We’ve talked a lot about the autoimmune protocol (AIP) around here, but did you know the AIP is a subset of the Paleo diet? It was developed by Paleo experts who noticed a need for further restrictions for people with autoimmune disease, who don’t tend to react well to things like coffee, nightshades, and alcohol. As such, the AIP and Paleo communities are closely intertwined and Paleo makes a great transition diet for people working their way toward or just coming off the AIP. But it’s also widely misunderstood. Here are the most common myths about Paleo I’ve encountered in my years blogging about it.
1. It’s expensive.
Eating Paleo isn’t as cheap as living on rice and beans, but if you break the diet down into dollars per nutrient, you’re getting way more bang for your buck. No more $5 packages of cookies that will be gone in two days. No more $3 bags of potato chips that are more air than potatoes. We spend about $100 per week for two people, and that includes our toiletries as well as optional expenses like cage-free pastured eggs and high-quality oils. When you shop for the cheapest cuts of meat and produce and save things like coconut flour and ghee for special occasions, it’s not so bad.
2. It’s hard.
Cooking isn’t rocket science. It may not be something you like doing, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to throw some meat and veggies on the stove and stir them every few minutes until they’re cooked. I do it while the TV’s on or I’m listening to an audiobook. Yes, there will be cravings and nights where you just don’t want to cook. It happens to all of us and everyone gives in every now and then. But it’s not the end of the world and there are a lot of ways you can mitigate those temptations.
3. It’s a fad.
The Paleo diet in its modern form has been around for over forty years, and is based on a diet and lifestyle much, much older than that. It’s also one of the most adaptable communities I’ve ever encountered. The Paleo and autoimmune protocol communities are constantly seeking out the latest in the scientific literature and adapting its recommendations accordingly. I’d rather be part of an ever-changing, cutting-edge movement than one stuck in outdated rules any day.
4. It’s low-carb.
A diet that is not high-carb is not automatically low-carb. This is one of the most aggravating persistent myths about Paleo. There is such a thing as a middle ground. I eat about 300 grams of carbs a day, which is considered a healthy and maybe even a higher-than-average amount. Many people do accidentally eat too few carbs on Paleo simply because they don’t know where to get them or how often to include them in their meals, a mistake easily corrected by increasing squash, root vegetable, plantain, and fruit intake.
5. It’s too high in fat and fat causes heart disease.
Fat is good, as long as it isn’t trans fat and as long as you’re balancing your intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It helps regulate your blood sugar, can improve your digestion, and makes many nutrients more easily absorbed. A low-fat, high-carb diet has been increasingly associated with modern diseases of affluence, especially diabetes, and there is now significant evidence to suggest that it’s excessive sugar, not fat, that causes heart disease and obesity.
6. It’s too high in protein and a diet full of meat causes cancer.
Every study suggesting that meat causes cancer failed to account for vegetable intake, and when vegetable intake was accounted for, the correlation between meat consumption and cancer risk disappeared. In other words, as long as you’re eating plenty of vegetables, you’ll be fine. And contrary to popular belief, Paleo is not all about bacon, turkey legs, and pork roasting over a fire pit. My plate is usually about 3/4 vegetables (including starchy carbs) and 1/4 meat (including fat). That’s a heck of a lot more vegetables than I ate as a vegetarian, when my plate was primarily beans and rice.
7. You miss out on a lot of essential nutrients, like calcium and fiber, by not consuming dairy and grains.
Veggies and fruit have all the fiber you need and none of the immune-stimulating, gut-irritating compounds you don’t. And vegetables and meat don’t have to be fortified because they already contain everything the body needs, unlike processed grain and dairy products. Want calcium? Start using bone instead of vegetable broth, eating the tiny bones in your fish, and/or adding more dark leafy greens like kale into your diet.
8. It’s not environmentally friendly.
This is why meat quality is so important. It’s a lot more environmentally friendly to raise animals ethically and sustainably, to use every part of the animal including the skin, bones, and organs, and to support the people that do that than to use acres upon acres of land (and water) to grow crops like corn and wheat to feed the animals which in turn feed us. If we all vote for ethically-raised meats, letting the market know what we want and are willing to pay for, we encourage sustainable practices. As a former vegan, I take great pride in knowing the animals that sustain me were treated well and that no part of them was wasted.
9. It doesn’t work and there’s no reason to believe that it does.
One of the most vocal anti-Paleo friends I have tried Paleo for about a month and immediately started smack-talking it when she didn’t notice results. Later, she admitted that she hadn’t given up beer during that month and had completely ignored the lifestyle recommendations like sleeping, exercising, getting enough sunlight, and practicing stress management. While there are certainly people for whom Paleo/AIP requires some troubleshootin, that doesn’t mean the whole thing is crap. Give it an honest shot and if it doesn’t make you feel better, start troubleshooting your diet, lifestyle, and medical treatment to find out what’s really going on.
10. Cavemen didn’t have “Paleo-approved” foods like almond flour, so the whole diet is hypocritical. And besides, modern humans have evolved to tolerate neolithic foods better!
Paleo isn’t a historical re-enactment. We don’t dress like cavemen and mate by bashing each other over the head. It’s adapted for modern living–and cravings. We need nutrients, exercise, sleep, sunlight, play and laughter, and community, just like every other animal on the planet. Paleo and the AIP are about getting all of that stuff in the way that’s most sustainable for you–taking into account your food sensitivities and food traditions like birthday cake. It’s about being your healthiest self, even if that means eating grains or dairy because you tolerate them well upon reintroduction.