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Is a Paleo Diet Just For The Snobby Elitist?

Time Magazine, December 3, 2012

So I was standing in a Dr’s clinic last week and the latest Time Magazine caught my eye (and not just because it wasn’t a Woman’s Weekly from 2004!)

Inside was an article by Dr Mehmet Oz with the tag-line:

“What To Eat Now
The Anti-Food-Snob Diet”

In this article, Dr Oz aims to dispel the myths that “boutique foods are good, supermarket foods are bad and you have to spend a lot to eat well”.

He argues that there is no nutritional difference between frozen veggies and locally grown fresh veggies from the farmer’s market.  He also slams expensive, artisan food products that are “small-batch, local-farm and organic” saying that these premium products are targeted towards elitist, snobby foodies that buy cookbooks and watch cooking shows on TV.

Instead, Dr Oz goes in to bat for the average American who is trying to feed a family of five in the healthiest way possible.

…as a doctor, I know that patients don’t always have the time, energy or budget to shop for artisanal ingredients and whip them into a meal”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

He advocates simple supermarket foods that are inexpensive but still nutritious as long as you shop smart and read the labels.

…let’s be clear: you don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthily.  After several years of research and experience, I have come to an encouraging conclusion: the American food supply is abundant, nutritionally sound, affordable and with a few simple considerations, comparable to the most elite organic diets.  Save the cash; the 99% diet can be good for you”   ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

Oh man…really?

Like most people I work full-time and have a lot of things to fit into my after-work life.
It’s true that I don’t have to make hard choices to feed a family of five and I have the utmost respect for anyone in this position.
Like Dr Oz, I think that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to eat well, but by well, I mean whole foods, not highly processed and refined crap.  I also think that you can be smarter than the get-out-of-jail free card of frozen & canned goods and healthier versions of the peanut butter and jam sandwich that Dr Oz is offering in his Time Magazine article, especially if you are considerate with your time and the food choices you make.

A paleo approach is all about sourcing, cooking and eating high quality, whole foods. Ideally, foods that have been grown locally in good soil, animals and fish that have themselves eaten their natural diet and natural fats that are as unrefined as possible.
I don’t think it’s snobby or elitist to try and seek out the highest quality food you can afford.  It’s about nourishing your body not just filling your belly.  It’s also about taking responsibility for your health and not falling back on excuses like “I’m just too busy, I don’t have time to prepare healthy meals”
You can eat well if you are on a budget or time poor, you just have to think about it a little more and you have to want to find the solutions that are there.
I find that if I take the time to plan ahead, choose the compromises I make and batch prep food and meals in advance, then I am much more successful.  I try to always having something in the fridge that I have already cooked, or veggies that I have already chopped and can be thrown in the pan and cooked in minutes.

By making excuses for ignorance and uncaring (whether it be conscious or unconscious), Dr Oz is appealing to that sneaky laziness that lurks in our psyche and validating the bad food choices we sometimes make.  Choices that lead to bad habits and poor health.

I find this disappointing, because Dr Oz is in a position to really educate the masses that follow him.  The people that rely on him for health advice.

I think that we’re in this mess because we have followed convention (and the media) without independent thought or action.  Because it is easier.

If only half of the 99% of the people that Dr Oz refers to above, were aware of how much of a difference good food can make to their bodies, their minds and their long term health, I am sure that they would make their choices differently.
Even if it meant sacrificing buying something else to buy good food instead.
And, by good food I don’t mean small batch, artisan products.  I mean whole, real food from quality sources.

“Let’s NOT eat what 99% of the American population eats, let’s instead eat what humans ate for 99% of our human history.”  ~  Crystal Fieldhouse
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On that note…

It may surprise you that there are some things that Dr Oz and I agree on:

  • There are foods in the supermarket that are highly nutritious.  These are the whole foods that can be found around the edges of the supermarket. Vegetables, fruits, meat, seafood, nuts, eggs and natural fats like butter and animal fats.
    (There are also a few exceptions in the aisles, like tinned sardines & mackerel.)
  • Any meal that you make out of these whole foods will be infinitely better for you than any meal you buy out.

New!

  • Read your food labels (or better yet, buy food that doesn’t have a label).
    As Michael Pollan would say: Avoid any food that has more than 5 ingredients in it (especially if they are unpronounceable to a child or unrecognisable to your grandmother) and avoid any food that makes health claims (doubly so if the claims are “low-fat” or “lite”).
  • Some of the so-called ‘healthy’ super-foodie, all-organic products on the market are still just junk food.  The difference is they are junk food with good marketing and a premium price tag.
    Don’t fall for it!
  • If a particular vegetable is out of season and has travelled thousands of kilometres to make it to your supermarket shelf, the chances are that the frozen version might be more nutritious than it’s ‘fresh’ equivalent.  (It depends on how it was prepared as to how much of the vitamins and other phytonutrients still remain in the finished product).  Some processes & food manufacturers are definitely more trustworthy than others.
    All of the above considerations still apply (check the labels to be sure they are not sneaking other nasties in there.)  And, be aware that a lot of cans contain BPA and that these foods will have still done some significant food miles.
    Having said that, I definitely don’t agree with this sentiment:

Nutritionally speaking, there is little difference between the farmer’s market bounty and the humble brick [of frozen spinach] from the freezer case.”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • However, if your budget has you choosing between frozen veggies and frozen pizza, go frozen veggies every time.
  • You don’t have to eat organic to eat well.  I personally go for any fresh food that is in season & grown locally (even if it is conventionally grown) over any limp, over-fridgerated organic food that has been trucked halfway across the country.
  • It is often in the size of the serve where we go wrong.
    The problem with the conventional food pyramid is that we are advised to eat a lot of carbohydrate dense foods that are both addictive and appetite stimulating – a bad combo! – so we  eat more…more often.  The answer here is to trade out some of those high carbohydrate foods – like pasta, bread, rice & potatoes – for more satiating natural fats.
  • How the food is cooked is important.  Stay away from anything cooked or deep fried in nasty industrialised seed oils, like canola oil.

There is no question that free-range chickens and grass-fed pasture-dwelling cows lead happier – if not appreciably longer – lives than animals raised on factory farms.  They are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics and are less likely to carry communicable bacteria like E.coli, which are common on crowded feedlots.  If these things are important to you and you have the money to spend, then by all means opt for pricier organic meats”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • Yes, these things are important.  Tick.
  • Guacamole is awesome. Tick.
  • Dark Chocolate. Tick.
  • Food is “about nourishment, pleasure and the profound well-being that comes from the way meals draw us together.”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz
    I wholeheartedly agree!

Time Magazine, December 3, 2012

But this is where I disagree:

  • There are definitely better things than a block of frozen spinach (but that might just be the foodie in me ;) )

…a lot of stuff we ate in childhood can be good for you and good to eat – if you know how to shop” ~ Dr Mehmet Oz

  • For the mature Time Magazine readership that are 60 years and older, this might be true. Roasted Bone MarrowBut I reckon we need to go further back.  Back to our grandparents or great-grandparents.
    The stuff they ate really was good for them (and us!)
    They didn’t waste food like we do, they ate animals ‘nose to tail,’ including all of those gnarly bits that we turn our noses up at, like meat on the bone, stocks and soups, pigs trotters, organ meats & bone marrow.
    There was no such thing as a supermarket before the 1930′s so our great-grandparents were a couple of degrees closer to the growers & producers of the food they ate.  They grew their own veggies in their backgarden & bartered homegrown produce with their neighbours.
    And, they preserved food themselves in the height of the season.
    We would do well to go back to basics and pick up some of these older traditions, rather than looking for the cheap, easy & convenient way out.
    A way that is clearly not working for us, given the current rates of obesity and chronic disease that plague our western society.

…as a doctor, I know that patients don’t always have the time, energy or budget to shop for artisanal ingredients and whip them into a meal”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • Time, energy and money are real problemsfor some people.
    For others, they are just a convenient excuse.
    For those excuse-makers, it comes down to a matter of priorities.
    There are 24 hours in a day.  You have no time to cook?  Seriously?  How about instead of watching TV (yep, even if it is a cooking show) we use that hour or two to do some batch cooking.  It takes just as much effort to boil 1 chicken piece in water as it takes to boil 5.  Or to slow cook 3 kilos of beef instead of 1 kilo.  While you have everything out and are in the veggie chopping zone, why not chop extra?  Then for the next couple of days, there will be meals (or the fixings for meals) in the fridge or freezer that are ready to go.
  • You are on a budget?  I understand.  If you are getting food stamps and handouts for your family, do the best you can.
    For the rest of us, you need to ask yourself this: Is it possible that you have not prioritised your continued health and wellbeing and that of your family highly enough?
    Maybe you don’t really need some of the other crap you are spending your hard earned money on.
    Think about it.  What would you prefer to spend your money on?  Good food or healthcare bills?

In the last 35 years, our culture has exchanged an 18% per capita expenditure on food and 9% on health care to 18% on health care and 9% on food. And I would suggest that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to think there might be a connection between the inversion of those two numbers.”  ~  Joel Salatin 

  • Cooking with fresh food doesn’t need to be more complicated than cooking with frozen or canned food & you don’t need to be fancy with small-batch, artisan products or spend hours in the kitchen to enjoy good food.
    A simple BBQ with some meat or fish on the grill and fresh salads is always a crowd pleaser.  Some crisp garden veggies stir-fried with chicken pieces or mince meat is quick and easy (no recipes required).  And, a meal that has spent all day bubbling away in the slow cooker is a taste sensation by evening.
  • Farmer’s Markets are not inherently expensive nor are they just full of small batch, organic, artisan products.  By buying direct from the farmer you are cutting out all of the middlemen that put their mark-ups on that produce.  You are also not paying for the cost of trucking that food halfway across the country (both in your hip pocket and in environmental impact.)
    Fruits & veggies are at their cheapest at the height of their picking season, so if cost is an issue, why not buy the in bulk at the farmer’s market and freeze it yourself?
    At my local farmer’s markets there is a big range of conventionally grown & organic produce.  And, often it is cheaper than the supermarket.

Left: Local, conventionally grown lettuce from the farmers market $4 for 250gm ($16 per kilo) Right: Supermarket lettuce $2.50-$4 for varying quantities ($17-$33 per kilo)

  • You don’t need to spend money on organic veggies and steak every night to be nourishing yourself well.  The cheaper cuts of meat (like chuck and blade) are very usable, just bung them in the slow cooker in the morning and they will be falling apart by the time you get home from work.  And, mince meat (ground beef) is both cheap and versatile.  We eat a lot of mince meat, because I can get grass-fed beef from the butcher for $9 a kilo (which is cheaper than the ‘heartsmart mince’ from the supermarket at $14 a kilo) and I can do so many different things with it.

Grass-fed lamb’s liver, $1.50

  • But wait, those cheaper cuts are fattier!  Yep they are.  But, animals that have eaten their natural diet are leaner than grain-fed animals.  Also, a good proportion of the fat in animal meat is monounsaturated and the leftover saturated fat, is not evil.
    From an evolutionary point of view, we would have been toast long before now if our bodies couldn’t handle animal fats (being as that was our primary source of fat for over 2 million years).
    Our brains are mostly fat and many of the organs in our bodies prefer to run on fat for fuel.  We just have to give them the chance by not bathing them in sugar after every meal.
    Not only that, cholesterol is vitally important for our health.  It is an integral part of every single cell in our body. Cholesterol is also necessary for hormone production, fertility, brain health, cellular repair, energy and general wellbeing.
  • It is the industrialised seed oils (high in omega-6) and the excess sugar found in processed foods that cause us a lot of our problems, not saturated fat.

But for the most part it is ok to skip the meat boutiques and the high-end butchers.  Nutritionally, there is not much difference between, say, grass-fed beef and the feedlot variety.  The calories, sodium and protein content are all very close. Any lean meats are generally fine as long as the serving size is correct”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • I disagree.  There is a big difference between grass-fed beef and the feedlot or grain-fed variety.  Sure the calories, protein and sodium content might be very similar.  But, grass-fed beef has higher levels of micronutrients than grain-fed beef.

  •  In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan explains that grass (the herbivorous cow’s natural diet) is infinitely more nutrient-dense than calorie-dense but nutrient-poor grains (a very unnatural diet for cows).  And, those nutrients (like beta-carotene, vitamin E, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids) in grass all find their way into the flesh of those well nourished, healthy animals & by extension into us.

One of the most important yet unnoticed changes to the human diet in modern times has been in the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6, the other essential fatty acid in our food…As the name indicates, both kinds of fat are essential, but problems arise when they fall out of balance. (In fact, there’s research to suggest that the ratio of these fats in our diet may be more important than the amounts.)  Too high a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 can contribute to heart disease, probably because omega-6 helps blood clot, while omega-3 helps it flow. (Omega-6 is inflammatory; Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory.)  ~  Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma

  • Grass-fed beef has higher levels of omega-3 relative to omega-6 when compared to animals that have been fed grains.  And, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an essential fatty acid that has been linked to weight reduction and cancer prevention, is found in grass-fed meat but not grain-fed meat.
    For our hunter gatherer ancestor’s, these dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratios were thought to be roughly 1:1.  In our current conventional diet these ratios are at least 10:1 and pushing towards 20:1, which pushes us into chronic inflammation territory.
    When so many of our chronic diseases are related to ongoing systemic inflammation, it is not surprising that rates of heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are on the rise.
  • The most micronutrient dense meal you could possibly make would be a combo of meat and veggies in a broth made from marrow and joint bones that butchers often give away or sell as ‘dog bones’ for $3.  
    Bone broths are rich in minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.  They are also rich in gelatin which contains collagen and glycine for supporting good digestion and tissue repair and glycosaminoglycans, including glucosamine which is used in joint supplements for arthritis.  See here for more info.
  • Also consider organ meats (like liver). They are more nutrient dense than muscle meats, high in vitamins A and B12, zinc and folate and they are dirt cheap ($1.50 per liver here).  Liver would have to be the most under-rated superfood, but my caveat here is that this is 100% NOT something you would buy if it isn’t from a young animal (calf or lamb) that was grass-fed or pasture raised!
  • When you eat whole, micronutrient-dense foods and minimise the highly processed and refined foods you feel a whole lot better, so you will have more energy and motivation to cook and eat well.  Trust me.

I have used ice cream as a family focal point with my children, and to this day it is an indicator of an occasion.  Ice cream should be in your life too.  What’s more it is not even a bad or unhealthy food.  For starters the protein and calcium in ice cream are great.  And some of the ingredients are good for you too, including eggs (yes, eggs, a terrific source of protein and B vitamins and perfectly O.K if your cholesterol is in check) and tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios.”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • Conventional ice cream is not good for you and no amount of finger pointing at the protein and calcium content or healthy ingredients like eggs & nuts is going to change that.  If you really want ice cream, check out dessertstalker.com and make it yourself.  If you are looking for some eggy-nutty desserty goodness, the Butter Pecan Ice cream looks awesome!

Peanut butter has none of the enchanting power of ice cream.  It’s a workaday food, a lunch-box food – and an irresistibly delicious food.  The allegedly pedestrian nature of the supermarket is perfectly captured in the mainstream, brand name, decidedly nongourmet peanut butters lining the shelves.  But here again, what you’re often seeing is a source of quality nutrition disguised as indulgent junk…by shopping right and being careful with proportions, we have fully redeemed that great, guilty American staple: the PB&J [peanut butter and jam sandwich]”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

  • Peanut butter and jelly or jam sandwiches are never going to be redeemable.  And no amount of label checking, 80% unsaturated fat peanuts, high-fibre, whole-wheat bread and vitamin-rich jam preserves without added sugar are ever going pull them out of the edible-products-disguised-as-food bucket.

Is that being snobby & elitist?

An Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan

I would like to think that I am not being snobby or elitist when I advocate eating a whole food, Paleo diet.
Yes, the quality of the food we choose to nourish ourselves with is important, but I don’t think you have to spend a lot of money to eat well if you are smart with your time…

It all comes back to respect.

I choose to eat the way I do because I respect my body and I’m aware of what’s possible when I fuel my body well and give it all of the building blocks it needs for optimal growth and repair.
I respect the land and the soils that support our food supply as well as the farmer’s and grower’s that work the land.  I respect the effort it takes to bring us good food through ethical and sustainable farming practices.

Interestingly Dr Oz also advocates respect for our food.

As with any relationship that flourishes, respect is at the core of how you get along with food – respect and keeping things simple”  ~  Dr Mehmet Oz, Time Magazine, 2012

On this, Dr Oz and I agree.
What could be more simple than eating whole food that is as close to it’s natural state as possible?

What do you reckon?  Is a Paleo Diet for the snobby and elite?  
Or, is it possible to still eat well on a time, energy and financial budget?

Tell us what you think in the comments below.  And, if you liked this post please share it with your family and friends on Facebook and Twitter.

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5 Responses to Is a Paleo Diet Just For The Snobby Elitist?

  1. Meryl Wednesday 27 March, 2013 at 2:02 AM #

    It’s not snobby or elitist, no. It is very privileged, though. I eat paleo myself, but it doesn’t hurt (or does it?) to recognise your privilege where it exists.

  2. Lizzardbeth Thursday 3 January, 2013 at 4:57 PM #

    The last thing Americans need to hear is that our food supply is basically nutritious.  As someone with enough influence to spark changes in our food supply, Dr. Oz has an obligation to point out that there is a LOT wrong with feedlot meat and commercially farmed food.  But, I agree with Sparkles: he is simply saying what will make him most popular.  In his defense, I think that the average person probably needs help prioritizing their food choices, so reminding people that whole foods like vegetables, eggs, meat and even peanut butter in any form are *better* choices than highly processed foods is going to be helpful.  However, he shouldn’t conflate “better than processed” with “as good as you need.  Nor should he mislead people that spending the extra cash on the pastured grass-fed beef is not worth it.  Americans spend the least amount of money on food of all developed nations: eating well should not be dirt cheap.  We need to change our priorities.  And, if more of us begin demanding better food, our supply might change.

  3. Amy (Savory Moments) Wednesday 2 January, 2013 at 10:38 PM #

    This is a great write-up. I, too, read this article in the doctor’s office and was so astounded and disappointed. Among other things, I couldn’t believe he recommended regular peanut butter (usually full of hydrogenated soybean and other oils, salt, etc.) over organic “fancy” peanut butter (that’s just ground peanuts)….

  4. Eatdrinkpaleo Monday 10 December, 2012 at 10:43 PM #

    Nice write up. I was at a GP’s today and was reading the same magazine while waiting. Didn’t get all the way through but no need anymore ;-)

  5. Sparkleskennedy Monday 10 December, 2012 at 9:36 PM #

    The problem is that being knowledgeable about something is now translated as “elitist and snobby.” Our very language is degraded and watered down with “internet/text speak” and by not going with the flow one can be perceived as having airs and graces. There is not a lot of incentive to better your life unless it is a “fad” because that is the pack mentality nowadays.

    As you say, Dr Oz has a responsibility to encourage healthy eating and lifestyle in his viewers, but he also needs to think of his ratings and unfortunately has to cater to the unwashed masses who need a pat on the back that not buying into a healthy lifestyle and eating peanut butter is a good choice after all so they can go to bed with a glow in their hearts that those snobby elitists aren’t so good after all.

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