Thursday, July 12, 2012

Comparison of Weston Price and Paleo Diets

diet | comparison | Paleo | Weston Price | Saturated Fats | Grains | Dairy | Hormone

Currently, there are several diets that are based on ancient people's dietary patterns. Two important ones are the Weston A. Price Diet and the Paleo Diet. While both diets strongly challenge the standard American USDA dietary guidelines, there are major difference between them. People must wonder: Who is right? Who is wrong?


In this blog, I list their commonalities and differences. On the points where they are different, I give my analysis and opinion.


Major Figures


The most important figure in the Weston A. Price camp is Mary Enig. She is an expert on oils' effects on human's health. Another important figure is Sally Fallon. She is the author of a cookbook based on the Weston A. Price dietary principles.


The most important figure in the Paleo camp is Loren Cordain. He is the author of the book "The Paleo Diet". Another important figure is Rob Wolf.


Major Differences


Saturated Fats

Weston A. Price says that saturated fats are beneficial for human's health. The Paleo Diet says that saturated fats are harmful for human's health.

Loren Cordain said: "Saturated fats are mostly bad. They're found in processed meat, whole dairy products, and many bakery items; most of them are known to raise cholesterol."

Mary Enig believes that saturated fats are not harmful to health. Instead, they are healthful. She said: "saturated fats are needed for energy, hormone production, cellular membranes and for organ padding."


So, who is right? Who is wrong?


I think, on this point, Weston A. Price is right, and Peleo Diet is wrong. 



Reason #1  If you start from Loren Cordain's basic assumption, it will eventually lead you to a conclusion that is opposite of his. His basic assumption is: paleolithic human's dietary pattern is the best for us modern humans. But, during paleolithic time, the hunter-gatherers ate a lot of animals. And animals have saturated fats. Therefore, if we believe that paleolithic human's dietary pattern is good for us, then saturated fats must be good for us. See, now we have reached a conclusion opposite of Cordain's.

Reason #2  Mary Enig is one of the foremost experts on oils' effects on human's health. Loren Cordain may have broader knowledge on medicine in general, but on this particular field of oils' effects on human's health, he appears to be less knowledgeable than Mary Enig. If someone has very deep understanding about an issue, he will immediately reach the right conclusion from the beginning. If someone only has a basic understanding about an issue, he may reach a wrong conclusion first, and as he understands more, he will eventually reach the right conclusion. Here is an example. Mary Enig knows the inside-out of canola oil, and from the very beginning, in 2001, she said that it was bad for health. But, when Loren Cordain published the first edition of his book "The Paleo Diet" in 2002, he said that canola oil was good for health. This was because he simply thought that canola oil had high level of monounsaturated fatty acids so it must be good. After his book came out, Weston A. Price in 2002 launched a strong criticism against this book, especially against his position on canola oil. Years later, as he gained more understanding about oils, he realized that he was initially wrong, and in 2010 modified his position in the second edition of his book. He eventually got it right, but it was many years later than Mary Enig. This is evident that Mary Enig is more knowledgeable than Loren Cordain on oils' effects on human's health, and it is more likely that Mary Enig is right.

Reason #3  Paleolithic humans had many different variations of dietary patterns. In the tropics, maybe they ate a lot of plants. In the temperate regions, maybe they ate a lot of plants in 3 seasons, and ate only animals in the winter. In the Polar region, maybe they only ate seals all year round; and seals are much fatter than modern day cows. Loren Cordain only picked wild buffalo and deer, which are leaner than modern day cows, to conclude that paleolithic human ate a low saturated fats diet. This is is not very convincing. Do the paleolithic Eskimos count as paleolithic humans? It seems that when he was forming his theory, he only picked one of many paleolithic dietary patterns. And the other paleolithic dietary patterns that he ignored contradict his theory.

Reason #4  If saturated fats are bad, they can be bad in three different ways.

"Saturated fats are bad, period." For example, now we know trans fat is bad, period. 0 gram of trans fat is the best. Does Loren Cordain tell us, for saturated fats, the less, the better? Is 0 gram of saturated fats the best?


"Saturated fats are bad only if you eat a large mount of them." For example, vitamin A can be good if you eat the right amount, and can be toxic if you eat a large amount.


"Saturated fats are bad only if the ratio between saturated fats and something else is out of balance." For example, omega-6 is only bad when the ratio with omega-3 is out of balance.
Loren Cordain did not explain very clearly saturated fats are bad in which of the three ways above. 

Reason #5  Loren Cordain said: "Saturated fats are mostly bad. They're found in processed meat, " This sounds like that he was taking a cheap shot against saturated fats by putting saturated fats and processed meat in the same sentence. Saturated fats are also found in natural, unprocessed meat, which the paleolithic human ate all the time.


Grains




Weston A. Price allows soaked grains. Paleo does not allow grains, period.

Grains have two problems. The first problem is the antinutrients, which prevent your body from absorbing some nutrients. Weston Price realized this. Thus they advice people to soak grains to break down the antinutrients before cooking them.

The second problem is that they raise blood sugar level in the short term, and may cause diabetes in the long term.

Soaking the grains solves the first problem, but does not solve the second problem.

It seems that Weston A. Price missed the second problem. 
On this point, I agree with Paleo, and disagree with Weston A. Price.


Dairy


Paleo does not allow dairy. Weston Price believes that raw dairy is one of the most healthful foods.

Loren Cordain said: "Whole milk and fatty dairy products are some of the least healthful foods in our diets. Their fatty acids raise your blood cholesterol; they also raise your risk of developing heart disease ."


Weston A. Price contends that blood cholesterol does not cause heart disease. They say that when arteries have some problems, the body sends cholesterol to fix the problem. An analogy: cholesterol is not the fire, it is the fire truck to put out the fire.


The Maasai people is a nomadic people. They ate a lot of dairy products. But according to Wikipedie, there was no evidence of heart disease among them.


This appears to refute Loren Cordain's argument that dairy raises cholesterol and cholesterol causes heart disease.


Now that cholesterol is no longer in the equation, there is another factor: growth hormones. Growth hormones in milk must be good for babies. But, are they good or bad for grownups? Do growth hormones cause acne or make cancer cells easier to divide? I have not seen enough back-and-forth discussion to definitively decide one way or another. At this moment, based on the evidence of the Maasai people, I am going to agree with Weston A. Price, with one condition, until someone gives a definitive answer to the growth hormone question. The condition is that it is better to eat dairy products from cows that are not given growth hormones by the dairy farms. If the growth hormones that occur naturally in cows is enough a price to pay to get the benefits specified by Weston A. Price, then the additional growth hormones that the dairy farms give to cows is just too much!



Commonalities


Both Weston A. Price and Paleo draw inspiration from ancient people's dietary patterns. To me, this makes sense. Both should be commended for this.

However, the Paleo Diet draws inspiration from more ancient people - those before the agriculture revolution; while Weston A. Price draws inspiration from a broader range of people - those before the agriculture revolution, and those after the agriculture revolution but before the industrial revolution.



Both encourage people to eat a lot of vegetables.

Both are against industrially processed food.

Both strongly challenge the standard USDA dietary guidelines. However, they challenge different parts of it.

The standard USDA dietary guidelines says that saturated fats are harmful. Weston A. Price disagrees; while Paleo Diet agrees.

The standard USDA dietary guidelines says grains are healthful. Paleo Diet disagrees; while Weston A. Price agrees conditionally (with soaking).


Conclusion


Both diets are better than the USDA dietary guidelines. But the differences between them are real. If you follow one, you violate the other. So, instead of choosing one entire diet from the two, I decided to create my own dietary guideline based on the two. To unite the spirits of both Weston A. Price and Paleo,  I will call it "Ancestral Diet". It incorporates all the commonalities between Weston A. Price and Paleo. On the points where they are different, I choose one position, not based on my loyalty towards one particular diet, but based on my own analysis and logic:


Weston A. Price Paleo My "Ancestral Diet"
Vegetables yes yes yes
Processed Foods no no no
Saturated Fats yes no yes
Grains yes (soaked) no no
Dairy yes no yes (no farm added hormones)

Bon app├ętit!




-Sam

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