Paleo Diet vs. Traditional Diet

Manuel Villacorta

What is the opposite of a fan? Perhaps antagonist? Well there is yet another antagonist to the Paleo diet, Manuel Villacorta. He has looked at the Paleo diet and doesn’t like what he sees. He advocates eating a traditional diet, like our grandparents or great, great, great grandparents. For him it is a case of Paleo diet vs. traditional diet. The problem, though, is one of misintepretation of the Paleo diet, as usual.

Right off the bat he calls the Paleo diet a fad, a diet trend that won’t lead to any lasting changes. Has he asked any Paleo diet followers if their dietary changes have lead to any long term health benefits? Did he ask Art De Vany if following the Paleo diet help him improve his health and has allowed him to live to 70 with the physique and health of a man half his age?  Did he ask Dr. Kim Mulhvill of CBS News Healthwatch in San Francisco whether her foray into the Paleo diet lead to better scores in her glucose blood levels, over all cholesterol, reduce her blood pressure or help her lose 30 lbs? Making sweeping statements is all well and good, but you’d better back them up.

He also doesn’t like the Paleo diet because he thinks it advocates eating “unlimited meat, root vegetables, fruit and nuts…” He doesn’t like the ommission of grains. That really bothers his, especially when there is archeological evidence that Paleo people did eat grains.

Put simply, the Paleolithic (or “Paleo”) diet attempts to recreate the diet of our pre-agricultural ancestors. That means unlimited meat, root vegetables, fruit and nuts, but no dairy, refined sugar, legumes – and no grains. This is what got my attention. Because the reality is that even Paleolithic man probably didn’t follow the Paleo diet!

The Paleo diet advocates eating foods that would have been available to hunter-gatherers. This means anything that could have been hunted (mammals – large and small, reptiles, birds, fish and even insects – does one “hunt” insects?) and gathered (leaves, berries, nuts, eggs, seeds – this would have included grains – roots, tubers, fruit, etc.) There is no imposed limitations on how much hunted and gathered food there would have been or what type, except by local conditions. If one lived in an area with few large animals, then smaller animals would have been hunted. In some regions people ate mostly seafood since it was easiest and readily available. The diet of Paleolithic man was as varied as our diets are today and was totally dependent on local conditions.  The basic premise of the Paleo diet is to not eat foods which were introduced on a large scale by the advent of agriculture. It is probably that true Paleolithic peoples ate some grains, but these were grass seeds that took a lot of time to gather. Highly labor intensive with not much to show for it.  Grains also require a huge amount of processing before bec0ming even remotely digestible.

Recent research found residue of grains in the teeth of skulls from some 9,000 years ago. Moreover, eating like our most distant ancestors ignores – even disrupts – the food cultures we’ve spent the last several thousand years developing. Each of us comes from one or another of these cultures, and by looking to ithem we can get a good sense of how to eat healthily. There are many wonderful traditional food cultures – Italian, Spanish, Vietnamese, my own beloved Peruvian – that partake of a wide range of foods (including grains!), and that can be healthily eaten. But we might want to think about eating them in a less modern way.

Here is where his argument fails even more. The research cited above is from the remains of an early agricultural settlement in Peru. These people were now agriculturalists, not hunter-gatherers. The research found that the size of the grains and legumes were larger than the wild varieties. Clearly an indication human intervention in the evolution of grains. What would have been nice to see was some research on the difference between the bones of Paleolithic man and Neolithic man.

From an interview with Dr. Loren Cordain on the Chetday.com website::

The fossil record indicates that early farmers, compared to their hunter-gatherer predecessors had a characteristic reduction in stature, an increase in infant mortality, a reduction in life span, an increased incidence of infectious diseases, an increase in iron deficiency anemia, an increased incidence of osteomalacia, porotic hyperostosis and other bone mineral disorders and an increase in the number of dental caries and enamel defects. Early agriculture did not bring about increases in health, but rather the opposite. It has only been in the past 100 years or so with the advent of high tech, mechanized farming and animal husbandry that the trend has changed.

I think that Manuel Villacorta is confusing modern farming and consumption practices with what the Paleo diet advocates. The diet advocates the use of the entire animal, not just the filet mignon. Many paleo diet follower eat organs such as liver, kidneys, heart, etc. Mainly, its a matter of what one is used to and getting used to eating foods that are not a part of one’s previous diet.  And Paleo does not advocate factory farming!

 If you want to go back to the past for nutritional guidance, it’s better to look to your own traditional culture, and think about how your own agricultural ancestors might have eaten. People of the past didn’t eat as much meat as either an ordinary modern diet or the current Paleolithic fad would suggest. Before factory farming, people had to catch or, later, raise what they ate, and so they ate meat less frequently, and all the parts of the animal. There was no waste – and they didn’t just eat the filet mignon.

This is a feature of many traditional food cultures. In Perú, where I’m from, we cook every part of the cow, and every bit of the chicken, including the feet. Earlier versions of many now-familiar cookbooks had recipes for squirrel! (Cuy) So by counseling eating meat every day, and eating mostly large mammals, the Paleo diet gets away from the truth of how even your grandparents ate, let alone our distant ancestors. Read the full article here…..

I am sure there are many who would not object to eating squirrel, just like there are those who do not object to eating rabbit!

I Think the real problem that Mr. Villacorta has is his perceptions of what the Paleo diet really is. The Paleo diet does not advocate factory farming. It does not advocate eating only limited portions of an animal. It does advocate eating locally, seasonally, with the severe limitation of grains and legumes mainly because most people cannot digest them. We’ve only changed 0.02% since we were hunter-gatherers. Not enough time to get used to digesting grains successfully. Give us another 2 million years, then maybe we can talk about grains.

Personally I find there is nothing wrong with following a traditional diet, provided you are light on the grains and beans. Paleo diet vs. traditional diet is really not the issue. The two are closer than you think.

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2 Responses to Paleo Diet vs. Traditional Diet

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