There’s an episode of The Simpsons that Paul McCartney guest stars on and there’s a scene that goes something like this – Paul McCartney and Lisa are talking and Lisa tells Paul that she’s a vegetarian and she’s thinking about becoming a vegan; to which Paul replies, “I’m a level seven vegan. I don’t eat anything that casts a shadow.” Yeah. Pretty deep, I know. This little intro is going to serve two purposes today. The first is to show that everything can be taken too far. Sorry Paul, but you fit the description of “That Guy”. The other purpose is to point out that in the land of the non-meat eating there are ‘shades’ or classes of vegetarian/veganism – you’ve got your standard vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, macrobiotic, pesco-vegetarian, flexitarian, etc. Unfortunately with Paleo we don’t really have that kind of flexibility – either you are, or you aren’t. I mean sure, you’ve got the Primal crowd that does dairy and the autoimmune folks but those are pretty much the only recognized options. This makes for a lot of confusion and results in some pretty harsh criticism sometimes. Let me explain…
You honestly have NO IDEA how many questions and emails I get asking if ‘x’ food is paleo or from people that are confused because they read something about _________ (insert random nonsense here) on one of the forums. The worst is when someone tells me that they’ve been accused of not being paleo because they use/eat/drink – wait for it… (these are good) – vinegar, salt, sweet potatoes, coffee and the list goes on. Now, some of you are probably out there saying, those things aren’t paleo – cavemen didn’t have them and/or so and so book says they aren’t… Well, this is where that classification system would be damn useful…
Seeing as there isn’t one yet, I took it upon myself (well, actually I was struggling with a blog topic for this week) to come up with a wicked useful ‘Seven Shades of Paleo’ classification system (Sorry to disappoint, this post is rated PG-13). Since I created this – I make the rules and I say that you can fall anywhere on this scale and moving by half shades is totally allowable. Go ahead, argue with me – remember, I invented this – I will always win… So here it goes:
The Official 7 Shades of Paleo Classification System
First Shade of Paleo –The Militant Paleo (Also known as “That Guy”)
We all know at least one of these dudes or dudettes – these are the people on the forums that can find fault in every paleo diet – except their own. They hunt their own meat, gather berries, climb trees to harvest nuts, and make dinner outside over the fire pit (or at least that’s what they tell you). This is all well and good, but for most of us – their reality is not one that we can live in. I liken this to the raw vegans or better yet, the fruititarians – a little over the top, and slightly insane. **Disclaimer** If this you I apologize – please refer to the “That Guy” post linked above and know that we love you, but we just can’t live like you. Have mercy on us. And PS – the internet is SO NOT PALEO!!
Second Shade of Paleo – The Autoimmune Paleo
For some people just being paleo, although great, is not enough to optimize health and really start feeling good. Individuals with autoimmune conditions or advanced health issues often need to take things a step further and this is where the paleo autoimmune protocol comes in. For those in this shade eggs, nuts, and nightshade vegetables are added to the list of foods to avoid. It is more difficult for some to follow – but trust me it works!
Third Shade of Paleo – The Low-Carb Paleo
The low-carb paleo approach is also fairly popular and is a great shade for improving many health issues and for getting lean. This approach consists of eating primarily meat, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables. You won’t find ‘safe starches’ (sweet potatoes, yams, roots and tubers, etc.), fruit or high amounts of nuts and avocado. This is a protocol that is often cycled in and out of based on goals and individual response.
Fourth Shade of Paleo – The Lacto-Paleo (Also known as Primal)
This one is exactly what the name implies. The lacto-paleo follows a traditional paleo style of eating but includes dairy products. Now, we’re not talking just any dairy products (READ: Cheez-whiz, Coffeemate, Kraft Singles, and Ben & Jerry’s, do not fall under this umbrella). The optimal choices here are organic, grassfed, whole (full-fat) dairy products. Skim milk and Yoplait light need not apply.
Fifth Shade of Paleo – The 80/20 Paleo (Also known as the Weekday Paleo)
This is my personal favorite shade and I would guess it’s where the bulk of us probably fall. Basically stated, we eat clean paleo about 80-90 percent of the time and the other 10-20 percent we eat what would be considered non-paleo foods. This could mean some cheese, wine, ice cream, etc. This is a SANE and healthy approach as long as the 20 percent is kept under control (this does not mean a 4 hour food fest that starts with Dunkin Donuts, moves on to Dominos and ends with Dairy Queen).
Sixth Shade of Paleo – The Vegetarian Paleo (Also known as ‘Difficult’)
As paleo becomes more highly publicized for its health benefits we’re starting to see greater interest from vegetarians and even vegans that want to go paleo. This is a tough bunch for the obvious reason – NO MEAT! Yeah, the protein options just got up and left. In some cases eggs are a go – but in others – no animal products at all. I know you’re all thinking – “Well there’s no way this is even possible.” And from an evolutionary standpoint you’re likely correct. However, there are still some individuals that want to ‘be paleo’ without meat. To make this work; properly prepared beans and legumes, fermented soy, nuts and seeds make up a bulk of the protein. On a ‘textbook’ paleo diet this wouldn’t fly. Is it possible to be vegetarian or vegan and be ‘paleo’? Well, not really – in fact, I would say not. What is possible is to eat whole, clean foods, (this means no Tofurky, Boca Burgers, or hybrid vegetarian/vegan processed foods). This is going to look similar to a raw vegan approach. Is it ideal? No, but it’s a start.
Seventh Shade of Paleo – The “I Decide” Paleo (Also known as the WTF Paleo)
Yeah, we all know this guy (gal), or maybe it’s even you sometimes… It goes something like this – the WTF paleo says, “Yeah, I’ve been strict paleo for like a year now but I’m just not seeing or feeling the results.” Okay, maybe… But let’s consider an ‘average day’ of ‘strict paleo’ for this person – Breakfast: Eggs and Bacon. Mid-morning – Starbucks latte with 3 sugar packets and a Kind Bar. Lunch – Burger (no bun) with mayo, ketchup and mustard and a side of sweet potato fries. Mid-afternoon – Gluten free cupcake and a handful of trail mix. Dinner – Order of wings, steak, mashed potatoes, 2 Bud Lights and coconut ice cream for dessert… So, I think you get my point on this one. It’s sort of like saying you’re a vegan but eating steak every other week and wearing alligator skin boots – questionable at best.
There you have it – now paleo has a handy classification system to help clear up some of the confusion. Seriously though, remember that paleo is not a religion – there is no paleo heaven or paleo hell. If your ‘shade’ of paleo isn’t on this chart, but works for you, your health and your goals then it doesn’t matter what the Militant Paleo says. Find the hue that’s right for you – there is no ‘one perfect formula’ for everyone – start with the basics and experiment until you find your perfect shade. Your body and your sanity will thank you.
What shade are you?