First things first: It’s shortly after 90 days since I committed to a Paleo lifestyle and I have dropped 50 pounds! Wooooow! This is amazing! I feel great and have lots of energy. In the past couple of days, I have had a couple of people use the term “glowing” in terms of my skin (and they didn’t mean shiny). It’s good to be healthy.
Okay, let’s move on…
If you are reading my blog, you most likely are already following a Paleo diet (or aspiring to do so). You have also likely experienced a tremendous shift in your health and well-being since eliminating (or at least drastically reducing) grains, beans, sugar and dairy. I know it takes a fair amount of commitment and willpower, especially in those early days, so congratulations to you. Smooth sailing from now on, right? Not so fast.
Since beginning this lifestyle in May of this year, I’ve learned that there are pitfalls to the way many practice a Paleo lifestyle, as well as tweaks and customizations for the individual that must be considered if you truly want to thrive. Here are the top five that I’ve seen and what to do to guarantee a lifetime of “Paleo joy.”
Eating Too Much Meat.
When one first starts out eating Paleo, its pretty common to replace grains with meat as it’s the way your body can still feel satiated. Once the initial transition is made, it’s very important to limit your protein consumption to 20-35% of daily calories. According to Paul Jaminet, author of the“Perfect Health Diet”, the Paleolithic/Cannibal diet consisted of these macronutrient ratios:
- Carbohydrates: 13-20%
- Short-chain and medium chain fats: ~3%
- Other fats: ~60%
- Protein: ~15-25%
There are a several reasons why:
1. According to Jaminet, too much protein is toxic to the body: “At a protein intake of 230 g/day (920 calories), the body’s ability to convert ammonia to urea is saturated. This means the nitrogen from every additional gram of protein lingers in the body as ammonia, a toxin. Clearly, marginal dietary protein is toxic, via ammonia poisoning, at this intake level. A reasonable estimate for where toxicity begins is between 150 to 200 g/day.”
2. All meat is not created equal. The difference between a piece of grass-fed red meat with a nice marbling of fat and a conventionally-raised skinless chicken breast is BIG. Its important to have most of your protein come from the ruminants (cow, bison, lamb, etc), wild or organically farmed seafood and organic farm eggs to minimize polyunsaturated fat consumption and maximize saturated fat consumption (and also balance omega-6 to omega-3 ratios). Choosing organic, pasture-fed and ethically raised animals is crucial for your health, the health of the planet and the collective consciousness around meat-eating.
3. Too much meat can cause digestive distress and constipation if not eaten with sufficient fiber (ref). They say that life and death begin in the colon, and your body’s ability to move your food all the way through in a timely fashion is very important.
4. Meat is acid-forming in the body and many experts believe that disease can only live in acidic states. This doesn’t mean, like the vegan community would argue, to eliminate it. Grains, dairy and sugar are also acid-forming, so the answer lies in balancing your meat consumption with lots of vegetables and green juice, both of which are alkalizing to the body.
Not Eating Enough Vegetables.
In addition to keeping your body alkaline, veggies are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants that you simply cannot find elsewhere. The fiber and water in veggies helps keep your insides scrubbed clean and digestion moving. The color of your veggies is linked to the nutrients therein, so the more like a rainbow your plate looks, the better! Make sure to eat raw veggies with your cooked foods as they may provide enzymes to help breakdown cooked food and assimilate the nutrients. According to The Mayo Clinic: “some enzymes help digest food into simple substances that the body’s cells can use for energy. Other enzymes forge substances within the cells that are unavailable in the diet.”
Lack of Healthy Bacteria
Did you know that your body has ten times more bacteria than human cells? Isn’t that amazing?! There is a bacterial war being waged in your body at every moment. The enemy is fed by antibiotics, sugar, dairy, grains, chemicals and pesticides, while the good guys are fed by probiotics in supplement form and fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. Having strong digestion is the #1 most important factor for good health as all the nutrition from your food is either converted to be used by your body or passed through malabsorbed.
Lack of Variety/Nutrient Deficiency
It’s too easy to get in a rut and be eating virtually the same foods everyday. Chicken and broccoli at every meal does not constitute a healthy Paleo diet! There are some foods that are a MUST to incorporate into your diet.
1. Organ Meats: Chris Kresser reminds us that organ meats are between 10 and 100 times higher in nutrients than their corresponding muscle meats, and a fraction of the cost. They are loaded with vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid and minerals such as copper and iron.
2. Homemade Bone Broth: I fondly refer to bone broth as “the miracle elixir”. I make HUGE batches and drink it almost everyday! I love it. In addition to all of the lovely vitamins and minerals, bone broth is loaded with gelatin, which is great for healing your gut, glycosaminoglycan (GAGS) for joint health and connective tissue health and repair, glycine for mental and emotional wellness and collagen for beautiful skin.
3. Farm Eggs: One of the most annoying myths being fueled by the mainstream media is that cholesterol, and therefore egg yolks, are bad for you. Eggs are super nutrient-dense and may actually protect your heart! One egg yolk provides all 13 essential nutrients, are an excellent source of B vitamins, which are needed for vital functions in the body, and also provide good quantities of vitamin A, essential for normal growth and development. The vitamin E in eggs protects against heart disease and some cancers; eggs also contain vitamin D, which promotes mineral absorption and good bone health. Eggs are rich in iodine, for making thyroid hormones, and phosphorus, essential for healthy bones and teeth.” It is important to note, however, that some people are intolerant to eggs. If you suspect you are, try an elimination diet for a couple weeks.
Ignoring Your Body’s Signals
I know that many of you have been trained to push through hard workouts, you know, mind over matter. Please don’t do that with your body as it relates to food. Even on a Paleo diet, there may still be foods to avoid, and others your body in particular thrives on. The best way to determine that is by checking in with yourself about 20 minutes after you’ve finished your meal and ask: “How is this making me feel?” Since you’ve already eliminated the grains, beans, and possibly the dairy, this won’t be as straightforward, but intolerances to eggs, nuts, citrus, nightshade veggies and shellfish may still be present (you can have intolerances to any food, but these are the most common Paleo foods). You should have energy and feel good when you’re done eating a meal. If you don’t, there’s still something to tweak.