Ok, so paleo is old news, the diet trend has been around for a while and really, what more can be written about it? I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the diet as that has been done several times over but I will discuss the merits and downfalls of further restricting dietary intake of certain foods while treating your metabolism…. and of course the big question, how do I get enough Calcium?
How Close to Palaeolithic Diet Can We Really Get?
There is no single ‘correct’ way of eating a Palaeolithic diet. First and foremost, the Palaeolithic Era spanned from 10,00ago to 2.6 million years – that’s an incredibly long time to model an eating pattern from. The development of tools and the ability to make use of fire during this period is likely to have greatly altered our ancient ancestors’ ability to hunt, cook, fish and grind food. One could not suggest the diet of the early Palaeolithic era would match that of the late Palaeolithic era (Biesalaki et al 2002). Further, early homosapiens spanned across the globe and the inhabitants relied on local wild foods- Location was everything, paleo ancestors would have literally hunted and gathered what was available resulting in vast differences between geographic locations. Nunamiuts from Alaska made up 99% of their diet from animal sources and 1% from plant source, while the Gwis from Africa made up 26% from animal sources and 74% plant (Miller et al).
Were Our Paleo Ancestors Really Completely Grain and Dairy Free?
There’s some evidence of early humans consuming legumes and wild cereals, however due to the lack of cultivation – and therefore vastly different availability of grains, and the need to grind or crush grains in order to eat them, it’s suggested grains and legumes didn’t make up a large part of the diet. Evaluation of tooth samples from the Palaeolithic and later Neolithic groups identified significant variations – the Neolithic teeth appeared to have more cavities and were more worn, suggested to be a direct result of having to chew and grind grains (Biesalski et al 2002). As for dairy, early domestication of deer for milk in the late Palaeolithic era has been suggested; however there is limited evidence to support this (Biesalski et al 2002).
What About ‘Paleo Approved’ Products?
Of course food companies have jumped on the bandwagon to make a buck while it’s big. Would our ancestors have consumed large amounts of coconut oil (which, keep in mind, takes a fair amount of processing to extract the oil), little packaged balls of highly processed protein powders, baked paleo slices or coconut yogurt? Of course not. Regardless if they’re grain and dairy free, they’re not a real representation of how food would have been prepared nor consumed. Does this mean they aren’t highly nutritious? No, it doesn’t. But do we need specifically (and inaccurately) classify them as paleo to make some mullah while the going is hot? Definitely not.
Calcium is the most likely deficiency on the paleo diet. Complete avoidance of dairy may result in calcium deficiency if one is not mindful of replacing the calcium from dairy. The Recommended dietary intake (RDI) for calcium is 1000mg for men and women aged 19-50 years (NHMRC 2014). Absorption of calcium from spinach is about 10% compared to milk. The paleo diet isn’t immediately synonymous with high protein intake, however it may be a trend for some followers – particularly those who are trying to build muscle. High protein diets may be implicated in reduced bone health as the metabolism of 1g of protein takes out about 1mg of calcium. It must be noted that low protein diets may be equally problematic owing to poor absorption
(https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium national health and medical research council).
Full fat milk 276mg per cup
Full fat plain yogurt 296mg per cup
Cheddar cheese grated 802mg per cup
Cottage cheese 187mg per cup
Sesame seeds 1404mg per cup
Tahini (raw stone ground sesame seeds) 63mg per tablespoon
Sunflower seeds 90mg per cup
Almonds 385mg per cup
Brazil nuts 213mg per cup
Pecans 76mg per cup
Walnuts 115mg per cup
Raw kale 137mg per cup
Raw fresh parsley 83g per cup
Pak-choi raw 74mg per cup
Broccoli raw chopped 43mg per cup
Raw Spinach 30mg per cup
Egg 31mg per extra- large egg
Sardines with the bones (canned in oil) 569mg per cup
Raw Turkey Mince 45mg per cup (approx. 225g)
Raw Atlantic Herring 114mg per cup (approx. 210g)
Beef mince raw 30mg per cup (225g approx.)
Chicken mince raw 14mg per cup (approx. 225g)
(USDA Nutrient Database – National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/food)
Keep in mind, the measures are in cups to make it easy to visualise how much you’d have to eat to get that amount of calcium. It would be fairly tricky to consume ¾ a cup of sesame seeds or two cups of tinned sardines. While it’s certainly possible to get adequate calcium from non-dairy sources, it does take some pre-planning. While certain people need to avoid dairy for specific reasons, lactose intolerance or dairy allergy, many whom have evolved to be able to process lactose can continue to consume dairy without detriment.
Aside from the absence of grains and dairy, the modern adaptation of a paleo diet generally incorporates a whole-food and minimally processed pattern of eating – of course there will be many variations and adaptations to this rule – which is a significant improvement on the average ‘western’ diet.
Compared to a normal ‘diabetes diet’, paleo was more useful in lowering HBA1C, improving satiety, weight loss and reduced glycaemic load per meal in diabetic patients. They did note however, that the Palaeolithic diet was more difficult to adhere to (Jonsson et al 2013).
Given that it’s impossible to ascertain exactly what and how the hunter and gathers ate, can we suggest the modern adaptation of paleo is a true representation? No we can’t, and given that there is evidence of some grains consumed during this period, “Paleo” – the way strict paleo advocates follow it, is a bit of a misnomer. Consuming a diet that is minimally refined with a small amount of grain and little to no dairy is hardly a fad. Naming it, marketing it, selling it to make money off a misnomer is most definitely a fad. Why not simply call it for what it is- a whole food diet, with or without a bit of dairy and/or a grain?
If following the modern representation of paleo encourages a shift from an average western diet to a more minimally processed and nutrient dense diet – this is a great shift. If, however, this shift is accompanied by fear of certain foods, increased stress around meal times, a decrease in enjoyment of meals, feelings of guilt after consuming ‘banned foods’, and avoiding social events because of suitable food not being available – it’s probably time to reassess with the help of an experienced health practitioner.
Biesalski, H, Truswell, S & Hill, M 2000, Meat Consumption: Evolution and Progress, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 56, no. 12, pp1270-1278 viewed 24th June 2016 http://www.nature.com
Jonsson, T, Grandfeldt, Y, Lindebergy, S, Hallberg, A 2013, Subjective Satiety And Other Experiences Of A Paleolithic Diet Compared To A Diabetes Diet In Patients With Type 2 Diabetes, Nutrition Journal, vol. 12, no. 105, viewed 23.06.16 http://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/
(National Health and Medical Research Council 2014, (https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/calcium national health and medical research council).
USDA Nutrient Database – National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/food).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dip of Applied Science (Naturopathy), Southern School of Natural Therapies
Christine gained her qualifications as a naturopath over 20 years ago and over this time has developed a love and passion for hormone management. Having specialized in children’s health, mental health issues and hormonal imbalances for a number of years, Christine is aware of the importance of good nutrition and supportive natural medicines to help achieve optimal health. Naturopathy has so much to offer, especially with thyroid conditions that can be vastly improved through better nutrition and using an integrated approach to improve overall well being. Her lifelong dedication has always been about educating people to live healthier and happier lifestyles. She has experienced firsthand the importance of good sound advice and knowledge for patients. In her retail consulting experience, so often people of the public are so misguided or mislead with information they have read or what they thought someone had told them: “Focusing on individualized treatment plans, is the key step to unlocking the burden of unwanted/ troublesome symptoms.”