I really enjoyed reading all of your comments from the Nutrition Q & A last week! Sometimes I don’t even know where to start when it comes to my nutrition posts, simply because there is so much information. Reading about what you are interested in right now and what you want answers to certainly gives me plenty to write about!
Since there were so many great questions that I wanted to answer in great detail, I’m going to split this up into a few segments. It’s hard to answer these questions in a brief way because there are a variety of factors that often need to be explained.
I’m starting with the question that Amy @ The Little Honey Bee asked regarding paleo protein and the controversy around beans and grains. As I sat down to finish writing this post last night, I happened to notice that Amy wrote a Paleo post the same day. Great minds think alike.
(Sorry to single you out Amy, it was a good question!)
A little background on the paleo diet for those who are unfamiliar with it….
The paleo diet is based off foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate. This is a diet free from all grains, legumes (beans), dairy, alcohol, sugar, and sodium. The idea behind this is that our digestive systems have not biologically evolved since the days of the paleolithic man (cave man), and therefore we cannot process all of the new foods that have been introduced to the human diet over the years.
Paleo-eaters opt for grass-fed beef, chicken, fish, fruits, and vegetables. Beans, legumes, and grains are off limits for followers of the paleo diet because these crops were not around when the paleolithic man evolved.
This evolutionary factor is the main reason our body cannot tolerate sodium. The Paleolithic man ate very little sodium and our bodies have developed mechanisms for storing it because of this. Very little sodium is excreted from the body and we retain nearly 98% of what we intake. This causes blood pressure to rise because sodium and water are besties and hang out together. When water is not excreted, it accumulates in the bloodstream and your blood pressure goes up. (This is also why you feel bloated when you eat too many chips).
The argument is that hunter-gatherers lived lives free of chronic illnesses such as obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, acne, and more.
From a science perspective, this makes sense. It may seem like the Stone Age was quite a long time ago, but it’s not enough time for evolution. The paleo argument is that the human body has not had sufficient time to adapt to modern food. Not to mention, I don’t remember reading about any cavemen that were obese and had type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
But with any nutrition trend, I’m skeptical. So I took to research for the answer….
The problem with the paleo plan is there is not much science to support it. End of story. I agree that if you are sensitive to dairy or grains, this diet can be great for you to clean up your insides. But what are the long-term effects? It’s too early to tell.
Why am I skeptical? Because there is far too much evidence against this dietary plan. Numerous research articles have been published in support of a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
The article Nutrient Profiles of Vegetarian and Nonvegetarian Dietary Patterns from the December issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics discusses that studies have shown that plant-based dietary patterns are associated with both lower cardiometabolic risk and lower coronary heart disease risk.
Additionally, this study (and many others) have noted that non-vegetarians have the highest body mass index (BMI) and the highest proportion of obese subjects. Energy-dense nutrients such as total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat where the highest amongst non-vegetarians, which have been associated with higher rates of heart disease. The strict vegetarian group had the highest intake of fiber from foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts. High fiber diets have been linked with lower rates of several chronic diseases, according to the article Coronary heart disease prevention: Nutrients, foods, and dietary patterns from the Journal of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine.
I know what you’re thinking, “but paleolithic man didn’t have heart disease”….
Yes, this is true. However, hunter-gatherers ate wild game that is very lean and very low in fat. He did not eat chicken and beef pumped with hormones and processed in a meat-packing plant. Modern-day meat is not the same as Stone Age meat. Even if you are buying “grass-fed” or “organic”, how do you really know where your meat is coming from and how it is prepared?
The purpose of this post is not to convince you to give up your chicken dinner every night. Lean meat is an excellent source of protein and B vitamins and is low in carbohydrates. However, the meat our current society consumes is different from the Paleolithic era and consistent consumption is highly correlated with chronic diseases.
It should also be noted that beans have been around for thousands of years. Pinto beans were cultivated more than 5,000 years ago in ancient Peru and are high in folate, fiber, and potassium. If you want more bean info, check out this site.
P.S. I know this is a controversial topic, but I didn’t start this site to praise the latest nutrition fads. I have been trained to differentiate between myths and evidence-based research. I know many of you have had success with a paleo diet, and if that works for you then great! However, the long-term effects are inconclusive and I’m here to report the facts.
The best part about evidence-based nutrition? It’s always changing.
A year from now new research may be published that contradicts everything on this post. Therefore, I would have to update my site on the current findings. There might be a plethora of information that is published in support of the paleo diet years from now.
Until then, keep eating your beans!
Do you follow a Paleo diet?