Top 10 Most Common Paleo Mistakes
We know the health benefits of being paleo include increasing your quality of life, reducing your systemic inflammation and increasing insulin sensitivity, but adopting the Paleo lifestyle doesn’t necessarily guarantee you will be healthy.
1. You assume “health food” is healthy
Supermarkets and the food industry pay very keen attention to what sells. Health food sells. Gluten free food sells. Even paleo pre-packaged foods are starting to sell!
But sadly, just because a marketing genius named Poindexter creates branding on packaged products emblazoned with claims of “healthy”, “no sugar”, “bigger, stronger, longer” certainly doesn’t mean that it is good for you.
Don’t believe the hype.
2. Thinking that carbs are the enemy!
Many people are first drawn to the world of paleo because of its shiny promise to help shed kilos and drop a pant size. And it’s true eating whole, real foods whilst eliminating refined, processed and inflammatory foods can accomplish this.
However, in an effort to lose weight rapidly, many people are misled into assuming that carbohydrates are evil, sending them to the land of ketosis (under 50g carb /day).
I see many women eat an almost non-existent carbohydrate intake and then after a few months they start to notice an inability to shift weight, a decreased lack of sleep, fatigue, poor temperature regulation, increased stress levels and an increase in “crazy”.
Here’s why low carb may not work for you…
The adrenals can get stressed out, the liver overworked as it tries to process glucose from other forms of macronutrients (gluconeogenesis) and with the lack of glucose there is a lack of insulin response creating leptin issues – a hormone that is involved in energy metabolism, thyroid and reproductive hormones and fertility.
Remember, not all carbs are created equal and they are not all evil. Leave the fast digesting refined carbs like pasta, cereal and table sugar alone, but complex carbohydrates from vegetables and yes, even starchy veggies like potatoes and white rice are perfectly fine especially if you have an underactive thyroid, adrenal fatigue or you work out frequently.
3. Lack of food diversity
Too often paleo newbies will jump on the bandwagon, focusing on cutting out food groups without any thought of replacing these foods with healthy additions, resulting in a diet lacking in substance.
I regularly see people merely increasing their chicken (and coffee) quota to meet the protein and energy demands. But whilst this might get you through the day, this is not going to help you thrive.
Organ meats such as liver, brains and kidney contain more vitamins, such as B12 and Vitamin D and minerals including selenium, iron and zinc than regular cuts of meat, not to mention more healthy fats and essential amino acids. They are quite literally nutritional powerhouses. So get adventurous in the kitchen and try something outside you’re your daily chicken breast.
Besides meat, it’s also important you get an extensive range of vegetables so you increase the diversity of your gut bacteria. The healthier your gut bugs, the stronger your gut integrity, immunity and ability to assimilate nutrients.
Try ordering only veggies that are in season so you can get them fresher and you are forced to vary your veggie intake.And get to know your farmer and ask them to give you a variety of cuts and organ meats each week so you get the nutrients you need to thrive.
4. Too Few Fats
Fats such as animal fat, grass fed butter and avocado are good. We all know that! But even though the paleo world seems to be ahead of the rest of the health world on this, I still see many that are hesitant to increase their fat intake.
So why do we need fat?
Fat is essential for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. It’s required to keep your gallbladder healthy which we need to release bile to remove toxins from the body. Without fat, our gallbladder and liver becomes sluggish risking reduced detoxification, resulting in hormonal imbalance such as oestrogen dominance.
Fat helps you to feel fuller for longer and if you consume sugar, make sure you accompany it with fat, as it slows the absorption of glucose into the body, meaning more stable blood sugar levels.
Eating healthy saturated fats increases the good HDL cholesterol and the good, fluffy LDL kind that the body needs to help repair and inhibit inflammation. Fat and cholesterol are also vital for our sex hormones – oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
And remember, when you cut back on carbs and grains, you need extra fat to help provide you with enough energy to thrive. I usually tell my clients to experiment with around 50 – 70% of total calorie intake from fats depending on their build, lifestyle, health and hormone status.
5. Extreme Extremist
Pushing yourself constantly to extremes is familiar to anyone who has ever been a dedicated CrossFit fan. It’s what you do. You push yourself past your comfort zone, you try harder, faster and look beyond what reality tells you you can do. It’s what I love about Paleo and CrossFit; it’s refreshing and inspiring.
And generally, if you are this A type personality in the gym, you are the same outside the gym.
But it also makes us susceptible for burn out and adrenal fatigue, especially those who are already on a very low carb intake or a very low calorie intake.
By pushing ourselves constantly, our adrenal glands kick in and release cortisol into the body so we can modulate the stress response. But chronic levels of cortisol causes leaky gut and gut dysbiosis and often results in poor immunity, adrenal fatigue, fatty liver, mood disorders, decreased libido (boo!) and autoimmune conditions.
Bottom line – not even a healthy diet will keep you healthy if you are constantly overtraining or overreaching and in a state of chronic stress.
6. Hiding from the sun
In Australia, we have ‘slip, slop, slap’ ingrained into us to the point that now over 4 million Australians are deficient in Vitamin D. That’s about one in four people!
Vitamin D is essential for bone health, brain function and calcium absorption as well as reducing inflammation of which is the foundation of most chronic conditions. Deficiency is also associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus and tumours such as those in colorectal cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Vitamin D impacts gut integrity via its role in the tight junctions of your small intestine. So to put it simply, if you lack Vitamin D your gut integrity is compromised which allows foreign material to leak into your blood stream, increasing stress and inflammation in the body.
Don’t like the idea of browning your skin? Then eat more fatty fish such as sardines and salmon and up your pasture-raised egg intake.
And be aware that the elderly are the most at risk of deficiency (so perhaps take Grandma for a nice stroll in the sunshine).
7. All work and no play make homer something, something…
Ever wondered why you get sick when you go on holiday or finally have some time off? It’s because your cortisol (not in fact the evil hormone everyone claims it to be) was inhibiting inflammation, and doing such a good job at it that as soon as you stopped the stress/fitness/pushing to the limits, your cortisol lowered and your body inflammation finally caught up with you. Boom!
Give yourself a holiday and take it easy and even more importantly when you aren’t on holiday, find time to be present, relax and allow your system to switch gears to turn off the high stress, high cortisol mode.
8. Coffee ala Crappa
Most paleoarians would agree that good coffee is the bane of their existence. And yet many seem to look past what actually goes into their coffee cup.
Try ordering a real coffee – straight up black. Don’t like it black? Try adding some MCT oil for a creamy version or add grass-fed butter and go bulletproof.
Either way, just avoid any inflammatory additives such as soymilk and artificial sweeteners.And if you are ordering coffee straight up – that’s great but is it organic? Coffee beans are one of the most highly sprayed crops in the world. Want pesticides and chemicals with your morning coffee? I think not.
9. Undress your salad
You opt for the healthy version on the café menu – a nice chicken or beef salad. Great. Protein check. Veggies check. Greens Check. And then like a car crash waiting to happen, you watch the waitress pour pre-made sugary syrup all over your once healthy meal.
Take a ranch dressing for example. If you have even 1 tablespoon your salad, that can equate to about 1 ½ teaspoons of sugar.
Or perhaps you want to add a tablespoon of BBQ sauce? Then add another four teaspoons of sugar.And on top of the sugar, you are no doubt going to be consuming preservatives, additives and inflammatory omega 6 vegetable oils.
When you order a salad ask for no dressing, or request it be served on the side. That way you can add your own if you have to, controlling what you consume.
Or you can do what I do, bring your own. Once a week I whip up my own homemade sugar free dressings and pack them in little takeaway tiny containers for easy carrying.
10. Going Nuts
Nuts tend to be a lifeline for paleo people, so much so that snacks become nuts, desserts become nut butter and even our baked goods are comprised 90% of nuts. Somewhere along the line when we dropped grains we replaced them with nuts and our consumption of nuts quadrupled.
But whats the big deal about nuts; I mean they are better than a Quarter Pounder with triple cheese right?
One of the reasons the paleo world avoids grains is due to the high phytic acid content, but did you know that there is more phytic acid in nuts than in grains?
Yes nuts are packed with nutrients and in limited quantities are great for your health. But on the flip side, phytic acid can bind to minerals such as zinc and iron meaning the body won’t get a chance to absorb these nutrients. Of course, its not going to rob your body of these nutrients, but it can limit what you absorb if you say consume nuts with another nutrient rich meal making your nutrient rich meal somewhat redundant.
Chris Kresser provides a range of healthy phytic acid consumption options at no more than 400mg of phytic acid a day. A large handful of nuts, say hazelnuts, is anywhere from 640 – 1000 mg.
And if you suffer from a damaged gut or autoimmune conditions, you might want to think about eliminating nuts all together and then reintroducing them after 30 days to see if you are sensitive to them. Nuts contain lectin that is known as a gut irritant – basically they stick to the gut lining causing leaky gut. So why risk it?
On another note, nuts (yes you almonds!) have a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio, and remember that a high omega 6 ratio in the body is pro-inflammatory. But at the end of the day, if you are eating a balanced diet and you have a healthy gut, I wouldn’t be too concerned about the old nut.