I believe there is great wisdom in obeying our nutritional ancestry, since evolution has fated our bodies to work optimally under certain dietary conditions. I recommend the basic dietary tenants of The Paleo Diet, but I don’t consider paleo to be “eating like a caveman.” However, when compared to other nutrition protocols and the Standard American Diet, it is the closest thing to our roots.
If you wish to address disease though diet or lose weight or simply feel more vitality, then go for paleo. To me, that means:
- Eliminate grains/beans/legumes, highly processed oils, and refined sugar
- Cook your meals from scratch, using fresh ingredients
- Fill your plate up with a variety of veggies
- Incorporate moderate amounts of sustainably-raised animal products
However – and I’m speaking from my own experience – it’s easy to fall into Paleo pitfalls. Here are 3:
1. Slow down on the nuts and seeds
If you are searching Pinterest for paleo recipes, it often appears that nuts and seeds replace grains in everything. Breads, biscuits muffins, cakes, cookies, crackers and even cereals seem feature ground nuts as the primary ingredient.
While appropriate as a treat (as in, enjoying a couples times per week) nut-based baked goods present multiple pitfalls:
- Nut/seed butters and flours disguise the actual volume of nut/seed consumption. For example, a cup of almond flour contains 90 almonds and a tablespoon of almond butter contains 7 almonds.
- Nuts and seeds were traditionally a seasonal food. For example, almond harvest lasts from August to November and walnuts are in season from November to June (source).
- Nuts and seeds contain anti-nutrients including enzyme inhibitors.
- Nuts and seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Contrary to popular belief, nuts/seeds don’t provide the body with useable omega 3. Instead, most contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids which, when consumed in over-abundance, can impair the body’s anti-inflammatory pathways.
For more details, please read my posts 5 Reasons to Avoid Almond Flour and 3 Things Everyone Should Know about Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
2. Ditch the boneless, skinless chicken breast
A baked chicken breast with some steamed veggies seems paleo-friendly and easy. But, while that meal doesn’t contain non-paleo foods, it’s not quite paleo enough.
As Dr. Weston Price recorded in his landmark book, primitive cultures greatly valued the organ meat and fatty pieces of animals. To make paleo closer to the eating habits of actual cavemen, we should consume animal protein along with the nutrient co-factors found in the skin, organs, collagen and fat.
According Nourishing Traditions,
Protein cannot be adequately utilized without dietary fats. That is why protein and fats occur together in eggs, milk, fish and meats. A high protein, low fat diet can cause many problems including too rapid growth and depletion of vitamin A and D reserves.
I recommend enjoying organ meats weekly, making homemade bone broth, and incorporating grassfed collagen into your diet. Collagen and gelatin contain amino acids that help our bodies utilize the nutrition from meat.
3. Find Your Optimal Carb Intake
Carbohydrates. Oh boy, that’s a topic.
I’ve struggled to find the optimal carb intake for my body. It’s been a struggle because there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Carb needs vary depending on sex, body type, exercise, ancestry, weight loss goals, and more.
I’ve experienced the spectrum: eating both too much and too little carbohydrate on my grain free journey. Now, I think I’ve found my balance… but only after a bumpy ride.
To find your own carb balance, I suggest observing your body’s symptoms.
What are some indicators that you may be consuming too much carbs?
- Using sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, etc) on a daily basis
- High fasting blood sugar in the morning (a glucometer readers over 100)
- Craving something sweet or starchy with each meal
- Feeling tired after meals
- Not feeling hungry in the morning
- Slow wound healing and tissue regeneration (indicates insulin resistance)
How can someone eat too many carbs on paleo? By replicating old eating patterns as a grain-free version. Eating almond flour pancakes with syrup for breakfast, having a tapioca bread sandwich for lunch, and eating sweet potato pasta for dinner is not a balanced paleo diet. When we trip into that pitfall, we often end up consuming too much carbohydrate.
Going paleo requires that you reimagine your meals, rather than just replicating grain-based foods with grain-free recipes. For example, open your breakfast options beyond the realm of traditional “breakfast foods.” Who says a potato-and-veggie hash, or a warming vegetable soup, isn’t breakfast? If you haven’t, please download my free Reset Your Health Guides here to expand your meal ideas.
I found my carb balance by using a glucometer (available here with test strips) to measure blood sugar. I suggest taking your fasting glucose (upon waking, before breakfast) at least a few times per week. For information on the best glucometer and optimal glucose numbers, I used Chris Kresser’s article here and highly recommend it.
If your blood sugar is too high, it usually indicates excessive carb consumption for your physiology, or not eating enough fat with carbs.
Very low carb diets can bring the body into a state called ketosis, where it abnormally burns only fat for fuel. Ketogenic diets are controversial. I consider it an extreme therapeutic diet, and I haven’t done enough research to recommend them, but I can recommend that you don’t to ketosis on accident. It’s a drastic metabolic shift in your body that carries risks and problematic symptoms.
What are some symptoms that indicate you may not be eating enough carbs?
- Feeling dizzy or light-headed upon standing quickly
- Feeling chronically chilled
- Having very cold fingers and toes
- Too much weight loss
What are sources of paleo-friendly carbohydrates?
- Winter squashes
- Starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and parsnips
- Fresh fruit
- White potatoes, if tolerated
Do you follow a grain free, Paleo or Primal diet? Have you struggled with any of these pitfalls?