What the heck is Paleo?

For all of my friends and family who have asked me this very question, this page is for you.  I can't count the number of times that people ask me about this "diet" and how to do it (I hesitate to even use the word diet because of the negative connotation with the word.)  Primal eating is a lifestyle choice for me and I choose to eat this way for health and wellness, not necessarily to lose weight.  Although, for those of you who are focusing on weight loss, I will give you tips to help you reach that goal too. So here it is: Your Primal Cheat Sheet.  You're welcome.

“It is better to know nothing than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we constantly seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them.” 
-Claude Bernard in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine

“We should eat what we evolved to eat” 
 - Gary Taubes
“Eat Western diets, get Western diseases”
- Michael Pollen 

What Do I Eat?

Preferably grass fed (if eating conventional meats, buy lean)

Fish & Shellfish: 
Preferably wild caught

Preferably organic & free range
Preferably omega-3 enriched (if you have access farm-fresh is best)

Fresh seasonal produce is best
Avoid corn (after the first 30 days, you can add it back in and see how you do)
Sweet potatoes are better than white (but both are fine in moderation)
Buy organic when high pesticides are known (check out The Dirty Dozen to see which foods you should be buying organic and which are okay to eat conventional)

Healthy fats: 
Grass fed organic butter, organic virgin coconut oil, avocado oil, first cold pressed olive oil, macadamia nut oil, palm oil

Nuts & seeds: 
In moderation
NO peanuts!

Fresh & seasonal preferred
Berries are best

Natural Sugars in small amounts:  
Honey, pure maple syrup, molasses, agave, coconut sugar, ect 

What to avoid:

This includes gluten (bread, pasta, oats and flour), rice, corn, quinoa, barley, ect
After 30 days add back in gluten-free grains one at a time and see how you respond (I eat brown rice, quinoa, and small amounts of corn without a problem but listen to your body)

Small amounts are okay for some people but avoid them for at least a month and add them back in slowly to see if you can tolerate them (I generally recommend you give all this up for 30 days to see the true benefit of the diet)
Only organic full fat dairy is acceptable here after your 30 day detox is up

Unhealthy fats:  
Trans fat (anything that says hydrogenated on the ingredient list), canola oil, soybean oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil

This includes peanuts, beans, lentils, soy 
After 30 days you can add back in lentils and beans and see if you tolerate them
NO soy!  EVER!

Refined Sugar:
White sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, ect

NO processed food! 

Tips for weight loss:
Limit fruit and nuts to 2 servings per day
Cut out all refined sugars
Limit starchy vegetables to once per day
Cut out all grains and all dairy
Focus on functional fitness but avoid "chronic cardio" to keep your cortisol levels in check 

Grains, Sugars, and the Insulin Response: Why We Shouldn't Eat a High Carb Diet Despite What the Government Tells Us

"Just because you can tolerate grains to a certain degree, doesn't mean your body was designed for them" 
- Mark Sisson

"Lowering your insulin is the single most important thing to increase your life." 
 - Primal Body, Primal Mind

Carbs, carbs, carbs.  That's all I hear these days.  Whole grains are healthy right?  Well, no.  You see, all carbohydrates (including that whole grain bagel you are eating) are broken down into glucose which causes a spike in the hormones insulin, adrenaline and cortisol.  "So what?" you might ask.  Well, this constant hormone production (from eating a "healthy" government approved high carb diet) taxes the adrenal system, the pancreas, the immune system and results in inflammation.  

 You see, when we eat too many carbs, the pancreas pumps out insulin.  If the liver and muscle cells are all ready full, the cells start to become resistant to insulin.  Now the pancreas pumps out even more insulin to reduce the toxic glucose in the blood and the cells become even more resistant (type 2 diabetes anyone?!).  Eventually the insulin helps the glucose find it's way into your fat cells where it is stored as fat.  It is not fat that makes you fat, it's sugar.  Even worse, the longer the elevated blood sugar is in your blood, the more it will bind with harmful AGE's and cause clogged arteries and systemic inflammation (yup, heart disease).  Oh, excess insulin also increases cellular proliferation in cancer.  Awesome.

It get's worse:  Insulin prevents sugar and amino acids from entering your muscle cells.  You need this to build muscle.  Well thanks to your "healthy" diet, you now have trouble maintaining your muscle tone.  Other parts of the body think that there isn't enough stored sugar in the cells so they start cannibalizing your muscles to make more sugar.  You get fatter and you loose muscle.  Yes, please!  You loose energy which makes you crave more of the poisonous sugars and carbs that are killing you.  Eventually even your liver becomes resistant to insulin and you end up with thyroid problems which further slows your metabolism.  The pancreas is so exhausted that you eventually have to inject insulin just to stay alive (full on diabetes).  If you continue down this diseased path, you eventually develop nerve damage, pain in the extremities, heart disease, and can even loose your eyesight.  At its' worst, the disease causes a lack of blood flow to your hands and feet which leads to sores that cannot heal and may need to be amputated (I've seen this many times and it does not look fun).  No, I am not saying if you don't do this diet you will get diabetes and loose your legs.  But I am saying that your diet isn't helping America's insulin problem.  In 2005, type 2 diabetes accounted for 22% of all hospital costs (at a whopping $171 billion dollars).  The CDC projects the disease to increase 165% by 2050.  But no one tells you that all of this can be prevented... BY DIET ALONE.  As the old saying goes, "There's no money in the cure!"  

In addition to the problems with insulin, the high carb "healthy grains" you are eating are high in phytates which bind to minerals and keep your body from absorbing them (why many paleo experts call them "antinutrients").  Grains are also high in lectins, which are not broken down during the digestive process and inhibit the repair of the GI tract.  Protease inhibitors in grains further block the digestive process.  So what's the problem exactly?  The large protein particles (especially gluten, a specific protein found in wheat) are easily mistaken for invaders by our immune system and they readily attack them.  The gut becomes damaged over time and a "leaky gut" emerges, which allows things in our gut to leach out into our system that don't belong there.  This is a perfect scenario for inflammation, autoimmune diseases and other problems to take hold.  And, no, you don't have to have Celiac's disease to feel some of these effects.  30 days Paleo will give you a "blank slate" and give you gut time to heal itself.  I've never had anyone NOT notice a difference. 

The typical western diet is rich with omega-6's and deficient in omega-3's (ie high in processed foods and low in wild caught fish). Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in our body.  Omega-6 fatty acids increase it.  The ratio between Omega 3's to Omega 6's should be 1:1.  Most Americans have a ratio of 1:30 or higher!  As far as fats are concerned, the single best thing we can do for our health is to fix this ratio.  We should work to increase the omega-3's in our diet (eat fish or take a high quality fish oil supplement).  A high omega-3 to omega-6 ratio has been linked to higher bone density, lower inflammation levels, a reduced risk for diabetes, and a reduced risk for heart disease.  It might not be feasible for you to eat wild caught fish every day, but purified fish oil supplements are readily available and may be one of the best things you can do for your health (aim for 1-3g per day).

Simultaneously, work to decrease the omega-6's in your diet.  It promotes fat storage, increases hormones that make you hungry, and causes inflammation and diseases in your body.  It is important to note that people with a high fat diet do not get heart disease.  People with a high fat, high carb diet get heart disease.  Eating low carb is scientifically proven to lower heart disease markers (yes, triglycerides & cholesterol...but that argument I will reserve for another time).  

What about saturated fat?  It is a deeply ingrained assumption that saturated fat makes us fat and gives us heart disease.  But this is entirely untrue.  Our bodies are designed to burn fat for energy, not sugar.  Saturated fat is some of the healthiest fat you can eat (and it doesn't cause inflammation like omega-6's).  I have many resources for this so if you want more information just ask.

This is the staple of our ancestral diet.  Do not be scared of red meat!  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I stay away from red meat because my father had heart disease."  It's bullshit.  Empower yourself to look at the research out there.  You will be dumbfounded (Okay, I'll get off my soapbox).  

Grass fed beef is naturally high in omega-3's; grain fed beef is high in omega-6's.  Obviously, grass fed is best but it's expensive and hard to find.  When you eat regular beef, buy lean cuts or trim the fat!

Wild caught fish is highest in omega-3 fatty acids and lowest in farmed pollutants.  It is always the best choice.

Antibiotics in poultry causes a host of problems (MRSA anyone?!) so make sure your poultry label says hormone/antibiotic-free.  Organic is even better if you can afford it. 

Omega-3 enriched eggs help to increase our omega-3 consumption, especially for those of us who don't eat fish frequently.  It's an inexpensive way to get more protein and good fatty acids in your diet.

This is sort of paleo limbo, but many people feel better off dairy.  It also produces a very high insulin response so if you eat dairy make sure it's full fat, organic, and antibiotic free.  I personally stay away from dairy because it's high insulin response is linked to inflammation and I notice my skin becomes very acne prone when I eat it.

I'm gong to put in a snipit about osteoporosis in here because I get this one a lot:  Won't I loose bone mass without dairy?
No.  Keep in mind most people with cardiovascular disease and gluten sensitivity already have a degree of osteoporosis (sometimes osteoporosis is the only symptom of Celiac's disease).  There is also a common feature of hyperinsulinemia in osteoporosis (a hyper excretion of insulin in your body that we just talked about from eating a high carb high sugar diet).  When insulin is high, we secrete cortisol and they work together to leach the mineral calcium from our bones.  Some of the calcium gets secreted into your urine and some of it lines your arteries forming calcified plaques (perhaps this is why calcium supplements are linked to an increase in heart attacks...just saying).  Furthermore, the pytates in grains tightly bind to minerals such as magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, and copper which keeps our body (and our bones) from absorbing them.  The paleo diet provides more magnesium than calcium, which is what our bodies have adapted to for millions of years.  The problem isn't getting enough calcium, it's keeping it.  You can eat dairy all day long but very little, if any, is going to your bones if you are eating a SAD (standard American diet). 

They are a poor source of protein and the minerals in them are difficult to digest.  I don't think I have to point out that they are a major source of intestinal inflammation and distress.  Also, they eventually break down into carbs.  Although they aren't the worst thing you can eat, the nutrients aren't readily digested so you are better off eating other things.  But once in a while some legumes won't kill you.  Just don't make them a staple of your diet.  Get informed but don't obsess.

A note on soy:  Soy has plant hormones that mimic estrogen which has been linked to breast & uterine cancer.  Soy protein formulas for babies is the equivalent of giving them 5 birth control pills per day (talk about giving a baby boy too much estrogen)!  Soy formula has been linked to all kinds of hormonal, behavioral and mental problems later in life.  Giving infants soy formula has been directly linked to ADD and ADHD for example.  Additionally, the isoflavones in soy inhibit thyroid peroxidase, which produces T3 & T4, causing potential thyroid problems (or exacerbating the one's you already have).  Soybeans are also high in phytic acid which, as I just discussed, prevent your body from absorbing minerals.  The worst offender is soy protein isolate (found in protein bars and shakes) because it is processed in a vat of hexane, a gasoline additive that is considered a "dangerous chemical" for use... and we eat it all the time!  Not to mention that MSG is produced by soy and added to labels as a "natural additive."  For those of you who don't know the dangers of MSG, look them up!  It's terrible for you!  When you think of soy, think of the devil.  Sly, cleaver, and tempting, but evil.  Stay away.  Okay, enough said. 

Lifestyle Recommendations:
Exercise frequently at a moderate pace.
Sprint.  Lift heavy things.  Get out in nature.
Get enough sleep!
Reduce stress!
Too little exercise is not healthy but over training, called "chronic-cardio", actually increases fat stores and causes an increase in cortisol production, hunger, and inflammation in the body.  If you think training for a marathon is healthy, think again.  It isn't.  Not by a long shot.
 Oh, and I think we all know that sleeping and reducing stress is healthy so I'm not going to explain it to you.


"Notice that carnivorous animals are never fat, 
where herbivores are"
 "In a world without carbohydrate rich diets, 
obesity would be a rare disease"

- Gary Taubes in Why We Get Fat

The current opinion on obesity is that it is a psychological diagnosis of poor willpower.  In order to loose weight, one is told to take in less calories than they burn or "calories in, calories out."  But this underfeeding never works.  Some overweight folks claim to have a "slow metabolism" yet it is scientifically proven that obese-metabolisms are much greater than lean-metabolisms.  The equation of calories in, calories out seems simple enough in theory but it doesn't work out when it's put to the test with real people (take a good look around you for proof.)

Putting an obese person on a calorie restricted diet (or a calorie deficit diet through intense exercise) will only increase hunger or decrease energy, neither of which produces significant weight loss.  Some people become overweight eating only 1700 calories per day.  But I just said they have a faster metabolism so what gives?  Gary Taubes says in his book Good Calories Bad Calories, "Obesity is not a psychological disease; it is a deficit in fat metabolism."  Obesity is a form of internal starvation.  Obese people can get fat on 1700 calories per day because their body makes fat out of everything they eat but their cells are still starving for internal nutrients.  In turn, they become both famished and tired.  So they are sedentary, eat even more calories, and all of that turns to fat.  And the cycle continues.  

Why do some people get fat on a regular diet and others can eat whatever they want and stay lean?  Insulin.  People who are insulin sensitive can get away with eating high carb diets (for now).  But people who are insulin resistant have chronically elevated insulin levels which causes them to store more fat.  Carbohydrates and sugars, not calories, are the prime suspects for any type of fattening.  Yet, over and over again, we see people going on calorie restricted diets and failing.  Low carb diets have been proven to be more successful than low calorie diets, but the medical community never prescribes them.  In fact, in the last decade, there have been 6 major independent studies comparing low fat to low carb diets.  In every single study, weight loss was 3-6 times greater for the low carb than the low fat diets (they also had better health markers such as lower triglycerides, lower LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, ect.).  Even if you loose weight on a severely calorie restricted diet, once you "go off" the diet, it has been shown that you will quickly gain back the weight you have lost plus more.  In fact, the more times you try to loose weight, the fatter you get.  Is that what you want for your body?  Think about it. 

Famous Dr. Atkins wrote,  
"The main reason low calorie diets fail in the long run is because you go hungry on them.  And while you may tolerate hunger for a short time, you can't tolerate hunger all your life."

Recommended Reading
Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes 

Mark's Daily Apple  a blog by Mark Sisson

Primal Body, Primal Mind by Nora T. Gedgaudas

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