Optimal Paleo Nutrition

From the beginning, my resolution has been to make eating like a modern caveperson as simple and sustainable as possible. It had to merge seamlessly into my current life. Which means it couldn’t look anything like those other Diets: no counting, no weighing, no combining, no over-thinking.

A little protein, a dash of fat...it's lunch!

So Primal eating was a perfect fit. But then, as I scoured the forums and message boards, I kept coming across fellow Primals and Paleos talking about things like macronutrients, micronutrients, PUFAs, and MUFAs. But I couldn’t begin to entertain such technicalities. It was too much to consider right away, when I had my hands full with trying to give away all the cans of beans in my pantry.

But now, having fully integrated the basics, there’s room for more. Lucky for me, Chris Kresser over at The Healthy Skeptic has broken it all down into an easily digestible morsel (see here). We focus so much on what we don’t eat, it was helpful to focus on what we can eat and why it’s good for us.

Beef and lamb meat have long chain, saturated fatty acids (LCSFA), which our bodies tap into for efficient energy. Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which are super easy to digest and lauric acid which may have therapeutic effects. Both LCSFAs and MCTs can be eaten with abandon since they aren’t toxic to humans, even at high doses. Macadamia nuts, avocados, and lard have monounsaturated fats (MFA), which ideally can be eaten as much as you’d like, except that some foods also have an undesirable Omega-6 to Omega-3 profile, which he also explains.

Me: 1. CW: 0.

These are all foods I’ve been eating without having to drive myself crazy with the particulars. Score!

I had also been hearing rumblings that blanket carb-phobia was not necessarily the way to go, and Kresser appears to agree. He discusses glucose, fructose, and fiber and then provides a summary of how much and what types of each are best for human consumption. Very helpful.

But then we come full circle. While it was useful to finally learn what a PUFA is, Kresser, in agreement with PaNu‘s Kurt Harris, suggests not thinking about our food in component parts. Those of you familiar with Michael Pollan’s work will recognize this as Nutritionism. All these wise food folks advocate a return to thinking about what nourishes us, what makes us feel whole and healthy. My thoughts exactly.

I’m wary of thinking I know too much about this stuff. For one thing, my physician husband has always warned me about the shoddiness of nutritional research, common knowledge in medical school (apparently media outlets lack that understanding). For another, I’ve been around long enough to see a few tides of advice about nutrition. If the recommendations keep changing, why should I adhere to any of it? And even though I have seen the benefits of Paleo/Primal eating first hand, we have by no means reached some permanent understanding of it all. I worry that those who are the most susceptible to component nutritional thinking are those who arrive at Paleo/Primal for health reasons or for massive weight loss. It becomes seductive to think there are known answers to these problems or that there’s a quick fix. “I think eggs are causing my depression.” “Maybe all those nuts I ate yesterday gave me this extra pound today.” “I’m so low energy, maybe I shouldn’t eat dairy anymore.” Cave-style nutrition is a wonderful tool, a great general umbrella to shield us from the loud, insistent world of Cap’n Crunch, Coca-Cola, and Pizza Hut. And perhaps in time, we’ll have a greater understanding of the specifics. But if you’re eating Paleo or Primal, you’ve already won 95% of the battle.

So while learning about macronutrients is useful, I plan to take that information, file it away, and continue my slacker Primal lifestyle. Primal has been one of the most massive shifts in thinking and eating I’ve ever undertaken. And yet, the most beautifully simple.

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One Response to “Optimal Paleo Nutrition”

  1. I appreciate you providing links to the articles by Chris and others. Certainly added to my understanding and reduced my confusion. It is quite obvious that the modern diet machinary has snowed us into believing that we can limit certain macronutrients and lose weight. It is somewhat more complicated than that. The article was helpful in explaining the true benefits of a more paleo/natural diet.

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