Your Paleo Practitioner

What Should I Avoid to be Paleo?



When I talk to my patients about what foods are NOT found on the Paleo diet, they say to me, “What’s left to eat??” That’s how I know how poor their diet really is. If you have health problems due to your diet and you are mainly eating these foods, then I believe you have your answer as to why you’re sick.

If you want to be Paleo, it goes without saying to avoid processed foods, sugars and artificial sweeteners. However, the main food groups that were NOT consumed in the Paleolithic era are grains, legumes and dairy. This is because they were not found in sufficient quantities, if at all, to impact human nutritional needs. Grains digest to pure glucose which raises blood sugar. Subsequently this raises insulin levels in every single human being, regardless of ethnicity, age or whether any type of diabetes is present or not. This is physiological fact of nature. Eventually, insulin resistance develops, the result of metabolic stress on the body, along with inflammation and type 2 diabetes. So what’s a person to do? Avoid these foods! Remember, they are not nutritionally necessary!

Nutritional deficiencies are frequently seen in those who eat a high grain based diet due to the naturally occurring lectins, gliadins, phytates and gluten. These “anti-nutrients” are consumed regularly by most people today. They occur in all grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and certain solanaceous plants (nightshade vegetables). When such large quantities of grains are consumed in the average diet, they become problematic.  It is true that grains and legumes contain many nutrients, however humans generally cannot benefit much from them. It is because of the anti-nutrients such as lectins but also because of another anti-nutrient called phytates. Although wheat does specifically contain iron, zinc, vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine) and vitamin E, these are found mainly in the outer bran layer. This is why the government’s recommendations are to eat “whole grains” as being healthier than refined grains. However, eating whole grains will inhibit your vitamin and mineral absorption of the entire meal due to the grain’s phytate content.

Another anti-nutrient is gluten, a toxic protein found in wheat and other cereal grains like rye, barley as well as triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye. Oats have been considered among these gluten containing grains for many years. This is not because they contain any gluten but because most of the oats processed in the U.S. are processed in the same factories, using the same equipment as wheat. Therefore they are considered contaminated.

Gluten intolerance is a contributing player in health decline for a significant percentage of the human population. It is a trigger of the human immune system for both wheat allergies and inflammatory diseases. The most profound expression of gluten intolerance is called celiac disease. But make no mistake: all humans have some level of gluten intolerance on a continuum of say 1-100 with celiac disease being 97-100. We all fall somewhere on this line.

A diet high in grains, legumes and dairy creates a high acid load during metabolism. This is believed to be the precursor for many modern diseases such as osteoporosis, muscle wasting in the elderly, kidney stones, hypertension and chronic renal insufficiency. Maintaining a normal blood pH of 7.35 to 7.45 is essential for life. In response to a poor diet, the body attempts to buffer the acid load from the standard American diet with bicarbonate. If the diet is very high in vegetables, this will likely not become a problem. However the standard American diet is very low in vegetables and this will eventually result in the need for calcium carbonate and calcium phosphate to be pulled from the bones to act as buffer. When this happens, calcium ends up in the blood stream as it is no longer in the bone. Precious bone calcium is then excreted in the urine.

Legumes including lentils, beans, peas, peanuts and soy are not considered Paleo. They are basically a cultivated crop since the agricultural revolution. This doesn’t mean you necessarily can’t eat them, but it does mean that they are probably not as healthy in your diet as you may think.

Legumes are among the most popular and seemingly healthy foods in our society claiming to be high in protein. Peanuts are actually in the category of legumes, not nuts. Although soy and other legumes are believed to be quite high in protein, when compared to animal products they just cannot come close. They are not adequate “animal protein substitutes” as the USDA dietary recommendations may lead you to believe. Legumes, including soy are rather light weight in the protein department mainly due to the poor digestibility of vegetable protein for humans.

Soy is the most dangerous of all the legumes. It is known to be a highly allergic food and is often the cause of digestive upset. A food intolerance sparked by soy does not cause the same anaphylactic reactions seen with a true allergic response. Instead, food intolerances exhibit themselves as “subclinical” - meaning vague, hard to identify symptoms which become major health problems as years pass. Since more than 90% of the soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, this is believed to be the root of food allergies and intolerances due to the artificially enhanced antigens and bacteria engineered into genetically modified organisms. Soy is also one of the highest percentages of crops contaminated by pesticides.

Soy has sneaked into our food supply as textured vegetable protein (TVP), vegetable oil (soybean oil) and a host of other food additives (soy protein isolate). Just read your ingredient lists! It is usually processed with chemicals such as hexane (an acid wash) to make it taste better and have a palatable texture. Hexane is known to be a neuro toxin. Soy is not known for good flavor, but rather for reduced fat and cholesterol. It is also fortified with vitamins and minerals so it can have the same nutritional profile as animal protein. It has been used extensively for over 50 years to extend ground beef in the food industry. For several generations, problems with soy begins with infant formulas. It is now believed that exposure to plant based estrogens for infant formulas contributes to hormonal effects in children as they grow because the soy formulas contain such a high amount of these estrogenic compounds. Soy infant formula has been called the largest uncontrolled and unmonitored human experiment. Children fed soy formulas are believed to have twice the risk of thyroid abnormalities, delayed puberty in males and early puberty in females.

            Much of the soy produced today is used to feed livestock and farmed salmon, which you would be consuming if you ate grain fed livestock and farmed fish. If soy has so many detrimental effects on our health, do you really want to consume the flesh of animals and fish fed a soy based diet?

            Besides grains and legumes, dairy is really NOT considered Paleo – at least not for adults. Milk is designed by nature as baby food for mammals. Some studies have suggested that milk intake past infancy may increase certain health problems. Cows’ milk allergies and lactose intolerance are two huge problems. Lactose, which is essentially the sugar in milk, must be digested by lactase, the enzyme produced in the intestines of mammals. Humans have a natural decrease in lactase after infancy and usually by age 5 many people will have difficulty digesting dairy products. It is believed that 75% of all mature humans have or will have lactose intolerance sooner or later.

            But don’t we need to consume dairy to improve our bone health? The media campaign for the American Dairy Association and The Dairy Council Inc. may encourage drinking milk for bone health, but is it really true? Their research seems to support that, however their research is biased. In yet another study from 2014, consuming a lot of milk (more than 3 glasses a day) conferred NO decrease in fracture risk than those who drank less than one glass a day. Dietary milk intake past infancy has been found to be associated with increased biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress. But if you have to have some milk products, it has been found that there are less fractures and reduced deaths in those who consume more fermented milk products such as yogurt and cheese.