Before I get all the muscle-building, super-strong paleo/primal dieters mad at me, I want to say this post is not against these diets! In fact, as many of you may know, I am a big fan of Dr. Weston A. Price’s work. This post is simply some precautionary advice and factors to consider in order to get the most out of those dietary trends.
I also want to provide information as to why Paleo/primal/Price dieters may be experiencing certain digestive and/or other issues on these diets and ways to remedy them. If you have experienced gastritis, iron overload, headaches/dizziness, gastrointestinal discomfort, or any other health problems while following these, read on to find out how to remedy them with a few minor adjustments.
And finally, I thought it’d be prudent to see what scripture has to say about it all while we’re here!
There is currently so much dietary misinformation out there; and I’ll admit–I was one of the sources in the past. There was a time when I followed trendy dietary advice, eating my fat-free Cool Whip on an angel food cake because it was low in calories!
I did the same thing with parenting. After my first child was born, I spent so much time following Parenting magazine and the trendy tips. After about 5 years, articles came out saying that those were actually proving not to be so good after all. Well, that explained a lot! You see, parenting trends come and go, but God’s word has stood the test of time!
Since then, I have strived to align everything I do with one source only–God’s word. While studying for my nutritional counseling certification, I lined everything I read up with Scripture. (There’s a lot more in there than you think about health/nutrition!) And it has proven to be very useful, including allowing me to be a lot more helpful to my clients!
I’ll admit that I have not delved into any 200-page books detailing the paleo and primal diets. I tried but stopped with all of the talk about our descendants from millions of years ago. . .
I did, however, read Nutrition & Physical Degeneration by Weston A. Price and was fascinated by what I read. His discoveries about how the incorporation of “white-man’s foods” into indigenous cultures caused a huge array of health problems that continued through generations was absolutely amazing. (If you have not checked his book out yet, I highly recommend it!)
My favorite thing about these diets is the warnings against refined sugar. Finally–someone gets it right!
There are many health benefits that I have seen from these dietary trends. They are waking people up to the benefits of good fats found in God-made foods, like butter, avocados and olive oil, as well as the importance of essential fatty acids found in fish and these other foods.
That said, I want to share a few precautions for those adhering to these diets without considering ALL factors.
1. Conventionally-raised meats do more harm than good.
If you’re going to eat a lot of meat (or even just a little!), choose meat from naturally-raised animals; grass-fed beef not given growth hormones, free-range poultry raised without antibiotics or antibiotic- and arsenic-laced food, etc.
If you can’t afford these meats, you would be better off not eating meat at all. For one thing, conventionally-raised animals are given so many chemicals and raised in such dirty, diseased conditions that they lose so much of their nutritional properties. They are abnormally high in saturated fat and omega 6′s when compared to their naturally-raised counterparts. Additionally:
Pasture-raised foods have higher levels of vitamins, and a healthier balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats than conventional meat and dairy products.
Studies have shown that milk from pasture-fed cows has as much as five times the CLA (a “good” type of fatty acid) as milk from grain-fed cows. iii And meat from pasture-fed cows has from 200 to 500 percent more CLA as a proportion of total fatty acids than meat from cows that eat a primarily grain-based diet.
Free-range chickens have 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat and 28% fewer calories than their factory-farmed counterparts. v Eggs from poultry raised on pasture have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 400% more omega-3′s.
Conventionally-raised animals are much more likely to have liver disease, carry e-coli bacteria, and other dangerous consequences of living in a factory-farming environment. Add in the growth hormones and antibiotics, and we’re still not through listing the nasties of conventionally-raised meats. In fact, another problem with meat has caused professional athletes a lot of trouble. From The Healthy Home Economist:
Clenbuterol has caused grief for top athletes before. Alberto Contador blamed a steak dinner for his positive [steroid] test during the 2010 Tour de France. This case is currently under appeal.
Olympic gold medalist weightlifter Tong Wen cited her love affair with pork chops as the reason when she tested positive for the same agent and was banned from the sport for two years. Clenbuterol is frequently added to steroid laced pig feed in China.
Clenbuterol is indeed a problem in the conventional meat industry where it is illegally used in animal feed to increase the leanness and protein content of meat. People who consume meat from animals fed this steroid can experience headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations and gastic irritation. Some people need to be hospitalized after exposure.
I know there are other things in conventionally-raised meat that I have not mentioned. The point is that if we are to receive both the short-term AND the long-term health benefits from meat, we must choose naturally-raised meat! And while I see that proponents of these diets recommend meat from naturally-raised animals, I know many, many people on these diets do not adhere to this important principle.
2. Hemochromatosis, enzyme deficiency, low stomach acid, and a weak gallbladder
These are a few of the things that can make adhering to a diet high in protein very difficult. These issues must be addressed in order to avoid health problems.
To avoid sounding too scientific for anyone to understand, I will try and keep this one as easy-to-understand as possible. Hemochromatosis, is a disorder that causes the body to absorb too much iron. Practitioners are seeing this once-rare problem on the rise in recent years. From Chris Kresser, practitioner of integrative medicine:
This week, for example, I had three patients with probable hemochromatosis. That seems really high.
There are many possible reasons why people are getting an iron overload. Kresser mentions that one of them has to do with a lack of phytic acid. Phytic acid found in grains can inhibit iron formation. In a diet high in iron and low in phytic acid, too much iron can be absorbed. (For more information on hemochromatosis from Kresser, go here: http://chriskresser.com/can-you-be-healthy-if-you-dont-eat-a-paleo-diet.)
Enzymes are crucial for digestion. So is adequate stomach acid. They are both especially important for digestion of protein. And as crucial as they are, most Americans are deficient in these digestive components. The reasons they are lacking are many, but one is the lack of raw foods from which enzymes are found, such as raw milk, raw eggs, raw fruits (like pineapple and papaya), etc.
Without these essential digestive components, diets high in meat and other proteins can cause gastritis. From Kresser:
Why would someone get gastritis after starting a Paleo diet when they did not have it before?”There are a few possibilities; I just give you my impression. Some of the things that I would think about and look for would include stomach acid deficiency. If you don’t have enough stomach acid and you eat a lot of protein, like people do on a Paleo diet, especially if they are switching over from like a vegetarian diet, which a lot of people do. A lot of my patients that I talk to, it’s a very familiar story that someone was a vegetarian or a vegan and they switch to a Paleo diet. So you take someone who has been eating almost no animal protein, certainly no meat for a significant period of time, their stomach acid production might decline, because stomach acid is required to digest protein and if they are not eating a lot of protein and things that require stomach acid production, perhaps their stomach acid will decline and then they start eating those things and those proteins don’t get digested well in the stomach and they putrefy. . . And that putrefaction can potentially irritate the stomach lining and cause gastritis. So that’s one possibility.
Similar possibility would be people who have issues with fat digestion. Maybe a sluggish gall bladder and they are not breaking down fats as well as they should be and again this is common for people who are coming from a low-fat, whole grain “heart-healthy”approach and they start eating a Paleo diet with loads and loads of fat and then they get stomachache and feel terrible. That often to me can be a sign of problems with fat digestion.
Probiotics and fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and traditionally-fermented sauerkraut and other veggies help increase stomach acid to normal levels required for digestion. I find it incredibly strange that the paleo diet restricts consumption of yogurt when probiotics are very much needed in today’s world, as well as the fact that they were a very integral part of primitive societies. (Remember–they did not have refrigerators so foods had to be cultured/fermented for longer storage.)
Both probiotics and enzymes are available either through a diet rich in these foods or with the use of supplements. Enzyme supplements are available in a variety of forms, including pills and powders. But my favorite way, of course, is to get them through the foods listed above.
3. Following God’s wisdom
In His infinite wisdom, God has laid out many health principles for us in the Bible. Some people, saying that much of it is outdated, has ignored that wisdom.
Hundreds of years ago, millions of people died in the Black Death pandemic. While people were dropping like flies all around them, Jewish people were often found to be alive and well. This caused Europeans to blame them for the pandemic. Europeans concocted lies, such as that the Jewish people poisoned the wells, and began rioting against them. Many Jewish people died during the Black Death, not because of the illness but because of the riots. No one stopped to think that they may have been doing something differently that allowed them to avoid the same fate as everyone else.
What were they doing differently? They simply adhered to God’s sanitation laws laid out in the book of Leviticus. While they believed their eternal salvation rested in their obedience, we can see that their physical health was definitely saved through their obedience.
In the same way, our eternal salvation does not hinge upon our obedience to the Old Testament dietary laws. But I believe in God’s infinite wisdom, He offers us advice on what to eat and what not to eat for more than just spiritual reasons.
Yes, I am talking about avoiding pork and shellfish as laid out in the book of Leviticus.
And the pig, though it has a divided hoof, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. 8 You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.
The pig is also unclean; although it has a divided hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses.
Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.
In Dr. Rex Russell’s book, “What the Bible Says About Healthy Living,” he says:
An examination of Jewish toilets found no parasites nor infectious agents but only pollen from fruits, vegetables and herbs. Egyptian toilets revealed eggs from wire worm, tapeworms and others found in pork, all of which cause significant chronic diseases.
He goes on to say:
Just handling swine has an element of risk, as many hog-raising farmers tell their employees who are often required to wear gloves, masks, and protective clothing while working in the pig barns are also required to shower each day before going home.
As far as shellfish, Dr. Russell has this to say:
Shellfish can be placed in a body of water that is contaminated with cholera bacteria, and they will purify the water. Shrimp, oysters, crab, scallops and mussels are particularly efficient at this. They filter large volumes of water every day. Sewage laden with chemicals, toxins and harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses become concentrated in those shellfish.
(Check out Dr. Russell’s book for yourself. I highly recommend it!)
In addition to pork and shellfish, the Bible clearly lays out principles against eating other meats allowed on these diets, such as rabbit, alligator, ostrich, and more. Like I said, these are not a matter of spiritual salvation but more of trusting God’s infinite wisdom. Because of that, I am simply throwing this out there for each believer to bring before God in their own walk with Him.
The part that really grossed me out in Dr. Price’s book was the discussion of African natives drinking the blood of a cow. Many of us that have tried to adapt the dietary principles laid out in his book have been wise enough to leave this one alone.
Genesis 9:4 ESV
But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.
It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood.
Should we pick and choose the Biblical recommendations we want to follow?
And since we are on the topic, there’s a few other verses to consider before adhering to paleo/primal/Price diets:
Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
4. Restricting Milk?
This is really my biggest criticism of paleo diets. As described in Dr. Price’s book, whole, fresh, raw milk (from traditional breeds) has played a huge role in the diets of primitive societies. Biblically-speaking, milk is used to signify privileges and spiritual blessings. The Bible contains over 50 references to milk and milk products, proving that it was a very important part of life for ancient civilizations.
Unfortunately, the problems reported with milk do not differentiate between store-bought, molecularly-altered milk from cows raised in horrible conditions and whole, fresh, raw milk from real, old-fashioned A2 breeds of cows. For more information on this topic, check out Ron Schmid’s book “The Untold Story of Milk.”
And on this topic, grains are a Biblical food. I know this is a controversial topic, but it’s easy to see that bread was a biblical food. It was also a large part of traditional, healthy societies. As Sarah The Healthy Home Economist Says:
Plenty of Traditional Societies consumed grains on a daily basis .. some like the Swiss obtained a large share of their calories from sourdough bread, so don’t fall for the incorrect notion that ancestral societies didn’t eat grains and that it is unhealthy to do so.
The problem is that people have destroyed their gut so much with the use of prescription drugs and with processed foods that their body can no longer handle grains. Without this damage, whole grains that are properly prepared provide our bodies with essential nutrients. I will let the following article describe this in detail rather than delving into it myself:
5. Displacing the Era
One final note for those on these types of diets. As I read in Dr. Price’s book, I noticed that vegetables did not necessarily play a large role in native diets. This is one area where I think we ought to deviate from traditional diets. Why?
People in native tribes were not constantly exposed to the thousands of dangerous chemicals that we are today. Most of these, like pesticides/herbicides/insecticides/fungicides on our food and our lawns, mercury injected in our bodies, aluminum in everything including being sprayed into the air we breathe, endocrine-disrupting plastics, tainted water supplies, and so much more, are extremely carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
In God’s infinite wisdom, He has given us plant foods like vegetables that contain anti-carcinogenic nutritional benefits. Additionally, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage have the wonderful ability to support the body’s liver and kidneys with the detoxification process. Fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help prevent cellular damage.
I could go on and on about the amazing health benefits found in plant foods for those of us living in toxic America, but I think you get the point. The value of these foods must not be overlooked!
6. Additional Notes
There are a few final things to consider for these diets:
- If you’re going to eat bacon, please make sure it is nitrite-free. This is one of the most dangerous carcinogens and increases a person’s risk of leukemia, prostate, and other cancers. The same applies to pepperoni, hotdogs, lunchmeat, sausages, etc. (But I know the paleo diet also precautions against these. I just thought it was important enough to reiterate
- Diet sodas–Please avoid these like a plague. I have a hard time finding any credibility in a diet that allows any diet soda. Why? Go to naturalnews.com or mercola.com and type “aspartame” in the search box. See for yourself the endless list of neurological complications, including brain tumors and seizures, accompanied with this chemical concoction
In summary, I neither promote nor condemn any of these diets as a whole. These diets (for the most part) include real, whole foods; a claim most other diets cannot make. As long as we are eating real, whole foods made by God and not by man, I can’t argue with that!
Like I said before, I simply want to offer nutritional advice for proponents of them so that they may achieve the most success possible. I believe with a few considerations and adjustments, people can continue to experience health benefits from these dietary templates.
Additionally, if you want to avoid having to follow a lengthy list of “eat this and don’t eat this” (we might as well do Weight Watchers and count points then!), there is an alternative. The guidelines laid out by Dr. Rex Russell are:
1. Eat only substances God created for FOOD. Avoid what is not designed for food.
2. As much as possible, eat foods as they were created–before they are changed or converted into something humans think might be better.
3. Avoid food addictions. Don’t let any food or drink become your god.
As we can see, many of the foods on the paleo/primal/Price diets adhere to these guidelines. Some, however, do not, as described above.
Either way, I just wanted to offer some nutritional considerations as well as a few Biblical points to consider. This way, we can get the most out of our dietary choices, spiritually and physically speaking!
Blessings of good health,