Sunday, April 7, 2013

Paleo fad debunked

This blog used to be titled Paleo Runner (as the url still shows). The main reason for it was that Google Trends showed skyrocketing interest in 'paleo'. With hindsight, the whole idea of recreating an authentic paleo lifestyle by pushing a shopping trolley down the aisles of the supermarket was rather silly to begin with. Sorry!

"Why not long to be aquatic, since life arose in the sea?", biology professor Marlene Zuk jokes in her new book Paleofantasy. "The catch is, if we want to go back to a healthier way of life, what exactly should we emulate?", she asks. Now that's a million dollar (and year) question.

"A growing movement seeks to reproduce the hunter-gatherer lifestyle: running barefoot, pondering polygamy, relying on a diet of meat. But even our ancestors never lived this way. And besides, modern humans have evolved", Zuk sums it up in recent article Paleomythic: How People Really Lived During the Stone Age.

Interestingly, Zuk also points out that "...Paleos are in direct opposition to a growing number of scientists and athletes who believe that running long distances can be healthy, and that humans have evolved doing just that."

The Meat Myth: humans have no known adaptations to meat consumption.

As paleontologist Christina Warinner shows in the TED talk below, humans have no anatomical, physiological or genetic adaptations to meat consumption.

Modern broccoli and other cabbages are developed by humans from wild flowers.

Our ancestors sure did a good job adapting to a wide range of tough conditions. They lived through dramatic climate changes. Whatever they were able to eat, it was probably something quite different from our modern man-made foods. And it was probably a lot more challenging to raise a family than today.

Christina Warinner presents the following three take-away points for us:
  • Fresh foods.
  • Whole foods.
  • Diversity is key.
That's it: paleo diet unhyped. There are no books, recipes, movies, supplements, apparel, coaching, retreats, seminars or anything else to buy.

Point 1: eat fresh foods.

Point 2: eat whole foods.

Point 3: diversity is key.

Still not convinced? Rationalwiki has more about Paleo diet, stating it's indeed a fad diet and concluding: "Eating like a caveman is not likely to be the healthiest option."


Tuck said...

Hardly debunked. Neither Zuk nor Warriner know enough about what the paleo diet advocates actually advocate to criticize them effectively. Warriner winds up making a good argument for the paleo diet in the latter 2/3rds of her presentation (after getting many basic facts wrong in the first 1/3rd).

Zuk is a bit more clueless. In the key exchange with Paleo Diet author Loren Cordain which she cites in her book, she is in fact flat wrong on the facts. That's just the start. Many other issues with her book are well documented in this review in the journal Evolutionary Psychology:

"Throwing Out the Mismatch Baby with the Paleo-Bathwater."

I actually found your blog when looking for info on paleo diets and running. :) Keep up the good work!

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks Tuck, glad you found my blog.

The way I see it, the ladies just had some fun showing on a general level the absurdities related with the common conception that the paleo diet or lifestyle resembles what 'cavemen' actually ate or how they lived. The interest to go into detailed debate or criticism with just another fad diet may simply not be there.

Saying paleo is debunked doesn't mean it can't be successful and popular for a while at least: advocates may earn a few easy bucks while followers possibly lose a few pounds. However I've decided paleo isn't for me. Keep on running!

Toma Que Tomás ('Mash) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Toma Que Tomás ('Mash) said...

Found your blog a moment ago after looking for information in regards to cycling protein.

In relation to the paleo fantasy I posted the following on a forum just this morning...

SHR: Carl Lenore. Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet. Interview with Marlene Zuk:

SHR: Carl Lenore. A Second Look At Some Of The Claims Made In Paleofantasy. Interview with Dr. Loren Cordain:

RHR: Chris Kresser. Thoughts on Paleofantasy.

FBM: Abel James. Mat Lalonde on Nutrient Density, Paleo Fails, and Being the Kraken.

PHD: Paul Jaminet. Paleofantasy and the State of Ancestral Science:

Sorry for bombarding you with links, but thought it may be useful to you and other readers.

I had not expected this, but you have inspired me to look into trail running now. So many thanks for that!

Trail Plodder said...

Thanks for the links Toma. Actually I had already checked out Chris Kesser's take on Paleofantasy before posting my blog. I also have the Perfect Health book by Jaminet. However I don't really follow any of these paleo guys that much anymore, because I don't eat meat and they don't run ultra trails.

Glad you got interested in trail running! Talk Ultra by Ian Corless is a great ultra running/paleo podcast for you:

Toma Que Tomás ('Mash) said...

Thanks will have a listen today.

However I don't really follow any of these paleo guys that much anymore, because I don't eat meat and they don't run ultra trails.

Great quote! :)

I am pretty sure you have heard of triathlete Ben Greenfield

Anyway I would really like to hear what your eating is now: in general and around your training, and competition.

Trail Plodder said...

Yes everyone with web access probably knows Ben, he's all over the place. I subscribe to Endurance Planet podcast so I hear his views every now and then.

My nutrition strategy is still the same as in October:

In ultra trail races I only carry some gels and water in my backpack. You often get a limited choice of nutrition at the aid stations, so you can eat what they have or die. In Italy for example they usually have plenty of beer and even wine, but no fruits and sometimes not even water available. I France they may have a lot of meats and cheeses. Spain is ok, but Switzerland has the best food options in my experience.

Toma Que Tomás ('Mash) said...


I had assumed you had kept a lower carb higher fat ratio from your paleo days, so thanks for clearing that up. You mentioned you lost a lot of weight on the raw-diet, hence switching to the PHD. What do you think is different now?

I had this in my bookmarks: Western States 100 – Low Carber Wins Ultramarathon – Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek Study:

Apologies if I am asking too much, I just find it more interesting hearing from performance athletes whose dietary implementation actually gets "field tested".

Trail Plodder said...

What's different now is that I eat about 20% cooked vegan food and 80% raw. That seems to be my sweet spot. On a 100% raw fruits/veggies diet experiment I lost too much weight, although I ate as much as possible. I have always been lean, so I don't have much extra weight to play with.

Yes that WS100 study and Tim Olson's 2012 win is well known to me and not a surprise. My best marathon and Ironman triathlon times were done on a low carb diet that was also paleo, except that I enjoyed dairy.