Paleo AID and Nutrition in the Internet Age

Recently a client handed me a printout of a blog she’d found online: several pages touting benefits of a Paleo Anti-Inflammatory Diet, as well as suggestions on how to follow the diet. Should she follow the advice?

As her health coach, it is not for me to prescribe a diet nor to dismiss one; but rather to understand her nutritional needs and then help her follow the best diet for her. Further, I like to educate my clients to be able to make sense of the mess of nutrition information out there.

“And what makes you want to follow this diet in particular?” I asked her. She explained that her Homeopath had recommended an Anti-Inflammatory Diet (AID) for her skin and health in general. Like any reasonable person in 2018, my client went home and Googled “Anti-Inflammatory Diet.” Even though the blog she had chosen had added Paleo diet into the mix, something about the site she’d found appealed to her.

Amongst the pages of results of any such nutrition search, how might one distinguish what constitutes a healthy diet in general? Or the greater challenge, how does one pick out the diet that suits individual needs?

 

The biggest problem in nutrition today? Search Result Overload.

Specifically, what should the average person make of the cacophony of voices: expert, knowledgeable, or clueless explanations; large, small, long-term or short-term studies; scientifically, ideologically, or profit-driven claims? All are given seemingly equal weight in your Google search. Actually, it’s worse: results are ranked in order by popularity mixed with what Google thinks you already believe, based on your previous searches and click-throughs. That’s how a neutral search can yield biased results.

Even when you believe you know what you’re looking for (in this case, the AID), how does one find the best advice on what that diet should look like and how to follow it? Has anyone fact-checked the claims about which foods are inflammatory and which are anti-inflammatory? Who wrote the recipes and has anyone tested them to see if they work in the kitchen?

So, is the Paleo AID right for my client? Is it right for you?

Ask these questions of your Internet nutrition advice:

  1. What about this diet/advice resonates with you?

The answer to this question may or may not shine a light on what your body needs in terms of a diet. On the other hand, this inquiry may illuminate your own deeper needs. Maybe you don’t need to change your diet, after all. Instead you might consider altering your attitude towards food and your body. Perhaps your underlying need is to alter lifestyle/habits or make other personal transformations. You might be needing to feed your soul.

I wish I had asked more follow-up questions in my session with my client: why did this particular version of AID diet grab her attention enough to print it out. What insight into her needs and desires around food (and life?) might we have gained by digging deeper into this choice? Alas!

  1. Is this a nutrition fad or genuine news of a healthy diet?

Go beyond the latest headlines. Paleo has gotten a lot of press lately: it’s popular. It limits packaged foods, which by itself is a healthy choice, but that doesn’t make Paleo as a whole one’s ideal diet.

  1. What does the latest and best science say?

Understand that the latest scientific research can give you a good idea of how foods or diets are likely to affect you. Large, well-run studies published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals explore the effects of dietary choices on large numbers of people.

As for the Anti-Inflammatory Diet? Compounds in certain foods have been found in studies to reduce inflammation and chronic diseases. The usual caveat: these findings may turn out not to apply to you as an individual, but they are an excellent place to start.

  1. Who is making the claim(s)? Is this site a well-respected source of health and dietary information or just someone with no more expertise than you?

The average person rarely has the time to dive into the research trumpeted in the headlines. Read/seek advice from people you trust such as scientists/writers for well-respected publications, and of course, your doctors, Nutritionists or Health Coaches who show expertise and are looking out for your best interests. I recommend Harvard Health Publications for up-to-date ,well researched health and nutrition information. This article from Harvard makes a convincing case for the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Nothing here about adding Paleo to AID, though.

  1. Is there significant overlap with your search result and what you already know about nutrition and your body in particular?

If not, what evidence and expertise should persuade you to let go of your current wisdom? In particular, don’t be quick to swallow claims that seem absurd and contrary to everything you know to be true.

An aside: I stumbled on a blog claiming cruciferous vegetables contain deadly poisons. Doesn’t pass the sniff test! Also I found plenty of information to the contrary. But this might be the subject of a different post.

Back to the Paleo AID. Remember that in our example the Homeopath recommended AID, not Paleo AID. This blog just doesn’t provide enough information to back the claim that both diets should be followed at once. I tend to be wary of combo diets in general. Here’s why:

The restrictions and additions of these two different diets (like many combination diets) overlap but also contradict one another. That is, there are foods in the YES column of one diet which show up in the NO column of the other. It’s hard enough to try one diet at a time. Now one must also decide which dietary theory takes precedence for any given meal or food. And if you make a Venn diagram of where the two diets overlap, you end up with an even smaller food selection.

Of course, that’s where the blogger comes in, creating an individually hybridized diet. However, this combination diet, in whatever shape the blogger gave it, may in fact be great for that individual, but he is only one data point. No proof is offered in this particular blog that adding Paleo (and making Paleo dietary subtractions as well) makes the AID healthier for anyone else.

  1. Does the source stick to making a well-reasoned, factually-based argument? 7. Or is this site insidiously tapping into your insecurities about your body or health?

The blog (to its credit) did not include something like that flashing animated belly fat ad (you know the one, right?) or dramatic before and after belly photos. Have you ever clicked on “Try this weird tip to a flat belly”? I admit, I once did. I ended up down a rabbit hole and am not sure if I ever got to the “weird tip.” Anyway, often emotional ploys are more subtle, more factual-seeming. Ask yourself if the site makes overblown claims (dramatic weight loss, for instance) or persuade with slick graphics, or emotion-laden language?

  1. Does this site have an agenda?

I’m going to make some people angry, but I’ll say it anyway: just because a vegan diet saves animals and is better for the planet, for instance, that doesn’t make it the only healthy diet for a particular individual.  This kind of argument shows up not only on websites of course. It can even show up at a trusted doctor’s office. A client’s doctor told him that only a vegan diet could help him lose the weight he needed to regain his health. This client didn’t feel able to forever forgo all animal products, however. In the face of that advice, he might have given up on weight loss altogether. Instead, he and I worked out a lifestyle diet, more plant-based, but not entirely so. We came up with a plan that he could live with and over some five months he’s lost over 30 pounds.

  1. Is this site trying to sell you something?

If so, is this just another diet product, unlikely to be more successful than anything else on the market?

Does the site sell unproven supplements? Supplements, it is important to note, aren’t regulated by the FDA and as such, none need to prove safety or effectiveness to be sold in the U.S.

On the other hand, is the information reasonable, and possibly despite the merchandising aspect of the site? Maybe the author is trying to sell a book or get hits on the site to sell advertising. It can be subtle. I personally hate when I discover a sales pitch hidden in the guise of informational content and tend to steer away from such sites. Yet I also understand that an expert can do both: give good information and sell things.

I didn’t examine the blog in question long enough to thoroughly answer the questions of merchandising or agenda. My impression was that this person had found a diet that worked for him and was sharing it. Good intentions, but no evidence that it would be safe or effective for anyone else.

Paleo AID for my client? We found no reasons to believe that Paleo additions and restrictions would do any more than complicate her dietary decisions on the AID, the diet she did want to try. We decided to stick to good quality information on this diet.

Uncommon, Common Sense

In our Internet quests, many of us are just hoping for simple rules we can all follow. In fact, for most people, it may be as easy as eating as many whole foods (not processed/packaged) as possible, limiting sugars, and drinking plenty of water.

And yet, we need to be aware that even to that last commons sense rules there are exceptions. I have met people who cannot digest many whole foods.

Less commonly mentioned, yet still common sense: keep listening to your body. Avoid the foods that don’t agree with you. If you think a food is not right for your system, you’re probably right! Eat foods that make you feel energetic and healthy. When you do an Internet search, hoping for some new answers, don’t forget to follow your common sense, knowledge, intuition, as well as your doctors/practitioners. Ask questions of the information you find as well as of your own practitioners.

In the end, I offhandedly suggested my client “recycle” the blog printout. In retrospect, that sounds rather insensitive! Perhaps I should have suggested she file the blog printout, to possibly revisit later. Then again, I want to educate my clients on how to filter out the nutrition noise on their own, and this site just didn’t pass the test. So, in truth, I wouldn’t actually suggest she revisit it later.