The content of this blog entry in it's entirety is written by Diana Hsieh at Modern Paleo.... Once again, I am humbled by the generosity of the those leading this particular grassroots movement for health... and I thank Diana for allowing me to include this information in my library (making all of the links clickable here is my labour of love)!
Essential Versus Optional in Paleo by Diana Hsieh
When I developed my list of Modern Paleo Principles in early 2010, I'd hoped to be able to sort out the essential principles from the optional tweaks. So forgoing grains would be essential to eating paleo whereas intermittent fasting would be just an optional tweak that a person might never even try. Sounds reasonable, right? Perhaps so, but the attempt was a total non-starter.
Almost as soon as I sat down to write out my list of principles, I realized that I couldn't possibly separate them into "essential" and "optional," except in a few clear cases. Similarly, I couldn't rank its principles by priority except in a very rough way. Despite the core features of the diet captured in my definition -- avoiding grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils in favor of high-quality meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables -- that just wasn't possible.
But... why not? Why can't we identify the essential versus optional principles of a paleo diet or rank its principles by priority? The answer is more interesting than I supposed at first. I see three major obstacles -- (1) the value of health, (2) individual differences, and (3) the science of nutrition. Let's examine each in turn.
Health Is Not Your Ultimate Value
Health is a major value, but it's not a person's proper ultimate value. Health is not all that matters in life.
A person's ultimate value is (or rather, ought to be) his own life. Consequently, people can make legitimate trade-offs with respect to health, in order to serve other, higher values. For example, a paleo-eater might choose to eat restaurant salads with canola oil dressing at business lunches because that's what best serves her career, even if that risks some harm to her health. Or a paleo-eater might enjoy the occasional "Mo's Bacon Bar," because the taste is just so worth the sugar hit. Such choices would be totally legitimate: optimizing health shouldn't be treated as an out-of-context duty.
What does that mean? It means that no principle of paleo can be treated as "essential" -- in the sense that if you violate it, then you're doing wrong, you've fallen off the wagon, you're no longer paleo. Paleo is not a religious dogma: it has no Ten Commandments -- nor even a "thou shalt." (That's for the vegans!)
Instead, paleo involves a set of principles to help guide the actions that impact our health, particularly diet. However, if a person is willing to pay the price for deviating occasionally from those principles -- if that's not a sacrifice for him but an enhancement of his life -- then he ought to deviate. That's the rational approach.
Your Health Depends on Individual Context
People are not merely fodder for the aggregate statistics of epidemiologists. They are individuals -- and each person's particular background, constitution, and circumstances matter to his choices about diet.
For example, one paleo-eater might be diabetic, another hypothyroid, and another in perfect health. One person might be disposed to heart disease, whereas another would be more likely to suffer from cancer or stroke. One person might suffer terrible effects from eating wheat, whereas sugar might be the downfall of another. A paleo-eater might be able to find a source of grass-fed beef that matches his budget -- or not. A person might have 200 pounds of fat to lose -- or 20 pounds of muscle to gain. One person might look, feel, and perform better eating starchy tubers while another does better avoiding them. One person might need to work hard to eliminate the soy from his diet, whereas another has none to remove. One person might live with a supportive spouse, while another lives with a hostile vegan roommate. One person might prepare all his meals at home, while another must eat in restaurants, while another must eat in the college dorm.
In short, people's backgrounds, constitutions, and circumstances are often hugely different in ways that will affect what they can and should eat. People will implement a paleo diet in very different ways, based on those differences. To claim, as a universal generalization, that certain paleo principles are essential while others are merely optional would be to run roughshod over those individual differences. Instead, each person needs to discover what's more essential versus more optional for him. Each person need to focus on his own life and values. The experiences of others are often useful guides or hints, but they don't determine what's essential versus optional for you.
The Science of Nutrition Is in Its Infancy
Ideally, with further development of science, we might be able to identify certain universal mid-level principles, such as "avoid foods that irritate your gut" or "avoid foods that promote the formation of small LDL." Then people could focus on those principles, rather than adapting the particular recommendations of paleo to their own cirucmstances. Those kinds of integrations would be useful, undoubtedly, but I see at least three problems with aiming for that.
First, the science of nutrition is not as advanced or definitive as we might like, except on a few issues. I'm routinely amazed by how much we still have left to learn -- on the value of tubers, on the different kinds of fats, on carbohydrate sources, and so on. So right now, we're not in a position to clearly define and defend such mid-level principles. The science needs to be more settled for that.
Second, such mid-level principles wouldn't be particularly helpful for guiding a person's everyday choices about what to eat -- unless he already knew, for example, what irritates guts in general and his gut in particular. So even if armed with a slew of solid mid-level principles, a person would still need to discover how to implement those principles well in his choices of what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Third, even if all that were known, individuals would still vary in their responses to foods, and they'd have to determine much of their own optimal diet by their own n=1 experiments. For example, people respond very differently to gluten. Personally, even small quantities of gluten give me migraines, but no digestive upset. Others have a different response -- or no response at all.
One important conclusions from these reflections on the value of health, individual differences, and the science of nutrition is that even though the various paleo diets have a common core, the principles of paleo cannot be designated "essential" versus "optional" nor ranked in order of importance.
Of course, we can define a paleo diet, because it means something definite. We can also identify the general principles of a paleo approach to health; that's what I hope that I've done with the Modern Paleo Principles. That's crucial for doing paleo well, I think.
Yet to think of some of these principles as universally "essential" versus universally "optional" would be a mistake. Instead, they should stand in our minds as "more or less important for me."
Of course, as an advocate of people, I'm interested to know what's more or less important for most people or for people with certain medical conditions. Still, the individual's mileage will always vary.
Also, a person often requires a few weeks or even months to learn how to implement the basic principles of paleo well in his own life, then even longer to tweak and optimize. For people really concerned to eat well -- and to be fully healthy -- that can be well worth the trouble!
Even with the broad range of paleo, we cannot hope to find a "one-size-fits-all" diet, except in a very broad way.
Modern Paleo Principles by Diana Hsieh, (Ph.D, Philosophy)
Last Update: 14 March 2010
A "paleo" approach to health uses the evolutionary history of homo sapiens, plus the best of modern science, as a broad framework for guiding daily choices about diet, fitness, medicine, and supplementation. The core of paleo is the diet: it eschews grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils in favor of high-quality meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables. The principles below offer further details.
Importantly, the paleo approach is an ever-evolving framework of principles for living well, not dogma written in stone by any supposed authority. Experts and laypersons in the paleo community differ in some of their recommendations, as well as in their personal choices. Such debate is healthy, particularly while our knowledge of the principles of robust health remains in its infancy. Moreover, individuals differ in their tolerances and preferences. Each individual must experiment to discover what works best for him.
The following recommendations represent my own grasp of the best practices of the paleo approach to nutrition, fitness, and supplementation. However, I am a layperson: I'm a philosopher, not a scientist. These principles represent my own personal opinions. They should not substitute for your own research, thinking, and experience -- or for the advice of your doctor.
Modern Paleo Principles: A Work-In-Progress
These principles are in a rough order of importance. If you're overwhelmed by them, try working your way down the list slowly.
A link does not imply my endorsement; I simply think the material worthy of consideration.
1. Eat real foods, prepared well. Prepare your own food as much as you can. Beware the junk ubiquitous in convenience and restaurant foods.
• Real Foods Take On Fake Foods by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight www.realfooduniversity.c
• Real Foods Vs. Fake Foods by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Dining Out and Bad Fats by Dr. Michael Eades of Protein Power
• Posts on Real Food on Whole Health Source
2. Don't eat wheat, corn, rice, or other grains. If you choose to eat some grains, eat them sparingly and prepare them to minimize toxins, such as by sprouting and soaking. Wheat seems to be the worst of all the grains, while rice seems to be the most benign. Whole grains are not better than refined grains.
• The Argument Against Cereal Grains, Part 1 by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• The Argument Against Cereal Grains, Part 2 by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• Avoid Poison or Neutralize It? by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• Fiber... Overhyped? by Mike O'Donnell of Fitness Spotlight
• How to Eat Grains by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
3. Don't eat sweets: avoid sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners. If you must have some sweetener for a dish, you might try a bit of stevia. With time, your tastes will adjust: ordinary sweets will taste cloying, but formerly bland vegetables will seem delightfully sweet.
• What Sweetener Should You Choose? by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Real Sugar Vs. Artificial Sweeteners by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Why High Fructose Corn Syrup Is Worse Than Sugar... And Why It's Not by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
4. Don't eat modern oils derived from grains and seeds -- such as canola oil, corn oil, or soy oil. Make your own mayonnaise and salad dressing. Don't eat fried foods in restaurants: rancid vegetable oils are standard for frying. Avoid all hydrogenated fats; they contain damaging artificial transfats. Instead, use liberal amounts of animal fats -- like butter, ghee, lard, and tallow -- as well as unrefined coconut oil and olive oil. (Reserve your bacon grease: it's delicious rendered lard!) Do not fear saturated fat: it's healthy, including for your heart.
• Know Your Fats from the Weston A. Price Foundation
• Fats and Oils by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• Butter, Margarine and Heart Disease by Stephan Geyenet of Whole Health Source
•Posts on Fats on Whole Health Source
5. Don't eat soy. Some fermented soy might be okay, if tolerated. However, all soy is goitrogenic and contains estrogen-mimicking hormones.
• Soy Alert from the Weston A. Price Foundation
• Scrutinizing Soy by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• Ditch the Soy by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
6. Don't eat beans and other legumes. If you choose to eat some legumes, eat them sparingly and prepare them to minimize toxins, such as by soaking them.
• Beans and Legumes by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• Lentils by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
• Living With Phytic Acid from the Weston A. Price Foundation
7. Watch your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, as well as your total omega-6 intake. Most people eat far too much omega-6, both absolutely and relatively. Today, the average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in Western diets is 17:1, but the ideal ratio looks to be between 2:1 and 1:4. To achieve that you'll need to limit omega-6 intake by eliminating modern vegetable oils and eating high-omega-6 nuts sparingly. You'll likely need to supplement with high omega-3 fish oil too.
• A Practical Approach to Omega Fats by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
8. Eat plenty of high-quality meat, preferably from pastured animals. Grass-fed meats have a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats than grain-fed meats. Avoid meats treated with antibiotics and hormones, if feasible: the animals are likely treated better, and they taste better. Enjoy plenty of red meat. Try uncured bacon and other breakfast meats. They might not be any healthier, but they taste so much better!
• Are We Meat Eaters or Vegetarians? Part I by Dr. Michael Eades of Protein Power
• Are We Meat Eaters or Vegetarians? Part II by Dr. Michael Eades of Protein Power
• The Problems with Conventionally Raised Beef by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
9. Eat eggs, preferably from pastured chickens. Eggs enriched with omega-3s are a good option too. Prefer nutrient-dense egg yolks to nutrient-poor egg whites.
• The Truth About Free Range, Organic, Cage Free Eggs Nutrition by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Omega-3 Eggs by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
• Pastured Eggs by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
10. Eat fish and shellfish periodically, preferably caught wild rather than farm-raised.
• Better Fish Choices by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
11. For workouts, ditch the standard "cardio" sessions. Try short, high-intensity workouts instead: you should be able to kick your own ass in ten minutes or less. Try weight training, sprinting, and barefoot running. For more structured programs, try CrossFit or Body by Science. Also, move around a lot. Ladies, don't be afraid to weightlift: you will not turn into Ahnold overnight.
• Posts on Fitness on Mark's Daily Apple
• Posts on Lifting Heavy Things on Mark's Daily Apple
• A Case Against Cardio by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• Free Fitness Workouts by Marianne Kane of GirlsGoneStrong
12. Eat vegetables, but don't think of them as the holy of holies. They are particularly good when slathered in good fats. Beware the goitrogenic effects of some vegetables, particularly when eaten raw.
• Plants and Plant Compounds Are Not Essential or Magic by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• Are Raw Vegetables Healthier Than Cooked Vegetables? by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
13. Eat fruit sparingly. Fruits are often high in sugars, particularly fructose: tropical fruits are the worst; berries are the best. Fructose is particularly hard on the liver.
• Fructose vs. Glucose Showdown by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
• On the Problems of Cultivated Fruit by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
14. If tolerated well, eat some high-fat dairy, preferably raw and/or fermented. Avoid low-fat dairy like the plague. You might need to limit dairy if you're trying to lose weight. It can be helpful for building mass, however.
• Milk, Does It Do A Body Good? Part 1 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Milk, Does It Do A Body Good? Part 2 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Milk, Does It Do A Body Good? Part 3 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Milk, Does It Do A Body Good? Part 4 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• How to Evaluate a Raw Milk Dairy on eHow
15. Eat nuts, if you like, but beware the omega-6 load in some nuts. Grouped and ranked from least to most omega-6 content, we find: (good) macadamias; (okay) cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios; (worse) pecans, brazil nuts, and pinenuts; and (terrible) walnuts. Nuts may require soaking and drying to eliminate toxins. Remember that peanuts are legumes, not nuts. Avoid rancid nuts. You might need to limit nuts if you're trying to lose weight.
• Nuts and Omega-6s by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• Soaking Seeds and Nuts by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
16. If tolerated well, eat some tubers like sweet potatoes. Some people seem to tolerate modest quantities of white potatoes, but others don't. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates for athletes. Try limiting or avoiding tubers if you're trying to lose weight.
• Posts on Primal Potatoes by Don Matesz of Primal Wisdom
17. Fermented and cultured foods -- like yogurt, kefir, and homemade sauerkraut -- are beneficial for your gut bacteria. Enjoy them!
• How To Make Your Own Probiotic Food by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Dom's Kefir FAQ by Dominic Anfiteatro
18. Be adventurous: don't neglect organ meats and bone marrow. Make homemade stock made from leftover bones.
• It's Not So Offal by Worker Bee on Mark's Daily Apple
19. Supplement with vitamin D, based on your blood levels. Consider the following supplements as well: cod liver oil and butter oil; iodine and selenium; magnesium and potassium; vitamin K2; fish oil. Try to get as much good nutrition from real foods as you can, but recognize that depleted soils impact the nutritional values of the foods available to us.
• Posts on Fat-Soluble Vitamins by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
• How Vitamins A, D, E, and K Interact - Part 1 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• How Vitamins A, D, E, and K Interact - Part 2 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• How Vitamins A, D, E, and K Interact - Part 3 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• Vitamin D: It's Not Just Another Vitamin by Stephan Guyenet of Whole Health Source
• Posts on Supplements by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple www.marksdailyapple.com/
20. Some people require a few weeks to adjust to eating a paleo diet. It's not uncommon to feel a bit lethargic or foggy while the body transitions to using fat rather than carbohydrates as its major source of fuel. You can choose to dive in whole hog -- or you can gradually adjust your diet over a few weeks.
• The Low Carb Flu by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• Why Is Low-Carb Harder the Second Time Around? by Dr. Michael Eades of Protein Power
21. If you wish to lose (fat) weight, lower your carbohydrate intake to about 50 grams per day or less. Limit tubers, fruit, dairy, and nuts. Be sure to lose that weight gently: eat only when you're hungry, but don't deprive yourself. If you're looking to gain mass, try eating more high-fat dairy and tubers like sweet potatoes.
• Changing Perceptions of Obesity by Dr. Michael Eades of Protein Power
• Insulin Is A Doorman at the Fat Cell Nightclub, Not a Lock on the Door by Dr. Kurt Harris of PaNu
• Posts on Weight Loss on Mark's Daily Apple
• How to Gain Weight and Build Muscle by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
22. Sleep plenty and sleep well. Take time off time to recover from workouts. Don't abuse your body by failing to give it the rest it requires.
• The Definitive Guide to Sleep on Mark's Daily Apple
• Posts on Sleep on Modern Paleo
23. Pay attention to your body; experiment to find what foods work best for you. If you have health problems like autoimmune disease, test foods by a process of elimination. Try completely removing potentially problematic foods -- like gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and nightshades -- from your diet for a month or so, to see if you feel better without them. Whatever others say, eat what works for you. Ultimately, you should "look, feel, and perform" better than ever.
• Diet as Dogma on Mark's Daily Apple
• Weighing the Evidence: Science and Anecdote in Nutrition Studies on Mark's Daily Apple
24. Reject the meaningless concepts of "moderation" and "balance" as applied to diet. Instead, identify your range of healthy foods, then eat a wide variety of those foods. Try new foods, as your tastes will change over time. People will consume different macronutrient ratios on a paleo diet, depending on their bodily needs, health goals, and lifestyle. You will need find the right range for you.
• Food Neurosis by Diana Hsieh of Modern Paleo
25. Skip meals periodically, particularly when good food isn't available. Try intermittent fasting. Feed yourself well, but vary how much you eat.
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 1 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 2 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 3 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 4 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 5 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
• What Happens To Your Body When You Fast? Part 6 by Scott Kustes of Fitness Spotlight
26. If you choose to eat non-paleo foods on occasion, don't flagellate yourself as an abject failure and bury yourself in a gallon of ice cream. Instead, acknowledge any "cheats" as such -- and recognize that you'll likely pay a price for them. Sometimes, those cheats remind us of the reasons to eat paleo. Don't make a habit of such "cheats" by scheduling "cheat meals" or "cheat days." Just do them on occasion, when fitting.
• Good Thing It's Not the Church of Paleo! by Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal
• 80/20 Principle by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
27. Beware sources of toxins, such as the BPA lining all canned goods and bromine in hot tubs. Non-stick pans can be a problem too: consider using stainless steel or cast iron cookware instead. If you want really clean water, use a reverse-osmosis or distiller system.
• Environmental Toxins and Gene Expression by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
• 8 Ways to Reduce Your Chemical Load by Mark Sisson of Mark's Daily Apple
28. Don't put oils on your skin that you wouldn't put in your mouth. Coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer. For soap, use a simple soap, or none at all. You might try "no-poo" for your hair instead of shampoo -- or nothing but a water rinse. For toothpaste, try brushing with baking soda or just water. Many people report much improved dental health on a paleo diet, particularly when taking cod liver oil and butter oil.
• Natural Living at The Paleo Mama
• Epic Beauty Guide
• Oil Pulling: All-Natural Dental Care
29. Pets like eating paleo too! Consider switching your cats and dogs to grain-free pet food -- or better yet, a homemade raw prey model diet.
• Prey-Model Raw Feeding for Dogs
• Prey-Model Raw Feeding for Cats
30. You are 100% responsible for your own life, health, and happiness. Refuse to submit to the standard dogmas just because everyone believes them. Read, think, inquire, and judge for yourself. Don't depend on the government and its lackeys to keep you healthy. Insist on the inalienable rights of all persons to produce, trade, and consume voluntarily -- free from the unjust burdens of government regulations, subsidies, and taxation.
• The Definitive Guide to Conventional Wisdom
• Is Conventional Wisdom Set in Stone?
• Is the Stone Beginning to Crack?
• What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? by Gary Taubes