6 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Paleo

The Paleo diet comes with a bit of media baggage these days. After becoming more mainstream over the last several years, it’s not surprising that the praise comes with some scrutiny. In my practice, Paleo is a set of guidelines that truly help patients wrap their heads around what they should and shouldn’t be eating – whether these changes are temporary or more long-term. Here are the top 6 things I wish everyone knew about Paleo:

  1. Paleo is about more than just bacon. I’d estimate that about 75% of the time when I say “Paleo” to a patient their response is, “Oh, you mean eat more bacon.” While bacon is delicious, it isn’t the foundation of Paleo eating. In fact, if you’re not familiar with Paleo, you’ll probably be surprised by just how many vegetables we eat.
  2. Paleo isn’t about trying to be a caveman. It certainly is fun to think of it that way, but the focus isn’t on trying to replicate the exact experience our ancestors had. Instead, it is about recognizing and honoring the foundations on which our ancestors thrived — eating foods that come straight from nature.
  3. Paleo is not the same as a ketogenic diet. Paleo is not a low carb diet. It is common to make the association of no or limited grains and low carb. But grains are not the only source of carbohydrates. In fact, depending on which vegetables you are choosing, most Paleo diets average about 30% of calories from carbohydrates. A traditional ketogenic diet includes around 5% of calories from carbohydrates.
  4. Just because it says Paleo doesn’t mean it is. Paleo is a catchy name and companies love a catchy name that moves products. Eating Paleo means choosing whole foods. Yes, it is is nice (and sometimes essential) to have a grab and go snack, but if a product lists sugar in the first 5 ingredients, it’s not “really” Paleo. The same goes for “Paleo treats.” Treats are nice, but if the recipe you are using calls for 1 cup of honey and 1 cup of coconut sugar, it is not benefiting your health — at all. Sugar isn’t completely off limits, but it should be limited.
  5. Paleo is more than just food. We love to talk about food. I love to talk about food. But Paleo is not just a way of eating — it is a way of life. And it’s the lifestyle aspect that makes all the difference. You won’t improve your health by diet alone, although it is a very big part of health. Sleeping regularly in a dark room, getting outside, moving your body and gathering with loved ones are all vital pieces of health and are encompassed in the Paleo movement.
  6. Sustainability is a big part of the movement. Isn’t eating all that meat bad for the planet? Sure, if you choose to support poor husbandry practices with your dollar, then yes — eating meat is bad for the planet. But did you know that a grass fed cow is actually necessary for healthy soil and vegetation? In addition, Paleo eating includes a practice of snout to tail consumption, meaning no part of the animal goes to waste. Sustainability was one of the focuses of this year’s Paleo f(x) event with talks extending beyond food practices into how we make conscious decisions as consumers.

Have you ever tried the Paleo diet? Did it work for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

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Dr. Jolene Brighten is a Functional Medicine Naturopathic Medical Doctor and the founder of Rubus Health, a women’s medicine clinic that specializes in women's hormones. She is recognized as a leading expert in Post-Birth Control Syndrome and the long-term side effects associated with hormonal contraceptives. Dr. Brighten is the best selling author, speaker and regular contributor to several online publications including MindBodyGreen. She is a medical advisor for one of the first data-driven apps to offer women personalized birth control recommendations.Read more about me.