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This is What’s Wrong With the Paleo Diet

Should we be looking at the caveman era to guide our food choices today?

Going back to the way our ancestors ate over 10,000 years ago (before agriculture) will bring us optimal health–at least that’s what the Paleo diet claims. But, as it turns out, the diet isn’t really consistent with the actual archeological record of those times. This Ted Talk explains the myths behind the Paleo fad diet. To start with, there isn’t one true paleolithic diet — but instead many different ones that vary depending on the region and season. And the fruits and meats humans consume today have changed so much through specialized breeding that many would be unrecognizable to our ancestors. Not to mention, in Paleolithic times, people hunted and killed their own meat. Today, not so much.

Even if the actual Paleo diet of the past did contain the foods as outlined in the popular Paleo diet books, the diet is far from infallible. Population is the leading reason that, even when this diet works for individuals, it is still detrimental from an environmentalist point of view.


Paleo Diet Pros

  • Whole Foods: The upside of this diet is that it encourages fresh whole foods. Cutting processed foods and refined sugars is a given in any healthy diet. The Paleo diet also includes limited fresh fruits, plenty of vegetables, some nuts, “healthy” fats and limited, if any grains. The diet excludes starches, legumes and most dairy products (except butter, which is encouraged). Overall, this diet successfully eliminates junk food.
  • Feeling Healthy and Stronger: The Paleo diet really does work for some individuals. Energy and immune-boosting nutrients make many Paleo dieters feel less fatigued, fuller, happier and healthier. This is on an individual basis, and it’s important to note that any stringent diet comes with risks, too.


A Global shift UN cropped

Paleo Diet Cons

Animal agriculture is the leading cause in what Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of Food Choices and Sustainability, calls resource depletion. Here’s a partial list based in part on his research, which can be found in his book as well as this lecture. A new documentary called Cowspiracy, which features Dr. Oppenlander’s research, exposes the massive havoc the animal agriculture industry is wreaking on the planet.

  • Grass fed cows produce 40-60 percent more methane than their grain fed counter parts. Not to mention, grass fed is a financially challenging option for daily meat-eaters. My local farmers market is selling local organic grass fed beef for $30 a pound!
  • Overfishing: Consider that 90 percent of the oceans’ big fish may already be gone due to overfishing, and that according to some estimates, global bycatch amounts to about 40% of all the seafood we catch — that’s about 63 billion pounds of wasted sealife.
  • Pollution: Animal agriculture is responsible for massive pollution from the excrement of more than 10 billion animals slaughtered each year (they have to go somewhere, and they don’t use toilets). This poisons our air quality, waterways and oceans, which now have many massive dead zones where no life can exist.
  • Ocean Acidification: Thanks to all that CO2, our oceans have become more acidic than they have been in the previous 300 million years. At that time marine life became extinct and it took them 30 million years to recover. In the words of Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd “If the oceans die, we die.”�
  • Species Extinction and Habitat Destruction: Animal agriculture is the leading cause in species extinction and habitat destruction. For example, the beloved Australian Koala is slotted to go extinct by 2030 in large part from lost habitat due to grass fed cattle ranching. We are currently witnessing and participating in the largest mass extinction in human history. The UN recently hosted this awareness campaign to draw attention to the issue.
  • Fresh Water: On a planet plagued with drought, animal agriculture (meat and dairy combined) uses 29% of the world’s fresh water and 50% of US water. A pound of beef takes 2500 or more gallons (some say 5000 gallons) of water to produce, versus a pound of greens, which takes about 31 gallons to produce. Grains take about 100-130 gallons of water per pound to come to harvest. A pound of hemp uses only 50-100 gallons per pound and produces twice the (complete) protein as beef.
  • Food Security and World Hunger: 77 percent of the world’s grain is feeding livestock while children are starving to death at the rate of one every other second. In fact, that grain could feed 800 million people. It takes about 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of meat. It’s like a protein factory in reverse. Much of that feed we’re growing for livestock feed is also GMO and using heavy amounts of toxic chemicals, killing our precious topsoil.
  • Land Use: 216, 000 people are born every day and 34,000 acres of farmable land is needed to feed them. One and a half acres of land can grow 37,000 pounds of vegetables or 375 lbs of meat. It’s our choice.
  • Amazon Rainforest: The amazon is the lungs of the planet and a largely untapped medicine source. Only 1% of this natural medicine cabinet has been studied so far, and today 91% of the amazon rainforest has been decimated at the rate of an acre per second for animal grazing or the crops to feed them. Around 17 percent of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years alone, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.

What Going Paleo Does to Your Heart

While in the short term this diet may deliver on its promise to help you lose weight and become more lean, its long term promise may be the number one killer in the US: heart disease. Today in the U.S., one in 2 deaths are from heart disease. Every year, in over 200,000 people, the first sign of heart disease is a sudden cardiac death which happens within 1-60 minutes from the onset of symptoms. The saturated fat — and the cholesterol in animal products including eggs – (each one has the same amount as a Big Mac) clogs arteries, leading to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. There is also evidence to show that the adverse health effects of the Paleo Diet may actually negate the exercise that’s often associated with the lifestyle. Animal protein consumption even in small amounts is linked to cancer, and a recent study has also shown that high animal protein diets may cause early death. Red meat consumption has also been shown to substantially increase risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

In the words of physician and nutrition expert Dr. John McDougall, ”By nature, the Paleo Diet is based on artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol, and bone-damaging, acidic proteins from animal foods. Respected researchers find that those modern-day hunter-gather populations who base their diets on meat, such as the Inuits (Eskimos), suffer from heart disease and other forms of atherosclerosis, and those modern-day hunter-gathers who base their diets on plant foods (starches) are free of these diseases. Osteoporosis, from their high animal food-based diets, is also epidemic among meat and fish consuming hunter-gathers, specifically the Inuits.”

It’s Time to Move from “Me” to “We” Consciousness

When surveyed about the paleo diet, many people respond with “it works for me.” Today’s food choices impact much more than the individual. So, is this answer enough?


Magda is a health lifestyle guide and certified yoga instructor. You can find Magda on her websites visionary-lifestyle.com, consciouseating101.com and FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagram. For more information on Conscious Eating 101 join Magda’s mailing list.


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