Tag Archives: Paleo Diet

US Government Poised to Drop Cholesterol Warnings? | The Paleo DietCholesterol – is there a more controversial topic in the world of nutrition? For years, we were told that cholesterol is one of the most important biomarkers of health, particularly cardiovascular health. Prominent government- and health-related institutions have traditionally recommended upper limits on dietary cholesterol of 300 mg/day (effectively limiting egg consumption to 1 egg per day.) A recommendation based on the theory that dietary cholesterol – the cholesterol contained in food – negatively impacts cholesterol found in the blood, called serum cholesterol.

With the emergence of more and more scientific evidence, however, this theory has become increasingly untenable, causing many scientists to change their views on cholesterol. The counter theory – that dietary cholesterol has little impact on serum cholesterol – is actually nothing new. Even the progenitor of the misguided lipid theory of heart disease, Ancel Keys, acknowledged back in 1953 that dietary cholesterol doesn’t significantly impact serum cholesterol.1

Unfortunately, cholesterol came to be demonized due to its association with saturated fat and for decades both were thought to be unhealthy. New studies in the past several years have challenged this orthodox view of cholesterol.

The new research has also challenged traditional beliefs about eggs. Rather than limiting egg consumption, the available evidence suggests that eggs are actually cardio-protective.

In March 2017, for example, The Journal of Nutrition published a new study about egg consumption and its positive effects on both HDL function and plasma antioxidant levels.2 Previous studies had shown similar benefits, but those studies were largely conducted on unhealthy populations.3,4,5

The authors of this new study, therefore, decided to test how eating one, two, or three eggs daily would affect healthy young adults. This study was the latest in a series of scientific papers showing that foods rich in dietary cholesterol can actually decrease one’s risk for heart disease – a complete turnaround from the institutional forebodings of decades past.


Important, But Not Essential

Cholesterol is not an essential nutrient. This means that although your body requires cholesterol, you’re not dependent on food to obtain it. In fact, your liver produces 90% of the cholesterol needed by your body. Some people use this fact to advance the hypothesis that dietary cholesterol is unnecessary or even unhealthy. This hypothesis is flawed for several reasons, including:

  1. The foods that contain significant amounts of cholesterol also contain many other important nutrients, particularly iron, and vitamin B12.
  2. Nearly all foods that contain bioavailable forms of high-quality protein also contain cholesterol.


The Origins of the Theory

So where does the idea that dietary cholesterol is unhealthy come from? Surprisingly, the early studies that inspired this idea were actually conducted on rabbits. While this may seem reasonable, it’s important to remember that rabbits are herbivores. And since their natural diets don’t contain cholesterol, it’s no surprise that it impacts them negatively.

Nikolay Anichkov was the scientist who originally conducted these rabbit studies back in the early 20th century. Interestingly, he fed rabbits a purified form of cholesterol.6 Obtaining cholesterol this way is completely different from obtaining cholesterol from healthy foods. In fact, most of Anichkov’s peers questioned the relevance to human health of his cholesterol experiments performed on rabbits.

Nearly 40 years later, John Gofman became the next major researcher to show interest in the topic. Gofman reported that higher levels of LDL were associated with an increased risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), whereas higher levels of HDL appeared to protect against CHD.7

After Gofman, Ancel Keys became the most prominent heart disease researcher. Through a series of experiments, Keys concluded that saturated fat consumption has the biggest impact on serum cholesterol levels. However, regarding dietary cholesterol, as mentioned above, Keys reported, “repeated careful dietary surveys on large numbers of persons in whom blood cholesterol was measured consistently fail to disclose a relationship between the cholesterol in the diet and in the serum.”8

Keys became known as the father of the lipid hypothesis – the theory that fat consumption, particularly saturated fat, drives heart disease. During the past 15 years or so, the lipid hypothesis has faced serious challenges. One of its core tenets is that saturated fat increase LDL cholesterol, which does in fact correlate with heart disease. However, LDL varies by particle size – small or large.


Small versus Large

Small particle LDL is more prone to oxidation and to the formation of subsequent arterial lesions and arterial plaque.9 Large particle LDL is less susceptible to such modifications and therefore carries little, if any, cardiovascular risk. In fact, a study that tracked women for 11 years found no significant association between large particle LDL and cardiovascular disease risk (CVD).10

So how does all this relate to eggs and their relatively high amounts of dietary cholesterol? Some interesting findings emerged from the recent Journal of Nutrition study.2 For example, as egg consumption increased, small LDL decreased and large LDL increased – a win-win with respect to reducing CVD risk. Additionally, concentrations of HDL and the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin also increased as daily egg consumption went up.2

One great benefit of HDL is its ability to remove cholesterol from macrophages. This is one of the key aspects of preventing the build-up of cholesterol inside the blood vessels. Additionally, this is one reason why low HDL is related to increased CVD risk.11



Eggs have gotten a bad rap, mostly due their high levels of cholesterol and due to our imprecise, yet ever-evolving, views on the relationship between cholesterol-rich foods and blood cholesterol levels.

Unfortunately, the nutrition establishment is still struggling to acknowledge the obvious – that eggs and other cholesterol-rich foods are healthy. Back in 2015, the USDA was in the process of updating its official Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In its Preliminary Report, published in February 2015, the group’s Advisory Committee recommended dropping the decades old 300 mg/day limit on dietary cholesterol. The available evidence, they reported, “shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.”12 Accordingly the committee concluded, “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for over-consumption.”

Unfortunately, as soon as the clouds of bad conclusions dissipated, they quickly reemerged, again blocking the light of reason and evidence. For in their final report, published in January 2016, the USDA backed away from the Preliminary Report’s encouraging conclusions. Instead, they settled on “individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”13

So we’re back to square one. The usual suspects are still warning against dietary cholesterol, whereas the scientific evidence draws other conclusions. Egg-white omelets are still served in many restaurants, whereas the nutrient-rich yolks are often discarded. Are eggs healthy? The science says yes, but you can decide.



[1] Keys, A. (1953). Prediction and Possible Prevention of Coronary Disease. Am J Public Health Nations Health., 43(11). Retrieved from (link).

[2] DiMarco DM, et al. (2017). Intake of up to 3 Eggs per Day Is Associated with Changes in HDL Function and Increased Plasma Antioxidants in Healthy, Young Adults. Journal of Nutrition, 147(3). Retrieved from (link).

[3] Herron KL, et al. (2004). High intake of cholesterol results in less atherogenic low-density lipoprotein particles in men and women independent of response classification. Metabolism, 53(6). Retrieved from (link).

[4] Mutungi G, et al. (2008). Dietary Cholesterol from Eggs Increases Plasma HDL Cholesterol in Overweight Men Consuming a Carbohydrate-Restricted Diet. Journal of Nutrition, 138(2). Retrieved from (link).

[5] Blesso CN, et al. (2013). Whole egg consumption improves lipoprotein profiles and insulin sensitivity to a greater extent than yolk-free egg substitute in individuals with metabolic syndrome. Metabolism, 62(3). Retrieved from (link).

[6] Finking G, et al. (1997). Nikolaj Nikolajewitsch Anitschkow (1885-1964) established the cholesterol-fed rabbit as a model for atherosclerosis research. Atherosclerosis, 135(1). Retrieved from (link).

[7] Gotto AM, et al. (2011). Jeremiah Metzger Lecture: Cholesterol, Inflammation and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: Is It All LDL? Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc., 122. Retrieved from (link).

[8] Keys, A. (1953). Prediction and Possible Prevention of Coronary Disease. Am J Public Health Nations Health., 43(11). Retrieved from (link).

[9] Ross R. (1999). Atherosclerosis – an inflammatory disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 340(2). Retrieved from (link).

[10] Mora S, et al. (Feb 2009). Lipoprotein particle profiles by nuclear magnetic resonance compared with standard lipids and apolipoproteins in predicting incident cardiovascular disease in women. Circulation, 119(7). Retrieved from (link).

[11] Assmann G, et al. (1996). High-density lipoprotein cholesterol as a predictor of coronary heart disease risk. The PROCAM experience and pathophysiological implications for reverse cholesterol transport. Atherosclerosis, 124. Retrieved from (link).

[12] 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (Feb 2015). Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from (link).

[13] USDA. (2016). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Final Report. Retrieved from (link).

2016 Fireworks | The Paleo Diet

Paleo critics are always voicing unsubstantiated claims. Their attacks are easily countered, but they sometimes create confusion and discouragement, especially for those who are new to Paleo. The British Dietetic Association, for example, has called Paleo a “time consuming, socially-isolating diet.” If you’re just starting out with Paleo, it’s probably better to get your advice from people who actually follow the lifestyle, not from critics who simply parrot talking points.

The Paleo Diet shouldn’t be time consuming or socially isolating, nor should it be overly expensive. Above all, the Paleo Diet is flexible. Whatever your personal circumstances, you can customize the Paleo Diet so it works for you. Here are 5 great tips to get you started.

1. Master the Slow-Cooker

The slow-cooker is one of your best kitchen-friends. It saves you time and money while helping you cook meals that taste like they were prepared by a professional chef…or by your grandmother. With a slow-cooker, you can save money on meat by buying the cheaper, tougher cuts, which are just as tasty (and nutritious) after being cooked for several hours.

The slow-cooker also saves you time, because the cooking is passive. Slow-cookers are designed to be safe even when they are unattended. Most of us would be wary about leaving the oven or stove turned on while we were away from the house for several hours. With a slow-cooker, however, this is perfectly acceptable.

2. Eating at Restaurants

Paleo need not be “socially isolating.” Sure, if your friends are going out for pizza and sodas, you should probably pass, but at most restaurants you’ll find plenty of Paleo-compliant choices. Go for grilled meat or fish plus steamed vegetables or a salad. Salad dressings will typically have canola or other vegetable oils, so ask your server to bring you olive oil and lemon juice on the side.

3. Lunch On the Go

The reality of our modern lifestyles is that you probably won’t be able to eat every meal at home. Get into the habit of taking your lunch with you, especially if you work at an office. Make a Paleo meal, preferably something that tastes good cold, and get some glass or BPA-free plastic storage containers with lids that lock into place. Usually you can find mini-size containers for sauces and dressing, so as to avoid soggy salads.

4. Strategic Leftovers

Another key to minimizing kitchen time is using leftovers strategically. This starts by intentionally cooking extras, with the plan of using these extras for upcoming meals. For example, you’re cooking steaks. Cook one or two more than you need. Let them cool and then refrigerate. Later, slice thinly with a sharp knife. Add this to a salad. Congratulations, you’re salad has just become a complete meal. You can do the same thing with turkey, duck, lamb, and other meats.

5. Making Fabulous Sauces

A great way to fancy up your vegetable dishes is with sauces. Sure, you could just drizzle some coconut oil or olive oil on salads and steamed vegetables, but sauces bring these foods to another level, which might be important for you, especially if you are seeking more variety and when cooking for family or friends.

Here’s a simple sauce strategy. You’ll need a blender, preferably a small one. Blend a small handful of nuts (cashews, almonds, or macadamia) with a couple spoons of olive oil, a few spoons of lemon juice, and a handful of washed herbs (stems removed), like parsley, cilantro, or mint. Add just enough water to achieve a smooth, creamy texture.

You’ll find plenty more tips and tricks throughout this website. Start the New Year off right. Make Paleo work for you!

Maca Root Powder | The Paleo Diet
Dear Dr. Cordain,

Thank you for your great YouTube vidoes and your website. I found them last week after some detours through a few pale imitators, and have begun transitioning to the Paleo diet according to your interpretation, which I consider to be the most authentic. In only about a week, I am feeling much less bloated, have fewer cravings, and think my body looks slightly different. I love how deeply the foundations of the diet have been researched and how well you explain it.

I have a question about maca root, which I have just learned is from a plant in the brassica family. I have a thyroid condition which manifests as hypothyroid (Grave’s Disease, 38 years post-thyroidectomy of 90% of the organ), so avoid cruciferous vegetables pretty regularly. I have been taking synthroid for about 15 years. I’m 59 years old, and have used maca for a few years as a post-menopausal adaptogen. Now, that I know that maca is in the brassica family, I have a concern about whether or not it might be best to eliminate it from my diet. I am using a raw, organic, powdered version at about 1-2 teaspoons a day.

I know you can’t give me medical advice. My question is whether or not you know if maca shares all the same anti-nutritional properties of other brassicas. If I know that and will share it with me, I can make an educated choice whether or not to continue ingesting it.

Many thanks!


Dr. Cordain’s Response

Hi Margaret,

Many thanks for your kind words about my research on the Paleo diet. Let me answer your question about maca root (Lepidium meyenii) which is indeed a member of the brassica family.

In theory powdered maca root could adversely affect throid function because of the presence of glucosinolates.1 In my blog post “Millet: A Gluten-Free Grain You Should Avoid” I have explained how concentrated sources of these compounds may adversely affect thyroid function and cause goiter.

Generally, in people with normal thyroid function consumption of brassica plants have no adverse effects. Only when thyroid is impaired by pre-existing low plasma iodine levels does consumption of brassica exacerbate the problem. A study in rats demonstrated no change in thyroid function via measurement of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) following both short and long term consumption of Lepidium species.2 Hence, unless a person has a pre-existing thyroid problem or low blood concentrations of iodine, consumption of maca root powder generally appears to be safe.


1. Valerio LG, Gonzales GF. Toxicological aspects of the South American herbs cat’s claw (Uncaria tomentosa) and maca (Lepidium meyenni)

2. H. O. Meissner, B. Kedzia, P. M. Mrozikiewicz, and A. Mscisz. Short and Long-Term Physiological Responses of Male and Female Rats to Two Dietary Levels of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) Int J Biomed Sci. 2006 Feb; 2(1): 13–28.

Beans and Legumes | The Paleo Diet

A few days ago I was delighted to learn that Dr. Oz was going to again feature The Paleo Diet on his nationally syndicated television show along with one of my co-authors, Nell Stephenson, of The Paleo Diet Cookbook. I tuned into the Dr. Oz show and was happy about most of what I saw except for Chris Kresser, expounding upon the health virtues of a food group, beans and legumes, that definitely are not Paleo. Please read the following article on beans and legumes, and decide for yourself if beans and legumes are Paleo and feel free to pass this information on to your friends, family and anyone interested in starting a Paleo Diet.

In the decade since I wrote The Paleo Diet, a question that comes up time and again is, “Why can’t I eat beans?”  I briefly touched upon this topic in my first book, but never really was able to get into the necessary detail of why you should avoid not only beans, but all other legumes including peanuts and soy.  Now let me bring you fully up to date on recent developments about our understanding of how beans, soy and other legumes may impact our health.  But most importantly, I’ll show you beyond a shadow of a doubt why legumes are inferior foods that should not be part of any contemporary Paleo Diet.

Toxicity of Uncooked Beans

It may come as a surprise to you, but as recently as 19 years ago imports of red kidney beans into South Africa were legally prohibited because of “their potential toxicity to humans” (63).  Although many people think about kidney beans as nutritious, plant based high-protein foods; few would ever consider them to be toxic poisons.  But indeed toxic they are – unless adequately soaked and boiled kidney beans and almost all legumes produce detrimental effects in our bodies.  Starting in the early 1970’s a number of scientific papers reported that consumption of raw or undercooked red kidney beans caused nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, muscle weakness and even inflammation of the heart (42, 52, 60).  Similar symptoms were documented in horses and cattle (8).  Further, raw kidney beans were lethally toxic to rats when fed at more than 37 % of their daily calories  (24, 27, 51).  Like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, these clues should make us proceed cautiously as we consider the nutritional benefits and/or liabilities of beans and legumes.  Before I get into why raw or partially cooked beans, legumes and soy are toxic, I want to first point out the obvious – these foods (even when fully cooked) are nutritional lightweights when compared to meat, fish and other animal foods.

 The Nutrient Content of Beans and Legumes

If we examine the USDA’s My Plate, governmental nutritionists have arbitrarily created five food groups: 1) grains, 2) vegetables, 3) fruit, 4) dairy and 5) protein foods (61).  On the surface, these categories seem reasonable, and I would basically agree that most common foods could logically be placed into one of these five categories except for one glaring exception – protein foods.

Upon more careful inspection of this category we find the USDA has decided that protein foods should include: 1) meat, 2) poultry, 3) fish, 4) eggs, 5) nuts and seeds and 6) dry beans and peas.  I have little disagreement that meat, poultry, fish and eggs are good sources of protein.  However, digging a little bit deeper, we soon find that the USDA tells us that these six protein food groups are equivalent and can be used interchangeably with one another (61) – meaning that animal protein sources (meats, poultry, fish and eggs) are nutritionally comparable to plant protein sources (nuts, seeds, dry beans and peas).  OK? It gets better still.  I quote the USDA My Plate recommendations:

“Dry beans and peas are the mature forms of legumes such as kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils.  These foods are excellent sources of plant protein, and also provide other nutrients such as iron and zinc.  They are similar to meats, poultry, and fish in their contribution of these nutrients.  Many people consider dry beans and peas as vegetarian alternatives for meat.” (61).

The Paleo Diet

OK let’s let the data speak for itself and really see how “dry beans and peas” stack up to meats, poultry, fish and eggs in terms of protein, iron and zinc as alluded to by the USDA.  In the figure below [data from (66)] you can see that on a calorie by calorie basis, legumes are utter lightweights when compared to the protein content of lean poultry, beef, pork and seafood. Nuts and seeds fare even worse.  Beans, peas and other legumes contain 66 % less protein than either lean chicken or turkey, and 61 % less protein than lean beef, pork and seafood.  What the USDA doesn’t tell us is that our bodies don’t process bean and legume proteins nearly as efficiently as plant proteins – meaning that the proteins found in beans, peas and other legumes have poor digestibility.

The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations have devised a protein quality index known as the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS).  This index reveals that beans and other legumes maintain second-rate PDCAAS ratings which average about 20 to 25 % lower than animal protein ratings (14).  So to add insult to injury legumes and beans not only contain about three times less protein than animal foods, but what little protein they do have is poorly digested.  Their poor PDCAAS scores stem from a variety of antinutrients which impair protein absorption (20, 29, 44) and from low levels of two essential amino acids (cysteine and methionine) (66).  I don’t know about you, but I have no idea how the USDA concluded that legumes are, “excellent sources of plant protein . . . similar to meats, poultry, and fish in their contribution of these nutrients.

Now let’s take a look at the average zinc and iron content of eight commonly eaten legumes (green peas, lentils, kidney beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans [chick peas], black-eyed peas, mung beans and soybeans).  In the two figures below, I have contrasted the average iron and zinc content [data from (66)] of these eight legumes to lean chicken, turkey, beef, pork and seafood.

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet

Notice that the iron content of legumes appears to be similar to seafood and about twice as high as in lean meats and eggs.  Once again, as was the case with legume protein, this data is misleading because it doesn’t tell us how legume iron is handled in our bodies.  Experimental human studies from Dr. Cook’s laboratory in Switzerland and (30) from Dr. Hallberg’s research group in Sweden (26) have shown that only about 20 to 25 % of the iron in legumes is available for absorption because it is bound to phytate.  So in reality, the high iron content of legumes (2.2 mg/100 kcal) plummets by 75 – 80 %, thereby making legumes a very poor source of iron compared to animal foods.  A similar situation occurs with zinc, as phytate and other antinutrients in legumes severely reduce its absorption in our bodies (13, 19, 57).  Given that this information has been known for more than 30 years, it absolutely defies logic how the USDA could misinform the American public by declaring that, “These foods are excellent sources of plant protein, and also provide other nutrients such as iron and zinc.  They are similar to meats, poultry, and fish in their contribution of these nutrients.” 

Antinutrients in Beans and Legumes

From the picture I have painted so far, you can see how misleading it can be to evaluate the nutritional and health effects of beans and other legumes by simply analyzing their nutrient content on paper, as the USDA has done.  Before we can pass nutritional judgment on any food, it is absolutely essential to determine how it actually acts within our bodies.  Beans are not good sources of either zinc or iron, and they have low protein digestibility because these legumes are chock full of antinutrients that impair our body’s ability to absorb and assimilate potential nutrients found in these foods.

As with whole grains, the primary purpose of most antinutrients in legumes is to discourage predation and prevent destruction of the plant’s reproductive materials (e.g. its seeds) by microorganisms, insects, birds, rodents and large mammals (10, 25).  We most frequently refer to legume seeds as beans, but don’t forget that peanuts are not really nuts at all, but rather are legumes.  In the table below I have listed some of the more commonly known legume seeds along with their scientific names.

Table of Commonly Consumed Legumes

The Paleo Diet

Part of the reason for doing this is to point out that many different versions of the beans we frequently eat actually are the exact same species – and as such contain comparable concentrations of toxic antinutrients.  Notice how many times you see the scientific name, Phaseolus vulgaris, repeated in the table above.  If you enjoy Mexican food then you have probably tasted Phaseolus vulgaris as either refried beans or black beans, since these two beans are one in the same species, differing only by color.  Great northern beans, green beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans and white kidney beans also are members of the same species, Phaseolus vulgaris.  I bring this information up because all beans that are members of Phaseolus vulgaris contain some of the highest concentrations of antinutrients known.

The list of antinutrients found in legumes, beans and soy is seemingly endless and includes: lectins, saponins, phytate, polyphenols (tannins, isoflavones), protease inhibitors, raffinose oligosaccharides, cyanogenetic glycosides, and favism glycosides.  I know that this list appears somewhat formidable at first because of all the scientific terms, but don’t be worried – the concepts underlying how these toxins may impair our health are easily understood.  Let’s briefly go through this list so you can clearly understand why you should avoid legumes.


All beans and legumes are concentrated sources of lectins.    Lectins are potent antinutrients that plants have evolved as toxins to ward off predators (10).  You remember from earlier in this chapter that raw or undercooked kidney beans caused severe cases of food poisoning in humans and were lethally toxic in rats.  Although several kidney bean antinutrients probably contributed to these poisonous effects, animal experiments indicate that a specific lectin found in kidney beans was the major culprit (2, 44).  Kidney beans and all other varieties of beans (black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, string beans, navy beans etc.) within the Phaseolus vulgaris species contain a lectin called phytohemagglutinin (PHA).  The more PHA we ingest, the more ill we become.  This is why raw beans are so toxic – they contain much higher concentrations of PHA than cooked beans (4, 23. 46).  However, cooking doesn’t completely eliminate PHA, and even small amounts of this lectin are known to produce adverse health effects, providing they can penetrate our gut barrier.

The trick with lectins is that they must bypass our intestinal wall and enter into our bloodstream if they are to wreak havoc within our bodies. So far, no human studies of PHA have ever been conducted.  However, in laboratory animals, PHA easily breeches the gut barrier and enters into the bloodstream where it may travel to many organs and tissues and disrupt normal cell function and cause disease (45, 49).  Human and animal tissue experiments reveal that PHA and other food lectins can cause a “leaky gut” and enter circulation (24, 34, 35, 45, 47, 49, 64, 65) .  A leaky gut represents one of the first steps implicated in many autoimmune diseases (67).  Impaired intestinal integrity produced by dietary lectins may also my cause low level inflammation in our bloodstreams (15, 43, 48, 62) – a necessary step for atherosclerosis (the artery clogging process) and cancer.

Besides  kidney beans and other bean varieties within Phaseolus vulgaris species, all other legumes contain lectins with varying degrees of toxicity ranging from mild to lethal.   Soybean lectin (SBA) is also known to impair intestinal permeability and cause a leaky gut (1, 35).  Peanut lectin (PNA) is the only legume lectin to have been tested in living humans by Dr. Rhodes’ research group in London.  Within less than an hour after ingestion in healthy normal subjects, PNA entered their bloodstreams (64) – whether the peanuts were cooked or not.   Later I will show you how peanuts and PNA are potent initiators of atherosclerosis.

The lectins found in peas (PSA) and lentils (LCA) seem to be much less toxic than PHA, SBA or PNA, however they are not completely without adverse effects in tissue and animal experiments (9, 21, 25, 38 ).  Unfortunately, no long term lectin experiments have ever been conducted in humans.  Nevertheless, from animal and tissue studies, we know that these antinutrients damage the intestinal barrier, impair growth, alter normal immune function and cause inflammation.


The term, saponin, is derived from the word soap.  Saponins are antinutrients found in almost all legumes and have soap-like properties that punch holes in the membranes lining the exterior of all cells.  As was the case with lectins, this effect is dose dependent – meaning that the more saponins you ingest, the greater will be the damage to your body’s cells.  Our first line of defense against any antinutrient is our gut barrier.  Human tissue and animal studies confirm that legume saponins can easily disrupt the cells lining our intestines and rapidly make their way into our bloodstream (1, 16, 17, 18, 32 ).  Once in the bloodstream in sufficient quantities, saponins can then cause ruptures in our red blood cells in a process known as hemolysis which can then temporarily impair our blood’s oxygen carrying capacity (3).  In the long term, the major threat to our health from legume saponins stems not from hemolysis (red blood cell damage) but rather from their ability to increase intestinal permeability (3, 16, 17, 18, 32)  A leaky gut likely promotes low level inflammation because it allows toxins and bacteria in our guts to interact with our immune system.  This process is known to be is a necessary first step in autoimmune diseases (67) and may promote the inflammation  necessary for heart disease and and the metabolic syndrome to develop and progress (68).

The other major problem with legume saponins is that cooking does not destroy them.  In fact, even after extended boiling for two hours, 85-100 % of the original saponins in most beans and legumes remain intact (55).   On the other hand, by eating fermented soy products such as tofu and tempeh, or sprouted beans you can lower your saponin intake (39).  The table below shows you the saponin content of some common beans, legumes and soy products.

Saponin Content of Selected Beans, Legumes and Soy Products

The Paleo Diet

Consumers beware! Notice that the concentration of saponins in soy protein isolates is dangerously high.  If you are an athlete or anyone else trying to increase your protein intake by supplementing with soy protein isolates, I suggest that you reconsider.  A much healthier strategy would be to eat more meats, fish and seafood.  These protein packed foods taste a whole lot better than artificial soy isolates and are much better for your body.  If we only eat legumes occasionally,  saponin damage to our intestines will quickly repair itself, however when legumes or soy products are consumed in high amounts as staples or daily supplements, the risk for a leaky gut and the diseases associated with it is greatly increased.


We’ve already discussed this antinutrient in great detail, so there is really not much else to say.  Because phytate prevents the full absorption of iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and copper present in legumes and whole grains, then reliance upon these plant foods frequently causes multiple nutritional deficiencies in adults, children and even nursing infants.  Boiling and cooking don’t seem to have much effect upon the phytate content of legumes, whereas sprouting and fermentation can moderately reduce phytate concentrations. Also, vitamin C counteracts phytate’ s inhibitory effects on mineral absorption.  Nevertheless, the best tactic to reduce phytate in your diet is to adopt The Paleo Diet – humanity’s original legume and grain free diet.

Polyphenols: Tannins and Isoflavones

Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds that protect plants from UV sunlight damage as well as from insects, pests and other microorganisms.  Just like sunscreens protect our skin from UV damage, polyphenols are one of the compounds plants have evolved to escape the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, along with damage caused by animal and microorganism predators.  Polyphenols come in many different varieties and forms and are common throughout the plant kingdom.  When we eat these compounds, they seem to have both healthful and detrimental effects in our bodies.  For instance, resveratrol is a polyphenol found in red wine that may increase lifespan in mice and slow or prevent many diseases.    On the other hand, at least two types of polyphenols (tannins and isoflavones) within beans, soy and other legumes may have adverse effects in our bodies (59).

Tannins are bitter tasting polyphenols and give wine its astringent qualities.  As with all antinutrients, the more tannin you ingest, the greater is the potential to disrupt your health.   Tannins are similar to phytate in that they reduce protein digestibility and bind iron and other minerals, thereby preventing their normal absorption (29, 59).  Some, but not all tannins damage our intestines causing a “leaky gut” (59).   By now you can see that legumes, beans and soy represent a triple threat to our intestinal integrity since three separate antinutrients (lectins, saponins, and tannins) all work together to encourage a leaky gut. Let’s move on to the next category of polyphenols.

Isoflavones are some of nature’s weirder plant compounds in that they act like female hormones in our bodies.  Certain isoflavones which are concentrated in soybeans and soy products are called phytoestrogens – literally meaning, “plant estrogens”.  I’ve previously mentioned that isoflavones from soy products can cause goiters (an enlargement of the thyroid gland), particularly if your blood levels of iodine are low.  Two phytoestrogens in soy called genistein and daidzen produce goiters in experimental animals.  You don’t have to develop full blown goiters by these soy isoflavones to impair your health.  In a study of elderly subjects, Dr. Ishizuki (31) and colleagues demonstrated that when subjects (average age, 61 years) were given 30 grams of soy daily for three months they developed symptoms of low thyroid function (malaise, lethargy, and constipation), and half of these people ended up with goiters.

For women, regular intake of soy or soy isoflavones may disrupt certain hormones that regulate the normal menstrual cycle.  In a meta analysis of 47 studies, Dr. Hooper and co-workers (28) demonstrated that soy or soy isoflavones consumption caused two female hormones, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), to fall by 20 %.  The authors concluded, “The clinical implications of these modest hormonal changes remain to be determined.”

I wouldn’t necessary agree with this conclusion, nor would I call a 20 % reduction in both FSH and LH “modest”.  In one study, seven of nine women who consumed vegetarian diets (containing significant quantities of legumes) for only six weeks stopped ovulating (69).  One of the hormonal changes reported in this study, concurrent with the cessation of normal periods, was a significant decline in luteinizing hormone (LH).  Because western vegetarian diets almost always contain lots of soy and hence soy isoflavones, it is entirely possible that soy isoflavones were directly responsible for the declines in LH and the disruption of normal menstrual periods documented in this study.

I have received email from women all over the world who’s menstrual and infertility problems subsided after adopting The Paleo Diet (see Chapter 13). Their stories paint a credible picture that modern day Paleo Diets contain multiple nutritional elements that may improve or eliminate female reproductive and menstrual problems.  Unfortunately scientific validation of these women’s experiences still lies in the future.

Perhaps the most worrisome effects of soy isoflavones may occur in developing fetuses with iodine deficient mothers and in infants receiving soy formula.  A recent (2007) paper by Dr. Gustavo Roman (54) at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center has implicated soy isoflavones as risk factors for autism via their ability to impair normal iodine metabolism and thyroid function.  Specifically, the soy isoflavone known as genistein may inhibit a key iodine based enzyme required for normal brain development.  Pregnant women with borderline iodine status can become iodine deficient by consuming a high soy diet.  Their deficiency may then be conveyed to their developing fetus which in turn impairs growth in fetal brain cells known to be involved in autism.  Infants born with iodine deficiencies are made worse if they are fed a soy formula.  Once again, the evolutionary lesson repeats itself.  If a food or nutrient generally was not a part of our ancestral diet, it has a high probability of disrupting our health and that of our children.

Protease Inhibitors

Unless you are a biologist by trade or are involved in a very narrow area of human nutrition, very few people on the planet know about protease inhibitors.  But I can tell you that when you eat beans, soy or other legumes you should be as aware of protease inhibitors as you are of a radar trap on the freeway – that is – if you don’t want to get a ticket or eat foods that can have unfavorably effects upon your health.

When we eat any protein, we have enzymes in our intestines which break protein into its component amino acids.  These enzymes are called proteases and must be operating normally for our bodies to properly assimilate dietary proteins.  Almost all legumes are concentrated sources of antinutrients called protease inhibitors which prevent our gut enzymes from degrading protein into amino acids.  Protease inhibitors found in beans, soy, peanuts and other legumes are part of the reason why legume proteins have lower bioavailability than meat proteins (20).  In experimental animals ingestion of protease inhibitors in high amounts depresses normal growth and causes pancreatic enlargement (21, 39, 41).  Heating and cooking effectively destroys about 80 % of protease inhibitors found in most legumes (5, 11), so the dietary concentrations of these antinutrients found in beans and soy are thought to have little harmful effects in our bodies.  Nevertheless, at least one important adverse effect of protease inhibitors may have been overlooked.

When the gut’s normal protein degrading enzymes are inhibited by legume protease inhibitors, the pancreas works harder and compensates by secreting more protein degrading enzymes.  Consequently, consumption of protease inhibitors causes levels of protein degrading enzymes to rise within our intestines.  One enzyme in particular, called trypsin, increases significantly.  The rise in trypsin concentrations inside our gut is not without consequence, because elevated trypsin levels increase intestinal permeability in animal experiments (53).  Once again we see yet another antinutrient found in legumes that contribute to a leaky gut, which as I have explained early is not without consequence.

Raffinose Oligosaccharides

Here’s another big scientific term for a little problem almost every one of us has had to deal with at one time or another after we ate beans.  Beans cause gas or flatulence.  Almost all legumes contain complex sugars called oligosaccharides.  In particular, two complex sugars (raffinose and stachyose) are the culprits and are the elements in beans that give us gas (6).  We lack the gut enzymes to breakdown these complex sugars into simpler sugars.  Consequently, bacteria in our intestines metabolize these oligosaccharides into a variety of gases (hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane).  Beans don’t affect us all equally.  Some people experience extreme digestive discomfort with diarrhea, nausea, intestinal rumbling and flatulence, whereas others are almost symptomless (6).  These differences among people seem to be caused by varying types of gut flora (microorganisms).

Cyanogenetic Glycosides

Upon digestion, antinutrients in lima beans called cyanogenetic glycosides are turned into the lethal poison, hydrogen cyanide, in our intestines.  Fortunately, cooking eliminates most of the hydrogen cyanide in lima beans.  Nevertheless a number of fatal poisonings have been reported in the medical literature from people eating raw or undercooked lima beans (70).

Although most of us would never consider eating raw lima beans, the problem doesn’t end here.  Upon cooking most of the hydrogen cyanide in lima beans is converted into a compound called thiocyanate which you can add to soy isoflavones as dietary antinutrients that impair iodine metabolism and cause goiter (70).  In iodine deficient children, these so-called goitrogens are suspect dietary agents underlying autism (54).

Favism  Glycosides

Unless you are a bean connoisseur, most of us in the United States have never tasted broad beans which are also known as fava or faba beans.  In Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and North African countries broad beans are more popular.  Unfortunately, for many people in these countries, particularly young children, consumption of fava beans can be lethal.  It has been intuitively known for centuries that fava bean consumption was fatal in certain people.  However, the biochemistry of the disease (called favism) has only been worked out in the past 50 years or so (7).

Favism can only occur in people with a genetic defect called G6PD deficiency.  This mutation is the most common human enzyme defect – being present in more than 400 million people worldwide.   It is thought to confer protection against malaria.  People whose genetic background can be traced to Italy, Greece, the Middle East or North Africa are at a much higher risk for carrying this mutation.  If you or your children don’t know if you have the genes causing favism, a simple blood test available at most hospitals and medical clinics can diagnose this problem.  Consumption of fava beans in genetically susceptible people causes a massive rupturing of red blood cells called hemolytic anemia and may frequently be fatal in small children unless blood transfusions are made immediately (7, 71).  Not all people with G6PD deficiency experience favism symptoms after they eat broad beans; however if your family background is from the Mediterranean region you may be particularly susceptible.

Although it is not completely known how broad bean consumption causes favism, three antinutrient glycosides (divicine, isouramil and convicine) found in these legumes likely do the damage (72).  These compounds enter our bloodstreams, and in people with the G6PD mutations interact with red blood cells in a manner that causes them to rupture.   So, you can now add fava beans along with lima beans to the list of legumes which are lethally toxic.

Peanuts and Heart Disease

What’s wrong with Peanut Oil and Peanuts?  Most nutritional experts would tell us that they are heart healthy foods because they contain little saturated fat and most of their fat is made up of cholesterol lowering monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.  Hence, on the surface, you might think that peanut oil would probably be helpful in preventing the artery clogging process (atherosclerosis) that underlies heart disease.  Your thoughts were not much different from those of nutritional scientists – that is until they actually tested peanuts and peanut oil in laboratory animals.  Starting in the 1960’s and continuing into the 1980’s scientists unexpectedly found peanut oil to be highly atherogenic, causing arterial plaques to form in rabbits, rats and primates (73-78) – only a single study (79) showed otherwise.  Peanut oil was found to be so atherogenic that it continues to be routinely fed to rabbits to produce atherosclerosis to study the disease itself.

Initially, it was unclear how a seemingly healthful oil could be so toxic in such a wide variety of animals.  Dr. David Kritchevsky and co-workers at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia were able to show with a series of experiments that peanut oil lectin (PNA) was most likely responsible for it artery clogging properties (36, 37).  Lectins are large protein molecules and most scientists had presumed that digestive enzymes in the gut would degrade it into its component amino acids.  Consequently, it was assumed that the intact lectin molecule would not be able to get into the bloodstream to do its dirty work.  But they were wrong.  It turned out that lectins were highly resistant to the gut’s protein shearing enzymes.  An experiment conducted by Dr. Wang and colleagues and published in the prestigious medical journal Lancet (64) revealed that PNA got into the bloodstream intact in as little 1-4 hours after subjects ate a handful of roasted, salted peanuts.   Even though the concentrations of PNA in the subject’s blood were quite low, they were still at concentrations known to cause atherosclerosis in experimental animals.  Lectins are a lot like super glue – it doesn’t take much.  Because these proteins contain carbohydrates, they can bind to a wide variety of cells in the body, including the cells lining the arteries.  And indeed, it was found that PNA did its damage to the arteries by binding to a specific sugar receptor (58).  So, the practical point here is to stay away from both peanuts and peanut oil and all legumes.


I’d like to make a final departing comment before we leave the topic of beans and legumes.  As you adopt The Paleo Diet or any diet, listen to your body.  If a food or food type doesn’t agree with you or makes you feel ill or unwell, don’t eat it.  I should have listened to my own advice 25 years ago when I was experimenting with vegetarian diets.  Whenever I ate beans or legumes, I experienced digestive upset, gas and frequently had diarrhea.   Since embracing The Paleo Diet almost 20 years ago, these symptoms have become a thing of the past.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus


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Betaine | The Paleo Diet
The modern Paleo Diet is focused on lean meats, but we love vegetables too. However, many Westerners need to beef up their vegetable intake because over 87% of adults are not eating enough of them each day.1 Although, the Paleo Diet favors foods with a lower glycemic impact, 2 you can’t beat the nutritional benefits of beets. They are rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, as well as carotene and B complex.3 Beets provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detox support in the body. They also support healthy bile flow,4 stimulate liver cell function, and provide a protective effect for the liver and bile ducts.5

Beets are a great source of betaine, also called betaine anhydrous or trimethylglycine (TMG). Betaine is a substance that’s made in the body that’s required for healthy liver function, cellular reproduction, and to make carnitine.6 Further, there is a growing body of evidence that betaine is an important nutrient for the prevention of chronic disease.7 It is also a metabolite of choline8 and an essential biochemical component of the methionine-homocysteine cycle.9

Specifically, betaine also plays a role in reducing levels of the amino acid homocysteine in the blood.10 Homocysteine is a toxic substance in the body that can lead to osteoporosis and is an indicator of an increased risk of heart disease.11

Beets are a great alternative for endurance athletes looking for a nutrient dense option for post workout food to replenish from workouts.12 Studies have shown that eating beets prior to exercise, led to a 16% increase in workout times.13 They are also rich in antioxidants14 to aid in recovery between exercise sessions. Whether you are an avid exerciser or not, adding beets to your Paleo Diet is a win-win as they are a nutritional powerhouse.

Although typically eaten cooked, beets can also be eaten raw. Thinly slice or grate and serve over dressed lettuce greens. To roast whole beets, place them in a covered roasting pan for 45-60 minutes (until you can pierce them with a fork) in a 375 °F oven. Once cooked, the skin will easily peel away with your fingers.

This hearty, Paleo Roasted Beet and Tomato Soup offers a simple way to introduce cooked beets into your Paleo Diet.  It is a festive, bright dish to commence any holiday meal or as an accompaniment to your favorite Paleo sandwich.

Paleo Roasted Red Beet & Tomato Soup

Paleo Soup | The Paleo Diet

Serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 2 (14.5 oz.) cans of no salt added organic diced tomatoes or homemade canned tomatoes
  • 1 large roasted, peeled, red beet (about 2 cups cubed)
  • Black pepper to taste


  1. Sauté the red onion and carrot in the coconut oil until the onions turn translucent and the carrot is soft.
  2. In a blender, combine the diced tomatoes, the cubed roasted beet, and the cooked onion mixture.
  3. Blend until very smooth.
  4. Pour the mixture into a soup pot.
  5. Simmer for 10-20 minutes, season with black pepper to taste and serve!


1. Available at: http://epi.grants.cancer.gov/diet/usualintakes/pop/2007-10/. Accessed on November 8, 2015.

2. Cordain, Loren. The Paleo Diet Revised: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Foods You Were Designed to Eat. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010.

3. Available at: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2348/2. Accessed on November 8, 2015.

4. Gu, X., and D. Li. “Fat nutrition and metabolism in piglets: a review.” Animal Feed Science and Technology 109.1 (2003): 151-170.

5. Kanbak, Güngör, Mine İnal, and Cengiz Bayçu. “Ethanol‐induced hepatotoxicity and protective effect of betaine.” Cell biochemistry and function 19.4 (2001): 281-285.

6. Craig, Stuart AS. “Betaine in human nutrition.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 80.3 (2004): 539-549.

7. Craig, Stuart AS. “Betaine in human nutrition.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 80.3 (2004): 539-549.

8. Abdelmalek, Manal F., et al. “Betaine, a promising new agent for patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis: results of a pilot study.” The American journal of gastroenterology 96.9 (2001): 2711-2717.

9. Craig SA. Betaine in human nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr 80: 539–549, 2004.

10. Olthof, Margreet R., et al. “Low dose betaine supplementation leads to immediate and long term lowering of plasma homocysteine in healthy men and women.” The Journal of nutrition 133.12 (2003): 4135-4138.

11. Homocysteine Studies Collaboration. “Homocysteine and risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke: a meta-analysis.” Jama 288.16 (2002): 2015-2022.

12. Lomangino, Kevin. “Moving With the Beet: Can It Enhance Athletic Performance?.” Clinical Nutrition Insight 38.9 (2012): 6-7.

13. Bailey, Stephen J., et al. “Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O2 cost of low-intensity exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise in humans.” Journal of Applied Physiology 107.4 (2009): 1144-1155.

14. Trejo-Tapia, G., et al. “Effect of screening and subculture on the production of betaxanthins in Beta vulgaris L. var.‘Dark Detroit’callus culture.” Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies 9.1 (2008): 32-36.

Eliminate Food Groups | The Paleo Diet
Do you believe that “our modern lifestyles, including nutrition, are the cause of current health problems?” If so, you could be susceptible to “fad diets,” according to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM). Last week, the organization’s Technical Advisor for Nutrition, Lois McBean, wrote that those who follow the Paleo diet “are likely setting themselves up for nutritional deficiencies by eliminating entire food groups such as dairy, grains, and legumes.”1

McBean went on to observe, “Such restrictive diets are not consistent with current dietary recommendations including USDA’s MyPlate or the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” It’s interesting that she invokes the 2010 Guidelines, considering that earlier this year, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) acknowledged that the 2010 and previous Guidelines contain a glaring error.

In the DGAC’s own words, “Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.”2

The 2010 and previous Guidelines were wrong about cholesterol, a mistake that likely persuaded millions of people to avoid eggs, shrimp, and other healthy, cholesterol-rich foods. Is it conceivable that the Guidelines could also be wrong about dairy, cereals, and legumes? We’ll address this question, but first let’s examine the idea of “eliminating entire food groups.”

Eliminating Entire Food Groups

Paleo critics like McBean seem to think the USDA’s MyPlate is inclusive of all food groups, but surprisingly, it excludes the most nutrient dense food group of them all – organ meat. The Paleo diet, on the other hand, excludes dairy, cereals, and legumes because, despite the nutrients they contain, they also contain antinutrients and promote various adverse health effects. But what possible reason could the USDA and Paleo critics have for excluding organ meat?

In the US, organ meat fell out of favor decades ago, but in most other countries it’s embraced and recognized for its remarkably high nutrient levels. Those who worry about nutrient deficiencies should be questioning the exclusion of organ meat (an entire food group) before criticizing those who, for valid reasons, exclude dairy, cereals, and legumes.

Nutrient Deficiencies

McBean lauds dairy foods as “important sources of multiple essential nutrients, including calcium, vitamin D, and potassium,” while implying that the Paleo diet falls short on these nutrients. This is an interesting comment for three reasons:

1. Dairy is not a rich source of potassium

The charts below show potassium, vitamin D, and calcium levels for 100g portions of common foods. Paleo foods are highlighted in orange, non-Paleo foods in purple. All values are for uncooked foods; note that 100g doesn’t necessarily represent a serving size. For example, beans are richest in potassium, but once cooked, potassium is significantly diluted because the beans absorb so much water. As shown, Paleo foods, including vegetables, seeds, nuts, mushrooms, fruit, fish, and meat, provide plenty of potassium.

How much potassium is enough? The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) sets the Daily Recommended Intake (DRI) for all nutrients. For potassium, however, instead of a DRI they set an Adequate Intake (AI) level of 4.7g per day. The NAS notes, “dietary intake of potassium by all groups in the United States and Canada is considerably lower than the AI.”3 With so many potassium-rich foods to choose from (note: the chart is not comprehensive), the Paleo diet emerges as the solution for potassium deficiency, not the cause.

Potassium | The Paleo Diet

2. Most of dairy’s vitamin D comes through fortification

Vitamin D | The Paleo Diet[/one_half]

Dairy fat does contain a small amount of natural vitamin D, but non-fat and low-fat dairy have almost none. As shown in the chart, the foods highest in vitamin D are Paleo foods, namely fish, shrimp, eggs, and to a lesser degree organ meat and mushrooms. Even fortified dairy doesn’t provide spectacular amounts.

Furthermore, if you want to go the fortification route, you’re much better off with vitamin D supplements, in which case you could avoid the negative effects of dairy. Note that the DRI for vitamin D is 600 IU/day.

3. Dairy is indeed high in calcium, but the calcium story is nuanced

As Dr. Cordain has explained extensively, net calcium balance (NCB) is far more important than calcium intake. NCB equals calcium intake minus calcium excretion. Calcium excretion is largely a function of acid/alkaline balance. For diets with net acid loads, the body’s calcium salts, which are stored within the bones, are excreted to maintain balance. For diets with net alkaline loads, endogenous calcium stores are unaffected.

Calcium | The Paleo DietThe only alkalizing foods are vegetables and fruit. The Paleo diet is more alkaline than MyPlate because of its emphasis on vegetables and its exclusion of dairy, cereals, and legumes. As shown in the chart, calcium in the Paleo diet comes from seeds, nuts, bones, vegetables, and from the fact that proportionally less calcium is excreted, due to the diet’s alkalinity. Note that the DRI for calcium is 1,000 mg/day.

Despite its calcium levels, dairy causes more problems than it solves. According to the US National Library of Medicine, an estimated 65% of the global population is lactose intolerant.4 Additionally, drinking 3 cups of milk per day, as McBean and the UDIM recommend, is associated with an increased risk of bone fractures as well as increased overall mortality, according to a cohort study published by the British Medical Journal.5 This study was observational, so it cannot prove causation, but it underscores the net acid load problem and other problems associated with dairy.

Far from promoting nutrient deficiencies, a careful examination of the evidence shows the Paleo diet reverses nutrient deficiencies caused by junk food and other imbalanced diets. This is accomplished by eliminating problematic food groups, including dairy, cereals, and legumes, while embracing the healthiest food groups, including meat, fish, organ meat, vegetables, nuts/seeds, and fruit.


1. McBean, L. (November 4, 2015). Fad Diets: Be Careful What You Wish For. United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

2. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. (February 2015). Scientific Report of the 2105 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. USDA and Department of Health and Human Services.

3. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. (2004). Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate.

4. Genetics Home Reference. (May 2010). “Lactose Intolerance.” U.S. National Library of Medicine.

5. Michaëlsson, K., et al. (October 2014). Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. The British Medical Journal, 349.

6. Schmid, A and Walther, B. (July 2013). Natural Vitamin D Content in Animal Products. Advances in Nutrition, 4(453-462).

Sweet Sugar Coconut Fat | The Paleo Diet
If you’ve popped into your local Starbucks lately, you’ve already seen it. The Christmas red cups are here!  As someone who is admittedly an absolute Christmas fanatic, I must say that the hint of the season’s festivities in the air brings a smile to my face and that happy, and coaxes the warm holiday aura.

But one thing that doesn’t sit quite right is thinking about the sizeable number of syrupy sweet holiday drinks we’re consuming as a whole, let alone the sheer size of each individual drink has gone from 12 oz to 16 oz to… a 31 oz!1

A ‘Grande,’ 2% milk, peppermint latte is a whopping 54g of sugar from Starbucks.2 Thinking about supersizing to the mega 31 oz? That’s a whole heck of a lot of sugar (nearly double)!

But what if we want to enjoy a taste of the season? Is there a way to do so without wreaking havoc to our blood sugar, our mood, and our guts? Yes.

And it’s not about finding a ‘more Paleo’ sweetener. Instead of focusing on sweet, do yourself a favor and instead focus on fat. Without sugar, you can forget about the blood sugar spike, ensuing crash, and craving pangs for another.

Long before we ever knew about putting butter in coffee, in the lofty Himalayan mountains a few cups of yak butter tea, or po cha, was a welcome respite from the cold, thin air.[3] Since neither butter nor coffee are part of a strict Paleo diet, why not put a spin on the Tibetan model and brew a hot cup with a healthy, Paleo approved fat?

Can you say let’s go nuts with coconuts? Tasty, warming, and a with a fantastic creamy texture to boot, the Paleo recipe below will satisfy your palate and leave you feeling energized and ready to face the hectic holiday season… without ever feeling like you’ve had to deprive yourself!

Paleoista’s Holiday Coconut Tea

(Serves 2)


  • Herbal tea, your preference; try peppermint, cinnamon or ginger to create the holiday flavor profile
  • ¼ cup coconut butter, at room temperature
  • Ground cinnamon, to taste


  1. Brew tea and let steep 3- 5 minutes.
  2. Remove tea leaves or bag and let cool slightly.
  3. Combine tea with coconut butter in blender and whiz to combine.
  4. Top with cinnamon and enjoy!


1. “Starbucks to Roll Out Biggest Drink Size Yet | Fox News.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 16 Jan. 2011. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.

2. “Peppermint Mocha.” Starbucks Coffee Company. Starbucks Coffee Company, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.

3. “Tea Tuesdays: Butter Up That Tea, Tibetan-Style.” NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015.

Red Meat | The Paleo Diet
As you probably already heard, earlier this week the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer agency, categorized processed meat as “carcinogenic” and unprocessed red meat as “probably carcinogenic.”1 What you might not have heard is that in an accompanying Q&A document, the IARC also said, “Eating meat has known health benefits.”2

Those who read the IARC’s statement and its Q&A document are likely to conclude that this story is nowhere near as dramatic and consequential as headlines from The Guardian, The New York Times, and other news outlets have implied:

  • “Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO” – The Guardian3

  • “Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, W.H.O. Report Finds” – The New York Times4

Let’s see what the IARC actually said, then put things in context so we can determine what it means. The IARC evaluates chemicals, pollutants, biological agents, and other substances so as to determine whether or not they are carcinogenic. Agents are classified into one of several groups, ranging from “Group 1: the agent is carcinogenic to humans,” to “Group 4: the agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC does not determine how much any particular agent actually increases one’s risk of getting cancer. In its own words, the IARC explains,

“The classification indicates the weight of the evidence as to whether an agent is capable of causing cancer (technically called “hazard”), but it does not measure the likelihood that cancer will occur (technically called “risk”) as a result of exposure to the agent.”5

This is an essential point. Processed meats are now grouped into the same category as cigarettes and asbestos, but this doesn’t mean the risks associated with processed meats are anywhere near those of the latter two. Cigarette smoking, for example, increases one’s relative risk of getting lung cancer by 2,500%.6 Eating processed meat, according to the IARC, increases one’s risk of getting colorectal cancer by an estimated 18%.7 Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, this means that eating 50 grams of bacon every day over the course of your life would increase your risk of getting cancer from 5% to 6%.

Missing the Big Meaty Picture

Of course, all this talk of risk misses a bigger point – context is essential. For example, will those who smoke while eating healthy diets have the same chronic disease risks as those who smoke while eating unhealthy diets? Probably not. Red meat consumed within the context of a health-supportive Paleo diet is healthy. On the other hand, red meat consumed within the context of a junk-food diet might not be healthy, especially regarding poor-quality meat.

Dr. Cordain points out, “observational studies and even randomized controlled trials typically do not control for a variety of additional elements found in feedlot-raised red meats” and “only in the past 200 years of so have we ever consumed domesticated animals fed grains, injected with hormones, antibiotics, exposed to heavy metals and pesticides and sequestered in feedlots by the hundreds of thousands.” So when someone says meat is unhealthy, we should remember that meat is not a commodity; it ranges from poor to superior quality.

The Problem with Observational Studies

To assess carcinogenicity, the IARC analyzes observational studies. As Dr. Cordain and others have repeatedly pointed out, such studies alone cannot demonstrate causality. In response to the IARC announcement, Dr. Cordain noted, “In order to establish cause and effect between diet and disease, it takes more than just observational epidemiological evidence. There must also be what is referred to as ‘biological plausibility’ in which evidence gathered from tissue, animal and short-term human metabolic studies support causality.”8, 9

With respect to unprocessed red meat, the IARC’s “probably carcinogenic” determination is not even based on strong epidemiological evidence. It’s based on “limited evidence,” which according to the IARC, “means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”10

So the next time your vegetarian co-worker tells you that red meat causes cancer, remember the following four rebuttals:

  1. The IARC’s classification is based on observational studies, which cannot show causality.
  2. Evidence that unprocessed red meat could be carcinogenic is based on “limited evidence,” which means confounding factors could not be ruled out.
  3. The magnitude of risk for eating processed meat (and red meat if causality could be demonstrated) is nowhere near that of established risky behaviors, like smoking.
  4. Context matters – high-quality meat is healthy within the context of healthy diets, which include plenty of vegetables and other healthy foods.

Despite all the fanfare about increased cancer risk, at least the IARC acknowledges, “Eating meat has known health benefits.” It wouldn’t have been sensational, but this should have been the headline used by major news organizations.


1. World Health Organization, IARC. (October 26, 2015). IARC Monographs evaluate consumption of red meat and processed meat. Press Release Number 240. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2015/pdfs/pr240_E.pdf

2. World Health Organization, IARC. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/Monographs-Q&A_Vol114.pdf

3. Boseley, S. (October 26, 2015). Processed meats rank alongside smoking as cancer causes – WHO. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/26/bacon-ham-sausages-processed-meats-cancer-risk-smoking-says-who

4. O’Connor, A. (October 26, 2015). Meat Is Linked to Higher Cancer Risk, W.H.O. Report Finds. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/27/health/report-links-some-types-of-cancer-with-processed-or-red-meat.html

5. World Health Organization, IARC. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/Monographs-Q&A_Vol114.pdf

6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.

7. World Health Organization, IARC. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/Monographs-Q&A_Vol114.pdf

8. Flegal KM. (June 1999). Evaluating epidemiologic evidence of the effects of food and nutrient exposures. Am J Clin Nutr, 69(6):1339S-1344S.

9. Potischman N, Weed DL. (June 1999). Causal criteria in nutritional epidemiology. Am J Clin Nutr, 69(6):1309S-1314S.

10. World Health Organization, IARC. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. Retrieved from http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/Monographs-Q&A_Vol114.pdf

Diabetes | The Paleo Diet

The sea of candies and chocolates will continue to flood supermarket shelves from now through Valentine’s Day. Consumers often think, “It is only one day of the year, why not indulge?” The truth is it is not just one day of the year, but rather one of many days, including all holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries, that center around sweets and treats. Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, encouraging them to eat unhealthy foods.1 The obesity and type two diabetes pandemic prevails, with 23.6 million people in the United States, who struggle with Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.2 A lackadaisical approach to nutrition continues to prove unsuccessful in achieving one’s best health.

We are embarking on the season of weight gain.3  On average, weight gain during the 6-weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year averages only 0.37 kg. However, weight gain is greater among individuals who are overweight or obese, with 14% gaining over 2.3 kg during the holidays.4 In addition, weight gain during the holiday season accounts for 51% of annual weight gain among individuals.5 It’s no wonder that so many people hope to lose their excess weight in the New Year, which turns out to be an ill-fated resolution.6 Be prudent this year and avoid adding weight during the holidays to maintain your long-term health and a smaller waistline.

The old school of thought many parents subscribed to suggested kids should be allowed to eat whatever they want because they don’t need to worry about their weight. Children are in fact not immune to the destructive nature of diets high in refined sugars and excess carbohydrates. Sadly, during the past two decades, the prevalence of obesity in children has risen greatly worldwide.7 Childhood obesity has contributed to an increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome among children.8 Enjoying a few pieces of candy on Halloween isn’t the most detrimental to a child’s body, but eating a few pieces each day until it runs out won’t instill an understanding of the adverse effects of sugar and chemicals like high fructose corn syrup in your child.

We are constantly assaulted with processed, refined sugar containing foods from the fresh baked pastries lurking in the display while you order coffee to the snacks offered at your child’s soccer match. The Paleo Diet permits the 85:15 rule, which provides flexibility to make choices that work best for your modern lifestyle and palette. The challenge is how to limit yourself and your children to three non-Paleo compliant meals per week during the holiday season.

Practice Mindfulness

It’s easy to get distracted at holiday parties, leading many to make unhealthful food choices and indulge in too much food and alcohol. Research indicates mindful eating may be an effective approach for weight management and glycemic control.9 Make a conscious choice for what goes into your mouth – those chocolates won’t magically appear in your stomach. Take a few deep breaths listen to your body to recognize when you are about 80% full to avoid overeating.

Be Accountable

The frosted Halloween cupcakes and sugar cookies your co-workers brought to the breakroom sure are tempting. But how do you balance them with last night’s pasta dinner and tomorrow’s pizza and pumpkin beer party? Be honest with yourself about the choices you make and plan for what lies in the week ahead. Hold yourself accountable and if you need to deviate from a strict Paleo path, stay within three non-compliant meals per week. Keep in mind that you are faced daily with a slippery slope of options you may regret choosing.

Indulge Responsibly

The foundation of the Paleo diet is centered on consuming whole, real foods. However, it is not about restriction and suffering. During the holidays and special occasions you can enjoy your celebratory treats, especially when you stick to the 85:15 rule. Seek out the highest quality ingredients; preferably indulging in a Paleo-friendly, homemade sweet, that has the lowest glycemic load.

Cheers to your health as we embark upon the holiday season!


1. Batch, Jennifer A., and Louise A. Baur. “Management and prevention of obesity and its complications in children and adolescents.” The Lancet (2015).

2. Bliss, Amanda K., and Sanjay Gupta. “High fructose corn syrup.” Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 23.3 (2011): 228-229.

3. Bliss, Amanda K., and Sanjay Gupta. “High fructose corn syrup.” Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 23.3 (2011): 228-229.

4. Roberts, Susan B. “Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction?.” Nutrition reviews 58.12 (2000): 378-379.

5. Roberts, Susan B. “Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction?.” Nutrition reviews 58.12 (2000): 378-379.

6. Kassirer, Jerome P., and Marcia Angell. “Losing weight—an ill-fated New Year’s resolution.” New England Journal of Medicine 338.1 (1998): 52-54.

7. Ebbeling, Cara B., Dorota B. Pawlak, and David S. Ludwig. “Childhood obesity: public-health crisis, common sense cure.” The lancet 360.9331 (2002): 473-482.

8. Boney, Charlotte M., et al. “Metabolic syndrome in childhood: association with birth weight, maternal obesity, and gestational diabetes mellitus.” Pediatrics115.3 (2005): e290-e296.

9. Miller, Carla K., et al. “Comparative effectiveness of a mindful eating intervention to a diabetes self-management intervention among adults with type 2 diabetes: a pilot study.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics112.11 (2012): 1835-1842.


Gluten Free | The Paleo Diet

Last week, The New York Times published an op-ed by Roger Cohen, its International Affairs and Diplomacy correspondent, regarding…wait for it – gluten!1 Has gluten become the nefarious “sticking point” that underlies our most critical diplomatic issues? Or was this just another of Cohen’s haughty rants against people who purchase organic food, implement health-optimizing diets, and keep abreast of nutrition science research? Spoiler alert – it’s the latter.

The gist of Cohen’s latest article, “This Column is Gluten-Free,” is that wheat has gotten a bad rap, despite graciously feeding the world for the past 12,000 years. Cohen acknowledges that gluten is harmful for the roughly 1% of the population that has celiac disease, but what about the remainder of the estimated 30% of Americans who are cutting back on gluten or going gluten-free?2

Does non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) exist? Is there evidence that gluten can be harmful for the general population? According to Cohen, people who eschew gluten (celiac patients excluded) are “self-indulgent” narcissists with imaginary food intolerances. “Having a special dietary requirement,” Cohen asserts, “is one way to feel special in the prevailing ‘me’ culture.”

Narcissism seems to be Cohen’s favorite buzzword when describing nutrition-motivated people, particularly those who buy organic food and avoid gluten. In this capacity, he uses the n-word no less than three times in his latest article, and in a previously article, he scolds the “affluent narcissism” of the upper middle class, people who purchase organic food while the poor “get a lot more nutrients from the two regular carrots they can buy for the price of one organic carrot.”3

This gets to the crux of Cohen’s ethos. He takes issue with individualism and self-determination, preferring a social structure whereby the balance of power is significantly tilted toward the state. In yet another recent article, he comments on a Pew Global Attitudes survey for which Americans and Europeans were asked which is more important,

  1. “freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference,” or
  2. “state guarantees that nobody is in need.”

Much to Cohen’s dismay, 58% of Americans say the former is more important (compared to 62% of Europeans who prefer the latter).4 He then suggests the government should be more empowered to dictate how people eat, starting with a “coordinated policy action” designed to reduce sugar consumption, but where would it end?

What if the government decided that gluten is only dangerous for those with celiac disease? Could it outlaw a generalized form of “gluten-free” labeling? After all, because the US government supports GMO foods and deems them absolutely safe, it has repeatedly thwarted legislative attempts to implement mandatory GMO labeling. Not surprisingly, Cohen also strongly supports GMO foods:

“To feed a planet of 9 billion people,” he insists, “we are going to need high yields not low yields; we are going to need genetically modified crops; we are going to need pesticides and fertilizers and other elements of the industrialized food processes that have led mankind to be better fed and live longer than at any time in history.”5

Feeding the poor is a noble goal, even with subsistence-level nutrition, but so is health optimization for individuals, which is a primary goal of nutrition science research. These goals, however, are not incompatible; they are complementary. Nevertheless, Cohen’s steadfast resolve to restore wheat’s “amber waves” reputation prevents him from critically assessing and/or acknowledging the scientific research on gluten, the dangers of which extend far beyond just celiac patients.

Just last month, for example, researchers at the National Institutes of Health published a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial on people who don’t have celiac disease but believe themselves to be gluten sensitive. The results? “The severity of overall symptoms increased significantly during 1 week of intake of small amounts of gluten, compared with placebo.”6

For further reading on the science behind how gluten can damage the gut and compromise health, check out Trevor Connor’s excellent 5-article review, “The Wheat Series.” Nutrition is always vulnerable to politicization, but rather than choosing sides, why not seek mutually beneficial solutions to complex, interdependent challenges? Being kind and respectful also helps immensely (leave the diet-shaming for the narcissists).


1. Cohen, R. (October 19, 2015). This Column is Gluten-Free. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/20/opinion/this-column-is-gluten-free.html?_r=0

2. Strom, S. (February 17, 2014). A Big Bet on Gluten-Free. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/business/food-industry-wagers-big-on-gluten-free.html

3. Cohen, R. (September 6, 2012). The Organic Fable. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/opinion/roger-cohen-the-organic-fable.html

4. Cohen, R. (August 5, 2015). Incurable American Excess. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/opinion/roger-cohen-incurable-american-excess.html

5. Cohen, R. (August 5, 2015). Incurable American Excess. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/opinion/roger-cohen-incurable-american-excess.html

6. Di Sabatino, A., et al. (September 2015). Small Amounts of Gluten in Subjects With Suspected Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Cross-Over Trial. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol, 13(9). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25701700

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