Yesterday in Part I we covered the genesis of the Paleo Diet, the basic do’s and don’ts, and some of the inconsistencies that show up when you examine the diet more closely.
Today we will examine a few more of the theoretical inconsistencies as well as my personal recommendations.
Location, location, location
The assumed diet of the hunter-gatherers modeled by the Paleo’s is reflective of cave people living in Northern Europe in cold climes where plants did not readily grow. But the simple truth is that hunter-gatherer societies in other locations ate decidedly different diets. As Katharine Milton points out in an editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
“The !Kung might live in conditions close to the “ideal” hunting and gathering environment. What do the !Kung eat? Animal foods are estimated to contribute 33% and plant foods 67% of their daily energy intakes. Fifty percent (by wt) of their plant-based diet comes from the mongongo nut, which is available throughout the year in massive quantities. Similarly, the hunter-gatherer Hadza of Tanzania consume “the bulk of their diet” as wild plants, although they live in an area with an exceptional abundance of game animals and refer to themselves as hunters.” 
And it’s not just modern examples of hunter-gatherer tribes. There is solid evidence that suggests that Paleolithic peoples commonly ate grain, and even flour, as far back as 30,000 years ago.  In fact, there is quite reasonable evidence that people were processing cereal grains for food as much as 200,000 years ago.  The bottom line is that the fundamental premise that Paleolithic peoples did not eat grains and that they ate large amounts of meat is only “suggested” by historical records, not necessarily supported by them.
Another example is salt. Salt is a taboo in most Paleo Diets, and yet the evidence is that the people of the Lenggong Valley in Malaysia were not only eating salt 200,000 years ago, but had created tools for grinding it. And animals will eat/lick salt whenever they find it. Virtually all animals consume it. Salt is actually an interesting test for the Paleo Diet. Animals eat it. Cavemen ate it. And yet, it’s taboo in the Paleo Diet. Obviously, the Paleo Dieters’ faith in their ancestors’ food choices only goes so far. And in this case, It appears they bought into a “golden chariot” theory.
I wrote several years ago (and appeared on numerous radio shows) trying to tell people that the case against salt was largely misguided. And on May 4th 2011, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a study corroborating that position.  Stunningly, the study found that participants with the lowest salt intake had the highest rate of death from heart disease during the follow up (4 percent), and people who ate the most salt had the lowest (less than 1 percent). In the case of salt, cavemen really did know better; unfortunately, advocates of the Paleo diet, despite their professed belief in the caveman diet, backed the wrong horse: bad science.
Another problem I have is that just because people ate certain foods does not necessarily mean that those were the best foods to eat — merely that those were most likely the foods that were easiest to obtain in their local environment. If you were living in Europe on the edge of a glacier, mangoes were not part of your diet, not because they were unhealthy, but because they were not readily available. On the other hand, if you grew up in the Indus valley 100,000 years ago, a vegetarian diet would have been a strong option because fruits and vegetables would have been readily available.
As anyone who has been to college knows, you don’t live on pizza and beer while attending school because they are a “natural” part of your diet; you live on them because they are readily available on campus and all your friends are eating them.
To me, a much better indicator of what foods we are designed to eat is your digestive tract — from your mouth to your anus. Animals that eat particular foods have digestive tracts designed to handle those foods. Carnivores have sharp teeth for ripping and tearing flesh, and short digestive tracts for quickly eliminating waste once digested in the stomach — so it doesn’t have time to putrefy in the intestines. (Meat putrefies.) Animals that eat plants have flat teeth for grinding and long digestive systems to allow time to extract nutrients from plant matter, which does not putrefy. Human digestive systems largely match Chimpanzees, who eat mostly fruits and nuts and termites, but will eat a small amount of monkey meat when they can get it. For more on this issue, you can check out my series examining the digestive system.
Premise of health is arbitrary
The idea that the so-called Paleo Diet is inherently healthier is simply not supported by the evidence, either ancient or modern. What is supported is that eating modern highly processed, high-glycemic foods is unhealthy. Diabetes was virtually unknown in China until people began eating the modern Western diet. But before people started eating modern diets in China, they weren’t eating anything remotely close to the Paleo Diet. They were eating a largely vegetarian diet grounded in rice and noodles. For centuries, they ate grains without problems. It was the introduction of refined sugars and oils and processed fast foods “what done em in,” to quote Eliza Doolittle.
As a side note, although meat consumption has gone up dramatically in China, with disease rates climbing right alongside them, it’s probably not the meat that’s causing the problem. It’s most likely all of the refined, processed, fast food that’s killing them. Then again, one of the most comprehensive diet studies ever conducted, known as the China Study, touched on this issue in some detail — coming down in favor of the vegetarian diet.
India is another example of a largely vegetarian society that had few health problems until Western civilization moved in and hooked people on the modern diet. In fact, India is now known as the diabetes capital of the world. But again, the problem isn’t grains, tubers, and beans — the almost exclusive diet of India’s poor. On the contrary, it isn’t until people earn enough money to move away from that diet that they are afflicted with diabetes. 
If eating meat were a prerequisite for health, then vegetarians as a group would have to be unhealthier than heavy meat eaters, and that just isn’t true. Study after study has shown that vegetarians (on a good vegetarian diet) tend to be healthier. On the other hand, eating meat by itself doesn’t make you unhealthy. It is quite possible to eat meat and have radiant health. As I have explained many times before, health is determined less by the vegetarian/carnivore question than by other dietary concerns. In the end, the issue of meat is less a health choice than a personal choice. That said, let’s examine the issue of meat a bit more.
What meat are we talking about?
The meat promoted in the Paleo Diet is not necessarily the same as the meat that was available way back when. While it is true that some Paleo advocates advise eating only lean cuts of meat that are either hunted in the wild, or grass-fed, most do not. And in fact, most people following the diet opt for lean cuts bought in regular grocery stores — primarily because of convenience and cost. But grocery store meat, pork, and poultry come with a wide range of “bonus” goodies not found in Paleolithic times, including:
- Growth hormones
- High pesticide concentrations
- Heavy metals
- Toxicity from over 100,000 manmade chemicals now found in the environment
- High levels of omega-6 fatty acids as a result of being grain fattened
- Not to mention the fact that cancerous and tumorous meat is not necessarily removed at the slaughterhouse, and may quite easily find its way to the butcher’s shop. If you think the USDA is actively preventing sick animals from entering the food supply, think again. Unbelievable abuses have been documented happening under the very noses of USDA inspectors.
As for fish, even if you catch it yourself, you’re now looking at mercury contamination, dioxin, and sex altering hormones — things Paleo fishermen never had to deal with.
Germs in meat
And now there’s something else to watch for in today’s meat. Scientists from Arizona’s Translational Genomics Research Institute recently announced that 47 percent of samples of beef, pork, and poultry obtained from supermarkets around the country tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes staff infections — and 52% of those bugs were resistant to at least three kinds of antibiotics. S. Aureus already kills about 11,000 people in the U.S. every year. Thanks to contaminated meat, we can look for that number to climb. 
Most Paleos cook their meat, even though cooking is the knock against grains — one of those inconsistencies we try not to think too much about. Nevertheless, there is a small subset of Paleo’s who believe that humans have not adapted to cooked foods, even though the evidence is that cavemen were cooking their meat almost since day one. And so this subset of Paleo’s eats only foods which are both raw and early Paleolithic. Actresses such as Uma Thurman, Demi Moore, and Natalie Portman are/were believers.
The concept is not without science. Cooking meat creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to cancer. The higher the temperature used in cooking and the more the meat is cooked, the greater the risk. One study out of the National Cancer Institute’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics found that people who eat their beef medium-well or well-done have more than a 300% greater risk of stomach cancer than those who eat their beef rare or medium-rare.  And yet another study linked the consumption of well-done meat to higher rates of breast cancer.  But there’s good news for diehard carnivores who love a cook-out or a tailgate party. More recent studies have confirmed that marinating meat sharply reduces the level of HCAs when you are cooking — making it much safer. I’ll bet that’s something cavemen didn’t know.
In any case, the evidence for when man first started cooking with fire ranges from 230,000 years ago (confirmed) to evidence at archeological sites in Spain and France that strongly indicate dates ranging from 300,000 to as many as 500,000 years ago — with cooked rhinoceros meat on the menu. 
All in all, this brings up three conundrums.
- Since most cave people cooked their meat, eating raw meat denies the foundation of the Paleo Diet — i.e., eating what cavemen ate.
- On the other hand, if you do cook your meat, then you’re doing something potentially unhealthy, which denies the premise of the Paleo Diet — that if cavemen did it, it’s good for you.
- And when did people first start marinating meat, which makes cooked meat healthier — something that certainly started happening after the Paleolithic era?
So after all is said and done, where do I stand on the Paleo Diet?
As I said at the outset, there is much to recommend it. I’m all for cutting back on sugar and dairy. And as for grains, I’m all for cutting way back on those too. Considering the negatives associated with the excessive consumption of grains (most notably associated with high glycemic responses and allergies), I cannot argue with the basic premise espoused in the Paleo Diet for eliminating grains altogether.
On the other hand, consumption of certain grains in moderation, if selected carefully, can provide significant health benefits with little downside. For example, sprouted grains and cereal grasses have all the positives associated with grains and virtually none of the negatives. Think wheatgrass juice. And let’s quickly single out barley, maybe the king of grains. It’s high in beta-glucans; it’s one of the least acidic grains; and it’s one of the lowest of all foods on the glycemic index. And when consumed in its sprouted, pre-sprouted, or cereal grass forms, it’s a monster of nutrition.
I also have a fundamental problem with the consumption of high levels of meat. All meats, fish, poultry, and eggs are acid forming in the body. When metabolized, the proteins produce sulfuric acid and phosphoric acid. And fats produce acetic acid. The way the body handles them is to neutralize them by converting them into acid salts by combining them with the minerals sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Of these, calcium is the most important.
Now, here’s the key: your body uses a priority system if there are not enough available minerals to neutralize all of the acids present. After extracting what it can from urine and soft tissues (creating a rich environment for the spread of cancer), your body turns to its great mineral bank — your bones. So, if your diet is too acid-forming, your body will fairly quickly begin to leach calcium from your bones to balance the low pH and avoid death. In effect, your body says osteoporosis is preferable to death.
And in fact, osteoporosis is seen to start earlier in “pre-contact” Inuit, who relied heavily on whale and seal meat, than in the Eskimos eating a more modern diet, “post-contact.”13 Even better, Masai warriors in Africa also partake of a high meat diet and begin developing osteoporosis in their 20’s. The women of the tribe do not share in the high meat diet, and do not show early signs of osteoporosis. But keep in mind, meat is by no means the sole determinant of osteoporosis, and in fact its negative effects can be easily mitigated by higher consumption of offsetting minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and through the use of weight bearing exercise to strengthen the bones. But high meat consumption is a contributing factor.
And one last issue concerns intestinal flora. High levels of meat in the diet disrupt the balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. First, virtually all meat, chicken, and pork that you eat (other than organic) is loaded with antibiotics, which destroy all of the beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract. But that aside, heavy consumption of meat (of any purity) significantly compromises beneficial bacteria in the colon, resulting in a 1,000 percent increase in the levels of harmful bacteria and a concomitant 90 percent drop in the levels of beneficial bacteria.
In addition, epidemiological studies done at Harvard Medical School show that, “Men who eat red meat as a main dish five or more times a week have four times the risk of colon cancer than men who eat red meat less than once a month.” They are also more than twice as likely to get prostate cancer. And a recent study found that women who had more than one-and-a-half servings of red meat a day doubled their risk of hormone receptor–positive breast cancer.  To be sure, studies such as these do not differentiate between the consumption of hormone-laced commercial beef and organic grass-fed beef, which might produce decidedly different results. But a cautionary flag has certainly been raised.
As I said, just because the theory behind the diet may be questionable, does not mean that there is not much to take from the diet. I absolutely agree with the following:
- Cut way back or eliminate all grains. And if you eat grains, opt for hypoallergenic grains that have been soaked, sprouted, or well cooked.
- Eliminate all high omega-6 store bought oils from your diet. For low temperature cooking, use olive oil and coconut oil. For high temperature cooking, use avocado oil, grape seed oil, or rice bran oil. Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eliminate all added sugars.
- When eating fruit, lean more towards berries than tree fruit; they’re higher in antioxidants. But there’s no need to be afraid of eating tree fruit, which tends to be higher in soluble fiber.
- Cut back or eliminate all beans, and if you eat them, make sure you soak them before cooking, and then cook them well before eating.
- Nuts are fine if you’re not allergic. Use whole fresh nuts that have been soaked/sprouted. Do not use pasteurized or “roasted” nuts — especially those roasted in oil.
- Cut way back on white potatoes, but yams and sweet potatoes are okay in moderation.
- Eliminate all commercial dairy from your diet. And if you do opt for some dairy, choose raw dairy despite what the government says — or at the very least opt for organic, grass-fed dairy.
- If you eat meat, use only organic, grass-fed meat. And keep consumption to less than 4 oz a day. And don’t overcook it. (And here you’re faced with another conundrum if you eat commercial meat. If you undercook it, you face the risk of bacterial infection (see above). If you overcook it, you face the risk of cancer (see above). If you want to eat medium rare meat, you’re going to have to buy organic, grass-fed meat from a supplier you trust.)
As I said before, the Paleo Diet has much to recommend it. But then again, isn’t what we’ve described above really just a very clean Mediterranean Diet — light on grains, meat and dairy — heavy on fresh vegetables, clean fish, and fruit.
Sounds good to me.
1. Peter D’Adamo. “Fruit Lectins and E. Coli.” Ask Dr. D’Adamo. Eat Right for Your Type. 3 May 2011.
2. Peter D’Adamo, Catherine Whitney. “Eat Right for Your Type.” G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1996. P 318
3. Roci´o Coutiño-Rodriguez, Pedro Hernández-Cruz, Héctor Giles-Rios. Lectins in Fruits Having Gastrointestinal Activity: Their Participation in the Hemagglutinating Property of Escherichia coli 0157:H7. Archives of Medical Research. Volume 32, Issue 4, Pages 251-257 (July 2001).
4. Katharine Milton. “Hunter-gatherer diets — a different perspective.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 3, 665-667, March 2000.
5. Anna Revedina, Biancamaria Arangurenb, Roberto Becattini, et al. “Thirty thousand-year-old evidence of plant food processing.” PNAS. Published online before print October 18, 2010.
6. Murphy, D. “People, Plants and Genes: The Story of Crops and Humanity.” Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2007.
7. Katarzyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, MD, PhD, Tatiana Kuznetsova, MD, PhD, Lutgarde Thijs, MSc, et al. “Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion.” JAMA. May 4, 2011, Vol 305, No. 17, pp 1733-1824
8. Jason Gale. “India’s Diabetes Epidemic Cuts Down Millions Who Escape Poverty.” 7 November 2010. Bloomberg Markets Magazine. 3 May 2011.
9. “Nationwide study finds U.S. meat and poultry is widely contaminated.” 15 April 2011. Translational Genomics Research Institute. 3 May 2011.
10. Ward MH, Sinha R, Heineman EF, Rothman N, et al. “Risk of adenocarcinoma of the stomach and esophagus with meat cooking method and doneness preference.” Int J Cancer. 1997 Mar 28;71(1):14-9.
11. Wei Zheng, Deborah R. Gustafson, Derek Moore, et al. “Well-Done Meat Intake and the Risk of Breast Cancer.” JNCI J Natl Cancer Inst(1998) 90 (22): 1724-1729.
12. Megarry, Tim (1995) “Society in Prehistory: The Origins of Human Culture.” New York: New York University Press.
13. Mazess RB and Mather W. Bone Mineral Content of North Alaskan Eskimos. AJCN (1974) 27:916-925
14. Cho, E., W.Y. Chen, D.J. Hunter, et al. “Red Meat Intake and Risk of Breast Cancer among Premenopausal Women.” Arch Intern Med166 (2006): 2253–2259.
Jon Barron is a researcher, author, lecturer and founder of Baseline of Health Foundation. He has wrapped his mind around every natural therapy known to man and brought it together in a whole body package--delivering a whole body “system” program, a high-end line of nutraceutical products, and cutting-edge functional foods and drinks for consumers to enjoy.
Combining his knowledge and research with modern science, he continues to pioneer the alternative health industry and help consumers world-wide with his free health information and natural health newsletter. You can also download a free copy of his cutting-edge health book, “Lessons From The Miracle Doctors” by visiting his website .
Jon Barron’s high-end line of health supplements for natural colon cleansing, immune system support, digestive health, and anti aging nutrition can be found at http://www.baselinenutritionals.com
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