The most recent Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) Newsletter (a quarterly newsletter called Wise Traditions for members of WAPF) included an article titled “MYTH: The WAPF Diet is Like the Paleo Diet” in which the differences between the WAPF Diet and the Paleo Diet were outlined and a critique of the Paleo Diet was offered. This is a rebuttal to that article.
One of the things that I absolutely love about the Paleo Diet (besides the fact that I’m actually healthy for the first time since my childhood) is that, as a community, we love to continuously debate and adapt our points of view on specific facets of our way of eating and living based on the most current health and nutrition sciences research. While it makes for a great sound bite, you won’t often find the leaders in this community couching the Paleo Diet in terms of eating the way our paleolithic ancestors ate. Instead, you’ll find that we approach paleolithic man as a hypothesis, a starting point if you will. The real rationale for the way we eat comes from modern high-quality scientific studies (for example, my book contains 1200 scientific citations). And the real focus of the Paleo diet is on eating nutrient-dense foods, including plenty of variety, while avoiding foods that negatively impact the health of the gut, hinder digestion, or cause inflammation.
Certainly, the science is not always crystal clear, which is why there are certain topics within the paleo community in which there are differing opinions (discussed in the most recent The Paleo View podcast). And, while we may not all agree on the ideal macronutrient ratios, what most of us who blog and write about a Paleo diet do agree on is that there is a large amount of variability in what works for individuals and it’s important to find what works for you. There are as many ways to implement a Paleo diet as there are people interested in following it.
One of the side effects both of these ongoing debates within the community and of the frequent sound bites that people use to describe the Paleo Diet to their friends is that there can be a substantial amount of misinformation spread about what a Paleo Diet is. And unfortunately, the above-mentioned article in the current Wise Traditions newsletter is rife with inaccuracies. It also borders on (and some may say crosses the line into) insulting of our chosen way of life and presents some arguments against a Paleo diet that raise my hackles and which I find to be, quite frankly, outrageous.
Let’s start with how the Wise Traditions article even describes a paleo diet. Allow me to quote from the article:
“…the diet includes grass-produced meats, fish, and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and “healthful” oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut). The diet excludes all cereal grains, legumes (including peanuts), dairy, refined sugar, potatoes, processed foods, salt, and refined vegetables oils. “
The article then goes on to emphasize that lard, tallow, and butter (“because it is a dairy fat”) are not embraced by the paleo community and that we only eat lean meats, citing the notoriously poor food at the PaleoFX 2012 conference as their evidence for how unbalanced our diet is (I did not attend this conference, but heard from many that the food was terrible—and our entire diet is being judged based on one bad catering company).
Wow, really? It’s hard to even know where to start!
Let’s start with meat. What you will find most commonly advocated within the paleo community is to eat a variety of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, sourcing the best quality you can afford, meaning that you would ideally eat grass-fed, pasture-raised or wild-caught. We recommend eating snout-to-tail, including organ meat as part of your diet, and eating every part of the animal (yes, even the fat!). We suggest that if you can’t afford to eat high quality grass-fed or pasture-raised meat and are eating either some or all conventional CAFO-raised meats, that you eat lean cuts of those meats (because of the omega-6 content in the fat of conventional meat, see this post for more details), and then try to balance those omega-6 fats with better quality fats from other food sources, such as: fish, shellfish, pasture-raised lard and grass-fed butter. Oops, did I say butter?
Okay, let’s talk about dairy. What is advocated in a paleo diet is the avoidance of pasteurized dairy, especially low-fat pasteurized dairy from grain-fed cows. What we acknowledge is that dairy intolerance is common and that people should experiment to see what works for them (see my post The Great Dairy Debate). We also acknowledge that dairy fat, especially from grass-fed sources, is a very nutrient-rich fat, including being an excellent source of vitamins A, D and K2. We fully endorse grass-fed butter and ghee for people who aren’t intolerant. And, we acknowledge that some people do really well with other full-fat dairy products or fermented dairy and that some even do well with raw or VAT pasteurized grass-fed dairy. There is a huge variability in terms of how much, what types, and what quality of dairy different people include in their diets. And you won’t find many within the paleo community demonizing butter.
Let me give you an example from my own life. My oldest and my husband eat grass-fed butter and ghee, my husband puts heavy cream into his coffee, and they each eat raw, grass-fed cheese and ice cream as treats. I don’t touch it because it causes my autoimmune disease to flare. And my youngest is so sensitive that the last time she ate half an ounce of raw, grass-fed mozzarella cheese, I was up all night with her, sitting up in her bed and holding her upright so that she could sleep on my chest because she was choking on the extreme amount of stomach acid her body produces when she has even the tiniest bit of dairy protein. A few days ago, she literally had a bite of food that had touched a piece of parmesan cheese, and had obstructive sleep apnea that night as a result. So, how do I personally feel about dairy? I feel like it’s a pretty darned toxic food for my youngest and I don’t even let her eat ghee, but if it works for you, I have no issues with that.
And when it comes to concerns over calcium, I would like to direct you to this post from Balanced Bites, this post from Eat Drink Paleo, this scientific journal article showing that the calcium from brassica vegetables is more absorbable than the calcium from milk (in complete contradiction to the argument made in the Wise Traditions newsletter, which is not supported by the scientific literature), and this scientific journal article showing that vegetable calcium lowers the risk of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
I want to emphasize that a paleo diet is not by definition based on lean meats. Saturated fats are endorsed. Allow me to quote from the The Paleo Diet (revised Ed):
“Saturated fats have always been a part of the ancestral human diet, and you should not avoid them when they are found in ‘real’, nonprocessed foods.”
Do we need to talk about salt? We eat salt. Added salt intake was criticized in The Paleo Diet, but the vast majority of the Paleo community is in disagreement with that stance. The majority opinion is that a Paleo diet is not a low salt diet, although it’s also not a high salt diet either. You’ll find that most of us in the paleo community are passionate about the quality of our salt. I use mostly Himalayan Pink Salt and a little Gray Salt (and I have this awesome truffle salt made with Mediterranean gray sea salt). Need more info on the paleo stance on salt? This is Chris Kresser’s amazing article on the subject.
Potatoes? Are we really anti-potatoes? Lots of us don’t eat them because they aren’t the most nutrient-dense tuber and are quite calorie-dense (this post by Mark Sisson summarizes this argument well) and they are also from the nightshade family (which is why I don’t eat them, see this post on nightshades). But, you’ll find that most of us don’t single them out as a banned food.
I could go on a complete tangent about the idea of banned foods and the difference between “going on a diet” and “living a lifestyle”, but instead, I’ll link to Diane Sanfilippo’s brilliant post on Paleo Perfectionism.
And how can you say that we are anti-lard and tallow? I have a recipe for tallow on my site. My favorite paleo cookcook is Beyond Bacon by Stacy Toth and Matt McCarry in which lard features prominently. I cook predominantly with lard and tallow, which I render myself from fat from pasture-raised animals from local farms. I do admit to liking coconut oil and palm shortening for baking and I do think macadamia nut oil is about the most amazing oil for salad dressings ever (avocado oil is a close second). And I would totally eat butter if I wasn’t so sensitive to dairy. In fact, this post on which fats are healthy was one of my earliest blog posts, and lard and tallow are both mentioned as great choices.
The Wise Traditions article goes on to say that WAPF takes issue with the lack of fat in the paleo diet as it is portrayed and practised. Given how common it is for people to blend grass-fed butter and coconut oil into their coffee (yum!), this is not an accurate statement about a paleo diet. It’s certainly not the way I practise a paleo diet. I lick the lard off my spoon when I’m cooking.
In fact, the WAPF diet and the Paleo diet are very, very similar. I believe that the core principle of eating nutrient-dense food is something we have in common. This amazing graphic comes from Diane Sanfilippo (used with her permission)’s article What Is Paleo?
Yes, the WAPF diet and Paleo diets overlap extensively. And, it has been pointed out that we should include healthful animal fats and cold-pressed oils as a place where we overlap on this chart. It occurs to me however, that I’m not sure what WAPF’s stance is on olive oil.
In fact, there are only two areas in which the WAPF diet and Paleo diet differ substantially, and that is the inclusion of grains and legumes as dietary staples (even if traditionally prepared). However, I should emphasize here that while most in the paleo community do not include grains or legumes in their diets on a daily basis (although many who need more carbohydrates do include rice a la Perfect Health Diet), many of us do eat gluten-free grains as occasional treats. It’s also common to eat legumes as occasionally treats too (but not typically soy or peanuts). When I organized my pantry last month, I found both basmati rice and wild rice and I did not throw them out. My kids and husband will love them and all three of them tolerate that well (I don’t, so I won’t partake)—but I might cook them once a month at most.
I want to take a moment to focus on the common avocation for offal consumption between WAPF and the Paleo Community. Anyone who reads my blog regularly or listens to The Paleo View podcast knows that I am a huge fan of bone broth, organ meat and other unusual cuts of meat. Bone broth is a staple for many in the Paleo Community too. The Wise Traditions newsletter claims that parents are unlikely to give their children whole fish (fermented so the bones are soft), bone broth, or insects for the added calcium. Well, we consume bone broth nearly daily, my youngest’s favorite food is sardines (granted those aren’t fermented); but, boy, you’ve got me on the insects.
The real myth is the one perpetuated by the Wise Traditions article, that The Paleo Diet and the Weston A. Price Foundation diet are nothing alike. That’s wrong. The two diets are incredibly similar. And you will find references to the WAPF diet in the New York Times Best Selling Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo and in my favorite paleo cookbook Beyond Bacon by Matt McCarry and Stacy Toth (it’s probably in more books, but again, I feel a little bit like it shouldn’t have to be my job to look for all the ways the Paleo community supports WAPF). You will find many Paleo bloggers and authors attending and even speaking at WAPF conferences (like Chris Kresser and Chris Masterjohn).
So, why is the WAPF going to so much trouble to distance itself from the paleo diet? I don’t know. I don’t know why they want to be seen as so fundamentally different. I would think that we could help each other, focus on the commonalities and work together to educate people. But, maybe I’m an idealist.
So far, all of my rebuttal is centering around the inaccurate way the Wise Traditions article presented the Paleo Diet. But, there was a paragraph near the end of the article that really, really raised my hackles. Again, allow me to quote:
“Do we really want to bring up our children in our grain-centered and dairy-centered by denying them these delicious foods, foods that can be nourishing and wholesome if raised, handled and prepared properly? Many advocates of a paleo diet are childless and may not have thought this through. What does it do to the psychology of a growing child to always say “no” to foods that are prevalent in our culture, to deny them ice cream (homemade, of course), whole milk, sourdough bread with butter, baked beans and potatoes with sour cream? While we certainly should be careful of our children’s diets, they need to grow up on a diet that says “Yes, you may”, not “No, you can’t”.”
Oh lard. Where to start this time?!
Okay, how about the part about many advocates of a paleo diet being childless. Last I looked the majority of the major paleo bloggers and authors have kids (including Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, Loren Cordain, Stacy Toth and Matt McCarry, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, Chrissy Gower, Michelle Tam and Henry Fong, Peggy Emch, Danielle Walker,Sarah Fragosso, and ME!) In fact, I’m missing dozens and dozens of paleo bloggers who are raising paleo families, and while I completely admit to not doing an inventory (because why on Earth should I need to?), I’m willing to bet that the list of paleo bloggers and authors with kids is longer (probably much longer) than the list of paleo bloggers and authors without. And, we parents have thought this through. And we continue to think it through every day as we strive to be the best parents we can be and make the best choices for the long term health of our children.
And I resent the mere suggestion that the way I feed my kids is depriving them or that by feeding them nutrient-dense foods that fuel their bodies and their brains is someone equivalent to me constantly saying no to them! Do you mean to say that every parent who says “no honey, we’re not going to eat at McDonald’s today” is psychologically damaging their children? Do you mean to say that you insisting that your child’s ice cream is homemade is somehow a superior parenting choice than me making homemade coconut milk ice cream? We’re both still saying no to soft serve at the mall, aren’t we? Do you mean to say that you’re homemade sourdough bread is better than my homemade almond flour bread (which by the way, I spread with lard instead of butter for my dairy-intolerant child)? And, when a couple of months go by without me making bread, because my kids seem really happy and healthy eating quality meats, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, does that make me a bad parent? Can I ask what it does to a child to let them eat foods that are unhealthy for them simply because you don’t want to deprive them or find a constructive way to say no?
I work really hard to be a good mom. This means hundreds (if not thousands) of different small things that I do for my kids. Feeding them foods that they enjoy, that they find exciting, and that nourishes their bodies, is one of them. Finding ways to avoid foods that make them ill, without making this a huge emotional negative, is another. We enjoy our food (because it’s ridiculously delicious). All of us. The whole family. Me, my husband and my girls. And I don’t think my girls would tell you that they feel deprived. Sure, they might tell you how much they love ice cream, and that they wish they got to eat it more often (and by the way, they mean my homemade nutrient-dense ice cream). They also might tell you that gluten hurts their tummies. My girls eat a nutrient-dense diet, which is very similar to the WAPF diet, and they are thriving. And somehow in the mix, I still get to be a good mom.
I’m not the only paleo blogger who found that Wise Traditions article to be divisive, inaccurate, and inciting. Here’s some other responses:
I too was both enraged and saddened by the WAPF’s view of children who eat a “paleo diet.” First of all, my children don’t eat a paleo diet – they Eat Like a Dinosaur: enjoying nutrient-dense and health promoting plants and animals while avoiding foods that don’t feel good to their growing little bodies. Is that really something I need to argue for? It breaks my heart to read this article because to me the WAPF has served as one of the fundamental foundations upon which my entire family – children included – have found health and wellness.
Of course we don’t want our children to feel deprived or socially abnormal! This is EXACTLY why Sarah and I have built our sites around family-friendly recipes and frequently encourage a transition period for families and children, to adapt to a new lifestyle. We never advocate being 100% strict and encourage all people to find what works for them. I guess WAPF must have just missed the announcement that we wrote TWO cookbooks incorporating lard with plenty of treat and snack options for children to feel “normal”. Oh wait, Sally is actually IN one of those books because my children have visited her farm, tasted her cheese and made our own ice cream with the nutrient-dense eggs her chickens laid!
If you ask my almost 8yo boy today, headed into 3rd grade, if he would eat a socially normal diet tomorrow if he could, I guarantee you he’d say “No”. I’ve heard him tell people “I prefer to be healthy, to no longer have asthma, to be strong and be able to pay attention in school.” If that means he eats a grain-free cookie on special school days instead of the junk other children bring in, he’s OK with that – not to mention, it’s not like he doesn’t make his own choices outside a paleo framework sometimes, too. Which leads me to the question, by what standard is WAPF framework of having to ferment and sprout grains and eschew commercial dairy any different from the principals I practice? Because a WAPF child wouldn’t be eating that junk food either, right?
–Stacy Toth, www.PaleoParents.com
Living a Paleo lifestyle (note I did not say eating a Paleo diet) has been one of exploration, research, education, learning, eating damn good food (thanks Pete!) and most importantly support. Decades long struggles that I’ve battled with digestion issues, sleep disorders, PCOS and acne have all been rectified by simply changing my diet to eat real food. The aspect of support alone has been enough to justify to me why being Paleo is more a lifestyle than a diet. This community has been one of the most inclusive and supportive ones I’ve ever been a part of. It’s through my Paleo community that I first found out about the Weston A. Price Foundation and immediately became a member and subscribed to their publication. A publication that I typically look forward to working my way through in one night as soon as I receive it. However, this past issue, I couldn’t make it past page 13. I recognize that WAPF and Paleo have slight differences, but despite the fact that I will never go back to eating grains or legumes again, regardless of how long I could maybe soak them (if I could find non-GMO sources) to make them somewhat digestible, because they make me feel horrible for two days and bring no nutritional value to the table that I can’t get from real food, I still felt that the WAPF was an ally in this food movement. A strong one. Because this food movement is a long uphill battle. And we need to give and receive all the support we can. But to read the President’s Message basically bashing Paleo, based on misinformation and with tragic insults, pretty much stopped me in my tracks. It felt like I was back in high school listening to the suddenly unpopular girl spread dirty rumors about the new prom queen. That latest publication is still sitting on my desk, and I do want to finish reading it, but don’t feel like I can until there is some sort of recognition or acknowledgement issued by the WAPF. We, in the Paleo community, aren’t asking for WAPF to change their views on grains/legumes/dairy, but WAPF drawing a line in the sand and attempting to point out all the differences between our two communities (many based on falsities) isn’t supportive. It isn’t representative of everything I love about my Paleo lifestyle. And in the end, isn’t going to help either “side”. Misinformation like this will only set us all back.
– Sarah, www.PetesPaleo.com
As one of the Paleo bloggers out there, I’m happily adding my voice as a parent who thinks that this lifestyle has been transformational for my entire family. My nearly 13 yr old daughter has struggled a few times around SAD foods & social interaction, but she will also tell you herself, that having a gluten migraine is NOT worth it 95% of the time. This lifestyle was a vehicle for teaching my daughter about real nutrition & empowering her as she begins her journey to womanhood to make WELL INFORMED choices. Isn’t that the whole thing about parenting, teaching them how to make good choices, not teaching them to “just do what feels good, so you won’t have to go against our illness-perpetuating society?” Isn’t that what got most of our country so sick in the first place? I think that is damn fine parenting.
-Angie Alt, www.Alt-TernativeUniverse.blogspot.com