TED Talks on the Paleo Diet

I came across this Ted talk on Debunking the Paleo Diet recently.  I’m always interested to listen to food and diet related information, and think it’s worth a listen if you have a few minutes to spare. 

I am not a healthcare professional, RD, nor am I an expert on the Paleo diet, but I do see it in blogs quite often and have heard about it through friends that practice Crossfit & “go Paleo”.  It seems it has helped a number of people feel healthier and loose weight, and I do appreciate that it limits processed foods (junk food).  I personally don’t believe in the Paleo diet or any other diet other than eating a varied, minimally processed, plant-based diet (plant based meaning heavy in plants such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc.). 

imagespaleopyramid

{ source 1 & source 2 }

There are a number of interpretations of the Paleo diet, the pictures above being just a few.  If you take a quick peek at Paleodiet.com you might find a recommendation to eat an egg omelet & grapefruit for breakfast, a Caesar salad with chicken for lunch, and turkey breast, broccoli plus tomato and avocado for dinner.  Just a few examples.  I also see bananas & coconut butter used frequently on Paleo-type blogs.

On to the TED talk:  The speaker, Dr. Christina Warinner, is an archeologist that studies diets & nutrition of ancient peoples – how interesting!  I always wanted to be an archeologist growing up.  Anyway, her talk was well-grounded and she provided a number of reasons the Paleo diet is not realistic, and is really just a fad.  She highlighted that humans are not evolved to eat meat and don’t need to consume large quantities of meat (as might be the conclusion drawn from the pyramid above).  Actually, we are built more for plant consumption, which is evidenced by our digestive tracts and teeth.  Yes, we are omnivores that eat plant-based!  She also highlighted that many “Paleo foods” are not what our ancestors ate and are in fact agricultural (farmed) products.  This includes salads, bananas, olive oil, etc.  Many and most foods we eat today have been bred for their taste and ability to digest.  Plus I’ve always wondered- if our ancestors did eat the foods shown above, only some of them were lucky to live in Mediterranean or tropical climates where they might get avocados or coconuts.  What about the others that lived in-land or in cooler climates? 

Dr. Warinner did end her talk with some things that we can learn from the diets of early people:

  1. There is no one correct “diet”, but diversity is key.  Humans require key nutrients, so we need to be rich in consumption of different species.  There is increasingly too much corn, soy, wheat in American diet.
  2. Humans evolved to eat fresh foods in season, when they’re ripe; that’s when they have their highest nutrition content.  Some foods preserve well (seeds, nuts), or through pickling, smoking, drying, etc., but generally preservatives inhibit bacterial growth. 
  3. We evolved to eat whole foods.  Foods are not just the sum of the calories and vitamins.  For example, the fiber in a piece of fruit regulates metabolism, slows sugar, feeds good bacteria.  With heavily processed foods, we are loosing the whole food and loosing this balance.

Oh, yeah, and she showed that 8.5 feet of sugar cane is what a caveman might be required to eat to equal the sugar content of one soda?!  Yikes, this continues to pain me.  Please just give up soda people!  Plus, it seems like so much more work required to convert 8.5’ of sugar cane to a soda (and packaging it in a can) versus just eating a whole apple.

 soda-sugar

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13 thoughts on “TED Talks on the Paleo Diet

  1. Thanks for posting that TED talk. I’m obviously somewhat biased against the Paleo diet, but I am definitely on board with eating whole foods. A friend of mine eats “Paleo,” and it’s always interesting to me what is and is not permissible to him. People question my vegan-ness regularly, but at least there’s some rhyme and reason to what foods I eat (translation: plants), but I have yet to figure out the rhythm to what’s included under the Paleo diet. Dr. Warinner’s explanation of what paleolithic people ate is the most useful explanation I’ve come across, but it obviously doesn’t equate to what people call the Paleo diet.

    1. Yes – there are a lot of variations/interpretations of the Paleo diet, but I find the relation to our real ancestors’ diets questionable at best – and it’s really interesting to see how most of our foods today are nothing like foods from the past (like the broccoli example in the TED video!). However, at least Paleo supports getting rid of processed foods – maybe a start for some.

  2. Love thie post! I think all diets should be used as a guideline but not rules. It’s good that people dabble in diets but in the end, the best way is to find out what works out for you (after that dabbling) and create your own diet that will work for your body. We are all different and may require different nutritional needs.

    1. Thanks Katy! I was just reading your post and am so. freaking. jealous of you mountain climb! I love that sort of cycling 🙂 Yes, you definitely have to find what makes you feel good. I think Paleo is too close to Atkins; both showing short-term results via reduction in carbs.

  3. Have you read In Defense Of Eating? It’s by Michael Pollan and I just finished it a few weeks ago. It was a pretty interesting look at what we know about nutritional science.

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