Okay. Are we officially over the Pete Evans / paleo social media shit-storm in Australia? I think it’s safe to say that I’m just about there. I’m experiencing a severe case of Chronic Paleo Overload Syndrome (CPOS).
The problem is that as a practicing dietitian, it’s in my interests to keep abreast of the whole kerfuffle, and to know what Chef Pete Evans is preaching today to his 300K+ tribe on Facebook. Because you can bet your bokashi that my clients, colleagues, friends and family will be asking me about it.
How long – I wonder – before we’ll be asked to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’, and have our official paleo status stamped on our licence?:
Organ donor? (circle) Y / N.
Paleo? (circle): Y / N.
If you’re thinking I sound a bit paranoid, you may be right (along with premature ageing and a compulsion to stockpile Cherry Ripes, paranoia is a common symptom of CPOS).
But I’m not blogging here to enter into debate over Pete Evans’ recent attacks on the Heart Foundation tick – I think this recent post by a fellow dietitian says it perfectly. When it comes to our healthy eating guidelines, or the role of fats and carbohydrates in the obesity epidemic, I defer to the extensive grey matter of Dr David Katz, and encourage anyone interested to read his recent thoughts. And as for the idea that paleo can treat everything from autism to MS – are you thinking what I’m thinking?..
What I am talking about here is the push I’m seeing for paleo to be accepted as a healthier alternative to current evidence-based nutrition guidelines. And the proliferation of comments from the general public along the lines of:
‘I don’t see the problem with Paleo. It’s just a healthy diet that cuts out processed foods, and surely that’s better for us than eating crap isn’t it?
Most dietitians and public health experts are in furious agreement that there are some really good points to the paleo style of eating. Engaging in debate about the quality of our food supply and where it comes from. Stepping away from the supermarket shelves – groaning under the weight of sugary, processed, nutrient-poor foods. Eating lots of fibrous, nutrient-rich vegetables, nuts and seeds. Of course these are things we should all aspire to.
But let’s not get so blinded by these positives, that we fail to see the full picture. The newsflash I have here is that there is a middle ground, which falls somewhere between a diet full of processed rubbish, and going paleo. It’s called eating things that grow in the soil, making your own instead of buying the packet, and developing a healthy relationship with food.
Quite simply – I believe going paleo is throwing the baby out with the bath water.
And this is why:
Paleo would have you think that a bowl of oats (with all that soluble fibre, folate, magnesium, protein and low GI carbohydrate) is no different to a bowl of Fruit Loops.
Paleo doesn’t distinguish between a sandwich made with grainy, low GI bread, and a sugar-laden cake made with refined white flour. It lumps these two distinctly different beasts in together as ‘bad’ foods. It perpetuates the idea that there is something inherently dangerous about gluten, despite any robust scientific data to this effect (and as a dietitan married to a guy with coeliac disease – I kind of know my research in the area of gluten sensitivity).
True paleo diets omit legumes and dairy – two incredibly nutrient dense food groups consumed by diverse cultures around our globe. We’ve been eating these foods for centuries – long before the current obesity epidemic, the rise of food allergies, intolerances and their associated health burden.
There is a tonne of research which shows the benefit of legumes in the diet – probably because they are an excellent source of slow release carbohydrate with a wide range of nutrients and a good whack of fibre.
And dairy? Slow release carbohydrate again, with quality protein, potassium and an ideal ratio of calcium and phosphorous for bone health. A high dairy diet may not suit everyone (lactose intolerance and cow’s milk protein allergy/intolerance are known issues), and some prefer not to drink the milk of another mammal for ethical reasons. But does dairy classify as a toxic food that is inherently bad for all of us? No.
Please don’t make me live in a world without cheese – I just don’t think I’d cope.
So I have an idea.
Let’s start talking about nutrition without the sweeping generalisations and one-size fits all perspective. Let’s encourage a back-to-basics, cut-the-crap approach, without demonising foods we’ve been cultivating and eating without incident for centuries. Let’s ditch the Facebook slinging match, the before and after shots and the contest for most number of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. And while we’re at it, how about accepting that as powerful as our diet is – it is not the cure for every disease or disorder under the sun.
With that in mind, I’ll get back to prepping my utterly non-paleo, yet delicious and healthy dinner. Legumes, rice, cheese, vegetables – and a sneaky glass of wine on the side. The perfect salve to my CPOS-riddled brain.
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