The Paleo Diet is a form of self-flagellation. It’s sweetener free, we eat only meat, we’re hungry all the time, and if we drink a glass of wine we’re banished from the tribe. Right? Wrong, but these are all comments which I’ve heard over the past month. Let’s have a quick look at these 5 Common Misconceptions that people have about the Paleo Diet and Lifestyle.
5 Common Misconceptions about The Paleo Diet
Paleo Misconception 1. The Paleo Diet is Self-Punishment
‘Oh, you couldn’t eat like that all the time – it ‘d be a form of self-flagelation.’
I called my Mum the other day to talk about where to stay for Christmas. My Mum is a brilliant cook and an attentive host, but she’s almost 80 and we don’t want her to feel pressured by our diet. We needn’t have worried – she’s already booked us in at my brothers house where we can be more self-sufficient. ‘I panic every time you send me a recipe,’ she said.’I just wouldn’t know what to do.’
The misconception that Paleo is difficult is always accompanied by the idea of renunciation – that we say goodbye forever to the joys of icecream, cakes and cookies. The self-flagelation comment above came as sigh of relief from my Mum when I explained that Paleo is not only easy for us now, but actually exciting because we’re learning how to make treats like Gelato, Apple Cake and Biscotti.
I’ve found pretty much all Paleo Outsiders go into automatic resistance mode at the thought of no cereals, dairy, or refined sugar – and, more specifically, the treats that are made from them. They need to be reassured that the whole way of eating becomes habitual, and that what we create with Coconut Cream and Cassava Flour can compete with any wheat or dairy based spree.
This isn’t to deny that particular Paleo programs can be difficult. Starting out on the AIP can be tricky for the extra restrictions, and the Whole 30 can be downright challenging precisely because there are no treats. But I make sure to stress that neither of these programs are meant to be forever. Both are elimination diets with the very clear objectives of resetting the nutritional programming of the body and identifying allergens. Being strict for a limited time has so many benefits. We think it’s the only way for a Paleo Newbie to really understand what the diet is about and feel the benefits, but it’s also a great way for Oldtimers to get back on track after going walkabout in a world of temptation.
Truly, it’s not about self-flagelation, but rather revelation. The General dropped the pharmaceutical he’d been taking for four and a half years after just 12 days on Paleo. Since that first Whole 30 in 2014, I haven’t had a physical melt down, and no longer suffer from hayfever and sinusitis. He no longer suffers from chronic coldsores, and I have very little bloating. Yes, it was worth that bit of effort to learn new skills and change our habits. And it’s fun.
Paleo Misconception 2. The Paleo Diet is Sugar-Free
‘That recipe isn’t Paleo or AIP because it contains Muscovado Sugar.’
The Paleo Diet, whilst shouting out loud to avoid all refined sugar like the plague, is ok with natural sugars and sweeteners if they are consumed in moderation. How one defines in moderation might well vary from one person to another, but in essence it means Sweet is a Treat – not a flavour enhancer to be consumed with every meal and in between. Natural sweeteners that contribute more than just empty calories and an insulin peak can be part of a healthy and balanced Paleo Lifestyle.
The best kind of sweetness comes from fresh fruit that is loaded with a synergistic blend of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. But unrefined sugars which still contain many of their nutrients such as coconut sugar and muscovado sugar have their place as well.
The important thing is not too much, and not too often. It’s about recognising that sugar is addictive, it’s everywhere, and even our fruit and vegetables have been cross-bred over the last century to be much sweeter than they once were. When you adopt the Paleo Diet you retrain your tastebuds. What was once perfect is quickly regarded as too sweet, or even sickly. But it’s not about killing the Sugar Dragon. Rather, it’s about keeping him under control.
Paleo Misconception 3. The Paleo Diet is a Set of Hard Rules
As I took a sip of a lovely glass of local Prosecco someone commented lightly, ‘That’s not Paleo!’.
And, indeed, it’s not. But one thing Paleo certainly isn’t is a set of hard rules that are so stringent that one is thrown out of the tribe for drinking a glass of wine or eating a pizza. The Paleo Diet, rather, is a set of Dietary Guidelines. It’s a road map showing every individual on the planet the way to optimal health. The recommendations, therefore, are to avoid foods which directly or indirectly cause inflammation, and fill up with nutrient dense foods which suit our DNA.
Within and around the guidelines, people find their own Paleo which is based on what works for them personally. Some are able to incorporate a little dairy or white rice. Others avoid eggs or nuts completely.
Importantly, Paleo recognises that we live in the 21st century where so many of our family celebrations, social life and cultural traditions revolve around (non Paleo) food. Eating Paleo 100% of the time would become a little obessive. And obsession, about anything, isn’t good for our long-term health as it is based on tension and fear. Many people adopt a 90 / 10 attitude to their Paleo Diet. Usually this means one’s home is only stocked with Paleo compliant foods, but allows a little flexibility when eating out. With 21 meals a week, 10% works out at about 2. For me, it means once a week I might drink a glass of wine, and on another occasion I might treat myself to a gelato from a really good gelateria. It’s got to be worth it. Otherwise, we’re much happier eating at home.
‘If I don’t eat bread with my meal, I’m so hungry afterwards!’ One of my girlfriends made this comment at a recent dinner party at our house. The dinner, of course, was totally Paleo, from the appetizers to dessert, and I do believe my friend was well satisfied right through to the following morning!
This misconception is not so much about the Paleo Diet as it is about the how the body converts food to fuel. The body needs to be ready and able to perform a wide range of energetic tasks within any 24 hour period. These include the tiny and invisible metabolic exertions of the cells, the low-level energy required for activities such as gardening, walking the dog and cleaning, and high-intensity situations such as sprinting fast to escape a tiger. Through our food we consume two types of fuel: Carbohydrates (which break down to simple sugars) and Fat. If you mainly consume Carbs for fuel, your body becomes habitualised. The simple sugars of Carbohydrates burn quickly, and when the supply runs out the body-brain screams for more. That’s why you find yourself reaching for the cookie jar or the bread, even though you ate just a couple of hours before.
Carbohydrates also cause Blood Sugar levels to peak and crash, causing Insulin production to go haywire.
Healthy Fats, on the other hand, are a different story. Healthy Fats are the preferred fuel of the body, if only you give them a chance. Healthy Fats are a dense source of energy that are consumed at a much slower rate than the sugars. A healthy functioning body only sends out the hunger signals when the fuel supply is running low. When you eat the right supply of Healthy Fats, the feeling of satiety lasts that much longer. There’s no reaching for snacks between meals. One of the great things about the Paleo Diet is that your body actually switches from being a Sugar Burner to being a Fat Burner. All the extra fat stored in your flesh and around your organs simply melts away… without ever feeling starved or deprived.
Paleo Misconception 5: On the Paleo Diet You Eat Mostly Meat
‘I don’t follow the Paleo Diet because I like eating vegetables and salad. Also, I don’t want to eat so much meat.’ This was the response at a recent Paleo Event when I asked someone at my table whether she was Paleo.
The event had been organised to promote a Grass-Fed Beef supplier. Lunch was a selection of cooked and raw meats, chosen of course to show off the produce, but unfortunately there were next to no vegetables or salads served alongside. The non-Paleo’s at our table were under the impression that this was a typical meal, which is unfortunate, because it is far from the truth.
One of the speakers at the event had in fact said that the easiest way to explain a typical dish is two thirds plant, one third animal protein, but I can appreciate that it’s impossible to absorb every sentence of a conference. It’s much easier to learn through example.
The two third / one third example is great. So is the Whole 30 approach: a palm-sized portion of protein, with the rest of the plate filled with plants and a thumb-sized serving of healthy fat. In fact, on the Paleo Diet we eat more vegetables and salad than the average vegetarian or vegan because we’re not achieving satiety through cereals and legumes.
What’s more, it’s not all about red meat and bacon. The Paleo Diet recommends eating all kinds of seafood and fresh water fish. If you take a glance at my free printable AIP Meal Plan, you’ll see that we eat fish once a day, more or less, even if it just means a can of sardines added to our Breakfast Base, or an enormous Tuna Salad.
Be Light Hearted
All of these common misconceptions reveal the fact that human beings, unfortunately, are quick to form opinions and often do so through a process of conscious or unconscious selectivity. It’s important, then, to communicate what Paleo is really about, and always in a positive way. I see a lot of comments on Social regarding the Status Quo which are written in a condesceding manner. I don’t like it – that sort of response is not going to win us any supporters. Much better to explain in a light hearted way, and, most importantly, to lead by example.
I would love to hear the misconceptions which you had when starting out, or which you come across now. Let me know in the comments – I’m sure some are really entertaining!
Thanks for your time here at Paleomantic, and blessings to those of you who share these posts on your Social – every share helps spread the message of our Paleo Diet and Lifestyle Health (R)evolution.
Don’t forget to find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pintrest – it’s great to connecting!
And sign up for the Newsletter – there’s room for you in the Paleomantic Tribe!
Best Wishes, Good Health and Happiness.