The Paleo Diet Works!

Paleo eating plus smart exercise and lifestyle adjustments will help you lose fat and get healthy. It's Easy!

Paleo vs. Standard American Diet

Let’s check out some interesting information generated by my mentor, Prof. Loren Cordain. What I want to look at is the fallacy that grains, legumes, and dairy are nuritious or that you will be missing something if you don’t have them in your diet.

Many people have been taught that the only place we can obtain vitamins, minerals, and fiber is from the government-sponsored grain-a-thon and the USDA recommended food pyramid. Let’s look at these common misconceptions and put this all into perspective.

Common Misconceptions

  1. Grains and dairy are particularly nutritious.
  2. One will experience some kind of deficiency without grains, legumes, and dairy in the diet.
  3. The only place to get dietary fiber is from grains and legumes.

Let’s look at the following tables and do a little thinking. Table 1 comes from this paper [1. Origins and evolution of the western diet: Health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr 2005; 81:341-54]

In the far left column, we have a list of vitamins and minerals. The other columns show various food categories and how those foods rank for specific nutrients (comparing equal, 100-calorie portions). The ranking system is on a scale from 1-7 with 1 being lowest and 7 being highest. What we observe is that whole grains and milk are not particularly nutritious on a calorie-per-calorie basis as compared to meats, seafood, veggies, and fruits.

This chart handily addresses misconception #1 (grains and dairy are particularly nutritious) and it implies that if we are considering nutrition on a calorie-by-calorie basis, grains and dairy are not the winners.

Mean nutrient density of various food groups (418-kJ samples)*

Nutrient Whole grains Whole milk Fruit Vegetables Seafood Lean Meats Nuts and Seeds
Vitamin B-12 (µg) 0.00 [4] 0.58 [5] 0.00 [4] 0.00 [4] 7.42 [7] 0.63 [6] 0.00 [4]
Vitamin B-3 (mg) 1.12 [4] 0.14 [1] 0.89 [3] 2.73 [5] 3.19 [6] 4.73 [7] 0.35 [2]
Phosphorus (mg) 90 [3] 152 [5] 33 [1] 157 [6] 219 [7] 151 [4] 80 [2]
Riboflavin (mg) 0.05 [2] 0.26 [6] 0.09 [3] 0.33 [7] 0.09 [4] 0.14 [5] 0.04 [1]
Thiamine (mg) 0.12 [5] 0.06 [1] 0.11 [3] 0.26 [7] 0.08 [2] 0.18 [6] 0.12 [4]
Folate (µg) 10.3 [4] 8.1 [2] 25.0 [6] 208.3 [7] 10.8 [3] 3.8 [1] 11.0 [5]
Vitamin C (mg) 1.53 [3] 74.2 [5] 221.3 [7] 93.6 [6] 1.9 [4] 0.1 [1] 0.4 [2]
Iron (mg) 0.90 [4] 0.08 [1] 0.69 [2] 2.59 [7] 2.07 [6] 1.10 [5] 0.86 [3]
Vitamin B-6 (mg) 0.09 [3] 0.07 [1] 0.20 [5] 0.42 [7] 0.19 [4] 0.32 [6] 0.08 [2]
Vitamin A (RE) 2 [2] 50 [5] 94 [6] 687 [7] 32 [4] 1 [1] 2 [3]
Magnesium (mg) 32.6 [4] 21.9 [2] 24.6 [3] 54.5 [7] 36.1 [6] 18.0 [1] 35.8 [5]
Calcium (mg) 7.6 [2] 194.3 [7] 43.0 [4] 116.8 [6] 43.1 [5] 6.1 [1] 17.5 [3]
Zinc (mg) 0.67 [4] 0.62 [3] 0.25 [1] 1.04 [5] 7.6 [7] 1.9 [6] 0.6 [2]
Sum rank score 44 44 48 81 65 50 38

* Food types within food groups are based on the most commonly consumed foods in the US diet. Values in brackets represent relative ranking (7=highest; 1=lowest). The micronutrient concentrations for each food group were derived from reference 64. RE, retinol equivalents.

Let’s next consider table 2, which lays out a sample 2,200 calorie meal plan composed of lean meats, seafood, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. If you notice, there are no processed foods in this plan – but is it nutritious? What we notice in table 3 tells the story. 42 grams of fiber from fruits and vegetables. Also interesting is the fact that our essential fatty acid ratio is perfect.

Sample 1-day menu for a modern diet based upon Paleolithic food groups for females (25 yrs, 2200 kcal daily energy intake). [2. L. Cordain The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. J Am Neutraceut Assoc 2002; 5:15-24]

Food quantity (g) Energy (kcal)
Breakfast
Cantaloupe 276 97
Atlantic salmon (broiled) 333 605
Lunch
Vegetable salad with walnuts

Shredded romaine lettuce

68 10

Sliced carrot

61 26

Sliced cucumber

78 10

Quartered tomatoes

246 52

Lemon juice dressing

31 8

Walnuts

11 70
Broiled lean pork loin 86 205
Dinner
Vegetable avocado/almond salad

Shredded mixed greens

112 16

Tomato

123 26

Slivered almonds

45 260

Sliced red onion

29 11

Lemon juice dressing

31 8
Steamed broccoli 468 131
Lean beef sirloin tip roast 235 400
Dessert (Strawberries) 130 39
Snacks
Orange 66 30
Carrot sticks 81 35
Celery sticks 90 14

Macronutrient and other dietary characteristics in contemporary diet based on Paleolithic food groups for females (25 yrs, 2200 kcal daily energy intake).

Protein (g) 217

Protein (% energy)

38
Carbohydrate (g) 129

Carbohydrate (% energy)

23
Total sugars (g) 76.5
Fiber (g) 42.5
Fat (g) 100.3

Fat (% total energy)

39.0
Saturated fat (g) 18.0

Saturated fat (% total energy)

7.0
Monounsaturated fat (g) 44.3
Polyunsaturated fat (g) 26.7
Omega 3 fat (g) 9.6
Omega 6 fat (g) 14.2
Cholesterol (mg) 461
Sodium (mg) 726
Potassium (mg) 9062

The really interesting information is in table 4. The Paleo diet not only meets the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of all the vitamins and minerals (with the exception of calcium, which I’ll discuss in a moment), but we have anywhere from several hundred to a thousand times the RDA. It is well understood that the RDA is a minimum and does not reflect the optimum nutrient level for performance, health, and longevity.

As to the calcium issue, this is simple chemistry. Look at how much magnesium we obtain on the Paleo diet. Calcium and magnesium work synergistically in the body, and if our magnesium intake is high, our calcium needs dramatically decrease.

Trace nutrients in a modern diet based on Paleolithic food groups for females (25 yrs, 2200 kcal daily intake).

TOTAL % RDA
Vitamin A (RE) 6386 798
Vitamin B1 (mg) 3.4 309
Vitamin B2 (mg) 4.2 355
Vitamin B3 (mg) 60 428
Vitamin B6 (mg) 6.7 515
Folate (µg) 891 223
Vitamin B12 (µg) 17.6 733
Vitamin C (mg) 748 1247
Vitamin E (IU) 19.5 244
Calcium (mg) 691 69
Phosphorus (mg) 2546 364
Magnesium (mg) 643 207
Iron (mg) 24.3 162
Zinc (mg) 27.4 228