Op-Ed: Paleo diet should not be carb free

Posted Aug 25, 2015 by Tim Sandle
Every few months brings along a new fad diet and one that seems to running is the so called "Paleo diet", which is based on a diet that cavemen may have consumed.
Vegetables on sale in a market in Bohol  Philippines.
Vegetables on sale in a market in Bohol, Philippines.
Wikimedia Commons / Jasper Greek Golangco
A couple of years ago the alkaline diet was all the rage, at least in the celebrity world. This diet, based on the belief that certain foods can affect the acidity of bodily fluids, was picked up by early adopters Gywneth Paltrow, Kirsten Dunst, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston. The scientific basis was undermined by many medics, such as Joe Schwarcz, a chemist at McGill University, Canada.
Next in the firing line is the so-called paleo diet (sort of, it was invented in the 1960s although its height in popularity now.) This is a diet based on the types of foods presumably eaten by early humans (hence "paleolithic"). The diet is made up of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. The diet, as presented by many websites and restaurants, excludes dairy or cereal products and processed food. Oddly the diet doesn't preclude alcohol. On my one visit to a paleo restaurant I was bemused (but not disappointed) to see wine being served. Somehow I doubt caveman quaffed Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
This is all well and good and there can be some health benefits associated with cutting out some carbohydrates. However, there are also health benefits associated with cutting out fats and a high consumption of meat is linked with heart attack and cancer. Scientific evidence for the diet, based on the American Journal for Clinical Nutrition, is 'moderate' (see: "Paleolithic nutrition for metabolic syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis.")
The Paleolithic era ended with the start of farming, so many domesticated animals should rightly be excluded from the menu. With this an historical debate can be had as to which types of meat should make-up the paleo diet and which ones should be excluded because they simply weren't available. Presumably beef is off the menu.
A new criticism leveled against the paelo diet is that it is historically nonsensical, for paleolithic humans did eat grains and legumes. This is based on a new study from University College London, led by Professor Mark Thomas. Professor Taylor, in emphasizing that carbohydrates were part of this early diet, told The Daily Telegraph: "there is little clear agreement on what quantitatively constitutes a healthy diet, or indeed a Palaeolithic diet, with much conflicting information disseminated to the public."
He goes on to state:
“Eating food suited to the way our metabolisms evolved is a fantastic idea, but if you buy a book on the paleo diet it's probably rubbish. We know so little about what the Palaeolithic diet was."
On balance, excuse the pun, a balanced diet is best, with all major food groups consumed in moderation.