PALEO PROTOCOL QUESTIONS
What Should My Macronutrient Ratio Be On A Paleo Diet?
This is a common question on the Paleo diet. How many protein, carbs, and fat should you consume? High carb or low carb? High fat or low fat?
Paleo tends to provide adequate levels of the various macronutrients without much “thought” required. Once you leave behind the confusing signals of processed food and refined sugar, and balance blood sugar levels, you will likely find your body naturally tells you what to eat. Cravings become signatory of actual nutritional needs, rather than junk food-driven assaults from your brain’s reward center demanding another hit of dopamine. (I find that I now specifically crave protein, fat, or carbs based on the current nutritional need of my body).
If you do want to measure macronutrient intake, focus on adequate protein as a foundation – around 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. Fill out the rest of your daily food intake with fats and carbs from there, based on your preference. Eat to satiety.
I personally choose a higher fat, lower carb approach, favoring green vegetables and oils, rather than fruit and starchy Paleo-friendly carbs such like sweet potatoes and squash. I love the consistent energy levels that come with functioning almost solely from fats, and it pairs especially well with my fasting habits. That being said, you can definitely do a higher carb version of Paleo with starchy veggies. The increased insulin sensitivity from Paleo makes the body more adept at utilizing carbs to replenish muscle glycogen and fulfill nutritional needs, rather than merely storing them as fat. Feel it out for yourself. Focus on adequate protein, and then see if you function better on more fat, or more carbs.
Can I Have Cheat Meals?
Although I have definitely indulged in my fair share of them, I strongly advise against cheat meals, at least as a “written” part of your protocol. Cheating tends to keep cravings present, making the transition to Paleo uncomfortable and postponing your ultimate freedom from grain and sugar addiction. Furthermore, an introduction period (preferably 30 days) is vital to eliminate all potentially problematic and inflammatory aspects of your diet. Seemingly minor exposures to problematic foods can yield substantial allergic and immune responses, so cheating here and there while transitioning can sustain inflammation.
But most importantly, if you do indeed cheat, don’t beat yourself up! You’re only human! And don’t fall into the “I just had a cookie so I might as well eat EVERYTHING I can since I already messed up" mindset. You’ll feel better the day after a minor slip than a major one. If you broke your arm, would you say “well, might as well break every other limb since I’m already broken?” Doubt it.
What Should My Macronutrient Ratio Be On A Paleo Diet?
In a perfect world, a whole foods diet would provide all the nutrients we need. However, much has gone askew in our modern, processed world, so this isn’t necessarily the case. Toxins and skewed Omega 3/6 ratios in food, the chronic stress of modern life, the influx of antibiotic use, and high grain intake have all lead to damaged guts less adept at nutrient assimilation. Supplements can fill in gaps and deficiencies, enhance performance, and just increase vitality in general.
Of course there are many supplements out there (coming from a supplement freak here), so what’s most important? It varies based on your individual needs, but here are my three favorites if I had to pick: Omega 3 supplementation via fish or flaxseed oil is helpful in balancing the inflammatory Omega 3/6 ratio of today. A Probiotic is good for restoring healthy gut flora. And if you’re not getting sunshine (at least 10 minutes or so a day), definitely consider some Vitamin D! Beyond that, feel free to research and try different supplements to fit your individual needs! (I'll be including a rather extensive supplement review section in the book.)
PALEO FOOD QUESTIONS
How Much Fruit Can I Eat On A Paleo Diet?
The amount of fruit to consume on a Paleo diet sparks constant debate. To be completely clear, fruit IS Paleo. It is a whole food, and definitely the route to take for those moments you’re hankering for something sweet. That being said, present day fruit has been selectively bred to be quite sweet, at the expense of nutrients. (The banana, for example, is a selectively-bred seedless, sterile fruit which was originally inedible due to its seeds). As for the sweetness, fruit is notably high in fructose, which is processed primarily by the liver and encourages fat storage, fails to instigate satiety signals, and contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (It is also unreliable for refilling muscle glycogen specifically, if such is your intention. Starchy vegetables are a better route for that.) Non-organic fruit is also often coated in "nontoxic" toxic pesticides, as well as wax to retain moisture, protect it from bruising, and make it look pretty.
The amount of fruit you consume will likely depend on whether you choose a higher or lower carb Paleo approach. I’ve been low carb for so long, that I'm much more comfortable without fruit, which tends to spike my blood sugar, especially if consumed when fasted. The most Paleo-friendly fruits are low in sugar but high in nutrients and antioxidants. This include berries (raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.), apples, pears, and grapefruit. Avoid high glycemic index fruits such as melons and bananas, and especially refined versions of fruits such as dried fruit or fruit juices, which often feature higher Glycemic Indexes and less nutrition.
What's The Deal On Dairy?
Dairy makes the “maybe” list, and is widely debated in the Paleo world. It's not "Paleo" in the sense that Paleolithic people did not consume it (besides breast milk I guess). Beyond that, many people react negatively to dairy. Those who are lactose-intolerant lack the enzyme needed to break down the lactose (sugar) in milk, which can lead to digestive issues such as gas and bloating. Others are allergic to the casein (protein) in milk, which can be a potent histamine releaser. Still others are allergic to whey. Cheese can also be extremely addicting on a neurological level. It contains casomorphin peptides (protein fragments coming from casein) which have an opioid-like effect on the brain. (When I found that out, I was just like, "that makes so much sense"). Milk is also highly insulinogenic, promoting insulin release and inflammation. Lastly, dairy increases mucous production and may encourage acne.
I recommend excluding dairy completely for the first 30 days, and then reintroduce it if desired to see how you react. If you eat dairy, favor organic, raw, and fermented varieties. Full fat yogurt with live cultures is also good for repopulating gut flora.
How Will I Get Enough Calcium Without Dairy?
Adequate calcium intake builds strong bones and teeth, while supporting nervous system, heart, and muscular health. Calcium needs to be properly balanced with magnesium (1:1) and vitamin D to ensure proper absorption. Paleo foods rich in calcium include many nuts, vegetables, and oily fish; magnesium is found in many nuts and vegetables; and vitamin D comes from sunshine and oily fish. Eating a mixed Paleo diet thus encourages an ideal calcium/magnesium/vitamin D ratio for proper calcium absorption!
A Paleo diet is also one step ahead with calcium, by encouraging its absorption. Anti-nutrients in a typical diet (such as phytates in grains and legumes), too much salt, or even too much fiber, can actually encourage calcium excretion. And while dairy provides an abundance of calcium, too much calcium at one time from dairy may actually reduce its absorption by up to 75% (since you need other co-factor minerals with it).
What Are Nightshades?
Nightshades are a group of plants containing naturally occurring “soapy” alkaloids called saponins, which primarily serve as protective mechanisms in the plants against fungi. (They get their name from the "soapwort" plant used to make soap). Common nightshades include sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant.
Saponins may irritate the respiratory and digestive tract, inhibit digestive enzymes and nutrient uptake, encourage leaky gut, and yield an immune response and inflammation. As not everyone reacts negatively to nightshades, feel free to reintroduce them individually after 30 days of strict Paleo, and see how you react.
Cooking nightshades can help neutralize negative effects.
What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Cruciferous vegetables are a group of veggies containing protective chemicals called glucosinolates which notably affect the thyroid. Common cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and Bok Choy.
Glucosinolates act as goitrogens. They can inhibit direct thyroid processes, and also block iodine absorption necessary for proper thyroid function. The thyroid gland produces the thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3) hormones which affect metabolism and energy production, protein synthesis, body temperature and heart rate - not things you really want to mess with. Anti-thyroid compounds may also encourage goiter, an enlarged state of the thyroid, while iodine deficiencies may slow sexual and mental maturation. An estimate of more than one billion people are at risk of thyroid disfunction.
In fact, research suggests we even have a taste receptor which detects glucosinolates in food. If you’re particularly sensitive to gluconsinolates, foods containing them may literally taste more bitter to you.
Although cruciferous vegetables are quite nutritious, you may not want to binge on them per se, especially if you react negatively. Cooking cruciferous vegetables can help neutralize negative effects.
Can I Use Artificial Sweeteners?
The various artificial sweeteners on the market interact differently within the body, and vary in their effects. While most are low on the glycemic index and do not substantially raise blood sugar, they still are typically processed, chemical creations (aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, etc.) meaning they're not "Paleo" in spirit. Recent studies suggest they may negatively affect the gut microbiome as well.
Ultimately, using sweeteners (even natural ones such as Stevia) may mimic nefarious food habits (such as the desire for sweet things and dessert) and can keep cravings present. If you must use artificial sweeteners, err on the side of more "natural" and avoid added fillers. I recommend stevia, followed by ethryitol or xylitol, if they do not cause you GI distress.
Can I Use Natural Sweeteners Like Agave Syrup or Honey?
Agave Syrup is bad news. It can be up to 90% fructose, which encourages fat storage, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and a multitude of other nasty things.
As for honey, it's sort of like refined sugar created by bees, and I really don’t recommend any sort of refined sugar to sweeten food, even if it is “natural.” Sugar in general is pretty nasty stuff, and things like honey just stir the fire. Nutrient wise, there’s nothing special in honey that you can’t get from whole foods. That said, if you have stable blood sugar levels, and find you can consume honey without cravings, feel free to use it in small amounts. Manuka honey is particularly known for its medicinal properties.
What's Up With Omega 3/6 Polyunsaturated Fats?
The Polyunsaturated Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats (PUFAs) are the two essential fatty acids (EFAs) necessary for health which the body cannot produce on its own, and therefore must be obtained from diet. Omega-3’s contain Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) and are found primarily in fish (such as salmon, herring and tuna), with vegetable sources including walnut and flaxseed oil. As for other meats, beef is higher in Omega-3s than poultry. Omega-6 fatty acids contain Linoleic acid (LA) and are found primarily in seed and vegetable oils (such as corn oil, soybean oil and safflower oil). Omega-6 fats are notably concentrated in processed foods.
While both essential, Omega 6s are pro-inflammatory, while Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory. Historically, hunter-gatherers consumed these fats in a balanced 1:1 ratio, negating any negative effects. Today’s modern diet rampant in grain, wheat, and seed oils, however, has encouraged diets high in inflammatory Omega-6s and low in anti-inflammatory Omega-3s. In fact, the typical Omega-3/6 ratio of today’s Western diet may be as high as 16/1! Even sources of Omega-3s such as meat have become skewed towards the Omega-6 side, thanks to grain-based diets fed to the animals. This high Omega-6 diet supports constant inflammation in the body. The increased levels of Omega 6s have been linked to the pathogenesis of many cardiovascular, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, as well as cancer. (On the flip side, increasing Omega 3s shows a protective effect against such diseases).
To help balance your Omega-3/Omega-6 ratios, minimize grains and vegetable/seed oils, and favor fatty fish. You can also take fish oil supplements.
What About Fiber?
Fiber refers to indigestible carbohydrates found in the cell walls of plants. Although fiber adds no real caloric or nutritional value to food, it can serve as a bulking agent (good for satiety), regulate digestion, and feed gut flora. There are two types of fiber: soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, and insoluble fiber, which does not. Soluble fiber bulks up in your system, while insoluble fiber basically passes through unchanged.
If you’re wondering where you’ll get fiber without grains, consider the data. Calorie for calorie, the amount of fiber in green vegetables far outweighs that of grains. On a 100 calorie basis, bread contains around 1.5-3 grams of fiber, while green vegetable such as broccoli, spinach, and lettuce, contain 7-10 grams. Paleo foods high in fiber include green vegetables (broccoli, lettuce, brussels sprouts, etc.), squash, sweet potatoes, avocados, and fruits such as apples and berries.
And all that being said, fiber's benefits may be overhyped.
PALEO DRINK QUESTIONS
How Much Water Should I Be Drinking?
People ask me this a lot. Before the Paleo diet, I often wondered if I was "drinking enough water." Now, the question seems almost odd to me. When you're not consuming processed foods high in sodium, while also eating hydrating whole fruits and vegetables, the water water thing becomes second nature.
Basically, drink so you don’t feel thirsty. If you’re thirsty, drink water! The body is pretty good at relaying thirst signals, which don’t get screwed up like food signals. Don’t fear the water, but don’t stress about filling some magical water quota either. Contrary to popular belief, thirst does not mean you’re already dehydrated.
One thing to note is you may need more water if you're doing a super low-carb version of Paleo. Glucose is stored with water as glycogen, while fat is not. Low carb diets thus require more supplementation with water. (This is also why you can quickly lose or gain a good amount of "weight" unnaturally fast when shifting between low carb and high carb. The initial weight change is mostly water.)
Can I Have Tea Or Coffee?
You can definitely have tea and coffee on a Paleo Diet!
Tea boasts many antioxidant, anti-aging, and other health benefits. Besides its cognitive benefits from caffeine, green tea in particular contains a catechin called EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a potent antioxidant, with strong anti-cancer properties which may inhibit fat gain and reduce fatigue. Green tea also promotes cardiac health, reduces oxidative stress, and helps regulate cholesterol.
Coffee, the world's second beverage behind water, yields many health benefits but also problematic side effects. Its active compounds include caffeine and chlorogenic acid. Coffee consumption can help reduce oxidative stress, support brain functioning, and may be preventative against diabetes, cancers, Parkinsons, and Alzheimers. On the other hand, too much coffee consumption may raise cholesterol, instigate cardiovascular problems, and encourage jitters and insomnia. Coffee's high caffeine content also easily promotes tolerance (so you require more and more to reach the same "level"), as well as withdrawal symptoms if you cut it out.
The benefits of tea and coffee seem to outweigh the side effects, if consumed in moderation. Just make sure you don't load them with with cream (if you're avoiding dairy) or artificial sweeteners. If you must sweeten them, try more Paleo-friendly sweeteners such as stevia.
What Is Bulletproof Coffee?
A lot of people in the Paleo community consume bulletproof coffee: coffee with a tablespoon or so of added MCT oil or ghee/butter. Many find it leads to more sustained energy levels throughout the day, with less jitters and "crashing." I used to partake, and liked it (The butter thing sounds weird, but it actually makes the coffee quite creamy and tasty.) Bulletproof coffee is also highly satiating. See This Post for all the details on Bulletproof Coffee!
What About Juice Cleanses?
I’m on the fence about juice cleanses. On the one hand, if you’ve been following a typical Standard American Diet, and then do a juice cleanse, you'll likely see benefits. The nature of the cleanse eliminates a vast amount of problematic substances ingested before that point. The inevitable calorie restriction can also be a good thing.
If you’re already Paleo however, it’s more of a grey area. With juice cleanses, you’ll be running almost entirely on sugar (even if you’re only drinking “green juices.”) However, deleterious effects from sugar may be negated by the calorie deficit, since all ingested fuel is likely burned immediately, leaving less room for damage.
Personally, I think juice cleanses might be good if you're the extremist type (like me) who needs something “drastic” to change your mindset, or if you need some sort of “cleanse” to transition into a healthier lifestyle. I doubt juice cleanses will harm you, and they may help you - I just believe their benefits may be attributed to the wrong reasons.
What About Alcohol?
In some Paleo protocols, alcohol is a no-go. Yet studies consistently link moderate alcohol consumption to a myriad of health benefits, specifically heart health and longevity. I vote consume alcohol in moderation if you so desire.
Red Wine in particular enhances health, thanks to its many polyphenols (such as resveratrol). If you prefer something stronger, choose clear liquors (gin, vodka, tequila, etc.) sipped straight, or paired with non offensive mixers like club soda and lime. The Norcal Margarita is a common drink in Paleoland, consisting of tequilla, lime juice/pulp, and club soda to taste.
PRACTICAL PALEO QUESTIONS
How Long Will It Take Until I Experience Benefits From Paleo?
It's hard for me to give a personal testimonial on this issue. I had cleaned up my diet substantially via low carb before starting Paleo, which was kind of like the icing on the cake. So if you're already low carb, or sugar/gluten free, the transition may be a breeze! My sister, for example, originally went gluten-free before trying Paleo. It took her a few months to adjust to gluten-free (still consuming sugar and other processed foods), but then just a few days for Paleo. My mom recently tried Paleo (so exciting), and said she experienced benefits within a couple days!
As my friend Kara says, "That's a hard question to answer. In some ways the answer is about 5 days, once the bloating from my crap diet went away and I kinda magically got a bit leaner. In some ways the answer is it took me closer to a year to really embrace the life style and stop cheating so much. And in some ways the answer is that sometimes it's still hard and can backfire, especially if I'm training and go too low carb accidentally."
So from the many Paleo testimonials I’ve read and from friends’ experiences, expect to see changes in a few days at the earliest, a few weeks at the latest! If you're starting cold turkey from a Standard American Diet, you'll probably get your first boost of motivation in a few days, once, as Kara noted, the bloating from a processed diet subsides and you get magically leaner all of a sudden. (A good moment indeed!)
I Just Started Paleo And I Feel Like Crap. Why?
If you’ve never been low carb before, or aren’t very accustomed to using fats as fuel, you may initially experience “low carb flu” when first starting Paleo. These are withdrawal-like symptoms of fatigue as your body protests giving up sugar as fuel. (Like a crying baby.) Don’t worry - they WILL go away! If you stick it out, your body will up-regulate metabolic pathways for using dietary and body fat as energy, and you’ll eventually experience an amazing, sustained energy free from blood sugar crashes and constant hunger. The struggle is completely worth it! (And not everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms - I didn’t when I first went low carb.)
How Do I Shop Paleo?
When shopping Paleo-style, you'll mostly walk around the outer perimeter of the store, in the produce and meat departments. Venture into the aisles for healthy oils, or a nice bottle of red wine. Avoid buying things with added ingredients. Think of yourself as a modern day hunter gatherer, seeking out fresh food! Of course you can also stock up on frozen veggies, and buy meat in bulk. And consider trying out a local farmers markets!
Check out How To Shop, Paleo Style for more tips!
How Will I Have Time For Cooking Paleo?
Just because you won’t be eating instant microwave meals or many packaged foods when doing Paleo, doesn’t mean it has to be time consuming! It simply requires a re-evaluation of the situation and a bit of pre-planning. Many fruits, vegetables, and oils are ready-to-eat in their present state. As for meats, you can always cook a large amount at once and refrigerate/freeze leftovers for later. Places like Trader Joes have many great easy to make meal options, especially frozen ones.
Consider new methods of cooking. I love using a steamer, for example. Not only is it a super healthy way to cook, but it’s super easy as well! Just throw in meat and veggies, and let it handle the cooking! Crockpots are a great way to throw in a bunch of ingredients in the morning, and come home to a yummy dinner! The George Foreman grill is also a lifesaver. And I recently purchased an Instant Pot pressure cooker which is super awesome.
And of course, if you try out Intermittent Fasting, then you'll probably gain time when all's said and done!
Isn't Paleo Expensive?
Just because you can’t live off ramen noodles and cereal while living Paleo doesn’t mean Paleo has to be incredibly expensive. First of all, you won’t be stocking up on a myriad of snacks, so that saves money right there. You won’t be buying overpriced packets of candy here and there. You don’t have to worry about filling the cart to the brim with a never-ending supply of things that look good that you’ll “probably” eat at some point, but then just end up going bad. Paleo forces you to shop wisely. Since it’s mostly meat and produce, it requires you to shop on a more immediate basis. You’ll likely use everything you buy without much waste, if any. Stock up on frozen veggies, and buy meat in bulk. Your fridge and freezer are your friends! Check out How To Shop, Paleo Style! for more tips.
How Do I Eat At Restaurants On The Paleo Diet?
This is probably the one question which turns out to be the easiest. Dining out Paleo-style really isn't difficult. Most restaurants have meat and vegetables somewhere on the menu, and you can usually substitute to “paleo-ify” a dish. (Don't feel bad about special orders - you're the customer!) In fact, eating out Paleo-style is probably easier than most "diets," because you don’t have to gauge calories or scrutinize portion sizes!
How Will I Live Without Sugar, Cake, And Bread?
When I say my favorite meal used to be pasta, coca cola, and cake… I mean my favorite meal used to be pasta, coca cola, and cake. I could NEVER imagine a world without carbs and sweets. The idea of not choosing a pasta dish or saying no to dessert was laughable. Preposterous. Not gonna happen. I though people who engaged in such actions were “born that way” as health freaks. Yet today I do it with ease!
It's all about reprograming your body and brain. Grains and sugars (i.e.: carbohydrates) are hard to resist because our body likes being lazy and utilizing glucose for fuel. Once it adjusts to running on fatty acids, carb cravings diminish. Furthermore, refined and processed foods are hard to give up because they trigger dopamine reward pathways in our brain - the same ones affected by alcohol and drugs.
If you abstain long enough and eat healthy, nutritious, whole foods, you can change your body and mind! You really will be able to pass on grains and sugar without experiencing an insatiable longing. Five years ago, I would have laughed at such claims, but I now experience them first hand. I'm even at the point where I can aesthetically and "vicariously" appreciate such foods, without feeling deprived, lacking, or wanting. Since my body is accustomed to running on fats, and I've reprogrammed my brain's food reward system, I no longer crave such foods. Honestly. It can happen!