What Do Mainstream Dietitians Think of the Paleo Diet?

Australian Aborigine in Swamp Darwin

I’m curious to know what mainstream dietitians think about the Paleolithic diet, so I read an article entitled “Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?”  This one-page article is in the August, 2012, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The author is Eleese Cunningham, RD, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Knowledge Center Team.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the new name of the American Dietetics Association, “the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals.”

Ms. Cunningham notes that “diet books for modern humans are extremely popular, and the Paleolithic diet, sometimes called the “Caveman Diet” or the “Stone Age Diet,” is one of the latest trends.”  You’d think the author would mention one of the popular paleo diet books, such as Loren Cordain’s, Robb Wolf’s, or Mark Sisson’s.  Think again.  She brings up only another dietitian’s review of Richard Nikoley’s paleo diet book, pointing out his lack of professional health credentials and his advocacy of raw milk consumption.  But milk isn’t even considered a component of most paleo diets.  Ms. Cunningham justifiably points out the infectious risks, however small, linked to raw milk consumption.  (I’ve not read Nikoley’s book, Free the Animal.)

(If you click the link to see the review of Nikoley’s book, scroll to page 30.  Sample: “Based more on science fiction than science fact, Nikoley’s recommendations are misguided and reckless…”)

Ms. Cunningham likes the fact that the paleo diet reduces consumption of salt and added sugars, while promoting fruit and vegetables.  However, she immediately notes thereafter that, “a striking counter to the meat-based Paleolithic diet is the evidence that supports the healthfulness of a vegetarian diet and the benefits it may have in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.  Another review of this approach . . . questions the exclusion of nutrient-rich grains, beans, and low-fat dairy and the potential nutrient shortfalls associated with the Paleolithic diet restrictions.”

This article appears to be in a regular feature of the journal called, “From the Academy: Question of the Month.”  Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?  She never answers directly.  I suspect the average dietitian reading this article will conclude that Ms. Cunningham and the Academy are not in favor of the paleo diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Cunningham, Eleese.  Are diets from Paleolithic times relevant today?  Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012 (vol. 112, issue 8): p. 1296.  doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2012.06.019

Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian diets.  Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009 (109): 1266-1282.

5 responses to “What Do Mainstream Dietitians Think of the Paleo Diet?

  1. If the “Academy” isn’t composed of some of the most unscientific and inept people in the health field, I don’t what is. Clearly, their advice has been useless in curbing the obesity epidemic. I certainly don’t agree with all the tenets of paleo, but more of the paleo elements have scientific backing than the stuff promoted by these shills for the grain industry!

  2. Agree with prouddaddy. The FDA/ADA/USDA pretend to be helping out Americans when in fact they are most likely hurting the system as a whole. RD’s have been taught in schools with curriculum that follows what the above mentioned government agencies have created. With opposition like the “Paleo Diet” hurting the image of the ADA’s recommendations, RD’s tend to get very defensive when talking about what the PD means to them. There is plenty of science that revolves around glycemic load, elevation in glucose, elevation in insulin, leptin, lectin, metabolic syndrome, causes of inflammation, all of which the paleo diet aims to avoid. So, how is a “diet” that avoids such harmful things a bad idea?? Its not.

  3. Dr. Gabriella Kadar

    Maybe she only reviewed Richard’s ebook because she could read it for free. Possibly she gets her canned chickpeas from the foodbank.

  4. I find it hard to believe that people, especially nutritionists, are still bringing up the possibility of infection from raw milk (when ALL raw milk proponents advocate only drinking raw milk from small-scale, safe, sanitary operations with grass-fed cows), when there are SO many listeria, salmonella, campylobacter and e.coli outbreaks in industrial food products. Half of Canada’s beef production was just shut down over e.coli contamination in a packing plant (the really, really bad kind, O1:H7 or whatever it is) and they’re seriously worried about farms that serve 20-50 people with raw milk??? Why don’t they just straight-up admit that the thing that really gives them collywobbles about the milk is that you can SEE the fat when it’s non-homogenized!!!

    (For the record, while I drink raw milk, I don’t think it’s essential to a healthy diet and I do it mainly because it’s tasty, it’s a convenient source of calories and fat, and I like the cows. But it’s not really Paleo. I’m just lucky I have the genes to tolerate it well.)

  5. Dr Steve, Thanks for publishing this email. I think with all advice there flawed opinions, yet, I want to point out that not all dietitians are one in the same. I am Paleo, have been paleo for 3+ years and counsel patients on the philosophy as a Registered Dietitian here in Chicago (PaleoInfused.com). While we can address our frustrations with governmental advice, I find our efforts are more impactful by just helping those who are interested in the diet. I enjoy your blog, and please keep up the great work in advocating this sound diet information.