The bottom line: A solid blueprint and case for eating the paleo way, lacking some proofs and boldly proclaiming some miscalculations as fact.
The basic premise of The Paleo Diet is that the human machine was genetically designed to eat certain types of food, and eating these favored foods maximizes our health and keeps us disease-free. Eating the wrong types of foods, then, gives the body the wrong fuel and therein damages the machine. The “right” foods are essentially what our Paleolithic ancestors ate—foods directly from nature, free from processing, that essentially equates to lean meats and fish, fresh fruits, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables. The book suggests that by changing the way you eat that you will lose weight and keep it off, optimize your health, and feel better in the process. The revised edition of the book also includes a section on paleo recipes as well as meal plans.
This book is not another “low-carb” prescription, because as the author explains, by avoiding just carbohydrates, you certainly will lose weight but at the expense of your overall health. The Paleo Diet embraces a more balanced approach and does not say that carbohydrates in general are bad, but there are certain types of carbohydrates you must avoid.
The book does make some notable scientific errors. For example, (1) Cordain’s suggestion that one’s diet should be low salt is controversial. There is convincing evidence that not all salt is bad and the type one ingests matters—in fact, consuming the right type of salt is indeed beneficial (e.g. Himalayan Salt). When most people think of salt, they think of standard table salt that is made via an industrial process, stripping salt of all its healthy minerals and leaving you with unhealthy industrial residue. (2) Contrary to what’s said in the book, protein can be overeaten. In fact, excessive amounts of anything in the body are harmful in the same way that water is actually toxic when consumed in extreme amounts. (3) The law of thermodynamics, or the idea that weight loss is simply a function of calories expended – calories consumed is wrong. This formulation assumes that all calories are equal, and thus 300 cal of Twinkies equals 300 cal of kale. Common sense suggest otherwise since foods have different metabolic effects. This concept is wonderfully elaborated on in Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes.
Also, the book may also overreach at times in stating that proper nutrition is the sole cure for everything and will rid the world of certain diseases. While proper nutrition does play a major role in proper health, there are a myriad of other factors at play in disease processes.
The largest take home point from this book is that the paleo “diet” is not, in fact, a diet but a way of life. The prescriptions given aren’t designed for you to adopt in the short-term just to lose weight and stop, but to adopt for the long-term in order to bring about lifestyle change. The explanations in the text illustrate why these changes are necessary. So, if you’d like to lose weight but don’t want to engage in another fad, are interested about health and overall wellness, or would like to learn about how modern Western diet has actually made our lives more convenient but less healthy, then The Paleo Diet is for you.
Very solid core principles but Cordain does manage to falter in a few areas.
Dr. C. H. E. Sadaphal