Thinking of Going Paleo to Lose Weight?
If you have been looking at various weight loss diets and are a total carnivore, chances are that you are thinking that going paleo to lose weight would be a good idea. Actually, for some people- it is. But is eating this way the best choice for you? I’m going to give you my opinion about this but ultimately it’s about what type of eating plan you can adhere to as a lifestyle change. Using the paleo diet for weight loss is “one thing” but in my opinion, if you adopt an eating plan that continues to “feel foreign to you” as your weight loss “go to” eating plan, you’ll just gain the weight back when you switch back to your old style of eating.
First of all, do you know what “going paleo” means in terms of what you can and cannot eat? I’ll review that for you. I also think it’s sort of cool to know the origins of how a style of eating came to be, so if you agree, let me start with a little information about that.
The Paleo diet was created in the ’70’s by Walter Voegtlin, M.D.-a GI specialist.
He was the first on record to suggest that eating like our Paleolithic ancestors would make us all healthier.
According to Dr. Voegtlin and others, this diet plan could sharply reduce incidences of Crohn’s disease, diabetes, obesity and indigestion, amongst other ailments.
The Paleo diet does indeed have a lots in common with what the actual Paleolithic man would have eaten. The diet is comprised mainly of meats and fish that could have been hunted by prehistoric man, and items that would have been gathered, including nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
The Contemporary History of the Paleo Diet:
Many thousands of years ago, during the Paleolithic period, people ate mostly vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots, and meat, which varied depending on availability and season.
Based upon scientific research looking at the types and amounts of foods our ancestors ate, the foundation of “The Paleo Diet” is lean meat, including ostrich and bison as well as organ meats, seafood, fresh fruit, and non-starchy vegetables. All of this is obviously a long way from the standard American diet.
Today, American eat really unhealthy things like refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, bread, potatoes, and pasteurized milk products. Most Americans eat a much narrower selection of fruits, vegetables, roots, and nuts, and in fewer lesser quantities than our ancestors. We even eat toxic farmed fish.
As Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet and one of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic nutrition, states:
” By severely reducing or eliminating these foods and replacing them with a more healthful cuisine, possessing nutrient qualities more in line with the foods our ancestors consumed, it is possible to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.”
The criticism of the diet is due to the diet’s restriction of grains and dairy. But actually the grains we consume are not healthy and the dairy we consume is ultra-pasteurized. I’ll get into all the pros and cons of using the paleo diet for weight loss and for a lifetime eating plan.
What you can eat on a Paleo diet
Paleo Diet Meats
Before I discuss the types of meats allowed on your Paleo diet food list let me put in a good word for “grass-fed.” If you purchase organic meat, that doesn’t mean grass-fed; it means it was fed organic grains. Grass-fed meat contains higher concentrations of antioxidants and lower amounts of total fat. In addition, it contains higher quantities of omega-3 fats. Therefore I highly recommend that you go the extra mile when purchasing meat and purchase organic, free-range, grass- fed, cage-free, pastured animal source proteins. They are just plain healthier food products, besides being a more ethical way to treat animals. And I’m not even getting into the fact that many animal grain-feeds are treated with anti-fungal sprays. Ew.
Bacon, Bear (yes bear and I’m leaving it in so imagine the ones I took out), Beef, Bison, Boar, Buffalo. (And once again- all grass fed,antibiotic free and hormone free please).
Chicken, Duck, Eggs (duck, chicken, goose eggs).
Elk, Goat, Goose, Lamb, Ostrich, Pheasant, Pork, Quail, Rabbit, Reindeer, Turkey, Veal, Venison with some meats left out because it just plain grossed me out. Here’s a clue. (It’s me petting a ‘roo with a baby on board!)
Paleo Diet Seafood/Fish
Anchovies, Bass, Clams, Crab, Crawfish, Crayfish.
Halibut, Lobster, Mackerel, Oysters,Red Snapper.
Salmon, Sardines, Scallops, Shark, Shrimp, Sunfish, Swordfish, Tilapia, Trout, Tuna.
And all wild, not farmed please.
Farmed can be sprayed with DDT to kill sea lice-I kid you not.
Paleo Diet Vegetables
Choose vegetables with more leaves if you are trying to lose weight. If you’re an athlete or highly active person, you can choose the vegetables or fruits listed in bold italic which have higher starch contents.
Acorn Squash, Artichoke hearts, Asparagus, Avocado, Beets, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash.
Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Cucumber, Eggplant, Garlic, Kale.
Lettuce, Mushrooms, Onions, Parsley, Parsnips, Peppers, Plantains, Radishes, Spinach, Sweet Potato.
Turnips, Watercress, Water Chestnuts, Zucchini
Keep in mind that due to their higher fructose levels we have to keep amounts of fruits limited. On the Paleo diet it’s acceptable to have 1-3 servings of fruit a day if your goal is weight loss. If you choose dark berries you’re choosing the best Paleo diet fruits and best fruits for health in general. Again,the higher sugar fruits will be bold and italicized.
Apple, Apricot, Banana, Blackberries, Blueberries, Cantaloupe, Coconut (raw, shredded, no additives).
Dates, Figs, Grapefruit, Grapes, Lemon, Lime, Mango, Nectarine, Orange, Papaya, Peach, Pear, Pineapple.
Plum, Pomegranate, Raspberries, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Tangerine, Watermelon.
Paleo Nuts and Seeds
Although the type of fat in nuts is a good fat, you need to watch the calories. Even though nuts and seeds are included on the Paleo Diet Food List, nuts and seeds contain phytates. The good news is if you properly prepare them or purchase carefully you can extract most of them.
Almonds, Cashews, Chestnuts, Flax, Hazelnuts, Macadamia, Pecans, Pine Nuts.
Pistachios, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds, Tapioca, Walnuts. Note that walnuts are the healthiest nut as blueberries are the healthiest berry. They make a nice combo.
Paleo Oils and Fats
Your body likes to burn fats; just be sure to choose the right ones which are found below.
Avocado oil, gass-fed butter, extra-virgin coconut oil, Ghee (clarified butter), macadamia Oil, and extra-virgin olive oil.
What you cannot eat on a Paleo diet
Dairy is not a part of the Paleo Diet Food List for several reasons. The galactose in milk spikes your insulin levels which makes you hungry and crave more food.
Next, the Paleo diet creators all say that ancient “man” didn’t drink milk, no other species drinks milk past infancy and so-neither should we.
From another health standpoint:
The casein in dairy is linked to several cancers including ovarian and prostate.
Sugar is addictive-activating the dopamine-reward center of your brain.
It’s in just about every processed food from candy bars to spaghetti sauce.
Keeping you addicted is good business, but terrible for your health. It is linked to everything from cancer to diabetes to short term memory loss.
Limited amounts of 70-85% chocolate, raw honey, and real maple syrup are acceptable splurges on the Paleo diet.
Stevia is fine.
Here’s the forbidden sweeteners
Agave Nectar, Brown sugar, Candy, Corn Syrups, White sugar, and all artificial sweeteners other than stevia
ALL! Apple, Grape, Green smoothies, Mango, Orange, Pomegranate, Strawberry. All fruit juices are pure fructose. They all spike insulin and cause inflammation. They all raise blood sugar which causes “glycation” to age all cells including your skin. Forego the juice and just eat the fruit or use if for a smoothie!
Beans contain phytates which binds with your bone minerals making you lose some bone density. They also contain lectins which is the plant’s natural pest control. These lectins bind with tissues in your intestines which can increases permeability. In some individuals this can turn into leaky gut syndrome.
Verboten: Black-Eyed Peas, Chickpeas, Lentils, Miso, Peas, Peanuts, Peanut butter, Soy (all forms), Snow peas, Sugar snap peas.
According to Paleo experts, grains have very little nutrients, and are not suitable for our digestive system.
Gluten disrupts insulin signaling, and grains lead to carbohydrate addiction because of their large carb load in relation to amount of nutrients.
We’ll cover why grains aren’t allowed more in depth when I discuss “Pro’s.”
NO: Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn, Hominy, Oats, Quinoa, Rice, Rye, Wheat.
Snacks and Energy drinks
Energy drinks are usually full of sugar and abnormally high doses of caffeine…so these are O-U-T on any healthy diet.
The snack list includes, but is not limited to:
Alcohol, Chips, Cookies, Crackers, French Fries, Hot Dogs, Pastries, Pretzels, Sausages* (*due to grains/gluten).
Paleo Diet “Pro’s”
Scientific research and epidemiological studies show that diets rich in Monounsaturated and Omega-3 fats dramatically reduce the instances of obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and decline in cognition.
Excess sugars (which include grains) raise LDL cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels as well. Cutting out fructose and grains from your diet effectively eliminates one of the underlying causes of a number of health problems, including:
Being overweight or obese
… and that’s one of the primary reasons thatPaleo and other low-carb diets work so well.
How’s the Paleo Diet for Weight Loss?
A common “side effect” of “doing Paleo” is weight loss. One explanation for this is that you don’t really get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. Nor do you get fat from eating fat.
So what does cause your fat tissue to accumulate and hold on to fat? Carbohydrates, that’s what.
First, fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority of fructose being turned directly into fat. This rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity with decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure= metabolic syndrome.
At the same time, a high carbohydrate intake raises your insulin levels, which prevents fat from being released. Fructose further tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body’s appetite-control system.
Fructose and grains elevates ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and don’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”). So what happens? You will feel hungry all the time, even if you have recently eaten. As a result, you overeat and develop insulin resistance, which is an underlying factor not only of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, but also many cancers.
The resulting equation is simple: fructose and dietary carbohydrates (grains, which break down into sugar) lead to excess body fat, obesity, and worse.
Fructose and High Blood Pressure
As mentioned earlier, the Paleo diet can be very effective for reducing blood pressure, as well as cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Couple all of this with the weight loss you get and you have a nice reduction in your cardiac risks.
Cons of the Paleo diet
The primary one is that I personally (as well as other experts) feel that is has far too much protein for most people.
People only need to eat about one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. Athletes or pregnant women should have about 25% more, but most people rarely need more than 40-70 grams of protein a day. Some experts feel that excess protein causes kidney issues in our later years.
Furthermore all meats are high in inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids which will generally raise inflammatory markers. Therefore I advise my bodybuilding members to take curcumin and omega-3’s as well as decaf green tea supplements.
Also, some believe that the Paleo Diet is too low-carb for some people.
In general, if you’re on a high-carb diet and suddenly reduce your carb intake, your blood cholesterol profile will improve.
Typically, your triglyceride levels will be sharply reduced.
However, if your carb intake is below 25 percent (the Paleo Diet is about 23 percent carbs), your body will have to adapt to a scarcity of glucose, which can actually cause hormonal changes that may negatively impact your cholesterol and triglycerides
When you are treating the common America problem of insulin/leptin resistance, most people would indeed benefit by decreasing their carbohydrate intake.
However, rather than replacing all of these calories with protein, many experts (including myself) feel that healthy fats are the answer.
Replacing carbs with too much protein can actually cause health issues which are similar to eating too many grain carbs and sugars.
The Paleo Diet is about 38 percent protein and 39 percent fat, which may actually be too much protein and believe it or not- possibly not enough fat for optimal health. The not enough fat part isn’t proven enough but the evidence is mounting about it which is a big surprise to me too! High-quality fats include avocados, butter, coconut oil, nuts, and eggs.
The anti-inflammatory vs. the Paleo diet plan
If you look at my anti-inflammatory diet plan, you’ll see that I decrease the proteins and advocate more healthy fat- 50%.
Where we do agree is in the exclusion (but I allow some non-pastueurized greek yogurt and cheese) of dairy and the exclusion of gluten.
However I allow some sprouted grains. But as the literature grows on the negatives about grains, I am slowly souring on all grain products. I’m not officially there but I’m getting there. And all legumes but peanuts are allowed but I do limit the soy.
Fructose, check/processed foods/check- but honey; they allow honey which is processed the same way as sugar-nope, not me. I adore bees so I’m really sorry to have to say this right now. There is actually some great research going on about honey so I’m hoping to be able to change my recommendation here.
I also allow for you to have some alcohol and a couple of squares of dark chocolate daily.
The Difference between a Nutritional Ketosis Diet and Paleo
If you examine the nuances of eating a nutritional ketosis diet versus going paleo to lose weight there is one striking difference. While the make-up of the food list is almost identical, on a nutritional ketosis diet for weight loss you eat so much fat that you aren’t hungry. To me, that’s the big bonus that occurs when you eat more healthy fat. Also- your metabolism is boosted when you simply add more healthy fats and use fat for fuel instead of glucose. You can also have a little bit of cheese and a little bit of dry wine or vodka. There are also many studies showing that nutritional ketosis is great for your health as a long-term eating plan. It may turn out to be the ultimate anti-aging diet which helps prevent metabolic syndrome, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
My goal is to always do my best to answer your questions and give you your options. If you’re truly wanting to use the paleo diet for weight loss, it’s likely because you enjoy healthy meat, don’t mind giving up grains, legumes and alcohol, and perhaps you have a fitness-based social circle of friends who are all “eating Paleo.” If this is the case, I do indeed recommend “going Paleo” to you for weight loss and then, if you enjoy it, for a healthy lifestyle. I would also recommend that you then either consume enough wild-caught fish to balance out all the omega- 6 fatty acids in the meat, or just take fish oil supplements.
If you have a hard time losing weight “on Paleo” it would be the easiest thing in the world to just add some MCT oil to your meals to get yourself in ketosis and cut back on the carbs-eating only the low-starch carbs you can find in the ketosis article linked earlier. You can then easily switch off between Paleo and Nutritional Ketosis for life. Another option would be to use the Paleo diet but go on an off safe, non-stimulant natural appetite suppressors.
If you can’t live without the grains and some more dairy you could always switch off from the Paleo diet to the anti-inflammatory diet plan as your baseline eating plan. What I’m trying to convey here is that a weight loss plan should be a lifetime eating plan with a few (only a few) modifications. No matter what new eating plan you choose, remember that a pantry or a freezer filled with temptations should be cleaned out before you get started.