.
Where I believe we can make improvements in our health by moving towards the social groups, play (as Mark Sisson discusses), reasonable sleep patterns and activity/inactivity patterns looking more like our great great-grandparents. Actually seeing people face-face, playing a game, walking together, enjoying a sunset and avoiding sitting for extended periods all seem pretty reasonable and healthy. Nutrition is important but it is just food. Keep food simple .