There are many misconceptions and myths floating around about the Paleo diet. You might understand that eating Paleo is likely the healthiest way to eat, a lot of people are simply unaccustomed to eating that way. Balking at good nutrition may seem silly, but like anything new and different, it can take time to become fully accepted.
Common Paleo Misconceptions
Eating Like A Caveman
The Paleo diet is often referred to as the “Caveman Diet” because it eliminates grains, legumes, dairy, and vegetable oils, which are foods that became staples of the human diet after the advent of agriculture (15-10,000 BC). While this is a convenient way to explain the foundations of the Paleo diet, the cultural stereotypes of meat-eating hunter-gatherers tend to inform perceptions.
In reality, the Paleo diet asserts that humans are ill-suited to handle foods that are staples of modern agriculture: grains, legumes, dairy, and vegetable oils. Rather than eating like a caveman, think of the Paleo diet as a template to determine whether or not your body is suited to these modern staples. A well formulated elimination and reintroduction plan can help determine whether or not you can tolerate certain foods that have not been a major part of the evolution of our species. This allows you to customize your Paleo diet to your unique needs, goals and concerns.
Paleo Is Meat-Centric & Low Carb
The notion of eating like a caveman lends itself to eating chunks of meat off the bone. Grains, legumes, and (low fat) dairy are high in carbohydrates; eliminating these foods can reasonably lead someone to believe that Paleo is a carb-restricted diet.
While the Paleo diet has a strong emphasis on humanely raised, high-quality animal protein (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught fish), it does not lay out a specific macronutrient distribution that is ideal for all people.
When you remove processed junk food, which is very high in carbohydrates, the result will be a diet that is LOWER in carbohydrate than a standard Western approach, but not necessarily one that would be considered low-carb.
Athletes can implement a high-carbohydrate Paleo Diet by incorporating sweet potatoes, white potatoes, yams, parsnips, squashes, and high-carb fruits like bananas, dates, pineapple, and mango. Someone who has specific health concerns can easily limit their carbohydrate intake by avoiding these same vegetables and fruits, and emphasize leafy vegetables, berries, lean meats, nuts, and seeds. A ketogenic diet can also be accommodated by a Paleo diet by prioritizing fattier cuts of meat, avocados, coconut, and leafy greens. These variations in macronutrients all fit within the Paleo framework.
You need calcium to form healthy bones and teeth. However, it is not necessary to get calcium from dairy.
There are many sources of calcium, which are not from dairy. in order to consume sufficient calcium from milk you would have to drink 3 cups per day. Other types of food, which have high levels of calcium include
- Plant sources
- Collard greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens
- Bok choy and cabbage
- Seaweed such as kelp and dulse
- Canned fish such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines (with bones is always better)
- Fat sources
- Nut butters
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, chestnuts, Brazil nuts)
Furthermore, getting 10-15 minutes of direct sunshine 3 times per week is important for calcium absorption. Your body receives Vitamin D from the sun, which in turn helps the body absorb the calcium.
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Raised Cholesterol Concerns Due To Eggs
For many years, eggs were wrongfully labelled as unhealthy and put into the list of ‘foods to limit’.
Eggs are perhaps one the healthiest, unprocessed fat and protein combinations. In addition, they are very affordable and can be eaten for any meal and at any time. Eggs can be eaten every day AND in abundance. Research has shown that in most cases eating up to 3 eggs per day can actually improve your HDL and LDL will either remain unchanged or shift from small dense LDL particles to large LDL particles. This means an overall decreased risk of heart disease.
Lacking In Fiber
Following a Paleo diet means excluding grains. Many people worry that they will not consume enough fiber on this diet. Though most people connect eating fiber with eating bread and similar grain-based foods, there are many other amazing sources of fiber. Fiber can be found in abundance in many vegetables and fruits including raspberries, beets, carrots, apples, sweet potatoes, and bananas. As long as you pay attention to what you consume, you are guaranteed to get all the essential vitamins and nutrients your body needs to run optimally.
Limited & Restricted
Arguing whether a particular food is “Paleo” or not, misses the point entirely. It’s not about adhering to a particular set of rules, but rather using the basic principles to determine whether certain foods help or hinder your health goals.
To say that all hunter-gatherer ancestors ate the same diet would mean that all humans in all places had access to the same plants and animals, and that food options did not vary with the seasons. This is clearly unlikely.
Geography, climate, and seasonality were the major factors in determining what foods were available to ancient man, and as a species, humans adapted to be able to survive and thrive on a variety of foods. However, genetics play a role in which foods are best suited to an individual, and it is up to each individual to determine which foods optimize their health and which do not.
Only A Weight Loss Diet
Many people come to a Paleo lifestyle because of weight loss success stories. This mindset, however, disregards other benefits found by removing foods that can be detrimental to one’s health.
A recent study found that a Paleolithic diet, even without exercise, improved fat mass, glycemic control, insulin sensitivity, and leptin sensitivity in individuals with type II diabetes. Further research confirmed that compared to the Mediterranean Diet (which is often advocated for heart health and longevity) a Paleo diet is superior in terms of satiety, fat loss (particularly belly fat), and increased leptin sensitivity in individuals with coronary artery disease and type II diabetes.
A Paleo diet does not try to recreate the diet of early humans. Farming and husbandry practices have selectively bred certain characteristics into the plants and animals we consume that would render them unrecognizable to our ancient relatives.
There is no specific macronutrient profile in the philosophy of the Paleo diet, although it is possible to fit most types of diets into the confines of a Paleo diet. It has enormous potential to improve health outcomes related to chronic disease, and is an excellent starting place for an individual to determine a dietary approach that best suits their lifestyle and goals.
No need to believe all the myths surrounding a Paleo diet. Many diets come and go, but sometimes a dietary approach sticks around because people see value in it. This is the case with the Paleo diet, which continues to gain in popularity because it has the potential to ultimately support your personal health and wellness goals.