Tuesday 15 April 2014

Paleo Diet Myths

Yesterday I was having a little twitter-bitch with fellow ancestral health nutritionists, Claire Yates and Jamie Scott. Why? Because of the recent coverage of the Paleo diet on A Current Affair. Claire had this image to share in response on her insta account:

Yes, it is great that Paleo is getting more attention, however, unfortunately, it is still being portrayed as a carnivores feast, where animal protein has to form the majority of all of your meals. The ACA coverage kindly provided meal examples for Paleo…with absolutely NO vegetables in sight. Now that’s just not cricket. (For those of you non-Australians, this term basically means “Not cool. Not cool at all”). Indeed, when you mention “Paleo” to many people, they will often say:
  • “Urgh! It’s just too much meat!”
  • “It is not sustainable, or environmentally friendly”
  • “The Paleo Diet is selfish” - Yes, I have heard this one directly – it was like a dagger through my heart. As most paleo-enthusiasts would probably agree, we go out of our way to source the most ethically, humanely, appropriately raised animals and vegetables, AND we support the local farmers who provide us with our food. Gratitude is my second name.

Let me clarify, by way of pervy pictures of my food, that Paleo is NOT (necessarily) a meat-centric diet:

Breakfast: Here we have an entree of sautéed veggies,
and a main of sweet banana omelette with seeds and coconut
Lunch: Salmon with home-made labne,
 avocado, sautéed greens and roast sweet potato
Dinner: Chicken Curry, surrounded by,
and covered in an array of vegetables
Looking at these pictures, I would say my version of the Paleo diet is largely plant-based. Wouldn’t you agree?  Are you a little hungry now?

You see, if we were to think back to hunter-gatherer days, it would be highly doubtful that we were lucky enough to have meat at every meal, let alone every day. If we caught ourselves a Wilderbeest, it might last us a few days (maybe), AND we would be eating the WHOLE animal, not just the muscle meat, which would actually be the least-prized meat, as most of the nutrition lies in the organ meats – the liver, kidneys, brain, eyes….you may be squirmy, but these are the parts of the animal we should be embracing if we truly want to get the most out of this jig.

So what other untruths are being propagated about the Paleo diet?
  • Paleo is low in fibre. This is generally the biggy that dietitians pull out and, if we were to just eat meat and meat alone then yes, we probably would be lacking in poop-bulking, bacteria-feeding fibre (nice image in your head right now, isn’t there?). However, as I have hopefully shown above, the Paleo diet does not have to be lacking in fibre. In fact, I just plugged in a typical day’s worth of food and I am getting MORE than the recommended dietary intake (RDI). So stick that in your fibre-filled pipe and smoke it!
  • Paleo is low-carb. This one is controversial. Many people say low-carb is best. Many people say low-carb is bad. I’m of the opinion that everybody is different and should adjust their carbohydrate (and fat and protein) intake accordingly. I have seen some people excel on low-carb, while others fall flat on their face. For example, if you spend 20 hours a day playing World of Warcraft, you probably aren’t going to require the same amount of carbs as Usain Bolt. It’s not rocket science, but it can take a little bit of experimentation.  If we were to look back at traditional societies, some actually consumed a diet that was 70% carbs, whereas other would have 90% fat – both exhibiting exceptional health! I’m going to do a post in the next couple of weeks on carbs, so I’ll stop there on this one, but I think you get the point. In the meantime, you could check outthis interesting article by Mark Sisson on the variety of Paleo diets that actually existed
  • Paleo is dairy free. Strictly speaking, yes “paleo” is dairy free. However, some people who follow this way of eating find that they do just fine, and even thrive, on dairy, especially unprocessed, full-fat milk. The Maasai of Africa continue to flourish on fresh milk (and blood, and meat). Who are we to say then, that they shouldn’t have any dairy, if they are feeling like Peter from Family Guy on ecstasy. If you can't see it here, do yourself a favour and watch it HERE

Maybe not the best example, but it has been too long between Family Guy clips. I saw an opportunity, and I took it, OK?!
  • We eat a block of butter each day. Paleo is not Atkins. While butter is incredibly delicious and nutritious, there is no need to go overboard. A little butter on your steamed veggies is a great way to help absorb the fat-soluble nutrients. It sure beats margarine, which is highly processed and not what I would call a food at all. Anyone who wants to argue with me on this one….bring it!
  • Paleo is expensive. Cancer is expensive. Multiple Sclerosis is expensive. Heart disease is expensive. Diabetes is expensive. Anutrient-dense diet that could prevent or even reverse these diseases? Not expensive. Eating a Paleo diet does not mean that you have to dine on organic eye fillet, oysters and caviar! Paleo is easy to do on a budget. I’ve been there! Choose cheaper cuts of meat, such as lamb shanks, beef chuck steak and osso bucco. Use the “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” list to decide which veggies you should buy organic. And if you can’t afford any organic, that is OK! Heck, it you can only afford frozen veggies, that’s cool too. Often, frozen veggies will have more vitamins and minerals than their “fresh” counterparts at the supermarket anyway. If you’re still not convinced, Google “Paleo on a budget” – I guarantee you that you’ll find some handy resources. Robb Wolf has a great guide, too.
  • Paleo is unsustainable. Generally this one is brought up in regards to the impact that raising cattle to feed us has on the environment. If we all relied on grain-fed, factory-farmed cattle then yes, the world would probably implode (not necessarily factual). However – Paleo nearly ALWAYS emphasizes grass-fed, humanely raised animal produce. And for the sake of brevity, I will not argue why grass-fed is better (I have done so previsouly HERE), but I will point you in the direction of Allan Savory’s TED talk, which is well-worth a watch!
  • Paleo is lacking in nutrients. Pffft. That is what I have to say to that! Cast your eyes back to my meals – there is a shit-load of veggies there, providing plenty of vitamins and minerals. And that’s just the start. Then there are eggs, liver, bone broth, sauerkraut, kombucha, beet kvass, kefir, meat, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, yoghurt, avocado, coconut, berries, bananas, olive oil…. Please – tell me – what nutrients is this diet lacking in? In fact, I heard on a podcast the other day that it should be called “The nutrient dense diet”. As a side note – if you are eating an ancestral diet, you really should be eating organ meats. Not just for their incredible density of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, but it is just respectful to the animal – if we are going to sacrifice its life for ours, then we should at least eat the whole thing (or as much as we can)
That’s just SOME of the myths. I’m sure there are more and please feel free to point them out in the comments below. As a final point – I am not an idiot. I am a university-trained dietitian. I studied my arse off and graduated with first-class honours. Do you really think I would be dumb enough to follow, or recommend, a “fad” diet that is harmful to my, and others’, health? I studied nutrition and dietetics because I wanted to help people avoid disease and attain optimal health and wellness so they can feel as good as they possibly can, for as long as they can (kind of like Peter on ecstasy, above). 

For those of you paleo naysayers out there, I have this to say: 

Just for a moment, take your ego out of it, forget about the “guidelines” that the government has told us to live by, and ask yourself “does this make sense?”.


  1. ACA is tabloid news. It's not supposed to be good, accurate or intelligent information. If you set your expectations of the show appropriately low you won't be disappointed.

    1. I agree Mike, however speak to any mainstream dietitian (and most members of the general public) and most of them believe these myths.

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  4. Thank you, once again, Evan, for your useful feedback. Please feel free to expand.