One of the biggest hurdles for people when it comes to nutrition is their currently-held belief system surrounding food.
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.
The best advice I can give you before reading this guide is: open your mind when it comes to nutrition (and just about everything else).
There is much we still don't know about human biology, nutrition, the universe, quantum mechanics, history, well, everything.
And there's new research that comes out on a regular basis, giving us a bit more to go on with each passing year.
All that said, if you were to take the current available research and combine it with the empirical results of millions of people that have changed their nutrition for the better, what you'd get is an eating plan that closely resembles the paleo diet.
Many are turned off by the word "Paleo."
Even more hold many preconceived ideas about what a Paleo diet is—like the idea that it's about eating pounds and pounds of meat.
At Wild Foods, we veer away from the word Paleo for this very reason.
Another thing I've learned over the years is the following:
You'll see me capitalize Real Food often throughout this guide and others on this site... it's that important.
Proper nutrition is first and foremost Real Food.
People on the Internet love to argue about nutrition; whether you should eat red meat or not, whether grains are "bad" for you or not, how many carbs is healthy, and so on.
But they are completely missing the point most of the time.
The human mind wants to label things so it can fit them neatly in a box labeled "resolved."
But that is not how you get results in today's age. Nowadays, the wisest of the wise are those that keep an open mind and make a point to not commit strongly to either side.
The basics of nutrition are simple to understand, hard to implement, and all the internet debating is just a deflection.
The vast majority of all that is a waste of time until you can get the basics down. And even then, most of it doesn't move the needle all that much and so isn't worth the extra effort for anyone not competing in something.
If you get Real Food down, the rest is mostly trivial.
But I don't want to go too much into Real Food just yet. There's plenty more where that came from...
As I've already said, there are many misconceptions surrounding the Paleo diet. There's also no single definition of what constitutes a Paleo diet.
The fact is, any diet that's based on incomplete information, the way evolutionary biology is—which Paleo is based on—is going to have a wide range of interpretations.
For whatever reason it's a quirky human trait that we all have this burning desire to want resolute answers to things in life so we can fit them into neat little boxes.
When it comes to nutrition, this is a fool's errand.
Whether you eat vegan, vegetarian, fruitarian, Slow Carb, Zone or already follow some kind of Paleo diet, you can probably learn something from the other diets out there.
And you should.
But we aren't interested in debating the pros and cons of many diets. We are only interested in providing information so you can be better educated when you decide to implement whatever eating style you decide to follow in your life.
That being said, if we were forced to define the version of nutrition we recommend at Wild Foods, it would be this:
A Real Food diet that closely resembles that of a Paleo diet, but with more loose recommendations about individual foods as long as it is Real Food.
We believe that nutrition is 80% Real Food. If you get that right, it's really hard to screw the other stuff up. It tends to just take care of itself.
You can choose to eat no meat, lots of meat, or moderate meat. You can choose to eat no seafood or a lot of seafood. You can eat high carb or low carb.
And so on, just make sure it's all Real Food.
Of course, each one of these dietary decisions is going to produce a result in your body. (And if you decide to never eat animals or animal products, please get your blood work done and make sure you are supplementing with B-vitamins and omega-3s.)
If your goal is optimal health, track what the mirror says, what your body is telling you and what your blood work shows.
Then throttle the food you eat to get the best results in all three of those categories.
With that introduction and disclaimer out of the way, enjoy the Wild Foods Guide To A Paleo Diet below!
“Eating a Paleolithic diet is not about historical re-enactment; it is about mimicking the effect of such a diet on the metabolism with foods available at the supermarket. There was no one diet eaten throughout the entire Paleolithic, nor is there a single diet eaten by contemporary hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherer diets can vary substantially depending on the geography, season, and culture. Even so, the commonalities among hunter-gatherer diets provide useful parameters for a healthy modern diet.”
―John Durant, The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health
There is no single exact version of a “Paleo” diet that we can point to and say, “eat like this.”
Each author, nutritionist and Paleoist (is that a word?) tends to have their own version of Paleo.
People want to turn nutrition into a simple black and white set of rules. It makes life easier, yes, but life's never as simple as that.
Neither is nutrition.
Nutrition is not so easily defined, nor does it fit neatly into a little box.
Venture further down the nutrition rabbit hole and you find people that want to answer questions like, "How many calories should I eat?" and "How many carbs, proteins and fats?"
As a general rule, people want to be told exactly what to eat because that's easier than having to self-experiment. The problem is, for most things, there's no single answer for anything health-related because each human is a different animal.
But there is one nutrition Truth that you can base all of your nutritional efforts on and that is: Real Food.
When you make your foundation Real Food, the other stuff tends to figure itself out. Further, you have much more flexibility in the other stuff, like how many carbs or proteins to eat.
When you focus on Real Food, you can eat a wide range of foods in various quantities and remain healthy and lean... and when you get to that place of healthy natural leanness, you can maintain it with ease.
At this point, weight loss becomes a simple decision. So does gaining muscle. No matter what you want to do with your body, you make a few simple tweaks—like increasing your calorie intake to gain weight, or decreasing your carb and total calorie intake to lose weight—and bam: results.
I'm not exaggerating here.
What happens when you go Real Food is going to be unique to you, but it's going to be something great, I can assure you of that.
The following guide is about the Paleo diet, or the hunter gatherer diet, with the Wild Foods focus of Real Food as the foundation.
We have done our best to remain as unbiased and non-dogmatic as we can with our recommendations, which is why you'll see recommendations that don't typically fit into conventional Paleo wisdom.
If this challenges your Paleo sensibilities, try instead thinking of this guide as The Guide To The Optimal Human Diet In The 21st Century if it makes you feel better.
After all, the basis of what we recommend for nutrition is based on eating Real Food.
Beyond getting Real Food down pat, we are pretty lax on grains, dairy, and the other things that strict Paleos like to crucify.
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:
I'm here to tell you that proper nutrition is never going to be a quick fix. And while Real Food doesn't make the physical process of eating clean easier, it does make it simpler.
Nutrition is a lifestyle. Cooking, preparing ingredients at home, a morning mug of Wild Butter Coffee, and so on, are parts of an active, health-conscious and self-aware lifestyle.
If you want optimal health, you have to cook the highest quality Real Food ingredients you can find on a daily basis. You have to make smart decisions when you are out with your friends. You have to limit how many drinks you have. And so on.
Real Food is food that is raw, alive or minimally processed.
(Some foods require processing, such as cacao and coffee beans, but that does not disqualify them as Real Food. In this case, it depends on how the food was processed that matters. Always get the highest quality foodstuffs you can. One of our missions here at Wild Foods is to provide those ingredients.)
Prepared foods at the grocery store and in restaurants are full of long ingredient lists, many of which you won't be able to pronounce, and do not qualify as Real Food. One could argue it's not food at all.
The foundation of Real Food is you have to control the cooking/processing process as much as you can.
This is how Real Food looks in action: You buy the raw ingredients then you cook and eat them.
Sometimes “cooking” is nothing more than chopping up some leafy greens or slicing some strawberries. Other times you'll throw a bunch of fresh and raw ingredients into the slow cooker so you can enjoy a hot Real Food meal later.
Sometimes you'll grab an apple and eat it. And so on.
An aside on the food industry:
In his great book Cooked, Michael Pollan predicts that the next evolution of the food industry is corporations doing more and more of our cooking.
Think restaurants. Think premade ready-to-eat on-the-go foods. Frozen dinners. And so on.
You can already see this trend taking over in many parts of our society.
In fact, go to a place like NYC and you'll see millions of people that rarely cook food at home.
The more the corporations cook our food, the more our food is processed, refined, and full of cheap and artificial ingredients. The more likely it will contain GMOs, pesticides, factory farmed, cruelly treated meats.
This is badddd news for the already declining health of the average American.
Remember this: When corporations cook, you lose.
This is partly a guide to Paleo and partly a guide to general healthy eating. As I stated above, we're going to mix the two as we go.
For success in any Real Food eating plan, you have to cook. There's no way around it.
Without cooking, your only other option is to rely on the corporations for your nutritional needs, and when you do that, your health is going to suffer. (It's also more expensive.)
The answer to human nutrition is Real Food. Whether that's a Real Food Vegan diet, or a Real Food Strict Paleo diet, the foundation should be built upon quality Real Food ingredients.
Keep this in mind as you progress through the rest of this guide.
A few Real Food Tips to get you started:
The Mismatch Theory and My Realization About
Modern Day Natural Selection
Part of my inspiration for writing this guide was fueled by a realization I had about the modern state of human health.
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 is of these bipedal critters:
(Animals) the specific name of modern man; the only extant species of the genus 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.
I’ve been studying evolutionary biology and Paleontology ever 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:
Each one of these steps led me down a different rabbit hole that was 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).
The thing is, nowadays, the available information on Paleo, nutrition and research is light years ahead of where it was when I started on this journey.
In fact, 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 5 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 do wish I had access to this information sooner as I would have saved a lot of time, money and energy in the beginning.
But I guess that's life, and it probably needed to happen to give me the right tools and perspective I need to help others on a bigger scale the way I want to.
My journey has crafted my world-view 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 been able to subconsciously come to the realization that 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 in life.
Perhaps I would have been a Paleontologist in another life. Some people get math, some get history, I get evolutionary biology.
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, biases and read this information with a fresh set of eyes.
The fact is, the implications behind this theory have profound impact for 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 best live today.
Try thinking in terms of evolutionary biology instead of Paleo, if you are still struggling with any of this. That might help those of you that 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.
What this means is this: our genes are designed to live in a certain environment, which is 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.
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 better climate.
Compare that to the farming life, which is a stationary life that is connected to a plot of land.
This transition caused a lot of 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 and gathered and lived their entire lives together (talk about strong social bonds).
They moved around constantly, always searching for food and water and moving with the seasons.
Long before we had chairs, cars, computers and 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 socialized daily. We walked an average of 13 miles a day 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 been living this way for some 200,000 years, dating the earliest human fossil to the Middle Paleolithic area.
Now that you have an idea of how our ancestors lived their lives, think about how that lifestyle compares to today.
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.
The way we live today is drastically different from the way human beings have lived for the bulk 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 currently live in an environment that is mismatched to the genes we have because the genes we have 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. 12,000 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 actually a relatively short period of time.
Here are a few of the new environmental factors affecting humans today:
These environmental factors, and their detrimental effects, form the basis of the mismatch theory.
The hottest trend today relying on the environmental mismatch theory is the Paleo diet—also called the Caveman diet or the Primal diet.
The premise of this way of eating is based on eating only foods our ancestors would have eaten on a regular basis, e.g. no grains, refined sugars or other processed and artificial foods.
I think 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, there isn't any truly defined version of the Paleo or Primal or Caveman diet.
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.)
And so on.
All of this causes confusion for many. Many "Paleo Haters" use this confusion coupled with quoting 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 is going to be unique to the individual.
People that hate on a diet are typically doing it to appease themselves. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator for keeping people blind and bias.
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 that they all should be based on: Real Food.
After you get Real Food down, you can then 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 btw).
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 btw).
Then, if a 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 near 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 bad (a food excluded from a strict Paleo diet), but we don’t recommend grains as part of a healthy Real Food diet because the only grains accessible to 99% of the world are the industrialized, refined and processed grains... and those are verrrry bad.
If you grow your own wheat and then harvest, process, soak, mill, and then bake it, then having some grains in your diet would be just fine in our opinion. (Keyword: some.)
Of course, no one is going to do that, which is why grains should be avoided.
(Also, the wild grains our ancestors may have eaten from time to time are not even close to the grains 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.
We believe that proper nutrition is about using what works best and not about following a strict set of rules set forth by some doctor, book, expert or scientist.
That's what we call Optimal Nutrition: Make Real Food the basis, then get the best Real Food you can, then listen to what your body tells you.
Finally, do your best to avoid dogmatism and the biases that will make you ignore things you don't currently believe.
That's our disclaimer regarding nutrition and the Paleo Diet. Moving on.
One of the amazing things about a Real Food diet is the leeway it gives you.
For example, when I find myself craving junk food, I can indulge guilt-free because I know I’ll be right back to my Real Food eating style soon after.
When the bulk of your diet is comprised of Real Food ingredients, you’ll be able to maintain health with ease 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.
The mismatch theory suggests that because humans have eaten a certain way for so long, modern humans should eat this way as well because that's what they're designed for.
From a purely empirical 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 the way it shapes our genes, covers the entire spectrum of human health.
Personally, I’ve tested the many mismatched-based lifestyle theories in my own life with universal success.
Yes, universal, meaning: every time I've implemented something in my life based on evolutionary biology, I saw improvement.
I’ve also seen these techniques work wonders in other people over the years.
The mismatch theory, and evolutionary biology, still has 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:
*These are not done on purpose... they are subtle tricks your mind plays on you that make it hard for you to change your mind.
Another major roadblock holding the mismatch theory back are the research and scientific communities. For whatever reason, the general public has an obsession 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 is bad while the rest is poorly summarized, underfunded and almost always misinterpreted.
Another thing about research is, a lot of research is biased, meaning it’s funded by an organization that's seeking an answer they want to find—which they usually do find.
This is the biased crap that is then used to lobby Congress, slap misleading labels on products and leak biased dogma to the media so they can pass it on to further confuse the public.
Of course there's good research, but it's the exception not the rule.
The problem good research faces is it's not funded by big budgets—usually because a lack of commercial interest—and so the research tends to be too small in scope and doesn't receive the attention it deserves.
Furthermore, the smaller studies tend to produce correlating evidence due to the lack of time and scope needed to prove causation, which makes it 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 hypothesis. A hypothesis, in layman's terms, is a "best guess."
Think about it, how many times have all the experts deemed something impossible for years until it was proven possible?
The answer is, a lot.
There is nothing truly irrefutable in the research and science world.
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 is not something humans are skilled at dealing with.
Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change
As far as human health is concerned, mismatch theory rooted in evolutionary biology is the current best guess we have.
I’ve personally seen it work in my own life and in countless others around me, and so I recommend it to others with ease.
And I'll continue to do this until a better best guess comes along that works better. If a better theory comes along, I’ll test it. Then, if it produces a better result, I’ll change what I do and recommend.
This is a hard thing for most people to do, which is why they stubbornly cling to their current beliefs through all kinds of biases that make it impossible for them to see other views.
Furthermore, we are creatures of habit, and breaking habits is hard.
What it comes down to is this: Regardless of what research, science, or your gut tells you, you have to take action and test what works for you. Then you have to have the mindset of a scientist that is interested in finding what works best while being aware of the pitfalls of confirming or discounting evidence based on preconceived beliefs.
After doing your tests, if the results are coming back unfavorable from what you initially thought, or what you want to think, you have to be strong enough to stay objective.
When it comes to health, you have to be the scientist and the experiment.
You have to study conflicting ideas and opinions and then try the things that make the most sense to you. Then you have to ruthlessly discard what doesn’t work while doubling down on what does.
Back to our ancestors.
Our hunter gatherer ancestors lived as nomads, always moving around with the seasons to find areas where food, game and water were abundant. They didn’t have refrigeration or canned foods and very little in the way of food preservation.
There was also no farming.
They had to work for their food on a daily basis, hunting and gathering as much as 6 hours a day on average. As a result, our ancestors would routinely go days without food, sometimes weeks (which is why intermittent fasting is a healthy human activity).
Then, when our ancestors found food, it was Real Food. It was Wild Food.
This environment created the genes that make up your body. These genes survive with an inconsistent food supply, with only Real Food found in nature, and with a diet lower in starches and sugars on average due to a lack of them being found in the wild.
And so your genes are going to do their best when they live in the environment they were designed for. You're genes are designed to live in the Wild.
In the wild...
Local, in-season Real Food is the best way to express your human genes through nutrition.
Now compare that world to the world we live in today...
Nutrition is the single greatest mismatch affecting the human species today.
And it all started when agriculture came into the picture some 12,000 years ago.
Agriculture provided early humans with a somewhat steady food supply. And while agriculture allowed population to grow, it came with many problems.
Due to the lower quality of nutrition produced through agriculture, as well as the droughts and inconsistency in yield, humans traded a more consistent food supply for a lower quality of life.
As Daniel Lieberman puts it in his book The Story of The Human Body, “Farming created more food and allowed populations to grow, but for most of the last few thousand years, the average farmer had to work much harder than any hunter-gatherer, experienced worse health, and was more likely to die young.”
Agriculture yielded food that was less nutritious and less varied.
One issue this caused showcased itself in many farmers who succumbed to scurvy due to a lack of fruit and vegetables in their diet (deadly if untreated, scurvy is caused by a lack of Vitamin C).
Agriculture also required a more laborious lifestyle, resulting in another mismatch through the physically demanding work it required.
By contrast, the hunter gatherer lifestyle included walking, climbing and moving in constantly varied ways while rarely repeating the same movements over and over, the kind of work needed for farming.
Agriculture created the first major environmental mismatch for the human species and would lead future humans into a progressively more mismatched world as technology advanced and we moved further away from the hunter gatherer lifestyle.
The Paleo and Paleontology community has been talking about these ideas for awhile now. So none of this forms the realization I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
The realization I mentioned earlier was like an “aha” moment and went like this:
Evolution, and devolution, is happening right now, every single day, in each and every one of us.
While evolution of a species as a whole is a slow process spanning millions of years, there are micro evolutionary events happening every single day.
Here are some examples:
In a summarized nutshell, here’s what you need to know about Paleo and human evolution:
Our hunter gatherer ancestors passed down their genes to each human being alive today. These genes have lived the majority of their existence in an environment without a consistent food supply, where food was only real and wild, where they moved frequently, where they slept while the sun was down and rose when it was up, where they had strong bonds and social ties to their tribe, and where they lived in the wild nature every second of their lives.
Nowadays, these same genes make up the DNA of each human being living today, and for 99.99% of the world, live in an environment mismatched to the one they are designed for.
This is the battle that modern humans face on a daily basis.
This is why the number one killer in the United States is Heart Disease.
This is why, for the first time in history, our children's generation has a shorter lifespan than their parent’s.
When I realized (thought of, to be more precise) that evolution was taking place on this daily, micro level, I thought about the modern humans that are fit, healthy and thriving compared to the modern humans that are sick and getting sicker.
Then I realized this…
The human of tomorrow is going to be the human that can survive in this new environment.
That was my big "aha" moment.
If you can stay fit, healthy and strong when food is always available, when sitting and living indoors is so prevalent and when toxins and stressors attack you on a daily basis, you are more likely to pass on your genes to the next generation than other humans.
On the flip side, if you can’t adapt to this environment, your genes will eventually die off.
Harsh as it may seem, this is the fact of human existence.
Trust me, I’m actively fighting to make sure as few people as possible fall victim to their genes dying off. In fact, it’s part of our mission at Wild Foods: to educate the importance of health and nutrition.
To say the least, I’m not happy about the state of modern human health, but I’m also not going to sugar coat it because that would be a disservice to all the modern humans that need to hear it.
Perhaps if more people thought of their health this way—as their genes dying off or continuing on—maybe then they'd get serious about changing their lifestyle?
I dunno. Part of me thinks, sadly, some people will never make the change and are destined to be just another statistic.
What I’ve learned in my own life over the years is, nutrition is the greatest return on investment a modern human can make for their current and future health.
If you focus on eating Real Food ingredients, you are far more likely to pass along your genes to the next generation.
You'll evolve in your current environment, which will have a huge carryover to other parts of your health.
Real Food nutrition increases energy, improves fitness, balances hormones, grants you better sleep, better mental health, and improves nearly every other marker of health.
This is why nutrition needs to come first.
When you start getting your nutrition in check, other areas of your life start to improve, which creates a cascading domino effect as you progress on the journey from devolution to evolution.
Nutrition should also come first because it’s so powerful in either direction—negatively and positively.
Poor nutrition makes every aspect of human health worse. Good nutrition makes every aspect of human health better.
Most of the Western world is sick and getting sicker.
Then there's a large part of the modern human population that are skating by with their favorable genes, which will last until it doesn’t.
Think of those people that eat whatever they want and don't gain a pound?
Well these individuals usually have plenty of visceral fat surrounding their organs and are prime candidates for all the same modern diseases that overweight people are susceptible to. In this case, looks can kill. Literally.
Lastly, there's a small percent of modern humans that are thriving in the modern world.
These humans are healthy, which means they are best expressing their genes through lifestyle and environment. They are evolving through our modern world while the majority of the world is devolving.
These humans are thriving because they are, consciously or unconsciously, minimizing the negative effects the modern world has on their health. This results in the best expression of their genes, which increases the likelihood they’ll pass those genes onto their offspring, which makes it more likely those genes will spread and pass on, which makes it more likely they will become the human of tomorrow.
You’ve probably heard of Darwin and Survival of the Fittest.
But you probably didn’t know that Darwin didn’t actually coin that term, and that his theory of Natural Selection is often misinterpreted.
You see, most people think that natural selection states that the biggest, baddest and strongest of a species is most likely to survive and pass along its genes.
His theory actually states that the species best adapted to its environment is the most likely species to survive and pass along its genes.
The species best adapted to the environment is the species most likely to survive.
Do you see how that might apply to our modern world and the human species?
It’s not going to be the smartest, best looking, biggest, strongest, or richest humans that are going to survive in this new world we've created… it’s going to be the most adaptable.
In our current world, the most adaptable human looks like this:
Some modern humans express these genes on accident because they happen to live a certain way, while others do it on purpose because they understood the fundamentals of human biology and the mismatch theory and they do their best to make choices that best adhere to what is “healthy.”
Either way, it's up to you to figure it out for yourself.
If you become the scientist and test the many available techniques and theories, you’ll be able to find what best expresses your genome.
No matter what you do, you have to listen to your body. At times your body will hate you because you’ll make it do things it doesn’t like, like exercising and ignoring your sweet tooth, but if you listen to it closely, you’ll find all the evidence you need to create the eating and lifestyle plan that best expresses your genes.
Each day you are alive, you have the choice to evolve or devolve.
Which is it going to be?
The most important part of eating clean, Paleo or not, is eating Real Food. The problem with this recommendation is Real Food isn’t easily defined. (For the full explanation, check out the Wild Foods article: What is Real Food?)
In a nutshell, Real Food is any food that has not been processed or altered in a way that compromises the integrity of the raw ingredient. After that, there are foods that can be processed yet still qualify as Real Food.
For example, most cocoa products fall within this category because you can't grab a cocoa pod off of a tree and eat the beans inside without processing to make it safe for human consumption. But we still consider high-quality cocoa and high-quality dark chocolate as Real Food.
These forms of processed Real Food fall into the same category as other neolithic foods like butter, which weren't around during the actual Paleolithic era, but are still acceptable foods to eat when they are grown and made a certain way. (Hint: it's all about the quality!)
You are trying to get as close to nature as possible. The more you do the cooking/processing yourself, the better.
Each step away from nature—each step that requires processing—increases the risk to health and that your food doesn't qualify as Real Food.
When it comes to defining Real Food, the more you know about food—how it was grown and made—the better decision you can make about how good it is.
In most cases, Real Food contains one ingredient (or a few amount of other ingredients that fit Real Food criteria).
Ratios for macronutrients are always subjective because each person is different and will do better on varying amounts of fat, protein and carbs. Furthermore, your macros will vary depending on your activity levels, current level fitness and goals.
It's impossible to quantify an exact ratio that will work for everyone so we we are forced to give general ranges. The recommendations above are starting points you can use to figure out what works best for you.
Another thing about macro ratios is, if you can get Real Food mostly down, the ratios soon become a trivial consideration; you can just eat what you want as long as it's Real Food and your body will take care of the rest.
What about weight management?
Let's say you start eating only Real Food but you aren't losing weight like you want to. This would be a good time to curb your carb intake while increasing your fat and protein.
Most people, especially those new to Paleo or a Real Food diet, have trouble eating enough fat and protein. See our food list to see clean sources of each.
After you've had your fat and protein fill, your stomach will have little room for carbs (especially the sugar). This lets you control your carb intake, which makes it easier to curb your hormone levels and lose body fat.
As a general rule, carbohydrates should make up somewhere between 10-30% of your total calorie intake, consisting of the cleanest carbohydrates you can find—e.g. yams, sweet potatoes, squash, plantains, fruit, nuts/seeds.
This is often the hardest part for those new to a Paleo diet.
Pop nutrition culture has vilified fat for a long time now. There are a few reasons for this, such as faulty research and food corporation lobbying and advertising, but to avoid going down that rabbit hole right now, here is the truth about fat in simple terms:
Fat doesn't make you fat. In fact, fat helps prevent fat gain because it acts as a buffer to those hormones that get all out of whack from eating too many carbs and processed junk food. Fat also helps fill you up and help trigger signals to your brain that you are full.
Fat is necessary to human life... If you don't eat fat, you'll die.
The same can't be said of carbohydrates—your body can survive on ZERO carbs. But if you don't get your fat and protein intake, your body will waste away.
The other part of the fat fear mongering pertains to saturated fat. Here's saturated fat in another simple nutshell: It does not cause heart disease and you can eat as many egg yolks and fatty steaks as you want! (Of course, these eggs should be pastured and organic and the steaks should be from humanely treated grass-fed cattle.)
Fat is a necessary and nutritious nutrient to the human body.
Repeat after me: Fat doesn't make me fat. And: Eating fat will help you lose fat.
Now slather some pastured butter on your next hunk of salmon or grass-fed steak.
Omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in abundance in the modern industrialized Western diet. While omega-6s are an essential fatty acid the human body needs to run, having too many of them compared to omega-3s can promote inflammation.
It's about the ratio, and the problem with our Western food supply is: omega-6 is everywhere and omega-3 is severely lacking.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in many processed foods and nut and seed oils while many of the beneficial omega-3s are found in healthy animals and seafood.
It is estimated that the typical American diet contains about 14 times as much omega-6 as omega-3.
This is why we need to do this: Limit omega-6s and foods that contain omega-6s as much as we can while increasing the amount of omega-3 rich food we eat.
Omega-3s, specifically the ones containing EPA and DHA, are found in fatty fish—salmon, tuna, trout, sardines, mackerel—and to a lesser extent in grass-fed red meats and wild game.
Almost all the fat you eat in restaurants is cooked in omega-6 filled vegetable and seed oils. (Pro tip: Ask the server to have the chef cook your food in butter.)
Eat more canned fish, salmon and grass-fed meats. Consider supplementing with a quality fish oil as well!
Our ancestors ate food that was in season... and only in season.
After all, they had no other choice in the matter. There were no grocery stores or trucking or planes or ships that could transport produce around the world.
In season food tastes better and is more nutritious (the former being the reason great chefs only cook with local in-season ingredients).
Compare this to the food you get from halfway across the world that is not actually in season because these foods are sprayed with pesticides to help them ripen—slower or faster—so they will be just right when put up for sale in the grocery stores.
This is how corporations use synthetics to circumventing seasons.
If you shop your local grocery store, the produce is usually bland and lacking in nutrients for these reasons.
On the flip side, go to the local farmer's market and pick up produce that is vibrant and full of flavor and nutrition and that is, pretty much always, in season.
The other thing about eating in season is it naturally mixes up your diet.
Eating the same foods over and over can cause the human body to develop food allergies. There's even research that suggests that most Americans are slightly allergic to chicken and mildly to severely allergic to peanuts.
Think about it: our ancestors never ate chicken on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, the way many do today thinking they are eating "healthy."
No food was available to our ancestors on that consistent of a basis.
Their food was always constantly varied and unexpected and always in season.
As I disclaimed in section #2 of this guide, if you grow your own grains and bake your bread using those grains after you process them the way they need to be processed, I think grains would be fine to eat sometimes.
The same goes for legumes.
But let's be honest with ourselves: you just ain't gonna do that.
And that's why grains and legumes are not something we recommend on a Real Food or Paleo diet.
Grains and legumes attack the gut. They are severely lacking in nutrients. They contain many anti-nutrients. And so on. We'll cover grains and legumes more in later parts of this guide.
Avoid: wheat, oats, rye, barley, brown rice, soybeans, peanuts, lentils, all beans, black eyed peas, corn.
Sugar is everywhere. Most of us are more addicted to sugar than we know.
Do everything you can to avoid foods that contain sugar or sweeteners. (And juice is not a health food... it's junk food.)
Also, please stop feeding your children sugar. For the love of humanity, stop it.
It's amazing how effective the big food brands have shaped the diet of our generation, and how it's so socially acceptable to feed kids sugar. This, and the other issues with our food supply, is why the current generation of children is estimated to live shorter lives than their parents.
This is serious.
PLEASE STOP FEEDING YOUR KIDS SUGARY PROCESSED FOODS! You are ruining their health—and their future—with every bite.
These are full of omega-6s, are often rancid, and wreak havoc on your health.
You'll most often find these in processed and packaged foods and in nearly all restaurant food. (Yes. I said ALL restaurant food.)
Avoid: Peanut oil, Safflower oil, Sunflower oil, vegetable oil, shortening, margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and anything with the word "hydrogenated" or "trans" on the label.
Restaurant food is all kinds of bad.
From cross-contamination to the prevalent use of highly refined seed and vegetable oils to disgusting food handling practices, you need to do everything you can to eat out as little as possible.
For those of you that eat nearly all your meals at restaurants, I have some bad news for you: It's going to catch up to you, and when it does, you'll probably be sitting in a doctors office hearing bad news.
It's bad for your waistline and your general health, and any nutrients that were in the raw version have been annihilated through the pasteurization process. (Raw milk, if you can get your hands on it, is an entirely different story.)
Do this: Buy organic, and if you can find it, grass-fed full-fat dairy products.
And go light on the cheese.
*Technically dairy is not "strict Paleo," but many in the Paleo community have come to realize that dairy can be used strategically with result.
Just do it.
See our list here: 20 Rules For a Healthy Life
Try to extend how long you go without food on a regular basis. You can call this "fasting."
There's no simple answer here.
How much you should eat is an answer that only you can answer for you.
I can't give you the exact amount of food you should eat when following a Paleo diet, or any diet for that matter, but I can give you general ranges as well as the tools need to figure it out for yourself.
But before I give you these recommendations, I need you to first understand something.
It's this: You have to eat REAL FOOD.
Until the bulk of your diet consists of Real Food, you won't be able to follow the following recommendations below because they will only work if you are eating about 90% of your calories in the form of Real Food.
So before you start worrying about how much you should or shouldn't eat, get off the processed/restaurant food and start buying and preparing Real Food ingredients at home.
After that, you can figure out how much food you should eat for your specific body type and goals.
The first thing you have to do to get control over the calories you eat is stop snacking.
You can't control food intake when you are eating food throughout the day.
Snacking also messes up your hunger levels by spiking insulin levels, which has you going through the day with chronically elevated blood glucose levels.
Snacking begets snacking because of the hormonal rollercoaster your body goes through.
In fact, snacking is usually what sabotages weight loss efforts for those that have already made drastic improvements in their diet.
Don't snack and eat only Real Food, preferably food you've made from scratch at home.
After you have these two down, aim to get your total daily calorie intake from 2 or 3 meals a day.
When you sit down to eat your meals, focus on eating slow and eating your fat and protein before your carbs. Carbs come last.
By eating slow and getting your fill from fat, protein and non-starchy veggies, you'll have much less room in your belly leftover for the carbs, dairy, and other foods that require moderation.
After that, keep eating slow until you are satisfied.
If you're a fast eater (like me), you're prone to overeat.
In this case, you should coach yourself to stop eating a couple times throughout your meal. Also try slowing yourself. Make sure you chew extra chews—not only does this slow you down, but it also improves digestion.
And that's basically it. If you follow these steps, your body will regulate your calorie intake and take over the process. Then all you have to do is listen to it.
How to figure out how much food you should eat on a Paleo diet (or any diet):
Eat until you feel satisfied over the course of 1-3 meals a day while adhering to these rules:
If you want to lose weight, eat more fat and protein and less starchy carbs while making sure to eat as little sugar as possible.
Then follow the rules above while slowly cutting back on the total amount of calories you put on your plate.
You should also skip meals often and implement some form of intermittent fasting.
Eat more total calories consisting of lots of fat and protein and plenty of sweet potatoes. White rice can also help you gain weight.
Imagine this: You stop eating all food that comes in a package... you cook/prepare all your meals at home... you buy fresh ingredients at the farmer's market and grocery store in your area.
Then you eat those ingredients at home after preparing them over 2 or 3 meals each day. You avoid all restaurant food. All snacks. All soda. All alcohol. All grains.
How do you think you'd feel?
Pretty good, right?
Well, that might not be the case... initially, at least.
Food is a drug, and like any drug, there are hormonal responses in your body when you ingest it.
If you stop eating the foods you regularly eat, your body might respond with a kind of "detox." This detox is your body dealing with the absence of the food—and their carbs, proteins, and fats—it's used to getting.
Since each person is different, each body is going to respond differently to the removal of certain foods.
Typically, the worse your diet is, the harder your body is going to take it when you cut out the sugars and grains and other inflammatory foods your body is used to getting.
That being said, most of us have at least one not-so-healthy food addiction. Maybe for you it's binging on Ben and Jerry's every weekend. Or maybe you love those huge sugar-filled Frappes at Starbucks. If you are like me, you might eat wayyyy too much dark chocolate. And so on.
Whatever it is, the chemical components of these foods that keep you coming back for more are the ones that are going to kick your beeeehind when you try to cut them out of your diet.
(Scientists suggest that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Yelp.)
Food is a drug. Plain and simple.
When you eat food, you trigger a hormonal response in your body, just like when you pop a pill.
Thinking of food as a drug is a great way to start thinking about your food. Then, hopefully, you can start seeing your food habits for what they are; obsessive, addictive, neurotic, guilt and shame-inducing, habitual, and so on.
So, what happens when a hard drug addict goes cold turkey?
And for the hardest addicts, withdrawal can kill.
Of course, quitting junk food cold turkey isn't going to kill you, but it will produce withdrawal-like effects that you need to be prepared for if you want to win the battle against your body.
Here are a few of the common things you'll face when moving from junk food to a clean Real Food diet.
If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, your going to have higher-than-average blood glucose and insulin levels, both of which perpetuate snacking and eating more carbohydrates.
This chronic snacking combined with your chronically elevated blood sugar levels become a state your body is used to. So when you try to go without eating carbs or without snacking for any extended period of time, you're body is likely to respond by feeling nauseous, tired and cranky.
This carb-fueled state is sometimes referred to as a carb-burning metabolism.
When you move to a lower carb, higher fat diet, your metabolism switches from a carb-burning metabolism to a fat-burning metabolism.
After awhile, you develop a fat-adapted metabolism.
This transition is often the hardest part of transitioning to a Real Food eating style.
If you are a heavy carb eater and/or a snacker, this process is going to be extra difficult for you because your body is used to the constant supply of food and the carbs.
When you move from more frequent eating to less frequent eating, or from more carbs to less carbs, you're almost always going to feel crappy for a few days, maybe even a week or two. That's the bad news.
The good news is, it will pass if you ride it out.
Then, when you break the snack/carb cycle, you'll feel better and get better results all around—and if weight loss is your goal, you'll be on your way to burning off the fat.
You will no longer be a slave to food; you'll be able to skip meals when you want, and you'll rarely get the same kind of nagging hunger you used to.
It can be life-changing.
A tip: When you start feeling your body craving some carbs/calories, eat protein or fat instead.
This one's especially hard for people that have tried following conventional nutrition advice... especially the "low fat" kind of advice.
Even though there are now mountains of research dispelling the "lipid hypothesis" myth, the mainstream media—and the masses—have yet to catch up (big surprise).
What you have to do is this: You have to replace carbs with clean fat.
Plain and simple.
If you don't, you will fall victim to #1 on this list.
You also might run the risk of under-consuming calories, which is not a healthy and sustainable way of losing weight.
The best way to eat more fat is to add healthy fat to each meal. Treat fat like a side dish the same way you treat your veggies.
Here are some of my favorite side fat sources:
This one is psychological. And if you are cognizant of this trap, you'll be better prepared to deal with it when it sneaks up on you.
The first law of food and nutrition is this: you aren't going to be perfect... no one is perfect... and being perfect isn't the point.
When you slip on your plan and give in to those cookies or ice cream or bagels or whatever awesome food you love that isn't good for you, accept the mistake and focus your energy on the next thing you are going to do to get back on track, like going for a walk or making sure that your next meal is on point.
It's really as simple as that. (And as hard.)
Don't fall into the negative spiral thinking that people do when they start making excuses for themselves, like "I'll start tomorrow," or "Today is already shot, so I might as well go all in."
That's the kind of thinking that'll keep you eating crap the rest of your life.
Don't lie to yourself. Be honest and do what it takes.
Following a new eating plan is a process, and often a difficult one because we are creatures of habit and our bodies are used to doing what it usually does.
Your body is a pro at maintaining the status quo. The thing is, your job in the health and fitness game is breaking the status quo.
Breaking habits are a mental and physical battle.
Your mind is going to crave the "reward" you get when you give in to temptation, and so is your body.
In fact, for some, breaking food habits is the hardest thing they'll ever do.
No wonder so few people do it...
Listen, I've been doing a Real Food Paleo style diet for years now and I still screw up on a regular basis. Some weeks, I eat out more than I should. Other weeks I might eat well but my sweet tooth seems to be getting the upper hand and so I'm downing dark chocolate bars like nobody's business.
So what do I do? Should I get angry at myself? Should I scold and punish myself?
Nada. That doesn't work.
Instead of wallowing over a thing I can't change (the past), I view my "slacking" as a sign I need to correct my course and get back to my plan.
So I do. Then each passing day, week, month and year, my habits will slowly deteriorate until I get to the point of reset again. And each time I'm getting a bit better and pushing the reset back a bit longer.
What it comes down to is this: No matter where you are at on your health journey, you're going to go through ups and downs. And the key to survive this treacherous journey is to be patient and focus on the next step.
If you are just starting out, give your body and mind the extra time and leeway it needs to adjust. Respect the process. Understand it's not about perfection, it's about progress.
And most important of all, don't expect quick results!
I've seen some clients go months before losing a single pound even after completely changing their lifestyle.
On a final note, never compare yourself to others. Your results are never going to be the same as anyone else's. Your only competition is yourself.
Transitioning to a Paleo diet takes time, patience and a ton of trial and error.
Avoid the many traps by focusing on the next step instead of obsessing over the last step.
The carbohydrates, proteins and fats that makeup food are called macronutrients.
These macronutrients come in the measurement we call calories, are measured in grams and milligrams, and are used as fuel by your body.
Without macronutrients, your body won't work.
Your body doesn't work without macronutrients.
You probably don't think about this often, and when you read it, it's not going to strike you as anything groundbreaking.
After all, of course your body runs on food. Duh.
Not so fast there cowboy...
I think we all need this reminder from time to time. If we remember that our body would stop working if we went without carbs, protein and fat, it might remind us just how important calories are to life.
Then, maybe/hopefully, we'll think about and respect the calories we choose to keep us alive.
Then (hopefully) we'll think about how calories come in different shapes, sizes, and flavors, and how different calories make us feel different ways.
For example, when you eat certain foods—especially if you overeat them—you may end up feeling bloated, stuffed, sick.
When you eat other foods, you might feel energized and alive. (And some foods, even if you overeat them, you still might feel good or average.)
And so on.
Food for thought.
Now that I have you thinking about calories, let's look at how this little form of digestible energy—the kcal—interacts with your human body.
When you eat calories, food is absorbed into your bloodstream and filtered by your liver.
The two predominant hormones in this process help regulate glucose levels. They are insulin and glucagon.
Insulin lowers the abundance of glucose in the bloodstream by allowing other tissues to store glucose, first as glycogen in your muscles and liver, then as body fat if there is extra glucose after your glycogen stores have been maxed.
Glucagon is released when glucose levels in the bloodstream are too low, and signals the liver to convert glycogen into glucose.
Both of these hormones are designed to keep your blood sugar levels stable, which keeps you healthy, your body weight maintained and your appetite optimal.
The problems arise when you have too little or too much of either of these hormones, which are dependent on the types of food, and how much food, you eat.
This hormonal interplay is the process behind the health crisis of our modern industrialized society—too many processed foods that throw human hormones out of whack, which in turn promote inflammation and lead to an increased risk of disease.
When you eat a carbohydrate, your body quickly converts it into glucose.
Glucose is the sugar molecule in your blood that serves as your primary form of energy.
Glucose is an integral part of a normal healthy human being... if it is at optimal levels.
When there is too much glucose in the bloodstream on a chronic basis, you get a nation with a 60% obesity rate.
Extra glucose in the blood is the human body's way of storing fat.
Our ancestors lived in the wild as hunter gatherers with an inconsistent food supply and so the mechanism of storing body fat was necessary for survival.
Without fat, and the body's ability to store it, no human, and most mammals, wouldn't be able to survive in the harsh wild where food is often scarce and always inconsistent.
This is why, when our ancestors came across food, they ate as much as they could so they could convert it into body fat, the human body's first form of food preservation.
Biology allowed us to store fat so we could take those calories with us. Then our metabolism would utilize these body fat stores for energy when there was a lack of food (glucose) present in our bloodstream.
Starting to see how all these natural mechanisms work? And how they are based on how our ancestors lived in the wild before we had access to food 24 hours a day?
Biology designed us to eat a ton of food all at once so that we could store fat for later. Then biology made us good at burning fat stores when we went without food for long periods of time in-between feedings (see Intermittent Fasting).
What this means is this: You and I and every human alive is biologically designed to gain fat.
We are good at putting fat on our body when we signal to our body that we have plenty of food. Snacking, overeating, drinking calories, eating fast, are all signs that we have plenty of food and tell our body to store fat for later.
Our hunter gatherer ancestors would have welcomed fat gain whenever they could get it because it increased our chances of survival.
Nowadays, this is not the case for humans.
And this clearly showcases the mismatch theory.
You struggle to keep fat off your body because you have access to food whenever you want. Your body is designed to gain fat, and your brain is designed to make you want to.
Gaining fat is how the hunter gatherer genes in your body have survived for hundreds of thousands of years. No wonder it's hard to control them!
Your body stores glucose in fat cells via the hormone insulin, which is secreted by your pancreas when you have extra glucose in your body after filling up your liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.
Your body uses glycogen as it's first source of energy for fueling performance. The more muscle mass you have, the more glycogen you can store.
After your muscle and liver glycogen levels are full, insulin shuttles the rest of that glucose into body fat, which we saw above, is nature's way of taking those calories with us.
These biological processes are what kept our ancestors alive in an environment with an inconsistent food supply, before the advent of agriculture, for hundreds of thousands of years.
This system of complex hormonal processes was necessary to survival for our ancestors and the thing that makes it so hard to survive today.
This is why you often hear insulin being blamed for diabetes, weight gain and the multitude of weight-related health issues facing our society.
The thing is, insulin is just doing the job it was made to do.
Nearly all animals secrete insulin, but it's only the human animal—and certain overfed domestic pets—that has access to a limitless food supply.
Think about this a bit.
In the wild, food is not readily available. You can't just walk to your fridge or to a nearby restaurant.
In the wild, you'd sometimes come across a ton of food, like when you had a successful hunt. The thing is, you wouldn't be able to take all that food with you because it would soon go bad and you had no way of preserving it.
Imagine you and your tribesmen hadn't eaten much in a month, maybe some berries or leaves here and there. Then your tribe has a successful hunt: you take down a large gazelle or water buffalo.
What do you think you and your tribe would do at that point?
You would eat until you couldn't eat anymore so you could store as many calories as possible for later by converting the extra glucose in your bloodstream into fat cells through the hormone insulin.
After gorging on a fresh kill, your body would fill up your glycogen stores before filling up new fat cells. You would then have an increased chance of survival because you would have more stored calories in fat cells and they would keep you alive until you could take down another hunt.
Our hunter gatherer ancestors were pros at gaining fat when they found food and burning it off when they didn't have food.
(Which is why Intermittent Fasting is so good for us.)
Gaining fat as a hunter gatherer was like refilling your gas tank, and often after running on fumes.
Now compare that to today.
We eat every single day and usually more than once.
Some people eat all day long, constantly snacking and drinking calories.
And what happens?
This happens: The body has more than enough glucose to fill up the liver and muscles and so the body stores body fat.
Not only will eating too often and too much of the wrong foods make your body store body fat, but it'll train your body to constantly release insulin throughout the day, which leads to a whole host of health problems—hypoglycemia or hyperinsulinemia, and general inflammation that leads to nearly every modern Western disease we know of.
Based on this information, here are a few nutrition-related takeaways:
Now, let's simplify these into a simple eating plan you can use in your modern life based on the human hormonal makeup our ancestors passed down to us.
Opt for low glycemic foods and avoid high glycemic foods, especially sugar, legumes and grains.
*Glycemic index measures a foods effect on blood glucose levels. The lower GI of a food, the smaller rise in glucose levels. 55 or less is considered Low GI, 56-69 is considered Medium GI and 70+ is considered High GI.
Examples: Nuts/seeds and most vegetables are Low GI, white sugar, rice, bananas, raisins, ice cream have a medium GI; white rice, potatoes, high fructose corn syrup, white bread, and other processed foods have a High GI.
As we saw above, snacking is not something our ancestors did.
And even if they did eat some berries and twigs while roaming through the wild, their snacks were low calorie, required a ton of chewing, and was Real Food found in small quantities. Compare that to the snack food of today that is processed, refined, and calorie-dense.
See more of our fasting tips in the later section Intermittent Fasting.
The faster you eat, the faster glucose is shuttled into your body, which creates a larger insulin spike. Chewing also improves digestion and helps break down the food you eat, reducing the strain on your gut.
Finally, eating slower gives your stomach more time to signal your brain that it's full.
It is widely considered that Dr. Loren Cordain is the "founder" of the Paleo Diet.
His first book, The Paleo Diet, not only coined the name "The Paleo Diet," but it was the first published book to hit the mainstream and promote the idea of a diet based on research in evolutionary biology and anthropological human studies.
Since then, countless books, authors, blogs and brands have been created based on the Paleo concept.
And as a result of the growing interest and research in the Paleo communities, there have been many evolutions of what is considered "Paleo."
The thing is, there's no single definition... there's only versions of Paleo.
One of the most accepted evolutions of the Paleo diet since Cordain's original work is the move from recommending lean meats to fatty meats.
Cordain's first book recommend lean meats as ideal, but the Paleo community has moved mostly away from lean meats to all forms of meat, especially fatty meats, as long as they come from healthy animals.
Even Cordain has updated his stance on fatty meats since publishing his first book.
In general, the Paleo community tends to agree on the importance of eating fatty cuts of meat from healthy animals.
Even though Cordain is considered the grandfather of Paleo, there is still no single definition or officially approved version of the Paleo diet. Unlike a diet like Zone or the Atkins diet, no one has trademarked the Paleo Diet and set out exact guidelines.
This is why there are so many interpretations of Paleo.
Anyone can create a blog or write a book on Paleo and put whatever twist on it they want. As you might imagine, this has lead to much confusion and conflicting ideas on what is actually Paleo.
That being said, you'll see some unwritten laws showing up in most Paleo versions. A few of these have evolved from the original diet proposed by Cordain.
Here are a few of these evolutions:
I think it's a good thing that Paleo has many definitions because it will keep evolving Paleo as more and more people seek to innovate and improve the concept.
Of course, for the average person, this is not ideal. After all, people want to be told what works in as few words as possible so they can get the results they want with as little fuss as possible.
Confusion only gets in the way of this.
And who can blame them?
Most people aren't that interested in nutrition and food in the first place (shocking, I know).
Of course, part of our mission at Wild Foods is educating and encouraging people to become more interested in food, health and nutrition. The fact is, the more interested you are in these topics, the easier it's going to be to get the results you want.
And I know you want results because you wouldn't be reading this if you didn't.
Nutrition takes practice and learning.
You have to prep meals, make smart decisions at restaurants and the grocery store, restrain yourself at parties when junk food is calling your name, and so on.
This is what I recommend to get you more interested in food, cooking and nutrition:
Then, as you learn more about Paleo, you will figure out what best "version" suits your lifestyle.
Weight loss is the most common reason people try a Paleo diet.
Weight loss is the most common reason people stay on a Paleo diet.
I've seen it many times: individuals transition to a Real Food Paleo style diet and they lose weight effortlessly.
It changes their life.
In fact, for many of these individuals, after they lose the weight they have the reverse problem—they have trouble keeping weight on! (Of course, that's an easy, and enjoyable, fix.)
We'll look at a bit of the theory behind why weight loss works so well on a Paleo diet. Then I'll give you a few tips for kickstarting your weight loss program.
Homeostasis is defined as the process of keeping a system stable.
Homeostasis is what your body does every day; it regulates, manages, excretes, digests, and does everything it can to keep your body running the way it typically runs.
When you sweat, your body releases sweat from your sweat glands to cool itself down. Without sweat, your body would overheat and you could die.
Now think about what happens after a workout: your breathing and heart rate slow down. And this is your body returning to its baseline—homeostasis at work.
When you eat food, your body responds to address the intake of food and what happens in your body when food enters your bloodstream, like elevated blood glucose levels and the release of insulin to stabilize glucose levels.
Homeostasis is your friend when you are fit and healthy and your number one enemy when you are not.
Let me explain.
You see, if you have pounds to shed, your body is your worst enemy because it's going to urge you to do things to maintain its current state, which is a state of being whatever way it is.
When you try to change your body, it's going to fight you because it's natural predisposition is to maintain the way it already is—which is probably what Lord Percival meant when he said, "The physically fit can enjoy their vices."
(I always think of this quote when I write on this topic.)
This goes both ways, whether you want to gain weight or lose it, your body is going to fight the change.
For example, say you stop eating your typical daily amount of calories. What happens? Your body calls out for you to eat more calories in the form of cravings, hunger pangs, and in some cases, headaches, nausea, etc.
Let's say you start exercising more and so your muscles strain, your heart beats faster, you sweat more and you overall feel worse than you are used to feeling during exercise and after.
So your body pleads with you to stop. When your brain starts receiving signals of pain and discomfort, it manifests thoughts that will try to make you stop so it can return to comfort.
Ever heard the phrase "comfort is a killer"?
It's so true.
Homeostasis is why diets that recommend eating less while exercising more have high failure rates: because they are based on fighting homeostasis and inertia, two things at odds with the human condition.
The fact is, most people don't have the sheer willpower required to fight off their body's urge to maintain homeostasis.
On the flip side, for those of you that are already fit and healthy, homeostasis works in your favor because it does things to keep you the way you already are. This is why you can get away with more frequent cheat meals and longer periods of time without exercise—although I don't recommend either of those.
All that being said, there are some tricks you can play on your body to make the change easier. So, for those of you still struggling to get the results you want, read on.
The reason a Real Food Paleo diet is so effective for losing weight is because it is nourishing and, paradoxically, allows you to lose weight even when you eat the same amount of calories you already eat.
First of all, recognize that you eat about the same amount of calories every day. You do this without realizing it because your body is good at maintaining homeostasis and so it drives you to eat the same amount of food every day.
Ever wonder why some days you feel the urge to snack and other days you don't? That's your body telling you to maintain the status quo.
Your body is so good at this, it also keeps you eating close to the same amount of carbs, fats and protein. Why you sometimes crave salty snack foods, or if your protein intake is low for the day, why the only thing you want is a big fat steak.
Let's call this your "food baseline."
Your body is used to getting this food baseline on a daily basis, which is comprised of tight ranges of calories and carbs, proteins and fats.
When you eat less than you're used to, your body steers you in the direction needed to get you back to baseline.
Now I want you to think about your food baseline and the foods that you eat on a regular basis.
Are you picturing this baseline? Maybe you want to go to your fridge and visualize what your typical meal looks like...
Now think of all the foods (restaurant food included) that you eat on a daily/weekly basis that you know you should eliminate—restaurant food, bread, grains, processed food, snacks, chips, sweets, sugar, and so on.
You may be able to open your fridge right now—or worse, your pantry—and purge plenty of these foods.
If you were being honest with yourself, that is.
So let's assume you just purged all these from your home and from your life.
Here comes the magic...
For every calorie and gram of fat, protein and carbohydrate you purge, you replace it with Real Food.
You eat the same amount of food, but not the same quality of food.
And you know what's going to happen?
You're going to lose weight. You're also going to put on more muscle, burn more body fat, perform better and feel better.
You can eat the same amount of food you normally eat, but when you replace junk food with nutrient dense Real Food, you'll satiate your appetite faster while ingesting more vitamins and minerals, all of which will help you feel better and make your body work better, creating a domino effect that'll actually trick your body into eating less.
The more you eat Real Food ingredients, the faster you'll reach a magic place I call "In Control Eating."
When you eat "In Control," you have the power to change your food and your body with ease.
Homeostasis then becomes an easy opponent.
Say you want to gain weight. All you do is make a few slight iterations to the amount of calories and protein and fat you eat and you'll be gaining clean weight in no time.
On the flip side, if you want to lose body fat, you just make a few iterations and you'll be burning body fat in no time.
When you eat "In Control," you have a healthy relationship with your food and body. As a result, you won't view either with despair or anxiety because you'll be in control.
Take a moment and imagine a 10 ounce piece of chicken or steak, both slightly chewy and an inch or so thick.
Now picture yourself eating one of these until it's gone.
Now imagine you eat the second piece.
How will your stomach feel? What about your appetite?
For most people, the answer is going to be the same: you'll be full or close to it.
Here's something about protein you may or may not know: It's the most satiating macronutrient there is.
This means it fills you up faster than fat and carbs.
Now compare the way you feel after eating a bag of potato chips.
What happens after you eat a bag?
Still hungry... right?
You can eat a bag of chips, consume triple (or more) the amount of calories than eating a piece of chicken or steak, and still be hungry after.
Now imagine how full you feel after eating a big salad, or a side of sautéed veggies.
Not as satiating as a piece of protein, but close nonetheless.
This is why you should always eat your protein and fat before your carbs. It's another way you can eat less while feeling more full.
One way homeostasis keeps you the same is through hormones that regulate your appetite.
These hormones are designed to function properly when food is introduced to your body, which is the same way it was for your ancestors—infrequently, sometimes in small amounts and sometimes in large amounts, and always in Real Food form.
The more you eat in a way that is mismatched to the way you are designed to eat, like the way people eat in Western society, the more you screw up these appetite-regulating hormones.
When you screw up your hormones, you make it near impossible to return to a healthy baseline.
Hormones are the reason you will be hungry after you eat a bag of chips.
What all this means is this:
Read this entire guide and you'll see why Real Food is the foundation. That's all I'll say about it here.
By replacing these foods with Real Food, you'll cut down on a bajillion issues your body would regularly have to deal with. You also reduce your carb intake, which will reduce your blood glucose levels, which will reduce the likelihood that insulin stores the leftover glucose in fat cells.
Protein is the most satiating food you can eat. It will fill you up faster than any other food. Eat it first.
Eat fat next.
Fat releases a hormone that signals your body to stop eating. Fat also helps buffer the hormonal response you get from eating carbs and protein.
Eat carbs last.
Carbohydrates are the most havoc-wrecking on your hormones. You can argue this all you want, but there's no refuting this fact.
The most processed and refined foods are also full of carbs (sugar is a carb, btw).
When you eat carbs last, you'll eat less of them because you'll already be full from the protein and fat.
Leading with carbs is always a bad idea if weight loss or health is your goal.
When you move to Real Food from a diet full of empty processed calories, you will lose weight easily.
Of course, when you get this weight loss ball rolling, you'll still hit plateaus along the way as your body constantly tries to maintain homeostasis.
The key here is to give it time to change and to implement the techniques above more and more so you can trick your body into submission.
What's great about losing weight on a Real Food Paleo diet is how easy it becomes once you create the habit.
Once you get to the magic place called "In Control," the game starts looking like it's rigged in your favor instead of rigged against you.
And from that point forward, not only will you never look at your body as an opponent, but you'll be able to get away with the occasional cheat meal here and there guilt-free because you know you have the control to get back on track soon after!
The following nutrition topic is controversial. Maybe one of the most controversial in the nutrition world today.
After all, people tend to get upset when you tell them something they enjoy isn't good for them. So when when you tell them their morning bagel and their favorite sandwich is something they probably shouldn't be eating, of course they're going to be not happy about it.
But before we get to why you may want to avoid rethinking eating grains and gluten, I want to share with you our stance on this topic.
Here's the thing about grains:
The main "diet" we recommend at Wild Foods is a Real Food diet. Grains simply don't fit that criteria.
Paleo doesn't recommend grains for similar reasons.
When was the last time you baked bread from scratch?
When was the last time you grew grains and then baked bread with those grains after you laboriously processed those grains yourself?
The fact is, unless you are controlling the process of cultivating and preparing the grains you're going to eat, you're invariably going to rely on corporations to get your grain fix.
And the way it is for most foods, food from corporations is not good.
Grains don't qualify as Real Food to us for these reasons. They also cause problems for the human body. More on that below.
Then there's the issue that modern grains are different from the ancient grains our ancestors might have found in the wild from time to time.
Even if you were to grow, process and bake grains yourself, you will still be consuming a heavily processed food that can be problematic for human health in more ways than one, especially for the gut.
Of course, just because we don't see grains as an ideal food for optimizing health, that doesn't mean you aren't going to eat them from time to time.
I eat them from time to time, and so will you, and so will everyone else.
That's why it's important to not get caught up in the dogmatic thinking that a diet is about perfection and about clearly defined rules.
No matter your stance on grains and gluten, you have to give yourself the leeway that living in our modern world demands. So instead of getting upset by the fact that eating grains are not good for you, open your mind to the possibility that it might not be the best thing you can eat and so you should try to avoid them and that you'll have them sometimes.
Here's gist: grains are full of hard-to-digest carbohydrates and provide very little nutrition to the human body.
From a pure ROI, there are so many better foods to eat. Grains contain antinutrients and gut irritants that can cause mild to severe damage to your health.
The grains you find today are not the grains our ancestors would have found in the wild.
So the argument that our ancestors, and modern hunter gatherers alive today, eat grains isn't a justification for eating grains today.
Modern grains produce flour from heavily processed and sprayed monocrops that even animals don't recognize as food. This flour is what makes up the bulk of grain consumption in the world today.
Even when our ancestors may have eaten grains, it was always in small amounts and infrequently.
Comparing wild grains that were available 100,000 years ago to the grains of today is like comparing apples to oranges.
That being said, pulling the ancestor card for justifying why grains are not good for you isn't necessary because all we need to do is look at the modern grain and what happens in the human body when you eat them. (Hint: it's bad.)
The earliest known existence of wheat dates to around 9,000 years ago.
Since then, farmers have been doing everything they can to grow more wheat and to grow it more consistently and cost effectively.
Milled wheat was the first processed food.
Nowadays, wheat is the most consumed food in the United States. (How obese is our country again?)
Modern farming, processing and genetic altering techniques have created wheat that is easier to produce while being more weather and pest resistant and more devoid of nutrients than ancient wheat.
Furthermore, most wheat is grown as a monocrop in synthetic soil and heavily sprayed with pesticides.
It's not natural... it's not Real Food.
And that's just the growing part.
After the wheat is harvested, it is further processed—it is chemically treated and heavily processed down to a fine white dust that is the most nutrient lacking "food product" in the world (if you can even call it that).
Not only is wheat a heavily sprayed, processed and dead food, it also contains many properties that don't agree with humans in the form of antinutrients and gut irritants.
When you start seeing wheat for what it is—an industrialized inorganic thing that isn't fit for human consumption—you'll see it for what it is: an industrialized inorganic thing that isn't fit for human consumption.
Lectins - Carb-binding proteins that attack gut lining, which can lead to a disorder known as leaky gut.
Phytates - Form when phytic acid binds to minerals. Can reduce iron absorption in the body; a problem for vegan eaters.
Gluten - A protein that makes up about 80% of the protein found in wheat, barely, rye and often found in sauces, thickeners, soups, and other processed foods. Creates an allergic-like response in the body, which leads to inflammation, indigestion, and for some, severe autoimmune disorders.
Wheat germ agglutinin - A lectin found in wheat that protects the wheat from insects, yeast and bacteria. Humans would be in the same category as insects, which is why this natural defense mechanism doesn't agree with our digestive system. We aren't designed to eat grains.
The gut is made of tiny permeable molecules that allow vital nutrients to be absorbed into your body.
If this gut lining breaks, you have what's called leaky gut.
Leaky gut causes certain food particles and toxins to seep into the bloodstream. When this happens, your immune system senses these unwelcome guests and attacks them. When your immune system starts putting up this fight, your body responds in various ways—allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, skin issues and candida, to name a few.
This is one of the reasons leaky gut is so hard to diagnose; it can show up in a multitude of symptoms depending on the individual.
It's also why eliminating grains and gluten have such transformative effects on health.
*Gluten isn't the only cause of leaky gut. Medications, like Advil, steroids, antibiotics, as well as environmental toxins like pesticides, BPA and mercury can also attack the gut the same way grains do.
Let's put aside all that internal stuff for a second and look at grains from a purely macronutrient point of view.
What is the main macronutrient making up these foods?
And these carbs are always processed and always come with a high glycemic load.
As we saw in the hormones section of this guide, carbohydrates are largely responsible for elevated blood glucose and insulin levels, both contributing factors to weight gain and the obesity epidemic facing our society.
What happens when you eat carbs that digest fast—one's with a high glycemic index?
You get higher blood glucose levels and higher insulin levels.
For most, especially those already battling weight issues, these elevated glucose and insulin levels result in fat gain and inflammation.
When you avoid grains, not only do you severely reduce your carb intake, but you also avoid the large majority of internal food issues that arise from eating foods full of antinutrients and irritants.
This is just basic biology.
For the doubters out there, you can do some simple experiments to get solid empirical evidence if you are suspect.
Just do this: Test your fasting glucose and insulin levels using simple over-the-counter home test kits. Then eat a serving of grains and wait 5-10 minutes before testing your glucose and insulin levels.
The numbers won't lie.
Some people like to cite studies, or a lack of studies, in an attempt to defend their decision to keep eating gluten and grains.
The simplest way of explaining this behavior is done by defining two words; Confirmation Bias.
From Wikipedia: Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
If you are finding it hard to believe that grains and gluten may be bad for you, remind yourself that your brain is inclined to only see and think what it wants to see and think.
So if you love your morning bagel, your brain is going to steer your perception of reality and the information presented to you in a way that discounts anything that challenges your love of bagels.
This stuff really happens... and you can find this weird psychological phenomena in all parts of life, not just when you are subconsciously trying to justify your bagel habit.
That said, I also suggest reminding yourself that none of this is about what's exactly right or wrong. It's also not about going without a sandwich or a bagel for the rest of your life.
In fact, for most people, especially those that find it hard to give up grains, I would recommend this advice:
Think of grains like a candy bar or ice cream... as a treat.
When you eat a candy bar or a scoop of ice cream, you aren't deluding yourself to what you are eating. You know you can't eat candy bars or scoops of ice cream for days on end without suffering real consequences.
You're also used to exerting self-control when walking past the candy isle or the frozen desserts section at the grocery store. (The dark chocolate isle is a another thing entirely!)
And this is exactly how you should think of grains and any food containing gluten.
Think of it as a treat that you should avoid as best as you can, but one you'll probably indulge in from time to time. Then, when you decide to have some grains or gluten, you'll savor it like you'd savor a candy bar completely guilt-free.
And after that, you'll get right back to your clean eating plan.
What's great about this approach is it makes things simple AND it makes things practical.
This kind of mindset is the epicenter of a healthy relationship with food.
Most of us are going to eat grains. This is just a fact. And while we should do our best to avoid eating grains, and gluten, when we can, we will be far better off if we are honest with ourselves to the facts that we're going to eat them sometimes.
Avoid grains and gluten as much as you can until you can't. Then enjoy it.
Then get back on track.
“Researchers have known for some time now that the cornerstone of all degenerative conditions, including brain disorders, is inflammation. But what they didn’t have documented until now are the instigators of that inflammation—the first missteps that prompt this deadly reaction. And what they are finding is that gluten, and a high-carbohydrate diet for that matter, are among the most prominent stimulators of inflammatory pathways that reach the brain.”
―David Perlmutter, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
“I’ve had plenty more patients come through my doors and leave with a pain-free head, thanks to the adoption of a gluten-free diet.”
―David Perlmutter, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
“The popular media and conventional wisdom, including the medical profession's traditional approach to nutrition, have created and continue to perpetuate this problem through inadequate, outdated dietary counseling. Attempts to universalize dietary therapies so that one-diet-fits-all influences the flawed claims against meats and fats, thereby encouraging overconsumption of grains. Government-sponsored guides to healthy eating, such as the USDA's food pyramid, which advocates six to eleven servings of grains daily for everyone, lag far behind current research and continue to preach dangerously old-fashioned ideas. Because the USDA's function is largely the promotion of agriculture and agricultural products, there is a clear conflict of interest inherent in any USDA claim of healthful benefits arising from any agricultural product. Popular beliefs and politically motivated promotion, not science, continue to dictate dietary recommendations, leading to debilitating and deadly diseases that are wholly or partly preventable.”
―Ron Hoggan, Dangerous Grains
Dairy is one of the food groups that has evolved as the Paleo diet has evolved.
The first version of the Paleo diet, and what is commonly called "Strict Paleo," eliminates all forms of dairy.
But as more people start experimenting, researching and writing on Paleo, various 'sects' of Paleo started looking at dairy with a less suspicious eye.
Dairy has now found its way back into various versions of the Paleo diet to varying degrees depending on who you talk to.
One of the problems with eliminating the entire dairy food category is there are many forms of dairy, and even more variations within each main dairy subcategory.
Due to the many dairy variations, it's best to treat each dairy product in vacuum, and pass it through our Real Food quality control tests.
The main forms of dairy vary wildly in their nutritional properties. Some dairy has a lot of lactose and some has little to no lactose. The same can be said of casein.
As a result of all this dairy variation, some dairy is simply more health promoting than other forms.
We'll look at each dairy category and it's relative scale of safety for optimizing human health.
It is estimated that around 65% of adults have a reduced ability to digest lactose.
What this means is, some people tolerate certain dairy products better than others.
But not all dairy products contain lactose, or contain trace amounts, like our Wild Whey grass-fed Whey protein and cream and butter.
The other main dairy sensitive relates to casein, the main protein found in cheese and milk. But again, these individuals might do fine with cream or butter due to the low-to-nonexistent levels of casein.
Everyone is different when it comes to dairy. This is why you have to listen to your body when eating dairy. You might do well, OK, average, not so good, bad or terrible on dairy.
That said, if you are struggling with weight loss, skin issues, or any other general health problems, you should consider cutting out dairy for a period of time to see how you do.
Dairy is growth promoting, which makes sense considering nature developed it to feed babies.
The problem is, for adults, anything that promotes growth can cause issues. Growth promotion can trigger cancer cells as well as general inflammation.
This is why, if you have trouble gaining weight, dairy may be a useful tool for you.
Dairy is a nutritional powerhouse full of beneficial bacteria, saturated fats, essential fatty acids and other immune boosting properties.
It's also delicious.
Until recently, most diary that you found in grocery stores was junk. That's not the case anymore as more and more small producers meet the demand for high-quality dairy.
Milk is one of the most insulinogenic foods there is—meaning it spikes a large amount of insulin. The fact that you drink it makes it even more insulin promoting since it enters the bloodstream faster than in whole form.
If you've already read our section on hormones, you already know that too much insulin is something most of us don't need, and for others, is often the root of their health/weight issues.
Too much insulin can lead to inflammation and fat weight.
But that's not the only problem with milk, one of the most widely consumed dairy products in the world.
Most milk is chemical laden poison completely lacking in all the beneficial nutrition found in raw milk.
The pasteurization process, which is required by law, kills the majority of the beneficial Immunoglobulins found in raw milk, which are the main thing milk has going for it.
When you heat milk and kill most—or all—of these immunoglobulins, you reduce any health benefit from drinking that milk. And since milk is already "iffy" on the pro/con scale for health promotion, it means industrialized, pasteurized milk is:
Milk-flavored sugar water.
Personally, when I switched from drinking milk to not drinking milk, I saw drastic weight loss results, especially in the abdominal region. I've seen this result in countless clients over the years as well.
Don't: Drink cheap milk.
Do: Find raw, full-fat milk, preferably from a grass-fed animal. And make sure you test it on yourself—watch for bloating and other gastrointestinal issues.
The primary protein in dairy products, casein, can be problematic for humans.
Some people tolerate casein better than others. It's one of those things you have to test for yourself.
Casein is found in milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir, ice cream. Butter and cream only contain trace amounts of casein—one of the reasons butter and cream are typically considered the safest dairy foods.
Conjugated Linoleic acid is a "good" trans-fat found in meat and dairy, with higher concentrations found in the milk of grass-fed animals.
CLA is one of the good things you get from eating full fat, grass-fed dairy products.
Fermented dairy consumption has been found in various hunter gatherer groups.
Examples include yogurt, kefir, cultured butter and certain cheeses.
Fermenting dairy increases the shelf life as well as improves the amount of beneficial probiotics in the dairy product.
Fermentation also eats up most of the lactose in the dairy, which reduces the insulin and sugar load.
Look for products that are made from the raw milk of happy, free-roaming, cage-free, grass-eating animals.
When you switch to a Real Food diet full of healthy fat and whole nutritious food, you no longer look at fat as a bad thing.
In fact, you actively seek out clean sources of fat and make sure to eat more of it in general.
On that note, "Low fat" dairy is not something you should ever consume if you can help it.
Not only are you missing out on much of the nutritional benefit from eating dairy—the saturated fat—but you're also likely getting a more highly refined or processed ingredient that replaces some of the fat with other crap.
When you decide to go dairy, go full fat dairy.
The Mass-produced milk you find in grocery stores is made from the milk of stressed, sick, antibiotic-filled cows that eat GMO corn, soy and grains.
While it's important to eat animals that are happy and eat a diet natural to their species (like grass for cows), the same rule applies to the milk of animals.
Sick animals produce sick milk, which if consumed by humans, produce sick humans.
On the flip side, happy and healthy animals produce healthy milk, which can help make happy and healthy humans.
Milk from sick cows is lacking in the nutrition you find in milk form healthy cows, and often contains a major skewing of omega-6 over omega-3 fatty acids, which contributes to inflammation in the human body.
Milk - Is the least Paleo, least Real Food, of all dairy products. This is due to the insulinogenic nature of milk as well as the sugar (lactose) content and the pasteurization process. (A cup of milk contains 13g of sugar, btw.) If you are watching your weight, stay away from milk. If you are looking to gain weight, look for the highest quality milk you can find, ideally grass-fed and organic and local.
Cheese - Opt for cheese made from raw, grass-fed milk and opt for organic whenever you can. If you have skin issues or other digestive problems, it may be best to stay away from cheese until you can diagnose what's causing you problems.
Yogurt, Kefir are forms of fermented milk/cream that have varying amounts of lactose removed. They contain casein and lactose depending on the style of yogurt or kefir and how it's made. For these products, you want to buy the best quality you can find, always organic, and test how you feel when introducing them into your diet.
Cream - Like butter, cream is mostly saturated fat with trace amounts of casein and lactose. Same rules for choosing high-quality milk or yogurt apply to cream.
Butter - The most widely accepted form of dairy on a Paleo diet. All dairy is considered a Neolithic food, meaning discovered after the later part of the stone age, and so it is not technically "Paleo." The thing about butter that has made it so widely accepted as a Paleo food is just how nutritious and delicious it is while also not coming with the same issues that most dairy products come with—due to the lack of casein and lactose. When you eat butter from healthy grass-fed animals (Like Kerrygold brand), you get the benefits of increased CLA and omega-3 intake, both of which help to classify butter as a superfood.
Ghee - Butter that has been melted to separate the water and milk solids, producing pure butter fat. Ghee is better than butter for individuals that may have issues with the small amounts of casein and lactose you find in butter. Ghee also has a higher smoke point than butter, making it a staple in the healthy kitchen.
Certain dairy products (milk and cheese) come with more problems than others (cream, butter, yogurt). If we had to break it down into a scale, it would look something like this...
From more problematic to least:
Read your labels:
The most important aspect of including dairy in your diet is listening to how your body responds to it. Signs that dairy may be causing you problems include bloating, gas, markers of inflammation, acne and other skin issues.
Some people will do fine with dairy products while some won't be able to stomach any of them.
Wherever you fall on that scale, make sure you are consuming only high-quality dairy.
Finally, cheap mass-produced dairy is something no one should consume no matter what.
So step back and put down the milk!
Nightshades are a classification of plants that can range from problematic to downright lethal for humans.
Something about food that you should always remember is this: Some people tolerate certain foods better than others.
Which means you will tolerate certain foods better than others.
Never forget that.
Nightshades are plants from the Solanaceae family, which includes herbs, vines, shrubs, trees, spices and weeds.
You probably eat nightshades on a regular basis.
The most common nightshades include:
If you are sensitive to certain foods, like dairy, you have a higher likelihood of being sensitive to nightshades.
If you ever struggle with stomach issues, you might want to consider curbing your intake of nightshades. You could even eliminate them altogether for a couple weeks and then slowly reintroduce them into your diet to try to figure out which nightshades might give you issues.
Alkaloids are chemical structures containing nitrogen and are naturally occurring in nightshades.
Alkaloids was nature's way of warding off pests. While these alkaloids were mostly intended to ward off insects and animals, they also have a warding off effect in humans (just like lectins in grains).
Most nightshades contain small amounts of alkaloids, which is why our general recommendation for nightshades is to test them for yourself.
If you experience stomach discomfort, digestive problems, joint pain or other hard-to-diagnose physical conditions, especially soon after eating nightshades, you probably are sensitive to them.
Cooking nightshades can reduce alkaloid levels, sometimes by as much as half.
If you don't generally do well on raw nightshades—or any raw food—try cooking them to varying levels of doneness. Then take note of how your body responds.
Nightshades are like dairy; you may tolerate them better or worse than others, which is why you have to self-experiment.
If you find yourself feeling not great after eating some fresh fajitas, you may have a nightshade problem!
If you think fat (especially saturated fat) is "bad" or "unhealthy", you should first read our guide on Fat so we can help you clear up some of these misconceptions.
If you already understand how important and nutritious the right kind of fat is for your body, then you can safely proceed to learn more about one of our favorite fats—butter.
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. It also depends on how you define Paleo.
The strictest form of Paleo, often called "Strict Paleo," excludes all neolithic foods, dairy included.
To Strict Paleos, butter is not Paleo.
But if you ask any Modern Paleo, "Is butter Paleo?", you'll get an answer like this: "Not technically, but I eat it and recommend it."
What it comes down to is not whether butter is considered Paleo or not Paleo, but whether butter is considered healthy or not healthy.
And quality butter is healthy... very healthy.
As simple as that.
Let's look at how and why.
Butter is not like other forms of dairy. Heck, in our book, butter is its own food group.
So the first thing we need to do is look at what butter is.
Butter is mostly pure saturated butterfat with trace amounts of lactose and casein. The small amount of lactose and casein make butter "ok" for most people with lactose intolerance, but usually not ok for those with severe milk allergies.
(We looked at some of the problems with dairy in section 12, with lactose and casein being the main source of problems for most people.)
Considering saturated fat is the primary calorie in butter, it's easy to see why butter has become such a popular product for Real Food Paleos.
It's pure saturated fat... and we love our saturated fat.
When you shift your nutrition mindset, you go from avoiding fat to seeking it out. And when this life-changing shift takes place, butter becomes a heaven-sent.
It has a multitude of uses—cooking, homemade mayo, pan sauces, basting, etc.—and it's delicious and nutritious.
Of course, not all butter is created equally.
As it goes with any food that comes from an animal, the health of the animal is of paramount importance in determining the quality of the butter.
The best butter comes from the best milk-producing animals.
When an animal eats a natural diet—grass for cows—the animal is healthier than when it eats a diet unnatural to its species—like when dairy cows eat GMO grains.
When the animal is healthier, it produces healthier milk.
So when industrialized dairy cows are fed GMO feed (and injected with hormones), they get fat and sick and produce milk that has a skewed omega-3 to omega-6 balance.
They make unhealthy milk. And unhealthy milk translates to unhealthy butter, cheese, yogurt, and so on.
And this is, fundamentally, why you want to avoid all non-organic, mass-produced dairy products.
Typical omega-3 to omega-6 ratios for healthy, grass-fed beef is around 1 to 1.5 while grain-fed industrialized dairy cows often produce milk with ratios as high as 1-20 (o3 to 06).
One of the primary issues with the Western diet is this imbalance of omega-3s to omega-6s. The average Westerner eats way too many omega-6s because that's what's prevalent in industrialized animals and fat-containing processed foods.
When it comes to anything dairy, stick with grass-fed.
Grass-fed dairy cows produce milk with a better fatty acid profile than grain-fed cows.
When you choose grass-fed dairy products, you are likely supporting smaller producers that treat their animals humanely. And this is a huge win for the good guys in the food industry. Keep supporting them!
On the flip side, when you buy mass-produced milk, you are supporting the very thing that is keeping our country sick; industrialized food (and mistreated animals).
Milk from ruminants such as cows and sheep contain higher levels of beneficial CLA. Grass-fed beef, and the dairy it produces, is an excellent source of CLA.
CLA research suggests that it may protect against diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Simply put: grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed beef in nearly every way.
So the first thing to consider when buying butter is whether the milk comes from grass-fed dairy cows. The brand we love the most is Kerrygold.
The next considerations you should take note of when choosing any dairy product are whether it's organic or not, and how the animals were treated.
Sweet butter is made from fresh cream and not fermented cream (like cultured butter). Nowadays, this term is broadly used to refer to unsalted butter.
Is butter that has the whey protein and casein proteins skimmed off.
It's super easy to make at home. Do this: 1. Heat butter on low heat until it melts. 2. Let it cool 5 minutes then skim off top layer of whey. 3. Slowly pour out the liquid butterfat, leaving the casein protein at the bottom of the pan. (You could also strain through cheesecloth.)
Clarified butter has a higher smoke point than butter and since the whey and casein is removed, it is a purer form of butterfat that people with dairy issues can usually tolerate.
Ghee is one step up from clarified butter. It is clarified butter that has been heated long enough to separate and remove all of the water and milk solids, leaving behind only pure butterfat.
It has a slightly more nutty flavor than clarified butter and a slightly higher smoke point.
We consider grass-fed butter a superfood.
We like it blended with Wild Coffee in our Wild Butter Brew recipe. (You must try it.)
We cook with it. Melt it and pour it over our veggies. Make pan sauces. And so on.
High-quality grass-fed butter should be a staple in the Real Food kitchen and in every smart person's 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.
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.
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 get 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.
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'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 find 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 skinny fat 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.
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!
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 led 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 its 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.
The research 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.
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)
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.)
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 Inuit, 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.
This book has been criticized in detail many times. Here's a great article on the book.
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.