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I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ). I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Follow me on twitter @juliannejtaylor

Paleo (and Zone) Diet Confusions

People ask me crazy questions sometimes – there is just so much misinformation or misunderstanding about diets, I guess it’s not surprising.

So here are answers to questions I’ve heard coming out of the confusions.

So where do you get your carbohydrates from?

I heard this one from an interviewer on TV. If you don’t eat bread, pasta, rice, potatoes or sugar, how can one get carbohydrates? Answer: From fruit and vegetables of course. A cup portion of sweet potato has about 30 grams of carbohydrates. All carbohydrates get converted to glucose during digestion and your body won’t know if it came from a sugar, a piece of sweet potato or a slice of bread. The beauty of getting your carbohydrates from fruit and vegetables is that they are choc full of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and beneficial fibre. You won’t find much of these in white rice, bread and pasta, and of course there are none in sugar.

Is this like the Atkins Diet?

No – the Paleo diet does not recommend large amounts of meat, just what you need. Fatty and processed meats are not recommended, as the fat in farm animals, unless wild or free-range and totally grass fed is not that healthy. Neither are all the salt and nitrites in processed meat. Cordain does not recommend high levels of saturated fat either.

The Paleo diet is not necessarily low carbohydrate, however it isn’t high carbohydrate, and it doesn’t have a high glycemic load like the average American diet. You need the colourful fruit and vegetables both for the nutrients and fibre and because they are alkaline.

Okay, so the only similarity to the Atkins is that for many people it is lower carbohydrate than the standard diet. And for many people restricting carbohydrates works – it helps with weight loss, and improves health issues like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Athletes following the Paleo diet eat the carbohydrates they need to fuel their workouts and replace lost glycogen.

Isn’t the Paleo diet high in protein and low in calcium which promotes osteoporosis?

This from Cordain: “In the U.S. calcium intake is one of the highest in the world, yet paradoxically we also have one of the highest rates of bone de-mineralization (osteoporosis). Bone mineral content is dependent not just upon calcium intake but upon net calcium balance (calcium intake minus calcium excretion). Most nutritionists focus upon the calcium intake side of the calcium balance equation, however few realize that the calcium excretion side of the equation is just as important.

Bone health is substantially dependent on dietary acid/base balance. All foods upon digestion ultimately must report to the kidney as either acid or base. When the diet yields a net acid load (such as low-carb fad diets that restrict consumption of fruits and vegetables), the acid must be buffered by the alkaline stores of base in the body. Calcium salts in the bones represent the largest store of alkaline base in the body and are depleted and eliminated in the urine when the diet produces a net acid load. The highest acid-producing foods are hard cheeses, cereal grains, salted foods, meats, and legumes, whereas the only alkaline, base-producing foods are fruits and vegetables. Because the average American diet is overloaded with grains, cheeses, salted processed foods, and fatty meats at the expense of fruits and vegetables, it produces a net acid load and promotes bone de-mineralization. By replacing hard cheeses, cereal grains, and processed foods with plenty of green vegetables and fruits, the body comes back into acid/base balance which brings us also back into calcium balance.

The Paleo Diet recommends an appropriate balance of acidic and basic (alkaline) foods (i.e., lean meats, fish and seafood, fruits, and vegetables) and will not cause osteoporosis in otherwise healthy individuals. Indeed, The Paleo Diet promotes bone health.”

(Paleo diet acid base balance)

If you don’t eat grains where do you get your B vitamins, fibre and minerals?

Again from Cordain “On a calorie-by-calorie basis, whole grains are lousy sources of fiber, minerals, and B vitamins when compared to the lean meats, seafood, and fresh fruit and veggies that dominate The Paleo Diet. For example, a 1,000-calorie serving of fresh fruits and vegetables has between two and seven times as much fiber as does a comparable serving of whole grains. In fruits and veggies most of the fiber is heart-healthy, soluble fiber that lowers cholesterol levels — the same cannot be said for the insoluble fiber that is predominant in most whole grains. A 1,000-calorie serving of whole grain cereal contains 15 times less calcium, three times less magnesium, 12 times less potassium, six times less iron, and two times less copper than a comparable serving of fresh vegetables. Moreover, whole grains contain a substance called phytate that almost entirely prevents the absorption of any calcium, iron, or zinc that is found in whole grains, whereas the type of iron, zinc, and copper found in lean meats and seafood is in a form that is highly absorbed.

Compared to fruits and veggies, cereal grains are B-vitamin lightweights. An average 1,000 calorie serving of mixed vegetables contain 19 times more folate, five times more vitamin B6, six times more vitamin B2 and two times more vitamin B1 than a comparable serving of eight mixed whole grains. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, the niacin content of lean meat and seafood is four times greater than that found in whole grains.”

(Grains – The Paleo diet website)

Its a FAD diet

A diet that cuts out a whole food group is considered a fad diet in some definitions.

Here are the food groups listed under the US food pyramid:

# grains

# vegetables

# fruits

# fats and oils

# milk and dairy products

# meat, beans, fish, and nuts

At University this food group list is taught as a “you must have all of these different food groups every day to get a complete range of nutrients”

The groups are rather arbitrary in my view. Grains, vegetables and fruits are all carbohydrates.We’ve already answered the question about grains above.

Milk and dairy contain both carbohydrate, protein and fat, and are only considered important because of the calcium content. (See section above on calcium and osteoporosis)

Meat, beans, fish and nuts contain protein. Because of the placement of nuts and beans in this group people mistakenly think that they are good sources of protein. They are not. They do not contain the complete range of amino acids. Beans and legumes are 70 – 80% carbohydrate, and nuts contain more fat than protein. Beans are really carbohydrates and nuts are really fats.

Meat, seafood and eggs are all excellent sources of protein with the full range of essential amino acids.

Fats and oils are all fats. But the fat type you eat is critical to health.

So lets see, if we follow Paleo food principles we are cutting out entire food groups – true

Does this mean that Hunters and Gatherers are also following a fad diet?

However the real question is – by cutting out these food groups do we suffer any nutritional imbalances or deficiencies? The answer to this is a resounding NO.

Do you have any other questions about the Paleo diet?

Feel free to ask in the comments below or look at The Paleo diet website FAQ’s

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