So, What Exactly IS Paleolithic Nutrition?

November 6, 2011 in Categories: , by

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I generally find that most people back away slowly when I start talking about this great new way of eating I’ve found.  My husband acts like I’ve joined a cult or something.  I like to think that I am too critical of a thinker for that and that, although he is one of my heroes, I would not follow Robb Wolf to an alien spaceship in the sky.  But I digress.

As I mentioned before, it wasn’t just weight loss that led me to paleolithic nutrition.  I suffered health issues, from IBS to migraines to asthma to psoriasis to anxiety, not to mention a worthless immune system (which is very inconvenient when living in the petri dish like environment that life with two young kids emulates).  Paleolithic nutrition can completely resolve these conditions (which it has for me already) as well as many others.  It also dramatically reduces your risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

How does a diet address so many different health issues?  These diseases have root causes in common; including gut irritation, high baseline inflammation and insulin sensitivity problems.

So what do you get to eat?  The short answer is fresh, whole foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables of all kinds, fruits, nuts and seeds.  There are ALOT of wonderful meals you can make using these foods.

What foods do you avoid?  Don’t be afraid.  This sounds worse than it is.  A paleolithic diet avoids all grains, legumes (including soy and peanuts), dairy (except butter, ghee and heavy cream), modern vegetable oils (like safflower and canola), and processed foods.

A few other important factors are avoiding excessive salt, refined sugars, too many carbohydrates (but this doesn’t need to be a low carb diet!) and also trying to balance omega-3 vs. omega-6 fatty acid intake.  I’ll cover each of these in detail in future posts.

Why these foods? A paleolithic diet is one where you eat modern foods similar to what humans ate over the 2.5 million of years of evolution from apes.  The hypothesis is that these are the foods that our bodies evolved to use for optimum health.  As such, a paleolithic diet  avoids eating foods that only became part of the human diet after the agricultural revolution 10000 years ago, which coincides with the advent of the “diseases of civilization ” (such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease).  The rationale is that the diet and lifestyle of hunter-gatherers is responsible for their apparent health (although they did still lead dangerous, brutal lives).  While we can’t truly test the hypothesis that these foods are what kept cavemen so healthy, there is a wealth of scientific research to support that the foods excluded in the paleo diet are, at best, nutritionally poor and, at worst, harmful to the lining of the gut, disruptive of normal hormone levels, and proinflammatory.  This way of eating protects the digestive system from harmful proteins that cause inflammation (like gluten), protects the kidneys, liver and pancreas from getting overworked and restores balance to your body.

There are many ways to implement paleolithic nutrition, so you can really make this work for your specific needs. As I tweak my own implementation, I am enjoying learning about the detailed biochemistry and physiology of why certain foods are good and others are bad.  If you are also a nutrition nerd, there are some great websites out there to peruse.  I suggest starting with www.thepaleodiet.com, www.robbwolf.com, and www.paleodietlifestyle.com.

Comments

Just have to say that your blog is SO helpful to me! I have been suffering with so many stomach issues for the past several years. In fact I haven’t felt like myself in the past few years because of the issues. I read your post on how gut health is related to mood..and I just cannot believe how many of the negative symptoms I experience on a day to day basis. I am reading pages and pages of your blog and learning a ton. I was eating so much vegetarian type foods-soy, beans, legumes, grains…because I thought that was the proper way to eat. But the proof is in the pudding..my gut has been the worst its been in years. I want to learn to start eating paleo. I avoided meat for so long because I didn’t know where to find organic/grass fed meats. But now I am on the search because I want to see a change in my body, I also have a baby 5 months old whom I want to grow big and strong, with a good foundation on healthy eating. Is there anyway you could give me your email so I could ask you some more questions? Or could you email me your email @ alison_armstrong@hotmail.ca Thank you so much!

Hi – I noticed your muffin recipes include honey or even brown sugar as a sweetener – so you can use them in paleo? I might have to try them with stevia. Thanks, Bev

I’m very new to this, but I haven’t found the answer to this question. Why exclude milk but include cheese and butter? Aren’t they the same dairy? Thanks.

Usually cheese, yogurt, kefir and milk are excluded, but butter and heavy cream are included. It’s because the sugars and proteins in milk can be a problem for so many people but when eating grass-fed dairy, the fats can be very healthful.

Using any form of dairy is cheating and not Paleo.

Same with the sweeteners. None are Paleo, except maybe honey. That is the only kind of sweetener that can be “hunted” or “gathered.”

There are some paleo proponents who allow raw milk and raw milk cheese from grass fed cows, this is what I do, but in moderation.

Hi, sorry to ask this but my body, with my current way of eating, puts weight on very easily. I just worry about all the fat. I am very keen to change my way of eating and life style as I really do suffer wih IBS, but I have struggled with my weight for so many years I’m kinda worried about putting my faith into another idea only for my body to reject it. Can you give me any reassurance?
Thank you
Lx

Eating fat will not make you fat. Your body needs to produce insulin in order to store energy, so excessive carbohydrates are the problem. My favorite resource for understanding all of this is probably eatingacademy.com I also recommend the documentary Fat Head. I definitely recommend giving paleo a try. I had IBS for 12 years and my symptoms resolved in 3 weeks.

Your right kdaug! Evolution from apes is an un proved theory! Why are apes still around if they truly evolved into humans?! So
simple, yet people still miss it!

I agree Laurie. People have only been on the earth for 6000 years. If that’s true about the evolution from apes why isn’t it still happening? However the diet makes sense and i do know of people who have benefited from it. It’s actually a well known method of eating! Keep up the good work and encouraging people to eat this way.

Amen kdaug! I don’t believe the whole we came from apes, but I am gad you don’t have to have that belief to be Paleo, or in our case Paleo”ish” My hubby has gluten intolerance and my son may have celiac disease, so I am thankful for sites like this that help me with budget, recipes, etc. So I just ignore the references to humans from apes or that we have been around millions of years. Thank you Sarah B for the great blog!

I have to agree. While your posts are informative and the diet is a realistic health option, you need to present this idea from the perspective that all humans do not believe the same things. We could have also evolved from bananas and pigs, but as a ‘spiritual’ person, I highly doubt that, but have no intention of writing a blog and telling people as ‘fact’ Hey, you are a spiritual being with a soul, not an evolved ape…. or banana.
on a side note, Thank you for posting how this diet helped you.

Hi, I stumbled across your web site through Pinterest. I’ve tried a couple of your recipes, in fact, I have the snicker doodle batter in the fridge chilling as we speak. I can hardly wait to try them. I have been eating Paleo for about three years, although I’m not as strict as I used to be, especially when I go to parties or out to dinner. I love the diet, though, and would never go back. I HAVE started to eat some dairy, especially yogurt, since I think I need the probiotics and calcium that are in it. It doesn’t seem to upset my system, but I was wondering about your thought on yogurt. Do you think a little carton of yogurt each day is very harmful? ….Thanks!
Susan

Hi I really like your recipes even though I am not following this diet. I don’t think I like to keep out entire foodgroups but I like a good recipe when I see one :-) and you obviously love food and cooking. I am just so curious about the paleo line of thought. Isn’t the reason why people in those times did not have our modern diseases just that they died long before they were old enough to get them? And that there was no air pollution other than an occasional volcano outburst? I’m just wondering if modern day pollution all around you isn’t more harmful to your organs than eating grains and legumes? I am just honestly curious, not a sceptic or something. Thank you, I am enjoying your recipes very much.

I think you make good points. I personally think vaccines, gmos and other toxic things we are adding to our life assist to create a lot of our health problems. Which is one of the things that make this way of eating so beneficial for us. We, my family, will not exclude certain food groups but we will limit them. My husband is a Type 1 diabetic and going paleo”ish” has helped him a lot. We aren’t super strict, but even limiting his gluten has helped with his asthma and other things. So being more strict I am sure will help even further. We also stopped vaccinating, but for the children that already received their vaccines the damage was done. There are so many chemicals and crap in them that they do a lot of damage to our bodies. We will still keep in legumes in moderation and we like hummus and kidney beans. But you take steps to prep them to rid of the things that can irritate the gut. I am not claiming to know a lot about the paleo lifestyle as I am just getting started with it myself for my family. But these are some of my thoughts. I do not believe there is one cure all, be it diet, meds, supplements, etc. But for us a combo of diet and whole food supplements to fill in the gaps are the way we go.

I just came upon your website. I am 48, never really have followed a specific diet. I have had Crohn’s disease for 30 years. I have been suffering lately with a very sore and sensitive GI. Hoping for some advise….where do I begin?

I’m confused about Paleo eating because if you look at so called primitive societies they don’t hunt everyday: it’s dangerous, only a few people (men and older boys) typically can do it and it’s unreliable. Even fishing is seasonal and in winter it is dangerous. So day to day primitive societies eat vegan i.e. their fall back position is to eat the food they can gather i.e. fruit, veggies, nuts. Gathering is seasonal too, but there is always something edible (see Amaranth, the global protein, or American groundnuts hunted in December). Everyone in the tribe can gather, from old people to children, and when we look at primitive societies that is what happens. Gathering is what everyone does every day. Hunting is something men and boys do, often more for recreational purposes than for basic sustenance. Meat is eaten on special occasions or when the hunt has been successful. The whole tribe piles in and eats the meat until it is gone. And then it’s back to eating vegan again.

The same basic pattern repeats 10,000 years ago when humans invent agriculture: wealth is stored in herd animals, so killing and eating their meat is saved for celebrations. Day to day it’s vegan food that people eat, with grains and legumes now taking center stage. Eggs are available in spring and summer, but with no refrigeration meat is a rarity. In some parts of the world preserved dairy (cheese) and meat (sausages, duck confit) are used to flavour legumes (e.g. bean casseroles) and the regional starch. All over the world, in every culture (except eskimos) we see the same pattern: the day to day staple is a legume paired with a starch, with meat as an occasional/rare treat. Even today, in societies untouched by western life, you can still see this pattern: the global default is a day to day vegan diet supplemented, where possible, with meat. Meat is scarce and people and societies stay healthy as long as this pattern is followed. Break the pattern by eating meat every day and ill health steps in. Meat is too rich for the human body to consume every day. It’s an aberation, from an evolutionary perspective. So why do Paleo people eat meat every day? Please explain which cultures were able to eat every day (aside from Eskimos who interestingly have adapted biologically over millenia to survive on a diet so alien to the human body).

Meat is more abundant in hunter-gatherer populations than what you summarize above, but you’re right that times of scarcity and low meat were common, depending on the area of the world. This is one reason the paleo community embraces intermittent fasting. But, there also does seem to be some benefit to the occasional protein fast. Perfect Health Diet have a great post summarizing the diets of different hunter-gatherer populations. You might also enjoy checking out Real Health Source, Raw Food SOS, and Mark’s Daily Apple for more on this topic.

I need your help big time to identify the situation. I have these small pimples kinda thing in 2002 (discharge, itching and blood oozing out sometimes). I tried seeing doctors but i suspect that none of the docs were able to get to the root cause. I suspect that i have psoriasis. I came across to your website. It seems that my condition was just like yours. I hv taken excess of medicines from md doctors. Tried Ayurveda, and probably tried all home remedies, but all in vain. M sick n tired of this illness. Please help.
Cutting it short if, you can reply me over email and ill send you all the details.
Thanks and regards,
Sagar
jems.n.crystals@gmail.com

Hi,
Im wondering if goat cheese is okay on paleo? I avoid cows milk But I do indulge in feta cheese and chèvre on à Daily basis.. What is your opinion? Cheers!

This paleo thing is intriguing, its just a little overwhelming. I think I will start small and gradually cut more and more out. My only hang up is the fact that I don’t eat meat….occasionally chicken but it to seems to gross me out these days. Any advice?

Do you eat fish? eggs? I think if you’re eating fish, you’re good to go. Otherwise, being grossed out my meat can be a sign of poor digestion and it might be worth investigating digestive support supplements.

Hi Sarah,
I am interested in trying paleo diet, but I have a question. What is the reason behind eating butter and heavy cream but avoiding milk and cheese. I only eat goat milk and cheese, I also eat grass fed butter and ghee but for me they are all “dairy”. So I am just trying to understand the reasoning behind seperating dairy into categories and avoiding only some of them. I ate a no grain, plant-based diet with eggs, ghee, and some goat cheese for 2 months and that worked well for me. But I want to understand paleo diet and try it for a month as well. Just want to understand it before I start.
I would really appreciate your response
Thanks
Olivia

Hi Sarah,
I’ve been following your blog and have a few questions for you. I went gluten and dairy free last year because I had a ton of acid reflux and stomach pain, (not to mention anxiety, migraines, asthma and allergies.) My reflux and stomach pain resolved with this way of eating along with probiotics and other supplements, that helped heal my gut. I also went off my antidepressant about that same time, but the anxiety just kept getting worse along with developing depression, so I had to go back on my anti-depressant. I saw your Pizza Hut post and am wondering if you eat the pizza too and what that does to your gut? I thought once I healed my gut, I could add some gluten containing things back in(Iike pizza). This way of eating is depressing me and making me feel isolated, especially with my family being non-paleo. And thinking of never eating regular pizza again is very depressing. If you could email me that would be great kelbelle_@hotmail.com Any help you could give me would be so appreciated.

Sarah is very sensitive to gluten, she does not consume it. Regarding dairy, some people are able to incomporrate that into their Paleo diet. You can read more about dairy here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/10/the-great-dairy-debate.html Sarah discusses the challenges of eating Paleo when the rest of your family is not here: http://www.thepaleomom.com/2012/03/how-to-eat-paleo-when-your-family-is.html Perhaps you can find a Paleo meet up group in your community? Also, you may want to to join The Paleo Approach Community on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/TPACommunity/ For further medical guidance, Sarah recommends both http://www.paleophysiciansnetwork.com and http://www.primaldocs.com as excellent directories for finding qualified health professionals in your area (and many of which can work with patients long distance).— Tamar, Sarah’s assistant

Sarah, I am wondering if you have found that your symptoms of anxiety have improved or gone away? How long did it take before you noticed this? I am following the Paleo diet (AIP protocol) for eczema and anxiety. I have had anxiety for about 10 years, and have been on antidepressants. I am hoping that I will be able to eventually get off the antidepressants. I know each person is different, but am wondering if you could share more of your personal experience in regards to anxiety and paleo. I bought your book but am still waiting for its delivery (I live overseas). Thanks for all you are doing to help others of us get healthy!

I have struggled with anxiety since 2004 and I hate it! It interferes with so much. I am very interested to hear how paleo contributed to healing anxiety disorders. Please email me some more info. I would do anything to be anxiety free!

Sarah, I am just beginning to read about this diet. I love all things nutrition. I just learned a FACT. We need B12 and it can ONLY be found in meat or things that come from meat. It is not found in fruits, vegetables, water, the sun….. nowhere. It is found in meat. Also, B12 can’t be stored in the body. We use it up. I guess vegans have to take a supplement, or either they succumb to the sicknesses brought on by a lack of B12: depression, lack of energy, ….. I just found this interesting.
I plan to learn more about this diet, and in the meantime, I will be eating more fish, beef, eggs, chicken….

I love your blog and recipes! I have been contemplating adopting the paleo lifestyle for some time now. I am lactose and soy intolerant so as it is my body is clearly sensitive and this change would likely greatly benefit me.

My only concern is I am extremely active and a runner. I did a 30 day cleanse back in October (which is how I discovered my intolerances!) and basically was only eating vegetables and lean protein like fish and chicken. My energy level plummeted by the second week I was so exhausted that walking up stairs was enough to do me in. Once I added a few carbs it was night and day. I rely now on complex carbs like brown rice and quinoa and whole grain bread. I am terrified to make the transition and possibly relive those few weeks. I am training for my first half marathon and I want to give my body what it needs but I’m so confused what thy should be!

You will need to eat more carbs on your Paleo diet than someone who is less active, so you may include more fruit, starchy vegetables or vegetables with a higher starch content in your meals. Some also include white rice. Practical Paleo recommends about 300g of carbs per day for athletes, but I recommend whatever intake seems to work best for you. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

Hi there! My family and I have made the switch to Paleo and are enjoying it. I have two young ones and I am concerned that they are not getting enough calcium. I serve calcium dense fruits and veggies like oranges and kale but I know we are not eating enough to meet the daily recommended value. We are drinking coconut milk (unfortunately) until I figure it out. Any advise would be helpful!

~Paula

Thanks for the introduction to Paleo! I kind of needed it to be honest with you, found the post and your blog quite interesting! I have been on a vegan cleanse but the truth is, I dont think i can stay vegan (although i like the benefits) and seems like Paleo would be more my kind of style. Ill be looking through a little more in your blog and the extra posts you put through but this was a great intro for me so thanks :)

So I am starting down this road and here is the roadblock I have. I have an autistic daughter who is 5. She has texture issues and like a lot of autistic kids loves processed foods. She is very limited in food choices because of having sensory issues with texture especially in her mouth and it can be like pulling teeth to get her to try anything. We work on all of this all the time but I already feel like she doesn’t eat enough and I feel if I take away all the stuff she won’t eat at all. So, have you or any of your followers come across anything like this and what advice do you have for helping us transition keeping her unique issues in mind and keeping things quick and simple? Thanks in advance for your help.

Hi Sarah

Because I live in the back end of nowhere (Scotland), I had never heard of the paleo diet until I washed up on your website today. I got here because I was trying to figure out the connection between beans and grains in relation to autoimmune flare-ups.

The reason I was doing this was because I have had SLE (Lupus) for 17 years and have always known that what I ate had a very marked effect on my symptoms. I started excluding beans from my diet very early on, after I read in an old science dictionary that immunologists use haricot and kidney beans as an antigen in their experiments. If beans provoke the immune system, it made sense to stop eating them. And it worked – flare-ups were reduced.

Over the years I have been experimenting with my diet and continuing to improve my symptoms to the point where lupus now has very little impact on my life. My body has now become so sensitive to annoyances that my nose runs if I am eating something it’s not going to like – a useful early warning system! My most recent experiment has been with gluten-free, which has had marvellous results. I was on the internet today trying to figure out why popcorn, which is gluten-free, produced a flare. Now I know.

Although my diet is broadly similar to paleo, it’s not quite so strict as it has been very much tailored to my own experience. And also, for the most part, kept secret from the rheumatologists who have been treating me. When I first mentioned my findings about beans to my doctor early on, he raised an eyebrow and moved on to the standard questions about mouth ulcers and hair falling out (none of which I have ever suffered). Attempts to discuss my ideas have always met with the same condescending attitude that either thinks I’m mad or delusional or in denial about my illness, and ‘lupus and diet’ internet searches always drew a blank.

So independently of the doctors, and anyone else, I came to the conclusion that there are a range of proteins which my guts can’t cope with and which cause damage to the connective tissues therein, causing stuff which shouldn’t be in my bloodstream to leak out and cause an autoimmune reaction.

I was so relieved today to discover that this wasn’t just my own mad theory, and that actual scientists like yourself have come to similar conclusions. I have the greatest admiration for your patience and scientific rigour in investigating autoimmunity and diet – some of the posts on your blog have actually made my brain hurt! And whether or not the diet has its theoretical roots in paleo-whatever doesn’t really matter – what does matter is that it works.

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