Paleo FAQ. We answer the most commonly asked questions about Paleo.
What is the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet, The Primal Diet, The Caveman Diet... no matter what you call it, they are a style of eating based on how our ancestors ate for hundreds of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture.
- Human beings have been on this planet for 200,000+ years
- Agriculture has been around for about 12,000 years
- Smart phones have been around for about 10 years
What all this means is this: the bulk of human existence was lived in the wild before we had the ability to manipulate our food through growing and other forms of processing.
Compare this food system to the food system today and you will see the theory behind the Paleo diet.
This theory is called the "mismatch theory," and states that we live in an environment not matched to our genes.
Technology—which includes agriculture and that cell phone that's within arms reach—has come on faster than humans have been able to adapt to them.
As a result, we live in an environment that's completely different from the one our ancestors lived in.
This environment has us doing many things differently, not just eating differently—sleep, sunlight exposure, exercise, sitting, circadian rhythm, social life, etc.
The premise of the Paleo diet is to take cues from the way our ancestors lived so we can make better choices in our current environment.
Our ancestors ate real, unprocessed food that changed with the seasons and that was constantly varied. They rarely ate grains, and if they did, it was in small amounts and only in wild grain form (wild grains are different than the grains people eat today).
Foods typically excluded from a Paleo diet are based on:
1) Our ancestors never ate these foods in the quantities, or with the frequency we do today.
2) Our ancestors never ate processed, artificial foods. They ate only Real, Wild Food. Comparing that food to today's food would be like comparing apples to oranges.
Beyond food, our ancestors did other things that most people today don't do, like moving throughout the day at a slow-to-medium pace with many irregular and varied movement patterns. Our ancestors were exposed to sunlight on a near daily basis, were always in nature, and didn't sit for long periods of time. They definitely didn't stare at small font on screens.
All of the things we do on a regular basis that are not "natural" to our species cause health issues—sitting, smoking, fast food, not moving, lack of sunlight, etc.
Why would I want to eat Paleo?
To expand on the reason behind a Paleo diet, I want you to think of the animal kingdom for a second.
Imagine a lion.
A lion could never survive on anything but meat. Being a predator, it needs the calorie dense protein and fat that comes from killing prey. If lions tried relying on grass—like it's prey does—he wouldn't be called the "King of the Jungle," and instead would be just another grazing animal, like the Water Buffalo.
On the flip side, a bison or buffalo needs to eat a ton of grass... most of the day, to get the calories it needs.
The same goes for cows.
Some fish eat other fish, and some fish are bottom feeders that eat things that bottom feeders eat.
My point is this: each animal in the animal kingdom has a natural diet.
Humans have a natural diet too, and that diet is a Real Food diet.
When humans eat fake, processed food, they get fat and sick, just like when cows gets sick from eating grains.
If you want to be healthy, and to look, feel and perform your best, you need to eat a Real Food diet.
Just how "Paleo" you go comes down to personal preference.
You can be more strict Paleo or more loose Paleo. It's up to you. The thing that matters the most is whether you are eating Real Food or not.
How much weight can I lose on a Paleo diet?
As much as you want.
When you start eating Real Food, your body is no longer this thing that just carries you around, calling all the shots.
Eating Real Whole Foods gives you the ability to call the shots. You get to decide how big or small you want to be.
You decide if you want to curb your calorie intake one day or to eat more to bulk up.
The key is to build the healthy habit of Real Food. After that, weight becomes a trivial matter of choice.
I won't be able to gain weight on the Paleo diet because I already have trouble keeping weight on.
I've heard this one many times.
Sure, you might have a legitimate struggle in the weight gain department, but if you dig deep and find that honest bone somewhere hidden in your body, you'll out this is just an excuse.
To use the logic, I lose weight too easily, so I should just eat junk food, is complete nonsense.
That's just complete and utter nonsense and something skinnyfat people tell themselves so they can justify their poor eating habits.
After all, your health matters too, doesn't it?
And since weight isn't the only marker of health, how much you weigh or don't weigh shouldn't really matter. Health should matter.
So get off your obsession with your weight and focus on eating clean Real Food calories.
Then you can focus on eating more calories if you want to gain more weight.
- You can whip up a Real Food smoothie with 1000+ calories using grass-fed butter, Wild MCT Oil, Wild Chocolate, Cashew and Almond butter, Coconut milk, and a mix of fruits and veggies.
- You can slather calorie-dense butter or (unheated) olive oil over everything.
- You can eat an entire sweet potato + an entire avocado every meal in addition to your regular serving of food.
- You can even eat white rice (but not brown rice) to help you gain/keep on the weight.
The list goes on.
The fact is this, if you need to gain or maintain weight, eat more fat, protein and carbs... eat more calories!
And make sure those calories are from Real Food!
How could bacon possibly be healthy?
There are two points here.
First, saturated fat is not bad for you and does not cause heart disease, so there is no need to fear bacon the way the fear-mongering media has lead you to believe.
Second, there is the issue of the animal you get the bacon from.
Bacon from healthy animals that live on small farms and eat insects, grass, and other foods natural to it's diet, is healthy bacon because it comes from a healthy pig.
Bacon from industrialized, hormone-injected, sick and massively stressed pork, is unhealthy pork because it comes from unhealthy pigs.
It's all about the ingredient.
- Don't eat industrialized bacon (or any industrialized meat).
- Eat bacon from small farmers that treat their animals with respect and feed them a natural diet.
Doesn't eating egg yolks raise your cholesterol?
The research has has been dismantled many times.
I recommend the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes to get the full treatment on the whole fat hypothesis thing.
Didn't cavemen only live a short period of time?
To say any population lives for X period of time is to speak of statistics.
Statistics are based on taking a bunch of numbers and calculating averages. So if you want to calculate the average lifespan of our ancient ancestors, you will take the entire population and calculate the averages based on how long the average caveman lived.
This calculation takes into account infant mortality rates, as well as death from infections, injuries and trauma, all of which were high back then due to lack of medical care.
Yet each one of these mortality-rate-reducers have been solved in our modern world. People are now living older than ever—yet with a lower quality of life—thanks to medicine and all the protections of modern society (like 911).
You could break an ankle in hunter gather times and it could be a death sentence, so naturally there's going to be a skewing of just how long your ancestors lived.
Infants and children also died in greater numbers due to lack of modern medicine and weak immune systems.
Some numbers of life expectancy show that if a hunter gatherer made it to 15 years of age, their life expectancy immediately shot up to 39 years.
Another thing to note about the death rates of our ancestors is the fact that they did not die from the things that kill people today, like heart disease, cancer and other modern Western diseases. Instead they most often died to infection and trauma, both of which modern humans don't often die from today.
So if our ancestors had access to the basic forms of medicine, they would undoubtedly live longer than the average human today.
Finally, while there isn't a ton of conclusive evidence of the cancer and heart disease rates of our ancestors, modern researchers have observed modern hunter gatherers, like the Inuit, lacking in nearly all Western disease. (1. Urquhart JA: The most northerly practice in Canada. 1935. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne 147:1193-6, 1992)
How do I eat Paleo at Restaurants?
Avoid anything fried. Avoid anything breaded.
If you want to get more serious about it, ask your server to have the chef cook your food in butter instead of the seed oils they typically use.
Look for restaurants that serve "farm-to-table," and that talk about the farms they get their food from. Avoid restaurant chains (other than Chipotle).
Stick with meat and vegetables as the main focus when eating out and you'll eliminate a lot of the junk.
And most important of all, avoid restaurant food as much as possible!
It's nearly impossible to stay healthy if you eat most of your meals at restaurants. (Sorry New Yorkers.)
What about fiber?
Eating a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables will give you plenty of fiber.
It's not really something you should worry about all that much.
In fact, most of the fiber claims you see on food labels is marketing nonsense.
The intuit, as an example, eat almost all of their calories from animals, much of that in the form of saturated seal fat. If fiber is that important, how do they do well with so little?
The fact is, the whole fiber thing has been completely overhyped by the processed food industry.
What about the China Study?
This book has been criticized in detail many times. Here's a great article on the book.
What books do you recommend on Paleo eating?
Mark Sisson - Mark is our go-to resource for all things Paleo/Primal. All of his stuff is golden.
Good Calories Bad Calories - Gary Taubes is a science writer that has brought the problems of obesity, heart disease and how modern western disease are related to diet and lifestyle.
Have a question that should be included here? Let us know.