Modern Paleo Principles

By Diana Hsieh

Last Update: 14 March 2010

A "paleo" approach to health uses the evolutionary history of homo sapiens, plus the best of modern science, as a broad framework for guiding daily choices about diet, fitness, medicine, and supplementation. The core of paleo is the diet: it eschews grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils in favor of high-quality meat, fish, eggs, and vegetables. The principles below offer further details.

Importantly, the paleo approach is an ever-evolving framework of principles for living well, not dogma written in stone by any supposed authority. Experts and laypersons in the paleo community differ in some of their recommendations, as well as in their personal choices. Such debate is healthy, particularly while our knowledge of the principles of robust health remains in its infancy. Moreover, individuals differ in their tolerances and preferences. Each individual must experiment to discover what works best for him.

The following recommendations represent my own grasp of the best practices of the paleo approach to nutrition, fitness, and supplementation. However, I am a layperson: I'm a philosopher, not a scientist. These principles represent my own personal opinions. They should not substitute for your own research, thinking, and experience -- or for the advice of your doctor.

Diana Hsieh (Ph.D, Philosophy)

Modern Paleo Principles: A Work-In-Progress

These principles are in a rough order of importance. If you're overwhelmed by them, try working your way down the list slowly.

For further readings relevant to a bullet point, click on "[+/-]" link. A link does not imply my endorsement; I simply think the material worthy of consideration.

  1. Eat real foods, prepared well. Prepare your own food as much as you can. Beware the junk ubiquitous in convenience and restaurant foods. [+/-]
  2. Don't eat wheat, corn, rice, or other grains. If you choose to eat some grains, eat them sparingly and prepare them to minimize toxins, such as by sprouting and soaking. Wheat seems to be the worst of all the grains, while rice seems to be the most benign. Whole grains are not better than refined grains. [+/-]
  3. Don't eat sweets: avoid sugar, corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, and artificial sweeteners. If you must have some sweetener for a dish, you might try a bit of stevia. With time, your tastes will adjust: ordinary sweets will taste cloying, but formerly bland vegetables will seem delightfully sweet. [+/-]
  4. Don't eat modern oils derived from grains and seeds -- such as canola oil, corn oil, or soy oil. Make your own mayonnaise and salad dressing. Don't eat fried foods in restaurants: rancid vegetable oils are standard for frying. Avoid all hydrogenated fats; they contain damaging artificial transfats. Instead, use liberal amounts of animal fats -- like butter, ghee, lard, and tallow -- as well as unrefined coconut oil and olive oil. (Reserve your bacon grease: it's delicious rendered lard!) Do not fear saturated fat: it's healthy, including for your heart. [+/-]
  5. Don't eat soy. Some fermented soy might be okay, if tolerated. However, all soy is goitrogenic and contains estrogen-mimicking hormones. [+/-]
  6. Don't eat beans and other legumes. If you choose to eat some legumes, eat them sparingly and prepare them to minimize toxins, such as by soaking them. [+/-]
  7. Watch your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, as well as your total omega-6 intake. Most people eat far too much omega-6, both absolutely and relatively. Today, the average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in Western diets is 17:1, but the ideal ratio looks to be between 2:1 and 1:4. To achieve that you'll need to limit omega-6 intake by eliminating modern vegetable oils and eating high-omega-6 nuts sparingly. You'll likely need to supplement with high omega-3 fish oil too. [+/-]
  8. Eat plenty of high-quality meat, preferably from pastured animals. Grass-fed meats have a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats than grain-fed meats. Avoid meats treated with antibiotics and hormones, if feasible: the animals are likely treated better, and they taste better. Enjoy plenty of red meat. Try uncured bacon and other breakfast meats. They might not be any healthier, but they taste so much better! [+/-]
  9. Eat eggs, preferably from pastured chickens. Eggs enriched with omega-3s are a good option too. Prefer nutrient-dense egg yolks to nutrient-poor egg whites. [+/-]
  10. Eat fish and shellfish periodically, preferably caught wild rather than farm-raised. [+/-]
  11. For workouts, ditch the standard "cardio" sessions. Try short, high-intensity workouts instead: you should be able to kick your own ass in ten minutes or less. Try weight training, sprinting, and barefoot running. For more structured programs, try CrossFit or Body by Science. Also, move around a lot. Ladies, don't be afraid to weightlift: you will not turn into Ahnold overnight. [+/-]
  12. Eat vegetables, but don't think of them as the holy of holies. They are particularly good when slathered in good fats. Beware the goitrogenic effects of some vegetables, particularly when eaten raw. [+/-]
  13. Eat fruit sparingly. Fruits are often high in sugars, particularly fructose: tropical fruits are the worst; berries are the best. Fructose is particularly hard on the liver. [+/-]
  14. If tolerated well, eat some high-fat dairy, preferably raw and/or fermented. Avoid low-fat dairy like the plague. You might need to limit dairy if you're trying to lose weight. It can be helpful for building mass, however. [+/-]
  15. Eat nuts, if you like, but beware the omega-6 load in some nuts. Grouped and ranked from least to most omega-6 content, we find: (good) macadamias; (okay) cashews, hazelnuts, almonds, and pistachios; (worse) pecans, brazil nuts, and pinenuts; and (terrible) walnuts. Nuts may require soaking and drying to eliminate toxins. Remember that peanuts are legumes, not nuts. Avoid rancid nuts. You might need to limit nuts if you're trying to lose weight. [+/-]
  16. If tolerated well, eat some tubers like sweet potatoes. Some people seem to tolerate modest quantities of white potatoes, but others don't. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates for athletes. Try limiting or avoiding tubers if you're trying to lose weight. [+/-]
  17. Fermented and cultured foods -- like yogurt, kefir, and homemade sauerkraut -- are beneficial for your gut bacteria. Enjoy them! [+/-]
  18. Be adventurous: don't neglect organ meats and bone marrow. Make homemade stock made from leftover bones. [+/-]
  19. Supplement with vitamin D, based on your blood levels. Consider the following supplements as well: cod liver oil and butter oil; iodine and selenium; magnesium and potassium; vitamin K2; fish oil. Try to get as much good nutrition from real foods as you can, but recognize that depleted soils impact the nutritional values of the foods available to us. [+/-]
  20. Some people require a few weeks to adjust to eating a paleo diet. It's not uncommon to feel a bit lethargic or foggy while the body transitions to using fat rather than carbohydrates as its major source of fuel. You can choose to dive in whole hog -- or you can gradually adjust your diet over a few weeks. [+/-]
  21. If you wish to lose (fat) weight, lower your carbohydrate intake to about 50 grams per day or less. Limit tubers, fruit, dairy, and nuts. Be sure to lose that weight gently: eat only when you're hungry, but don't deprive yourself. If you're looking to gain mass, try eating more high-fat dairy and tubers like sweet potatoes. [+/-]
  22. Sleep plenty and sleep well. Take time off time to recover from workouts. Don't abuse your body by failing to give it the rest it requires. [+/-]
  23. Pay attention to your body; experiment to find what foods work best for you. If you have health problems like autoimmune disease, test foods by a process of elimination. Try completely removing potentially problematic foods -- like gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and nightshades -- from your diet for a month or so, to see if you feel better without them. Whatever others say, eat what works for you. Ultimately, you should "look, feel, and perform" better than ever. [+/-]
  24. Reject the meaningless concepts of "moderation" and "balance" as applied to diet. Instead, identify your range of healthy foods, then eat a wide variety of those foods. Try new foods, as your tastes will change over time. People will consume different macronutrient ratios on a paleo diet, depending on their bodily needs, health goals, and lifestyle. You will need find the right range for you. [+/-]
  25. Skip meals periodically, particularly when good food isn't available. Try intermittent fasting. Feed yourself well, but vary how much you eat. [+/-]
  26. If you choose to eat non-paleo foods on occasion, don't flagellate yourself as an abject failure and bury yourself in a gallon of ice cream. Instead, acknowledge any "cheats" as such -- and recognize that you'll likely pay a price for them. Sometimes, those cheats remind us of the reasons to eat paleo. Don't make a habit of such "cheats" by scheduling "cheat meals" or "cheat days." Just do them on occasion, when fitting. [+/-]
  27. Beware sources of toxins, such as the BPA lining all canned goods and bromine in hot tubs. Non-stick pans can be a problem too: consider using stainless steel or cast iron cookware instead. If you want really clean water, use a reverse-osmosis or distiller system. [+/-]
  28. Don't put oils on your skin that you wouldn't put in your mouth. Coconut oil is a wonderful moisturizer. For soap, use a simple soap, or none at all. You might try "no-poo" for your hair instead of shampoo -- or nothing but a water rinse. For toothpaste, try brushing with baking soda or just water. Many people report much improved dental health on a paleo diet, particularly when taking cod liver oil and butter oil. [+/-]
  29. Pets like eating paleo too! Consider switching your cats and dogs to grain-free pet food -- or better yet, a homemade raw prey model diet. [+/-]
  30. You are 100% responsible for your own life, health, and happiness. Refuse to submit to the standard dogmas just because everyone believes them. Read, think, inquire, and judge for yourself. Don't depend on the government and its lackeys to keep you healthy. Insist on the inalienable rights of all persons to produce, trade, and consume voluntarily -- free from the unjust burdens of government regulations, subsidies, and taxation. [+/-]

Modern Paleo is owned and managed by philosopher Dr. Diana Hsieh of Philosophy in Action.

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