Are you trying to follow a truly Paleo diet? Recommendations for the Paleolithic diet, or Paleo, have become increasingly complex. You might find it hard to choose, when any two Paleo “experts” seem to disagree on many points. Or you might find it so restrictive that your diet is getting boring.
You are told you should have a diet as close to your ancient ancestors as possible. Even now, primitive societies do not have the big killer diseases that modern man on the Western diet does: Heart attacks. Stroke. Diabetes. So that makes sense.
You have read about the basic foods and what they contain. That usually means no gluten. No carbs. No grains. No sugar. No dairy. Nothing artificial. That makes sense, too.
But then it gets crazy. Do you go by what the scientists have found in ancient Paleo man sites? Do you stick with the foods that are the modern-day versions of the foods found by those researchers — lots of meat, whatever plants the could find evidence of in the ancient campsites, nothing else.
Or do you go for big variety? Paleo “bread,” snack bars, bacon, and jerky — the promise that you don’t have to give up the tastes you love.
And what about that rumor — that Paleo man ate more carbs than we thought?
Most people’s idea of Paleo isn’t really up to date
Loren Cordain, the author of the first Paleo Diet book, looked at diets of present-day hunter-gatherer groups that don’t suffer from Modern Man’s diseases (heart disease, diabetes, stroke). His book guesses what the diet of our ancient ancestors would be, based on hunter-gatherers plus research about fossilized foods at Paleo man’s campsites.
The result is a diet heavy in meats and vegetables, and some fruits. But this has not been updated with more recent research about Paleo man and carbs. They have found:
- Extra genes for starch digestion, acquired before man started growing grains
- Some kind of high carb crackers at campsites
- A Paleo cache of seeds including the ancestors of wheat and barley.
So it looks like Paleo man gathered and ate more grains and starch than most people think.
Why “Paleo Certified” might or might not help
Groups that certify Paleo started with items that the Paleo approach emphasizes: low or no carbs, no gluten, no sugar, no dairy, nothing artificial. But they expanded it to include bars, jerky, sugar in other forms (like honey and agave), and added flavors — almost anything as long as it matches the “no” list.
So a lot of items that our ancestors never came in contact with are certified. Including items recommended by newer Paleo bloggers.
And they may ignore new research because it goes against their own specifications.
Which means you probably aren’t going to see grains or high carb items included in “Paleo Certified” items.
Why the best version of Paleo should include carbs
Those carbs should be complex carbs, like whole grains. No flour made from grains.
They should be low glycemic, which means they are digested slowly, and do not affect blood sugar levels very much.
If you’re just looking for weight loss, most versions of Paleo will work. But for health problems, make sure you include their solutions:
- Digestive trouble? Gluten-free grains and seeds, and dairy-free are important. Sometimes oats and barley can help here.
- Are you low in vitamins or minerals (especially potassium)? Lots of veggies and fruits needed. Potato skins are rich in iron, potassium, and magnesium. Sweet potatoes and yams have fiber and carotenoids to help.
- Diabetes? Concentrate on low glycemic ingredients. Wheat is not so good here but other whole grains can be added, in small amount.
- Autoimmune? Watch the gluten and dairy. Grains that you use should be gluten-free.
- Food sensitivities? Be obsessive about no artificial flavor, color, preservatives and none of the foods giving you trouble.
Keep checking for new research to see if you should change some parts of your diet in the future.
Should you create your own Paleo program?
Like the rest of your life, if you want a perfect fit, you need to personalize your diet. Just make sure you are following the guidelines that fit you, not the ones that are for the “average American,” whatever that is.
- Start with the original Paleo Diet.
- Make a list of specific problems and symptoms that get in your way.
- Match them to research that shows ways to fix them.
- Add changes that match you better than the original diet.
- Don’t be afraid to add more carbs in the form of high starch grains and potatoes, as long as they match your requirements.
- Track the way your body reacts. If it does not improve enough, keep looking for other ways to fix the problem.
- Rinse and repeat.
Creating your Paleo plan
If you are reading this, you have probably been dissatisfied with your Paleo diet. You know what you wanted to change, but were afraid to. You wondered if you could modify it in some way. Now you know how to, in a way that makes sense and works best for you.
You know why you are on this diet. You know which parts you have to stick to, and where you can — er — cheat.
You know the basics to stay with when you go grocery shopping, cook, eat, or go to a restaurant.
You know how to tell whether you should change some part that is not working. And how to do that.
So now’s the time to experiment. Carbs are just one of the list of possibilities.
If you aren’t feeling as good as you thought you should, drop the things that don’t fit your body.
Fine-tune everything until your Paleo diet fits your modern day body.
And enjoy your personal Paleo plan!