There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the paleo diet, this comes mainly from media and the propaganda from multinational food companies, and the dietitian’s that they sponsor …. let’s expose some of these myths about the paleo diet.
1/ Following a paleo diet is not about trying to emulate exactly what people ate in the paleolithic era 100,000 years ago, instead, it is about embracing the principles of eating real unprocessed foods.
Diet’s of hunter-gatherers from around the world are wide and varied, and there is no one perfect diet and it’s a matter of working out the perfect diet for you.
2/ Many people think of a paleo diet as a high meat, and while some cultures around the world like the Masai and the Inuit did consume a lot of meat, most traditional cultures also consumed a lot of plants, roots, fruits, and seeds.
An ideal paleo diet will contain small amounts of meats plus lots of vegetables, plus some nuts and fruits.
It will, however, be lower in carbohydrates than a standard diet that contains lots of cereals, bread, cakes, sugary drinks and other processed foods.
4/ I like Chris Kresser’s approach of calling the paleo diet a “template” rather than a diet, what this means is working out what type of diet works best for you, and this is going to be different for everybody. A strict paleo diet eliminates all grains, dairy, and legumes, and while it might be a good idea to cut them out for a month to see how you feel both mentally and physically, it is also a good idea to add them back in one at a time and see how they affect your health.
Some people are perfectly fine eating some dairy like butter, cheese, and yogurt while for others it will leave them bloated, gassy or cause other health issues. Most people will benefit by eliminating all wheat but some people may have no issues with other grains like rice and quinoa, especially if they are not overweight or have insulin resistance.
Finally, legumes have been eating for thousands of years by many cultures and as long as they are prepared in the traditional way they do not cause problems for many people and can be a source of valuable nutrition, but for some people, they can cause digestion and inflammation issues.
5/ The Paleo template also works for the ideal macronutrient intake, there is no one size fits all recommendation, and this is where genetics has a big influence. Some people thrive on a lower carbohydrate / higher fat diet (I am in this camp!), especially people with a family history of diabetes or obesity in the family, while other people perform better eating more carbohydrates or a higher protein intake.
This takes a bit of experimenting to see what works the best for you, occasionally tracking your macronutrient intake can help you optimize the ideal diet for you, working with a nutritionist trained in ancestral nutrition can help to guide you on the right path.
6/ The Paleo diet misses out on “essential food groups” like grains and dairy, this has got to be one of the biggest myths that are perpetuated by the media and dietitian’s (who are sponsored by multinational food companies who make these foods). For a start, many people who are eating a paleo diet still eat some quality dairy products and the people who need to avoid dairy are the ones who are lactose or casein intolerant and the dairy causes an inflammatory reaction and is not nutritious for that person at all.
As for grains, they do contain some nutrients but they are mainly a “filler” food and compared to vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, meats (especially organ meats and bone broths) and eggs they are a lot less nutritious, and there is no “magic” nutrient that is contained in grains that you cannot get in other foods.
7/ If you are going to be “paleo” that means it has to be all or nothing, while other lifestyle choices like a Vegan diet often mean you need to be 100% compliant, with a paleo style diet you are going to still get amazing benefits by following the Paleo approach 80-90% of the time.
This creates a bit of flexibility during social outings or when visiting friends who may not share the same dietary approach.
8/ Paleo diet is not just about food and it is more of a lifestyle. This means getting good quality sleep for 7-8 hours a night and avoiding screens and bright lights before bed to help bring balance to your circadian rhythm and improve the quality of your sleep.
It also means not sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day plus sitting down while you commute to work for an hour or two a day, a paleo diet involves being active throughout the day.
9/ With anything that becomes popular along comes the commercial products to cash in on the paleo diet, but that does not mean that because a snack bar or treat is labeled paleo that it is healthy.
This comes under the 80/20 rule, and a packaged “paleo bar” would definitely fall into the treat category and is not a health food.
10/ The Paleo diet is a new “fad”, this is the funniest one …. sure the term paleo diet is actually quite new BUT what you eat on a paleo diet has been around for more than 100,000 years and has only changed dramatically with the industrial revolution over the last 100 years or so.
Processed packaged foods, refined flours, industrial made vegetable oils and products with high sugar content like cereals, juices, flavored milk have only been around for a tiny fraction when compared to a real food diet.
Our bodies have not adapted, and I am sure never will adapt to this type of processed food diet which has become the standard diet over the last 50 years, this is why obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions are on the rise despite great advances in our medical system.
If your looking for some inspiration this is a great list of paleo recipe ideas
Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions. As Seen