After the recent Ancestral Health Symposium, there was a lot of talk in the blogosphere about how a large percentage of the presenters were from the low-carb community. Tom Naughton, Dr. Eades, and Gary Taubes to name but a few. But does that mean that the Paleo diet is just another low-carb diet in disguise, or that Paleo has to be low-carb?
The answer to those questions is a resounding “No”. Paleo isn’t inherently a low-carb diet, and low-carb diets are not inherently Paleo, but the two tend to go hand in hand for a lot of practitioners, and can be very complimentary. There are several reasons that people find their way to the Paleo lifestyle, one of which is weight loss. A person can easily lose weight on a standard Paleo protocol, because it is by default a “lower carbohydrate” diet than standard American fare, thanks to the exclusion of grains and other processed carbohydrates. It’s difficult to eat a large amount of carbs when your main sources are Fruit, Nuts and Vegetables, but for some this can still be too much to facilitate any kind of significant, high-speed weight loss.
The question is, where are you starting out? Are you starting a Paleo diet as an obese or overweight person, who has a high degree of metabolic derangement, or are you already a lean, active person? Paleo can be a very different animal for each of these two classes, and different still for all of the increments between the two extremes.
Someone who is obese and/or metabolically damaged would almost certainly do better using a version of the Paleo diet that doesn’t include many (if any) fruits, and starchy foods, because eating those items would invariably slow down or halt any weight loss, and metabolic repair. People who are insulin resistant can be very sensitive to carbs, and actually gain weight from even including small amounts in their diet. This style of Paleo would definitely be very-low-carb and possibly fall into the category of a Ketogenic diet, where long periods of time are spent in Ketosis. Does this type of person have to utilize this type of Paleo diet? No. Anyone can stick to a totally standard type of Paleo lifestyle and still experience the positive health benefits, but the results will generally occur at an invariably slower rate.
On the other hand, lean athletic people with properly working metabolisms, and no insulin resistance, could easily do better with a decent amount of Paleo-friendly fruits, and some strategically placed starches. These “energy foods” can help support the demanding energy needs of a highly active person, without much worry about gaining weight, or furthering insulin resistance.
The Paleo diet can be tailored for the individual to be very-low-carb, or relatively high-carb in content, which makes it very diverse and feasible for anyone. I firmly believe that if you are a human, then Paleo is for you. However, the style of Paleo that works for you, is something you have to discover on your own. This is where the now famous term “N=1” comes into play; it simply signifies self-experimentation.
There are a few good reasons that so many active low-carb practitioners eventually gravitate towards the Paleo diet. Standard low-carb diets, such as Atkins for example, are notoriously unconcerned with actual food quality and origin. They are only concerned with the carbohydrate content of what they place in their mouths. Grass fed beef, pastured meats, and over-all Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acid balance are not a consideration. Artificial sweeteners, and other additives are not restricted in a standard low-carb protocol, whereas all unnatural processed chemicals and additives are excluded from the Paleo lifestyle. It is therefore a natural progression for people who start out in a standard low-carb approach to ultimately end-up in Paleo circles as they become more concerned about food quality. Just as Paleo is an example of the evolutionary human diet, it is also the evolved form of the standard low-carb diet.
What Paleo is definitely not, is just another low-carb diet in disguise. The Paleo diet is simply the way that humans were designed to eat. The strictest form of Paleo addresses autoimmune issues, allergies, gastrointestinal problems, acne, infertility, and a whole host of modern chronic diseases. It’s a veritable cure-all when carried out with commitment. In my opinion it’s fair to say that a standard, low food quality, low-carb diet, would have some of the same positive effects, but obviously not all.
Here’s a great quote from Angelo Coppola of The Latest in Paleo Podcast:
“Another thing that comes to mind with the growth of the Paleo diet is, hey — just look at what has happened to low-carb and gluten-free. They’re big enough for industrial food to jump in and offer a lot of processed food options that are just garbage. Frankly, this is what happens when we hone in on a single macronutrient, or even a protein in the case of gluten-free. See, businesses can deal with that. It’s numbers. You want low-carb, we can make low carb. You want gluten-free? We can figure out how to isolate, put stuff in, pull stuff out. Just look at low-calorie, low-fat, the point system diets, the pharmaceuticals. It’s all stuff that business can deliver. But you know what? It’s about quality. And that’s a tough one.
Quality means avoiding shortcuts. And business is really good exploiting shortcuts.
Quality means straight from the ground freshness. That makes distribution a problem, you know.
Quality means respecting the essence of whatever it is you’re talking about. It means feeding grass to cows. It means letting chickens run around and eat bugs. It means things can take a little longer. It means relinquishing some control — or more accuratey it means not trying to usurp and wrestle total control from nature.
And that’s a good segue into another point. Part of the quality equation is definitely learning to make things for yourself. If you want to avoid processed foods, you have to learn how to make things.
And you know what, it’s not that hard.” – Angelo Coppola, 2011
At the end of the day, Paleo practitioners justify their food choices with evolutionary evidence, and revere the use of almost all available fats and proteins in their diet, because our ancestors did. We also shun grains because of evolutionary and physical health reasons. Low-carbers do much of the same. So, it’s no wonder that many people who start out in the standard low-carb world, find that taking refuge under the strong scientific and scholarly umbrella that is the Paleo community today, is the beneficial maturation of their initial break from the status quo.
Personally, I’m glad to have the low-carb folks in our camp. I started out there in the standard low-carb world too, after all. Together, united as one force, maybe we can turn America’s dietary tide of ill-health towards a more healthy Paleo one; low-carb or not.
If you found this article useful, please click the ‘LIKE’ button below to share on Facebook. We also invite you to leave comments, and join the Paleo Diet News discussion!
Barry Cripps is a Paleo-based Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, who operates out of Bowling Green, Kentucky. For more information please visit: www.undergroundnutritionist.com