Your Paleo Practitioner
What Foods Should I Eat to be Paleo?
So what should you eat if you want to be Paleo? Eating a healthy Paleo diet is really very simple. Throughout my career, I have come to realize that if you can find a reason why you either want or don’t want to do something, it helps to maintain that behavior. One of the best reasons to eat a healthy Paleo diet is to avoid all the health problems associated with the Standard American Diet (SAD) of which there are many. The benefits are feeling great every morning and throughout each day, having plenty of energy to enjoy life and to avoid taking any of the multitude of medications that many Americans currently take daily. The basis of the Paleo diet is consuming (1) Carbohydrates from vegetables & fruit (2) Plenty of healthy fats (3) Protein from both animal and vegetable sources.
Carbohydrates from vegetables should be consumed in great quantities if you want to eat Paleo. My meals usually include up to 3 or 4 different vegetables along with a portion of animal protein. Sometimes I’ll add a fruit portion. I use the glycemic index as a teaching tool to help people choose the most nutritious and lowest sugar content for every carbohydrate eaten. The glycemic index was originally developed in the 1980’s as a tool for comparison of the blood sugar raising potential of various carbohydrates based on equal amounts of the food consumed. Carbohydrates are foods that metabolize to glucose during digestion. The best carbohydrates are non-starchy vegetables and some fruit. Since vegetables, tubers and fruits were abundantly consumed throughout human development, they are considered to be Paleo. The CDC says American adults are not eating enough vegetables and fruits. Researchers found that only 13% eat enough fruit and less than 9% eat enough vegetables. This is based on current guidelines.
A healthy human diet also has plenty of healthy fats. From 1910 to 1970, annual dietary fat intake among Americans declined. Butter consumption declined from 18 lbs to only 4 lbs per person/year. I believe the U.S. dietary recommendations should be more concerned about the source of fats rather than the amount consumed. The focus should be put on what the livestock in our food supply eat in their diet as that impacts the quality of the meat and fat. The source of our animal products is far more important than limiting the amounts.
The intake of dietary fats of all kinds are essential to a healthy human being. Fats keep your cells healthy. They are essential for a normally developing and functioning brain and they are needed for the proper synthesis of fat soluble vitamins and hormone production. I believe fats are the most important macronutrient slightly outranking protein. In fact, carbohydrates are the most expendable and the least essential of all the macronutrients. Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap in the last century. Ever since the USDA initially put trans-fats into the saturated fats category, all saturated fats were considered unhealthy. However, nothing could be further from the truth. A diet high in healthy saturated fats has a tendency to increase the LDL particle size from dangerous small and dense to healthy large and buoyant. So eat plenty of coconut and palm kernel oils which are highest in saturated fats. Also eat butter, meat, salmon, eggs, dark chocolate (cocoa butter). Saturated fat is NOT your enemy.
Dietary protein is as essential to a healthy human diet as the air we breathe or the water we drink. It is the very intake of animal protein, which is a very highly usable protein source that has allowed humans to develop our amazing brains. We all originally hail from our meat eating ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago, so it is part of our DNA. There may be some people who choose not to get their protein from animal sources citing religious or ethical reasons for abstinence. However, you should understand it IS in our DNA to eat protein from animals.
Meat is found the have the most highly digestible protein for human needs, far more than from vegetable sources. The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino-Acid Score (PDCAAS) compares dietary protein sources with 1.00 being the highest level of protein digestion, which is found in egg whites and casein proteins. Meat scored 0.92. Many vegetarian diets consume protein from things like beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas which have scored values from 0.57 to 0.71. Wheat gluten is classified at 0.25, based on Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) data from 1991. Clearly, animal sources of protein have superior digestibility and absorption.
Animal protein is an important source of iron, selenium, zinc, iodine, niacin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A and folic acid. Vitamin B-12 is found only in animal protein, and therefore if meat is not consumed as in a vegan diet, it must be supplemented to maintain health. Many third world countries have these vitamin deficiencies rampant among their populations, and this is also seen among vegans. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin necessary for normal vision and for a healthy immune system. Humans have a hard time with the conversion of beta-carotene from fruits and vegetables into vitamin A, therefore it is best obtained from animal sources. However, tree nuts and seeds will round out your Paleo diet nicely.
Iron in animal sources opposed to vegetables is quite different. Animal sources provides heme-iron and it is highly bioavailable and easily absorbed in the human digestive tract. Non-heme iron, found mainly in vegetables, like dark, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables and legumes is not as easily absorbed. The low bioavailability of non-heme iron ranges from 2% to 20% and it is the phytates in iron-rich legumes which reduces absorption. This is believed to contribute to poor nutritional status for populations who rely on non-heme iron as staple foods. When iron and zinc were supplemented to a non-heme diet, it was found that they were not well absorbed, however when meat was provided in the form of hambuger, infant formula, breast milk and cow’s milk, there was no problem with absorption.