Living a Paleo lifestyle can feel very empowering, but it can also get pretty overwhelming. You may experience raised eyebrows and questions when you order at a restaurant or visit a friend for dinner and kindly turn down the grains, breads, legumes and processed foods on offer. When explaining that you don’t eat a specific food, the response is often disbelief and you may be met with a barrage of challenges, questions, and proclamations. You might even be accused of jumping on the latest, unhealthy fad. Some people appear personally offended by your decision. Some are honestly curious and flabbergasted. Some just want to know why you would choose to follow this lifestyle and how do you survive on it.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers to help you get on your way!
Is Paleo Too Much Meat?
A Paleo diet is meat-centric, but it’s also vegetable-centric. A popular misconception is that this is a meat-only diet, and a typical Paleo plate has been portrayed as having a huge slab of beef on it. In reality, this is not the case. A properly portioned Paleo plate will have roughly the same amount of vegetables as meat, and many believe that vegetables should trump meat as the most important component of any meal, as meat would have been a random luxury for early hunters.
Don’t We Need Grains To Survive?
While grains represent an easy, cheap source of carbohydrates, they also contain “anti-nutrients,” proteins and lectins and other nutritional factors that impair digestion, perforate the intestinal lining, increase inflammation, and can even exacerbate or (possibly) induce auto-immune diseases.
There are 3 main problems with grain: Glucose, Gluten and Lectins.
Glucose: Grains are composed of carbohydrates which turn into glucose; a type of sugar once digested. We burn glucose for energy. The problem comes when we eat too many carbs or don’t burn the glucose; then the glucose that isn’t used up and as a result gets stored as fat.
Gluten: Gluten is a protein found in certain grains. It’s now being found that a large portion of the American population does not respond well to gluten and is gluten-intolerant. Over time, those who are gluten-intolerant can develop an array of medical conditions such as: dermatitis, joint pain, reproductive problems, digestive problems and autoimmune disorders. Most people who are gluten-intolerant go undiagnosed.
Lectins: In order to survive and spread their genes roses have thorns to defend themselves against predators, a grain, on the other hand, uses anti-nutrients to dissuade animals from eating them. These lectins give our intestinal tract a beating by not letting it repair itself from normal wear and tear. Some animals have adapted quite well to eating grains, but humans haven’t, so I choose not to eat them.
A simpler response could be that unfortunately, a large number of people are forced to subsist on grains as a staple, because they’re cheap and plentiful and calories are scarce. This in no way implies it’s the best way to eat. Grains aren’t necessary if you have access to plenty of fresh animals and plants.
Read more on the problems with grains here.
Then Why Is The Government Still Recommending 6-11 Servings Of Grain A Day?
The government has been subsidizing corn farmers and condemning saturated fat, cholesterol and red meat over the last few decades. Unfortunately, many factors are contributing to government recommendations on the health hazards of grains being slow to catch up to the research.
What About Fiber?
The Paleo diet focuses on eating lots of fruits and vegetables which are packed with soluble fiber. Best of all, our gut bacteria can actually digest the fiber from fruits and vegetables, and easily make the short chain fatty acids that improve our metabolic health. Grain fiber is just a bulking agent that fills your toilet bowl.
For more on Paleo sources of fiber, read this blog.
Where Do You Get Your Vitamins And Minerals?
Although grains and some fortified and enriched foods may look nutrient-dense, simply looking at the vitamin and mineral content on the back of a package or a nutrition website. This tells you very little about how your body absorbs (or doesn’t absorb) those nutrients. Phytic acid, another anti-nutrient found in many grains, legumes and processed foods, binds to nutrients in the food and prevents their absorption. Calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and several others are bound up with phytic acid, and research shows that cultures who rely on grains for the bulk of their macronutrients and micronutrients display deficiencies in these and other nutrients.
But Cavemen Had Short Lifespans! We Live Way Longer Now.
The shorter lifespan of ancient man most likely had less to do with their diets and was impacted severely by dangers experienced during those times. Remember they didn’t have today’s medicine, technology or shelter. If they got hurt they most likely ended up eaten by a predator.
No Dairy? Don’t We Need It For Calcium?
Diets containing high amounts of salt and grains induce increased acidity in body fluids. The body uses calcium to buffer these acidity levels. It is believed that without the proper level of calcium, this increased acidity may contribute to the development of osteoporosis and renal stones. Many Paleo foods are rich sources of calcium but most importantly, when following a Paleo diet, we are not eating the foods that create the acidity in the first place!
For more on calcium, read on here
How Do You Eat? What Do You Eat For Breakfast? What About Sandwiches? What About Dining Out?”
There are so many options that don’t contain grains, legumes, dairy and processed foods. Think bacon and eggs, omelets, steak or chicken or fish and salad. Sandwiches, pastas, grains and cereals are not the only options. Even a sandwich can be made with lettuce, or other greens as a wrap, or sweet potatoes or hamburger patties as ‘buns.’ Making a meal of proteins, vegetables, fruits and naturally occurring fats is easy, even at most restaurants.
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I Don’t Like To Deprive Myself Of Anything. What About Moderation?
This is perhaps the most famous piece of diet advice ever given. Depriving yourself leads to willpower depletion and the dreaded “rebound effect.” Unhealthy foods are only unhealthy if you eat them in excess. Balance is key. Therefore, you can (and should) eat anything you want… as long as you eat it in moderation.
Some people may think it’s okay to eat certain foods as long as you are eating less of them, on the grounds that you’re consuming fewer calories. It’s true that small portions of junk food are better than large portions. But some foods are bad for you regardless of calorie count. Processed foods that contain trans-fat, MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, or other additives are unhealthy no matter how little of them you eat. Instead of focusing on calorie content, always look at the overall nutritional value of a food.
You could say that you are technically depriving yourself of feeling awful by not eating these foods, but that’s a good kind of deprivation. Explain that when you eat (insert food in question), you feel terrible, bloated, and not like yourself. Besides, does a perfectly grilled ribeye with some roasted asparagus and sweet potato mash sound like deprivation to you?
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I’ve Been Eating These Food All My Life And Don’t Seem To Have A Problem
You may not have an obvious problem now, but that’s only because you’ve grown accustomed to your body and how it feels. The signals of discomfort are dulled, and the intensity of the pain has reduced. Things like an upset stomach, gas, bloating, bowel issues, bad skin, poor sleep may be common, but they are not normal. All those things that begin to happen as you get older is a view that is reinforced when you see the same thing happening to everyone else around you. You felt the same way until you tried following a Paleo diet. All those little niggling aches and pains and complaints that you thought were an inevitable aspect of life have disappeared. You now feel better than ever.
The Bottom Line
Whenever you deviate from the norm, people are going to ask questions and try to challenge you. That’s fine and totally understandable. There was a time when all this stuff sounded crazy to you, too. We are different and this causes people to react. They’re going to be defensive, inquisitive, accusatory, and more. Try not to be defensive yourself. Try to maintain composure and think back to when the idea of following a Paleo diet for life was utter madness. Take a deep breath, and respond. This is a time to possibly educate a little, and perhaps inspire some change. Make the most of it!