The Paleo Diet supposedly mimics the diet of hunter-gatherers from the Paleolithic era (which ended about 10,000 years ago). Intuitively, it includes foods that can be hunted (meat, fish, etc...) or gathered (eggs, fruit, vegetables, etc...), but not those that can't (grains, legumes, sugar, etc...). In practice, this usually means eating a large amount of fat and protein, but not very many carbohydrates. In this sense, it is a subset of low-carb diets (but this is not true of all versions of the Paleo Diet). The proponents of the Paleo Diet explain its efficacy by resorting to evolutionary explanations, which some dietitians and anthropologists dispute. I will skip over the theoretical debate completely and only focus the truth value of the following proposition:
The Paleo Diet will work (for me).
What does it mean for a diet to work? Time to operationalize. For the purposes of my self-experiment, I will consider a diet to work if and only if, while on it:
1. I lose a significant amount of fat. In this case, 10 lbs seems reasonable.
2. I maintain my strength and endurance. If I am unable to continue my weekly weightlifting regimen at my current weight levels, I will consider this condition not to be met. Also, if I am unable to continue to run the same distance in a given amount of time, then the diet will not count as working.
3. I don't otherwise become unhealthy. More precisely, this would require that I don't get any abnormal values on the biochemical analysis (blood test) included in a physical examination at my doctors office.
There are several reasons for doubting whether any diet will work for me, let alone a high-fat diet:
1. I'm in a reference class in which 66% of the people develop obesity before reaching 60 years old. It already isn't looking good.
2. According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, I will be eating much more than the Food and Drug Administration's daily reference values (DRV) for saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, and probably protein. Also, I will be eating more than 90% less than the DRV for carbohydrates. If you think the FDA has any idea what they are talking about, then this should be worrying.
3. Since I have the CC version of the rs1801282 single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), 23andme's health analysis software advises me that "a diet high in monounsaturated fat is not likely to have beneficial effects on BMI or waist circumference". Also, I have the AG version of the rs662799 SNP, so "dietary fat consumption is not associated with changes in BMI". In other words, I don't have any information about my genetics that would lead me to think that this is going to be a particularly effective diet.
PredictionBook (squat and deadlift, but not bench press or running).
I did finally go in for my yearly (actually less) physical exam. I should note that I did not fast before my blood test (which the doctor didn't think warranted me losing sleep in order to do, but that the lab tech seemed to think was important).
- Total cholesterol: 207 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: 102 mg/dL
- HDL cholesterol: 72 mg/dL
- LDL cholesterol: 115 mg/dL
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a total cholesterol between 200-239 mg/dL is considered "borderline high" and puts you at higher risk of coronary heart disease than for values less than 200 mg/dL, but much less so than for values over 240 mg/dL. The AHA thinks my LDL cholesterol is "near or above optimal", so there isn't much to worry about there. Also, my triglyceride level is "normal".
On the other hand, the AHA also says that more important than the total number is the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. They recommend keeping the ratio under 5:1 and striving for 3.5:1. My ratio comes out to 2.9:1, which is even lower than what you are supposed to strive for! I'm not exactly sure how to interpret this result. This does put some doubt as to whether the diet has successfully met my initial success conditions, but it certainly isn't an outright falsification. Of course, advocates of the Paleo Diet usually claim that the common understanding of cholesterol by medical practitioners is simply wrong. I don't have the relevant background knowledge to evaluate their arguments for myself, so I assume that mainstream medicine is correct and will count this as a minor point against the efficacy of the diet.
Blood tests aren't the only indicator of potential heart problems. Blood pressure is another. I tracked my blood pressure and pulse over the last six days and the result is less ambiguous than the blood test. The AHA recommends a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of less than 80 mmHg.
My blood pressure readings were consistently within the healthy ranges set by the AHA.
The experiment provides some confirmation of the proposition, but is somewhat ambiguous due to not completely fulfilling the third condition. I plan on continuing with a (slightly modified) version of my current diet pending further testing.
Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4