Responsible Paleo-Style Nutrition
Why Paleo-style Nutrition?
Paleo-style nutrition focuses on foods that humans have been eating and digesting for thousands of years. Our digestive tracts are set up to digest and absorb protein, fat, and carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, and roots most optimally. As humans have only been cultivating grains for a small period of our history of about 10,000 years, most of us do not digest carbohydrates from grains 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 yeast, 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. Like a plant’s roots, our intestines have to have an appropriate balance of microbes in the soil that we interact with symbiotically. We provide nutrients to “friendly” gut flora in an ideal world, and these microbes produce vital nutrients.
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, or cancer cells. When we have dysbiosis, our immune system begins to react to inappropriate stimuli such as animal dander, dust, tree pollen, and food.
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, like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s, Grave’s Disease, thyroid gland issues, and many others. When our immune systems are busy fighting the “wrong” battles, they cannot be as attentive to real threats. Therefore, dysbiosis also leads to an increased risk of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Lyme Disease, and 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 our immune system’s intelligence. We can also use this strategy to “starve out” a population of dysbiotic flora to reduce inflammation, the root cause of all disease.
Components of a Well-balanced Paleo 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 butter, seeds, seed butter, olives, olive oil, coconut, coconut oil, avocado, full-fat dairy, butter, and small amounts of animal fat.
- Roughage – High-fiber, low starch fruit, and veggies like 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 excludes any processed food. When the body receives nutrient-dense food, it is much more satiated. The exclusion of starchy carbohydrate-based foods excludes “empty” sources of calories from our 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 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, had an over-reactive immune system, suffered from sugar cravings, and had many 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 raised in low-stress environments and fed optimal diets provide food dense in nutrition and low 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 animal’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infection. Hence the need for antibiotics and growth hormones passed onto consumers.
Animals fed diets that they cannot process efficiently have higher levels of inflammation and poorer nutrition levels. Additionally, the grain grown to feed livestock requires an excessive expenditure of resources (water, electricity, and shipping fuels) when the animal’s preferred diet is often available locally (hay, grubs, etc.) The moral of the story is that the more we support the humane treatment of meat and dairy animals, the more these practices will become the norm rather than the exception.
Best Sources of Animal Products
Raising or hunting your own animals is the ideal scenario. This is quite possible in Maine. If you are unable to do this, 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.
Spend the extra two dollars and get free-range, organic eggs. They can be found at the grocery store, Barrel’s, UD’s, and Farmer’s Markets.
Fish should be wild-caught, preferably from the Atlantic Ocean, due to radiation concerns in the Pacific.
Organic is the only way to go, so use it minimally and use the whole bird. Available at Barrel’s, Hannaford (stock up when it’s on sale), Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s.
Grass-fed beef is easier to come by. Available at Hannaford, Shaw’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’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.
Many good choices at Barrel’s and Cornerstone Farm at the Waterville Farmer’s Market can’t be beaten.
Vegan sources of protein that encourage healthy flora with a healthy digestive tract and no more than ½ cup cooked per meal include:
- Legumes – Especially lower-carbohydrate types such as lima beans, black beans, and lentils.
- Quinoa – A seed with a complete amino acid profile.
- Paleo-style nutrition plans are beneficial for treating inflammatory conditions and achieving an ideal weight.
- Paleo-style nutrition should be observed consciously, with attention to the humane treatment of animals and reducing the conventional meat industry’s environmental impact.
- Paleo-style nutrition is not just about meat. The majority of an appropriate paleo-plate should be fat and roughage from plant sources.