The Paleo Guide
"Real Food doesn't have ingredients; real food is
- Jamie Oliver
One of the biggest hurdles for people regarding nutrition is their currently-held belief system surrounding food.
- Some people have moral issues with eating animals. Others don't.
- Some people don't like vegetables and won't eat them, so their bias toward grains and other processed foods is a hard habit to break.
- Some people say they want to be healthy but aren't willing to do things that challenge their current belief system.
The Internet is fraught with people that defend both sides of every point, no matter how obvious either side often seems.
And nutrition is one of these hotly debated topics.
Before reading this guide, the best advice I can give you is to open your mind about nutrition (and just about everything else).
We still need to learn much about human biology, nutrition, the universe, quantum mechanics, history, and everything.
And new research comes out regularly, giving us more to go on with each passing year.
All that said, if you were to combine the currently available research and combine it with the empirical results of millions of people that have changed their nutrition for the better, you'd get an eating plan that closely resembles the paleo diet.
The Paleo Diet
Real food is centered around raw ingredients and usually require cooking and prep.
This is why the Real Food recommendation doesn’t always jive well with most people; because it's hard and you have to invest time.
After all, people want a fix. Then, on top of that, they want that fix to be as close as possible to what they're already.
Delusional. <-- Don't be like this.
People would rather hear:
- “Don’t eat meat.”
- “Don’t eat carbs.”
- “Don’t eat grains.”
- “Don’t eat sugar.”
- “Don’t eat fat.”
- “Buy raw ingredients, take them home, and cook and prepare that food for yourself.”
- Start reading labels.
- Don't eat anything you can't pronounce.
- Buy fresh and raw and cook and prepare for yourself.
- Invest in a slow cooker.
- Learn how to make a primary salad dressing and delicious homemade salads often.
- Canned fatty fish is one of the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat. (And oysters.)
The Mismatch Theory
My realization about the modern state of human health fueled part of my inspiration for writing this guide.
Humans. Homo sapiens.
You know, those troublesome, quarrelsome, often gruesome, and lovesome animal species that currently run a little planet in the Milky
Way Galaxy called Earth?
Don't be coy; you know who I'm talking about.
For the sake of getting on the same page for the rest of this guide, let's start with some first principles—i.e., the actual definition of these bipedal critters:
(Animals) the specific name of modern man, the only extant species of Homo. This species also includes extinct types of primitive man such as Cro-Magnon man.
Before we get to the realization I had about the human-animal currently dominating Earth, I want to paint a background that has led me to this realization.
My Journey With Evolutionary Biology
I've been studying evolutionary biology and Paleontology since I was introduced to the Zone and Paleo diets after stumbling on CrossFit (mid-2008).
My personal health, fitness, and nutrition journey went like this:
- Start reading bodybuilding and Men's Health magazines. (Yikes.)
- Follow the "conventional wisdom" those magazines were promoting in the early-to-mid 2000s.
- Get little results—I gained muscle but was "skinny fat."
- Find CrossFit—ironically, by mentioning the "300 workouts" in a Men's Health article.
- Discover the Zone diet through CrossFit.
- Do Zone for a while getting some results?
- Plateau after about a year while doing CrossFit and Zone.
- Find Paleo, and around the same time, get into cooking.
- I started getting the results I've always wanted and had been working for; A lean but muscular look with 6-pack abs and muscle definition.
- Start a CrossFit gym with two partners.
- Continue to expand my knowledge while coaching clients and building two small businesses.
- Life changed forever.
Each step led me down a different rabbit hole full of exploration, self-experimentation, and learning. And I'm still learning to this day—notice the "realization" I had recently that sparked writing this article (and this guide).
Nowadays, the available information on Paleo, nutrition, and research is light years ahead of where it was when I started on this journey.
If you are starting at step 1, you get to skip years and years of the discovery process I had to go through.
Literally. Years. Read this guide, and you'll be five years ahead of where I was when I started.
But would I change this process?
Not for anything.
This process is part of what has made me who I am. And your journey will make you who you are. But damn, I wish I had access to this information sooner, as I would have saved a lot of time, money, and energy initially.
That's life, and it probably needed to give me the right tools and perspective to help others on a bigger scale the way I want to.
My journey has crafted my worldview and has brought ideas like evolutionary biology, nutrition, health, and science into my everyday consciousness.
Because I'm constantly thinking about where we came from and how our ancestors lived, I've subconsciously realized what inspired me to write this guide.
I often tell people that evolutionary biology is one of those things that just clicked in my head more than anything I've ever learned.
I would have been a Paleontologist in another life. Some people get math, some get history, and I get evolutionary biology.
The Story, Our Ancestors, Left Behind
Today we are going to look at the theory behind the Paleo diet.
This theory has implications for all human health, so don't make the mistake of pigeonholing any of this into some little Paleo nutrition box.
It's about human health, not just what humans eat. So let go of your dogmas and biases and read this information with fresh eyes.
The implications behind this theory profoundly impact the full spectrum of human health whether you eat Paleo, Vegetarian, Vegan, Fruitarian, or whatever.
The premise of the Paleo diet is based on looking at the available evidence that our ancestors left behind to find ways we modulate our environment to the best life today.
Try thinking about evolutionary biology instead of Paleo if you are still struggling with any of this. That might help those who don't particularly like the word "Paleo."
The fundamental premise of evolutionary biology for explaining problems modern humans face is based on the theory that evolution takes an extremely long time to progress and that technology, and the way our lives have changed because of it, has come at a faster rate than what the human genome has been able to adapt to.
This means that our genes are designed to live in a particular environment, the environment our ancestors lived in for hundreds of thousands of years up until about 12,000 years ago when our ancestors moved from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the farming lifestyle.
Farming Vs. Hunting
Before humans moved to the farming lifestyle, they lived in the wild. This was the life of a nomadic hunter-gatherer.
Early humans were always moving in search of food and a better climate.
Compare that to farming life, a stationary life connected to a plot of land.
This transition caused many problems for our species and still does to this day, considering our genome is still 99% the same as our ancient ancestors (and 99.5% the same for each human living today).
Before a human ever planted a seed and hung around until that seed turned into something edible, humans lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers in small tribes of about 50-75 people.
Within their tribe—their "family"—early humans hunted, gathered, and lived their entire lives together (talk about solid social bonds).
They moved around constantly, always searching for food and water and moving with the seasons.
Long before we had chairs, cars, computers, smartphones, and all the environmental byproducts of these technologies, human life involved plenty of daily movement in the sun, lots of leisure time, and constantly varied food that was in-season and inconsistent. We socialize daily.
We walked an average of 13 miles daily at a slow, meandering pace. We went to sleep when the sun went down and woke when it rose. We hunted. We gathered.
According to human fossil records, humans have lived this way for some 200,000 years, dating the earliest human fossil to the Middle Paleolithic area.
Modern Human Life
Now that you know how our ancestors lived, think about how that lifestyle compares to today.
- Imagine having no car, phone, books, restaurants, or refrigerators.
- Imagine being unable to walk to the fridge to get food when hungry.
- Imagine living with the same 50-75 people for your entire life.
- Imagine hunting dangerous wild game barefoot with only a wooden spear and a few fellow hunters. (There is evidence that women would hunt right alongside men; the subjection of women started with the creation of farming, personal property, and marriage.)
This is the life that humans have lived for 90% of human existence. And this is the way, as the theory suggests, we are meant to live.
Today's way of living drastically differs from how humans have lived for most of our existence. This is what the theory behind Paleo is based on.
It's called The Mismatch Theory.
The mismatch theory states that we live in an environment that is mismatched to our genes because our genes are designed to live the way our ancestors did.
The mismatch theory is based on the theory that the human genome has yet to adapt to our new environment because this environment has come on so fast. Twelve thousand years might seem like a long time, but if you look back at the history of life on Earth (billions of years) and the history of humans on that Earth (200,000 years or more), you see that it's a relatively short period.
Here are a few of the new environmental factors affecting humans today:
- Most humans eat processed foods from industrial seed oils, grains, and sugars. As a result, a large percentage of the world is obese and struggling with Food-related diseases.
- Modern humans sit more and move less, contributing to increased disease and a lower quality of life. (Our ancestors walked an average of 13 miles a day.)
- Modern humans spend most of their time indoors—some estimates put it above 90% of waking hours for those living in first-world countries. As a result, many suffer from low Vitamin D levels, high toxicity levels, and other mental and physical issues. (Hint: we are made to be in nature.)
Paleo, Primal, or Just Healthy?
Today's hottest trend relying on the environmental mismatch theory is the Paleo diet, also called the Caveman or Primal diet.
The premise of this way of eating is based on eating only foods our ancestors would have eaten regularly, e.g., no grains, refined sugars, or other processed and artificial foods.
We can all agree that this kind of eating is what all healthy diets should be based on: real, whole, natural foods.
Beyond that Real Food foundation, no truly defined version of the Paleo, Primal, or Caveman diet remains.
For example, some Paleo proponents recommend certain dairy products as being "Ok in moderation," while others recommend cutting out all dairy.
Some Paleos recommend lean meats, while some recommend fatty meats as long as they are from healthy animals. (We would fall into the latter camp on that one.)
All of this confuses many. Many "Paleo Haters" use this confusion and quote poorly researched books and articles (like the China Study) to make misinformed statements about eating Paleo or Primal.
At Wild Foods, we don't like to be dogmatic in our diet recommendations. Paleo/Primal/Real Food/Proper Nutrition will be unique to the individual.
People that hate a diet are typically doing it to appease themselves. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator for keeping people blind and biased.
That said, there is a universal nutrition "truth" that we will forever be dogmatic about.
It's this: Optimal human nutrition is based on Real Food.
Whether you eat Paleo, Primal, Vegetarian, Vegan, Fruitarian, or insert popular diet here, there is a foundational truism they should all be based on: Real Food.
After you get Real Food down, you can think about the other factors, like whether you should go low, moderate, or high carb, and what kind of fasting schedule you want to implement (you should implement some form of fasting, by the way).
Finally, after your diet is rooted in eating the best quality Real Food you can get your hands on, you can then focus on—if you want to—the other things, like how many calories, carbs, or fat to eat.
But you first have to get the Real Food diet down.
Real food is as close to nature as possible. It should not be processed or refined unless necessary to make the food safe for human consumption or to release certain other nutrients (cooking is a form of processing, by the way).
Then, if the food does require processing, it should be produced using as natural and health-optimizing methods as possible that will preserve the integrity of the nutrition in the raw ingredient without tacking on unwanted health effects.
While this is a guide to eating Paleo(ish), we also want to help expand the idea of Paleo to make it more accessible to more people.
This is why many of our food recommendations at Wild Foods will echo what a Paleo diet recommends but will come with many gray areas.
Our version of a Real Food Paleo diet closely mirrors a Paleo diet because traditional paleo excludes many foods that are either inflammatory or nearly impossible to find as Real Food, which is why we, too, don't recommend them.
Here's an example: we don't think grains are inherently evil (a food excluded from a strict Paleo diet). Still, we don't recommend grains as part of a healthy Real Food diet because the only grains accessible to 99% of the world are industrialized, refined, and processed grains, which are very bad.
If you grow your wheat and then harvest, process, soak mill, and then bake it, then having some grains in your diet is fine. (Keyword: some.)
Of course, no one will do that, so grains should be avoided.
(Also, the wild grains our ancestors may have eaten occasionally are not even close to those available today. It's like comparing apples to oranges.)
The fact is, certain foods in our modern world are not going to be the best for us to eat, while other foods will be. This has nothing to do with Paleo or not.
Proper nutrition is about using what works best and not following a strict set of rules by some doctor, book, expert, or scientist.
That's what we call Optimal Nutrition:
- Make Real Food the basis.
- Get the best Real Food you can.
- Listen to what your body tells you.
Finally, do your best to avoid dogmatism and the biases that make you ignore things you don't believe.
That's our disclaimer regarding nutrition and the Paleo Diet. We are moving on.
Stick With Real Food
One of the fantastic things about a real-food diet is the leeway it gives you.
For example, when I crave junk food, I can indulge guilt-free because I know I'll return to my real-food eating style soon after.
When the bulk of your diet comprises real food ingredients, you can easily maintain health even when you aren't perfect in your food choices. And since none of us are perfect, real food provides a powerful way of eating in our modern world.
I can't say it enough: focus on real food and focus on quality.
Back to the Mismatch Theory
The mismatch theory suggests that because humans have eaten a certain way for so long, modern humans should also eat this way because that's what they're designed for.
From a purely practical point of view, it's hard to argue with this theory considering so many humans today are sick and getting sicker.
Of course, it's not just nutrition that the mismatch theory applies to. Our environment and how it shapes our genes cover the entire spectrum of human health.
I've tested my life's many mismatched-based lifestyle theories with universal success.
Yes, universal, meaning: I saw improvement every time I implemented something based on evolutionary biology.
I've also seen these techniques work wonders for other people over the years.
If it works so well, what's holding people back?
Mismatch theory and evolutionary biology still have a long way to go before reaching mass adoption due to the many roadblocks keeping people from implementing these concepts.
A few of these roadblocks include:
- Confirmation bias (seeking out information that confirms what you already think while ignoring information that conflicts)
- Cognitive dissonance (the feeling you get when something challenges what you think or believe)
- Misinformation from biased fitness and health professionals trying to protect their status quo
- The general misunderstanding of health and nutrition held by the public in the form of "common knowledge"
- The difficulty of changing lifestyle habits, especially ones that are counterintuitive and different from one's peer group,
- Social pressures.
- and so on.
*These are not done on purpose. They are subtle tricks your mind plays on you that make it hard to change your mind.
Another major roadblock holding the mismatch theory back is the research and scientific communities. The general public is obsessed with needing some guy in a lab coat to tell them what's good for them.
Here's the thing about research: much of it isn't good, while the rest could be better summarized, is underfunded, and is almost always misinterpreted.
Another issue with research is that a lot of it is biased, which means that organizations that fund it usually do so in order to find the answer they want.
This is the biased crap used to lobby Congress, slap misleading product labels, and leak biased dogma to the media so they can pass it on to confuse the public further.
Of course, there's good research, but it's the exception, not the rule.
The issue with good research is that it frequently lacks funding from large budgets due to a lack of commercial interest, which causes the research to be too narrow in scope and not receive the attention it merits.
Furthermore, the smaller studies tend to produce correlating evidence due to the need for more time and scope to prove causation, which makes them an easy target to discredit.
Lastly, and this is the big thing that people don't understand about research and science, research produces a "best guess" and not hard evidence.
Science is based on hypotheses. In layman's terms, a hypothesis is a "best guess."
Think about it: how often have all the experts deemed something impossible for years until it was proven possible?
The answer is a lot.
There is nothing genuinely irrefutable in the research and science worlds.
The same goes for nutrition. And this is a hard pill for many to swallow because of our human desire for resolute answers.
We like knowing what we think we know.
Being told, "Everything you know is just a guess," causes cognitive dissonance, which humans are not skilled at dealing with.
Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.
Mismatch Theory Works For Now
Regarding human health, mismatch theory, rooted in evolutionary biology, is our current best guess.
I've seen it work in my own life and for countless others around me, so I readily recommend it to others.
And I'll continue to do this until a better best guess comes along that works better. If a better theory comes along, I'll test it. Then, if it produces a better result, I'll change what I do and recommend.
This is hard for most people, so they stubbornly cling to their current beliefs through biases that make it impossible to see other views.
Furthermore, we are creatures of habit, and breaking habits is hard.
It comes down to this: Regardless of what research, science, or your gut tells you, you have to take action and test what works for you. Then you have to have the mindset of a scientist interested in finding what works best while being aware of the pitfalls of confirming or discounting evidence based on preconceived beliefs.
After doing your tests, if the results come back unfavorable to what you initially thought or wanted to think, you have to be strong enough to stay objective.
Regarding health, you have to be the scientist and the experimenter.
You have to study conflicting ideas and opinions and then try the things that make the most sense to you. Then you have to ruthlessly discard what doesn't work while doubling down on what does.
Back to our ancestors
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived as nomads, constantly moving around with the seasons to find areas where food, game, and water were abundant. They didn't have refrigeration or canned foods, and there was very little in the way of food preservation.
There was also no farming.
They had to work for their food daily, hunting and gathering for as much as 6 hours a day on average. As a result, our ancestors would routinely go days without food, sometimes weeks (which is why intermittent fasting is a healthy human activity).
Then, when our ancestors found food, it was real food. It was wild food.
This environment creates the genes that make up your body. These genes survive with an inconsistent food supply, with only real food found in nature and a diet lower in starches and sugars on average due to a lack of them being found in the wild.
And so your genes will do their best when they live in the environment they were designed for. Your genes are designed to live in the wild.
In the wild:
- You won't find sugar cane plantations, corn fields, or potato farms.
- Food changes with the seasons, and you can do nothing to prevent it except move to areas with a better food supply and climate.
- The game is sometimes available and sometimes scarce.
- Food is varied and colorful.
- Food is always real.
Local, in-season, real food is the best way to express human genes through nutrition. Now compare that world to the world we live in today.
- We have access to food every second of the day (a mismatch).
- We can eat the same thing daily if we want to (a mismatch).
- We can eat processed foods full of artificial ingredients (a mismatch).
- We can eat more ingredients our ancestors didn't eat, like seed oils, sugar, carbohydrates, grains, etc. (a mismatch).
Nutrition is the single most significant mismatch affecting the human species today.
And it all started when agriculture came into the picture some 12,000 years ago.
Agriculture provided early humans with a steady food supply. And while agriculture allowed the population to grow, it had many problems.
Due to the lower quality of nutrition produced through agriculture and the droughts and inconsistencies in yield, humans traded a more consistent food supply for a lower quality of life.
As Daniel Lieberman puts it in his book The Story of the Human Body, "Farming created more food and allowed populations to grow, but for most of the last few thousand years, the average farmer had to work much harder than any hunter-gatherer, experienced worse health, and was more likely to die young."
Agriculture yielded food that could have been more nutritious and varied.
Due to a lack of fruit and vegetables in their diets—which are fatal if left untreated—many farmers developed scurvy, which was one of the problems this caused.
Agriculture also required a more laborious lifestyle, resulting in another mismatch due to the physically demanding work required.
By contrast, the hunter-gatherer lifestyle includes walking, climbing, and moving in varied ways while rarely repeating the same movements repeatedly, the kind of work needed for farming.
Agriculture created the first significant environmental mismatch for the human species and would lead future humans into a progressively more mismatched world as technology advanced. We moved further away from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
The Paleo and Paleontology community has been discussing these ideas for a while now. So none of this forms the realization I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
The realization I mentioned earlier was like an "aha" moment and went like this:
Evolution and devolution are happening right now, every single day, in every one of us.
Modern human evolution
While the evolution of a species is a slow process spanning millions of years, microevolutionary events happen daily. Here are some examples:
- When you gain weight over the summer, you are devolving to match your environment, one with too many calories and not enough exercise.
- When you lose weight (but not too much), you are adapting to your current environment by eating fewer and better calories coupled with more physical activity, which results in a better overall level of health.
- When millions of humans become sick and obese, they are devolving to match their current environment, which is usually rooted in poor nutrition and lifestyle habits.
- When millions of humans develop back pain, tight hips, and poor posture, they are devolving to match an increase in sitting and a decrease in natural movement.
- and so on.
In a nutshell, here's what you need to know about Paleo and human evolution: Our hunter-gatherer ancestors passed down their genes to each human being alive today. These genes had lived the majority of their existence in an environment without a consistent food supply, where food was only natural and wild, where they frequently moved, where they slept while the sun was down and rose when it was up, where they had strong bonds and social ties to their tribe, and where they lived in the wild every second of their lives.
Nowadays, these same genes make up the DNA of each human being living today, and 99.99% of the world lives in an environment mismatched to the one they were designed for.
This is the battle that modern humans face every day.
This is why the number one killer in the United States is heart disease.
This is why, for the first time in history, our children's generation has a shorter lifespan than their parents' generation.
When I realized (thought of, to be more precise) that evolution was taking place on this daily, micro level, I thought about the modern humans that are fit, healthy, and thriving compared to the modern humans that are sick and getting sicker.
Then I realized this:
The human of tomorrow is going to be the human that can survive in this new environment.
That was my big "aha" moment.
If you can stay fit, healthy, and robust when food is always available and sitting and living indoors are so prevalent, When toxins and stressors attack you daily, you are more likely to pass on your genes to the next generation than other humans.
Conversely, your genes will eventually die if you can't adapt to this environment.
As harsh as it may seem, this is a fact of human existence.
Trust me, I'm actively fighting to make sure as few people as possible fall victim to their genes dying off. It's part of our mission at Wild Foods: to educate the public about the importance of health and nutrition.
I'm not happy about modern human health, but I won't sugarcoat it because that would be a disservice to all the modern humans that need to hear it.
Perhaps if more people thought of their health this way—as their genes dying off or continuing—then they'd get serious about changing their lifestyle.
I don't know. Part of me thinks that, sadly, some people will never make the change and are destined to be just another statistic.
Start with nutrition
Over the years, I've learned that nutrition is the greatest return on investment a modern human can make for their current and future health.
If you focus on eating real food ingredients, you are far more likely to pass on your genes to the next generation.
You'll evolve in your current environment, which will have a huge carryover to other parts of your health.
Natural food nutrition increases energy, improves fitness, balances hormones, gives you better sleep and mental health, and improves nearly every other marker of health.
This is why nutrition needs to come first.
other areas of your life improve, creating a cascading domino effect as you progress from devolution to evolution.
Nutrition should also come first because it's so powerful in either direction—negatively or positively.
Poor nutrition makes every aspect of human health worse. Good nutrition makes every aspect of human health better.
Are you going to thrive, survive, or waste away?
Most of the Western world is sick and getting sicker.
Then a large part of the modern human population is skating by with their favorable genes, which will last until they don't.
Think of those people who eat whatever they want and don't gain a pound.
These individuals usually have plenty of visceral fat surrounding their organs and are prime candidates for all the same modern diseases that overweight people are susceptible to. In this case, looks can kill. Literally.
Lastly, a small percentage of modern humans are thriving in the modern world.
These humans are healthy and best express their genes through their lifestyle and environment. They are evolving in our modern world while most of the world devolves.
These humans are thriving because they are, consciously or unconsciously, minimizing the modern world's adverse effects on their health. This results in the best expression of their genes, which increases the likelihood they'll pass those genes onto their offspring, making it more likely that they will spread and pass on and become the humans of tomorrow.
A Final Note on Darwin
You've probably heard of Darwin and the survival of the fittest.
But you probably didn't know that Darwin didn't actually coin that term and that his theory of natural selection is often misinterpreted.
Natural selection states that a species's most extensive, worst, and most potent traits will likely survive and pass along their genes.
His theory states that the species best adapted to its environment will likely survive and pass along its genes.
The species most likely to survive are those best adapted to the environment.
How might that apply to our modern world and the human species?
It will not be the most innovative, best-looking, significant, vital, or richest humans that survive in this new world we've created; it will be the most adaptable.
In our current world, the most adaptable human looks like this:
- They don't eat too often.
- They don't overeat often.
- They don't eat much sugar.
- They eat primarily real food.
- They move every day.
- They get sunlight every day.
- They sleep a lot.
- They don't stress too much.
- They are grateful.
- They have a purpose.
- They have a robust social network.
- They don't eat much processed food.
- They supplement intelligently.
- They usually know how to cook and do that often.
- They buy great ingredients.
- They play often.
- They laugh often.
- They usually read. (At least in the Western world.)
- They sprint every so often.
- They pick up heavy things regularly.
Some modern humans accidentally express these genes because they live a certain way. In contrast, others do it on purpose because they understand the fundamentals of human biology and the mismatch theory, and they do their best to make choices that best adhere to what is "healthy."
Either way, it's up to you to figure it out for yourself.
If you become a scientist and test the many available techniques and theories, you'll be able to find what best expresses your genome.
No matter what you do, you have to listen to your body. At times, your body will hate you because you'll make it do things it doesn't like, like exercising and ignoring your sweet tooth, but if you listen to it closely, you'll find all the evidence you need to create the eating and lifestyle plan that best expresses your genes.
Each day you are alive, you can evolve or devolve. Which is it going to be?
1. Eat only real food. The most critical part of eating clean, Paleo or not, is eating real food. The problem with this recommendation is that "real food" isn't easily defined.
In a nutshell, "real food" is any food that has not been processed or altered in a way that compromises the integrity of the raw ingredient. After that, some foods can be processed yet still qualify as real food.
For example, most cocoa products fall into this category because you can't grab a cocoa pod from a tree and eat the beans without processing them to make them safe for human consumption. But we still consider high-quality cocoa and high-quality dark chocolate to be real food.
These forms of processed real food fall into the same category as other neolithic foods like butter, which weren't around during the actual Paleolithic era but are still acceptable foods to eat when grown and made a certain way. (Hint: it's all about the quality!)
You are trying to get as close to nature as possible. The more you do the cooking and processing yourself, the better.
Each step away from nature—each step that requires processing—increases the health risk, and your food doesn't qualify as real food.
When it comes to defining "real food," the more you know about food—how it was grown and made—the better decision you can make about how good it is.
In most cases, real food contains one ingredient (or a few other ingredients that fit real food's criteria).
- Ingredient List: Chicken
- Not-Real-Food Ingredient List (an actual label on packaging containing substances they are trying to pass off as "food"): Chicken, water, wheat flour, salt, soy, protein concentrate, modified corn starch, flavorings, Fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil with BHT.
2. Eat real food calories in ratios that look something like this:
- 40-70% fat
- 20-35% protein
- 10-25% carbohydrates
Ratios for macronutrients are always subjective because each person is different and will do better on varying amounts of fat, protein, and carbs. Furthermore, your macros will vary depending on your activity levels, current level of fitness, and goals.
Quantifying an exact ratio that will work for everyone is impossible, so we must give broad ranges. The recommendations above are starting points you can use to figure out what works best for you.
Another thing about macro ratios is that if you can get real food mostly down, they soon become a trivial consideration; you can eat what you want as long as it's real food, and your body will take care of the rest.
What about weight management?
Let's say you start eating only real food but need to lose weight because you want to. This would be a good time to curb your carb intake while increasing your fat and protein intake.
Most people, especially those new to Paleo or a real food diet, need help eating enough fat and protein. See our food list to see clean sources of each.
After your fat and protein fill, your stomach will have little room for carbs (especially sugar). This lets you control your carb intake, which makes it easier to curb your hormone levels and lose body fat.
Generally, carbohydrates should comprise 10–30% of your total calorie intake, consisting of the cleanest carbohydrates—e.g., yams, sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, fruit, nuts, and seeds.
3. Eat plenty of clean fat from coconuts, pastured butter and ghee, and any fat from healthy animals.
This is often the most challenging part for those new to the Paleo diet.
Pop nutrition culture has vilified fat for a long time now. There are a few reasons for this, such as faulty research and food corporation lobbying and advertising, but to avoid going down that rabbit hole right now, here is the truth about fat in simple terms:
"Fat doesn't make you fat." Fat helps prevent fat gain because it acts as a buffer for those hormones that get all out of whack from eating too many carbs and processed junk food. Fat also helps fill you up and trigger signals to your brain that you are full.
Fat is necessary for human life. If you don't eat fat, you'll die.
The same can't be said of carbohydrates—your body can survive on zero carbs. But your body will waste away if you don't get your fat and protein intake.
The other part of the fat fear-mongering pertains to saturated fat. In another simple nutshell, saturated fat does not cause heart disease, and you can eat as many egg yolks and fatty steaks as you want!
(These eggs should be pastured and organic, and the steaks should be from humanely treated grass-fed cattle.)
Fat is a necessary and nutritious nutrient for the human body.
Please repeat after me: "Fat doesn't make me fat." And eating fat will help you lose fat.
Now slather some pastured butter on your next hunk of salmon or grass-fed steak.
4. Eat as much omega-3 EPA and DHA as you can.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in abundance in the modern industrialized Western diet. While omega-6s are an essential fatty acid the human body needs to run, having too many of them compared to omega-3s can promote inflammation.
It's about the ratio, and the problem with our Western food supply is that omega-6 is everywhere and omega-3 needs improvement.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many processed foods and nut and seed oils, while many beneficial omega-3s are found in healthy animals and seafood.
The typical American diet is estimated to contain about 14 times as much omega-6 as omega-3.
This is why we need to do this: Limit omega-6s and foods that contain omega-6s as much as possible while increasing the amount of omega-3-rich food we eat.
Omega-3s, specifically the ones containing EPA and DHA, are found in fatty fish—salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel—and, to a lesser extent, in grass-fed red meats and wild game.
Almost all the fat in restaurants is cooked in omega-6-filled vegetables and seed oils. (Pro tip: Ask the server to have the chef cook your food in butter.)
Eat more canned fish, salmon, and grass-fed meats. Consider supplementing with quality fish oil as well!
5. Eat in season and with as much colorful variety as you can.
Our ancestors ate food that was in season and only in season.
After all, they had no choice in the matter. No grocery stores, trucks, planes, or ships could transport produce worldwide.
In-season food tastes better and is more nutritious (the former being the reason great chefs only cook with local, in-season ingredients).
Compare this to the food you get from halfway across the world that is not actually in season because these foods are sprayed with pesticides to help them ripen—slower or faster—so they will be just right when put up for sale in the grocery stores.
This is how corporations use synthetics to circumvent the seasons.
If you shop at your local grocery store, the produce is usually bland and needs more nutrients.
Conversely, go to the local farmer's market and pick up vibrant produce that is full of flavor and nutrition and always in season.
The other thing about eating in season is that it naturally mixes up your diet.
Eating the same foods repeatedly can cause the human body to develop food allergies. Even research suggests that most Americans are slightly allergic to chicken and mildly to severely allergic to peanuts.
Think about it: our ancestors never ate chicken on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis the way many do today, thinking they were eating "healthy."
No food was available to our ancestors on that basis. Food was always constantly varied, unexpected, and in season.
6. Eliminate all grains and legumes from your diet.
As I disclaimed in Section #2 of this guide, if you grow your grains and bake your bread using those grains after you process them the way they need to be processed, grains would be acceptable to eat sometimes.
The same goes for legumes.
But let's be honest with ourselves: you just aren't going to do that.
And that's why grains and legumes are not recommended on a real food or Paleo diet.
Grains and legumes attack the gut. They are severely lacking in nutrients. They contain many antinutrients. and so on. We'll cover grains and legumes more in later parts of this guide.
Avoid wheat, oats, rye, barley, brown rice, soybeans, peanuts, lentils, all beans, black-eyed peas, and corn.
7. Avoid sugar.
Sugar is everywhere. Most of us are more addicted to sugar than we know.
Do everything you can to avoid foods that contain sugar or sweeteners. (And juice is not a healthy food; it's junk food.)
Also, please stop feeding your children sugar. For the love of humanity, stop it.
It's incredible how effectively the big food brands have shaped the diet of our generation and how it's so socially acceptable to feed kids sugar.
This, and the other issues with our food supply, are why the current generation of children is estimated to live shorter lives than their parents. This is serious. Please stop feeding your kids sugar-processed foods! You are ruining their health—and their future—with every bite.
8. Remove seed oils and all forms of hydrogenated fats.
These are full of omega-6s, are often rancid, and wreak havoc on your health.
You'll often find these in processed and packaged foods and nearly all restaurant food. (Yes, I said ALL restaurant food.)
Avoid peanut oil, safflower oil, vegetable oil, shortening, margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and anything with the word "hydrogenated" or "trans" on the label.
9. Eat out as little as possible.
Restaurant food needs to be corrected.
From cross-contamination to the prevalent use of highly refined seed and vegetable oils to disgusting food-handling practices, you need to do everything you can to eat out as little as possible.
For those of you who eat nearly all your meals at restaurants, I have some bad news: It will catch up to you, and when it does, you'll probably be sitting in a doctor's office hearing bad news.
10. Be careful with dairy.
It's terrible for your waistline, and your general health and any nutrients in the raw version have been eradicated through pasteurization. (Raw milk, if you can get your hands on it, is an entirely different story.)
Do this: Buy organic, and if you can find it, grass-fed, full-fat dairy products.
and go light on the cheese.
*Technically, dairy is not "strict Paleo," but many in the Paleo community have realized that dairy can be used strategically with the result.
11. Eat lots of vegetables.
Just do it.
12. Get all the lifestyle stuff in check.
13. Skip meals regularly. Don't Snack
Try to extend how long you go without food regularly. You can call this "fasting."
How Much Food Should You Eat on a Paleo Diet?
There needs to be a more complex answer here. You should eat what you should eat based on your goals.
How much you should eat is an answer that only you can give.
I can't give you the exact amount of food you should eat when following a Paleo diet, but I can give you general ranges and the tools needed to figure it out for yourself.
But before I give you these recommendations, I need you to understand something.
It's this: You have to eat real food.
Until the bulk of your diet consists of real food, you won't be able to follow the following recommendations below because they will only work if you eat about 90% of your calories in the form of real food.
So before worrying about how much you should or shouldn't eat, get off the processed or restaurant food and start buying and preparing real food ingredients at home.
After that, you can determine how much food you should eat for your specific body type and goals.
A Rough Guide
The first thing you have to do to get control over the calories you eat is to stop snacking.
You can only control your food intake during the day.
Snacking also messes up your hunger by spiking insulin levels, which has you going through the day with chronically elevated blood glucose levels.
Snacking begets snacking because of the hormonal rollercoaster your body goes through.
Snacking usually sabotages weight loss efforts for those who have already made drastic improvements in their diet.
Don't snack and eat only real food, preferably food you've made at home.
After you have these two down, aim to get your total daily calorie intake from 2 or 3 meals a day.
When you sit down to eat your meals, focus on eating slowly and eating fat and protein before carbs. Carbs come last.
By eating slowly and getting your fill from fat, protein, and non-starchy veggies, you'll have much less room in your belly left over for carbs, dairy, and other foods that require moderation.
After that, keep eating slowly until you are satisfied.
If you're a fast eater (like me), you're prone to overeating.
In this case, you should coach yourself to stop eating a couple of times throughout your meal. Also, try slowing down. Make sure you chew extra hard—not only does this slow you down, but it also improves digestion.
And that's it. If you follow these steps, your body will regulate your calorie intake and take over the process. Then all you have to do is listen to it.
How to figure out how much food you should eat on a Paleo diet (or any diet):
Eat until you feel satisfied for 1-3 meals a day while adhering to these rules:
- Eat real food.
- Start with protein, fat, and green vegetables first.
- Eat slow. Then eat even slower than that. (BTW, this is one of the most effective weight loss tips.)
- Slow down towards the end of your meal. Consider taking a break or two before finishing your last bite.
What if you are trying to lose weight?
If you want to lose weight, eat more fat and protein and less starchy carbs while eating as little sugar as possible.
Then follow the rules above while slowly reducing the total calories you put on your plate.
You should also skip meals frequently and implement some form of intermittent fasting.
What if you want to gain weight?
Eat more calories consisting of fat, protein, and sweet potatoes. White rice can also help you gain weight.
Make huge Wild Butter Brew Protein Shakes full of nutrient-dense Wild Chocolate Powder, pastured butter, wild coffee, Wild Whey, Wild Cocoa Butter, and maybe a spoonful of almond or cashew butter.
Common Issues Transitioning to Paleo
Imagine this:You stop eating all food that comes in a package; you cook or prepare all your meals at home; you buy fresh ingredients at the farmer's market and grocery store in your area.
Then you eat those ingredients at home after preparing them for 2 or 3 meals daily. You avoid all restaurant food. All snacks. All soda. All alcohol. All grains.
How do you think you'd feel?
Well, that may not be the case.
Food is a drug; like any drug, it has hormonal responses when you ingest it.
If you stop eating the foods you regularly eat, your body might respond with a "detox." This detox is your body's way of dealing with the absence of the foods—and their carbs, proteins, and fats—it's used to getting.
Since each person is different, each body will respond differently to removing certain foods.
Typically, the worse your diet is, the harder your body will take it when you cut out the sugars, grains, and other inflammatory foods your body is used to getting.
That said, most of us have at least one not-so-healthy food addiction. Maybe for you, it's bingeing on Ben and Jerry's every weekend. Or you may love those substantial, sugar-filled frappes at Starbucks. If you are like me, you might eat way too much dark chocolate. and so on.
Whatever it is, the chemical components of these foods that keep you coming back for more will kick you in the behind when you try to cut them out of your diet.
Scientists suggest that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Yelp.
Food is a drug. plain and simple.
Eating food triggers a hormonal response, like when you pop a pill.
Thinking of food as a drug is a great way to start thinking about your food. Then, hopefully, you can start seeing your food habits for what they are: obsessive, addictive, neurotic, guilt- and shame-inducing, habitual, and so on.
So, what happens when a hard drug addict goes cold turkey?
And for the most challenging addicts, withdrawal can kill.
Of course, quitting junk food cold turkey won't kill you, but it will produce withdrawal-like effects that you need to be prepared for if you want to win the battle against your body.
Here are some everyday things you'll face when moving from junk food to a clean, real-food diet.
#1: A Lack of Those Quick Spikes of Energy from Carbs
If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, you will have higher-than-average blood glucose and insulin levels, perpetuating snacking and eating more carbohydrates.
This chronic snacking, combined with your chronically elevated blood sugar levels, becomes a state your body is used to. So when you try to go without eating carbs or snacking for any extended period, your body is likely to respond by feeling nauseous, tired, and cranky.
This carb-fueled state is sometimes referred to as a "carb-burning metabolism."
When you move to a lower-carb, higher-fat diet, your metabolism switches from a carb-burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism.
After a while, you develop a fat-adapted metabolism.
This transition is often the most challenging part of transitioning to a real-food eating style.
If you are a heavy carb eater and a snacker, this process will be extra tricky because your body is used to the constant supply of food and carbs.
Moving from more frequent to less frequent eating or from more carbs to fewer carbs will almost always make you feel crappy for a few days, maybe even a week or two. That's the bad news.
The good news is that it will pass if you ride it out.
Then, when you break the snack/carb cycle, you'll feel better and get better results all around—and if weight loss is your goal, you'll be on your way to burning off the fat.
You will no longer be a slave to food; you'll be able to skip meals when you want and rarely get the same kind of nagging hunger you used to.
It can be life-changing.
A tip: When you start feeling your body craving carbs or calories, eat protein or fat instead.
#2: Not Eating Enough Fat: Being Scared of Eating Healthy Fat
This one's tough for people who have tried following conventional nutrition advice, especially the "low fat" kind.
Even though there is now mountains of research dispelling the "lipid hypothesis" myth, the mainstream media—and the masses—have yet to catch up (big surprise).
What you have to do is replace carbs with pure fat.
plain and simple.
You will fall victim to #1 on this list if you don't.
You also might risk under-consuming calories, which is not a healthy and sustainable way of losing weight.
Adding healthy fat to each meal is the best way to eat more fat. Treat fat like a side dish the same way you treat your veggies.
- Coconut in all forms
- Melted pastured butter
- Nut/Seed kinds of butter - Be careful with these, as they are high in omega-6s
- Olive oil
- Wild MCT oil
#3: Feeling The Need To Be Perfect, Then Slipping And Going In The Opposite Direction
This one is psychological. And if you are aware of this trap, you'll be better prepared to deal with it when it sneaks up on you.
The first law of food and nutrition is this: you will be flawed. No one is perfect, and being perfect isn't the point.
When you slip on your plan and give in to those cookies, ice cream, bagels, or whatever excellent food you love that isn't good for you, accept the mistake and focus your energy on the next thing you are going to do to get back on track, like going for a walk or making sure that your next meal is on point.
It's as simple as that. (And as hard.)
Don't fall into the negative spiral thinking that people do when making excuses for themselves, like "I'll start tomorrow" or "Today is already shot, so I might as well go all in."
That's the kind of thinking that'll keep you eating crap for the rest of your life.
Don't lie to yourself. Be honest and do what it takes.
#4: Not Giving It Time and Letting It Take Its Course
Following a new eating plan is a process, and often a difficult one, because we are creatures of habit and our bodies are used to doing what they usually do.
Your body is a pro at maintaining the status quo. The thing is, your job in the health and fitness game is to break the status quo.
Breaking habits is a mental and physical battle.
Your mind will crave the "reward" you get when you give in to temptation, and so will your body.
In fact, for some, breaking food habits is the hardest thing they'll ever do.
No wonder so few people do it.
Listen, I've been doing a real-food Paleo-style diet for years and still screw up regularly. Some weeks, I eat out more than I should. On other weeks, I might eat well, but my sweet tooth seems to be getting the upper hand, so I'm downing dark chocolate bars like nobody's business.
So what do I do? Should I get angry at myself? Should I scold and punish myself?
Nada. That doesn't work.
Instead of wallowing over a thing I can't change (the past), I view my "slacking" as a sign I need to correct my course and get back to my plan.
So I do. Then, with each passing day, week, month, and year, my habits will slowly deteriorate until I get to the point of resetting again. And I'm getting better each time and pushing the reset back a bit longer.
It comes down to this: No matter where you are on your health journey, you will go through ups and downs. And the key to surviving this treacherous journey is to be patient and focus on the next step.
If you are starting, give your body and mind the extra time and leeway they need to adjust. Respect the process. Understand that it's not about perfection. It's about progress.
And most important of all, expect more than quick results!
I've seen some clients go months without losing a pound, even after completely changing their lifestyle.
On a final note, never compare yourself to others. Your results are going to be different from everyone else's. Your only competition is yourself.
Transitioning to a Paleo diet takes time, patience, and much trial and error.
Avoid the many traps by focusing on the next step instead of obsessing over the last step.
Low-Carb, Paleo, and Your Hormones
The carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that make up food are called macronutrients.
These macronutrients come in the measurement we call calories, are measured in grams and milligrams, and are used as fuel by your body.
Without macronutrients, your body won't work.
Your body doesn't work without macronutrients.
You probably don't think about this often, and when you read it, it won't strike you as anything groundbreaking.
After all, of course, your body runs on food. Duh.
Not so fast, their cowboy.
We all need this reminder from time to time. If we remember that our body would stop working if we went without carbs, protein, and fat, it might remind us just how essential calories are to life.
Then, we'll consider and respect the calories we choose to keep us alive.
Then we'll think about how calories come in different shapes, sizes, and flavors and how additional calories make us feel differently.
For example, when you eat certain foods—especially if you overeat them—you may feel bloated, stuffed, and sick.
When you eat other foods, you might feel energized and alive. (And with some foods, even if you overeat them, you still might feel good or average.)
and so on.
Food for thought
Now that I have you thinking about calories, let's look at how this little form of digestible energy—the kcal—interacts with your human body.
Is a calorie just a calorie?
When you eat calories, they are absorbed into your bloodstream and filtered by your liver.
The two predominant hormones in this process help regulate glucose levels. They are insulin and glucagon.
Insulin lowers the abundance of glucose in the bloodstream by allowing other tissues to store glucose, first as glycogen in your muscles and liver, then as body fat if there is extra glucose after your glycogen stores have been maxed.
Glucagon is released when glucose levels in the bloodstream are too low, signaling the liver to convert glycogen into glucose.
Both hormones are designed to keep your blood sugar levels stable, keeping your body weight and appetite healthy.
The problems arise when you have too little or too much of either of these hormones, which are dependent on the types of food and how much food you eat.
This hormonal interplay is the process behind the health crisis of our modern industrialized society—too many processed foods that throw human hormones out of whack, promoting inflammation and leading to an increased risk of disease.
The Troublesome Carbohydrate
When you eat a carbohydrate, your body quickly converts it into glucose.
Glucose is the sugar molecule in your blood that is your primary energy source.
Glucose is an integral part of a normal, healthy human being if it is optimal.
When there is too much glucose in the bloodstream on a chronic basis, you get a nation with a 60% obesity rate.
Extra glucose in the blood is the human body's way of storing fat.
Our ancestors lived in the wild as hunter-gatherers with an inconsistent food supply, so storing body fat was necessary for survival.
Without fat and the body's ability to store it, no human and most mammals wouldn't be able to survive in the harsh wild, where food is often scarce and inconsistent.
This is why, when our ancestors came across food, they ate as much as possible to convert it into body fat, the human body's first form of food preservation.
Biology allows us to store fat to take those calories with us. Then our metabolism utilizes these body fat stores for energy when there is a lack of food (glucose) in our bloodstream.
They were starting to see how all these natural mechanisms worked. And how are they based on how our ancestors lived in the wild before we had access to food 24 hours a day?
Biology designed us to eat a ton of food all at once to store fat for later. Then biology made us good at burning fat stores when we went without food for long periods in between feedings (see Intermittent Fasting).
This means you, I, and every human alive are biologically designed to gain fat.
We are good at putting fat on our bodies when we signal to our bodies that we have plenty of food. Snacking, overeating, drinking calories, and eating fast are all signs that we have plenty of food and tell our body to store fat for later.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have welcomed fat gain whenever they could get it because it increased our chances of survival.
Nowadays, this is different for humans.
and this showcases the mismatch theory.
You struggle to keep the fat off your body because you can access food whenever you want. Your body is designed to gain fat, and your brain is designed to make you want to. Ouch. Gaining fat is how the hunter-gatherer genes in your body have survived for hundreds of thousands of years. No wonder it's hard to control them!
Back to the hormones
Your body stores glucose in fat cells via the hormone insulin, secreted by your pancreas when you have extra glucose after filling up your liver and muscles with glycogen.
Your body uses glycogen as its first energy source for fueling performance. The more muscle mass you have, the more glycogen you can store.
After your muscle and liver glycogen levels are full, insulin shuttles the rest of that glucose into body fat, which, as we saw above, is nature's way of taking those calories with us.
These biological processes kept our ancestors alive in an environment with an inconsistent food supply, before the advent of agriculture, for hundreds of thousands of years.
This system of complex hormonal processes was necessary for the survival of our ancestors and is what makes it so hard to survive today.
This is why you often hear insulin blamed for diabetes, weight gain, and many other weight-related health issues facing society.
The thing is, insulin is just doing the job it was made to do.
Nearly all animals secrete insulin, but only humans—and, sure, overfed domestic pets—have access to a limitless food supply.
Think about this a bit.
In the wild, food is not readily available. A way to walk to your fridge or a nearby restaurant is best.
In the wild, you'd sometimes come across a ton of food, like when you had a successful hunt. You couldn't take all that food because it would soon go bad and you couldn't preserve it.
Imagine you and your tribesmen hadn't eaten much in a month—maybe some berries or leaves here and there. Then your tribe has a successful hunt: you take down a large gazelle or water buffalo.
What do you think you and your tribe would do at that point?
You would eat until you couldn't eat anymore to store as many calories as possible for later by converting the extra glucose in your bloodstream into fat cells through the hormone insulin.
- Certain foods convert faster to glucose in the blood, resulting in a faster insulin "spike." carb-dense white starches, bread, sugar, milk, and other refined and processed foods
- The more you eat, the more likely you are to produce too much insulin and store too much glucose. The whole "eat to stoke your metabolism" thing is nonsense.
- Our ancestors went for long periods with little or no food. This is why intermittent fasting (meaning irregular, broken up) is so healthy for humans.
The Evolution of the Paleo Diet Paleo
It is widely considered that Dr. Loren Cordain is the "founder" of the Paleo Diet.
His first book, The Paleo Diet, not only coined the name "The Paleo Diet," but it was also the first published book to hit the mainstream and promote the idea of a diet based on research in evolutionary biology and human anthropological studies.
Since then, countless books, authors, blogs, and brands have been created based on the Paleo concept.
And due to the growing interest and research in the Paleo communities, there have been many evolutions of what is considered "Paleo."
The thing is, there's no single definition. There are only two versions of Paleo.