The Paleo Diet 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.)
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.
In conclusion, the guiding principles in this Wild Paleo Guide are to consume real food, challenge one's beliefs about nutrition, and strive for an active, health-conscious lifestyle. Rather than adhering strictly to a Paleo diet or another popular nutrition plan, individuals are encouraged to prioritize raw and minimally processed ingredients and experiment with their nutritional intake to find what works best for their bodies.
The importance of self-experimentation, regular cooking, and mindful eating is heavily emphasized. Modern research, personal experience, and knowledge of the adverse effects of ultra-processed, industrialized foods should all be considered when making dietary decisions. Furthermore, it's critical to appreciate the flexibility a natural food diet provides and the potential for an individualized approach to nutrition.
This guide is about building a nutritional foundation on real food, reflecting on our ancestral eating habits, and adapting these principles to our modern lifestyles and individual needs. This approach to nutrition is a guide to optimal human nutrition in the 21st century, advocating for a departure from dogmatic dietary rules and biases.
Moreover, it's essential to recognize the barriers, such as cognitive biases and misinformation, that prevent individuals from adopting healthier eating habits and lifestyle changes. This guide has tried to break these barriers by promoting an open-minded and realistic approach toward nutrition and health.
Ultimately, the goal is to foster an empowered and informed approach to one's nutrition that encourages self-awareness, flexibility, and a focus on quality. And with a clear understanding of the profound effects of our dietary choices, we can all take steps towards healthier, more vibrant lives.