The Paleo Diet Debunked?

paleo diet

We’re big fans of the Paleo Diet around these parts.

If you’re not familiar with it, essentially it’s a ‘lifestyle choice’ of consuming certain foods based on we’re how we’re allegedly designed to eat from an evolutionary standpoint.

In short: cut out processed foods and grains, load up on veggies, meat, fish, eggs, fruits and nuts.

It’s no shock that Paleo is a hot topic around the Nerd Fitness Rebellion: our Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet has been viewed over three million times.

Now, as this way of life has continued to grow in popularity, it seems like more and more critics are coming out of the woodwork to bash it and present arguments as to why the Paleo Diet is a fallacy.

Within the past few months, a TEDx talk on debunking the Paleo Diet has been making its way around the internet, and a recently released book, PaleoFantasy, has brought the “is this Paleo Diet a fad/dangerous/a waste of time?” to the front of the conversations throughout the blogosphere and mainstream media.

Being the nerd that I am, I wanted to respectfully address the most common arguments, explain my experiences with the diet, and then invite you to share your story too.

Let’s do this thing!

The Paleo Lifestyle isn’t realistic

caveman wall painting

First and foremost, critics love to point out that literally living a Paleo lifestyle is impossible in this day and age.

If we’re going to eat like cavemen, then certainly we should want to be living like them as well, right? Strapping on loin cloths, hanging out in caves, foraging for our own food, hunting our own animals, giving up modern day luxury and moving back to a primitive lifestyle.

Here’s the truth: Nobody I know who follows Paleo principles actually wants to live that way! Yeah, we can’t go hunt wooly mammoths or gazelles, so we do the best we can by consuming grass fed beef or bison, free range chicken, wild fish, and so on.

It’s absolutely true that modern day food is different from the food that existed tens of thousands of years ago, so we do the best we can with what we have.  

Ultimately, Paleo people aim to do the best we can to live like we’re genetically designed to live, while also having fun and enjoying the modern luxuries of today’s conveniences.

I love technology as much as the next nerd, and I have no intention on living in a cave any time soon.  I’d certainly consider a hobbit hole, but for now I’ll stick with my apartment.

So, almost nobody takes the “Paleo Lifestyle” literally – it’s instead looked at as a simple blueprint to give us the best chance at having success with weight loss and optimal health.

How we eat isn’t the problem, it’s because we don’t move enough

Currently, roughly 70% of the United States is overweight.  Many health professionals assume that in order for us to turn our lives around, we simply need to be exercising more (at least 60-90 minutes per day) and eating less.  Changing up our diet and abandoning food groups like “heart healthy” whole grains is a waste of time, and that we need to just focus on calorie deficits to lose weight and get things back under control.

Unfortunately, in my research and studies on this topic I haven’t found this to tell the whole story: I firmly believe that our diet is responsible for 80-90% of our success or failure when it comes to weight loss or optimal health (exercise plays just a supporting role), that we CANNOT outrun our fork, and that all calories are NOT created equal.

I’ve found these articles found them both incredibly interesting and worth a read, explaining that just moving more isn’t enough, and that all calories are not created equal.

  • A Tanzanian hunter-gatherer tribe was tracked over a series of months.  Despite spending hours upon hours each day exercising, they showed no more energy expenditure than somebody who lived a far more sedentary lifestyle.  This suggests that our bodies adjust to the stresses put upon them and adjust how we spend our energy accordingly; just moving more without changing our diet won’t result in long term success/health.
  • Rats fed high fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight  than rats fed the same number of calories of table sugar.  Not all sugar is created equal, and not all calories are created equal.  Though, it’s not a stretch to believe that a 200 calorie Twinkie will not produce the same results in your body as 200 calories of broccoli.

The Paleo Diet is mainly meat based

Shouldn't you be woolly?

Most critics love to point out that the Paleo Diet is “mainly meat based” (as stated in the TEDx talk referenced above and in this Huffington Post piece).  They then spend the rest of their talk/article explaining that we, in fact, didn’t eat all meat, and that we mostly ate plants!

And thank goodness! As the internet has recently pointed out, meat will kill you (actually, it won’t).

Although some people may choose to follow the Paleo Diet by eating primarily meat, and yes a majority of the protein consumed on a Paleo Diet does come from animal sources, I would argue that a true Paleo Diet is actually mostly vegetable based, supplemented by a protein source which often happens to be meat.  So, the critics and advocates of the Paleo Diet are in agreement on this – mostly plants!

Paleo and Atkins are not synonyms. People that are all-in on a Paleo Diet tend to have 2/3rds of their plate filled up with vegetables, and a small portion of meat added. Yes, some people choose to eat more meat than that, but nowhere in the basic Paleo principles does it state that Paleo Diet is mainly meat based.

A diet that promotes the consumption of more vegetables, and whenever possible eating meat from pasture raised or free range animals?

Sounds like something we can all be in agreement on.

But ancient humans ate grains!

wheat field

Here’s another argument that people love to point out:

Recently, some studies have popped up on various ancient cultures that show that some humans in certain civilizations consumed certain types of grains as far back as 100,000 years ago).

But wait! If the whole point of the Paleo Diet is that humans haven’t evolved much since the Agricultural Revolution (10,000 years ago)…and now you’re telling me that some humans ate grains further back than that, then how does the Paleo Diet make sense??

Shouldn’t this be causing mass hysteria among the paleo camp?

We’re missing the point here. The point is that processed grains, stuff in boxes and bags, is crap. No matter how far back you go in our evolutionary timeline, you’ll never find any ancient human eating dyed white bread or Lucky Charms (now with “heart healthy whole grains!”).  We need to be focusing on eating unprocessed, real food.

THIS is the point.  Not “no grains no matter what ever ever!” – but rather a common sense approach to cutting out processed foods and including more natural whole foods.

We are still evolving

caveman spaceman

A big cornerstone of the Paleo Diet is that humans haven’t evolved drastically since the Agricultural Revolution occurred 10,000 years ago.

Critics argue that we have in fact evolved since then, and that certain cultures have adapted to be able to consume grains or dairy, proving that we are evolving and that the Paleo Diet is no longer valid.

Again, we’re missing the point here: I also believe that we are still evolving. For example, people of Northern European descent tend to have no problem consuming dairy, while people of Asian descent tend to have issues digesting lactose and are often lactose intolerant: it’s because humans have evolved over time to adapt to their surroundings!

The truth is, a lot of people ARE gluten intolerant or lactose intolerant. In fact, at least  65% of the population has “a reduced ability to digest lactose after infancy,” and a growing number of people are discovering they’re gluten intolerant.

So, the Paleo Diet helps make people aware of two food groups that many people tend to have an issue with. I don’t think it should come as a surprise then to realize that these are the two food groups introduced most recently into our diets from an evolutionary standpoint.

It would seem that although a portion of the population adapted to consume more starchy/carbohydrate rich diets, it’s far from being a majority; same goes for dairy consumption.

But this study shows that a _________ diet is better

lego veggies

I tend to receive a few emails a week from concerned people who cite books like The China Study or other studies claiming that a plant only diet/low fat diet/fruit only diet/bicycle only diet is the path for optimal health, not Paleo.

To these, I reply: If it works for you, if you are getting a clean bill of health from your doctor, and if you are happy, by all means keep eating that way!  It’s clearly working for you.

I don’t think there is one particular diet that works for everybody – we all have intolerances to certain things or proclivities to others.  I WOULD argue that these studies always tend to mistake correlation for causation (as demonstrated by this refute of the China Study and its findings).

 I encourage people to assume NOTHING, and to always wear skeptic goggles when reading studies.

Here’s an example: these studies often compare vegetarian lifestyles to regular people who say they consume meat.  Somebody that has chosen to live a vegetarian lifestyle tends to be a more health conscious individual than the average bear, and thus aims to make healthier lifestyle choices all around (including exercise and eliminating certain types of unhealthy foods). This group of people is compared to people in the  “meat consumption” category (everyone else), who may or may not want to be living a healthier life, who may not exercise, who may not eliminate certain foods, who may partake in other unhealthy activities, and so on.

The truth of the matter is that there are very few studies that compare a health conscious plant-only diet to a health conscious Paleo Diet (containing grass fed beef, organic chicken, organ meats, and lots and lots of vegetables).

If you are against the consumption of meat, more power to ya. If you look good, feel good, and wake up happy – keep doing what you’re doing, because it works for you.

However, if you are worried about consuming this or that due to a particular study, I would advise you to do your research on the study, create your own hypothesis, and conduct an experiment on yourself to find out what works for you!

Use these studies as a starting point for your own research.

Why I believe the Paleo Diet works

solo caveman

Here’s my humble, nerdy opinion as to why the Paleo Diet is so popular and helps so many people have success:

It’s not because ancient humans didn’t eat grains (they might have in small quantities); it’s not because we haven’t evolved (I’d argue that we have never stopped), nor because the diet encourages excessive meat consumption (if anything, it encourages excessive vegetable consumption). Heck, we can’t be exactly sure what people ate 100,000 years ago (until Doc gets the DeLorean up and running), but that honestly doesn’t matter.

I believe the Paleo Diet works for a number of reasons, the most important being something that has nothing to do with anthropology or physiology:

It’s not just because the Paleo Diet teaches your body to use stored fat for energy rather than sugar.  Nor is it just because it’s very difficult to overeat on the Paleo Diet, which almost always leads to weight loss.  It’s not just because it can help with things like diabetes and other physiological issues (like multiple sclerosis).

It’s because it’s damn simple to understand, makes logical sense, removes the need for counting calories, and removes willpower from the equation. Just like a workout, the pretty good routine you follow is better than the perfect one you don’t. Similarly, the Paleo Diet isn’t perfect, but it works for many and it’s easy to follow.

Here’s why: willpower is a finite resource.

How many times have you told yourself “I’ll just have one” or “okay, I’ll only eat half of this” before eating the entire box/bag/entire serving?  Sugary/processed foods can have very addicting qualities, and for people who have addictive personalities (I’d imagine a HUGE portion of Nerd Fitness readers fit into this category), portion control can be incredibly challenging.

Having “just one” is a recipe for disaster, as your brain starts to think “ugh, why are you depriving me of this food that I so desperately want? I just tasted it and now I can’t think about anything else?!”

When you continue to consume unhealthy foods and you have this type of personality, you are a slave to your taste buds and the dopamine released after indulging yourself – your brain has a one-track mind and wants to consume the food you’re only allowed “one of.”

Compare this to somebody on the Paleo Diet.  Instead of “I can’t eat that food,” you say “I don’t eat that food” (as it’s not on the list of approved Paleo foods).  It has become part of your identity, and you need much less willpower to resist that temptation to consume (and most likely over-consume.

Thanks to my friend James Clear for this:

A research study divided people into two groups: one group was told that each time they were faced with a temptation, they would tell themselves “I can’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I can’t eat ice cream.”  The second group was  told to say “I don’t do X.” For example, when tempted with ice cream, they would say, “I don’t eat ice cream.”

As each student walked out of the room and handed in their answer sheet, they were offered a complimentary treat. The student could choose between a chocolate candy bar or a health bar. As the student walked away, the researcher would mark their snack choice on the answer sheet.

The students who told themselves “I can’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bar 61% of the time. Meanwhile, the students who told themselves “I don’t eat X” chose to eat the chocolate candy bars only 36% of the time. This simple change in terminology significantly improved the odds that each person would make a more healthy food choice.

By removing the mental work from the equation, the Paleo Diet puts you back in control, takes out the guess work required to figure out how much exactly to eat,  and eliminates the temptation associated with only having ‘a few’ of something.

The Paleo Diet works because the procedure is easy to follow and to build as a habit…not because it gives away some super secret diet formula…but because it’s simple and thus easy to adhere to.

Do I follow the Paleo Diet?

Steve Elephant

Although I’m a big fan of the Paleo Diet, I make a conscious decision to not follow it 100%.  

Instead, I have adapted the Paleo principles to my life and altered them to fit my lifestyle and goals.

Here’s why: setting aside the fact that there is no one true “Paleo Diet,” whenever I go full Paleo I tend to lose weight very quickly, dropping my body fat percentage down into the 7-8% range.  Personally, my goals these days are to add size and muscle, and improve my athletic performance.  In order for me to do that, I need to be putting ON weight, so I will mix in some non-Paleo foods like whole milk, rice, and oats depending on my training routine for that day.

On top of that, I’ll occasionally eat unhealthy foods, generally around social events, and not think twice about it!  Although it’s possible to eat healthy at a barbecue, I choose not worry about it, drink beer and eat pizza with everybody else, and then get back on track with my next meal.

So, although I don’t follow the Paleo Diet 100%, I’d argue that this is yet another example that shows that it works – when I want to put on weight, I add back in grains and dairy to my diet. When I go full Paleo, I lose body fat quickly and get even more lean, which is the same way Saint got his results after years of struggle.  I know NF Team member Staci is the same way: she constantly adjusts her Paleo “percentage” based on her athletic goals at that time. We call this “Paleo-ish“.

The best solution?

Steve NF

I’ll be expanding upon this topic in a future article, but these are the rules that I believe will help you have the most success with weight loss, a healthy checkup from the doctor, and happy life:

  • EAT REAL FOOD. The less ingredients, the less steps it took to process, the healthier it will most likely be for you.
  • Minimize consumption of grains and dairy if your goal is weight loss.  Consider eliminating foods completely and then add them back in after a few weeks to see how your body responds.    
  • Understand that you can’t outrun your fork. Your diet will account for 80% of your success or failure.
  • Eat more vegetables.  No, corn doesn’t count 🙂
  • Try to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight each day.
  • Minimize liquid calories.
  • Don’t have cheat meals – instead, make conscious decisions when to eat ‘unhealthy foods’ and then get right back on track.
  • Focus on building permanent small changes rather than sweeping changes that only last for a few weeks.
  • Relax! Do the best you can with what you have, where you are.

We’ve put together a “Nerd Fitness Diet”, based on these principles, which you can find in the Nerd Fitness Academy. It’s our combination of paleo, making long term lifestyle changes, and instead of a rigid set of yes’s and no’s, it’s a simple set of guidelines to live by.  

Have you tried it?

Lego Sherlock

I often find that those who are overly critical of the Paleo Diet have never actually given it a shot, nor tested for themselves how their body responds to these changes.

I encourage EVERYBODY to think for themselves and question everything – it’s even one of the Rules of the Rebellion!  I also encourage everybody to understand how their body works by getting hard facts whenever possible. Take the time, save up the few bucks required, and get your blood work done. Then change your diet for 30-60 days and get blood work done again. See how your body reacts!

Not interested in getting blood work done? Then go with look and feel – spend 30 days trying out a new diet, take before/after pictures and measurements, and compare how you feel (energy levels, exhaustion, etc.) before drawing your own conclusions.

I’d love to hear from you:

What are your thoughts on the Paleo Diet?  

Have you tried it?  What were your results?

If you’re against it, what are your concerns?

Leave a comment and let’s get the conversation started!  As always, thanks for keeping things civil 🙂


PS – If you are interested in the Paleo Diet and want more information, check out our Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet which links to a number of great resources. If you want even more direction, our Nerd Fitness Academy diet is grounded in Paleo principles, applied in a way that you can slowly make changes rather than going all in. Cheers!


photos: caveman fast food, caveman wall painting, cat on treadmill, wooly mammoth, wheat, caveman spacemanlego veggiessolo caveman, steak and asparagus, lego sherlock.

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450 thoughts on “The Paleo Diet Debunked?

  1. “We are still evolving” – Into Homo Veganicus!! =D

    Anyway, vegans for sure make MORE SENTIENT BEINGS stay healthy, by the billions. Perhaps that’s something to consider instead of being so damn anthropocentric.

  2. “[…] because everyone lives in different environments and have different physiologies.” – I have a friend who always uses that same argument to justify himself. Although part of it it’s true, as humans we tend to share a number of biological/genetic traits regarding how what we eat affects out health. For this reason, although some people won’t like the generalization, humans would thrive better under a certain diet. Of course, there are exceptions. Exceptions don’t make the rule though. And that is without considering the benefits of certain diets for the rest of natural creation! (hint: veganism)

  3. I more or less agree, although a vegan who doesn’t eat organic wouldn’t be “proper” either. I’m pretty sure you are aware of the consequences of using chemicals, not only for the environment, but for all living creatures. Moreover, a “proper” vegan (I’m kind of assuming that, by that, you mean someone whose life is adjusted to cause the less possible harm to animals -non-human in particular-, and even all living creatures) wouldn’t use a motor vehicle, or even roads, or form part of society in any way. But, alas, I’m getting into something this isn’t for. Read “A declaration of war”. It makes sense.

  4. I prefer to refer to people who just follow a vegan diet as someone who follows a plant-based diet, instead of a vegan. Less confusing for “proper” vegans.

  5. Firstly, let’s start from the base that a discussion with you about this will be impossible, since you seem to be gaining a profit from the suffering and murdering of animals.
    In any case, for the sake of clarification and so other people can understand, here I go:
    -“[…] wastes the food […]” The fact that you refer to cows as food clearly indicates your flawed mentality. You don’t see non-human animals as sentient creatures but as a product.
    -“[…] his money and time and blood sweat and tears into.” Give me a break. You are talking about individuals who literally destroy the lives of millions for a profit. Again, since you just see animals as a product, you will hardly care about their suffering and untimely deaths. You want to talk about blood and tears? Let us have a look at the cows in your animal killing enterprise.
    -Regarding your theory, an interesting analogy involving pedophiles (I like to use them as an example related to carnists -aka meat eaters-, not only to cause offense among carnists but because, from a psychological and social -a rational and compassionate society, that is-, point of view, they are extremely similar. Only difference, pedophilia isn’t accepted by society while the suffering and murdering of non-human animals for pleasure -that’s the only true reason for eating them-, oddly and unfortunately, is -moreover, it is so imbibed into the system that it is ignored and even condoned and encouraged-):
    Pedophiles continue to abuse children regardless of the consequences. They make videos and sell them. That won’t stop (unless they are arrested, forced to it). Now, because this is a reality in society, will you also rape children and buy kid porn? No? The fact that you won’t will not stop them from doing it so, why not join them then?
    a) because IT CAUSES AN INCREDIBLE AMOUNT OF PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PAIN TO SOMEONE. Guest what, a cow, a pig, a fowl, any animal is also a someone, regardless how much you people try to deny the facts to justify your actios. Even if they were not “someone”, the physical and psychological pain still exists, so let us not get lost in semantics and philosophy.
    b) because it is illegal (meaning that you would be forced to stop your activities). Well, news flash, laws are just a human invention. Not so many centuries ago, it was normal, accepted and legal to marry a 12 years old and have sex with him/her. Laws are there mainly to permit the current system to survive, regardless consequences (to any animals, both humans and non-humans).

    That said, a “proper” vegan doesn’t stop at not eating animals, but will try by all means to boycott and otherwise disrupt the activities of animal exploiters. So, don’t be surprise if your so-called farm appears one day damaged or who knows what. You know, there are “proper” vegans in the most unexpected places =D Anyway, as with pedophiles, carnists like yourself must be forcefully stopped in order for their activities to end. With more reason still since laws (those fictitious rules created by humans) protect them/you because you are giving money to a system that loves avarice.

    Moreover, numbers are an important factor here. The more vegans in existence, the more the chances you will go out of business. Because you don’t kill the same amount of animals regardless if I’m vegan or not on account of me alone, but because -again- the system commands it and, so, people live in a society where it is encouraged to abuse animals and that makes you, carnists, the vast majority, that is why. If ever the balance shifts towards a plant-based diet, you will notice a difference in demand. Apart from that, let us not forget the aforementioned clandestine activities of “proper” vegans, which will surely affect your business of death more directly and swiftly 😉

    Alas, it is not a matter of you killing the same number of animals (carnists love to turn around a conversation and twist reality in order to try to create baseless arguments that could benefit them), but the fact that you choose to exploit and murder living creatures for a living. It is your choice. The same as a pedophile. You choose to cause pain and to kill in order to get money and because it gives you pleasure (directly due to sadistic tendencies or indirectly by eating animal products and/or getting involved in other unnecessary activities that gives you joy thanks to the money you obtained by abusing animals). So, please, don’t question vegan ethics from that standpoint. It is absurd and twisted.

    An interesting link somehow related to this:

  6. Great article… thank you! I seemingly have been following the Paleo diet without acknowledging it had a name. I recently began eating solely whole foods, dropping GMOs and most processing due to my work with the American Cancer Society, and my belief that the rise in cancer is caused from our “fast foods.” I have been eating clean since October 29th and have lost 10 pounds (I’m an obese 50+ female) already and have gone down one dress size. But more than that, I feel less tired, have more energy and have become more energetic. Win-win.

  7. It’s just common sense surely. I probably eat mostly unprocessed but red and black rice, sometimes pasta etc, but keep it organic where I can. You definitely feel the difference in energy levels and recovery time when your diet is on point. Not giving up the Lindt coconut truffles though…

  8. Hey, I’ve been secretly stalking your website since I started lifting weights 8 months ago. 🙂

    I’m happy to report that I LOVE lifting weights 3x a week (I’ve never stuck to any activity for this long, I’m fully addicted!), and have been gradually increasing the amount of weight I lift. I feel better — stronger — than I ever have, even when I was a Softball athlete in my 20’s.

    Although I’ve noticed improvements to my body shape and even lost 1-1/2 inches off my waist, I’ve gained 11lbs since starting {{don’t freak out, don’t freak out, don’t freak out}}. I’m sure (hoping?) much of that is muscle due to my clothes fitting better (I even had to buy smaller pants recently), but I don’t think I’ve actually lost much more than a couple pounds of fat, and there’s a lot more I’d like to shed. I’m finally coming to realize the biggest culprit is probably my diet. I’m not a fan of diets… but after reading this article, I think going at least somewhat-paleo is worth a try. With two kids and a husband who often sabotages my efforts at eating “healthy,” it will be hard, but of all diets out there I think this one I can most easily incorporate on a permanent basis (for example, putting meat and veggies on my plate at dinner, forgoing any sauces & pastas).

    Do you think that would be a good way to start? How quickly do people generally start to see results if they’re doing it right?

  9. I’ve just discovered your site, and I really admire what you’re doing here.

    Didn’t read everything, but I like this article. I’ve been very turned off by the paleo movement because too many crazed fanatics bash the eating of any and all grains while simultaneously promoting outlandish nutritional fallacies. However, I’m a huge proponent of eating natural foods, despite my love of sugary breakfast cereals. This is actually the first reasonable paleo blog post I’ve read, and I’m glad to have had the experience.

  10. My father raised grass fed cattle. Those animals were happy, healthy, and humanely treated until they sacrificed their lives (in a relatively quick and painleass manner) so that other creatures could eat and live.

    That is the way of nature. Sustenance is not murder. I think farming has become far too commercial in recent decades, but nature dictates that we somehow kill something to eat it. The analogies, views, and reasoning you’ve presented are severely flawed. I’ll only cover a few highlights here.

    I’d first like to point out that all organisms are composed of similar matter/energy. You suppose that animals are sentient and plants aren’t. What would lead you to believe that you’re correct, as opposed to the individual who presumes that human beings are sentient while animals are not?

    Preach your condemnation with justification after you’ve starved so that the carrots and lettuces may live. Or perhaps after you’ve offered yourself as prey for a large carnivore.

    Your comparison of meat eaters to pedophiles is so profoundly disturbing that I can’t bring myself to address the logical inconsistencies. I’m going to go read some YT comments now in search of some hope for humanity…

  11. I lost 33lbs in 4 months just from eating 100% paleo–like it was nothing. My physician recommended an anti-inflammatory diet prior to my colectomy to help decrease my chances of complications. Sadly, after I healed from my sugery, I gradually went back to my old habits. Basically, I lost the motivation to prepare and cook paleo meals and snacks. I feel so crappy. I’m gradually getting back into it, mostly because I used up all of my paleo food stock and have to replenish gradually. Along with getting back into an exercise routine and eating healthy again, I will be feeling real good in no time.

  12. I like the artikel a lot, in parts.

    When it comes to Paleo i think there are two sides to review.

    One is if iit works. And though I never tried it, I am pretty sure that it works to slim down and that it is healthy.

    the other point is the explanation. To cut down processed food and stick to whole foods is neither new nor a revolution. My grandma does it and callls it “eating”, not Paleo. It is a concept that you can find in a lot of diet books.

    The only thing that is really new to Paleo is the claim that this is how our very distant ancestors ate.

    But in fact nobody knows what which population was eating more then 100.000 years ago. There are assumptions and indications. And if these people were more healthy is a big question. The whole argumentation is based on substraction, this article too. It follows the line of we do not know what they ate, but for sure they did not ate something wraped in plastic. So what is wraped in plastic is bad, because we are not made to eat it. And what is left than is the foods that we are made to eat.

    Then there is the fact that nutrition was very diffrerent from population to population (due to availability of food), so even if we would know for sure what they were eating, who to follow?

    Another point is that in most articles there are two timeframes that are compared, today and a couple of hundred thousand years ago. leaving out a couple of thoousand years of history of great civilisations.

    The question is why no corn? It was the basis of the maya civilisation. Why no grain (or as little as possible)? It is the basis of great ancient civilisations, from mesopotamia, the greeks to the romans.
    As far as I know, some Paleo followers do not even eat potatoes, why?

    Then there is the thing with the lactose. So 65 percent of the populatiion are more or less not able to process it? Thats a lot. No it is not. Asiens with a great majority are lactose intolerant, and there are living 4 billion asiens in this world.

    Dont get me wrong I am a big fan of whole unprocessed foods. But the whole grain and starch is bad thing, I think way different of it. I just love bread and pasta, potatoes and rice and I do very good with it.

    And that is what I really like about the article, it clearly states >do what works for you<

  13. Mark’s Daily Apple and a dozen places list meat as the primary dietary component of the Paleo Diet. Its bogus to say that the “Paleo Diet” includes lots vegetables. They also exclude all grains no matter what processing level. On the other side, plant-based diet does not mean plant only otherwise it would plant-only diet, just mainly plants sourced. Lots of studies to support plant-based as having significant health benefits.

  14. I personally feel that this diet ignores the reality of evolution- over the past 10000 years our society has advanced mightily on wheat and rice. Huge enormous advancements. The lowly potato saved the Irish people from all dieing ( as did the oat) and they have survived and thrived. Evolution did not advance on the principles of eating veggies and meat but on adapting to eat whatever was available…. Look at our diet. The problem is not the diet – it is greed and gluttony. That we are unable to say no to processed foods and sugar. If people cut these out of their diets the amount of obesity would drop drastically as would other weight related diseases.
    I also repel a diet that demands excessive money to be spent on specialized foods. Most of the world cannot afford your organic grass fed meats and wild fish. What about them? Also living in a far northern climate, you cannot tell me that the aboriginal people were eating tomatoes and avocados and lettuce etc. they were eating dried berries, dried roots, meat,dried corn, bannock, etc. by encouraging the consumption of vegetables grown elsewhere in winter you are encouraging the waste of transportation fuel and the depletion of the aquifers in California and Mexico. And how can you guarantee how things are grown down there? Isn’t a hundred mile diet more suitable ethically?
    Thanks Anne in Canada

  15. I’ve tried low carb in the past and generally felt tired when I’d go on a bike ride or do anything physically demanding. I figured that’s due to blood sugar problems? I went vegetarian (mostly vegan) and ended up feeling so out of it, and I think that’s due to TOO many carbs. Is there a happy medium? I have Hashimoto’s disease, and after having half of my thyroid out four years ago my weight loss has stalled. I’m willing to try just about anything short of fat camp.

  16. I’ve been Paleo for 8 months. I’m 44, have 2 teenagers, PCOS since I was 13 and for just as long have had an unhealthy obsession with my weight, which I’ve been fighting my entire life.

    I’ve reversed my borderline Type 2 diabetes, increased my body temp to normal for the first time ever, my thyroid function is normal for the first time ever and my cholesterol is perfect. My anxiety (I was permanently injured in a car accident 3.5 years ago) disappeared by day 3.

    I’ve only lost 14 pounds so far but my body is changing. I walk 5 days a week, run and strength-train 3 days a week. Paleo is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ll never revert to the SAD and cheat meals don’t happen cuz they make me feel horrible. Nothing tastes good enough to feel like crap.

  17. Have a hard time believing Paleo is “cheaper” eating fresh and healthy is always more expensive than the $1 menu, which is how we as a society got into this mess. Why do you think inner cities have the largest concentration of obesity. Eating the “outside aisles” of the super market (fresh produce, fruits, nuts, fresh meat) is always more expensive than the crap down the process food aisles.

  18. Dude, she’s an actual ARCHAEOLOGIST!!! Not a bunch of dolts with a health blog. While I appreciate the insight and helpful articles on this site, NO ONE HERE is an actual doctor, or has any legitimate health and fitness background. The comment about the commercialized fatty meats were taken straight out of the the stock photo’s of the top 5 Paleo books and websites. Yes, not eating processed food = good! Fresh fruits and veggies = good! No refined sugar or enriched white flour = good! Paleo = marketing. All she’s pointing out that today’s Paleo diet is not based on what was eaten in the Stone Age.

  19. Started it and loving it. Basically it’s your own principle when it comes to food that is making me really excited and successful in this Paleo Diet.

  20. I haven’t give it a go. Mostly because I hate groceries shopping, and cooking. To illustrate, during lent I try to go vegetarian for as many days as possible. But I nearly had a mental breakdown because trying to find and learn and shop for new dishes stresses me the fuck out.

    That said, we (me and my gf) do mostly eat healthy, we just don’t ward pasta or grains or dairy out of our diet.

  21. This is more a note on “while people of Asian descent” and the lactose intolerance. That is incorrect. Saying east Asian is accurate but 1 billion Indians heavily consume dairy along with many of the countries around them such as Mongolia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc., all eat dairy regularly as adults.

  22. Most of the other diets are better options for preventing or controlling diabetes, according to experts’ scores in this category. A lack of research showing its worth gave experts little option than to hand out poor scores, shooting it toward the bottom of the bunch.

  23. Yeah I stopped reading when you claimed the problem wasn’t what we eat it was how little we moved. Lost all credibility. I was a server at the cheesecake factory for 5 years. A lot of the servers there were super unhealthy and had a slew of health issues yet they’d walk 40 miles a week. Horrible logic man. Fail.

  24. I’m a drastic, sweeping changes type of person – once I’ve made up my mind to do something come hell or high water It’s Getting Done! The Paleo Diet is the first diet that my husband has agreed to try with me which has made it possible to stay on track. All my previous diets were wrecked by the “Come on, just have a little of this (insert fatty food item here) with me.” or by having healthy food and non-healthy food in the hosue at the same time… eventually I’d cave and eat the non-healthy items, then stop buy the healthy items because they kept going bad – because I wasn’t eating them.
    Anyway, we donated 95% of our existing pantry/fridge/freezer items (because they weren’t paleo) to friends and family as we explained we were changing our diets. Then we did one expensive (double-ish our normal weekly grocery price) to stock up on Paleo-approved foods. After the first trip, we spend just a little more ($10-$20) each trip to eat healthy which I think is totally worth it.
    I just hit the 1 month mark and it’s been GREAT! I’ve been working out for at least 30 min a day 6 days a week and eating strictly Paleo and I’ve lost 11 lbs in the first month! My husband isn’t eating as strict (he works with pizza all day) and he works out for 2 hours 3-4 days a week and he has also seen some improvement by losing 8 lbs so far.
    It does take a lot of time to cook 98% of food at home, which is a downside, but I’ve slowly been gaining more kitchen accessories and getting better at cutting down meal prep times.
    All in all, I love that I stumbled across the Nerd Fitness site, got inspired and started making the changes that I needed in my life. In addition to the Paleo and exercise, I got a *drastic* new haircut and I’m joining a sword-fighting club this Sunday.

    Thanks Steve!!

  25. Look- I like eating meat, I like farmers- so no issue there. The small issue I will take is lack of understanding of Ethics which is the moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior. Not eating meat will be in line with someones ethics- even thought cows still are slaughtered. Just like not being a solider is an ethical choice if you don’t agree with shooting people – it does not mean that someone in some army will not shoot someone else- it just means that you will not pull the trigger.
    Happy farming – 😉

  26. To offer another perspective, the paleo diet is not sustainable. Sure we can afford it in our first world comfort, but the earth cannot handle a giant human population consuming meat at most or every meal. The greatest contributor to greenhouse gases is the meat industry. I am also a nerd (environmental engineer) and into fitness. I enjoyed reading your post, but I think there is another angle to consider on this topic that goes beyond what is best for an individual. We are all sharing this world and I don’t believe one person has more of a right to its resources than another.

  27. You link to a study that you say compares a whole food plant based diet. However, if you look at the study it says they compared people that were advised to eat processed cereals, low fat milk, … basically following the Mediterranean diet. This is NOT the same thing as a whole food plant based diet (WPBD) . There is no animal products, no dairy consumed, and you are encouraged to eat pretty much the same diet as the paleo diet. The main difference is that you don’t eat animal products and instead eat beans and whole grains. You are also not encouraged on the WFPD to eat processed and refined grains. If you had actually read the china study you would know this.

  28. I have been on the Paleo diet for a week. Loss 5lbs but my Body Fat went up from 41% to 43%. Not happy about those numbers. But scale is moving down.

  29. Very well written article Steve!
    Paleo-ish has been my go to as well! After trying the “true paleo” for a few weeks, everyone will find certain strictly non-paleo food items that suit their metabolism.
    I shifted from a predominantly meats and veggie diet (when I lived alone) to 85% veggie, 5-10% meat based diet, and 5% milk based treats (when I started living with family).
    My weight loss journey has plateaued right where I want it (I went down from 210 pounds to 164-165 pounds), and I have started buffing up my meals for the day based on activity.
    Paleo is truly a lifestyle and making it your OWN is the only way to do it!

  30. I’ve been on it for about a month. I’m struck by how different I feel, now, especially after meals. Previously, on high carbohydrate foods like rice, I’d crash afterwards. Now, however, I feel as though I always have energy in reserve, and I feel more alive and alert in general. I’m pretty sure that this isn’t placebo, as it took a good two weeks for this improvement to manifest, and I felt somewhat shitty for the first week.

    I have the occasional popcorn hit (with chilli and salt), but that’s a small carbohydrate bump on a landscape otherwise tarred with delicious ketone bodies.

    I’d rather leave the mammoth hunting to the more risk-addicted and aggressive members of the tribe, but I’m definitely enjoying my cycling more than I did in the past.

  31. Interesting that some of the healthiest people in the world live in Italy, the same place where some of the highest bread and pasta consumption is. When people say they’ve lost 10 lbs from giving up grains, they seldom acknowledge the fact that the grain products they were consuming also contained a crap tonne of sugars.

  32. Diets don’t work, people do.

    No matter what your choice of foods, you will lose weight if you eat less, and gain if you eat more. No theory of food selection, whether based on archeology, religion or theory will do that for you. You can be fat or thin on any diet; it’s your choice, don’t blame the food.

  33. Great advice. Stated on Paleo diet shortly after my third was born. In better shape then I was before kids. Never knew it had an official name but was always resistant to grains, dairy and sugar. Felt so much better after and full after not eating those. I hardly ever exercise and I have a six pack. It’s true that you can’t outrun your fork.

  34. Farming is not what it used to be. The population on Earth is reaching unsustainable levels. Not to mention, factory farming is the norm. Medium to large sized farms more easy supply the mass population. If you eat meat, most likely you are not killing the animal for your own needs, you are paying someone else to do the dirty work. Has anyone heard of the Blue Zones? These are five areas on Earth that have the greatest longevity. What diets are they on? Plant based, whole food diets. If they eat any meat, it is most likely through fish OCCASIONALLY or specially cooked pig on holidays (with the fat skimmed off, leaving pure collagen). These populations are NEVER TALKED ABOUT! I think it is funny Paleos bring up our ancestors who had lifespans of 50 years and never bring up populations like Okinawa, Japan . . . Loma Linda, California . . . Ogliastra Region, Sardinia . . . Ikaria, Greece . . . or Nicoya Peninsula, Coast Rica that have lifespans of around 100 or 100+ years. Frequent meat consumption undoubtedly promotes oxidative stress and plaque build up, no matter if it is locally farmed or “organic”. Meat has no fibre and takes an extremely long time to digest, likely leading to constipation and below optimum bowel movements. Animal products have cholesterol in them, which your body does not need to take in exogenously, but can actually synthesize itself. Yes meat has protein in it, but you can obtain better quality protein without the additional harmful components, through plants. I commend Paleos for giving up dairy and processed/refined grains. I definitely agree with that, but I honest to God do not understand your bacon, red meat, and chicken obsession. Please think again about frequent meat consumption and a ketogenic diet (which has been proven to work for epilepsy patients, but not for long term health status for the rest of the population). Please look at plant-based studies or even go on a plant-based diet yourself and see the improvements. I am not trying to hate, I am just trying to add some insight from a different perspective.

  35. In defence of Yelly’s comments, she brought up carcinogenic agents from cooking meat (in particular) because majority of the time, you must cook meat in order for it to become safe to eat it. From a food safety perspective, majority of pathogenic and harmful microbial activity causing food borne illnesses comes from animal products or by-products. One can consume most plant based food raw and not have to worry about getting ill, apart from raw potatoes and the occasional E.coli outbreaks with spinach due to tainted manure and fertilizers. If you have to cook something in order to NOT get sick, is it really ideal for us to eat it? Yes you can cook plants and possibly reduce anti-nutritional properties or help open up cellular matrixes to improve accessibility for digestive enzymes, but again, there are other ways besides cooking to do this.

    A healthy lipid profile and a low blood sugar is a great start. Also, there is research that supports that a somewhat high BMI is actually protective when older, due to a greater chance of recovery if fallen with an illness and/or hospitalised. Don’t hate on people’s bodies.


    A vegan nutrition student

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  37. Consuming lots of meat is linked to heart disease. Paleo also cuts out legumes (read: most beans and even peanuts) which are good sources of plant based protein (read: not linked to heart disease). Paleo also cuts out all grains, yet the problem isn’t grains. It’s ovely processed grains, often loaded with sugar. Check out the “blue zones” where people live to 100 at high percentages and have lower rates of disease. They mostly eat plants (vegetables, fruits, and legumes), only occasional meat at most and only a few servings of seafood per week, but often daily whole grains and dairy. Sometimes the grain is wheat, sometimes corn or rice, but the point is its part of their daily diets. Paleo “works” because heavy food restriction often leads to eating less and you’re avoiding processed junk. It works *in spite of* the excessive meat consumption and cutting out healthy foods. A much healthier diet with living proof connecting it to health and longevity are traditional diets from the “blue zones”.

  38. I love how you called yourself Paleo-ish because this is exactly how I define myself! In general I make conscious attempts to eat very clean, whole non-processed foods and I look and feel better about myself as a result of this. But sometimes when life creeps up or events come around I eat some “bad” things and enjoy the moment! Like you said I get right back on track immediately. Plus my training more than likely doesn’t take a break. The paleo-ish for myself comes into play because I will have occasional dairy, occasional grains so on and so forth. These are not huge, daily staples in my diet, they are just occasionally thrown in and I am aware of the fact that it does not qualify me as purely paleo.
    Thanks for posting! This was a great read.

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  40. Thanks for the article. My partner and I have been doing paleo for three weeks. I decided to take it up because if I don’t privilege veg in my diet they get lost admist the carbs and dairy options. Gave up coffee too cause I love it with sugar and wooska….things are moving more freely in multiple directions, energy is there and I have a smile on a face that glows with no bags under my eyes to boot- whole foods rock my friends :))))

  41. I was late to the Paleo lifestyle. I found tons of Paleo centric people eating white potatoes, dairy (fermented), green beans etc.

    You seem to pull old “ideal” eating habits from Loren which doesn’t shine on the fact that he does not dictate what Paleo is, everyone has their own version, but the main principles stand, no grains(studies proven again and again phytic acid (hinder absorbtion to minerals, tooth decay), lectin (especially from grains) cause damage to the gut lining, Saponins, enzyme inhibitors are all part of grains. Even if grains are sprouted they still pose danger. Why do you think its lethal to eat some types of beans? Processed food, sugar, industrial oils and legumes/beans (most, unless prepared right).

  42. Are you referring to the Denise minger “debunking” because that itself has been debunked. All stages (after infancy) of life benefit from a plant based diet

  43. This was a rather long article to read that was just an opinion. Please, list as many long term, we’ll funded studies showing the paleo way of eating is better than strictly plant based. BTW, plant based eating has tons and tons of those long term, large numbers of participants, well funded studies published in many world renowned professional journals open to the strict scrutiny of peer review.
    I would lean toward plant based with so much documentation behind them before any cultural fad.

  44. Totally agree… I agree with a lot of what is said in this article, but it does not represent the majority of what is communicated under the “Paleo” label, and even if the author doesn’t agree with that, the reality of the diet as such is what people make of it. He basically, as you seem to suggest, is talking about a thoughtful plant-based diet, nearly more Weston Price than anything else (considering the inclusion of “non-paleo whole foods), so it’s hardly advocating for the Paleo diet!

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