The Paleolithic diet, abbreviated Paleo diet and also known as the primal diet or the ancestral diet, is the most popular diet in the US. Roughly described as a low-carb, high-protein diet, the Paleo diet is helping people all over the modernized world rid themselves of excess pounds and prescription medications—as I wrote in my prior post. If you don’t have friends or relatives following a Paleo diet now, chances are you will soon.
Today’s post is designed to air out some of the points of contention about Paleo, to best assure your Paleo plans result in you enjoying the success you are hoping for.
These differences of opinion emerge not out of any conflict of interest or maliciousness. They simply reflect the reality that, unlike so many other previous popular diets, the Paleo diet is not the product of a single person’s perspective. It’s a collaborative effort, and that leads to different folks generating different lists of forbidden and approved foods.
My own take on Paleo is less about mimicking the same food list of our ancestors, obviously impossible, and more about mimicking the the strategy of our ancestors, which was, simply put, to extract as much nutrition as possible from their surrounding environment.
So here’s some of the Paleo Diet Beginner Issues I hope to prevent you from experiencing:
1. Restricting your diet more than necessary. This makes eating with non-Paleo friends tough, and can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
In my view, the reason Paleo works for so many is that it encourages home cooking, makes it fun, and gets you away from the two biggest toxins you can eat, which I will review later in this post. But I’ve met so many people who end up eating repetitively because the list of foods to avoid can, in some cases, get pretty long.
I do not tell folks to restrict any foods other than the Two Big Toxins (see below) unless they have experienced a specific problem from eating the food in question.
That means even grains, legumes and dairy can be part of a healthy diet. This bears repeating: yes, grains, legumes and dairy.
Remember, it’s the strategy of our ancestors we want to mimic, not food lists.
After all, many of the plants and animals our ancestors ate are extinct, and most of the foods in the grocery store—even Paleo staples like almonds—did not exist in anything like their current form until modern agricultural breeding and selection brought them into existence. Breeding has, in many cases, increased the digestibility (a good thing) by reducing anti nutrients and plant toxins designed to drive away plant eaters, even as it has increased the sugar content (not so good). So there are plusses and minuses and in the end I think the best policy is to figure out what works for your body. Of course, a trained clinician can help with that.
2. Too many nut flours.
While so many popular and delicious recipes include nut flowers, if you find yourself running through bag after bag of almond, coconut, or any of the other popular paleo substitutes for grain-based flour, you may be consuming more calories per day than you realize. Nut flours have a good deal of fat, which can make them two to three times as calorie dense as the grain flours you are subbing them for, and eating more calories than you need is obviously not a good thing.
3. Overlooking three of the four Pillars of World Cuisine.
In doing the background research for our first book, Deep Nutrition, we identified four nutritional strategies that enabled traditional people the world over to survive and thrive. Of the four, only one—fresh foods—is fairly universal to the modern version of a Paleo diet. Indeed, most every cookbook will include an abundance of delicious fresh food recipes. However, not many include recipes that incorporate the other three—fermented and sprouted, meat on the bone (including bone stocks) and organ meat. While not always as easy to make as a salad, they are just as essential.
How does failing to include these pillars matter to your health? In a nutshell, fermented and sprouted foods support a healthy gut and immune system. Meat on the bone supports healthy collagen, which forms the backbone of your skin, joints and arteries. And organ meats are superfoods, each of which provides a high concentration of a unique blend of vitamins and/or minerals.
4. Overexposure to the Two Big, most toxic ingredients in our food chain: sugar and vegetable oils.
One could write a book about the health consequences of our overproduction and overconsumption of sugar, and many have. But suffice it to say that every doctor who studies nutrition (for more than the two minutes we get in medical school) soon comes to the realization that sugar is a toxic molecule.
Sugar, no matter whether it comes from fruit or high fructose corn syrup, brown rice or brown sugar, interferes with normal function of many hormones and accelerates the aging process. Like potassium, the compound used for lethal injections, we do need some in our body all the time, but too much is deadly—of course in the case of sugar, manifestations of the toxic effect takes a few years longer than in the case of potassium.
Toxin number two are the refined, bleached and deodorized oils: corn cottonseed canola soy sunflower safflower and grapeseed. These make their way into a shocking number of grocery store and restaurant foods. They affect us very much like edible radiation, in that they incite molecular damage. In my opinion vegetable oils are responsible for more sickness than cigarettes, which primarily make contact with our body via the respiratory and circulatory systems. Vegetable oils enter every cell in the body and promote inflammation. Perhaps most tragically, they profoundly impact the brain and consumption during early development make normal nerve growth impossible, seriously impairing a child’s cognitive and emotional development.
If you can avoid these four Paleo pitfalls, you are well on your way to enjoying lasting health and long term success!