Responsible Paleo-Style Nutrition: Strategies for a paleo lifestyle with attention to animal welfare and environmental concerns
Why Paleo Nutrition?
Paleo-style nutrition focuses on foods that humans have been eating (and digesting) for tens of thousands of years. Our digestive tracts are set up to digest and absorb proteins, fats and carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and roots most optimally. As humans have only been cultivating grains for a small period of our history (about 10,000 years) the majority of us do not digest carbohydrates from grains very well. The Standard American Diet is composed mostly of refined carbohydrate-based “beige” foods. These foods (pasta, bread, pizza, baked goods, etc…) are highly processed and essentially unrecognizable to the human digestive tract.
Undigested carbohydrate lingers in the digestive tract and provides a food source of billions of opportunistic yeasts, parasites and bacteria. As we start to feed the wrong types of microbes in our human “microbiome”, a condition known as dysbiosis develops in which there are more “unfriendly” types of gut flora than “friendly”.
Using a tree metaphor, the roots of a plant are similar to the human digestive tract. It is through our digestive tract that we absorb nutrients and water. Our intestines, like a plant’s roots have to have an appropriate balance of microbes in the soil that we interact with in a symbiotic way. In an ideal world, we provide nutrients to our “friendly” gut flora and these microbes produce vital nutrients for us.
The human microbiome also has a large part in educating our immunes systems. When our gut flora is appropriately balanced, our immune system reacts only to appropriate “threats”, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, cancer cells, etc… When we have dysbiosis occurring, our immune system begins to react to inappropriate stimuli such as animal dander, dust, tree pollen and foods. Symptoms of inappropriate reactions can be allergies, asthma, skin conditions, digestive issues, pain and arthritis. In the worst care scenario, our immune systems begin to react to our own tissues, producing an auto-immune reaction, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Hashimotos or Grave’s Disease or the thyroid gland and many others. When our immune systems are busy fighting the “wrong” battles, they cannot be as attentive to the threats that are real. Therefore, dysbiosis also leads to increased risk of long-term infections such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Chronic Lyme and increased risk of cancer.
Hence, nutrition plans that balance our gut flora are the most clinically effective strategies for reducing inflammation and improving overall health. If we do not provide opportunistic flora with their favorite food sources (grains and starchy carbohydrates) they cannot proliferate and affect the intelligence of our immune system. We can also use this strategy to “starve out” a population of dysbiotic flora in order to reduce inflammation, the root cause of all disease.
Components of a well-balanced Paleo nutrition plan
Does eating paleo mean that you eat bacon at every meal? No. Well-balanced Paleo nutrition actually relies quite a bit on plant foods for fats and roughage.
In a well-composed paleo meal, you will find:
Protein: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes (legumes should be restricted if undergoing a GI-repair treatment plan).
Fat: nuts, nut butters, seeds, seed butters, olives, olive oil, coconut, coconut oil, avocado, full-fat dairy and butter (small amounts, animal fats.
Roughage: high-fiber, low starch fruits and veggies such as greens and berries.
Optionally, in a person with good digestive health, starchy vegetables and low-starch grains may also be included in small amounts.
Note that a paleo-style nutrition plan includes only foods that are nutrient-dense and completely excludes any processed food. When the body receives food that is nutrient dense it is much more satiated. The exclusion of starchy carbohydrate-based foods excludes “empty” sources of calories from out nutrition. This is what makes paleo-style nutrition so effective for not only reducing inflammation and disease in the body, but also for promoting weight loss.
Dr. Corrie’s Journey
So what are the animal lovers supposed to do? As a child I decided that I did not want to eat meat because I could not bear the thought of animals suffering. After 16 years of vegetarianism, I was 30 pounds overweight, covered head-to-toe in eczema (over-reactive immune system) and suffered from sugar cravings and lots of emotional ups and downs. When I became anemic in my third year of medical school, I was convinced by my Naturopathic Doctor at the time to start including small amounts of “medicinal” animal protein in my nutrition plan. I then began to educate myself as to how to be a conscious omnivore.
Conscious Paleo-style Nutrition starts with knowing the source of your animal products. Meat and dairy animals that are raised in low-stress environments and fed optimal diet provide food that is dense in nutrition and low in inflammatory compounds. The treatment of animals in the conventional practices of the meat and dairy industries is deplorable. The crowding of animals into a small space raises cortisol production from stress, suppressing the animals immune system and making them more susceptible to infection (hence the need for antibiotics and growth hormones which are passed on to consumers). Animals that are fed diets that they are not able to process efficiently have higher levels of inflammation and poorer nutrition levels. Additionally, the grain that is grown to feed livestock requires excessive expenditure of resource (water, electricity, shipping fuels), when the preferred diet of the animal is often available locally (hay, grubs, etc…). The moral of the story: the more we as consumers support the humane and appropriate treatment of meat and dairy animals, the more these practices will become the norm rather than the exception.
Best sources of animal products: raising and/or hunting you own animals is the most ideal scenario. This is quite possible here in Maine. If you are unable to do this, lucky for us we have a multitude of small, conscious farmers locally.
- Commercial, organic: Stonyfield Farms, Organic Valley, Horizon (always full fat!!).
- Local, goat: Kennebec Cheesery and Imagine Dairy Farms at Barrel’s , UD’s and the Waterville farmer’s market.
- Local, cow: Palmer Hill, Milkhouse, Sonnental, Pineland Farms.
Eggs: Spend the extra two dollars and get free range, organic eggs. Can be found at the grocery store, Barrel’s, UD’s and Farmer’s markets.
Fish: should be wild-caught and preferably from the Atlantic Ocean due to radiation concerns in the Pacific.
Poultry: Organic is the only way to go, so use minimally and use the whole bird. Available at Barrel’s, Hannaford (stock up when its on sale), Whole Food’s Market and Trader Joe’s.
Beef: Grass fed beef is easier and easier to come by. Available at Hannaford, Shaw’s, WF, TJ’s commercially. Locally, we have the Hayman Farm, The Highlands and Kenerson Farm for Buffalo at the Waterville Farmer’s Market. Any beef at Barrel’s Market is also trustworthy.
Pork: Many good choices at Barrel’s, Cornerstone Farm at the Waterville Farmer’s Market can’t be beat.
Additionally…vegan sources of protein that encourage healthy flora (only with a healthy digestive tract and no more than ½ cup cooked per meal):
- Legumes: especially the types that are lower-carbohydrate such as lima beans, black beans and lentils.
- Quinoa: a seed with a complete amino acid profile.
Take away messages:
- Paleo-style nutrition plans are beneficial for treating inflammatory conditions and achieving an ideal weight.
- Paleo-style nutrition should be observed in a conscious way, with attention to the humane treatment of animals and reducing the environmental impact of the conventional meat industry.
- Paleo-style nutrition is not just about meat. The majority of an appropriate paleo-plate should be fat and roughage from plant sources.