Is it possible to eat a paleo diet and damage your health? How about on a vegetarian or a vegan diet? Can you possibly eat SO “healthy” as to be lumped into one of these categories but yet be damaging your health?
Yes. Yes it is possible, and I’m here to bring clarity to this.
I’ve been getting approached by friends and family more and more over the course of the last few years, asking me to help them start and adapt to a paleo diet. Of course, I’m always happy to help, and I always do.
But one word of caution I will give to anyone who is contemplating starting a paleo diet or ANY diet for that matter, is that it is 100% possible to follow the basic tenets of a diet and to actually damage your health as a result.
Many people understand the paleo diet simply to be the exclusion of grains, dairy, and legumes from what they eat. What does that leave us with? Meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. But does that mean that you can stuff a McDonald’s big mac burger patty down your throat every day (sans bun of course…and sans special sauce…what the hell is in that sauce anyway?)? Does that mean you should eat tons of processed meats like conventional cold cuts that are full of nitrates? Does it mean you should be scarfing down 2-3 dark chocolate bars per day, or eating tons of fruits? No, absolutely not. Should you be grilling all of your meats, poultry, and fish with canola oil, soybean oil, or any other vegetable oil? While all of these foods and/or cooking methods technically may fall into the basic tenets of a paleo or ketogenic diet/lifestyle, I would NEVER EVER recommend that anyone make these foods a staple of their diet. If you really want to see the true benefits of a paleo diet (weight loss AND internal health improvements), you need to take things a step further:
- If you have the money, always choose 100% grass-fed (and grass finished…some farms load up their cows with grains a few months before slaughter to “fatten them up”…hmmm grains used to fatten up cows….verrrrry interesting) meats. Grass fed beef, grass-fed bison, grass-fed lamb…all are among some of the healthiest foods you can eat. Their omega 3: omega 6 fatty acid ratio is way more skewed to the omega 3 side than conventionally raised meat from grain fed animals. Thus, eating meats from grass-fed animals actually has a net anti-inflammatory effect on your body. See Chris Kresser’s series on grass-fed meats for more info. Conventional meat comes from grain-fed, sick, antibiotic, pesticide ridden cows. Garbage in, garbage out folks. (side note: all of those wonderful studies that we see demonizing red meat as a demonic artery-clogging, cancer-causing substance that should be made illegal surely used conventional grain fed, antibiotic ridden, McDonald’s quality meats as their study group, simply bc that’s what the vast majority of our omnivorous population eats. So, you do the math…aside from those studies’ inability to adequately address confounding variables, is red meat really bad for you? Well, maybe the red meat that they use in these “scientific” studies is…).
- Again, if you have the money, always buy and eat organic “pastured” or “pasture raised” poultry and eggs. What that means is simply that the poultry was raised outdoors on grassy fields where they ate their normal diet (which consists of bugs, worms, and other small animals as well as vegetation and seeds). Do this for the same reasons above. And because conventional chicken contains arsenic (which is in their “all-vegetarian feed”..I guess vegetarians eat arsenic?). Again, garbage in, garbage out for the chickens and the cows. So let’s extrapolate that to us humans. get my point?
- Again, money-permitting, ALWAYS eat wild caught fish over farm raised. Here’s why.
- Always opt for organic grass-fed butter or ghee over conventional butter or conventional ghee. For eating and cooking, always opt for organic extra virgin coconut oil over any other vegetable oil like canola, soybean, or peanut oil. I referenced this in my last blog post.
- If you want to eat bacon or cold cuts, buy only organic uncured with only naturally occurring nitrates from celery and sea salt. Never buy conventional nitrate filled bacon or cold cuts.
Here’s an example of vegetarianism gone wild:
MMMM…chocorice dark chocolate snacks…I have seen these now in 3 health stores locally in recent weeks. It’s vegetarian, and sold in health stores…MUST be healthy, right? Except, it says on the label that it does not contain trans fats…but…wait a minute, last I heard, “partially hydrogenated” palm oil is a freaking trans fat! Seriously, makers of chocorice…WTF, guys. I mean, really…does anyone think “if I eat vegetarian, I can snarf down a few of these chocorice’s every day and I’ll be healthy because it’s vegetarian!”. Well, many people DO think that way. Again, technically a vegetarian product, but really not good for you.
Vegetarianism (if practiced properly and includes organic pasture raised eggs and raw milk from grass-fed cows) can actually be a pretty healthy diet. But not if you are going to eat french fries fried in soybean oil several times per week, and not if you are going to replace the proteins you lose from meats with a tons of gluten filled conventional wheat products or other gut irritating grains. Technically vegetarian? YES. Healthy eating? NO.
It’s very easy to eat a “healthy diet” and actually do damage to your health. You can’t just look at it from a macro point of view of “I eliminated grains, dairy, and legumes so I should be good to go, right?”. You have to be responsible, thoughtful, and informed with your food choices on a micro level. Your body is your temple, guys. This isn’t like fix-it felix, where when you die you just re-generate for your immediate next existence as yourself and get a second chance (not to get into spirituality and reincarnation instant breakfasts on you or anything). Take the time to understand what every morsel of food does when it enters your mouth, your stomach, your small intestines, your bloodstream, and eventually your cells. Garbage in, garbage out!