Tag Archives: nutrients

African Vegetables: A Welcome Addition to Paleo and Healthy Living | The Paleo Diet

A great aspect about Paleo is that it transcends geographic and physical boundaries. Indeed it is a global healthy living lifestyle. In recent years, many are gaining awareness about the tremendous benefits that come from eating Paleo. On the other hand, for many in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Paleo way of life may be quite familiar. According to an article in the prestigious Nature publication, some indigenous vegetables found in African countries like Nigeria, and Kenya, contain greater nutritious value than that seen in the popular kale and collard greens.1 You have probably tried these veggies unknowingly.

Take for instance, okra which is actually indigenous to the Igbos of Nigeria,2 where the name originates and is now widely eaten in Louisiana gumbo in the USA. Packed with higher amounts of nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamins, these indigenous vegetables are the source of many scientific studies, tapping into health benefits and improving through breeding experiments. In actuality, the US National Research Council (NRC) has been examining the hidden potential of Africa’s lost crops since the early 90s.1

Before you get too excited and start packing your bags for an international trip, wait a minute! Many of these healthy vegetables, can be sourced from your local international grocery stores in any major western city. Below are snippets of some of the various options to include on your Paleo shopping list.


African nightshade, a leafy green vegetable also known as Solanum scabrum is indigenous to many Sub-Saharan African countries like Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where scientists have long investigated its nutritional properties.1 It is naturally common throughout West, Central, and East Africa, and grows in a wide range of soils.

African nightshade is quite different from its poisonous counterparts in Euroasia. Just 100g of these leaves will give you way more iron than your entire daily needs.3 With its high nutritional value of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine, and zinc,3 you may want to consider adding it to your Paleo diet.


Fluted pumpkin leaves, also known as Telfairia Occidentalis, are indigenous to Nigeria, where they are commonly eaten and known as Ugu.4 Studies have indicated their high nutritious value, including high dietary sources for iron, copper, potassium, and manganese. Additionally, the vegetable serves as a moderate source for zinc, magnesium and sodium.5

Another study published in the American Journal of Chemistry, identified fluted pumpkin leaves to be a source of high dietary fiber content.4 Fiber helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood. This was confirmed in another study, where fluted pumpkin leaves were shown to decrease cholesterol levels as well as oxidative stress in rats fed with an excess cholesterol diet.6 The high potassium helps with preventing hypertension and keeping blood pressure low, while zinc helps the body with healing.6

Prevention and quick healing, all while eating delicious, healthy natural food? Sounds like the Paleo way to me!


Jute mallow, also known as jew’s mallow, bush okra, or Corchorus olitorius, is indigenous to tropical Africa, as well as South and East Asia, Middle East, Brazil, and the Caribbean.7 It has great health values, and is extremely high in beta carotene, folic acid, calcium, iron, and ascorbic acid.7 Additionally, it contains significant amounts of riboflavin, vitamin E, and as much as 4.5% of your daily protein requirements.7 It packs enough power for you to forget about its slimy consistency when cooked.


While many continue to debate about whether green plantains are a fruit, or a vegetable, there is no question they are loved by many worldwide. Easy to find, green plantains are available in most local grocery stores.

They are the main staple crop throughout West and Central Africa, as well as other parts of the world like India, the Caribbean and Latin America. When harvested, plantains are green and starchy like a vegetable, yet ripen yellow and assume a sweet taste reminiscent of fruit.8 While plantains resemble bananas, they need to be cooked to be eaten. A green plantain can substitute for potatoes in your cuisine, and can be baked or boiled, or fried. Unlike the banana, plantains are low in sugar content, and contain more potassium, vitamins A and C.8

In summary, one of the great things about Paleo is the options are endless. You can always stick to the familiar, or cross the border into foreign territories. While kale is still a great choice, there are so many other choices out there, and the rich African vegetables found throughout the continent are no exception.



[1] Cernansky, R. (2015, June 11). Super vegetables. Nature, S22, 146-148.

[2] Harris, J. (2011, Feb 14). African-American Food’s History & Soul. Retrieved Jul 22, 2015, from NPR On Point.

[3] Kamg, R., Kouame, C., Atangana, A., Chagomoka, T., & Ndango, R. (2013). Nutritional Evaluation of Five African Indigenous Vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Research, 21(1), 99-106.

[4] Idris, S. (2011). Compositional studies of Telfairia Occidentalis Leaves. American Journal of Chemistry, 1(2), 56-59

[5] Akwaowo, E., Ndon, B., & Etuk, E. (2000). Minerals and antinutrients in fluted pumpkin (Telfairia occidentalis Hook f.). Food Chemistry, 70(2), 235-240.

[6] Adaramonye, O., Akintayo, A., & Fafunson, M. (2007). Hypolipidemic effect of Telfairia occidentalis (fluted pumpkin) in rats fed a cholesterol-rich diet. J Med Food, 10(2), 330-6.

[7] Kamg, R., Kouame, C., Atangana, A., Chagomoka, T., & Ndango, R. (2013). Nutritional Evaluation of Five African Indigenous Vegetables. Journal of Horticultural Research, 21(1), 99-106.

[8] Hesser, A. (1998, July 29). The Plantain: Anything You Want It to Be. Retrieved July 22, 2015, from The New York Times: //www.nytimes.com/1998/07/29/dining/the-plantain-anything-you-want-it-to-be.html.

Cereal Grains | The Paleo Diet

Dear Dr. Cordain,

The reason for writing to you is I read an interesting article by you about pre historical diet and grains “The Evolutionary Discordance of Grains and Legumes in the Human Diet.

Background: I am not an academic. Until 3 years ago I lived in Asia and had a BMI of 24. On returning to the UK I have increased my body weight by about a kilo a month for 20 months. I am now doing something about it by changing my diet. My observation about my previous diet in Asia was that it contained only about 1 cup of rice per day, and no other grains; and no other processed foods with hidden grains or sugars.

It is my view based on common sense and a little reading, that grains are not natural to us. Yet, professional nutritionist friends insist that on the food pyramid we should be eating about 1/3 of our calorie intake through grains. I have contacted several academic nutritionists, and while in their academic articles they accept the pre-historical evidence that we did not eat grains, they all want to insist on the paradigm that we should be eating large amounts of grains.

Firstly, would you agree that grains are not natural in any more than marginal quantities, and have you any idea why nutritionists think we should be eating them in industrial quantities?

Thanks for your time,

Best Regards


Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Hi Russell,

Good to hear from you, and I wish you success as you adopt the Paleo diet to help  weight.  Indeed our Stone Age ancestors did not consume cereal grains, except infrequently as starvation foods.  As a species, human have no cereal grain requirement for proper nutrition, as we can obtain all required nutrients from meats, fish, seafood, poultry, fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.  In fact  consumption of cereal grains  actually reduces the overall vitamin and mineral content of the diet because cereal grains on average are less nutrient dense for the 13 vitamins and minerals most lacking in the US diet when compared to fish, seafood, lean meat, fresh vegetables and fruits.  I have pointed this fact out in a paper I published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005.1 Further, cereal grains contain a variety of “antinutrients” which actually adversely affect health.  I have described these effects in a paper I wrote called “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double Edged Sword.”2 You can download and read both of these papers at the links I have provided below:

1. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.

2. Cordain L, (1999). Cereal grains: humanity’s double edged sword. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, 84: 19-73.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

Dr. Cordain's Interview With SPRY Magazine | The Paleo Diet

1) The Paleo Diet is based on a simple premise: stripping our diet down to the basics and mimicking the consumption habits of our caveman ancestors. Can you explain what this means from a food standpoint?

I wouldn’t necessarily agree that contemporary Paleo diets “strip our diets down”, but rather the opposite – they enrich our diets by reducing nutrient depleted foods that are ubiquitous in the typical western diet.  This lifelong plan of eating to maximize health  actually increases total micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber) density compared to the USDA My Plate recommendations, formerly the Food Pyramid as well as other so called healthful nutritional plans such as the Mediterranean Diet, The Dash Diet, Type 2 Diabetic Diets, vegetarian diets and others (1, 2).

Further, we shouldn’t be sexist and characterize this lifelong eating plan as being based upon “cavemen” diets only, rather it also includes the diet of hunter gatherer women.  And really it is not scientifically accurate to call it a “caveman” diet, but rather a “pre-agricultural” diet based upon the nutritional practices of our hunter gatherer ancestors (both men and women) who lived during the Paleolithic (old stone age) era and afterwards.

From a food standpoint, it means that we should try to mimic the food groups our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed with contemporary foods available in most supermarkets, farmers markets, co-ops and grocery stores.  These foods include fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, grass produced meat and poultry, nuts and certain healthful oils.  People consuming contemporary Paleo diets should try to avoid refined sugars, refined grains, trans fats, salt and almost all processed foods.  Our hunter gatherer ancestors rarely or never ate dairy products and cereal grains.

1.    Cordain L, The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24.
2.    Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:341-54.

2) From Atkins to the South Beach Diet, there is currently a variety of low-carb, high-protein diet plans on the market. In your opinion, what makes the Paleo Diet more effective than other diet plans out there?

As I mentioned earlier, the Paleo Diet is not a “diet” per se, but rather a lifetime plan of healthful eating which reduces the risk of the chronic “diseases of civilization” (obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, abnormal blood lipids, cancer, heart disease, etc.) which run rampant in the U.S. adult population.

Virtually all popular “diets” such as Atkins, South Beach and others were designed, engineered and created by fallible humans, and as such are rife with our human biases, misinformation and errors concerning the elements of optimal human nutrition.   Although, Boyd Eaton, myself and others have been credited with creating “The Paleo Diet”, this perception is incorrect.  The Paleo Diet is and always has been a biological force that shaped the human genome including our present day nutritional requirements.  It was created not by fallible human judgment but rather by the forces of evolution acting through natural selection over millions of years.  Together with anthropologists, physicians and scientists worldwide, Dr. Eaton and I simply uncovered that which was pre-existing.  The Paleo diet has always been the native diet of our species until the beginnings of the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago (a mere 333 human generations).  Our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed a wide variety of fresh plant and animal food depending upon their geographic locale, time of season and food availability – hence there was no single “Paleo Diet” but rather numerous versions of these same two food elements: wild animal and plant foods.  Hunter gatherers ate no dairy foods, and rarely ate grains and except for seasonal honey ate no refined sugars.  Clearly they ate no modern processed foods.

Under these nutritional stipulations our ancestral diet was almost always high in protein and low in carbohydrate (3).  Hence, modern diets designed by diet doctors and fallible humans that are high in protein and low in carbs have at least got these two basic elements of our ancestral diet correct.  Nevertheless, it is almost axiomatic that the remainder of these fallible human dietary recommendations will be inconsistent with our ancestral diet and ultimately will result in nutritional shortcomings and health problems.

Case in point: The Atkins Diet.  This diet has been with us in various forms for at least 40 years and advocates reducing dietary carbohydrates to less than 100 grams per day or lower.  Few or no restrictions are placed upon the carbohydrate type, just the absolute amount.  So in effect, whole grains, refined grains and refined sugars would be  equivalent to fruits and vegetables as long as the total amount is restricted.  Additionally, fat types and sources are also undifferentiated, just as long as they don’t contain carbs that would exceed Atkins’  recommended values.  Cheese, butter, and cream are advised in lieu of excessive carbs from fresh vegetables and fruit.

The problem with these fallible human dietary recommendations was that Dr. Atkins was unaware of acid/base physiology.  Had he considered the evolutionary dietary template, he would have realized that a high protein/high fat diet that restricts carbohydrates from fresh vegetables and fruit  was inconsistent with our ancestral nutritional patterns and likely to cause health problems.  Further, he placed no limits upon cheese or even salted foods (net acid yielding foods) as long as they were low in carbohydrate. It is now known that diets with excessive acidity without accompanying base (alkalinity) from fruits and veggies adversely affects bone mineral health, blood pressure, kidney function and a variety of other factors (2, 4, 5).

In summary, unless high protein, low carbohydrate diets concocted by mortal humans don’t consider the evolutionary template they will invariably contain recommendations that are inconsistent with our ancestral diet and ultimately will result in sub-optimal health.

3.    Cordain L, Brand Miller J, Eaton SB, Mann N, Holt SHA, Speth JD. Plant to animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000, 71:682-92
4.    Sebastian A, Frassetto LA, Sellmeyer DE, Merriam RL, Morris RC Jr. Estimation of the net acid load of the diet of ancestral preagricultural Homo sapiens and their hominid ancestors. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Dec;76(6):1308-16
5.    Frassetto L, Morris RC Jr, Sellmeyer DE, Todd K, Sebastian A.
Diet, evolution and aging–the pathophysiologic effects of the post-agricultural inversion of the potassium-to-sodium and base-to-chloride ratios in the human diet. Eur J Nutr. 2001 Oct;40(5):200-13

3) What initially piqued your interest in studying the human diet of our Stone Age ancestors?

In 1987, I read Dr. Boyd Eaton’s seminal paper on the topic of “Paleolithic Nutrition” which appeared in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (6).  At the time, I thought this was about the best idea I had ever read on human nutrition, and have spent the past 25 years or so studying this concept.

6.    Eaton SB, Konner M. Paleolithic nutrition. A consideration of its nature and current implications. N Engl J Med. 1985 Jan 31;312(5):283-9

4) Dairy is one of the foods on the Paleo “do not eat” list. But by shunning dairy, don’t you run the risk of missing out on the many health benefits of dairy, including strong bones and digestive support?

The notion that calcium is the only and most important determinant of bone mineral health is incorrect, and in fact, numerous nutritional elements are involved in producing strong bones including acid base balance (adequate fruit and vegetable consumption) as mentioned above, sufficient high quality dietary protein, and a low dietary salt intake among others (7).  Do these nutritional factors sound familiar?  Which popular diet simultaneously maintains these characteristics?

Milk and dairy consumptions elicits insulin resistance in children (8) and represents a prominent risk factor for prostate, ovarian cancer, acne, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes (7).

7.    Cordain L.  Just say no to the milk mustache.  In: The Paleo Answer, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY 2012.
8.    Hoppe C, Mølgaard C, Vaag A, Barkholt V, Michaelsen KF. High intakes of milk, but not meat, increase s-insulin and insulin resistance in 8-year-old boys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Mar;59(3):393-8

5) Do you think the Paleo Diet is too “strict” and inflexible? How can an individual maintain the Paleo Diet when dining out or in a situation where they are faced with limited food options, for example?

Built into The Paleo Diet is the 85:15 rule meaning that most people can obtain substantial health and weight loss benefits if they are at least 85 % compliant with the diet.  Three open meals per week correspond to 15 % non-compliance.  So if you want to go out and have pizza and beer with friends on a Saturday evening, it is permissible.  However, many people feel so bad after days and weeks of high compliance that it makes them think twice about doing it again.  People with serious health and obesity issues should try to maintain high compliance (95 % or greater).

6) In your book The Dietary Cure For Acne, you discuss the ways in which modern environmental factors (including diet) can trigger acne. What are some of the top foods for clearer, blemish-free skin?

The big issue here is the foods that shouldn’t be consumed,  These are the high glycemic load carbohydrates (9-11) and dairy products (12-14) which produce hormonal and cellular changes known to cause acne.  Again the evolutionary template with a diet consisting of a fresh foods (fresh, grass produced meats, poultry, sea food, fish, fresh vegetables and healthful oils) is the best medicine to produce clearer, blemish-free skin.

9.    Cordain L, Lindeberg S, Hurtado M, Hill K, Eaton SB, Brand-Miller J. Acne vulgaris: a disease of Western civilization. Arch Dermatol. 2002 Dec;138(12):1584-90. //thepaleodiet.com/research-about-the-paleo-diet/#2002

10.       Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD. (2003). Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just syndrome X. Comp Biochem Physiol Part A:136:95-112. //thepaleodiet.com/research-about-the-paleo-diet/#2003
11.       Cordain, L. Implications for the role of diet in acne. Semin Cutan Med Surg 2005;24:84-91. //thepaleodiet.com/research-about-the-paleo-diet/#2005
12.   Cordain L. Dietary implications for the development of acne: a shifting paradigm. In: U.S. Dermatology Review II 2006, (Ed.,Bedlow, J). Touch Briefings Publications, London, 2006 //thepaleodiet.com/research-about-the-paleo-diet/#2006
13.   Melnik BC. Evidence for acne-promoting effects of milk and other insulinotropic dairy products. Nestle Nutr Workshop Ser Pediatr Program. 2011;67:131-45.
14.   Silverberg NB. Whey protein precipitating moderate to severe acne flares in 5 teenaged athletes. Cutis. 2012 Aug;90(2):70-2

Part II. (These can be very brief, 1-2 sentences).  

If you had to sum it up in a word or phrase, what is your health philosophy?
Emulate the activity and nutritional patterns or our hunter gatherer ancestors with all of the advantages of our modern world.

What is your favorite healthy weeknight dish to make?

I don’t distinguish between weekend or week nights.  Steamed king crab is a favorite

Do you have a favorite workout or fitness activity?
Exercise, play or any physical activity in the outdoors under the sun in a peaceful, natural setting.

What would you say is your “secret weapon” to staying healthy?
Adopting the beneficial aspects of our ancestral diet/lifestyle while leaving behind their hardships and taking advantages of the technological advances of our modern world.
If you’re ever faced with temptation, how do you keep yourself on track? Any tips?
Think about how well I will feel in the morning if I don’t fall to temptation.


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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