I MMA C U L ATA MA G A Z I N E * W I N T E R 2 0 1 5
erhaps you’ve seen the headlines and book titles lately. From
Doctor Oz to LeBron James, everyone’s talking about the health
benefits of the grain-free, high-protein paleo diet.
“The theory is that since agriculture came into being, we’re no
longer perfectly adapted physiologically to the way that people have been eating,”
said Laura Frank, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., to summarize the premise of the diet.
“We should be eating as if we were hunter-gatherers, which we were for most of
human evolution. You don’t grow it. If you can kill it or forage it, it’s OK to eat.”
On the paleo diet, you can eat meat and eggs, nuts, fruits, and vegetables,
but no dairy, legumes, or grains, and certainly no processed foods. These were
all introduced into the human diet much later, say paleo proponents, and are
therefore unnatural for us to eat.
Frank, a professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Immaculata, acknowledges
that there’s some logic to this idea. But she thinks the paleo diet and other fad
diets take “a simplistic approach to food” rather than a holistic approach to an
overall healthy lifestyle that involves more than just food.
“Many fad diets start out with some basis in science, and then they misapply
it,” says Frank. The paleo diet’s emphasis on fruits and vegetables is positive,
she says. But the diet is based on some fallacies, such as the assumption that our
ancestors were healthier than we are.
“It all depends on what you mean by that,” Frank said. In the Paleolithic
Period, “if you lived to 40, you were an elder of the population! People back in
those days did not develop the kinds of chronic diseases that people get with
aging in our society. They didn’t live long enough.”
Another paleo fallacy is that meat formed the majority of our primal
ancestors’ diets. “In reality, back in those days, people didn’t eat meat every day.
Because you had to catch it and kill it!” Frank said. “You can’t do that every day.”
Frank does agree with paleo diet advocates that our modern diet can lead
to physical problems. “We eat all these processed foods that have artificial
ingredients in them that we would never have encountered back in our evolution.
Our bodies don’t know what to do with them.”
Grains are a vital food source for cultures around the world, and for good
reason. Wheat bread, corn tortillas, and rice are all filling foods that can provide
essential nutrients. “It’s hard to find a civilization where grains aren’t a really
important part of the whole cuisine,” Frank points out.
Because of this, Frank says, avoiding grains entirely is “not something that
people can realistically fit into their lifestyles.” The paleo diet may help people
lose weight initially, but its rigid restrictions make it difficult to adhere to over
the long term.
FACTS AND FALLACIES
Laura Frank, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N.,
professor of Nutrition and Dietetics