Fitness and bodybuilding subculture is rife with fad diets that claim to be a panacea for everybody’s fat loss and muscle building woes. The fact of the matter is that nutritional science doesn’t lend itself to sweeping proclamations like, “The Paleo diet is the best way to eat for losing fat and being healthy!”
In other words, there is no such thing as an optimal fad diet (particularly one that is best for everyone). Nutritional science (and health sciences) don’t operate in black and white like most of these self-proclaimed fitness “gurus” will have you believe. Your body and how it reacts to external stimuli, like diet and exercise, is a subject that comes in many shades of grey.
Naturally, it seems fitting to take a more scrutinous look at the benefits (if any) of two highly popular fad diets: The Paleo and Whole30 diets.
Whole30 and Paleo Diets
Fundamentally, the Whole30 and Paleo diets are nearly identical. These diets recommend you consume only meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, and fresh seafood. (Foods that our early ancestors purportedly thrived on.) The Whole30 takes the Paleo diet and condenses it into a sort of 30-day “reboot” or “detox” for your body.
The Whole30 program creators maintain that added sugars, refined grains, dairy, and legumes/beans have a negative impact on inflammation, body weight, and stress. As of now, there is no extant research that directly addresses the health ramifications of the Whole30 diet.
The position most advocates of these diets take is that modern agriculture has led us to consume grain-laden diets, which (these advocates assert) has had deleterious impacts on health and longevity. However, grains (particularly whole grains) are shown to be healthy in many regards.
As irony would have it, red meat - which is a staple of these diets - seems to drastically increase the risk of cancer in humans (especially colorectal cancer). We have an in-depth article that looks at the science of red meat consumption if you want to check it out.
Are these diets as healthy as they claim to be? In short: Yes and no. It’s pertinent to consider the relevance of food intolerance and allergies, which seems to be the basis for eliminating certain foods on these diets.
Relevance of Food Intolerance and Food Allergy
If you’ve worked in the food service industry, you well know how serious food allergies are taken as they can trigger potentially lethal immune responses in susceptible individuals. Having a food allergy typically arises from inheritance (genetics), and it is drastically less common than having a food intolerance (more on this in just a bit). A food allergy is a significantly more serious abnormality than being intolerant or “sensitive” to certain foods.
For example, gluten - a protein complex normally present in grain/wheat-based foods - is difficult for the human body to digest as we lack the requisite enzymes to thoroughly break it down (most people do digest most of it, though). However, those with celiac disease - a chronic autoimmune condition - experience acute reactions to any sources of gluten, as the undigested fragments can quickly harm their small intestine. In turn, even one small accidental bite of wheat-based bread by someone with celiac disease might warrant a trip to the hospital.
Contrarily, having a food intolerance is not nearly as threatening as having a food allergy. A food intolerance generally arises from lacking the necessary enzymes to completely break down certain foods (or compounds in foods). For example, lactose intolerance is the most common food intolerance, with data suggesting that upwards of 70% of adults worldwide lack the necessary lactase to adequately digest lactose.
Food intolerance generally manifests with rapid onset symptoms, including stomach pain, bloating, flatulence, and lethargy. While those symptoms generally don’t hospitalize you, they are not fun to deal with every day.
Moreover, a recent report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that only one out of every 133 people are affected by celiac disease in their lifetime, and only one out of every 22 people are gluten-intolerant. That means only 0.75% of people are afflicted with celiac disease and 4.54% are gluten-intolerant.
The same report notes that merely 3% of the population has any sort of food allergy, with peanut allergy being the most frequent.
Practically speaking, if you’ve never experienced severe redness, swelling, itching, or difficulty breathing after eating, then it’s unlikely you have a food allergy. (This doesn’t mean you might not be allergic to a new food you try.) The surest way to confirm a food allergy is through a doctor or nutritionist who can order appropriate testing (whether it's genetic or hematological).
Paleo vs. Whole30: Which is Best?
All in all, trying to figure out if you will fare better on the Paleo or Whole30 diet is not aposite. These are ultimately fad diets that are suboptimal for many people. However, this doesn’t mean these diet plans are without benefit.
Based on anecdotal evidence, the Paleo and Whole30 diets have some merit (mainly as a sort of “elimination” diet), but they are founded primarily on theory. If you choose to follow either of these diets - which include large amounts of meat - you will likely benefit from including the MPA Health Stack.
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