The Small Print You Might Not Know About Atkins, Paleo and Other Trendy Diets

Dear all,

While I was riding my bike yesterday (and secretly cursing myself for not working out more frequently), I distracted myself thinking about a conversation I had the other day with another mum. She is trying to feed her family more healthy food and was trying to find out which diet would work best for them and which one is the healthiest. Without a medical or scientific background it seems to be really hard nowadays to fond out what’s good for you and what not. There are just to many choices…

choices

Every diet markets itself by claiming to provide you with radiant glowing skin, amazing long lasting health, rapid weight loss and what not. You have the choice between the new trendy diets including the Paleo Diet and the Ducan Diet (also known as the “French” Atkins diet) or the more established Atkins Diet and Raw Food Diet. Coming up with a new diet is not hard at all. Tell people to eat more vegetables and fruits, to cut down on processed foods, include or exclude food certain food groups, put a catchy name on it and market it properly by promising everything that people want to hear. Try to get a couple of celebrities on board and TATA, you’ll have a new fancy diet established. Will it work? Maybe. Will it be healthy? Not so sure. Will people stick with it? Probably not. Is it evidence based? No.

Let’s take a closer look at the concepts, benefits and side effects of the major two diets. Once you know more about the facts, you will be able to analyse every other diet that’s out there.

Number 1. Paleo a.k.a the caveman diet

The Paleo Diet advocates a low carb diet, which means a diet high in animal foods and low in plant foods (= low carb, high-protein and/or high-fat diet). The Paleo Diet consists mainly of meat, poultry, shellfish, fish, and eggs; non-starchy orange, green, and yellow vegetables; and fruits and nuts. This approach forbids starches, including all grains, legumes, and potatoes. To its credit it also excludes dairy products and refined sugars. Salt and processed oils (with the exception of olive oil) are also excluded.

paleo-diet-cafe-598x378

This nutritional plan is based on the presumption that our ancestors, living during the Paleolithic era were nourished primarily by animal foods. In the Paleo Diet Book the Paleo Diet is said to be “the one and only diet that ideally fits our genetic makeup.” Primates, including humans, have practiced hunting and gathering for millions of years. However, plants have, with very few exceptions, provided the bulk of the calories for almost all primates because meat was far too unreliable. Here are a couple of recent publications from major scientific journals that contradicts the Paleo approach:

  • Research published in the top journal Nature (on June 27, 2012) reports that almost the entire diet of our very early human ancestors , dating from 2 million years ago, consisted of leaves, fruits, wood, and bark—a diet similar to modern day chimpanzees.
  • Research presented in a 2011 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that even the Neanderthals ate a variety of plant foods; starch grains have been found on the teeth of their skeletons everywhere from the warm eastern Mediterranean to chilly northwestern Europe. It appears they even cooked, and otherwise prepared, plant foods to make them more digestible—44,000 years ago.

What about nutritional benefits of the Paleo Diet?

The paleo diet is a nutritional nightmare. By nature, the Paleo Diet is based on artery-clogging saturated fats and cholesterol, and bone-damaging, acidic proteins from animal foods. Respected researchers find that those modern-day hunter-gather populations who base their diets on meat, such as the Inuits (Eskimos), suffer from heart disease, other forms of atherosclerosis, other chronic diseases and osteoporosis.

Eating animal-derived foods causes our most common diseases for many well-established reasons, including the indisputable facts that they contain no dietary fiber, which aare essential for intestinal health and are heart protective by lowering cholesterol in the blood. They contain disease-causing microbes (including mad cow prions, and E. coli and salmonella bacteria) and contain the highest levels of poisonous environmental chemicals found in the food chain. Remember, disease-causing red meats, poultry, fish, and eggs make up 55% of the Paleo Diet!

We also know from animal studies that too much animal protein intake is strongly associated with the development and growth of cancer as well as other chronic diseases (more on http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/t-colin-campbell-protein-and-cancer/).

Number 2. The famous (or infamous) Atkins Diet? 

The original Atkins Diet is the ultimate in low-carb eating. It is still the go-to method for weight-loss for millions. What it has in common with a lot of other diets like the Paleo diet or the South beach diet is that they all condemn “carbs” and emphasise meat and fat for calories.

atkins

This diet works by starving the human body of carbohydrates in order to induce a state of illness (ketosis), which can result in weight loss. Despite established scientific evidence, the Atkins diet ignores the fact that saturated fat is a major cause of cardiovascular diseases. The low carb diet contains very little if any whole plant-based foods, which are the main foods that create health benefits and disease reversals.

The thinnest, healthiest, longest-lived people with the least risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes (like people in rural Japan or China) are eating high carb diets.

The Atkins diet along with other low carb diets not only jeopardises people’s health, but also advocates a lifestyle to has a massive impact on our environment (read one of my previous posts on http://plantbasedhappy.com/?p=1796)

Health benefits on Atkins?

There aren’t really any.. but there a tons of possible side effects.

To start with, burning fat results in the production of substances called ketones as your body enters a state called ketosis. This can result in bad breath, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, insomnia and nausea. Constipation may occur as a consequence of avoiding high-fibre foods such as fruit, veg, beans, wholewheat pasta, brown rice, wholegrain breakfast cereals and jacket potatoes.

When it comes to long-term side effects, many health professionals are concerned that the Atkins Diet may have serious dangers. While the high intake of fat, particularly saturates, may increase the risk of heart disease, there are also concerns that the unbalanced nature of the Atkins Diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies, which cause health problems in later life (cardiovascular disease, cataract, premature ageing, osteoporosis, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, kidney problems etc).

The Atkins diet strongly recommends you to take a ton of supplements like Vitamins A, C, D, E and K, various B vitamins, Niacin, Folate, Biotin, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium and various other minerals. Probably to make up for the nutritional deficiencies…?

But we are designed to eat meat, not plants!

Are we? Let’s look at our teeth. If you open the mouth of a cat or a dog, carnivores, you see that they have long canines, way beyond the other teeth (Some herbivores have long canines for defence purposes). If you open your mouth, you don’t. We also don’t have claws. We’re not fast. We don’t have very good vision, or good sense of smell. We’re most similar to other plant-eaters, and drastically different from carnivores and true omnivores (http://michaelbluejay.com/veg/natural.html). We were only omnivores because we are creative and find ways to do things that are not natural for us but helped us to survive. The dangers of eating animal products doesn’t occur until after the age of reproduction. If people developed cardiovascular disease that was fatal by the age of twelve or thirteen, eating animals would have died out long ago.

Saying we’re omnivores because we’re capable of eating meat is just silly. We’re capable of eating cardboard, too.

 

Number 3. The Raw Food Diet

The idea that stirs the most enthusiasm for this diet is the contention that cooking both destroys about fifty percent of the nutrients in food, and destroys all or most of the life promoting enzymes. Raw-food enthusiasts commonly make the claim that “cooked foods are dead foods.” Certainly, there are benefits to consuming plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. These foods supply us with high nutrient levels and the smallest number of calories. But the question we are looking at is this—Are there advantages to eating a diet of all raw foods and excluding all cooked foods?

rawfood

It is true that when food is baked at high temperatures—and especially when it is fried or barbecued—toxic compounds are formed and important nutrients are lost. Many vitamins are water-soluble, and a significant percent can be lost with cooking, especially overcooking.

On the other hand, in many cases, cooking destroys some of the harmful anti-nutrients that bind minerals in the gut and interfere with the utilization of nutrients. Destruction of these anti-nutrients increases absorption. Steaming vegetables and making vegetable soups breaks down cellulose and alters the plants’ cell structures so that fewer of your own enzymes are needed to digest the food, not more. For example, multiple studies have demonstrated that the beneficial antioxidant activity of cooked (not fried or roasted) tomatoes is significantly higher than from uncooked tomatoes.

When food is steamed or made into a soup, the temperature is fixed at 100 degrees C or 212 F—the temperature of boiling water. This moisture-based cooking prevents food from browning and forming toxic compounds.

In fact, eating an exclusively raw-food diet might be a disadvantage. To exclude all steamed vegetables and vegetable soups from your diet narrows the nutrient diversity of your diet and has a tendency to reduce the percentage of calories from vegetables, in favor of nuts and fruit, which are lower in nutrients per calorie.

 

Wow, this was a long post and I could go on and on… but I think I covered pretty much the most important aspects of the low carb diets. It really touches me to see how many of the people I know jeopardize their health with diets they believe are healthy. Whatever diet you are adhering to, here are my personal recommendations, based on SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE:

  • Limit your animal food intake as much as you can, not just for your body, also for the environment (read my post on …)
  • Eat a large variety of whole grains, whole fruits, vegetables, beans&legumes, nuts&seeds
  • Moderate exercise
  • Enjoy your lifestyle
  • Meditate or do yoga to reduce stress
  • If your goal is to reduce weight, make sure it is weight loss PLUS health. Simply eat a whole grain plant-baed diet and cut down on the carbs (noodles, rice, bread and yes, alcohol) and eat more fruits and veggies.

Here are a few interesting background links on this topic:

http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/diet/atkins_diet/atkins.htm

http://therumpus.net/2012/09/the-rumpus-interview-with-dr-neal-barnard/

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-13477/how-the-food-you-eat-changes-your-genes.html

Here is Gary Larson’s different take on what our ancestors were eating:

Early-Vegetarians

Stay healthy and happy,

Cheers,

Ursula

You may also like