Those Are Not Paleo Diet Foods! Or Are They?

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I’ve gotten some questions as to why I use certain ingredients in my recipes even though they are not listed as ‘Paleo’ in certain books or websites. They were some great questions, and so I wanted to clarify what I think constitutes a Paleo diet and why I eat what I eat as well as address some big Paleo misconceptions!

 Paleo Caveman Joke

This post also refutes some of the badly researched arguments several articles have made in recent weeks about why Paleo is not a good diet (they’re not really worth reading, but for the sake of being complete, the links are here and here).

You may completely disagree with me, in which case feel free to explain why you feel differently in the comments section.

So, why do some Paleo folks eat bacon, butter, cheese, maple syrup, and salt? I think there are 4 main reasons:

1. Paleo Has Evolved

Even though our DNA hasn’t evolved in the past 12 years, the Paleo diet has come a long way since Loren Cordain first came out with his book, The Paleo Diet, in 2001.

In fact, Loren Cordain has come out with a new revised edition of his book in 2010 and even changed his stance on saturated fats. (He now writes: “The saturated fats you consume from grass-fed beef, poultry, pork, eggs, fish, and seafood will not promote heart disease, cancer, or any chronic health problem. In fact, these foods can ensure your birthright – a long, healthy, and happy life.”)

2. Paleo Does NOT Mean We Literally Eat Whatever Cavemen Ate

 What are Paleo Foods?

It’s almost unfortunate that the diet is called “Paleo” (or “Primal” if you follow Mark Sisson’s version of it) because it has spawn a huge amount of confusion as to what is healthy for all of us modern humans to eat!

The Paleo diet (at least for me) is about learning from our Paleolithic ancestors’ diets and using that as guide to figure out what we should be eating.

So how do we use this Paleolithic guide?

SCIENCE + PRACTICALITY

First, the Science part, and let’s look at BACON! Clearly, cavemen did not eat bacon (perhaps we would have evolved a lot faster if they had done so, but that’s another issue). So, why is it ok for us to eat bacon today?

Bacon is Paleo

It’s likely that our Paleolithic ancestors ate all parts of the animal including the meat and the fat that make up bacon. So what’s different about our modern bacon? Well, it’s generally more processed and is often cured. So before crossing bacon off as a Paleo food just because our Paleolithic ancestors didn’t eat it, we need to figure out whether the processing of the pork to produce bacon is harmful to our bodies in some way. And the answer to that based on our current knowledge of science is that bacon is fine to eat.

Chris Kresser has written several great articles on why the salt and the nitrates and nitrites added into bacon during the curing process are not harmful to us. And if you’re concerned about saturated fat, well, then you shouldn’t be (but here’s an article to allay your fears).

Dairy and in particular, butter, also deserves mention here. Dairy products (especially pasteurized products) harbor a whole host of issues (including lactose and casein intolerance, gut permeability issues, and growth hormones). However, grass-fed, organic butter is often less problematic for people, although there is debate as to whether only ghee (which is a purified version of butter where only the fat is remaining) should be eaten.

Then we come to the Practicality issue. I make no apologies for wanting to live in the luxuries of our modern existence (from my hot running water to my multitude of cooking appliances). Yes, I use electricity too! But that does NOT make me a hypocrite for wanting to follow the Paleo diet.

Paleo Does Not Mean We Have to Live Like Cavemen!

I believe that there are limits to what we can reasonably do to live a healthy life (for example, I am not prepared to learn how to throw a spear to catch a wild boar, because there are easier and less messy ways of exercising and getting food). However, that does not provide anyone with the right to say, “desserts and bread are part of the modern life and I can’t live without them,” because the benefits of giving them up completely are immense!

For me, microwaving, googling for recipes on your computer, eating out at restaurants, etc., are totally acceptable! And even regularly eating non-grassfed meats, non-pasture raised chicken, and non-free-range eggs is totally fine in my books – after all, it’s clearly way way better than eating organic, whole-grain bread!

Having said all that, what about soy sauce? Well, it is not Paleo. It wasn’t around in Paleolithic times, and the current scientific research shows that soy is not good for you (also most soy sauces contain small amounts of gluten too). I could write paragraphs trying to justify why just a small amount very occasionally isn’t going to cause that much overall problems for me, but in the end the simple reason is that it tastes good and it helps me to stay on the Paleo diet if I can season some foods with a bit of soy sauce occasionally (I really hate bland foods). I do occasionally use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce, and I have been considering switching over to gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos entirely.

3. There’s A Lot Of Variation Within Paleo

In many ways, we are all the same, but in many other ways, we are all very different. However, that’s not a justification for the “I don’t get affected by wheat and can eat it whenever I want” attitude!

There are a lot of foods that we should all be avoiding as much as possible! These include anything with gluten, MSG, vegetable oils, refined sugars, and peanuts. Even if you know someone who has lived to be 103 while eating wheat every day, that does not mean it hasn’t damaged their body or their brain in a variety of ways, and that definitely does not mean you won’t experience way worse effects from eating it!

Paleo Foods to Avoid

But then there’s also a lot of foods that some of us may be able to eat but others can’t. For example, if you’re lactose intolerant, then you definitely shouldn’t drink milk! If you have an autoimmune illness, then nightshades may not be great for you in addition to a lot of otherwise Paleo foods. If you have severe gut bacteria illnesses like Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), then you should cut out starchy tubers and fruits.

The reason for this variation between people may be genetic (in the case of lactose intolerance) or may be due to how our bodies have suffered under our prior diets (or even our parents’ diets before our birth). And this variation isn’t all that odd – after all, like various articles slamming Paleo have pointed out, there were significant differences between the diets of our Paleolithic ancestors living in different parts of the world. However, NONE of them ate refined sugars, highly processed and refined vegetable oils, or wheat! And they definitely did not eat all of those things combined together with preservatives and artificial coloring to form cookies, cakes, and candy!

4. Some People Don’t Follow Strict Paleo Diets Because They’re Too Lazy!

Many people think that laziness is the sole reason for why some don’t follow a ‘strict’ Paleo diet, and while I admit this can be a reason (yes, I am often lazy), this is most definitely not the sole reason (see the 3 above reasons)!

Lazy Paleo Dieter

Yep, I’m Paleo…just not at mealtimes. – Click to Tweet

However, if you can commit and stick to 30 days, then the 30 days after that will become remarkably easier. And by the time it’s May, your resolution will be happening automatically.

Maybe I will live to regret my words here (and have to re-explain what I meant like every politician), but these are the views that I currently stand by regarding Paleo and my own health, and I look forward to reading your views on what constitutes “the Paleo diet”!

P.S. In case you were wondering, there’s also no need to grunt when you eat or eat with your hands or eat only raw meat!

Images: Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos SXC.

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{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Jen February 10, 2013, 6:50 am

    I actually think that first article you blew off is quite good, and backs up their point a whole lot more than any of the Paleo bloggers I’ve seen, yourself included.

    Dang, need to rethink what I’m doing.

    Reply
    • Louise February 10, 2013, 7:00 am

      The problem with the first article is that he is attacking an imaginary version of Paleo. For instance, he contends that Paleo requires that you eat a set amount of meat and vegetables. But that’s simply not the case – in fact the biggest Paleo bloggers like Mark Sisson and Chris Kresser routinely encourage eating a lot of vegetables. In addition, arguments that we can’t perfectly replicate what our ancestors ate is not a reason not to try to eat healthier. Sure, most meat isn’t grass-fed (which most of us aim for anyway), but it’s still less toxic and harmful to your digestive and immune system than something filled with gluten.

      I could go point by point through his article, but it didn’t seem like a great use of my time, since he seemed to be attacking an imaginary version of Paleo that neither I nor anyone I know subscribes to.

      Reply
  • Mary @ Fit and Fed February 18, 2013, 5:43 am

    I liked those two paleo critiques that you linked to, check out my comment on the first post if you like. You write that “there’s a lot of foods that some of us may be able to eat that others can’t.” That’s very true! And many things that are cut out of paleo diets in a blanket fashion may be healthy foods for most. For example, I am allergic to peanut, but that doesn’t keep it from being a healthy food for others. I have relatives who have celiac disease and I’ve learned about the genetic markers that indicate possible susceptibility to developing celiac. Those genetic markers are never found in people with certain ancestry, groups from the Middle East who have cultivated grains for thousands of years. It’s a big leap to say that 10,000 years is not enough to adapt to a new food, I haven’t seen proof of it. Certainly there would be selective pressure among dairying and grain-growing cultures to be able to digest milk and wheat. I have to give you credit for reading and including various opinions on diet, it’s such a good idea to keep a wide perspective.

    Reply

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Louise Yang Ancestral Chef

Hi! I'm Louise - I am "beyond gluten-free," grain-free, paleo/primal, a lawyer, an ex-physicist, a cook, a blogger, a Brit living in the US, an ex-violin player, an occasional crossfitter, a mystery book junkie, and of course, I am the Ancestral Chef :) Read my About Me Page for more!

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