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Can a Paleo-Vegan Alliance Save Nutrition?

23/06/2014 16:46 BST | Updated 23/08/2014 10:59 BST

The enduring struggle to curb degenerative diseases through improved nutrition has reached a critical juncture. Knowledge that sugar, not saturated fat, promotes these diseases is spreading widely. Nutrition-oriented communities mustn't squander this rare historical opportunity. The Paleo and Vegan communities should act strategically, intelligently, and decisively. An alliance of these and other communities, based on mutual respect, common goals, and common "enemies," has the potential to catalyse a Nutritional Renaissance.

Why Paleo and Vegan?

 

If we imagine health-motivated diets as a spectrum, Paleo and Vegan would occupy opposite extremes. The Paleo "sphere of influence" would include the Ancestral, Atkins, Dukan, Ketogenic, South Beach, and Weston A. Price Foundation diets. The Vegan sphere of influence would include all Vegetarian diets, plus/including the Flexitarian, Fruitarian, Macrobiotic, Okinawa, Ornish, Pescatarian, and Raw Food diets. Mediterranean, Omnivorous, and Gluten-free diets would fall near the midpoint.

This spectrum includes the most Google-searched diets of 2013 and thus has enormous potential. A formidable alliance is possible, but depends on Paleo-Vegan cooperation. The Paleo and Vegan communities are vocal, influential, and passionate about helping others live better, healthier lives. Both, however, sometimes ridicule other diets while portraying their own as superior and suitable for everyone. This is counterproductive. An alliance is only possible if passion for helping others exceeds fixation on being right, even when helping others means encouraging them, without derision, should they embrace other diets.

Why Now?

 

For years, dietary recommendations from the American Heart Association, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), and other influential health organizations have been incongruous with published nutritional research. The AND, for example, green-lights copious sugar consumption while discouraging saturated fat; the AND supports the Dietary Reference Intakes, which allow for an appalling 25 percent of total calories from added sugar. Surprisingly, while major health organizations gloss over the latest research on sugar and saturated fat, publicity for this research is reaching unprecedented levels.

The upcoming Time magazine cover dramatically reads, "Eat Butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong." The associated article calls for ending the war on saturated fat. On June 12, the Today Showinterviewed registered dietitian Joy Bauer about this Time article.

Bauer correctly explained that saturated fat is associated with increased LDL cholesterol, but there are two types of LDL, large-particle and small-particle. Saturated fat only increases large-particle, which is benign, whereas refined carbohydrates and sugar increase small-particle, which endangers the heart. This has been known since the late 1990s, but the message is now finally going mainstream.

Saturated fat has been exonerated; the finger of blame now points at sugar and vegetable oils. Replacing saturated fat with vegetable oils saves the food industry millions, but according to research recently published in the British Medical Journal, it also increases cardiovascular disease mortality (CVM). Meanwhile, a study just published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that increased sugar consumption also increases CVM.

Regarding modern scientific perspectives on sugar and saturated fat, the entire dietary spectrum, from Paleo to Vegan, is in agreement. Colin Campbell, the author of The China Study, is perhaps the most distinguished Vegan advocate. And guess what, his perspectives on sugar and saturated fat are harmonious with Paleo perspectives. Campbell recently wrote, "Is saturated fat the chief cause (or even a major contributing cause) of heart disease? The answer is, 'No,' not only because of the lack of published empirical evidence of adverse effects of saturated fats but also because it was mostly a moot question from the beginning."

The Paleo and Vegan communities certainly have their differences, but they also have much in common. Here's a simple test. Paleo people, suppose you must choose between an optimized Vegan diet and a high-sugar, junk food diet. Vegans, suppose you must choose between optimized Paleo and junk? Every diet along our spectrum improves upon the junk food diets commonly consumed throughout the world. Furthermore, we should recognize that diets are sometimes steppingstones.

Personally, I started with Macrobiotics before shifting to Paleo/Ancestral. While the latter works much better for me, I can't knock the former. Macrobiotics was a huge improvement upon my previous diet, and finally, it led me somewhere even better. If we're serious about helping people live better, healthier lives, we shouldn't coerce them into any particular diet. We should simply encourage them to be more conscious about food—to step off the junk food merry-go-round and step on the spectrum. Wherever they start, they'll find their way.

Why an Alliance?

 

History shows that alliances, even among very different people, have huge potential. Take, for example, the British-Russian-European coalition that defeated Napoleon. Or consider the Grand Alliance of World War II, whereby the greatest communist state, capitalist state, and colonial power joined forces to extinguish the Nazi threat. When the stakes are high, alliances make sense.

Last month, The Lancet published a study showing childhood obesity rates are soaring. The stakes are certainly high. Perhaps we should take a cue from Jamie Oliver, someone who's had remarkable success improving food standards for children. Oliver doesn't push any particular diet; he simply advocates real food. Diet-oriented communities should stop infighting and start uniting. Critiques and criticism can of course be constructive, but should always be respectful and diplomatic. If we act strategically, we can defeat our common "enemies" while advancing our shared goal—helping others live better, healthier lives.

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Christopher James Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed book, Nutritional Grail: Ancestral Wisdom, Breakthrough Science, and the Dawning Nutritional Renaissance