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Answering the Paleo Debunkers, Part 3: Miscellaneous Arguments

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Answering the Paleo Debunkers: Miscellaneous Arguments

Welcome back to the last installment in the Answering the Paleo Debunkers series (Part 1: Evolution and Part 2: Nutrition, if you missed them). This week, it’s a grab-bag of miscellaneous objections:

Paleo is too expensive.

Usually, the people who raise this argument don’t really understand what Paleo is. They think it’s filet mignon and organic spinach all the time – and yes, getting enough food like that would be prohibitively expensive for most of us. Fortunately, actual Paleo food doesn’t look like that at all!

Paleo Dinner Standard American Dinner “Healthy” Vegan Dinner
1 2.5-lb chicken @ $1.50/lb – $3.75 1 frozen pizza – $5 Package of 4 veggie burgers – $4
2 1-lb bags of frozen broccoli @ $1.50 each – $3 2-liter bottle of coke – $2 4 organic whole-wheat hamburger buns @ 8/$5 – $2.50
2 lbs russet potatoes @ $0.50/lb – $1 1 pint of ice cream – $3.99 2 1-lb bags of frozen broccoli @ $1.50 each – $3
Total cost: $7.75 Total cost: $10.99 Total cost: $9.50

The Paleo dinner is cheaper than both the junk food option and the health-conscious vegan menu, because it doesn’t include any pre-prepared food that you buy in a box.

All that meat is bad for the environment (Paleo is not sustainable).

The ecological argument is usually made in defense of a vegetarian or vegan diet, accompanied by statistics about how many calories it takes to produce a pound of meat vs. a pound of grains.

Paleo rebuttals:

Paleo can’t feed the world.

This is a very common objection and on the surface, it makes a lot of sense. After all, one of the hallmarks of the Agricultural Revolution was a population explosion – with a reliable source of easily-stored calories in the form of grains, the human population could grow much more quickly. So if we all switched back to the pre-agricultural diet, how would we ever feed a post-agricultural population?

Paleo Rebuttals

Paleo is just an extreme fad diet.

This is a tough argument to take on, because it’s really a matter of perspective. If eating Froot Loops for breakfast, takeout pizza for lunch, and McDonald’s for dinner is “normal,” then yes, Paleo looks extreme. But from the perspective of what your body actually needs, the standard American diet is “extreme.”

Paleo rebuttals:

You can find studies to “prove” anything, so the scientific evidence for Paleo is meaningless.

This objection is important because in many ways, it’s a fair point. Just look at contentious foods like coffee: one week there’s a study showing that it improves memory; the next week, another study shows that it causes memory loss. One week, it prevents cancer; the next week, it’s a carcinogen. Seeing all these studies endlessly refuting each other makes a lot of people refuse to trust any nutritional research at all.

Paleo rebuttals:

Paleo isn’t healthy for diabetics because it doesn’t include enough carbs.

The American Diabetes Association’s diet consists of approximately 60% carbs, and diabetic patients often get the advice to make sure their diet includes plenty of carbs, with adequate protein and minimal fat.

Paleo rebuttals:

Evolution is a myth, so the entire premise of Paleo is nonsense.

Note: the next two objections deal with religion, which is a very controversial, hot-button topic that deserves just as much respect from the non-religious as from the faithful. When thinking about this issue, it’s important to remember that Paleo is not a religion, and that trying to “disprove” anyone’s faith with science is missing the point. Religion and science are based on two completely different paradigms for understanding the world; trying to argue scriptural interpretation with evolutionary science is like trying to hammer in a screw.

That said, real people make decisions based on both religion and science. It’s really a question of when to prioritize which set of knowledge. Does religion always come first, with science only being valid as long as it doesn’t contradict your faith? Or is it the other way around? Or something in between? There’s no one answer – that’s why there are no “rebuttals” in this section, only “points to consider” as you try to make your own decisions.

People who follow certain religious traditions (especially certain forms of Christianity) don’t just disagree that humans haven’t evolved to eat grains and legumes. They reject the entire theory: it’s pointless to argue over what diet is or is not evolutionarily appropriate, because evolution is a myth. But even without going into the arguments for and against evolutionary theory, it’s still possible to accept that Paleo has a valid nutritional point based on science alone.

Points to consider:

My religion requires me to eat bread.

Thanks to Google+ reader Catherine Warren for sending us this objection! Jesus’ teaching that “I am the bread of life” leads some Christians who interpret the Bible literally to reject Paleo because the idea that God would teach you to eat something dangerous is blasphemous. Other religious people are fine with not eating bread as an everyday staple, but still want to participate in bread-related ceremonies, like Christian communion wafers and Jewish challah or matzo.

Points to consider:

Conclusion

One final word of caution: practicing your rebuttal skills can be very useful, but it’s important to remember that life isn’t a debate team. There’s a time and a place to stand your ground in an argument, but there’s also a time and a place to change your mind and learn something new. When you’re debating nutrition, your goal should always be to find out what’s healthy (bearing in mind that “healthy” can mean different diets for different people), not to prove yourself right for the sake of an ego boost. Even if your opponent isn’t so enlightened, arguing this way will get you a lot of respect from everyone around you, and ultimately make you much healthier, both mentally and physically.