I’m having a discussion about paleo and low-carb with a friend of mine on FB, and she made a few points I wanted to address here (which I’m hoping she’ll read as well, since she inspired them).
First off, I hope I haven’t implied that a person cannot be healthy on any diet other than a paleo-type diet. That hasn’t been my intention. I think different people can be healthy on many different diets. I do think that a paleo-type diet, tailored for your lifestyle, goals and health concerns is the best chance you have of achieving optimal health. Does that mean you have to eat great galloping wads of meat? Not at all. I just think that applying some paleo principles (namely food quality and nutritional density) to any diet can improve it. If you’re a vegetarian and you’re happy and healthy, more power to you. I think you’ll likely feel better on a vegetarian diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods rather than packaged junk. Even vegetarian junk is still junk. Make sense? Also, I don’t want anyone to think that I equate low body fat with maximized health. I think that being lean is probably better for you than being overweight, all else being equal. But I also agree that you can be thin and unhealthy, and you can be chubby and still be quite healthy. Losing fat is a great goal, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of life. Being happy, being energetic, having good digestion, having good sleep quality, being fit enough to do all the things you want to do, being resistant to disease, being free of autoimmune conditions, all of those are fantastic goals to strive for. That’s what optimal health is about.
Okay, hopefully that clears things up on that front. I don’t want people thinking I’m saying things I don’t mean to say. I’m definitely passionate about the lifestyle I’ve chosen, but I’m trying really hard not to judge people who make different choices, especially if those choices make them happy and healthy. It’s tough, because I always think I’m all the way right about all things, and I just want people to let me help them. It’s a process.
Okay, on to another topic. I hear a lot of people say that they don’t like a paleo-type diet because it’s too restrictive. They don’t think it’s healthy to exclude grains, because you can’t just go around cutting out entire classes of food, can you? Unless you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, which most people seem to think is plenty healthy, even though you’re cutting out even larger swaths of food. But I digress. Inevitably, this turns into a claim that the best method is “Moderation in all things.” It’s an incredibly common idea, and I’m sure every one of you has heard it in some context or another.
My thought is that the idea of moderation is great for most things. You don’t want to eat 100% chocolate, but you don’t need to eat 0% chocolate, either. There’s a happy medium. Where, though, is the happy medium for smoking crack? Barebacking Haitian prostitutes? Licking strange toads? Licking toads we know well? There are a lot of things that aren’t a good idea to do even once. The other problem I have with this idea is that it contains no helpful information. How do you define moderation? Let’s take drinking alcohol as our example. Is it one glass of wine per day? Two beers? Does it depend on your size, age, overall health, gender, or anything else? Can one person be moderate drinking 3 beers with dinner, while another person would be moderate drinking half a glass of wine?
When we talk about consuming things in moderation, we’re giving a meaningless recommendation. There’s no hard and fast definition for moderation, so how do you know when you’re doing it? Is it based on how you feel? So if you drink two glasses of wine and get a little loopy but don’t get a headache, then that’s cool for you? Is it based on long-term health effects? Maybe you can drink two glasses of wine per day without being hung over, but you get maximum health benefit from just one glass per day, so one glass is your standard. You see what I’m saying? I understand the idea behind calling for moderation, but it’s a bit empty once you get past the surface.
Yes, there is a happy medium for things, but if you’re not going to give a person any indication of where that is, then you’re not helping them. We already know that there is a happy medium, we’re just searching for what is actually is for us, for each thing we consume, and for our situation at the time. And maybe it turns out that for different people, they can’t handle any amount of a given substance or activity. Celiac sufferers can’t handle wheat in moderation. Folks with a severe peanut allergy can’t do just a little bit of peanut butter. Sometimes, your happy medium is zero. Cool? Does that make sense?
Okay, there’s that. Now, for some links!
Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet – This is a fantastic intro. Lots of great info and great links. Highly recommended if you want to learn more about this whole gig and why we do it.
The Dark Side of Medical Research – Another article talking about how the current system for funding and publishing science just isn’t cutting it.
The New USDA Dietary Guidelines – An older Denise Minger piece, I’ve been meaning to post for a while. She does a great job thoroughly debunking bad science, and does a great job with this one as well. Her stuff is always long, but worth the effort to read.