Although I don't consider Butter Nutrition a Paleo blog, there is a very large overlap in my nutrition philosophy and the popular diet. Please note this is not an anti-paleo diet post, but more so about common Paleo diet problems that require course correction.
Paleo diet: The hottest dietary trend
There's no doubt that the Paleo diet was the most popular diet in the United States in 2013, and it keeps gaining momentum by the day. According to an online study by professor Hamilton M. Stapell, "Based on the limited data available, we estimate the current size of the ancestral health movement within the United States to be between one and three million people." That is quite a few people jumping on the ancestral diet trend, and for good reason...
The Paleo diet has some excellent foundations:
- Diet of whole, unprocessed foods: veggies/fruits, fats & meats
- Emphasis on organic, local, and grass-fed products
- Eliminates common allergens (gluten/wheat, dairy, soy)
- Recommends real, clean food
- Encourages real, saturated fats and reduction of polyunsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils)
- Based on traditional foods that have been eaten since the beginning of time
- Suggests incorporating a variety of organ meats into your diet (this could be + or - depending on the amount of vitamin A in your diet)
These are great components to add to any diet. However, along with the good, comes the not so good...
The Paleo Diet's Dirty Laundry
I have noticed that many do well on a Paleo diet at first, and some people even thrive for the first year or two. Then things can start to crumble- lowered body temp (less than 98 degrees, indicating a slowed metabolism), increased food cravings (your body's "radio station" trying to maintain your health & homeostasis), impaired liver function (due to lowered thyroid=causing slowed detoxification), blood sugar handling issues (inability to store glycogen), and increased digestive issues/food allergies/sensitivities (lowered thyroid decreases digestive juices). While this may not be the case for everyone, it is something I see in my clients and the Paleo community.
How can the popular diet fall short?
1) Tends to be more "low carb" which can slow the metabolism & decrease the conversion of T4 (thyroxine- inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (active thyroid hormone). According to Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, “The liver provides about 70% of our active thyroid hormone, by converting thyroxine to T3, but it can provide this active hormone only when it has adequate glucose.” A slowed metabolism causes a cascade of problems including:
- Slowed hormone synthesis
- Impaired detoxification
- Slowed transit time (read: constipation)
- Increases the body's reliance on stress hormones
- Decreased appetite (due to slowed transit) resulting in accumulation of nutritional debt
2) Favors lots of muscle meats, without focus on balancing with non-inflammatory proteins (dairy, fish, shellfish, broth, gelatin).
3) Paleo dieters (can) load up on an unnatural amount of nuts which are difficult to digest and high in harmful polyunsaturated fats (PUFA). This is often seen in Paleo baked goods such as bread substitutes and desserts.
4) Often (not all the time) a Paleo diet restricts dairy, which is a nutritional powerhouse when your body is healthy enough to tolerate unprocessed dairy (raw or additive free). Sure it's helpful for many with poor digestion or food allergies to remove, but otherwise dairy can be a very healthful nutrition powerhouse. After all, the most healthful diets are those with the widest variety of food choices.
5) The Paleo diet tends to favor fat metabolism for energy vs. carbohydrates (meaning more of your calories come from fat that is burned for energy vs carbohydrates). Excessive fat burning for energy activates the stress response and decreases carbon dioxide in the body (decreased carbon dioxide accelerates the aging process). Dr. Ray Peat agrees sugar can safeguard us; increasing our resistance to stress, and providing anti-aging benefits when used properly in the context of a nutrient dense diet, “The protective effects of sugar, and the harmful effects of excessive fat metabolism, are now being widely recognized, in every field of physiology.”
6) Tends to demonize sugar as death on a teaspoon.
If that's really the case, then why do all forms of carbohydrates: starches, fruits, grains, etc. get broken down into single sugars in the body (glucose and fructose)? Why does the body crave sugar if its' consumption surely leads to health destruction? Is the body unwise? The body craves sugar because if it doesn't get it, it will break down proteins and fats to make it.
"Any craving is a good starting point, because we have several biological mechanisms for correcting specific nutritional deficiencies. When something is interfering with your ability to use sugar, you crave it because if you don't eat it you will waste protein to make it." Dr. Ray Peat, PhD
Signs that your Paleo diet NEEDS course correction
If you are following a Paleo diet, these are just a few clues your body's check engine lights are going off like crazy!
- Intense cravings for sugar and sweets (you may even find yourself obsessing over paleo desserts)
- Strong cravings for chocolate and salt, indicating a loss of salt and magnesium due to the stress response and hormones cortisol and aldosterone
- Low body temperature (below 97.8 upon waking)
- Low pulse rate
- Poor digestion, bloating, constipation and slowed transit time
- Cravings for "off diet" foods
- Low energy/fatigue
- Weight gain
I'm sure that when executed carefully, a Paleo diet can work, but it is all very person specific. I think the KEY here is not to ever let "dietary" dogma rule over your cravings and what your body is telling you because at the end of the day, the Paleo diet is still a "diet". And a diet in my book is defined by any dietary rules that regularly influence you to ignore your body's needs, including internal signals that your body gives you: like stress, constipation, bloating, low energy, PMS and the all important food cravings that help keep us in balance.
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Peat, Ray. Gelatin, stress, longevity. 2009. Retrieved July, 1 2014 from http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/gelatin.shtml
Peat, Ray. Glycemia, starch, and sugar in context. 2009. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from http://raypeat.com/articles/articles/glycemia.shtml
Schwartz, David B. and Stapell, Hamilton M. (2013) "Modern Cavemen? Stereotypes and Reality of the Ancestral Health Movement," Journal of Evolution and Health: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 3. http://dx.doi.org/10.15310/2334-3591.1000
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