Way-to-Go Pal-e-o!

1 Dec

Hey!  November 14th was World Diabetes Day.  Ironic, eh?  Anywho…

Since November 24th, I ditched the carb counting & started eating like a caveman.  Well, a modern caveman.  I doubt they were frying up bacon in the Paleolithic era. 😉 I’ll admit that I first approached the Paleo diet with resistance and skepticism.  How could ditching whole grains in lieu of animal protein be healthy?  I found that the Paleo approach to eating actually makes a lot of sense when you shove preconceived stereotypes aside (see picture below)


There is a lot of research pointing towards a plant-based diet for chronic disease prevention, so I was drawn to the vegan diet in the beginning of my guinea pig dieting endeavors.  Once you make up your mind to shun an eating style you’ve grown accustomed to, you need as much convincing as you can get to stay on track.  I watched horrific documentaries and tormented myself with guilt.  The vegan premise is enticing for the health obsessed (check!) and ethical martyrs (check!).  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.  Some people really struggle to nourish themselves on a 100% vegan diet.  I have read online accounts and heard personal testimonials of folks who really wanted to donate themselves to the cause, until that donation became literal and their health suffered terribly.  Some vegans look toward these people as weak-willed or accuse them of doing the vegan diet wrong.  Being vegan often becomes an identity to those who undertake its eating restrictions.  Even though agriculture destroys habitats and drains water supplies, the black and white thinking of save the animals often becomes their steadfast mantra.  I’m not here to attack anyone’s personal lifestyles.  If you are vegan and happy about it, kudos to you for doing something that you believe in.  Perhaps you even feel better on a vegan diet.  Great!  However, there’s no need to bully someone who gave the vegan lifestyle a try and had their body fall apart as a result.

Humans evolved to be omnivores, and the fact of the matter is that nutrition is a young science.   This means that there may be other necessary nutrients in animal foods that we are currently unaware of.  We already know that vegans MUST supplement with vitamin B12 and that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA found in fatty cold-water fish) are hard to come by when following a strict vegetarian diet.  Veganism is a new phenomenon, just gaining ground over the past 100 years.  Prior to this, there had been NO VEGAN SOCIETIES IN HISTORY.  Just think about that for a moment.  NONE!  In addition, H. Leon Abrams, Jr., an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia states that animal research suggests that “…all primates have a basic & fundamental physiological need for at least a minimum amount of animal protein.”  I know that humans sometimes like to put themselves up on a pedestal of sorts, but we are in fact animals.  Veganism is a new health experiment certain sects of modern societies are willingly embarking on.

The premise of the Paleo diet is based on the concerns I stated above.  Man has evolved to thrive on an omnivorous diet.  According to Dr. Loren Cordain, often considered the leading expert on the Paleolithic diet,  research indicates that in hunter-gatherer societies, animal foods compose about 60% of total caloric intake.

And now for a short hilarity break.  This cracks me up!:


What’s Paleo?

The Paleolithic Era was a period that lasted about 2.5 million years, ending with the development of agriculture.    Scientists generally agree that our Paleo ancestors likely subsisted on foods that could be hunted or gathered, including lean meats, seafood,  fruits, plants, nuts, eggs, insects, mushrooms, herbs, and spices.  To mirror our ancestors, we should eat a diet that has a lower glycemic load with more protein, less carbohydrate, significantly more plant matter, and a better omega-3 (anti-inflammatory) to omega-6 (pro-inflammatory) ratio.

Primal vs Paleo:

While Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf lead the Paleo movement, Mark Sisson created an alternate approach known as “The Primal Diet”.  Both diets have similar core ideas with a few variations.  High quality animal protein, fats, & produce are the backbone of each.  Grains, beans, legumes (including peanuts/peanut butter), sugar, & most processed oils are shunned by both schools of thought.  The main differences between the 2 concern the inclusion of dairy & the attitude towards saturated fat.  The Primal Diet condones saturated fats and encourages the consumption of full-fat dairy products.  Proponents of the Paleo diet tend to be more leery of excessive saturated fat in the diet & often recommend a dairy abstinence trial or total elimination of dairy products.  It’s important to note that “high quality” meats and seafood refer to grass-fed animals, wild-caught seafood, and raw non-homogenized dairy (in the case of Primal eating).  Consuming conventional factory raised animal products, fed species inappropriate diets consisting of corn and soy, is not going to help us straighten out our omega-3: omega-6 ratios.

Why Paleo/Primal?

Major alterations in a species’ evolution generally take place over hundreds of thousands of years.  Agriculture has only been around for 10,000 years, a mere blink in the eye of progression.  Not to mention the Industrial Age (beginning just 200 years ago), when refined grains and sugar became new staples in the food supply.  Paleo proponents argue that we have not sufficiently adapted to the consumption of agriculturally based foods, least of all those that have been refined such as sugar, flour, and vegetable/seed oils.

The Leaky Gut/Autoimmune Connection:

I’m going to cheat here and refer you to another blog for wonderful explanations behind why a Paleo diet may be ideal, particularly if you have an autoimmune disorder:


Then Why Not Paleo/Primal?  Examining silly objections:


Silly objection #1: Whole grains are necessary for good health:

This is just plain false.  There are absolutely no nutrients available in grains that are not available through eating fruits and vegetables.  If you think you need to eat Fiber One bars to get enough daily fiber, you’re being shortchanged.  Grains are not as nutrient dense as fruits and vegetables to begin with AND they contain potent anti-nutrients that can interfere with the utilization of those nutrients.  The only reason grains are on the bottom of the food guide pyramid is because the United States Department of AGRICULTURE (USDA) created it!

Silly objection #2: Saturated fats are the devil!:

The fear mongering behind the “dangers” of saturated fats is all based on junk science.  To put your minds at ease, consider this.  The Journal of Clinical Nutrition compiled a 2010 meta-analysis that tracked over 300,000 participants for over 20 years.  The conclusions?: “There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardivascular disease.”  Get it?  Got it?  Good!

Silly objection #3: High total cholesterol = danger!:

High total cholesterol may be associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease, but the cholesterol is not to blame.  When inflammation and oxidation cause damage within the blood vessels, cholesterol rushes in to try and remedy the problem.  So the wind knocks over a vase and Timmy rushes in to clean up the mess.  The way we demonize cholesterol could be likened to Timmy’s mom accusing Timmy of causing the mess in the first place.  It’s kind of a silly metaphor, but you catch my drift.  Cholesterol is meant to be our friend.  In fact, low cholesterol levels have been associated with cancer, depression, stroke, anxiety, violent behaviors, and suicide.  If you have low levels of triglycerides and high levels of HDL-C, you probably don’t need to worry how high your total cholesterol is.  Instead, divide your triglycerides by your HDL cholesterol and focus on maintaining a ratio of < 2.  The lower your ratio, the lower your risk of a having a heart attack.

Triglycerides?  I knew those damned fats were bad for me! NOT SO FAST!!!

Triglycerides are formulated out of EXCESS CARBS: http://jn.nutrition.org/content/131/10/2772S.full


It turns out that systemic inflammation (from our piss poor SAD [Standard American Diet] or sometimes even a “healthy” vegetarian diet) is what’s actually at the root of most modern diseases.   In fact statin drugs, which are often prescribed as  cholesterol-lowering agents, work by reducing systemic inflammation!

Got Inflammation?



(Chart from It Starts with Food – see sources for more info)

If you are lucky enough to be free from any of above health ailments, congratulations!  Survival of the fittest is working in your favor.  For the rest of us, a Paleo approach may help us find some relief.

The bad news?  For some of you, it’s that you still have to eat your fruits and vegetables.  You can’t just chow down on meat and pretend that makes you healthy, because you shun grains.  Also, eating quality meats and vegetables is far more expensive than a box of Macaroni and Cheese.  I dream of a government that stops subsidizing the production of corn and soy and instead sends its dollars toward the veggie growers, but I don’t expect to see this any time soon. 😦 Finally, in the food allergy and intolerant world, having to cut out entire food groups when you are already avoiding specific foods for health reasons can cause more problems than it solves.  You are what you absorb, not what you eat.  You must use your best judgment to decide what type of diet is best for you, no matter what the cavemen ate or the scientists say.

The good news?  For many, you can have your steak and eat it too! 🙂

I chose a Paleo/Primal approach.  I didn’t eat any dairy products, but I didn’t worry about my saturated fat intake either.

Here’s what I ate my first day of the Paleo/Primal diet:

Brunch: 2 bananas with too much coconut butter (oh great I’ve discovered a new binge food :-/) + 2 eggs (sunny-side up) with tomato slices and a small amount of avocado, 2 strips of bacon, bowl of mixed fruit (watermelon, grapes, cantaloupe), handful of strawberries

Lupper: Beef stew with tomato sauce, radishes, carrots, spinach, & spices

Here’s what I ate my last day on the Paleo/Primal diet:

Breakfast: pumpkin protein bars + smoothy (Swiss chard, spinach, blueberries, apple juice, & coconut butter)

Lunch: turkey scramble (ground white turkey meat with grated broccoli, spinach, & spices mixed in) + a kiwi, a clementine, & prunes [Intestinal death wish?  Perhaps, but I’ve discovered that eating more animal protein allows me to get away with eating more fruit.]

Supper: turkey scramble leftovers + another kiwi & roasted sunflower seeds

*My favorite meal during this short experiment was cauliflower “rice” with mixed vegetables.  I shredded a head of cauliflower in my food processor.  Then I added coconut oil to a cast iron pan, dumped the “rice” in along with homemade zucchini hummus, mushrooms, black olives, fresh-squeezed lemon & lime juice, and spices, and cooked it all together.  It was so delicious that I ate an entire head of cauliflower in one sitting!  There was a time when eating a stalk of cauliflower would have been an achievement for me.  How far I’ve come!

Case study:

One head of cauliflower vs equivalent amount (~3 cups) of “healthy” brown rice

First, the cauliflower…

Calories: 210; Sodium: 252mg; Potassium: 2545mg; Net carbs: 24g or ~1.5 carb choices; Dietary Fiber: 21g; Protein: 17g; Vitamin A: 2% of RDA, Vitamin C: 650% of RDA, Calcium: 18% of RDA; Iron: 21% of RDA

And now the brown rice…

Calories: 654; Sodium: 6mg; Potassium: 252mg; Net carbs: 124g or 8 carb choices!; Dietary Fiber: 10.5g; Protein: 13.5g; Vitamin A: 0% of RDA, Vitamin C: 0% of RDA, Calcium: 6% of RDA; Iron: 18% of RDA

Um, I win? 🙂


Hartwig, D. & M. (2012) It Starts with Food. Pgs. 82, 110, 148-151, 167-170

Schenck, S. (2011). Beyond Broccoli: Creating a Biologically Balanced Diet When a Vegetarian Diet Doesn’t Work. Pgs. 11, 12.











Please leave comments or ask questions if you need clarifications.  Even though it took me forever to write this, I feel as though I rushed through a lot of information.  Also, ignore this dumb box.  I was experiencing some technical difficulties. 😉


9 Responses to “Way-to-Go Pal-e-o!”

  1. Katie December 7, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    Did you feel any different being on the diet? Will you keep it up? I’ve been on it since June, and my health and well being have improved dramatically. I am always curious to hear how others feel about it.

    • thehungryguineapig December 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      Katie – Thanks for your input. I have found the Paleo style of eating to be the most promising and intriguing for my particular situation. I haven’t kept up all aspects of the diet, but I am eating more vegetables and less grains. I don’t seem to miss grains much when I can’t have them. I am currently trying to use up all of the grain reserves at my house and plan to replace them with Paleo friendly fare in the future. I still have a sugar addiction to overcome before this diet can become a reality for me, but I am hopeful about following more of its principles in the future! My ultimate goal is to treat grains, sugar, and dairy as treats rather than staples. Would you mind sharing a little bit about your experience or the route you took? What type of Paleo diet do you follow? I know that some people like to incorporate quality dairy products while others remove all dairy, eggs, and nightshades for autoimmune concerns. Any thoughts or comments about these approaches?

      • Katie January 3, 2013 at 12:33 am #

        I do Paleo (absolutely no dairy), but I don’t worry about my fat intake and I eat eggs. I also eat nightshades but try to limit how much. I am very strict about the no dairy, sugar, grains and legumes.

        I started the diet for health reasons and fell in love with how good it made me feel! My main health issue was inflammation (e.g. chronic tendonitis/muscle pain, slight asthma, chronic rhinitis, etc). Over the years, I have continually added new inflammation-related complaints to my list. Generally, once an inflammation-related problem starts, it never stops. For example, I’ve spent months and months in physical therapy because of chronic tendonitis. It was constantly painful (even when I was between PT stints), and I had to get either acupuncture or massage at least once every two weeks just to keep the pain at bay. I know that chronic inflammation is related to a lot of chronic diseases. I also know that my dad’s side of the family has a history for inflammation-related chronic diseases. While I was not yet to the point of disease, I could see I was headed in a bad direction.

        After noticing that alcohol noticeably increased my muscle pain, I began to realize my diet may actually be a primary cause for my issues! On the suggestion of a friend, I saw a functional medicine doctor who has experience with anti-inflammatory diets. The doctor immediately suggested a strict Paleo diet. She also ran a number of tests to make sure everything was functioning as it should. Everything turned up normal except for a number of food sensitivities (to corn, diary and gluten) and vitamin/mineral deficiencies.

        Within a couple of weeks of starting the diet, I was sold! I felt amazing. I hadn’t realized how terrible I had actually felt before. I couldn’t believe I was having such a strong positive reaction–it seemed like some sort of miracle diet. Benefits I’ve personally experienced since June 2011 include: increased energy (a LOT more energy); no stomach aches, gas, etc; greatly reduced inflammation; improved mood; reduced anxiety/feeling of being overwhelmed; elimination of muscle pain; improved exercise recovery; and more enjoyment of exercise in general.

        That kind of reads like a commercial–sorry for that! I am just so happy to be feeling good for once. 🙂

      • thehungryguineapig January 4, 2013 at 9:35 pm #


        Thank you for sharing! Now that I am free to eat whatever I wish, I’d like to try a strict Paleo approach for longer than a week to see how it makes me feel. I already know that eating more meat makes me feel better overall, especially with digestion issues. I have symptoms similar to those that you experienced: muscle pain (due to self-diagnosed fibromyalgia), digestion problems, slight asthma (newly diagnosed), & chronic rhinitis (so annoying!) I need to kick my butt into gear and get over my love affair with sugar. It’s better to eat to live rather than live to eat!

        ❤ The Hungry Guinea Pig

      • Katie January 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

        Good luck! It’s well worth it. I’ve compiled a “Paleo Starter Kit” for several family members over the last several months, including good recipes and helpful tips. If you’d like a copy, I can email it to you. Just let me know. 🙂

      • thehungryguineapig January 6, 2013 at 7:46 am #

        That would be great! Thanks a lot!


      • Katie January 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

        Will do! I’m thinking you have my email address through this platform, yes? You can email me there so I know where to send it. 🙂

  2. tessatito January 28, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    I love all of this blog , Justine! I admire your fervor, passion, dedication and humor! this really inspires me to improve my eating habits to prevent my arthritis, rhinitis, gingavitis, migraines, depressionitis ( haha)etc from flaring up. You are an excellent dietician ! I would like to talk to you more about this sometime!
    ahhh so many exclamations this stuff makes me happy. prevention is so important!

    I would love to see your book published. I also love the idea of nutritional empathy. thats a wonderful asset to have in relating to clients!

    • thehungryguineapig January 29, 2013 at 1:22 am #

      Thank you! Compliments from talented writers are always welcome. 🙂 I’ve really enjoyed looking at your articles and blog posts as well! I’ve noticed that we might just have too much in common to not start hanging out more. Haha! I am ALWAYS down for geeking out over nutritional healing. Prevention IS important!! We will definitely need to get together to blab about nutrition/writing/recurring depressionitis & lactose-free ice cream! 😉 Just talking about our passion towards writing yesterday has made me feel a renewed sense of creativity. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. 😀

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