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One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 03 March 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all

One diet/exercise program does NOT fit all
I have been doing some reading as of late, mainly diet books to better my understanding of some of the basic principles behind popular diets. Most recently I picked up the Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain and have since finished the book. The basic principle of this diet is to remove processed foods from your diet and adopt eating patterns that mimic those of our ancestors, mainly hunter-gatherers. Based on Dr. Cordain’s research he has determined that we are fit to eat a diet similar to early man based on our genetic make-up. This diet consists of lean protein, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Some items are left out which includes dairy, legumes, grains, and tubers (potatoes).
     There are some compelling arguments as to why the paleo diet is the one diet that all should be eating and Dr. Cordain does a fabulous job of making those arguments. For example, proteins called lectins are found in high amounts in grains and legumes that may have an effect on bowel function. Based on the background research I have done lectins can bind to our intestinal wall and cause increased permeability which can cause unwanted materials to have access to our blood stream. The recommendation by Dr. Cordain is to avoid these foods to improve health.
     Simultaneously I have also been reading a rebuttal of sorts to Dr. Cordain’s book by Marlene Zuk called Paleofantasy. Similar to Dr. Cordain, Marlene Zuk is to a PhD and is well known for her knowledge of evolutionary biology. The basic premise of Dr Zuk’s book is to debunk the paleo craze that has swept the nation by looking at the complex world of evolution. As you might have already determined, the choosing of these two books was not merely a coincidence and has formed the opinion of this latest blog. That opinion is that diets and for that matter exercise programs do NOT fit all.
      The stance taken by Dr Cordain is that based on our genetics we were designed to eat the way as described in The Paleo Diet suggesting that we reached an evolutionary threshold. The stance by Dr. Zuk is that to suggest that we should eat the same as we did thousands of years ago is shortsighted because it ignores the fact that evolution has continually occurred. For example, dairy foods are not permitted in the Paleo diet because it was concluded by Dr. Cordain that our hunter-gather ancestors did not use it. For the most part genetically this can be argued because the vast majority of humans lose the ability to digest lactase as we age. Yet there are people who can drink milk well into adulthood just as easily because of lactase persistence. Dr Zuk explains this point in Paleofantasy noting that in some societies, milk ingestion became a necessity and therefore the ability to genetically produce lactase late into adulthood would have been favored.
     All of this makes a simple point, no single diet is ideal for all humans. The same can be said about exercise in that we are all genetically built differently. Some of us have greater levels of type II muscle fibers often referred to as fast twitch fibers while some of us have greater levels of type I muscle fibers often referred to as slow twitch fibers. For the individual with fast twitch fibers they would be better at strength exercises while those with slow twitch would be better at endurance training. The differences in each individual would dictate that they individualize their diet/training for optimal results.
      My advice to you is that you try out different diets and exercise plans and find one that matches your unique situation. Just because Paleo works for one person does not mean it is the rule for another. If you are unsure of how to go about choosing a proper plan for your unique body, consult with a professional.
     That’s all I have for today, have a happy healthy week!

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