Books, Documentaries, Reviews: January 28, 2014
Sally Fallon Morell’s Thumbs Down Review
Robb Wolf’s THE PALEO SOLUTION: THE ORIGINAL HUMAN DIET
In the fall 2013, in Wise Traditions, the journal of The Weston A. Price Foundation, Sally Fallon Morell gives Robb Wolf’s version of the Paleo diet a THUMBS DOWN.
Here’s Morel’s summation:
The fact is, while The Paleo Solution diet contains plenty of meat, it is just another version of food puritanism–a diet so lean, dry and deficient that it is impossible to follow and bound to lead to health problems. No “paleolithic” or traditional culture ever ate this way, and we shouldn’t either.”
One problem Morell has is that Wolf, while saying that saturated fat has been demonized, stresses monounsaturated fats and LEAN meat–which can lead to something called “rabbit starvation“–characterized by, writes Morell, “muscle wasting, lethargy, diarrhea and eventually death if one relied too heavily on lean game animals such as rabbits”–which is what Morell claims Wolf’s diet does.
Morell notes that Artic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who described rabbit starvation, noted that “primative peoples never ate lean meat”: “according to Stefansson, the diet of the Eskimo and North American Indian did not exceed 20 percent protein, with the remaining 80 percent of calories, as fat.” (Wolf cites Stefansson’s work.)
Saturated fat is where the fat soluble vitamin A resides. Morell writes: “Our bodies need saturated fat in large amounts–to build cell membranes (which need to be at least 50 percent saturated to work properly) and to support hormone formation and the immune system.”
Morell notes that there are two major dangers with Wolf’s “Paleo” diet. First, the high protein content and the recommended 2,000 to 5,000 IU of Vitamin D daily can rapidly deplete vitamin A in the body–which sets in place a serious health situation. Second, the deficiency of saturated fat combined with low consumption of carbohydrates means the body cannot use carbohydrates to compensate for the lack of saturated fats.
Morell claims that Wolf’s stance on grains and nuts/seeds is inconsistent. Grains are not ok, but nuts/seeds are–based on Wolf’s understanding of the role of palmitic acid. Yet both grains and nuts/seeds contain palmitic acid writes Morell. And she undertakes a very nuanced discussion of palmitic acid that more or less refutes Wolf’s claims that it is dangerous. (Recent research also refutes the connection of palmitic acid and heart disease.)
Nor can Morell find a problem with raw milk or dairy from raw milk–which Wolf forbids. Morell sites a number of nomadic people who thrive on dairy–an argument I’ve always found persuasive.
Wolf claims lacto-fermented foods contain too much salt and are not worth the hassle–which I’m sure represents a misunderstanding of these super foods.
I personally liked–as I wrote some time back–Wolf’s attempts at showing how nomadic paleo peoples fared better healthwise than settled agricultural peoples. And, like Luise Light’s work, I think we are eating waaaayyyy too many grains every day. And there may be a problem with modern wheat. But there are a lot of other grains… We do need to prepare them properly.
I like the focus Paleo Diets have put on eating traditionally–as many of the traditional foods have been demonized or lost. Since moving to Maine and getting back in touch with traditional foods, I have held a place for saturated fats, raw dairy, fermented foods, and good meats in my diet. I also eat a lot of vegetables, avoiding the starchier ones except as treats, and I have a genetic gluten intolerance gene, so do better avoiding gluten. And when I eat too many gluten-free substitutes, my joints start hurting.
As I’ve written before, when a group starts to take a diet out of its context (macrobiotic, Mediterranean, Paleo), not all of the parts translate–and we just get an Americanized version that’s something new again. What Wolf has done is to not really lose his fear of fat…
Morell takes on a client Wolf describes: Charlie, who is trying to follow Wolf’s diet, but is listless. What does he need to eat? Charlie is suffering from rabbit starvation on Wolf’s diet, writes Morell. And,
The truth is, his diet is terrible. Desperate for fats, his body craves sugar. His paleo diet has depleted him of vitamin A, needed for mental function and the formation of stress and sex hormones. Poor Charlie needs more than blackout curtains [for dark, to sleep]–he needs rich, nourishing foods including butter, cream, bone broths, properly prepared grains, organ meats and cod liver oil. Raw whole milk before bedtime is a wonderful, soothing food to induce sleep. Calcium and tryptophan in milk help the body manufacture sleep-inducing melatonin–but Wolf insists we can get all the calcium we need from vegetables and fruit.
There’s more, of course. If you’re interested, you can read the review for yourself.