So you want to be a cave person. It may seem like the easiest thing in the world to do; get some fur shorts, sharpen a stick, and try catching rabbits in the park. But there’s more to the paleo diet than just meat and questionable fashion choices. While it may seem like a simplified way of eating, there are some mistakes that paleo n00bs can make. If you’re thinking of going paleo, educate yourself first and don’t fall into these traps.
6) Thinking you can just eat meat.
The paleo diet is not just a matter of loading up on protein. In fact a “very high protein” diet is still less than 40% protein. While we may think of early humans as being primarily hunters, a huge part of their diet was plant based. Vegetables and fruits are the only place to get some of the most important micronutrients your body needs to survive, and they’re a great source of hydration too. We can still see this vegetable foraging behaviour in modern species of ape and monkey. So when you’re dreaming up paleo foods think less Ally Oop and more Curious George.
5) Not replacing micronutrients.
If you follow a typical western diet, you probably get a lot of your nutrients from dairy products. Milk is an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin D, folate, and of course, calcium, but dairy is a paleo no-no. Fortunately you can get all of these nutrients and more from vegetables, nuts, and meat. A good serving of vegetables with lots of variety will make up for any nutrient sources you may be losing when switching to paleo. So do some research and make sure you get the right paleo foods to replace those nutrients when you switch.
4) Believing that if it is paleo it must be healthy
There is no such thing as a miracle diet. Because each person has their own unique physiology, different diets will work for different bodies. If you think paleo might be the right choice for your body go ahead and experiment with it, but remember that lots of foods that are labeled as paleo are meant to be treats. There are lots of paleo baking recipes available, but their lack of refined sugar and starch does not mean you can just go to town on an entire pan of paleo brownies and expect to feel great afterward. Paleo cookies and cakes are still treats. They do tend to contain paleo friendly sugars like maple syrup and honey, but even paleo sugars should be eaten in moderation.
3) Cutting all carbs
Carbs are everywhere and cave people ate them too. White, refined carbs and glucose are the ones you want to avoid when going paleo, but complex carbs are perfectly acceptable. Root vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets, and broccoli are all starchy vegetables that when consumed along with meats and leafy vegetables can help you meet your paleo energy requirements. Not all carbs are bad. In fact, cellulose (which we call fiber) is a huge carbohydrate, humans just can’t digest it. Cellulose is the reason elephants and gorillas get so big eating leaves. Check out this list of paleo friendly carbs.
2) Never cheating
Some foods are good for our bodies and some foods are good for our souls. As long as you don’t go crazy every weekend, “treat yoself days” (also known by the less positive term “cheat days”) are fine. In fact, they can help you stick to a diet longer. At a holiday meal with friends and family, go ahead and eat Aunt May’s cinnamon bread pudding and some deep fried chicken or whatever “forbidden” food you want to. Unless you have an allergy, the psychological benefits of sharing a meal with the people you love and cutting loose once in a while far outweigh the physical detriments of one day of breaded, fried, salty, sugary meals and snacks. Just don’t do it super often.
1) Taking it literally
The paleo diet has been around for over two million years. It fell out of fashion about 12,000 years ago but for the past decade or so it’s been making a comeback. No, not really. The paleo diet is named for the paleolithic era because one of its main goals is to cut out the unhealthy dietary “advancements” of modern times such as highly processed, overly salted foods. There have been lots of physiologically beneficial technological advancements since 10,000 BCE like better cooking methods and more efficient food distribution techniques, and the paleo diet does not require the avoidance of healthy tech. A lot of paleo debunkers will point to the fact that the average cave person lived to be about 17 years old and nutrition was a huge part of that shortened lifespan. This is technically true. Some groups of Paleolithic humans only had access to very limited foods and hunting could take more energy than the catch provided. Going paleo in modern terms is far less harsh. It basically just means cutting out highly processed foods, simple sugars, and dairy, upping vegetable, healthy fat, and protein intake, and limiting fruit. Paleo is different from the raw diet and the hundred mile diet, and it doesn’t mean you have to roast everything over an open fire or pit cook it.
These are the most common misconceptions people have about the paleo diet and luckily, they are easy mistakes to avoid. The basic rules of paleo are: No processed foods or dairy, healthy fats only, kick up the protein a bit, and remember to eat your vegetables. If you’re considering trying the paleo diet, keep this list in mind.