The Paleo Diet.. What The Hell Is It?
Do you even know what paleo really means?
This whole blog post got started because I decided to get into a paleo diet discussion on facebook…. that turned out to be about as valuable as cutting off both of my thumbs. Anyways, I get asked about the Paleo Diet all the time, and so now you can read my thoughts on the matter.
This whole “paleo” thing has gained a ton of steam in the last few years and can in fact be a great basis for healthy eating. But, so many people I talk to get this stuff all backwards, turned around, get too close-minded, and even fanatical, which tends to occur with any diet that starts to hit the mainstream.
There are some massively positive aspects of the paleo diet, and in my opinion, some potential drawbacks. Nutrition is far too complex to boil down to a specific don’t eat this – eat that mentality (unless you’ve been tested and show allergies to a certain food). Anyone who is dogmatic enough to believe in ONLY one particular, sole, my way or the highway approach…. well I put that on the same pedestal as crazy religious fanaticism.
What Pisses Me Off About Paleo-freaks
One of my biggest pet pieves of this whole eat like a caveman diet, or any other diet for that matter, is that very often people don’t even know why they’re forbidden certain foods. This drives me nuts. How could someone blindly accept being told not to eat a particular food, and have no intrigue as to why? So I’m gonna give you the low-down. You won’t have to say “I don’t eat grains, I’m paleo”, any longer, you’ll actually know why you’re not eating grains!… so keep reading.
- Don’t eat dairy
- Don’t eat grains
- Don’t eat legumes
- Don’t eat soy
- Don’t eat processed food
- Don’t eat modern day vegetable oils.
Simple. Plain. Easy to Follow.
What You Do Eat On a Paleo Diet.
- quality fats – coconut oils, ghee, quality olive oil (not heated)
Robb Wolf- What Is The Paleo Diet This link will let you read words from the Paleo Man himself, Robb Wolf is an incredibly intelligent guy, regarding both nutrition and exercise. Read his books if you wanna get your learn on about Paleo. Loren Cordain is the grandfather of the whole paleo thing and also has some great books. A few other big names in the paleo-sphere are Mark Sisson and Dr. Michael Eades… both of whom have some great blogs that I read quite often.
I strongly belive the basic nutritional ideas of the Paleo diet are fantastic. Those basic foundations of nutrition can lead to a damn healthy lifestyle, increased nutrient uptake, improvement of digestive and immune system disorders, and very likely lead to some weight loss if you need it. I’ve written on this before with my post The Basics of Nutrition , and Basics of Surfer Nutrition . If you’re cutting out the processed junk, you’re basically eliminating all the toxic vegetable oils, chemical preservatives, food colorings, artificial flavoring, MSG, genetically modified foods, aspartame, refined flours, high fructose corn syrups, excessive sugars, and other bullshit that your body has absolutely no use for. That’s a good thing. And the exclusion of legumes, grains, and dairy, CAN, I repeat, CAN, have a very positive impact on your overall health.
So What Do I have Against Paleo?
Know what the hell you’re talking about! Most people just spout ridiculous non-sense with no true understanding of actual physiology, or rationale behind the nutritional recommendations. And just because you can quote from a book you’ve read, doesn’t make you a nutrition specialist.
So Allow Me To Explain Why You’re Not Eating These Foods
Gut Health & Immune System Health
Its all about the gut. Your digestive tract could be somewhat considered one of the primary drivers of your overall health and well-being. Obviously all of your nutrient uptake comes from the gut, but a very large portion of your immune system resides in there as well. The health of your digestive system lays the foundation for your overall systemic health. One primary goal of the paleo diet is to eliminate the foods that could potentially damage your gut, and get back to a style of eating that is more similar to what humans evolved with. Some other reasons for eliminations of certain foods, and one that is often cited by paleo enthusiasts is the whole issue of insulin and its link with carbohydrates. Besides that, a primary premise of the paleo diet is to not eat foods that are damaging to the gut, eliminate foods that have higher levels of anti-nutrients, stop eating foods that are potentially damaging or excitatory to the immune system, and simply quit eating modern-day industrialized food garbage.
Details of What Is Eliminated
GRAINS: grains can be highly damaging to the gut, have a high phytic acid content (prevents mineral absorption), the majority contain gluten (huge amounts of people have a gluten allergy), they’re very difficult to digest (most people have horrible digestion in the first place), they can wreak havoc on blood sugars, and are often pro-inflammatory. That’s why you’re not eating grains on the paleo diet. You’ll also hear people cite the issue that grains were never introduced into the human diet until a few thousand years ago and they’re not an essential food group. I largely agree with that, but we’ll get into some “issues” with that premise later on.
DAIRY: Huge amounts of people have allergies to dairy which can come from either lactose or casein. Again, if you have an allergy to a food, and a problem digesting it, it’s likely going to excite your immune system, degrade your gut health, and lead to some health issues. Much more could be said about why paleo excludes dairy, but that’s the basic gist. I’ll cite some “issues” later on.
LEGUMES: again, its the gut health. Legumes contain lectins (so do grains), and other anti-nutrients that are damaging to the gut, and lead to degradation of your health. ….yep, a few “issues” with that too.
VEGGIE OILS: They’re toxic, not a real food, heavily processed, contain free-radicals, and are completely unnecessary in your diet. Enough said. They’re garbage.
SOY: Vegans and vegetarians will refute this till they die, but soy is garbage. It’s mostly genetically modified, has loads of estrogenic compounds, has high levels of trypsin inhibitors (block protein absortption), and is highly processed. Never in the history of humanity has soy been consumed in the manner it is today. It is marketed as a health food, and is far far far from being a nutritious food source. Don’t eat it.
So I agree with pretty much all of that stuff! I’m not a big advocate of grains, I don’t often eat beans as my stomach doesn’t like them, and my dairy consumption is pretty low, but I also don’t have dairy allergies. With a large majority of my clients, I recommend they go grain, gluten, and dairy free, so pretty much paleo, and they often see massive improvements in their health, well-being, and energy levels. The basic tenets of “paleo” are fantastic, and if more people would adopt them, they would definitely benefit themselves, improve their energy levels, and probably improve their health.
So, What Are My Issues With Paleo?
Paleo has been affiliated with low-carb. When I say carb or carbohydrate, I primarily mean fruit and starches, as vegetables contain very small amounts of carbs. Even if you check out the Robb Wolf link, you’ll see that you are to avoid starchy vegetables (he cites his reasons, primarily dealing with insulin, and backs them up very very well). I find low carb to be fucking crazy.. and in fact it was very detrimental to my own personal health at one point. The low carb craze is just that, a craze… a diet fad. And what are most diet fads…. bull shit. Yeah, you’ll probably lose a bit of weight going lower carb, but most people getting onto the paleo diet were originally eating loads of shitty processed flour carbs and sugars anyways, so getting into real food is obviously lower carb and going to lead to weight loss. But many paleo advocates even go against starchy tubers and fruits unless consumed directly after workouts, citing the whole issue of carbs=insulin=fat. Insulin and other hormonal responses are FAR MORE IN DEPTH than that.
Heavily restricting your carbohydrate intake, especially if you’re really active can have some nasty effects to your body. Tons of people have seriously damaged their health by going excessively low carb. Glucose/carbs are the body’s primary and preferred source of fuel. When forced to use fat or protein as a fuel source your body must utilize hormonal responses that, if continue for long periods of time can be really detrimental. If you’re active, don’t freak out about your carb intake… your body loves them, and they will not make you fat. Paleo-freaks will quote Robb Wolf, and say “there are no essential carbohydrates”. That is true in a sense. Your body can manufacture glucose (what you get from carbs), from protein and fat, however this is not the preferred method for cellular energy mechanisms. The body is incredibly adapt at survival, and when carbohydrate intake is restricted, which restricts fuel for your body, your bodily systems will utilize hormonal mechanisms to make glucose from what you are eating. This can be quite disruptive to the homeostasis of the human body if it goes on for too long….. this can get far too in depth, so my take home point is this. Paleo Should Not Equal Low Carb. Paleo is eating REAL FOOD. You don’t have to heavily restrict your carb intake.
2. Grains…. what about the White Rice, or occasional Gluten Free Grain?
Grains: Most people shouldn’t eat grains… pretty straight forward idea, that I strongly agree with. A large majority of the western diet is composed of low quality grains, and that’s pretty shitty for your health. However, there have been cultures that subsisted on a largely grain based diet when they’re properly prepared. (again, this preperation involves soaking, fermentation, and actually using quality grains: read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions) My biggest complaint about paleo and grains is white rice, and the occasional use of gluten free grains IF there are no immune system issues or gut problems. White rice… white rice carries none of the detrimental effects of grains and is a great source of easily digested carbohydrate…. again, essential for physically active individuals. Are all those asians wrong? Probably not. This again goes back to the low-carb thing…. get over it. Eat some white rice with your curry (just not loads of it). If you don’t have serious hormonal issues, gut problems, or immune system issues, then some gluten free grains occasionally aren’t going to kill you… every now and then I gotta have some buckwheat oatmeal, or even some of the dreaded brown rice!
3, Dairy Can Be A Wonderful Source of Nutrition… and Human Cultures Have Thrived On It.
Dairy. Milk and other dairy products can be a great source of nutrients… IF tolerated by your body. For thousands of years, certain cultures have developed incredibly healthy and vital bodies while consuming a diet largely comprised of milk. Another caveat with dairy is kefir and quality yogurts are great high quality foods, and are at times critical for re-inoculation of healthy gut bacteria. If you have no milk problems, than a high quality, organic, RAW milk is definitely not a bad idea to include in your diet. Commercial dairy is basically a garbage food, and I’d recommend you stay away from it. I would also recommend going dairy free for a bit of time and seeing how your body feels not eating it, and then re-introduce it and see how you react. It’s definitely best to not eat a food that your body disagrees with.
Legumes. If beans are properly prepared (soaked and long-slow cooked as in traditional cultures – read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions) much of the anti-nutrients found within beans have been broken down… not all, but many. Every now and then I gotta eat some chili!!! But again, as with grains, you shouldn’t eat legumes if you have un-resolved health issues.
So Those Are My Biggest Gripes With Paleo-freaks
That covers my biggest issues with paleo.
- People not really understanding the premise of the diet and jumping on the band wagon,
- Restriction of quality carbohydrate intake (fruits and starchy veggies),
- Complete exclusion of dairy.
Like I said about grains and legumes, most people would do better not eating them, but there are people that seem to do just fine with them.
Overall, paleo can be great and very beneficial to your overall health.
It removes just about all the food garbage people generally eat, forces you to eat real food, and helps to heal your digestive tract. But I can never side with a nutritional approach that is all exclusive and allows for no room for diversity of adversity. Blinders can be a very bad thing, and prevent people from exploring what their own bodies truly need to be healthy. I think it also excludes the bodies incredible adaptive ability to acclimate to other food sources. One only needs to look at the variety of cultures throughout the development of humanity and look at the variety of foods, and proportions of foods that have lead to incredibly healthy humans.
Biggest take home message… eat real food, don’t get overly dogmatic about your nutritional approach, and get off the grains, legumes, and dairy, and see how you feel…. Also, don’t go low-carb for extended periods of time.