My personal thoughts on diet have been constantly evolving, and I've found that ideas of just what is a healthy diet is probably one of the most contentious issue there is amongst all people and all cultures.
There are so many variables to each person's individual situation and health...and so many differences in personal experiences, but they all lead to this idea that many people adopt, that there is ONE WAY to eat for optimal health.
To the vegans and vegetarians, it's avoiding animal products.
To the fruitarians, it's all about overdosing on fructose and exercising at insane levels of chronic cardio.
Than we have the Low Carb/Very Low Carb/Zero Carb (LC/VLC/ZC) community, the Weston Price Foundation traditional eaters, and finally, we have the Paleo camp.
From my own point of view, when discussing dietary issues, I use "Paleo" as a kind of short-hand reference. It has the benefit of being easily memorable and someone who's interested in the topic after my discussion with them, can easily use google and find the paleo blogosphere... which can be a life changing discovery for those who grasp the basic concepts and apply them. (I've had a colleague lose over 100 lbs. and reverse diabetes simply by referring her to Mark's Daily Apple.)
But anyone who's a regular reader of the Paleo blogosphere is going to eventually discover that while there is a basic, overarching framework that most agree on, there's plenty of disagreements in particular topics and food items and macro-nutrient ratios, especially when it comes to carbohydrates.
Which in my own ruminations, have brought me full circle back to the original Atkins diet proscription.
In other words, I've come to the personal opinion that there is a purpose for a LC/VLC/ZC diet, but it should not be a permanent state except for in the worst cases.
I think the genesis of so much debate and disagreement comes from this: when people first start to explore different dietary lifestyles, they usually do so because they are experiencing the negative effects from a lifetime of eating the standard fare of our Subsidized Corporate Agricultural and Industrial Feed society. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, IBS, Crohn's etc.
For most of these cases, the discovery of LC/VLC/ZC diets seems like a miracle, when they discover how easy it is to lose the weight and lower their blood pressure etc. while gorging themselves on bacon cheeseburgers without the bun and pizza toppings without the crust.
This leads many, many people to become carbo-phobes and protein fanatics. They embrace the legend of Two Brave Men Who Ate Nothing But Meat for an Entire Year, and look at ALL carbohydrates as the equivalent of cyanide or arsenic and people should never eat any carbs...ever.
I think the original Atkins diet plan had the basic concept right - reduce and eliminate carb consumption if your overweight or suffering from health problems caused by the Standard American Diet, and once you reached your goals and healed yourself, to slowly add starchy carbs like potatoes and rice back into your diet.
The problem here is that everyone is different.
For myself, I've never had digestion problems in terms of IBS, celiac, crohn's etc. I was simply getting overweight.
I've gone through a VLC period, and have remained LC for years.
But based on the works of people like Dr. Kurt Harris and Melissa McEwen, I've been adding more carbs back into my diet for the past 3 months or so. No weight gain, and a bit better energy levels and performance in endeavors that require endurance.
Now, I just try to minimize or avoid wheat flour and whole grains as much as possible. I'll eat a moderate portion of white rice, or use traditionally prepared (nixtamalización) corn tortillas, and I eat a lot of variety's of tubers as well - potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. and once in a great while, I buy a loaf of rye sourdough bread and make sandwiches and burgers with it.
Compared to a year ago, the amount of carbs I eat is nearly tripled...but my weight and health have remained the same since I first began VLC/LC dieting and lost 35 lbs of excess fat from my frame.
This was a little surprising to me at first, especially now that I've had a complete change to my lifestyle thanks to Paleo Baby, I've never exercised LESS than in the last year of my adult life.
Yet I've had no change in my weight or health, despite eating more carbs than ever before since losing all that weight. I think this is the point both Harris and McEwen have come to - carbs by themselves are not bad. But to recover your health from a lifetime of SAD, a LC/VLC would be beneficial for a short period of time - not because carbs by itself makes one fat and sickly, but because a person who is in bad shape needs to change their metabolism and reverse insulin resistance.
As Dr. Harris wrote:
1) Reject the alternative hypothesis of saturated fat or cholesterol as a Neolithic agent – the so-called diet/heart hypothesis
2) Believe that obtaining a substantial fraction of nutrition from animal sources is necessary for health
3) Discount the absolute importance of macronutrient ratios in the nutritional transition.
4) Believe that a whole foods diet that includes adequate micronutrients is the best way to eat healthy.
5) Believe that tubers, root vegetables and other sources of starch can be healthy for normal people, but that most grains are a suboptimal source of nutrition in other than small amounts.
#3 was the one I had the hardest time accepting...but no more.
My additional thoughts to Dr. Harris though would be this:
Other than the issues with cereal grains - the glutens, WGA, phytates, lectins, and other issues found in the grain protein and bran, people who are not overweight or suffering any diet related degenerative conditions should not really focus on carbs...but most importantly to focus on the FAT in their diet.
Understanding the importance of a balanced Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acid ratio in your overall diet. One really important point people should understand is that Omega 6 fatty acids are not "bad." They are, afterall, ESSENTIAL fatty acids. The real problem is the skewed ratios in the SAD, because most Westerners get their O6 from the rancid poly-unsaturated vegetable and grain oils, and not enough O3 because most food animals are no longer raised in natural conditions eating their natural foods (grass!). You DO require some Omega 6 fatty acids in your diet...just make sure you get them from natural, non-rancid and non-oxidized sources, like roasted nuts like Walnuts and almonds.
Understanding that the fat is vital in how you handle the protein (google "Rabbit Starvation" to understand that high-protein/low-fat diets are a potential disaster).
Same goes for the carbs. What makes french fries and potato chips particularly toxic? The rancid, oxidized, poly-unsaturated canola or soybean oils that are now ubiquitous in the restaurant and snack food industry...and that's without even mentioning the hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils used in most baked goods. These industrial oils contribute to inflammation on a cellular level, and combined with a blood sugar spike from eating a bag of chips, can lead to all sorts of problems. It's not the carbs per say...it's the amount of carbs and the FAT you're consuming with those carbs.
Yukon gold potatoes deep-fried in extra virgin coconut oil tastes divine, and I get a kick out of knowing that such fare actually good for you.
Oh, and one final caveat: as much as I try to avoid wheat and other "whole grain" foods, I have never fully given up on grains...I just drink them after they've been malted, roasted, fermented and in certain cases, distilled.