Diet #2 PALEO… One Myth Leads to Another

There’s a few myths that surround the paleo diet. One in particular is very irritating as it stands in the way of proper discussion of the diet and also spawns others, because what many of the myths have in common is that they link back to the underlying principle(s) of the diet.

paleo meme

There’s two main interpretations of what it means to be ‘paleo’, They are:

  1. Don’t eat grains, legumes, dairy or highly processed foods.
  2. Base your intake on meat and fish, then vegetables and fruit, and then nuts and seeds.

If you’re basing your definition of ‘paleo’ on the evidence then you’re on more solid ground with the first. The first tells me what not to eat, the second tells me what to eat. Looking at the evidence we don’t know exactly what hunter gatherers ate, it varied depending upon season, location etc, but we do know what they didn’t (usually) eat.

Thankfully when you look around your see the first is the most widely agreed upon definition, but a few including ones who should know better are still making pretty basic mistakes..

Onto the myths: namely that it’s an environmentally damaging low carb variation on Atkins.

“It’s Low Carb and/or HIgh Protein and/or HIgh Fat”

There’s a difference between the paleo diet and The Paleo Diet™. The first is an idea or framework, the second is a defined product. There’s plenty of coaches, diet gurus etc with their own version of the paleo diet, but that is their version.

Most agree the definition

  • Paleo is dairy, legumes and grain free and minimises highly processed foods (veg oil, alcohol etc)

So, where is the discussion of carbs there?

paleo myths

You could exist on fruit all day, or eat nothing red meat. Both of these are ‘paleo’. One is almost exclusively carbs (avocado aside) , the other is fat and protein, but they’re still just differing interpretations of the underlying principles.

Yes, many have a recommendation – for example Prof. Loren Cordain author of The Paleo Diet (2002) the book that blew the door open mentions a 40%, 40%, 20% ratio of protein fat and carbohydrate – but these are based on their interpretation of not just ‘paleo’ research, but other diet research as well. The macro ratios proposed by research on hunter-gatherer diets show a large spectrum.

Aside: The next obvious question is: is there a optimum ratio of macronutrients? In a word: no. Your needs are different to mine, and they also vary daily, weekly and monthly, they vary depending on what stage in life you are in from infant to late adulthood. They change as your amount and types of activity change… I could go on.

This is a fundamental mistake and an annoying one as it’s so obviously wrong and leads to other assumptions like this:

“Paleo is just modified Atkins”

In his book ‘The Diet Myth’ Professor Tim Spector (Geneticist King’s College University of London) describes paleo  as a ‘variant’ of Atkins.

True, the popular beginnings of paleo did follow on the heels of Atkins. The Atkins Diet Revolution predates Dr Walter Voegtlin’s ‘The Stone Age Diet’ by three years, but then so does disco.


You can’t argue that the paleo diet is just a variant of Atkins based on that, that said the medical community were already discussing the paleo diet in its connection with health in the 1960s as these two papers HERE and HERE show.

And again, where in the advice ‘avoid dairy grains, legumes and highly processed foods’ does the mention of carbohydrate a bit come in? This is a central tenet of Atkins.

“The paleo diet is environmentally unsustainable/harmful”

There’s a prevailing view that being vegetarian or vegan are the only answer to our future needs and that ‘meat heavy’ paleo is environmentally damaging.

The short answer is: You can be paleo and vegan.

Yes, there’s even a name for paleo  vegan: Pegan.

And, no, it’s not easy but it can be done, basing your diets on non grain/legume vegetables, nuts and seeds bumping up the protein intake and quality with judicious use of things like fungi, yeast, algae and seaweed.
Unfortunately that on its own doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. The long answer is that with nutrition you can’t take anything at face value. For example, modern agriculture is environmentally harmful and requires heavy use of fossil fuels, similarly flying any food half way round the world, whether it New Zealand lamb or Argentinian asparagus is still harmful.

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