The Paleo diet has rocketed in popularity as people clamor for an eating plan that allows them to eat endless amounts of bacon, but nutritionist Alan Aragon says the meat-heavy diet is extreme and based on a skewed understanding of history.
Paleo-diet proponents say people should mimic the diet of their cavemen ancestors and consume mostly animal proteins and fats, but Aragon says most of the foods advocated by the Paleo diet didn't even exist in Paleolithic times.
"Many whole foods (both plant and animal) of the present day did not exist in the Paleolithic period," Aragon told Paleo Movement. "They are products of modern-day farming and food engineering, so that virtually kills the objective right there."
Aragon, a respected researcher, fitness coach and nutrition advisor to "Men's Health" magazine, praises the Paleo diet's emphasis on avoiding processed foods and eating whole foods and healthy animal proteins, but says its dietary restrictions are extreme and silly.
"My biggest gripes with the Paleo movement is the extreme-ism and absolute-ism that some folks apply to food avoidance despite a lack of supporting research evidence," said Aragon, who is a continuing-education provider for the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
For instance, Aragon disagrees with the Paleo diet's wholesale dismissal of certain food groups such as grains, potatoes, legumes and sugar (including many fruits).
If grains don’t suit your personal taste, then by all means don’t eat them," he said. "It’s the idea of banning them universally despite a lack of supporting evidence that I take issue with."
Aragon says even less-extreme Paleo eating plans such as the Primal diet promoted by Mark Sisson are a bit illogical.
Even the 'Primal' model of going 80% Paleo while leaving 20% for the non-Paleo stuff is rather humorous. For example, in the context of a typical 2,500-calorie diet, 20% of those calories coming from grains and dairy would constitute 500 calories, which is the capacity for a typical bowl of cereal.
So if a bowl of cereal (or two cups of pasta, or four slices of bread) every day qualifies as Primal, then it sounds a lot like conventional eating to me. It’s just difficult to tolerate the lack of logic there."
Aragon isn't the only health expert who has taken issue with the Paleo diet. Biologist Robert Dunn, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University, noted in Scientific American that our Stone-Age ancestors were mostly vegetarian, contrary to what Paleo-diet advocates claim.
Similarly, vegetarian weight-loss surgeon Dr. Garth Davis underscored that the healthiest and longest-lived people in the world — both past and present — consume a largely plant-based diet.
Besides, if Paleo proponents really want to stay true to authentic cavemen diets, experts say they should eat rats, snakes and insects, and not the grass-fed beef they so ardently embrace (not to mention that cavemen ate what they killed themselves, not purchased from Whole Foods).
Aragon, who designs training programs for the Los Angeles Lakers and for Olympic athletes, says the Paleo diet falls short when it comes to logic, but does have its positive points.
"The push toward consuming more whole foods is definitely a positive thing," he said. "I appreciate guys like Robb Wolf and Mat Lalonde who are much more flexible and objective in their approach and philosophies than the majority I’ve communicated with in the Paleo sphere. I [also] like the CrossFit training attire."