It seems that every month a new fad diet comes along. Some involve eating one specific food over another and shaping a diet plan for your lifestyle, while others focus on total body health. Some are designed to help a person lose weight, others designed to build muscle or provide the most energy. Some diets are even designed to help boost a man's testosterone to maximize sex drive.
One of the more popular diets in recent years has been the Paleo diet. I spoke with Mathieu Lalonde to clarify what the diet entails and who might benefit from following it. Lalonde holds a PhD in organic chemistry from Harvard University and has been constructively criticizing the Paleo diet for some time.
What is the Paleo diet?
“Simply put, eating Paleo means following a diet where grains, legumes, and dairy are not consumed. The Paleo diet seeks to emulate the way our Paleolithic ancestors ate using modern foods, such as meats, seafood, fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers, nuts and seeds.”
So this diet focuses primarily on consuming meat…?
“There are quite a few misconceptions surrounding the diet and many have been borne out of attempts to discredit or marginalize the lifestyle. The diet is often criticized for its heavy focus on animal products. Although meat is allowed and often mentioned first, there is no focus on meat in the diet per se. In fact, vegetarians can follow the lifestyle as long as their diets are grain-, legume- and dairy-free. Along the same lines, the Paleo diet is often vilified because it allows for heavy consumption of red meat. However, red meat does not need to be consumed. Someone could easily pull off a Paleo diet with white meat and seafood, while excluding all red meat.”
Is it a low-carb diet?
“The Paleo diet is often considered to be a low-carb regimen. I don’t know where this comes from. There is no macronutrient ration that comes with the paleo prescription, only a list of allowed foods. Both high- and low-carb diets are feasible with these foods. High-carb would focus on tubers (such as potatoes) and fruit while low-carb would focus on meat, seafood, and fatty fruits like avocado, coconut, and olives.”
So why do you think the Paleo diet works?
“I offer four reasons. First, the Paleo diet limits junk food. Let’s face it, there simply aren’t a lot of highly palatable and rewarding refined foods that can be consumed when grains, legumes, and dairy aren’t on the menu. Cakes, doughnuts, ice cream…gone!
Our ancestors sought sugar, salt and fat because it offered a survival advantage in an environment where food was scarce. They would eat a lot of sugar, salt or fat contained in food when it was available in order to put on a few pounds that would help them survive when food was not available in large quantities. Unfortunately, modern humans still seek out sugar, salt and fat, even though food is readily available all year round. Junk food companies take full advantage of this behavior by designing foods that contain the perfect combination of sugar, salt and fat, which makes the foods irresistible and addictive. People tend to overeat junk food as a result and gain weight. I recommend reading the book “Sugar, Salt, Fat” as well as the blog “Whole Health Source” for more information on the addictive nature of highly palatable/rewarding foods.