Paleo is actually not a fad diet, it's not even an elimination diet - but it is a misnomer

Feb 22, 2021
paleo means committing to eating only food

When most people hear the words ‘elimination diet’ they run in the opposite direction, and for good reason. Many functional nutritionists herald restrictive eating as the end-all-be-all to health.  

“Still having health problems? Cut more out!”  

Because of this common mentality I feel it necessary to emphasize that GutsyGreen views the elimination diet as a powerful clinical tool that can prove incredibly transformative when employed correctly, requiring full commitment to ensure it is temporary in nature.  

Now that we have that out of the way, the paleo diet, is actually not an elimination diet. Rather, it’s your new home base. 

Let me explain.

What is Paleo?

I dislike the trendy name of this diet because it implies that you are eating a diet that is the exact same as what our paleolithic ancestors ate, and this allows room for all kinds of squabbling about minutia regarding the precise composition of what composed the diet.

I’m sure you have come across lots of messaging written by conventional sources that completely dismiss this diet because: 

  • all paleo is low-carb and low-carb is ‘bad’ 

  • some of our paleolithic ancestors actually used to eat some grains (or some legumes, or some dairy, or whatever) so it’s inaccurate

  • it’s too restrictive to eliminate processed food, so it can’t be healthy

  • it uses too many nutrient-dense animal products to be heart-healthy

  • etc. etc.

Here’s the truth about paleo: it refers only to a whole-foods-based, properly prepared, nutrient dense diet that does not include improperly-prepared, and low quality “foods”. It pretty much just leaves out the stuff that isn’t really food, but that we in modern life have been trying to pass off as food.

Skim milk, for example, is a processed as heck “food”, and is not allowed on the paleo diet. The whole food form, raw, full-fat milk, is allowed if you tolerate it. 

That’s the best part of paleo, it has room for extensive personalization. And this is in line with the reality of ancestral diets – they varied a ton. If you’d like to learn more about what these diets had in common, check out the 9 principles of an ancestral diet.

You can be paleo-keto. Autoimmune-paleo. Low-FODMAP-paleo. Pescetarian-paleo. High-carb-paleo. Carnivore-paleo. Vegan-paleo. 

You could think of the “paleo” part of these diets as simply saying “oh, and I’m only going to eat actual food, not fake food.” Maybe that seems like it should be obvious, but not in our McDonald’s-obsessed culture.

To illustrate this point, here are all of the foods you can eat a ton of on the paleo diet:

  • pastured and wild animal products of virtually any kind (fats, meats, offal, eggs, etc.)

  • organic vegetables and fruits

  • properly prepared nuts, and seeds

  • tubers and root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, beets, and squash

  • healthy plant-based oils and fats from coconut, olive, and avocados

According to your own preference and digestive prowess, you could also include eating raw full-fat pastured dairy on paleo, or you could not. You could eat properly prepared legumes on paleo, or you could not. You could eat properly-prepared gluten-free grains on paleo, or you could not. Some peeps even include slow-leavened Sourdough bread on Paleo… It’s all game.

In short: this is just about quality, my friends.

And do I think that absolutely everyone needs to be embracing high quality foods and leaving out the hot dogs? Pretty much. This shouldn’t be a radical idea, and shouldn’t be considered “eliminating” foods, it should be considered eating only food…

…and not eating… not-food. 

If we absolutely need to tie the diet back to the name, how about this for thought? 

While we may not be able to completely reproduce the diet of our ancestors, by avoiding ultra-processed Frankenfood such as refined flour and industrial seed oils, and focusing on adding in nutrient dense foods in their whole forms, we can better approximate the food structures that our bodies have evolved to recognize and digest, improving gut health, and avoiding health problems.

Getting dragged down in the details about whether or not our ancestors ever ate grains, or whatever, is beside the point. 

The point you’re doing yourself a disservice to miss in the conversation is all about: quality, quality, quality.


P.S ^ Because this point comes up so much, relevant follow up questions might be:

Are those grains nutrient-dense? Nope.

How were those grains prepared? We know they were soaked and sprouted, with no or low gluten content - like none of the modern forms we find at the grocery store.

What percentage of the diet did the grains compose? A very low percentage. 

And were the populations that ate them considered healthy? Usually only if they were accompanied by other nutrient-dense foods in the majority of the diet.

Can you eat grains that are properly prepared, and that compose a limited percentage of your diet? Sure - *if you tolerate them well.