Howdy-doo, folks! Welcome back to your Snake Oil Bulletin, the weekly round-up of pseudoscience, nonsense, and assorted quackery this side of the Mississippi. It’s been a pretty painful week so far, but with the weekend comes good news that far worse off than you are all the anti-vaccine autism-exploiters out there. Let’s read on and feel the warmth of schadenfreude wash over us all, shall we?
Paleo Diet Wackadoo Says He Can Cure Autism
The latest food craze to hit bookshelves in the last few years is the Paleo Diet, a fad weight loss program which purports to resemble the meals consumed by our earliest ancestors, the working hypothesis being that such a diet is healthier for us. While most of the claims of paleo (for example, that human beings can’t digest bread, or that high-fat coconut oil will make you lose weight) are nonsense, the diet itself is mostly harmless and isn’t worth the time and energy to debunk that, say, bleach enemas do. If you want to cut bread and beer out of your diet, knock yourself out; it’d probably help you out, you chubby lush you. The problem from the diet comes when paleo advocates get so high off the smell of their own coconut-sweetened farts that they make outrageous claims like they can cure autism with food.
At least that’s the claim being made by Pete Evans, a teevee celebrity chef in Australia who wherever we see news articles about him, is inevitably described using such choice phrases as “paleo evangelism” or “downright fanaticism.” Oh, and he’s kind of a fluoride-fearing loon.
Evans believes that the modern diet is the cause of autism, and he’s attacked several reputable Australian health organizations for promoting nutritional guidelines that in his mind lead to increased levels of autism. He claims that eating low-fat foods and grains is what causes autism to develop in healthy children, even though children show signs of the condition as early as 6 months old, i.e. before they’re even eating solid foods. In other words, *cough*bullshit*cough*.
In true quack fashion, Evans has taken a tiny grain of truth and blown it up into, well, a 2100-word rant on Facebook. Professor Cheryl Dessanayake (an actual fucking autism researcher) points out that diet changes can help autistic children, but only in that they are often predisposed to particular stomach problems (evidence of a genetic link, bee tee dubs), and a more autistic-friendly diet can help alleviate gastrointestinal stress. It doesn’t “cure” their condition (and since it isn’t a damn disease, it can’t be cured to begin with), and there is exactly zero evidence that its onset or remission has anything to do with the food they eat.
Of course, it wasn’t just autism that Evans tried to exploit to get people to buy his paleo cookbooks, watch his paleo teevee show, or suck his paleo wiener. He also links low-fat foods and grains to an increase in just about every scary-sounding mental condition:
Why is the rate of mental illness including dementia and Alzheimer’s escalating at a frightening rate and we are told by the [Dietitians Association of Australia] and Heart Foundation to avoid saturated fat when this is what our brains need to survive and function properly. [sic]
The key to an A+ grift is to make it universal. Your panacea must be exactly that: a cure-all. Can paleo diet help you lose weight? Absolutely. Can it cure your family members’ autism, dementia, and Alzheimer’s? You bet. Will it bring you lasting happiness and wellness so long as you follow the strict dietary restrictions to the absolute letter? Buy my book and find out! This is Peter Evans wishing you good health, because God only knows you won’t get it from me.