Paleo Diet: Top 3 Biggest Mistakes
By Dr. Justin Marchegiani
Have you gone Paleo but still aren’t feeling better? Even when you think you are eating better, subconsciously you may still be making choices that are setting you up for failure. Here are some common mistakes that could be preventing your body from healing.
Going Too Low Fat
Most people who transition to a Paleo diet have been exposed to the typical brainwashing of the standard American diet (SAD). Even in the Paleo community, it’s difficult to talk about meat without referring to it as “healthy lean meat.” What I find with my patients who are newly embarking on a Paleo diet is that they are going too low fat. I always recommend organic, pasture-fed, high-quality meats. If for some reason they can’t avoid the lean meats, I urge them to at least keep the skin on.
The darker meats tend to keep blood sugar more stable and sweet cravings at bay. And there are also more fat-soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, K) in these fattier cuts of meat.
When I purchase my grass-fed beef, I make sure I get the 76% kind. I still see most people getting 90% to 95%, and when the meat’s cooked up, the fat is left in the frying pan. My recommendation is to use that liquid fat as a topping on your vegetables. Never let any good nutrition go to waste.
Not Enough Calories
When having my patients complete a food diary, what they eat looks really good on paper. Once I dig a little deeper and run the stats through a nutritional calculator, significant calorie deficits sometimes come up. Now, calories aren’t the be-all and end-all, especially if you’re so-called “overeating.” When you’re eating whole foods (real foods), calories are a direct marker of nutrition. If you are eating more calories from healthy foods, it’s safe to assume that you’re also getting more nutrition.
If you have an adrenal or thyroid, issue it can be harder to stabilize your blood sugar with fewer calories. Research shows that low-calorie eating can cause the thyroid to down-regulate or decrease its production of thyroid hormone (1). To have a healthy metabolism, you need to make sure you are at least consuming enough calories for your metabolic needs. This is most important for people who have already been diagnosed with adrenal and thyroid conditions.
Low-calorie eating can also lead to hypoglycemia, which can cause surges of cortisol and insulin (2). These hormone swings may increase your chance of getting polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (3). If you have any female hormone symptoms, it’s important you make sure you aren’t going too low calorie. Use the free online app “Lose it” to calculate your minimum caloric needs.
Too Many Paleo Treats
There are lots of good Paleo treats out there, and there are also lots of bad ones. I’m a big fan of the ones you can make at home so you have full control over the ingredients. If you have an autoimmune condition, you need to be careful as these treats may have a lot of almond, potato, and gluten-free flour in them. Many Paleo treats can still be higher in sugar with a low protein-to-fat ratio, and this can really set you up for a series of blood-sugar swings. If you have digestion issues, these treats may be enough to feed your bacterial or fungal overgrowth and prevent your gut from healing (4). If you choose a Paleo treat, try to make sure it has adequate amounts of healthy fat and protein first. The fat and protein will decrease the glycemic load of the treat and will also prevent blood sugar and mood swings from occurring an hour or two later.
Some of my favorite treats are those Hail Merry miracle tarts (found at Whole Foods). They have a good amount of protein and fat with a little bit of sugar as well. High-quality dark chocolate can be an excellent treat, too (greater than 75% cacao).
If you converted over to a Paleo diet because you already had some type of health condition, like adrenal fatigue, thyroid imbalance, or a digestive problem, it’s important that you make your treats few and far between and that you avoid desserts that will derail your health.
My Personal Favorite Paleo Treats
- Paleo Apple Crisp with stevia sweetened coconut ice cream
- Paleo chocolate pudding
- Fresh organic berries with heavy grass-fed whipped cream (sweetened with stevia and vanilla)
I also like a steamed sweet potato with grass-fed butter and cinnamon on top. I know it sounds weird, but don’t knock it till you try it. This is higher in carbs, so make sure it’s not too much for your blood sugar and adrenals to handle.