We answer all your questions in Your Guide to Paleo
If you’re new to a paleo diet, you are at the right place to quickly learn what it’s all about.The goal of this document is to cover a large number of topics briefly so newcomers as well as people having specific questions can come to one place and get a quick answer to some of the frequently asked questions about all aspects of the Paleo diet.
This is a work in progress document and new information as well as answers to new questions will be added to it frequently. This is therefore a document you can bookmark and read frequently for updates. The goal is to stay brief so some topics will be subjects to more in-depth articles on the site.
If you have questions, comments or have a question you would like to add to the list, don’t hesitate to contact me about your inquiry.
- What is the Paleo diet?
- What is the reasoning behind the Paleo diet?
- What makes the Paleo diet different from any other diet?
- What to eat and not to eat on the paleo diet?
- What are the benefits of following the diet?
- Can you give a sample of a day’s food on the diet?
- How can bacon and eggs possibly be healthy?
- Is it a fad diet?
- Caveman did more exercise and therefore could afford to eat like he did
- Isn’t sugar natural?
- Didn’t caveman die very young, and if so why should we eat like him?
- Doctors say that too much saturated fat and dietary cholesterol is bad and that one should favor whole grains instead
- How can I stay Paleo when I eat out?
- Can I resume eating a normal diet once I reach my weight goal?
- Aren’t too much protein bad for kidneys?
- Can excess protein lead to more uric acid and gout?
- What about fiber, don’t we need it?
- Didn’t the China study prove that animal protein is bad?
- Should mercury and other toxins in fish be a concern?
- Aren’t ketogenic diets dangerous?
- If we are to eat like our ancestors, shouldn’t we eat raw meat?
- Is there any good books I can read about the subject?
- How much fat, proteins and carbs should I eat?
- Should I take supplements?
- Is there an adaptation period to the diet?
The Paleo diet is a set of dietary and lifestyle recommendations that promotes eating the food that was likely consumed by our ancestors of the paleolithic starting about 2.5 million years ago. Likewise, the foods that were recently introduced with the agricultural revolution are discouraged. The Paleo diet is backed by science, evidence, hard logic and countless observations. The same kind of recommendations are applied to lifestyle habits like sleep, exercise and stress management.
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In their natural environment, animals tend to be healthy, fit and strong and this is no exception for us, we have proof that our ancestors were healthy as can be. Our genes and physiology was formed by a long process of natural selection that makes us better suited to eat the food that those genes evolved with. Likewise, it’s absolutely ridiculous to believe that to be healthy we need food that we didn’t eat for most of our evolution as humans. Drastically changing the types of food commonly eaten lead to the modern diseases of civilization like metabolic syndrome that includes obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and most autoimmune diseases.
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The Paleo diet, unlike most fad diets, is sustainable long-time and promotes health, well-being and longevity. A lot of the diets out there focus on a specific goal like weight loss, athletic performance or disease management. Unlike those diets, the Paleo diet promotes positive gene expression and ideal hormonal balance which leads to ideal general health, well-being, body composition and athletic performance.
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You should eat a diet high in fat, mostly from animal sources, moderate to high in animal protein and low to moderate in natural carbohydrates coming from vegetables and fruits and you can include small amounts of nuts. The preferred fats should be saturated fats like coconut oil, lard, duck fat, butter, tallow as well as monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Read Paleo 101 for the simple 15 rules of the Paleo diet.
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Fat loss, muscle gain, more energy, less stress, smoother skin, better sleep, healthier teeth, stronger bones, better digestion, more fertility, stronger immune system, slowed aging, control or remission of conditions and diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, celiac disease, crohn’s disease, IBD, IBS, leaky gut, heart burn, ulcers, … The list goes on. All those benefits can be obtained without calorie counting or portion control. You can see that the paleo diet is much more than a simple weight loss diet, it’s the diet we’re programmed to eat.
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On a typical morning, you can have eggs fried with butter with some bacon and a portion of homemade liver pâté.
For lunch, you can have a big salad with grilled chicken (with the skin), cucumbers, avocado, some berries and a generous quantity of homemade vinaigrette made with garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.
If you’re hungry in the afternoon, you can snack on some almonds or macadamia nuts or a bowl of berries with some coconut milk.
For dinner you can have slices of delicious grass-fed roast beef with a sauce made with a reduction of homemade stock and the juices of the dish used to cook the roast. You can serve this with carrots and beets roasted with generous amounts of lard or coconut oil.
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If you eat eggs coming from a chicken that was free to graze on pastures, fed a natural diet, not treated with antibiotics or growth hormones and bacon that comes from a pig that was treated the same, both foods are very nutritious, satisfying and healthy.
Egg yolks are full of nutrients as well as omega-3 fat and generous amounts of cholesterol (a good thing). Similarly, bacon is high in healthy saturated fat , which serves many functions in the brain, bones, lungs and just about every cells of the body. Saturated fats should really be your main source of calories.
As for the salt in bacon, know that sodium in an absolute essential nutrient and this is why we like it so much. Granted, it was probably not very abundant for our ancestors and this is why we generally don’t need a lot of it. Having a little extra sodium in the diet than what’s already in the food thus promotes health. It’s when the little bit of sodium becomes a huge amounts that it becomes a problem. The other thing to consider is that sodium has to be in balance with potassium and a Paleo diet with lots of vegetables will be high in potassium.
If you’re concerned about the nitrates in bacon, you can easily find a nitrate-free bacon. Also know that nitrates are a natural compound found in much higher amounts in almost all vegetables.
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This diet and lifestyle are based on the way we ate for more than two million years while enjoying great health. It’s all about natural food you can find in nature, not expensive supplements or complex meal plans. It’s actually about the farthest you can get from a fad diet and in this sense the Standard American Diet is really the fad diet (you’ll see in a couple of years from now).
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It’s true that caveman was more active than our average American today. However it wasn’t his goal and saving the most energy was way more important for survival. He would therefore relax, nap and sleep the most he could. This means that today’s cardio addicts who spend hours training on the treadmill exercise way more than our average caveman.
Going back to our average American who moves and exercises way less than what caveman did, the principles of the Paleo diet become even more important especially in regards to carbohydrate and insulin.
When you exercise a lot, you can afford to eat more carbohydrates in the form of fruits and vegetables because your liver and muscle sugar reserves (glycogen) are more often depleted. When this is the case and you eat carbohydrates, the glucose goes directly to replete the glycogen stores instead of being treated as extra unneeded sugar and sent to your fat cells by insulin.
In this optic, an inactive person should eat even fewer carbohydrates than an active person and sticking to the low carbohydrate principles of the Paleo diet are even more important to keep a good body composition and healthy metabolism.
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Sugar is natural, just like about any plant-based chemical poisons out there. It becomes unnatural when it’s in a form, concentration and quantity that is not found in nature and in nature sweet things like fruits are rare and only available for a short time of the year in most places. The reason why we crave carbs so much is that it’s usually a quite rare macronutrient and it was a good idea to eat a lot of it when we could. Remember that caveman is more interested in conservation of energy than its expenditure. For him, fruits and tubers were mostly abundant near the end of the summer and it was a perfect timing because he could eat a lot of it to pack a little reserve of fat for winter when food was scarce.
For him, getting a little fatter was a luxury that would allow him to increase his chances of survival.
The other part of the story is that most sweet things in nature come with loads of fiber, vitamins, water, antioxidants and phytonutrients. The water creates a satiating effect so you don’t feel like eating that much, fiber slows its absorption which creates less of a sugar spike in the blood and vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients prevent and repair damage and oxidation done by sugar at the cellular level.
Just try eating sugar right off a sugar cane and you’ll see that it’s so hard and fibrous that you won’t be able to get your sugar fix.
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The notion that caveman died very young is one of those myths carried around without anybody that use this argument having any data on it. It’s just part of the general zeitgeist and almost nobody questions it, a bit like the notion that saturated fats will clog your arteries.
If you go down and look at the evidence, you’ll find that people of the paleolithic lived much longer than most people think.
In the paleolithic, the median life expectancy is skewed in a direction because of so many children dying at birth or shortly thereafter. If you have a look at this article from Wikipedia, you’ll learn that if somebody made it to 15 years old, his life expectancy would jump to 39 years old. Then, if you make it to 39, chances were good you would make it until 54 years old.
Only in the last century have we started to have a much longer life expectancy. We also saw a major decrease in life expectancy right around when agriculture was adopted massively. At some point, people were expected to live no more then 18 years. Along with agriculture came along a lot of diseases, wars, famines and inequalities.
The reason why we live longer today is not because we have a better diet, but because people have access to medical assistance, urgent care and most infectious diseases are now well controlled in developed countries. We are now also safe from the dangers of nature like predators, starvation and accidents which were the source of most deaths in the paleolithic.
In the last century, we became really good at making people survive longer, but certainly not thrive. When caveman died of old age, he would be healthy and active up to the very end and we certainly can’t say that of people today.
Without medical assistance people with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidneys problems, liver problems and a host of other conditions would not survive for long and our life expectancy would be much shorter.
Also note that it has only been a couple of decades since we started cutting healthy saturated fats and upping sodas, vegetable oils and carbohydrate consumption to disastrous levels and we already predict that the present generation will have a shorter lifespan then the one before.
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Doctors say that too much saturated fat and dietary cholesterol is bad and that one should favor whole grains instead
You have to be aware that doctors receive very little training in nutrition and that whatever they learn is what regulating bodies agreed upon. The biggest one, the USDA, has a mission to promote commodity agriculture (grains and vegetable oils) as a means to make money overseas.
Also note that doctors are trained with a focus on treating and managing diseases instead of preventing them in the first place. It’s just not what they do.
They get invited to big conventions organized by the pharmacology industry where they are well-treated, receive lots of perks and get to ear convincing speeches about drugs, when the science behind them is often really bogus. What doctors actually go on and read the studies and check the references? Not many of them.
Statins, a cholesterol lowering drug, is a good example. Statins are an absolute abomination and the medical establishment got the facts completely wrong about cholesterol and the heart disease correlation. Statins, however, are the number one selling drug for big pharma and they use all their power to promote statins as much as possible. They even wanted to put it in water supplies!
Also, I don’t know what’s happening with the medical profession today, but every doctor seem to be pressed to stop you from explaining your worries and to write down a prescription to treat only the surface problem while the real cause is often elsewhere. We’re really in a sad state of affair right now.
Also, most doctors won’t even ask about your diet, whatever the problem you describe, while we know very well that a state of health or disease starts with diet and lifestyle factors almost every time. This tells a lot about doctor’s incompetence regarding nutrition and health.
Those are all reasons why doctors telling you to cut saturated fats and to increase your consumption of carbs and whole grains are really ignorant about the effects of such recommendations on health.
With that being said, I want to apologize to all the good doctors out there who really care about the health of their patients and who use real science instead of dogma.
There is also more and more medical doctors getting behind concepts like the Paleo diet and trying to make a difference in this world. Al Sears, Robert Lustig, Mary and Micheal Eades and Kurt Harris are only a few of the vocal minority of professionals on a mission to save the world from the chronic misinformation.
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When traveling, dining out or going to visit some friends, you have a couple of options and your choice depends on your goals and your personality. If you’re like me, you won’t accept any kind of bad food, you’ll be very strict about your choices at restaurants and your friends should already know about your diet or at least know that they should ask you beforehand. This is especially important if you really need to lose weight or if you’re dealing with digestive problems or an autoimmune disease. In that case, just a bit of bad food could set you off in your progress.
At restaurants, simply tell the waiter that you have a serious gluten allergy and that any grain, not just wheat, is possibly fatal. Be serious about it and they’ll know they have to take it seriously and they’ll make sure that nothing that has touched wheat will come in contact with your food. Also ask for your meat and vegetables to be fried or cooked with olive oil or butter and not margarine or vegetable oil. You can use the allergy strategy there too because it works very well. If you want to be even stricter, ask them not the season anything because black pepper and other commonly used spices can often contain traces of gluten.
When traveling and spending time where you don’t have access to any good food like in airports, it’s a good occasion to do some intermittent fasting. I think this is one area where intermittent fasting becomes really useful and will save you from bad food while you know very well you won’t starve. Once you arrive at your destination you can then go out and buy some good food.
If you’re not dealing with any serious health problem, eating out can also be your occasion to give yourself some slack and have a cheat meal. If you suspect being sensitive to gluten though I recommend you stay very strict about it and make sure you don’t eat anything with gluten because just a little bit can do damage that’ll last for a long time.
When visiting friends, you can prepare something yourself and it will be a good opportunity to discuss about your diet, let your friends taste how good it is to eat healthy and you’ll have something to fall back on.
You can also explain to your relatives that you truly believe that the food you refuse is making damage to your health and that it would be like smoking a cigarette just to fit-in.
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This is not recommended and the Paleo diet is not simply a weight loss diet. Of course, you are free to live your life as you wish, but I strongly believe that if you give it enough time you won’t want to go back because you’ll see all the benefits and you’ll feel much better.
When you become used to the food, you’ll find it absolutely delicious. Also keep in mind that eating a paleo diet is the single most important thing you could do for your future and the future of your children, if you have or plan to have any.
It’s your chance to escape from the vicious circle of disease, weight-gain and medical costs. You children will have a better chance in life by being physically fit and mentally alert while cutting the risk to have to go through some of the devastating diseases of civilization later in life.
Be aware that once you’ve become sensitive, a single serving of food containing gluten or a huge insulin spike will do some long-term damage. Hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats as well as trans fats and vegetable oils will do some damage no matter if you have a prior sensitivity or not.
Following the diet only for a limited period of time is certainly good for your health, but I think that now that you’ve been exposed to the truth about food it’s your duty not to deny or ignore it.
Finally, some of the benefits and weight loss will only happen much later in your journey once your gut is completely healed, your hormones are all balanced and you have plenty of the essential vitamins and minerals.
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That has been proven to be completely wrong and is probably a fact that’s being pushed by proponents of vegetarianism or veganism in an effort to demonize animal proteins. There is no scientific evidence behind that claim.
It is true that if your kidneys are beginning to fail, there will be proteins in your urine, but that will happen whether you eat a lot of proteins or not because failing kidneys lose their ability to filter proteins correctly.
Stefansson and his team were monitored during a year of eating almost exclusively meat and animal fat and their kidneys didn’t have any problems. In fact, after a short adaption to the higher protein load, the kidneys were working just as well, and this, for the whole duration of the study.
Stay aware that the paleo diet is not necessarily high in protein, but rather high in fat. In fact, most people eating a paleo diet don’t eat much more protein then someone eating a standard American diet.
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It’s true that excess uric acid can lead to gout. It’s also true that uric acid is produced from the consumption of purines and that purines are found in higher amounts in things like organ meat and sardines, but the amount of purine is minimal in other muscle meat. It’s also good to note that when you eat more protein, your kidneys will extract more uric acid in your urine to compensate. Higher amounts of uric acid is also produced when you eat more fructose and your kidneys don’t compensate this time.
In this optic, eating more protein than a standard American diet and way less fructose (found in sodas and almost all packaged products with high-fructose corn syrup) should actually reduce the uric acid load in your blood.
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First of all, there is no way that we would need more fiber than what we’ve been getting for the last couple million years in nature with a regular consumption of fruits and vegetables.
We also know that we can thrive on no fiber at all without a problem and a lot of meat and fat only traditional cultures have proved that.
In fact, if you eat an excess of insoluble fiber from all the whole grains recommended on a standard American diet, the fiber will actually do real mechanical damage to the colon and more water will be sent to soothe the damage, which will help the stools to pass. This is certainly not a situation I want to be in.
Gut sense goes into detail about this and explains how our colon becomes addicted after a while to all the fiber and that it will take some time and adaptation on a regular, more natural diet, for the stools to become regular and smooth without the heavy fiber load.
Some people will argue that any fiber is useless and that it only adds satiety when it could be replaced by more nutritive meat or fat.
I think that there’s certainly some truth in that, but regular amounts of fiber has been proven to be useful for a couple of reasons concerning the gut flora. Good gut flora will ferment the fiber and produce vitamin K2 and butyric acid which are two factors of good health. Those two nutrients are also found in pastured butter for those interested in getting more.
With that being said, note that the creation of those nutrients will only happen if your good gut is healthy and in the case that the bad bacteria has gained more power, more fiber will only feed it more and aggravate the problem. This is why fiber can be a double-edged sword.
As I think that most people coming from a standard western diet don’t have an optimal gut flora, it would be a good idea not to consume excess fiber and to have large and diverse sources of probiotics help rebuild the good flora before having more fiber.
The vegetable world offers plenty of fiber (i.e. roots and tubers). Did you know that avocados are a very high source of fiber? The fiber in those vegetables is often soluble fiber, contrary to the promoted insoluble fiber which can cause damage.
It is believed by many that the origin of the myth that a lack of fiber is the source of many problems comes from a need to explain why traditional cultures are healthy while we’re not. Governments then simply told the population to cut white sugar and flour and to eat more whole grains and that everything in going to be fine. Not so much. It looks like it never occurred to them that the problem is multidimensional and much more complex. While it’s true that it’s better to eat whole fruits because the fiber slows the absorption of the sugar which diminishes the insulin spike, it doesn’t make grains a healthy choice, no matter the amount of fiber.
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The China Study by T. Colin Campbell seems to be the only one piece of work most vegetarians take as their bible to reassure themselves that they are doing the right thing and that everybody else is doomed.
In a few words, Campbell is accused of having cherry picked his data to prove his theory and plenty of contradictory data was available to him. He also experienced with feeding mice casein (one of milk’s proteins) and found out that they were getting cancer. He then extrapolated and concluded that all animal protein is cancer promoting. This is a major scientific mistake and it’s widely accepted that casein causes problems for many people and this is a reason why dairy is not encouraged on the Paleo diet.
The China study didn’t prove at all that animal proteins are bad.
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While it’s true that fish contains levels of mercury, dioxins and PCBs, the concern as been greatly overemphasized and it turns out that fish is very safe to eat, even in high quantity. In fact, fish offers so many health promoting factors including the famous omega-3 fatty acids that not eating fish is actually a bad idea.
First of all, we have a natural ability to cope with a certain amount of mercury because fish has always contained some amount, even before we came and changed the ecosystem. This is in part due to levels of mercury in the sea because of volcanoes. This might be why most fish contains large amounts of selenium, which effectively binds with mercury and prevent it from binding to other cells like brain cells.
Eating fish high in selenium protects us as well and the selenium cancels the mercury. As long as we eat fish that is higher in selenium than mercury it’s completely harmless for us.
Only a few types of commonly eaten fish have a higher level of mercury than selenium: some types of shark, marlin, swordfish, tarpon and pilot whale. Other fishes are safe to eat and very healthy.
As for PCBs and dioxins, which are other toxins found in fish, you should known that levels of those toxins are much higher in meat, dairy and vegetables. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection of fish also protects us against the effects of those toxins.
You go in a state of ketosis when your stores of glycogen (glucose in the body) are depleted and your body doesn’t have enough glucose for energy and produces ketone bodies from fat as a source of energy. If you eat less than about 50g of carbs per day for a period of time or if you fast, you will go in a state of ketosis.
Some people argue that this is a dangerous, emergency and starvation-like state, but this is completely false.
First you have to make the distinction between ketosis and ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a serious and possibly fatal condition that some diabetics can develop where sugar and ketone bodies get extremely high in the blood because your cells can’t absorb any of them for energy. This creates a blood that is too acidic and is very dangerous and requires emergency assistance.
On the opposite side, ketosis is a normal state and can even be considered the default state of human beings. For millions of years, most humans on the planet were in ketosis more often than not. It’s only when they had access to more fruits and tubers that their bodies would run on glucose instead of ketone bodies.
Everybody frequently goes in ketosis during the night because of the fasting.
Some will argue that while most cells can use ketone bodies as a source of energy, some brain and kidney cells absolutely need glucose for energy. While this is true, the body can easily make glucose for these cells with proteins by a process called gluconeogenesis. Therefore, those who say that a very low carb or zero carb diet is dangerous and unsustainable are wrong.
Furthermore, it as been shown that ketone bodies are the preferred source of energy for most cells and that there are some protective and health promoting effects to being in ketosis.
Since you use stored and dietary fat for energy while in ketosis and the body becomes very efficient with running on fat, you easily stay lean and have a steady flow of energy.
You can use small paper strips available in drugstores to test your urine for the presence of ketone bodies. Some people on a low carb diet will be very happy to see that they are in ketosis for what it means in terms of fat loss. They will then lose their enthusiasm when they see less and less ketone body concentration on those urine testing strips. This doesn’t mean that you’re not in ketosis anymore, but that your body is really fat adapted and that less ketone bodies are wasted.
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The opinions on that matter are diverse and a subcategory of paleo diet adherents only eat raw meat, but I personally think that the best diet would include both raw and cooked meat. We have evidence of early humans cooking their meat dating millions of years ago and it only makes sense that we started using fire to cook our food. In fact, cooking is one of the ways that permitted us to develop such big brains. Fire and cooking helped us become what we are today compared to other animals. We can also link the beginning of cooking around the same time our brain started getting bigger.
The reason our brains got bigger is that it was able to get more energy at the expense of our digestive system. Our brain utilizes up to 25% of our energy and this is unheard of in other species. The way we achieved that is by eating food that was easier to digest. It takes much less energy to digest food that has been cooked (because cooking could be seen as a form of predigestion), and a lot of food also becomes more bio-available. So even though cooked food sometimes contains less nutrients, its easier to absorb and to digest which greatly compensate. Of course, it’s easier to notice this effect with vegetables in comparison to meat. After all, you don’t belch after a raw steak while most people do after raw Brussels sprouts, but I think that even if it’s unnoticeable we still digest it better.
With that being said though, raw meat certainly has its place in our diet. It makes sense to think that even though early humans started cooking their meat, it was probably very gradual and was probably sometimes cooked, sometimes raw for hundreds of thousands of years before it became cooked more often then not. Vitamin B6 gets almost completely destructed by cooking and this is a reason having raw meat, at least occasionally, is a generally good idea.
Another thing about cooked meat that could potentially be negative is AGEs (Advanced glycation end product) which is what happens on the surface of grilled meat and is the same thing that causes our cells to experience oxidative damage. Note that the worst offenders for AGEs in our bodies are excess sugars and especially fructose, not overly cooked meat. I think it would still be a generally wise idea to cook meat with methods that don’t produce much AGEs like slow-cooking, poaching, stewing, braising, … On the flip side, I think that healthy people already eating a good paleo diet have a lot of systems working in their favor to reduce or cancel the oxidative effects of AGEs. Our ancestors probably didn’t cook with anything too fancy so it’s a good bet to think that he often ate meat that was a little burned, but their bodies were well-prepared to cope with it.
An optimal diet would include both cooked as well as raw meat. If raw meat seems a bit too much to you, consider having raw fish and making homemade sushi. If you decide to eat raw meat, make sure it comes from a trusted source and an animal that was pastured and grass-fed. Some people decide to freeze it for a period of time to make sure that it’s sterile. Ask your butcher or farmer about it so you make an informed decision. There is nothing wrong with raw meat when it’s from a reliable and natural source. You can also decide to eat you steaks only very lightly cooked and still rare in the middle for the best of both worlds.
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Some great books were written on the subject in the last few years and I’ll name a few of the most important ones here.
The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson would be, in my opinion, the best book to start with. It aligns perfectly with the values of the Paleo diet and also covers subjects like supplements, lifestyle and fitness. A lot of information available in this book is available online on this site as well as Mark Sisson’s MarksDailyApple.com, but it’s great to have it all organized in a convenient and accessible book.
Primal Body Primal Mind is an interesting book by Nora Gedgaudas that takes a slightly different angle than Mark Sisson and focuses on longevity instead of completely following what our ancestors did. Nothing too drastic though, only even more fat and a little less protein. Another very interesting book.
Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes is for me the book that started it all. Gary successfully wrote a book that became mainstream and that defies the current misconceptions about obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes as related to saturated fat, cholesterol and carbohydrates. While being quite a large book and not necessarily an easy one to go through, it is really a foundation of knowledge and scientific proof behind the concepts brought forward by the Paleo diet. It’s the kind of book that has the potential to influence the scientific community in a good way.
While not being geared towards the Paleo diet neither an easy guide to kick start your journey, it provides very good information to refute anybody who argues with you about nutrition and to bring to your doctor the hope he’ll read it and “get the facts”.
The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is one that goes deep in the subject of vegetarianism and veganism as related to health and environment. Keith, who damaged her health after being vegan for more than 20 years, is very convincing as to why a plant only diet is not a good choice for us or the planet. A good read to also put in the hands of your vegetarian friends.
Nutrition And Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price, which is also available online here should be a required reading for everybody and has helped open the eyes of a lot of people turned Paleo about the value of eating a traditional diet. Weston A. Price was a dentist in the 1920s and 1930s who went and observed a lot of groups eating a traditional diet as well as some groups in the process of transitioning to a more westernized diet. After reading a book like that, you can’t deny the truth about nutrition anymore, no matter how today’s dogma tries to stick with you. Today, the work of Weston A. Price is conserved and promoted by the Weston A. Price Foundation lead by Sally Fallon Morell who wrote Nourishing Traditions, another great book.
Robb Wolf, a well known promoter of the Paleo diet is about to publish a book, the Paleolithic Solution, that will hit the shelves in September, but is already available to pre-order. This should also prove to be a very interesting book packed by a lot of scientific data.
This is the million dollar question and it’s certainly very understandable that one would like to get and follow a magic ratio of carbs, protein and fat to eat.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), there is no magic number to give and everyone promoting the Paleo diet will promote something slightly different or a range to play with.
This makes sense because we all have different needs in relation to our health condition, personal preferences, fitness condition and goals. Our ancestors also ate various macronutrient levels depending of the food available, the preferences and the climate. For these reasons, a one size fits all diet in terms of macronutrients like fat, protein and carbohydrate is probably not a good idea.
The simplest way to do it is to eat what feels natural while including lots of healthy animal fat, animal protein and vegetables as well as some optional fruits and nuts. What I like to promote is to eat high fat, moderate protein and low to very low carb (focusing on vegetables). Carbs, in the form of vegetables, fruits and tubers can be eaten in larger quantity by someone who tolerates them well or who need the energy for long distance and endurance sports. Higher carbs, even from natural sources, is often a player though on difficulty to lose fat or to heal from an autoimmune disease and people suffering from those or who are already insulin resistant from their previous diet could benefit from having minimal amounts of carbs.
Even zero carb can prove to be very beneficial when you take care to eat high quality meat, lots of fat, fish, organs and cook with bones (stocks and marrow). It can be a real lifesaver when trying to heal a damaged gut, but shouldn’t be followed just to feel “pure” about not eating carbs like some vegetarians do about not eating meat.
If we take Mark Sisson’s carb recommendations, which are very reasonable, one could eat between 100 and 150 grams of carbs per day for maintenance, between 50 and 100 grams for moderate fat loss and less than 50 grams for accelerated fat loss. You’ll see that 150 grams of carbs represents a lot of fruits and vegetables, enough to satisfy those who dislike the idea of a very low carb diet.
As for proteins, the recommendations vary between 0.7 grams per pound of lean body weight mass per day to 1g of total body mass per day. On the low end, an individual who weights 180 pounds with has a lean body mass of 160 pounds would eat around 112 grams of protein per day and 180 grams a day in the high end of the recommendation. Those recommendations take for account preservation and gain of lean muscle mass. I would say that if you fall anywhere between this range, you are in the sweet spot for your daily protein need.
As for fat, you should probably have as much as you want and it should be your main macronutrient intake. One easy strategy is to cover your bases in terms of protein and carbs and consume the rest of your calories from fat. Eat until you’re not hungry anymore and don’t count calories.
With all that being said, I want to reiterate the importance of not stressing over macronutrient intake or to start calculating everything. Unless you’re dealing with a specific problem, the Paleo diet should be all about simplicity and flexibility.
This is a subject where opinions are very diverse, but I’ll give you my general recommendations. Read the article on supplementation for more details.
Unlike other diets, the Paleo diet is a nutrition-dense diet and give you all the nutrients you need for good health. After all, our ancestors didn’t need any kind of pills to stay on top of their game.
It goes without saying that some supplements might be in order if you have a specific condition or deficiency.
In my opinion, taking a multivitamin when following the diet is not only wasting your money, but can also have adverse effects.
We are often still victims of hectic lifestyles, lack of sleep, excess stress, polluted air, less than optimal sources of meat and produce as well as a lack of sun exposure. A lot of us are also recovering from years of bad eating and metabolic syndrome. For those reasons, vitamin D, fish oil and probiotic supplements might be very beneficial.
Vitamin D is for supplementing from what you would normally get from regular sunlight exposure. If you work indoors or live in a northern country, I recommend between 1,000 and 4,000 IU per day of vitamin D3.
Fish oil is for supplementing your omega-3 fatty acid consumption which comes handy if you consume lots of nuts and seeds or conventionally raised meat and don’t consume fatty wild caught fish like salmon and sardines on a regular basis. I recommend one to two grams of very high quality fish oil per day in this case.
Probiotics are good bacteria and are important for the health of your gut flora. An unhealthy gut flora is the source of many of the diseases of civilization. Take care of your gut flora and it will take care of you. I recommend to anyone regular consumption of fermented foods like lacto-fermented vegetables (e.g. sauerkraut) or raw and fermented dairy (e.g. yogurt and cheese). For those recovering from their previous diet, trying to lose weight, having external sources of stress or lack of sleep or for those dealing with an autoimmune disease or digestive problem, a high-quality, high-potency, multi-strain probiotic supplement is beneficial in addition to fermented food. Get as much as you can.
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Yes, a short adaptation period of 3 to 4 weeks as you start eating fewer carbs and your body adapts to using fat as a fuel source is to be expected. This will be even more noticeable if you eat a very low carb, ketogenic, diet. This happens when you eat less then about 50 grams of carbs per day. For those first few weeks you might feel lightheaded, have low energy or be a little shaky and irritable.
As soon as your body gets used to using fat as an energy source, those symptoms will go away and you’ll have more energy than ever.
Those that lose a lot of fat rapidly might experience detoxing symptoms because the toxins that were stored in their fat calls get released in the bloodstream rapidly. This is rarely much of a problem other than mere discomfort.
If you’re scared about that adaptation period, the best way is to transition to the diet slowly or slow down when you feel the effects of the adaptation. None of the symptoms of adaptation are dangerous and there is no need to limit them if you’re ready to handle them.
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