Dr Karl Kruszelnicki slams Paleo – again
Activated almond advocates across Australia maintain that the key to optimal health lies in the ways of our cave-dwelling forebears. Paleos follow a nutritional regimen based around grass-fed meats, eggs, fish, nuts, vegetables and fruit.
The basic theory behind Paleo, is that the human body has not evolved to thrive on a modern diet of processed foods, grains, sugar, starches and grains, and that our heavy reliance on such foods has contributed to the rise of chronic diseases.
In his weekly radio segment on Triple J, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki has ripped into the Paleo diet in response to a listener’s question about its validity.
“The Paleo diet claims that the period of 12,000 years since we invented agriculture is far too short for our bodies to have evolved to cope with the new foods that agriculture has given us,” said Dr Karl.
“So to summarise, they say that the key to a healthy, long life is to abandon our modern agricultural diet and to eat what our Palaeolithic ancestors ate.”
“There are major problems at every possible level, from theoretical to practical,” he continues.
Dr Karl offers up four points to consider before we get completely swept up in the Paleo piffle.
- “There were many different varieties of the Paleo diet from living on the Equator, North Pole [and] China. There was no single ‘Paleo’ diet.”
- “We actually have evolved a lot in the last 12,000 years, including lactose tolerance.”
- “We can’t eat what they ate because it’s not around.” (In another article Dr Karl gives some examples of how food has changed.)
- “The recommended [Paleo] diet is way out of kilter with the current recommendations of professional dietitians.”
He clarifies his position, adding: “Now, I’m not talking about someone whose job it is being a professional celebrity, but somebody whose job is to spend four years at university getting a bachelor’s degree and then a masters degree…”
One of the dietary guidelines that Paleo dismisses is the consumption of whole grains, despite good evidence that our ancestors were already eating grains and legumes 30,000 years ago, writes Dr Karl.
Two recent studies also back up the guidelines, suggesting that an increased intake of whole grains can reduce the risk of death from chronic diseases such as respiratory disease, cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
One report, in BMJ, used data from 45 different studies and found that those who ate 90 grams of whole grains per day (equivalent to three servings, for example, two slices of bread and a bowl of cereal) had a 17 per cent reduction in risk of premature death.
The other study, published in Circulation, came to a similar conclusion. The analysis, that was based on 14 studies with 786,076 participants found that compared with those who ate the least whole grain foods, those who ate the most had a 16 per cent reduced risk for all-cause mortality and an 18 per cent reduced risk for cardiovascular mortality.
In another blow to Paleo, it turns out that the self-respecting caveman may not have been the visions of health they are often held up as.
A team of international researchers announced last month, the discovery of the most ancient evidence for cancer and bony tumors yet described in the human fossil record. The announcement came after scientists found a foot bone dated to approximately 1.7 million years ago with definitive evidence of a malignant cancer.
Edward Odes, the lead author of the cancer paper, noted: “Modern medicine tends to assume that cancers and tumors in humans are diseases caused by modern lifestyles and environments. Our studies show the origins of these diseases occurred in our ancient relatives millions of years before modern industrial societies existed.”
While there are holes in the Paleo logic, it’s not all bad. Dr Karl admits that the Palaeolithic recommendation for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and the elimination of processed foods with added salt, sugars and flavourings is “entirely sensible”.
Clare Collins, a Professor of Nutrition & Dietetics, and Dr Karl’s radio co-host, agrees on this point.
While she is quick to point out that “the Paleo man isn’t here today for a reason”, she acknowledges that “the positives is the big diversity of vegetables and fruit”.
But these recommendations are not Paleo-specific.
“What’s common among some the best diets out there today is eating lots of fresh food – big diversity of vegetables and fruit, the leanest meats or sources of protein that you can afford, and… some form of dairy and grains,” says Collins. “That’s what I’m backing and that’s what I believe will make us all feel better.”
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