“Wait, you don’t eat that?” is a question most healthy eaters get used to quickly. And for followers of the Paleo Diet, it’s even more common.
“The idea is to emulate the food groups that Paleolithic people had and apply them to what we have available seasonally in our grocery stores and farmer’s markets,” says Paleoista author and expert Nell Stephenson. But Stephenson says that as the diet gains more attention, confusion around the concept also grows.
People often understand what they can eat (meat, veggies, fruit), but are confused about what they can’t. Some of the no-nos are obvious—like processed foods, refined sugar, and white flour—but others may leave you scratching your head. To help you get a handle on this old-school approach to nutrition, Stephenson shared five surprising foods Paleos leave off their plates—and explains why.
Keep these foods in mind next time you invite your CrossFit-obsessed BFF to dinner.
People often assume Paleo followers consume dairy, since they eat a whole lot of meat. But milk and cheese are off the menu. “The chance of Paleolithic people having had access to dairy is very unlikely,” Stephenson says. Plus, the Paleo Diet classifies dairy as an inflammatory food group, and “the whole premise is that it’s an anti-inflammatory way of eating.” Eggs, by the way, are fine. They’re not considered dairy, even if your grocery store does stock them next to the mozzarella.
Legumes—including all beans, lentils, and peanuts—contain components called phytates, which slow or prevent the absorption of food nutrients, say Paleos. They also say that eating legumes can lead to an inflammatory response that contributes to Leaky Gut. “The unfortunate thing is that we can’t break those things down in our body,” Stephenson says. (Many nutritionists and MDs, like Dr. Andrew Weil, disagree.) Plus, hunter-gatherers apparently didn’t eat them.
They may be meat’s best friend on lots of plates, but not here. “People eat way too much starch. We’re used to seeing it at every meal, and you don’t need it,” Stephenson says. The high glycemic index of potatoes can wreak havoc on your weight, sleep, energy, and more. Paleos do allow for sweet potatoes, though, especially for athletes preparing for workouts.
It’s not enough to swap your white rice for brown and your Wonder for sprouted Ezekiel Bread. The Paleo Diet says cavemen didn’t eat grains, so neither should you. All grains contain anti-nutrients, says Stephenson, which prevent you from properly absorbing nutrients, and many contain gluten, which is considered inflammatory (especially in its modern Frankenwheat form). By the way, this includes ancient grains beloved by healthy types, like farro and quinoa. (Gasp!)
“Corn is a grain, although it’s often mistaken for a vegetable,” Stephenson explains. Grains, as you’ve learned, are out, and Paleo peeps say that eating corn isn’t doing anything for your body, anyway. And if there is some nutritional value to corn, says Stephenson, you probably can’t access it. In the United States, corn crops are almost universally genetically modified. And that’s about far from ancient, caveman habits as you can get.
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