FOOD

We Put Pete Evans' Paleo Diet And Dairy Claims To A Clinical Dietitian

The MKR host has been slammed for promoting unscientific, extreme health advice.

27/03/2017 8:42 AM AEDT | Updated 29/03/2017 7:11 AM AEDT

Celebrity chef Pete Evans has sat down with Seven's Sunday Night program to "share the truth" about his Paleo lifestyle and his health advice on diet, calcium and fluoride.

To an audience of 1.4 million people, the long-time My Kitchen Rules host was ready to face the "media lies" and critics, to which the Australian medical community fired back.

Pete Evans does an amazing job in his own field. But the concern is because he isn't trained in any nutritional science, he doesn't have the knowledge to be administering this kind of health advice. And a lot of it isn't backed by evidence.Melanie McGrice, clinical dietitian

"I think that Pete should stick to pearl couscous and the scientists can stick to pertussis," Australian Medical Association President Dr Michael Gannon said on Monday.

"He is an opinion leader ... and when it comes to some of his comments about nutrition and about important dietary sources of calcium, he needs to be more responsible."

The Paleo diet is a Paleoithic-era-inspired diet that excludes all grains, dairy, refined sugar, salt, processed oils, alcohol and coffee -- and it is one that he and his family exclusively live by.

When asked about the evidence behind his controversial claims, Evans said he didn't need it.

"What do you need a qualification for? To talk common sense? Why do you have to study something that is outdated, that is industry backed, that is biased, that is not getting the results? That would be insane to study something you're going to waste your time with. That's just crazy," Evans said.

This backlash is not an outwardedly response from industry leaders. Doctors and dietitians have repeatedly condemned Evans as being unqualified.

"Pete Evans does an amazing job in his own field. But the concern is because he isn't trained in any nutritional science, he doesn't have the knowledge to be administering this kind of health advice. And a lot of it isn't backed by evidence," Accredited Practising Dietitian Melanie McGrice told The Huffington Post Australia.

"The celebrity status does help him. The fact that he is so passionate can be motivating for people and he is very convicted by what he says. When we health care professionals make comments, we have to do so in a much more balanced way and with caution."

These messages are not black and white.

McGrice has worked in the field for 15 years. When it comes to nutritional science, she says there are few black and white answers.

"It is hard to get those messages across clearly as a healthcare professional, whereas Pete Evans has no trouble. It is also illegal for us to utilise marketing or personal testimonials -- which he also has behind him."

Here are some of his diet-related claims and the industry-backed evidence to go with them.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
The tenets of a Paleo diet: eat more protein, fats and fibre, and cut out the stuff that our ancestors didn't eat.

Unpacking Paleo

Evan has continually faced criticism of his approach to his Paleo diet. On Sunday Night, he dismissed them, saying: 'What do you need a qualification for to talk common sense? That's what I say to it."

For McGrice, the tenets of a Palo diet that underpin Evans' approach can be useful -- when taken with a grain of salt.

"I think there are some good aspects about the Paleo diet, for example its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on highly-processed and packaged foods. He supports these aspects," McGrice said.

"But it falls down in its restriction of core food groups like grains and legumes. The latest research shows that grains and legumes are protective against conditions such as hypertension and other cardiovascular markers."

As a clinical dietitian, McGrice finds that the diet, in reality, becomes too limiting for most people to follow.

People are so confused that they are lumping these kinds of core foods in with foods like soft drinks and potato chips. Melanie McGrice.

"What we often tend to see is a fad diet approach, where people might follow it for a period of time and then tend to go off it and binge. It tends to be the kind of diet where people feel guilty about eating particular foods that are banned on a Paleo diet," McGrice said.

"People tend to lump foods that I would consider nutritious, such as bread and legumes, into these bad food categories. As a dietitian, I find it quite fascinating that I have never had these types of questions as I do now."

And then come Evans' more extreme health claims, like cutting out dairy...

Dairy

On Sunday Night, Evans was probed about his controversial views on dairy intake.

Last year, he advised a woman with osteoporosis to cut dairy from her diet, as a result of evidence that he claims shows dairy removes calcium from bones.

"Where is that information coming from?" the reporter asked.

"We've shared that information in our Paleo Way program, and you can read it in many different scientific journals. It's a known fact. It's a myth to think that drinking cows milk is the be all and end all of calcium intake," Evans said.

The calcium-dairy myth is the best piece of marketing I've ever heard and they are going to hold onto that for grim life.Pete Evans

"I think much of the logic behind claims that there is a 'dairy paradox' comes down to the idea that osteoporosis is more common in the Western world, yet these are the very populations that consume more dairy, and have been encouraged to do so for decades," McGrice said.

Osteoporosis Australia recommends three daily serves of calcium-rich foods like dairy.

"While dairy isn't the only source of calcium, it's a convenient, affordable and versatile food group with many other health benefits," McGrice said.

"Interestingly, few Australians meet the recommended serves of dairy each day -- only around one in ten women over 50 meet their 4-day target (and this group has the highest requirements after menopause due to reduced estrogen levels)."

While calcium is key for bone health, McGrice said other factors also play a role.

"Osteoporosis is a multi-factorial condition. Vitamin D plays a key role in calcium's absorption and weight-bearing exercise is also important," McGrice said.

"I do believe dairy is a good choice for the majority of Australians. For those who aren't consuming it, they need to be aware of how they are getting their calcium requirements elsewhere."

Here's what you need to know about non-dairy alternatives.

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