Wednesday night I got to fill in as the Atheist Dietitian on Dogma Debate. You can listen to show #82 on iTunes or follow the links from the website. Most of me talking is at the beginning, although later I make a comment about "Intelligent Falling." (Because gravity is just a theory, right?).
I have already received my first e-mail indicating that I hate the paleo diet, love vegans, and wish I could still be a vegan but I can't. Of course, I didn't say any of that, nor (in the short space of time) did I get to expound on one topic like I am used to doing on a blog, as I haven't been on a podcast before. I think the author was mostly angry that I didn't immediately burn all vegans at the stake (steak? har-har).
First of all, I have no problem with people consuming protein from humanely raised animals, incorporating plenty of healthy fats, avoiding added sugars, avoiding nutritionally devoid grains, and filling in the gaps with more vegetables. Why would I, when the evidence points to this being a healthy plan, particularly for all those diabetics I work with? Let me say it again, I have no problem with people eating a whole foods diet free of added sugars with adequate protein and fat.
Now for the "issues," which have already been summarized here over at Nothing in Biology Makes Sense: The Beef I Have with the Paleo Diet. Sarah Hird and Noah Reid also have a great title. Let me hit the highlights:
1. Evolution optimizes your ability to pass on offspring, it does not act to optimize health.
2. Evolution has adapted us to our diet, in other words to help us eat whatever is readily available, not adapted us to a specific diet.
3. Evidence points to omnivory being healthy, but the restriction on eating foods based on when they were introduced into the human diet is problematic.
4. Anything you buy in a store today is not the same, no matter how careful you were to keep that animal raised in a natural environment. If you make that pudding with coconut milk and organic cocoa and honey (and call it coconut milk pudding) I will be the first in line to gobble that up. Call it paleo pudding and you wonder every one in the skeptic community is laughing at you, because it implies that the cavemen sat around eating this.
So yes, I personally have a semantics problem with calling it a paleo diet. But then the Omnivorous Unprocessed Foods diet probably isn't so snappy. Told you marketing was not my strong point.
I will also be the first to jump in and state that there are many people that are eating too much bread, pasta, rice, corn, etc and not getting enough protein, fat, and vegetables. Should you avoid all gluten containing grains if you have celiac, gluten intolerance, or inflammatory bowel disease/irritable bowel syndrome. Yes. Should you restrict carbs if you have diabetes type 2, or prediabetes, or even a strong family history of insulin resistance? Yes. Does everybody else have to avoid eating grains? Not necessarily, but if one bite of pasta leads to too much, you might need to avoid them. Should you gorge on grains? No.
One of the questions David asked me was "Why do you think so many of the atheists we encounter are vegetarian/vegan?" I replied that I thought that they thought it was the most ethical way to live, and the author of my first response piece appeared to think that I thought that eating vegan was the only ethical way to live. Never mind that I mentioned that evidence indicates that the most environmentally sound way of eating actually includes dairy and meat, as per this study done by Cornell University. I was merely replying to David's question and then we moved on. I did quit being a vegan for health reasons, but I also stopped because the more reading I did, the more I was able to assimilate the evidence and say "Hey, this isn't the way to live my life anymore."
As a health care professional, however, if a patient/client of mine said "Would it hurt me to become a vegan tomorrow?" I would not answer them until I got a detailed health history from them, and also asked some personal questions about why they wanted to do this. For example, if that person had diabetes I would probably discourage them based on the difficulty of controlling your carbohydrate intake. If they person said "I think it would be better for the environment" I would discuss the evidence to the contrary. If they don't want to eat animals and hate the modern meat industry, I would again discuss how their vegan diet might not help. And if they still wanted to eat vegan because the idea of eating animals makes them physically ill, or they are bound and determined to do this, then I help them do the best they can with what they have and avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
Some day I hope to be as eloquent as Aron Ra when it comes to answering questions, and maybe I will get more practice. In the mean time, people can comment here!