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The Paleo Diet Digest

FAQJust choosing the diet you want to follow can be a tough choice when there are so many options and opinions being thrown at you from the news, internet and your friends. So, if you’ve made the choice to go with the Paleo Diet® the last thing you want to now deal with is different answers to what the diet is and how to follow it.

Here’s the ten most common questions we’ve been asked by people interested in the diet but still trying to figure out what it’s all about. We’ll give you our take on each.

And yes, we’re sure you’re going to hear other opinions. Someone has probably already told you that ghee is Paleo or you need to drink milk to get your calcium. All we can say in response is that we are the originators of the Paleo Diet. Our founder, Dr Loren Cordain, wrote The Paleo Diet which defined the diet. So, while we’re always open to discussion and debate, when it comes to defining the Paleo Diet, we are technically the only ones who can give you these answers.

We truly hope this answers your questions!

— The Paleo Diet Team

1. Can I be Paleo if I’m vegetarian?
Vegetarian Diet | The Paleo Diet
The simple answer is no. We are designed to be omnivores and there are essential nutrients that we can only get from animal sources. That said, we do understand that some people don’t want to eat meat for ethical reasons. We admire those choices and will always strive to help those of you to eat as healthy a diet as possible. To get you started check out:

Transitioning from vegetarian to Paleo
Vegetarian and vegan diets: nutritional disasters

2. How fast will I lose weight on Paleo?
It’s hard to say as this depends on your current diet. However, we don’t think of diets just in terms of losing weight, nor do we consider rapid weight loss to be healthy. We prefer looking at The Paleo Diet as a way of life and investing in your overall health. Achieving a healthy weight is just a consequence of eating a healthy diet. Here’s a few articles about losing weight on a Paleo Diet:

Weight loss on a Paleo Diet
Lose weight and keep it off

3. Are gluten-free grains Paleo?
No, they are not. All grains are excluded from the Paleo Diet due to their low nutrient density and high content of many anti-nutrients including saponins and lectins in many grains. Check out these articles to read a little more about grains:

The gluten-free trend and its implications for Paleo
Millet: a gluten-free grain you should avoid
Quinoa and saponins: Dr.-Cordain responds to a reader’s questions

How do I get enough calcium on Paleo?
The Paleo Diet® is nutritionally balanced, in line with the optimal nutrient ratios eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors. The only nutrient where the Paleo Diet does not meet the RDA guidelines is calcium, however, Dr Cordain has already demonstrated that those levels of calcium are not achievable on a natural diet. Yet our ancestors showed no signs of osteoporosis. Likewise, the recent increased rates in heart disease in women has been at least partially attributed to excess calcium intake. Here’s a little more information about calcium:

How to get enough calcium
September series: all about calcium
Promoting calcium balance health on a Paleo Diet (easier than you think)

5. Is Paleo low carbohydrate/high protein & fat?
While it is a lower carbohydrate diet than a typical Western diet, it is not a very low carbohydrate diet. The bulk of the food you eat are fruits and vegetables. These contain plenty of carbohydrates. More importantly, on a healthy Paleo Diet, the focus is on eating the right foods and not on macronutrient ratios. Learn a little more about our thoughts on macronutrient ratios:

Forget the macronutrient ratios: you are what you were designed to eat
Nutrition divided: low-fat vs. high-fat diet
Do low carb diets really provide better weight loss?

6. How will I get enough fiber without grains?
Cereal Grains | The Paleo DietThe best diets are about a mix of the right foods that provide the nutrients you need instead of looking for some “super-food” that’s high in fiber or some other nutrient. Fruits and vegetables, which are the bulk of your food on a Paleo Diet, all contain fiber and will not only meet your daily requirements, but provide them over the course of the day.

Forget the macronutrient ratios: you are what you were designed to eat

7. What is the Paleo diet?
Foods in a Healthy Paleo DietThe Paleo Diet® is eating the foods that humans have evolved to eat. Here’s a few good summaries of the Paleo Diet to get you started:

The Paleo Diet premise
The Paleo Diet: designed by nature, built by science

8. What to eat and not to eat on the Paleo diet?
Eat the foods that are most similar to the natural foods available to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This includes fruits, vegetables, sea food, eggs, grass-fed free-range lean meats, and nuts sparingly. These also happen to be the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. Here’s a few guides to help you pick what you should eat:

What to eat on the Paleo Diet?
Your Paleo answers – most common FAQ about the Paleo Diet
Debunking the biggest myths about the Paleo Diet

9. How do I stay Paleo when eating out?
Pre-packed Airport SnackPlanning is key. Look up the menu beforehand. Salads with grilled meats, vegetable dishes, and lean meats are good options. Most restaurants will consider your needs so ask them to exclude ingredients that are not Paleo. When all fails follow the 85-15 rule. Following the Paleo Diet 85 percent of the time will still allow your body to experience the metabolic and physiologic benefits it offers. This rule permits you flexibility to eat differently 15 percent of the time, or roughly three meals over the course of a week. All that being said, travel can be particularly difficult, so here’s a few articles to help:

Staying on track with the Paleo Diet while traveling
Hunter-gatherers in flight: how to pack, snack, and forage strict-Paleo when traveling by air

10. Is ghee butter, goat’s milk, coffee, and beer Paleo?
Ghee | Paleo DietNone of these are Paleo, thought coffee is in a bit of a grey area. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t ever enjoy them. That’s why we have the 85-15 rule. Here’s a series of articles on frequently asked about foods that generally are not Paleo:

Coffee drinking revisited: its not Paleo but are there any therapeutic benefits?
The truth about the coffee-cancer link
Coffee: is it Paleo?
How Paleo is beer and mead?
The Paleo Diet, alcohol consumption and sulfites in wine, beer, and food
Gee, what’s the skinny on ghee?
Dairy: milking it for all it’s worth
Hormones in milk

Food Allergy | The Paleo Diet

Within our intestines, we harbor some 100 trillion microbial cells, collectively known as the gut microbiome (GM). For better or worse, the GM profoundly influences our health, impacting physiology, metabolism, nutrition, and immune function. GM disruption can promote obesity, diabetes, and chronic inflammatory diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.1, 2, 3 In short, according to the human microbiome project (HMP), “we are supraorganisms composed of human and microbial components.”4

The HMP was an initiative launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health to study the role of microbes in human health and disease. The HMP sparked widespread interest in GM research, but we’re still just beginning to understand the complexities and intricacies of the GM. Nevertheless, preliminary research suggests the transition from being hunter-gathers to sedentary city dwellers resulted in significant GM changes.

For example, researchers recently compared the GMs of traditional Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania with those of urban adults. The results, published in Nature Communications, showed the Hadza having significantly increased GM diversity.5 Notably, the Hadza have higher amounts of Clostridia, a class of gut bacteria, which according to recently published research, protects against food allergies (more on this below).6

The researchers studying the Hadza remarked, “Adaptation to the post-industrialized western lifestyle is coincident with a reduction in GM diversity, and as a result, a decline in GM stability.” Since the gastrointestinal tract is a gateway to pathogenic, metabolic, and immunological diseases, scientists are increasingly interpreting this decline in GM diversity as a major risk factor for degenerative diseases.

Why is Gut Microbiome Diversity Decreasing?

Many aspects of modern lifestyles promote decreased GM diversity, including birthing method (cesarean versus traditional vaginal births), decreased breastfeeding, decreased consumption of dietary fiber, increased early childhood exposure to antibiotics, and increased lifetime exposure to antibiotics. Cesarean births require the use of antibiotics, which is one reason why, according to research recently published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, cesarean birthed infants exhibit “particularly low bacterial richness and diversity.”7

Antibiotics are notoriously overprescribed in the US, particularly for viral infections (which antibiotics don’t affect). A 2014 study found that doctors prescribe antibiotics for 60% of sore throat cases and 70% of cough cases.8 Dr. Jeffrey Linder, one of the study’s co-authors, says only 10% of sore throat cases are bacterial and multiple studies show antibiotics are ineffective against coughs.9 In short, modern lifestyles and diets are negatively impacting GM diversity.

The Connection Between Gut Microbiome and Food Allergies

According to Food Allergy Research & Education, 15 million Americans suffer from food allergies, including 1 in 13 children.10 Food allergies increased 18% among children from 1997 to 2007.11 Is the increasing food allergies trend related to the decreasing GM diversity trend? According to University of Chicago researchers, yes.

By studying mice raised in perfectly sterile environments, these researchers discovered that Clostridia (the same bacterial strain observed at increased levels among the Hadza and decreased levels among urbanites) protects against food allergies.12 Lead researcher Dr. Cathryn Nagler explained, “The first step is for an allergen to gain access to the blood stream. The presence of Clostridia prevents the allergens from getting into the bloodstream.”13

So what does this mean with respect to the Paleo Lifestyle? For many people, particularly those with a history of antibiotic use, probiotic supplementation may be prudent. Dr. Cordain explains that both probiotic and prebiotic supplements promote healthy gut flora and reduced intestinal permeability for most people, although in some special cases they could agitate the gut.

Moreover, the Paleo Diet contains large amounts of fiber-rich vegetables. Think of fiber as food for the GM. Once inside the gastrointestinal tract, certain vegetable fibers ferment, creating short-chain fatty acids, which promote GM diversity and prevent the overgrowth of antagonistic bacterial strains.14

Remember the human microbiome project (HMP)? Thirty-seven HMP microbiologists were asked a series of questions regarding gut health, including one specific to the Paleo Diet: “Do you believe a high protein-fat diet, so long as it includes a significant amount and diversity of whole plants (fermentation sources) and minimal to no processed carbohydrates, is a strategy for a healthy microbiome?”15 With 1 representing “strongly disagree” and 10 “strongly agree,” the average response was 9.1. In other words, according to the world’s leading GM experts, the Paleo Diet, like the ancestral Hadza diet, promotes healthy, diverse gut microbiomes, thereby protecting against food allergies.

Christopher James Clark, B.B.A.
Nutritional Grail

Christopher James Clark | The Paleo Diet TeamChristopher James Clark, B.B.A. is an award-winning writer, consultant, and chef with specialized knowledge in nutritional science and healing cuisine. He has a Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and formerly worked as a revenue management analyst for a Fortune 100 company. For the past decade-plus, he has been designing menus, recipes, and food concepts for restaurants and spas, coaching private clients, teaching cooking workshops worldwide, and managing the kitchen for a renowned Greek yoga resort. Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning book, Nutritional Grail.


1 Ley, RE., et al. (December 2006). Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature, 444 (7122). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17183309/

2 Qin, J., et al. (October 2012). A metagenome-wide association study of gut microbiota in type 2 diabetes. Nature, 490 (7418). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23023125/

3 Frank, DN., et al. (August 2007). Molecular-phylogenetic characterization of microbial community imbalances in human inflammatory bowel diseases. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, 104 (34). Retrieved 2, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17699621/

4 Turnbaugh, PJ., et al. (October 2007). The human microbiome project: exploring the microbial part of ourselves in a changing world. Nature, 449 (7164). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709439/

5 Schnorr, SL., et al. (April 2014). Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers. Nature Communications, 5 (3654). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140415/ncomms4654/full/ncomms4654.html

6 Stefka, AT., et al. (August 2014). Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (36). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.pnas.org/content/111/36/13145

7 Azad, MB., et al. (March 2013). Gut microbiota of healthy Canadian infants: profiles by mode of delivery and infant diet at 4 months. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 185 (5). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.cmaj.ca/content/185/5/385

8 Barnett, ML., (January 2014). Antibiotic Prescribing to Adults With Sore Throat in the United States, 1997-2010. JAMA Internal Medicine, 174 (1). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1745694

9 Singh, M. (October 4, 2013). Despite Many Warnings, Antibiotics Are Still Overprescribed. NPR. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/10/04/229167826/despite-many-warnings-antibiotics-are-still-overprescribed

10 Food Allergy Research & Education. About Food Allergies. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.foodallergy.org/about-food-allergies

11 Branum, AM., (October 2008). Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trends in Prevalence and Hospitalizations. NCHS Data Brief, 10. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db10.pdf

12 Stefka, AT., et al. (August 2014). Commensal bacteria protect against food allergen sensitization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111 (36). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.pnas.org/content/111/36/13145

13 Gallagher, J. (August 26, 2014). Gut bugs ‘help prevent allergies.’ BBC News, Health. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.bbc.com/news/health-28887088

14 Kaczmarczyk, MM., et al. (August 2012). The health benefits of dietary fiber: Beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism, 61 (8). Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0026049512000455

15 Leach, J. (September 26, 2012). Guts, Germs and Meals: what 37 microbiologist say about diet. Human Food Project. Retrieved October 2, 2014 from //humanfoodproject.com/guts-germs-and-meals-what-37-microbiologist-say-about-diet/

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