Made popular in the 1970s, the Paleo Diet continues to gain followers and acceptance into mainstream America. Proponents believe it to be the healthiest diet for humans, and, according to expert-paleo Robb Wolf’s website, “the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic!” Paleos believe in meat, and lots of it. If it was good enough for the cavemen, it should work for modern man, right? But with the emphasis on eating carnivorously, one has to wonder, how good is the Paleo diet when it comes to living responsibly and reducing your carbon footprint?
First, lets get a grasp on what exactly a Paleo diet is. Paleoplan.com gives a handy list of what and what not to eat. Lamb, organs, venison and other meats are fine, as are all fish, fish eggs, nuts and seeds. If you want to lose weight, as many on Paleo diets do, eat any vegetables except starchy ones like sweet potatoes, and also limit your fruit intake. Oh, and eggs from any source are great, so pick up some emu eggs the next time you’re at the store. Strictly banished from a Paleo’s kitchen are all grains, legumes, and dairy.
Cavemanstrong.com gives a typical meal plan for a Paleo eater. In one week, the plan outlines eating a dozen eggs, 7 servings of beef, and at least 5 meals with bacon or sausage. It also includes tuna, salmon patties, chicken, pork chops, and one cheat meal. This doesn’t include snacks, which are often beef jerky or eggs. That’s a lot of meat – often more than one serving per meal. To its credit, the Paleo guide encourages lots of vegetables, green tea and healthy fats from coconut oil and nut butters.
Critics say this is too much meat, and they have some worrisome statistics behind them. The Environmental Working Group’s handy “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” attempts to break down exactly what eating meat does to the environment. If a family of four skips steak one day a week, the guide says that will have the same impact as taking your car off the road for three months. If you eat one less burger per week, the same effect is achieved as driving your car 320 miles less. The group says that lamb, beef and cheese are the worst in generating greenhouse gases, with beef generating more than 13 times as much as vegetable proteins like lentils.
Along with producing many more greenhouse gases than a more traditional diet, U.S. News & World Report recently released its report on the best and worst diets of 2013, and the Paleo diet did not fare well. It got only two out of a possible five stars across the board in ratings, from its overall effectiveness to weight loss to safety. The diet was judged by 22 experts in the fields of diet and nutrition. Because Paleo diets often dramatically differ, no reliable, large-scale study can give good information on Paleo follower’s claims their diet promotes wellness.
Combine the increased carbon footprint, low rankings, and then stories like “Human Ancestors Were Nearly all Vegetarians” from Scientific American that call into question the basis of a Paleo’s thinking that primal man ate mainly meat, and the Paleo diet starts looking less and less appetizing.
by Sarah Shultz for Diets in Review