How to Avoid the Top 5 Paleo Traps & Sustain a Balanced Lifestyle
By: Camille Macres
If you are reading this article, you most likely are already following a Paleo diet. 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 bravo to you, my friend. You may also be part of a crossfit community, or have found some kindred spirits online to share your love of all things caveman. Your job is done, right? Smooth sailing into the land of eternal life and freedom from any possibility of illness? Not so fast.
I returned from Paleo f(x) last month, an annual conference that celebrates and educates on all things Paleo diet and lifestyle. Several of the esteemed panelists, including Dr. Lauren Noel, reminded us 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 5 that I’ve seen and what to do to guarantee a lifetime of Paleo happy-dancing.
Eating WAY Too Much Meat (of questionable quality).
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. It’s best to work with a naturopathic or functional medicine doctor to determine the right ratio for your body, as an athlete or someone prescribed a low-carb or ketogenic diet would require something different, but I don’t suspect many would recommend the 50% (or more) that many are eating now. 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 veggie and green juice, both of which are alkalizing to the body. Adding green juice back into my Paleo diet has rocketed my energy and vitality to the moon. Kiss coffee (also very acidic and can strain your adrenal glands) goodbye and have a morning juice instead.
Which leads to…
Not Eating Enough Veggies!
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.”
Which leads to…
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. You can make kombucha and sauerkraut at home for pennies on the dollar, and when eaten daily, can do wonders for your health.
Lack of Variety/Nutrient Deficiency
I see too many people eating virtually the same foods everyday. Chicken and broccoli at every meal does not constitute a healthy Paleo diet! A test from a holistic doctor will tell you exactly what nutrients you are depleted in, but even without that, 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 “meat juice” or the “elixir of the gods”. In addition to all of the lovely vitamins and minerals, Dr. Lauren Noel explains in this video, that 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! Chris Kresser tells us: “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.
This leads to #5…
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. If you opt to take a food intolerance test, make sure to ask your doctor to use one from Cyrex Labs or Immunolabs, as these tests seem to have the most accurate test results.
In summary, you’re doing great already! Now lets take your epic Paleo lifestyle to the next level! May the force be with you, my friends!! Here are a couple of my favorite recipes from my book, Paleogasm, to send you on your way:
1 pound organic grass-fed ground beef (bison or lamb work, too)
1 cup kale, finely chopped
1 cup carrots, finely chopped
1 cup onions, finely chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons of your favorite spice blend
¼ pound organic beef liver, chopped fine, optional
Salt & pepper, to taste
- Chop all veggies individually in a food processor.
- In a large bowl, combine meat, veggies and all remaining ingredients. Mix well with very clean hands.
- Form into patties and cook in the oven at 450-degrees or on medium heat in a well preheated skillet. Cooking times will vary based on cooking method and thickness of burger.
- Serve with a big, green salad and aioli. Bacon, grilled onions and sauteed mushrooms are always a nice addition, too
Source the best ingredients, and aioli (French for garlic mayonnaise) becomes a true superfood. I don’t personally like the taste of straight olive oil, unless you can find a very mild one (labelled “light”). I love ½ pecan, walnut, or avocado oil and ½ olive oil. You can even use leftover bacon fat for Bacon-aisse! Buy the best eggs you can find, use fresh garlic, and eat with EVERYTHING!
1 cup healthy oil blend (see notes above)
3 egg yolks
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt + more to taste
- In a small food processor, chop garlic.
- Add egg yolks, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and a teaspoon salt and blend about a minute. The yolks will become creamy in color.
- Slowly drizzle in oil blend in opening above (all small food processors should have this for this very purpose). The aioli should be very thick and well combined. Taste for salt. You can also add more lemon or Dijon if you desire.
Buffalo Aioli: Add 1 part sriracha and 1 part white wine vinegar for every 4 parts basic aioli.
Jalapeno Lime Aioli: Add ½ fresh jalapeno to basic recipe with garlic. Swap lime juice for lemon juice.
Moroccan Aioli: Swap 2 teaspoons Moroccan Spice Blend for 1 teaspoon salt in basic aioli. Season with salt to taste.
Lemon Aioli: Increase lemon juice to 2 tablespoons and add 2 teaspoons lemon zest.
Camille Macres is the author of Paleogasm: 150 Grain, Dairy & Sugar-free Recipes That Will Leave You Totally Satisfied & Begging for More. She runs Paleo Living, dedicated to recipes, trustworthy health information and daily inspiration for every stop of your paleo journey and transformation and is the founder of RecipeRX, which creates recipes and meal plans perfectly customized to your health profile.