The Paleo diet has been gaining in popularity. I see many patients come into my office having tried it, but not quite getting the results that they hoped for or expected. Based on their experiences, I wanted to share what I think are the top 5 mistakes people make on the Paleo diet.
- Not eating enough vegetables. Meat & veggies are like yin and yang to each other. There’s evidence that the antioxidant chemicals in vegetables are what helps reduce the potential cancer-causing properties of meats. (Read more in this article I wrote after the WHO linked meat to cancer and nearly broke the internet.) I like the hashtag Stacy Toth at Paleo Parents uses on their Instagram account #morevegetablesthanavegetarian. Could you say the same about your plate?
- Not fully eliminating grains for at least 30 days. I see some folks who say that a Paleo diet didn’t work for them and then upon further investigation, they are still ‘cheating’ with a slice of pizza or having oatmeal for breakfast. Or maybe they are trying, but haven’t checked other foods for hidden gluten-containing ingredients- like sauces and salad dressings. As a functional medicine doc, I use a Paleo protocol as a way to jump start healing of a leaky gut and to reduce inflammation. The interaction of gluten proteins with the lining of the gut is happening on a microscopic, cellular level. This means, any amount of grains is too much. (Certainly if you can see enough of it to put it in your mouth it’s too much!) I support folks experimenting and finding out what works best for them and even finding ways of ‘relaxing’ a bit about food, but this should come after a full elimination period. So if you don’t see the results you want after 30 days on Paleo, but haven’t been honest about grain consumption, well please don’t tell your coworkers that Paleo failed you and is somehow all bunk. Ditto all of the above for dairy.
- Still relying on processed foods. Because of the increased popularity of the Paleo diet, a whole cottage industry as grown up around making Paleo processed foods. It’s a nice convenience, but it can be a reason people don’t achieve the results they want. Paleo bread might not have wheat or other grains in it, but the food has still been processed since it’s original form. As I tell patients- there is no Bread tree or plant that one can simply go and harvest loaves of bread from- Paleo or otherwise. Also, if you’re constantly making treats or using lots of almond flour to ‘bread’ things, you may be very quickly and easily exceeding your needed caloric intake with the fat content of the almonds (Fat is like what your first grade teacher said about glue- “a little dab will do ya!“) The goal is to have most of your food come from WHOLE sources with the most ‘processing’ it having gone through before you put it in your mouth is when you cook it. Beware of any foods that come in any package- but particularly a bag, a box or a can. If it bears a government-mandated nutrition label, that’s another clue that it’s no longer a ‘whole’ food. It’s not that these foods should never be apart of your diet, but the majority of your food intake should be real, whole sources, not processed foods.
- Not finding your best macronutrient ratio. Many folks assume Paleo is “low carb” or just another form of Atkin’s. I think that what sets a Paleo diet apart from just another Atkin’s diet is the emphasis on food quality and vegetable intake and also the emphasis on flexible macronutrient ratios. Though a Paleo diet is “low carb” compared to the S.A.D., the amount of carbohydrate can be flexible and based on an individual’s needs. For example, I think of 100-150g of carb/day as the ‘sweet spot’ that will be effective for most people, while still helping to maintain thyroid and adrenal health. However, in someone who is trying to address blood sugar issues or pre-diabetes, they may have a period where they need to go lower than that with their carb consumption in order to see results. Once they restore insulin sensitivity, they may be able to handle a slightly higher carbohydrate intake. The point is, we see a variety of macronutrient ratios in the diets of healthy, traditional cultures. Do some experimentation (with real, whole foods!) to find the ratio that works for best for you and bear in mind that this ratio may change as your health status or goals change.
- Not giving it enough time/expecting the quick fix. A Paleo diet can do wonders and change lives in very short order. But- usually when it has amazing results it’s because a person is reasonably healthy and still has good metabolic flexibility to begin with. If you have a chronic health condition that you have been trying to address for years, it’s not realistic to expect to see everything to be reversed within the span of a month. Many patients come to me with weight loss as their main goal. If they have had a pattern of chronic inflammation and immune system imbalance, it often happens that they have to heal from that before they can take on weight loss in a healthy way. Fat is the like an energy savings account for the body. If your body is getting constant signals that it is in crisis mode, needing to survive, it’s not going to give up or dip into that critical savings account easily. Be patient. Focus on healing and improving your health. Paleo is not another crash diet to try for short term results, but a sustainable philosophy and way of eating that can have powerful & positive impact on your life.
I’d love to hear what you think. Have you made one or more of these mistakes yourself? (I know I have!) Is there another mistake you think people more commonly make than one of these 5? Let me know in the comments section!