Is It Paleo?

March 3, 2012 in Categories: by

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Ugh!  I hate this question!  Not because there aren’t some interesting gray-area foods worth talking about, but because I dislike this approach to paleolithic nutrition.  When people approach this way of eating with the mindset that “I will only eat it if cavemen ate it”, it starts to feel more like a cult than what paleo truly is:  a sustainable way to eat for optimum health

 I have read dozens of opinion blog posts on whether or not specific foods are paleo.  They generally follow the same argument: archeological evidence suggests that the first incidence of humans eating this specific food is 1) pre-agricultural revolution so it’s paleo, or 2) post-agricultural revolution so it’s not paleo.  One blog post in particular comes to mind about kombucha (a fermented tea that is delicious, fairly low in sugar, and packed full of probiotics and beneficial yeast).  The author stated that since paleolithic man didn’t ferment his own beverages, that we should not drink anything fermented.  This ignores the fact that our ancestors’ diets were extremely rich in probiotics and beneficial yeast (these healthy microflora coated almost everything they ate), while also being devoid of things that kill these healthy organisms in our guts (like grains and antibiotics).  Our modern diets are the opposite:  rich in stress, gut irritating foods and medicines that kill off our gut microorganisms, while offering little opportunity to replenish the gut with the diverse microflora that we need.  This blog post also ignored the fact that paleolithic man almost certainly did eat some fermented fruit when it was in season (probably got good and drunk on it too).  It’s this over-simplified approach to evaluating the benefits of individual foods that frustrates me.  We can’t simply ask whether or not our paleolithic ancestors ate a specific food.  Certainly, we need to assess foods in the context of similar foods that our ancestors had access to, but the real question that needs to be asked is:  is this food good for you? 

This isn’t a simple question and it embodies a whole host of other, more specific questions.  Does this food cause inflammation?  Does this food prevent inflammation?  Does this food irritate the gut?  Does this food heal the gut?  How does this food affect metabolism?  How does this food affect hormones?  Does this food affect neurotransmitters?  Does this food contain nutritive value?  Sometimes, the answers are hard to find and require combing through scientific literature.  Sometimes, the answers change as more evidence comes to light (like chlorella which was initially considered to be a good source of DHA and several minerals but is now known to express the same gut irritant (lipopolysaccharide) as E. coli). 

While the question “Is It Paleo?” still bothers me, there are many foods that do require close scrutiny to evaluate whether or not there should be a place for them in our diets.  So, I am launching a new section in my blog to ask this question about a variety of specific foods.  But, like the scientist I am, I’m going to answer the question, not by whether or not cavemen ate it, but rather by evaluating just how good or bad for our health this food really is.


yes!! i am so glad you are addressing this, i hate that question too!! i think one of the beautiful things about “paleo” is that it is a very conscious and thoughtful way to eat and live – if you’re asking the question, then you’re just simply not being ‘thoughtful’ and probably hoping that you can “get away” with something because it isnt in some rule book somewhere – fat chance!!
i think its best for people to ask themselves “is this food/lifestyle choice going to make me ‘more healthy’ or ‘less healthy’ ” deep down, most of us probably already know the answer – but if we dont, then yes, i LOVE the idea of letting research and real evidence be the guide – instead of just a simple yes/no type of rule with no real thought behind it.

thanks again, looking forward to it!!

We have been on the Paleo diet since January 2, 2014 because half the church we attend has been on it for about a year with amazing health results plus weight loss. I have lost 14# and I absolutely love the healthy foods we are eating. We do not miss any of the forbidden foods. There are just a few things I’m not sure of and will purchase the book soon. Thanks for guiding us to good health….we feel great.

I think it’s unfair to say that all people eating Paleo should “know” which foods are and are not Paleo. We’re all learning and trying our best (this is on response to one of the comments.) I for one, have been eating Paleo/AIP for quite a while due to severe autoimmune disease. So this diet, for me, is not a fad. It’s a necessity. I know I recently posted the question on your page if psyllium husks were Paleo. Not because I care if they are Paleo as much as I wondered if it would be likely to give me a flare up. Some foods are more of a surprise than others so let’s just be patient with each other and not get quite so irritated. I do, however, appreciate this post given that Paleo can become such a fad that we lose sight of the real benefits!

*i had also come across a recipe online labeled “AIP” that contained psyllium husks. But they sounded much like a grain which for the most part, I get flare ups from.

I do not see psyllium listed specifically in her book as a food to avoid, but since it is a seed I would assume it is not AIP compliant. Other seeds and seed oils are listed as foods to avoid.

Your blog honestly answers all my questions regarding a paleo diet template. The way you back up everything you say with scientific evidence and rationality really backs up these beliefs. I have even managed to convince my dad to give up his daily bread by directing him to your website! Thanks again for doing an amazing job to raise awareness for a wholefood approach, keep doing what you’re doing! :)

Perfect! Thank you for your article on eggs. While paleo, I tested highly reactive which was a mystery… Until I read your post.

Jen!! Thank you for your post! I also am eating this way because of severe issues. If I have a flare up, I am in excruciating pain! My acceptable food list is a total of about 10! That’s right. I live on 10 different foods. Everyday is the same. I am away on vacation right now and all my prepared foods are gone. I don’t have my book with me, nor do I have access to a kitchen to prepare something as I would at home. So I thought maybe I could try a lara bar and hopefully not end up on the floor moaning in agony. I know dates are a sugar, but when you are desperate, you take the lesser evil. Unfortunately, I’m not perfect. I don’t remember everything I need to, but I certainly try. Thanks again Jen. Good luck to you.

Could you tell me if breadfruit is AIP friendly? Thanks in advance! And thanks for doing all that you’re doing! So helpful to so many of us! I am deeply grateful.

I bought the Sarah’s AIP cookbook the first one and searched the e-book version for the word breadfruit and did not find it, so I too would like to know if Breadfruit os AIP compliant as well? In many south pacific islands it is the primary organic vegetable/fruit not shipped in, so please advise if you get a chance.

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