What’s Wrong with the Paleo Craze?

There’s a lot of talk about “paleo” right now, and I welcome it. It’s a huge change and it’s a good thing because paleo is so much healthier.

But why don’t your hear me use the word paleo very much?

I don’t want to split hairs, but I have a better way of talking about this.

“Paleo” focuses on the wrong period in history, and the wrong problem.

You see, Paleolithic is the old stone age, and Neolithic is the new stone age.

Why is that important?

Because that change was a significant advance in technology. It allowed us to become better hunters. So Neolithic is better than Paleo.

We invented better spears and spearheads, hatchets with handles, and figured out how to poke holes in leather to make warmer clothes. We made better tools and taught each other about them, so we started to have a shared culture. Everything got better, and our health didn’t get worse.

So I don’t like using the word paleo because it implies that the technological advance to Neolithic was negative. It implies that we were healthy in Paleolithic times and haven’t been healthy since.

But there’s no evidence for that. We were still healthy at that point. Even better than before.

It was the next advance that got us in trouble — planting seed crops. But that happened only after a few thousand years ago, not in “paleo” times, and only in a few places. Most other areas continued with a very healthy Neolithic culture.

During Ceasar’s Gallic wars, the Roman ruler wrote that one of the reasons he thought the barbarians were so hard to conquer was that they had not yet started eating grains. He thought grains weakened the Romans. That was only 2000 years ago. The rest of Europe was still hunter-gatherer!

So there’s a big time problem with saying that paleo was healthy and that’s what we have to go back to. That’s going back way farther than we need to.

We only need to go back before the agrarian revolution. That’s when people started to use technology to harvest grains. This gave us very low-fat, low- protein, low-nutrient diet. We could feed many more people and outcompete Neolithic cultures by sheer numbers. But people got smaller, and people got sick.

Did you know that the Egyptians started getting arthritis just a short time after they started to rely on grains?

When man switched to a grain-based diet, we became shorter and lost muscle and brain size, too. It happened to the Greeks, who became shrunken and diseased after they switched to farming. And when the American Indians switched to grains instead of hunting meat, they got shrunken jaws, became shorter, and now suffer from diabetes and obesity.

But you don’t have to go back to Paleolithic times to regain good health and a lean strong body. You only have to focus on doing what is natural to you.

When you return to a natural way of eating, shedding extra weight and staying healthy is effortless. That’s the reason paleo is popular. It’s not really that it’s “paleo” because it’s not. But a step in the direction of doing what is natural to us is a much healthier way of eating.

All you have to do is remember where technology took a wrong turn. I don’t want to do without technology, I just want to use it in the right way to mimic our primal environment.

The beginning of where things went wrong was when we abandoned protein for low-fat, low-protein grains. That happened faster here in America than in other places like Europe.

Why is that? Because they still had some strong cultural eating traditions. They aren’t Paleolithic, but they are healthy. Like the tradition of picking up their vegetables fresh. They eat healthy oils and healthy fats, and most of their meat is grass-fed because it’s raised on the hillside near the town.

And sometimes it’s the way they eat. For example, the Italians have a tradition of eating fagioli (pronounced fadj-oh-leh) soup. It’s pasta and beans, served with salad and garlic bread. Yet they don’t get fat. The reason is the Italian white kidney bean is very effective at stopping the grains from creating fat. And they have a tradition of eating those high-protein beans first.

So even if you don’t go back to paleo times, there’s still a lot of good health advice with paleo because it’s a return to our more primal traditions.

This is why I tell my patients these three keys to returning to a natural way of eating to drop weight, and stay lean and youthful:

1) Eat as much high-quality protein as you can. Modern medicine only recommends 50 to 60 grams a day. But that’s not nearly enough. I suggest you eat one gram of protein for every one pound of lean muscle mass you have in your body.

That means if you weigh 160 pounds and have 20 percent body fat, you have 128 pounds of lean muscle. That means your goal is 128 grams of protein for the day. This triggers your body to shed fat, control your appetite and build lean muscle.

People are usually surprised when they realize how much protein I’m suggesting they eat. And I know your body doesn’t need that much protein. But:

2) Overeating protein is the point. When you do that, it sends the metabolic signal to your body that times are good and you don’t need to store fat. Then you’ll melt away the fat. Where will it go? Your body will use it for building bone, replacing cells, and for energy.

3) Free-range eggs and grass-fed beef are the best sources. In fact, one of my favorite ways to start off the day is with a steak and eggs for breakfast. If possible, eat grass-fed beef. The flavor is great, and it’s far better for you because it has the right kinds of fats.

You can find out more about how to get pasture-raised meat delivered right to your house, and where to buy it online, by visiting my favorite websites, americangrassfed.org, grasslandbeef.com, and localharvest.org.

Also, when you cook your meat, try not to use high heat or a lengthy slow-cooking method. Overcooking denatures protein, breaks down vitamins and removes nutrients. That’s a reason I like to eat my steak rare and recommend that my patients do, too.

To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
Al Sears, MD