Why do so many people, including ‘experts’ hate on the Paleo diet? From people like Christina Warinner in her viral TedX speech (excellent rebuttal here from Robb Wolf to the chop-shop speech given by Warriner at TedX) to poorly researched books like “Paleo fantasy” by Marlene Zuk (Incredible rebuttal to Zuk’s idiotic book here by Mark Sisson). Heck, even major news outlets like US News run an absolutely abhorrent yearly piece ranking the best and worst diets for our health each year. The paleo diet comes in DEAD LAST every year, ranked way lower than SLIM FAST (click here to read a fantastic rebuttal to the drivel that US News puts out about diets every year)! That’s just laughable. And even more laughable is that the ‘experts’ who rank these diets are the very nutritionists and dietitians who are supposedly advising America to better health through diet. Yikes…
Look at the graphic above. The paleo diet is all about eating REAL, FRESH, UNPROCESSED, PERISHABLE, NUTRIENT-DENSE foods. How this diet is ranked behind some of the other diets like Slimfast on that US News list is absolutely beyond me!
The Paleo diet has its short-comings, which I’ll get to shortly, but I want to be clear about my stance on it: I have eaten paleo/primal on and off (mostly on) for about 4 years now. I have intimate experience with this diet, and have helped many of my friends and family adopt some version of the paleo diet into their lives with incredible results.
What led me to the paleo diet?
I was in my mid-thirties and suffering from what many other people my age suffer from: slowing metabolism, weight gain, constant exhaustion (which fueled a hefty caffeine addiction), frequent sinus infections, joint pains, allergies galore (which led to a dependency on Afrin, breathe right strips, nasonex, and insert 50 other commonly used nasal allergy sprays), mood swings, food cravings (read SUGAR), and a nasty case of GERD (Gastro-Esophegeal Reflux “Disease” – think heartburn on steroids…like you feel as if you’re having a heart attack).
I had been to a nutritionist. She joked that my cholesterol was so low that I was either dead or in the best shape on earth. Well, I was neither. In fact, I would argue that I was closer to death and, had I continued taking her advice and my gastroenterologist’s advice, I would have had a very bad health outcome by now. They told me that I should eat lots of heart healthy grains, avoid all acidic foods like coffee, tea, tomatoes, alcohol, and citrus fruits, and to take acid blockers like Prevacid and Prilosec. Following their advice gave me temporary respite from the GERD, but the minute I stopped taking the Prevacid, it came back with a vengeance even though I continued to eat the diet they recommended for me. So, what gives?? Was I supposed to just take these pills for the rest of my life to feel like I’m not being stabbed in the chest after every meal? Big Pharma sure wants me to think so…
My health issues not only remained, but significantly worsened until 2009 when I had heard of the Paleo diet. At first I brushed it off as idiocy just based on its name (which doesn’t do it any justice, imo). But after hearing a few of my crossfit brethren rave about it I decided to do some research. I ended up buying Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution” and I read it cover to cover within 4 days (I’m a slow reader). It’s a really easy read, very entertaining and very informative. I highly recommend this book as a starting point to learn about the paleo diet and how it can help you reverse chronic illness, lose weight, and regain energy. Based on this book, I gave paleo a try. I then discovered other amazing paleo resources like Mark’s Daily Apple and Everyday Paleo.
- Weight: I lost 27 pounds of excess fat within about 4-6 months. Without counting calories. I ate to my heart’s content in each meal.
- GERD: Completely eliminated, and did so without the use of antacids, and I ate citrus, cooked tomatoes, and drank tea to my heart’s content (all supposed “no-no’s” when you have GERD)
- Allergies: Almost completely eliminated. And by implementing the diet, I figured out that Dairy was one of the main culprits of allergies and inflammation for me. GOT MILK? NOT.
- Chronic Fatigue: The diet didn’t fully end the fatigue but helped it enough that I no longer needed coffee and caffeine (which led me to the discovery that I had sensitivities to coffee and caffeine).
- Frequent sinus infections: Frequency was greatly reduced, and my immune function improved. Apparently grains and dairy were 2 major culprits of low immunity and inflammation for me (as well as millions of people who don’t realize it).
- Blood lipid profile: Unfortunately, I didn’t have a blood test done before I started eating paleo, so I have nothing to compare my results to, but a recent blood lipid profile showed absolutely no issues with my cholesterol, and showed excellent ratios b/w HDL:TC, HDL:TRIG, and low triglycerides. This is despite me regularly eating organic uncured nitrate free bacon, and pastured organic eggs constantly (no, not egg whites…FULL eggs with the yellow, which is the most nutritious part of the egg! It drives me crazy to see people ordering egg-white omelets at a restaurant thinking they are doing something good for their health!).
- Joint Pain: Reduced…although not fully (I have a major sports injury in my left knee that involved a permanent metal plate and screws).
- Fitness: My endurance improved, my strength improved, and I was easily able to do rigorous crossfit or muay thai workouts. The low carb diet worked just fine for me.
- Food cravings: This was the one area that I was not able to conquer with paleo alone.
Now, how can a diet that is capable of results like mine be so adamantly panned by the talking heads out there? You see, I am a walking, living, breathing testimonial for the paleo diet. And I am not the only one. Click here to see just ONE resource for thousands of testimonials like mine. To my readers that have experience with the paleo diet (good or bad) I would love to read about your story in the comments section below!
Aside from the thousands of testimonials and case studies, and despite what its detractors say, The Paleo diet does have sound science behind it as well (just scroll to the bottom of the page I just linked to and see the 8 randomized control studies on the paleo diet).
But the title of this article is “What’s missing from the paleo diet?”…so I’m sure you weren’t expecting to read a love-fest about it! Despite it’s proven superiority to the standard American debacle…err…diet, the paleo diet does fall short in one area. But, in fairness, so does just about EVERY single diet out there including vegetarianism, veganism, Ornish and Essylstyn’s plant-based diets, etc:
The concept of bio-chemical individuality
Have you ever noticed that one person will thrive on a specific diet, while another person will see no change and yet another person’s health will worsen with the same diet? Why is that? I have met people who have tried the paleo diet and gained weight! I have personally met vegans who have eaten that way for 20 years and they look and feel amazing. Then I’ve spoken to other vegans who report terrible, life-threatening experiences with veganism (from malnutrition). How can that be?
The answer is this: There is no one-size-fits-all-cookie-cutter diet out there. Every single one of us is, metabolically speaking, as individual on the inside as we are in our outward appearance. Every single one of us has unique genetic nutrient needs, deficiencies, abundances, metabolic rates, stress levels, and genetic ability to cope with internal and external stressors. So, a diet that makes one person feel incredible because it happens to offer the perfect nutrition for his or her situation might be exactly the opposite of what another person needs to thrive.
Truly, one man’s food is another man’s poison.
This is not a new concept. It’s just a vastly under-reported and under-appreciated one. The understanding of bio-chemical individuality started with the research of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who set out to travel the world and to study native cultures that remained untouched by western nutritional concepts or industrialization. What he found was astounding. In these cultures, he observed that:
- They had almost NO incidence of the diseases that plague westerners today such as cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, etc.
- They had very little obesity.
- Their bodies were lean and strong, like Olympic athletes, despite the fact that they didn’t train like them.
- Most importantly, they all consumed vastly different diets based on the geographically available foods in their area.
The last point, #4, is extremely important. Eskimos evolved over thousands of years in Alaska eating whale and seal blubber, caribou, and kelp. They ate lots of animal flesh and saturated fat and very little in the way of vegetation simply because that was what was available to them. Evolution (natural selection) allowed for the Eskimos who adapted well to a diet such as this to thrive and procreate, whilst Eskimos who failed to adapt and thrive on this diet simply died out. Click here to read a fascinating piece in discovery magazine about the paradox of the Eskimo diet.
By contrast, Aboriginal cultures that lived in a vastly different geography and climate thrived on insects, beetles, grubs, berries, kangaroo, and wallaby. They also ate much more vegetation and fruits than the Eskimos, yet they also thrived until western civilization introduced them to McDonald’s 😉 .
The Swiss people thrived for many years on whole rye bread, large quantities of high fat cream cheese, cream, and raw goat’s milk, some wine, and small amounts of meat. They enjoyed robust health even in glacial winters on a diet that is vastly different from the other cultures.
The African Masai thrived for thousands of years on a diet that consisted of wild meat, milk, and blood extracted from cattle! They exhibited extraordinary physical and mental development.
Now, ask yourself this question: After adapting over thousands of years to these geographically and climate-dictated diets, what would the health outcomes be if we were to switch diets among them? For instance, what if we had the Aboriginals eat the Eskimo diet and the Eskimos eat the Aboriginal diet? Again, these are people who have evolved and adapted to a specific way of eating over thousands of years. This is one of those times in your life were you just need to apply some logic and the correct conclusion will come to you. We can see what the switch over to a western diet is doing to them: making them very sick!
Other pioneers in the concept of biochemical individuality and eating according to your genetic predispositions are Dr. George Watson who wrote “Nutrition and your mind”, Dr. William Kelly, Rudolf Wiley, PhD and author of “Biobalance”, and of course, the man who put these ideas together and created what is now called “Metabolic Typing, William Wolcott (author of “The Metabolic Typing Diet”, a must-read for anyone interested in this stuff).
OK. So now we understand that adaptation and natural selection over thousands of years has made us all genetically predisposed to thrive via eating a certain way. So, all we have to do to eat right for ourselves is trace back our lineage as far back as we can go…maybe back to our great grandparents and mimic what they ate, right? Not so fast! I wish it were that easy, but our ability to transport ourselves from one geography and climate to many other vastly different geographies and climates started back way further than you or I can possibly trace our lineage. And once humans were able to travel by horse, boat, car, and plane, things got a little wacky. People from different cultures and background started mixing with other very different cultures and backgrounds. For me personally, I know that my mother had ties in Egypt, Morocco, and Israel, while my father had ties in France and Poland…and who knows where their lineage traces back to? So, how should I eat? Should I try to mimic an ancient middle eastern diet, or a traditional old school east European diet? Or neither? Or a little of both? We have become such mutts at this point, that it’s really a pointless exercise that will leave you more frustrated than satisfied.
Enter Metabolic Typing, an assessment developed and refined over the last 30+ years by William Wolcott and which answers these questions. It may sound unbelievable, but with a relatively short online assessment of your physical traits, metabolic traits, and psychological/neurotransmitter traits, Wolcott found a way to accurately uncover your individual metabolic type. Wolcott’s work was based on the following principle:
When you eat the wrong foods, the wrong macro-nutrient ratios (protein:carbs:fat), and the wrong micro-nutrient ratios (think nutrients, supplements) for your specific metabolism, that leads to imbalances in the body, and metabolic dysfunction. You become less efficient at metabolizing protein, fat, and carbs. This leads to all sorts of sub-clinical health problems, like the chronic symptoms I described myself as having above (fatigue, headaches, indigestion, hypoglycemia, constipation, rashes/hives, and pain/inflammation, and malnutrition). If intervention by eating for your individual metabolism is not achieved, these conditions eventually manifest as chronic degenerative conditions such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, colitis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, asthma, or auto-immune conditions.
Or to put it in plain English, eating the wrong way for your metabolic type will make you sick, and eating correctly for your metabolic type brings balance and optimal function back to your body! Think of metabolic typing as a highly individualized paleo diet based on your specific physical, metabolic, and psychological needs. Why do I say that? Because metabolic typing has many similarities to paleo eating. Regardless of what the assessment tells you that your metabolic type is, Metabolic Typing diets:
- Shun processed foods and promote eating only fresh, organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, pasture raised, nutrient-dense, perishable foods.
- Shun all added sugars and artificial sweeteners.
- Advise to consume only raw, organic, grass-fed dairy products (similar to primal)
- Advise you to eat only sprouted nuts, seeds, and legumes when possible (similar to primal)
There is one major difference in metabolic typing diets and paleo, and that is that it allows for some organic sprouted ancient grain consumption IF your body does well while eating them, although it warns not to overdo it. After all, if you are someone who can eat clean, sprouted grains without incidence (no weight gain, no negative changes in blood lipids or levels of inflammatory markers, and no digestive or inflammatory symptoms), then why shouldn’t you eat grains in a limited fashion? Simply because humans didn’t consume grains prior to 10,000 years ago? Again that is a very cookie cutter approach to an individualized diet plan. And, as someone who wants to help make the world a healthier place, I am personally more concerned with doing what is right for my clients and not trying to stuff them into a specific diet plan that works for me but may not be ideal for them.
Always think: what is the goal, here? The paleo diet is a wonderful, fantastic diet that has helped me and many people I know tremendously. But to follow it so rigidly without acknowledging that everyone is different is a mistake. Some people might do very well on more carbs than others. Some people might do well with much less meat than others. Some people, like myself, have a metabolic type that thrives when we eat 70% fat and protein in each meal, with only 30% of our meal consisting of carbs derived from non-starchy vegetables. Others might get deathly ill following my metabolic type diet. Do you see where I am going here? This is the reason you see one person thrive on a diet, another person feel no change, and a third person actually get sicker on that same diet.
But don’t let this change your opinion on the paleo diet being a terrific diet! Again, in fairness to paleo, every other diet out there misses the mark on this as well!
By the way, back to my food cravings: once I tweaked the macro and micro-nutrient ratios of my paleo diet to my metabolic type, I was finally able to rid myself of the intense sugar cravings that plagued me for years! This is because once I tweaked my diet to reflect the correct macro and micro-nutrient ratios that are best suited to my body, my body started getting the exact nutrition that it needs for energy. So, I feel less sugar cravings, and I only get them when I eat a meal that had out of balance macro-nutrients (i.e. too many carbs and not enough fat/protein).
Metabolic typing has been an amazing journey of self-discovery for me. It taught me how listen to my body after my meals and how to adjust my macro-nutrient ratios accordingly. It taught me how to become an expert at ME!
Watch this short, 8-minute video that does a great job of explaining the concept of Metabolic Typing:
In my practice, I approach diet in 2 ways:
- Find out how to eat right for your Metabolic Type: I recommend that every client do the metabolic typing assessment to find their individual metabolic type. The assessment is the most complete dietary program I have ever seen. It includes a wealth of reading material and a very educational and entertaining video series that teaches them exactly how to eat, shop, and cook for their specific metabolic type. It also teaches you very easy ways to break down your ideal macro-nutrient intake (protein:fat:carbs) for each meal without needing to use food scales or portion control.
- Find out what foods cause inflammation in your body: I also recommend that every client has a food sensitivity panel done to assess what foods and food additives are problematic for them and cause inflammation in their bodies. They then remove the reactive foods from the metabolic typing diet to decrease the stress on their bodies.
The Metabolic typing assessment is done online by following this link. The test costs $189 and, in my opinion, is worth EVERY penny. Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with the Metabolic Typing test and I have no financial connection to them. I make nothing from your $189.
Of course, dietary changes are just one part of getting healthy. Aside from Metabolic Typing, I use functional lab testing to help clients uncover as many hidden internal stressors on their body as possible. A diet that is not right for your metabolic type is only one of them. I teach them how to assess and optimize adrenal function, hormonal balance, digestion, immune function, neurotransmitter balance, and how to reduce or eliminate emotional and environmental exposure to stress. It is this holistic approach that has healed me more than any diet alone can do and it has improved the health of thousands of people as well.
I hope that you found this article informative, and I hope that you take the first step of your journey and do a metabolic typing assessment online. Please let me know if you do in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
Rick Gold, Functional Wellness, FDN Practitioner
Gold Functional Wellness, Inc.
Book a consult: http://www.snapappointments.com/listing/38C
Follow me on Twitter: @RickGoldFWP
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the author. Rick is not a doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian and he does not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure disease.