Updated: Jun 16, 2018
We've been pure-Paleo for almost two and a half years now, with no regrets.
Weight has stayed off, energy is abundant, and I've only been sick ONCE. My last Dr. visit was in 2015...I think. Yesterday I got up at 6, worked til 5:30, then hiked 4 miles in 85 degree heat, wearing a 28 pound vest. Age 60.
But no matter how excited we get about our achievements, there are challenges--especially (believe it or not) sharing this success. Explaining Paleo, even to super smart loved ones, often goes...well, not exactly nowhere but can quickly vanish into the weeds.
This "glazed eye factor," in part, drives my blog. I try to condense my years of study and research (and success) into manageable tidbits.
So here is a Paleo listicle--with a slant for older readers. You won't learn "all about" Paleo here, but you can get a "taste" for why you should check it out.
REMINDER: please visit the RESOURCES page for incredible, in-depth Paleo information. The sections below hit the high points, leaving details in the background.
THE TEN PALEOLITHIC COMMANDMENTS:
1. DO NOT EAT PROCESSED FOODS. (Foods or foodlike substances made with industrial seed oils, sweeteners, additives, Bible-length ingredient lists, thickeners, preservatives, flavor enhancers, "natural" flavors or essences, unpronouncable or incomprehensible inclusions, the list goes on and on...) There is overwhelming science out there strongly linking these foods to cancer, diabetes, heart disease and dementia--especially when consumed over a long period of time.
Most people come to Paleo to address unexplained or intractable medical issues--dumping processed food is a huge first step. Some (non-Paleoid) consumers get 40% of their ANNUAL calories from the rancid vegetable oils and sweeteners in everything from bread to breakfast cereal to hot dogs. Read labels critically.
AGE 50+: like me, you've probably enjoyed everything from Hostess cupcakes to "Cheese Whiz" for a generation. Stop now. The only reason you don't know this stuff is killing you is the BILLIONS of dollars spent annually on advertising, bent or bought science, and intimidation by litigation.
IT'S EASIER THAN YOU THINK to just eat real food like meat, vegetables, eggs, nuts, and fruit. I did it, and I am a lazy S.O.B.
2. DO NOT EAT GRAIN PRODUCTS. These are "processed foods," but get their own special category. Grains don't want you to eat them, but can only take revenge after ingested. ALL grains and seeds employ ANTINUTRIENTS to degrade or counteract digestion. These substances compromise the few nutrients that survive factory processing and create "LEAKY GUT," aka intestinal permeability (two of my least favorite phrases.)
LEAKY GUT, which means un- or partially-digested food proteins entering your bloodstream, directly causes systemic INFLAMMATION (auto-immune responses, your body attacking itself slowly, over time as it becomes confused by the invading garbage.) INFLAMMATION is scientifically linked to most known chronic diseases.
Age 50+: It might be tough, but wouldn't you be willing to give up pie crust, bread, cookies, doughnuts, pancakes, noodles, chips and the rest...to add vigorous, clear-eyed years to your old age? Grain products, including the sugars they deliver, are now very strongly linked to Alzheimer's--which is itself increasingly considered "Diabetes Type III."
Just because you don't feel it doesn't mean it isn't happening. Cancer, diabetes, Alzeheimers etc. SEEM to come out of nowhere, maybe years later. You need to stand your ground NOW. Food industry "Mad men" have had us oldsters dancing to their tune since the 50's. It's time for US to get mad.
If you insist on eating grains (for which there is no nutritional justification, by the way, compared to vegetables, which score higher in every category including fiber) learn to prepare raw, organic types from scratch. Try reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morrell.
3. DO NOT EAT SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, OR ANY OTHER PROCESSED SWEETENER. No matter what you've heard or believe, your body was not designed to process constant (or even occasional) large doses of refined carbohydrates. In nature, hunter-gatherer (or even pre-industrial agrarian) populations would only encounter fruit, honey or sugar cane seasonally.
Sweeteners are the biggest culprit (along with seed oils) in "hyper-palatable" addictive foods. Yes, these foods exist--by DESIGN. Sugar and especially high-fructose corn syrup chemically override your satiety hormones, which is a fancy way of saying they make you want to keep eating long after you've had enough.
Sugars negatively impact body chemistry in many ways. Insulin issues leading to diabetes and Alzheimer's, obesity, and systemic inflammation are just a few of the better known. Google this for five minutes--it could literally save your life.
AGE 50+: I was a sugar and sweetener addict for 57 years, courtesy of my parents & grandparents, major media, and pervasive food industry influence on government and academia. You probably are too. Are you eating, cheap, super-tasty, awesomely convenient packaged foods? Yes? Get real before it's too late.
No other species literally eats itself to extinction. Dying from food-induced cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer's is not dying a natural death--technically it's suicide.
4. DO NOT EAT INDUSTRIALLY PROCESSED CORN OR SEED OILS (vegetable, soybean, peanut, canola, cottonseed, sesame, rice bran, sunflower, others.) Even the recent "high oleic" varieties. Processed oils have crept into all kinds of packaged foods and food substitutes including pastries, chips, cookies, salad dressing, anything that is "shelf stable" but comes out moist, rich and creamy--months or even years later.
A few of the issues:
unhealthy fatty-acid profile
lack of nutrients
hellishly superheated and chemically treated
typically rancid by the time you buy or cook with them
The high-heat, solvent-heavy processing that creates these oils destabilizes their molecular structure, making them more heat- and light-sensitive (as in, "goes bad in the bottle or when you cook with it.")
Rancid or overheated oils promote our old friend systemic inflammation, and it's country cousin cellular oxidative stress (think accelerated--visible--aging, more neuro-degeneration.)
INSTEAD: Use cold-pressed, preferably small batch organic oils. We cook with avocado oil, grass fed butter, and use tons of olive oil on salads. Coconut oil is great too (if you like coconut.) There are others. You need, and should not fear, healthy dietary fat.
AGE 50+: Remember Crisco? It seemed pretty cool at first--and those big cans didn't even have to be refrigerated. The stuff lasted forever...but no one mentioned that it didn't make sense to EAT a quasi-non-biodegradable substance, daily or weekly for fifty years. In fact, Crisco (and other "vegetable shortenings") plus refined sugars plumped up almost everything we ate--from hot dogs to canned beef stew.
Do you look older than you are? Not thinking as clearly as you should? Still wondering why? Evidence for the negative health impact of processed oils and margarine is easily located on the Web. For now. (Net neutrality vagaries could change this--don't wait to do your research.)
5. EXERCISE IS NOT OPTIONAL. Sadly, homo sapiens has not evolved to sleep, then sit down to eat, sit down to work, sit down to watch movies, TV or other screens, sit down to tweet or send emails and texts, and then slide over into bed again. Increasingly, modern life demands almost NO vertical posture...which is insane.
Paleolithic (and even pre-industrial agrarian) populations were in CONSTANT (mostly low-impact) motion. Hi-tech labor saving devices were atlatls (spear throwing aids) and maybe hoes. We evolved to move, work, do things. Your body needs exercise to maximize health. You don't have to do Crossfit, Iron Man, or live in a gym...but you do need to keep moving.
AGE 50+: even everyday, dime-a-dozen, regular old DOCTORS will tell you to exercise (or exercise more.) "30 minutes a day" is often the recommended starting point. You should treat that as a baseline to exceed within a couple of months. I shoot for 90-120 minutes at least 6 days weekly (weighted walking, weight lifting, or both.) Yes, I worked up to it...just by walking for almost a year, and lifting weights on the weekends. And yes, I still have a full time job.
Lack of exercise is closely linked to numerous poor health outcomes and chronic diseases. If you've lived a sedentary lifestyle and are close to retirement, please understand that exercise is KEY to maximizing the Paleo lifestyle. Besides managing stress and sleep (see below), exercise magnifies all the positive aspects of the diet.
You don't want to dissolve into a clinically obese, hypertensive, hypercholesterolemic, pre-diabetic pasty-faced pudding...like I did.
6. EXPLORE YOUR SHADES OF GRAY...ONE AT A TIME. Paleo "authorities" differ on food groups that might not correspond to historical cave-man fare, notably:
Nightshade vegetables (potatos, eggplant, peppers, etc.)
Dairy (grass fed vs conventional?)
Chocolate (what cacao %?)
Chia and certain other seeds
Including some of these in your diet may help with the adjustments on grains, oils and sugars--but not without the elimination/reintroduction phase (aka "challenge".) All these items are more or less "natural," but not everyone reacts the same.
Leaky gut, oxidative stress, inflammation and numerous other health problems are associated with all of the above--in some or even most people. Paleo is about removing foods that are unhealthy for YOU, thereby letting your body "reset" and heal itself. You only know if you can handle these foods if you do the challenge.
LEGUME FOCUS: Most Paleoids avoid legumes altogether, since like grains they employ ANTINUTRIENTS to punish you for eating them. I haven't eaten legumes since 2015. As we saw with grains above, antinutrients (including saponins, gluten cross-reactors, agglutinins, lectins, protease inhibitors, phytic acid...to name only a few) promote leaky gut, which in turn promotes systemic inflammation. Many legumes contribute to "gut dysbiosis" (as do grains), promoting bacterial overgrowth, or unbalanced bacterial growth, in your intestines. Dysbiosis also contributes to leaky gut.
Unlike grains, there is more variation in how persistent or stable legume antinutrients are during cooking or digestion. Some varieties can be eaten more safely than others--IF prepared specifically to at least partially neutralize the antinutrients (e.g .soaking up to 48 hrs for hard beans, before cooking.)
Soy (which has a host of other specific drawbacks), peanuts and kidney beans have too much antinutrient content to make them worth it...
AGE 50+: ...and, forgoshsakes, why eat something that will give you "LESS" leaky gut, even if you cook it right? If you're my age you've probably been cultivating sieve-like intestinal permeability for at least 40 years. You need to HEAL your system, not just reduce the abuse. Stay in the zero-leaky-gut zone.
A somewhat normal life is possible, though. After a brutal "Whole 30"-day elimination phase, I successfully reintroduced grass fed dairy, red wine, eggs & most nightshades. We eat small quantities of nuts most days (bought raw &organic, soaked, then dehydrated here at home.) You can find Paleo-friendly bacon now, even in smaller towns (like mine.)
Yes. Bacon. Have no fear.
7. YOU MUST EAT YOUR FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. 2/3 to 3/4 of each meal should be vegetables, including "some" starchy items and infrequent, moderate fruit. Organic is king. (Do you really want to eat bug spray every day for the rest of your life? Would you be surprised to learn that long-term pesticide exposure contributes to long-term chronic illness?) Meal-size salads should be your new best friend (I eat one or two every single day.) Variety is important.
Starch Codicil: I had to give up most potatoes to make Paleo work. High-starch, hi-carb tubers and fruits should be limited unless you work out heavily. I switched to squashes and the odd sweet potato with great results.
Roasting, grilling or sautéing asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, and cabbage rounds out our other main daily meal. Extremely rich and satisfying plates, including generous butter and olive oil, are the gourmet norm.
AGE 50+: What, fifty years later we're still being told to eat our vegetables?
You freaking bet.
Ample, regular vegetable consumption is strongly linked to so many positive health outcomes...it's embarrassing.
Embarrassing for me because I've grudgingly nibbled at small, overcooked, token amounts of veggies and equally small, dressing-slathered iceberg lettuce salads...since I was 12. Hey, wasn't that 16 ounce baked potato swimming in sour cream (bacon bits of course) and butter...a vegetable too? What about french fries? Catsup--doesn't that stuff count?
Piling on the nutrient-dense dark green (and brightly colored) vegetables in place of empty-calorie, trans-fat laced starches can have dramatic impact. You can heal leaky gut, jumpstart nutrition, feel younger and stay slimmer. I am living proof.
8. SOURCE YOUR PROTEIN RUTHLESSLY. Grass fed beef, including organ meats, anchors our menu at home. (Thank you Bar 10 Beef!) Most Paleoids eat meat (or eggs or seafood) at every meal. Pork, lamb, poultry, bison, fish--it's all good. There is even a BUG faction out there (not me...not yet.)
But all meat is not necessarily "good" meat.
The smart money is on UNCONVENTIONALLY RAISED fish and beasts. Every Paleo text agrees that "feedlot" or "CAFO"-sourced beef or pork, factory-farmed chickens (turkeys too) & their eggs, and commercially (especially "non-sustainably") farmed fish should all be avoided when possible. Don't forget the "meat glue" and "pink slime" scandals.
Animals raised on their natural diets (grass-fed beef or lamb, wild-caught fish) have the most favorable nutritional (including fatty-acid) profile. Naturally omnivorous animals (pigs, chickens) that are "organically raised" (that is, fed organic grains) may not have the best fatty-acid profile but are at least theoretically free of pesticides and hormones.
The best eggs would come from pastured chickens allowed to forage for bugs and worms--but at least look for "omega 3" enhanced eggs.
AGE 50+: Since we were kids, we have all innocently grazed on feedlot beef, which at various times has been fed with cement- and sawdust, candy still in the wrapper, dead animal parts (including other cows and even crab intestines), chicken and swine feces, ground limestone, chicken feathers, newspaper, antibiotics, hormones and other drugs--and that is just the list we know about. Pretty much whatever makes cows heavier (while keeping them just healthy enough to stand) is in play.
You don't have to be a genius to get that eating this unnaturally nourished flesh, especially over many years, is not good for you. Even cows fed mostly on grain (which is NOT their natural diet) are not optimum food choices. At the very least, their meat is often almost devoid of omega-3 fatty acids, or contains an unhealthy preponderance of omega-6.
The omega-6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio in your own body's cells is directly affected by this food--the more you eat, the further skewed your own ratios become.
Skewed ratios (omega-6 too high, omega-3 too low) are linked to systemic inflammation, which as we have seen above is a precursor to all the diseases you don't want as you age.
And we keep wondering...why are we all getting sicker as we get older?
9. FIGHT FOR SLEEP...BUT DON'T STRESS! All Paleo sources emphasize: reduce stress and ensure adequate, high quality sleep. Does this seem "duh" to you? It did to me, which is why I really didn't pay much attention until about 18 months in. Finally, I had read too many books that all said the same thing, so I got serious.
STRESS is mostly about hormones, especially cortisol and adrenalin. Yes, you need them. Sometimes. (Think fight or flight.) What you don't need is chronically elevated or sustained levels over days, weeks, months or even years. It turns out that "modern life" often keeps us so stressed that the fight or flight hormones, constantly on alert, begin to unbalance everything else. Stress-imbalance of the immune system, and the resulting inflammation, contributes directly to an astonishingly long list of scary conditions and diseases including autoimmune diagnoses, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and depression.
Stress reduction is considered "Paleo" since even the best dietary practices are derailed or even cancelled out by uncontrolled stress. Thats' right, you can do all of the above and still be unhealthy, or at least not completely healthy, if your stress and sleep are out of control. Evidence suggests that Paleolithic groups experienced mostly short-duration stress (bringing down prey or avoiding that same fate), and spent most of their days in low-stress gentle movement, foraging, or group social activities.
DE-STRESSING is a whole cottage industry. Not everything works for everyone. Yoga, meditation, time outdoors, time with friends are all popular suggestions. I discovered other pursuits that calm me down.
Experiment until you find something--and don't put this off. (I found, after years of reclusive misanthropy, that I really enjoy socializing and fine wines...who knew?) I also no longer listen to any radio, or watch live broadcast TV. You can get all the hard news you need (if this really exists) on your phone in 5 minutes.
Tinkering with my sleep helped tremendously.
SLEEP does a body good, yes. We all know we need it. What we don't all realize is that we're paying it more and more lip service--while we sleep less and less. Did you know that Americans now sleep 1.5-2 hrs LESS each night than they did in the sixties? The trend is for less and less sleep as hi-tech distractions, needlessly complex or crowded lives, and caffeine, alcohol or drug issues become our new normal.
Paleo's role model, the Stone Age hunter-gatherer, often slept sunset to sunrise. The duration varied seasonally, but about 8-10 hours per night would have been average. Over 60 percent of Americans now don't get enough sleep most nights, if we accept 7 hours as the minimum to maintain health.
Lack of sleep, like stress, is strongly linked to an encyclopedia of medical conditions--including similar hormonal dysregulation, inflammation, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and even stroke.
Low quality sleep is almost as bad as not enough sleep. Of all the strategies for enhancing sleep (or re-entrenching circadian rhythm) discussed by every Paleo pundit, (including ... "reduce stress!") I chose sleeping in as dark a room as I can get away with. That meant unplugging, taping over, or getting rid of everything with a light on it. My wife hates this, but so far I have prevailed. Mostly.
I went from being a light, restless sleeper to a "real sleeper." I can often sleep through the night (never happened before this). I fall asleep 90% quicker, and get back to sleep 75% quicker if I wake up during the night. I dream far more deeply, and rarely have sleepy or foggy days.
AGE 50+: Do you sleep well? Do you take medication to sleep? Are you aware of change-able stressors in your life? I strongly suggest reading what Dr. Sarah Ballantyne has to say about sleep and stress in Paleo Principles. You can find easy changes that will jumpstart your recovery from that lifetime on the S.A.D. (Standard American Diet.)
Taking a yoga class or turning off all the lights are things you can do right now.
No 30 day elimination and challenge needed.
And...are you irritated by "simplistic" admonishments about things like stress and sleep?
Get over it.
If, like me, you are having to bypass all conventional wisdom to dial in optimal health and body composition, you need to keep an open mind.
10. DON'T BE A BLIND FOLLOWER. Paleo is not a religion. "Your" Paleo can differ from "my" Paleo. You can gain valuable knowledge and heal your body using one book, author, or personality, but don't get cult-y about it.
Examine multiple viewpoints. Read widely. Ask questions.
Most importantly, be willing to try it.
30 days of your life off grains, sugars, legumes, oils etc. won't kill you. You might be surprised how easy it is to stay off.
I did it. I renounced obese and sedentary White Whale status...and I haven't fallen off the wagon.
AGE 50+: at 60 I look and feel better than I did at 40. No exaggeration. My wife will swear to it. I am way leaner, certainly meaner, and have great stamina.
Would I like my hair to grow back? Yes--but you can't have everything.
And don't forget:
DAVID WHITESIDE IS NOT A DOCTOR and does not give medical advice or treatment. He offers information and personal experience only. Nothing you read on this website or blog should be construed as medical advice or as intended to supersede information you get from your medical professional. Following the advice given here or on any recommended resource site does not create a doctor-patient relationship or create liability for David or anyone else. David is not liable for any loss or complication you experience from following any diet or taking any action. You should check with your properly accredited medical professional if you think you are injured or ill.