The Real Problem With Paleo

Posted J. Miller III Nutrition

In Greg Glassman’s “What Is Fitness” article, he includes a great little essay “world class fitness in 100 words”.

He displays the level of importance nutrition plays in health and fitness by using the very first 26 words to describe a world class nutritional approach: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”

The first sentence plainly describes a “Paleo Diet”.  To me this describes an “eat real food” approach.  As I’ve said before, that is how simple it is.  

The second sentence is a little more complicated, but if you can master the first, the second isn’t that hard.  

So, what’s the problem with Paleo? 

My first introduction to paleo was being invited to a “Paleo Party”.  They told me basically it was eating real food, avoiding processed foods, and that all made sense, so I accepted the invitation. 

I walk in and see a table full of “paleo treats” made up of coconut flour, dark chocolate, honey, maple syrup, etc.   I was told these were all paleo, so it was “OK”.  

Everyone was drinking red wine, again, I was told this was paleo, so we’re “OK”.  The party was fun, but I left thinking, “this is paleo?  No thanks, that won’t work for me.”

As I explored more and spent many years focusing on nutrition, I realized that wasn’t paleo. Technically maybe paleo foods and an attempt to avoid processed foods, but not what it’s supposed to be.  It reminds of my grandma’s feeling towards angel food cake “it’s fat free, you can eat as much as you want”.  Except now it’s “it’s paleo, you can eat as much as you want”.   

Interpretation of what paleo is varies, but unfortunately this experience is what I have seen from most people who eat “strict paleo”.  

So let’s go back to this Greg Glassman description:

Eat meat*, Vegetables, Nuts and Seeds.

This is what Paleo is.  Eat these a lot.  This is your “meat and potatoes” if you will.  The MAJORITY of your diet should be this. 

*includes fish, fowl, eggs, etc

Some fruit

This is where the slope gets slippery.  Fruit in general is fine.  Berries, cherries, pears, apples, oranges, plums.  All great, and a good part of 1-2 meals or snacks throughout the day.   I usually don’t tell people to freak about fruit, but be aware, and remember your meat and veggies first.

Little Starch

This is where it gets really slippery.  Corn, potatoes, rice, beans, plantains, etc.  The list is long, and doesn’t need to be all together avoided, but anything that falls in this category, even if it’s technically “paleo” needs to be eaten in moderation.  It can be a part of every meal, but it shouldn’t be a large part.  

No Sugar.  

You know it, and let’s be honest, none of us will ever give up sugar completely, but sugar is sugar.  Whether it’s “organic”, “cane”, or even maple syrup, agave nectar, etc, etc.  It’s a treat, and should be treated as such.  In celebration, in moderation, and not at every meal.  

So, are you still wondering what the problem is?  Paleo means MEAT, VEGETABLES, NUTS AND SEEDS, SOME fruit, LITTLE starch, NO sugar. 

If you’re eating paleo, 80% of your meals should be described this way.  Not 50%, not sometimes, not “when I’m home”.

Just because most people consider sweet potatoes paleo, a meal that consists of mostly sweet potatoes isn’t paleo.  Just because plantain chips may be considered paleo, eating a box of them isn’t paleo.  

You are what you eat

Remember, nutrition is worn on you whether you like it or not.  Not just physical appearance, but your energy levels, mental and athletic performance, mood, sleep, recovery.  All obvious indicators of a nutrition plan that’s either working or not.    

Eat real food.  Eat a lot of it.  Keep it simple.  If the box has to tell you how healthy it is, it’s probably not healthy….


Husband, father, son, brother, coach, athlete, teacher, student. Trying to get better everyday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *