3 Biggest Paleo Diet Mistakes
As a clinician and leading voice in the Paleo/Primal movement, I attract a lot of clients who have started following the Paleo/Primal nutrition plan. Most of these people have seen significant health benefits by following the traditional Paleo nutrition plan. However, many continue to struggle with chronic health issues including low energy, digestive issues and hormonal imbalances. In this article, I go over the 3 biggest paleo diet mistakes.
I have been tweaking these real food based nutrition plans to help people find their unique balance for years. Here are three of the most common mistakes I see many individuals making as they follow the real food nutrition plan. You will also see a great video I did with Garage Games Media on this very topic. Enjoy it…it is quite informative and full of humor!
Eating Too Much Natural Sugar:
The real food, Paleo nutrition plan eliminates all processed and genetically modified forms of sugar but the general plans allow fruit, honey and coconut nectar. These are natural sweeteners and have health benefits but they also have drawbacks. The high fructose content in these sweeteners can put a burden on the liver and hamper its ability to detoxify effectively. This will result in hormonal challenges and adrenal issues (1, 2, 3).
These sugars also provide the fuel for unwanted microorganisms such as yeast and parasites. As these microorganisms take over the locust of control in the gut they will release endotoxins that inflame the body (4, 5).
They will also create gut inflammation that damages the intestinal membrane setting us up for leaky gut syndrome. This will both affect the adrenals and sex hormones which can lead to energy problems and hormonal imbalances.
Reducing sugar content by minimizing the use of coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. is very critical to maximizing energy, liver detoxification, digestive function and hormonal control. Stay off the high sugar fruit such as bananas, melon and pineapple and stick with small quantities of low-glycemic fruit such as lemons, limes, grapefruit and berries. Limit yourself with the popular fruit & nut bars as they may be convenient but they contain a lot of fructose that will disturb your hormone balance.
Eating Too Many Nuts:
The paleo/primal nutrition plan eliminates the consumption of grains and reduces starchy carbohydrate consumption. As we look elsewhere to get our calories, nuts are an easy solution. We are typically quite familiar with nuts as most Americans consume nuts regularly throughout their lives and they are easy to get in any grocery store in North America.
In many health food stores, bulk nuts and nut butters are so popular that they have their own sections. Almond flour is also a very popular non-starchy flour alternative for baking. Many of us crave baked goods and we end up using heavy amounts of almond flour for the various pies, pastries, breads and muffins we make. The paleo diet dosn’t generally put restrictions on the amount of nuts consumed on a daily basis.
My website has many almond flour recipes as well and we have nuts in all of our nutrition programs except for our digestive health restoration and autoimmune elimination program because these programs are for people with seriously compromised digestive health. Nuts contain a number of anti-nutrients that I elaborate on further in this article and are very tough on the digestive system.
My food guide pyramid contains both nuts and seeds, but as you can see below, they are near the top, indicating lower consumption of these. I think consuming nuts and seeds, but in moderation, can be very helpful for most people. I would recommend consuming no more than 1/2 cup of almond flour on your own each week or about 2 cups of nuts.
Anti-Nutrient Content in Nuts:
Nuts can be quite hazardous when consumed in heavy amounts. They contain phytic acids that bind to major minerals like zinc, calcium and magnesium (6, 7, 8). High amounts of phytates in our diet can lead to mineral deficiencies. These minerals are important for energy production and hormonal balance.
There are also enzyme inhibitors present in nuts that block normal enzyme activity in the body. This can cause digestive challenges and energy problems. Soaking or sprouting nuts and seeds helps to reduce phytate and enzyme inhibitor counts and makes the nuts and seeds more bioavailable.
Many nuts and seeds are also very high in omega 6 fatty acids. Most people in society are already in a state of omega-6 dominance. Taking in more omega 6 fatty acids only promotes this imbalance and leads to chronic inflammation.
Taking in less omega-6 rich nuts and seeds such as almonds, cashews, pecans and sunflower seeds would be the right move. They could focus on higher omega 3 content in walnuts, hemp, chia, flax and pumpkin seeds.
My food guide pyramid contains both nuts and seeds, but as you can see below, they are near the top, indicating lower consumption of these. I think consuming nuts and seeds, but in moderation, can be very helpful for our health. I would recommend consuming no more than 1/2 cup of almond flour on your own each week or about 2 cups of nuts.
The Bottom Line:
Many individuals with digestive challenges have food sensitivities to many different nuts and seeds. When they consume these foods they increase inflammatory activity and drive up stress hormones. This drains the body of vital resources and leads to adrenal burnout over time. For these individuals they need to completely eliminate these from their diet and heal their gut and immune system before reintroducing them.
For most individuals they can consume nuts and seeds in moderation. A handful of almonds and cashews two or three times a week should not be a problem. Eating massive quantities of nuts, consuming a jar of almond butter each week and/or making tons of almond flour bread and pastries each week can cause the problems discussed.
Avoiding Raw, Grass-Fed Dairy:
Many individuals who have been following the paleo/primal nutrition plan have completely taken dairy out of their diet. I agree that this is a great step for a period of time. Nobody should be consuming typical processed, grain-fed dairy that is a staple of the Western cuisine. This form of dairy is highly inflammatory as it is loaded with omega 6 fatty acids, pesticides, hormones and anti-biotics (9, 10).
The only kind of dairy that I recommend is 100% grass-fed dairy that is ideally in the raw form. Great forms of dairy include raw fermented goat, sheep or cow cheese, yogurt, kefir, Amasai and fermented whey products.
The Benefits of Grass-Fed Dairy:
Grass-fed dairy tastes amazing and offers a great nutritional option for those who tolerate it well. It has many extraordinary health benefits as it is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, carotenoid anti-oxidants, and major minerals like zinc and magnesium. Cheese has complete protein and tons of branched chain amino acids and CLA which help promote a lean, fit physique and healthy hormones.
Fermented dairy such as grass-fed yogurt or kefir can greatly improve the health of the intestinal tract. These foods contain trillions of healthy microbial organisms, live enzymes and L-glutamine which is the major amino acid that is needed to produce healthy intestinal cells.
I recommend for those who are dairy free without a known dairy sensitivity to try grass-fed fermented dairy and grass-fed butter and see how their body tolerates it. These are really fun and enjoyable foods to include in your nutrition plan and they offer powerful health benefits to those who can properly digest them.
I don’t start individuals with autoimmune or digestive health problems on grass-fed dairy, but as their condition improves, than we will try it out and see how they do. I get much of my grass-fed dairy products from US Wellness Meats.