The Asian Paradox: End of the Line for Low Carb Diets?Submitted by Ed Thinking on Sun, 09/01/2013 - 08:46
The fact that the populations of many parts of Eastern and Southeast Asia have traditionally been slim while consuming a high carbohydrate diet, typically rich in white rice is often considered as a ‘Asian Paradox’ by advocates and followers of carbohydrate restricted Low-Carb, Paleo and Primal type diets who hypothesize that such a dietary pattern promotes weight gain. Mark Sisson, a prominent Paleo diet advocate recently explained that the so-called ‘Asian Paradox’ is not a paradox because he believes that Asians have traditionally conformed to a lifestyle and diet that is comparable with his recommendations.1
Sisson attributes the leanness and health of the traditional living Asians to regular exercise and a diet rich in unprocessed foods including fresh meat, offal, bone broth as well as vegetables, with rice playing a neutral role. In addition, Sisson attributes much of the observed increases in rates of obesity, diabetes and coronary heart disease in Asia in more recent years to an increased intake of sugar, and the replacement of rice with wheat and saturated animal fats with omega-6 rich fats. However, Sisson provided scant evidence to support his claims regarding the composition of traditional and modern diets in Asia. Considering that obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are major causes of disability and death throughout the world, this warrants an examination of these claims.2
Concerns of Low-Carb and Paleo Diets
Sisson advocates a diet that is rich in animal protein and fat and poor in carbohydrate. Sisson has an 80/20 rule which allows 20% of dietary intake from non-Paleolithic foods from his list of approved foods, including items such as full-fat dairy, chocolate, coffee and wine, as well as the supplements that he sells. Sisson would have his targeted audience believe that humans have conveniently adapted to many foods that were not typically available during the Paleolithic period which are popular among followers of low-carb diets, but not the foods that they typically shun. As such a dietary composition is probably not coincidentally all that different from other popular carbohydrate restricted diets, this makes the diet that Sisson promotes essentially in one variant or another a rebranded Atkins diet. Aside from the lack of originality, there is an ever-increasing amount of evidence demonstrating harm of such a diet.