Separating Reality from Marketing

As the holiday season nears don’t forget that a mountain of evidence now makes clear that popular dietary practices like the so-called “Paleo” and Atkins diets can negatively impact long-term health and longevity. Heavy emphasis upon consumption of meat, especially red meat and processed red meat, may create quick weight loss. But it’s also known to contribute to risk of our biggest killer, heart disease. It’s also known to contribute to some of the most common forms of cancer including colon cancer. And now it’s being connected to long-term risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Whereas the “Paleo” diet implies it represents how humans ate for thousands of years, in fact the Paleo Diet, like the Atkins diet, was created by one person. That one person is attached to quite a product line. What they’re not attached to is a body of empirical research backing their claims. 

Some of the most reputable public health institutions in the world offer a very different viewpoint of how prehistoric humans ate. And how we can replicate those patterns today to optimize health, longevity, and associated expenses. The University of Michigan ranks #34 in the world for leading publishers of empirical research (which by definition removes subjective opinion and bias). Review of empirical research led their Integrative Medicine Department to publish this Healing Foods Pyramid. As a public health institution rather than an individual with a product line and a hungry ego, the emphasis is on long-term health for all humans regardless of blood type. Although not vegetarian, the obvious emphasis is on plants and plants found whole in nature. This makes sense given that prehistoric humans ate between 100-150 grams per day of fiber, none of which is found in meat. Try just one day of eating 100-150 grams of fiber and see how much meat you still want to chew.

Europe’s oldest prehistoric town in Bulgaria is a viewable reminder of the difficulty and rarity with which humans ate daily meat before refrigerators, freezers, food subsidies, and a worldwide middle class with much more disposable income were introduced just one century ago. The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks which were traded and used to preserve meat. As such, salt was an immensely valuable commodity at the time. Hence, the huge defensive stone walls which ringed the town.

As New Year’s resolutions and guilt trips follow holiday indulgences, don’t forget that Dr. Atkins himself suffered a heart attack. Dr. Atkins didn’t live as long as the average American male, and the average American male ranks 42nd in the world for longevity. Instead of jumping for a quick fix, take a moment to review the common sense message of the Healing Foods Pyramid and how you can start building more of it into your daily life at your own pace. There are lots of ways to make this fun and enjoyable.  

Bon appetit!

Posted on December 18, 2012 and filed under Wellness & Prevention.