Pete Evans is a popular Australian chef and cookbook author and his main specialty is all things paleo. He’s a tanned, good lookin’ Aussie bloke and does pretty well for himself in the cookbook publishing world. For those living under a proverbial wildebeest, the Paleo Diet is one which steers us toward food our cavemen ancestors used to eat. Real food. Meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit in season, while shunning manufactured and processed food i.e. bread, pasta, commercially baked goods, rice etc.

Food experts and anthropologists have attacked (more like thrown spears) at ol’ Pete recently because research is now suggesting that paleo is not what it’s cracked up to be. In other words, the health benefits are overrated. The rhetoric is that paleo offers no distinct and dramatic advantages that wouldn’t otherwise be associated with a balanced diet. Yes, that’s right – we’re taking about the same ‘balanced’ diet which is causing an explosion of the ‘big 4’ – heart disease, cancer, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease – throughout developed and developing nations around the world. The same balanced diet which is contributing to the biggest pandemic – Diabetes type 2 – ever seen. The same balanced diet in which food policy makers give a thumbs up to the consumption of over 10 teaspoons of sugar per day in our diet.

Asking whether the paleo diet is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or indeed comparing it to another diet and ‘working out’ which is better is a fool’s game. The reason is that no one will ever know the result unless a large, random controlled study is done. You see, most of these ‘results’ are merely correlations – patterns in the data – which researchers hang their hat on. The first rule in research is that correlations do not prove cause. People have heart attacks on cruise ships. It doesn’t mean cruise ships cause heart disease, does it? Clearly not, but this is how most diet ‘studies’ are reported. The real question is what safe and sustainable alternatives are there to steer us away from the trappings of the traditional western diet of high processed foods?

The way I see it, paleo provides a viable option for many people to live and eat to their health potential. To them, consuming no grains, dairy, sugar or processed food works for their physiology. On the flip side eating meat (grass-fed, fowl, fish), veggies, fruit, nuts, oils and eggs is exactly what was prescribed to the American population in the late 60’s but was blocked by Government officials fearing a backlash from the mighty grain growers lobby. As a comparison can you imagine any Queensland politician sprouting the deleterious effects of sugar in a State which grows mainly…sugar?

Quite simply, paleo sounds like a good plan to me. But could I eat this way? Not a chance. I love diary and I love grains too much to restrict them from my life. So far these two delightful foods groups have neither sent me packing to the closest ‘fat fighters’ support group nor have they ground my gut health to a screaming halt. I don’t fart, burp, crap or experience any type of stomach discomfort and hence will keep eating them for the rest of my life (unless something changes).

So, what can we learn from the paleo movement? Three things:

1. Any eating plan to steer us away from processed ‘bag and boxed’, ‘bet-you-can’t-eat-just-one’, ‘microwave-for-3 min-on-high’, ‘you-don’t-have-time-to-cook’ type food is a good thing. Processed and take-away convenience food is making all populations fat and sick, not to mention the sky-rocketing health costs of each nation dealing with such conditions.  Paleo (or slight variations of it) all support the notion of eating REAL FOOD.  Food found on one leg (veggies), two legs (chicken) and four legs (lean meats).  Food made BY plants not IN plants (big factories).  This is where we must head if we want to take control of our health.

2. Any eating plan to reduce your free-form sugar addiction is also a good thing. I’m not talking about the sugar found naturally in fruits – I’m taking about the 12 teaspoons of sugar consumed by drinking soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, flavoured milks and the myriad of sugar found in just about all processed food we eat.  If you only calculate the amount of sugar you consume by the number of sugar cubes you add to your food then you’re getting a very inaccurate tally of your sugar consumption.  You must look at the ingredients of every packaged food you consume to get a better gauge of your sugar habit (more of this on future posts).

2. Many people ‘do well’ without consuming grains or dairy, but many people (including myself) don’t have any issue with eating them also. Either way, there is no right or wrong – only preferences. Eat what agrees with you. If you feel bloated, gassy, nauseous, fatigued, rashy, irritated or downright crook after consuming some foods – don’t eat ‘em. Simple. Remember you have a unique genetic and epigenetic code which will determine your tolerance, taste and texture for the food you eat.  Find the food which encourages health and makes you feel good.  Don’t concern yourself with large, sweeping, all-encompassing announcements from white, lab-coat wearing ‘experts’ who demand that we never eat carbs after 6pm.  It’s all BS.

So Pete, keep bashing out the paleo cookbooks mate, you’re on a winner!