Note: this is the second blog post in a series of diet-related posts. Please check out my previous post on the ketogenic diet.
In the last blog post I discussed the ketogenic diet, and I figured I’d go ahead and discuss the Paleo diet in this post. In the past I’ve discussed the autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet, and although the Paleo diet isn’t as restrictive as an AIP diet, this doesn’t mean that it can’t benefit people with autoimmune conditions such as Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s. In fact, it can be a great option for those who find an AIP diet to be too restrictive.
In this blog post I’ll mention how the Paleo diet is followed by many people looking to lose weight. However, this isn’t the main reason I recommend this diet, and in fact, some people with hyperthyroidism are looking to gain weight. Even when this is the case, following a Paleo diet can be a good option to consider, as the goal isn’t to restrict calories, but instead is to eat an abundance of whole healthy nutrient dense foods.
What is The Paleo Diet?
The Paleo diet is based on the diet that our Paleolithic ancestors followed. As Dr. Loren Cordain mentioned in his book “The Paleo Diet”, there was no single Paleo diet, as our ancient ancestors made the most of their environment. In other words, they ate what was readily available.
Whereas the ketogenic diet is a high fat, low carbohydrate, low to moderate protein diet, the Paleo diet is a high protein, low carbohydrate, moderate fat diet. Although I mention “low carbohydrate”, a Paleo diet usually isn’t as extreme as the ketogenic diet, which is a big reason why the ketogenic diet can be more effective for people looking to lose weight. That being said, many people who follow a Paleo diet for weight loss purposes also successfully shed unwanted pounds.
Why Do People Follow a Paleo Diet?
Just as is the case with most other diets, many people choose to follow a Paleo diet to lose weight. In the previous blog post I discussed how many people follow a ketogenic diet for the same purpose, but unlike a ketogenic diet, a Paleo diet is usually more sustainable long-term. Of course not everyone follows this diet just to lose weight, as some follow it to improve and/or maintain other aspects of their health. This is especially true for those with chronic health conditions, as many times it takes a life-changing event for people to start eating well.
Quite frankly, this described myself when I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. While I arguably didn’t eat as poorly as the average person, there definitely was a lot of room for improvement. And after I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease I followed a Paleo diet initially, as back in 2008 the autoimmune Paleo diet didn’t exist, although there were similar “gut-healing” diets. But even though I followed a Paleo diet to start off with, I didn’t really eat eggs, and I wasn’t a big fan of most of the nightshades (other than white potatoes, which I was avoiding).
However, I didn’t give up nuts and seeds, as I figured they were a nice healthy snack (which they are). But when I hit a roadblock in my recovery I decided to give up nuts and seeds for a few months, and I do think it made a difference. Perhaps if I properly prepared the nuts (i.e. soaked and sprouted them) I wouldn’t have had to stop eating them, and the same might be true of others reading this who have Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s.
What Foods Are Allowed on a Paleo Diet?
When eating a Paleo diet there is no limit on the amount of lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, fresh fruits, and vegetables (with the exception of starchy tubers) you can eat. Eggs are also allowed, although not recommended to eat daily. And nuts and seeds are also allowed in small amounts. I’ll discuss why these should be limited shortly.
For those who eat meat, I of course would recommend to eat healthier forms of meat (i.e. organic, 100% grass fed, pasture raised). And while I don’t agree that seafood should be eaten on a daily basis, if you do eat seafood you also want to choose healthier forms (i.e. wild vs. farm-raised salmon). If you eat eggs they should be organic and/or pasture-raised.
So here is a bulleted list of foods that are allowed on a Paleo diet:
- Lean meats and poultry
- Fresh fruits
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils
Why Should You Limit Eggs and Nuts?
First of all, not all advocates of the Paleo diet recommend to limit eggs and nuts. Also keep in mind that eggs and nuts are excluded from an autoimmune Paleo diet because they include compounds that can be harsh on the gut. But this isn’t the main reason why some recommend to minimize the consumption of these foods when following a Paleo diet.
In his book “The Paleo Diet”, Dr. Cordain gives a few reasons why eggs should be limited to a few times per week. One reason is because they weren’t available all of the time to our Paleolithic ancestors. He also mentions that eating too many eggs can promote weight gain and increase blood cholesterol levels. I honestly don’t think the latter reason is a concern with eating an egg or two per day…especially when it comes to affecting cholesterol levels.
As for nuts and seeds, the main reason why it’s recommend to minimize your consumption of them on a Paleo diet is because most nuts and seeds have a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio. Some nuts aren’t as high as others, as walnuts and macadamia nuts have a lower omega 6 to omega 3 ratio when compared to other nuts and seeds, including cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, and sunflower seeds. Dr. Cordain has a nice chart in his “Paleo Diet” book that lists the different ratios. It’s also worth mentioning that nuts are higher in oxalates than other foods.
What Foods Should Be Avoided?
Just as is the case with any healthy diet, you of course want to avoid eating refined foods and sugars, along with unhealthy oils (i.e canola oil). You also want to avoid grains and legumes due to the lectins, which can be harsh on the gut and in some cases result in inflammation.
Here is a bulleted list of the foods you should avoid when following a Paleo diet:
- Refined foods and sugars
- Unhealthy oils
- Soda and sweetened beverages
- High amounts of salt
Can You Eat a Plant-Based Paleo Diet?
Although many advocates of the Paleo diet recommend to eat a lot of animal protein, some recommend to eat plenty of vegetables. This includes Dr. Cordain, as while he does recommend for people to eat a lot of animal protein in his book, he also recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. In his book he mentioned that ancient Paleolithic groups ate an average of 55-60% animal foods as part of their daily caloric intake, although some ate a much higher percentage.
If you’re a vegan or vegetarian you might have stopped reading at this point, but I will say that in my opinion, people who follow a Paleo (or AIP) diet don’t need to eat a lot of meat. The problem is that many people don’t eat enough vegetables and healthy fats (i.e. avocados), which is one reason why they are hungry throughout the day. Of course there are other reasons, as many people with hyperthyroidism have a voracious appetite, and as a result they don’t feel satisfied unless if they eat larger amounts of meat. If someone wants to eat more meat while following a Paleo or AIP diet that’s fine, but I just want to let you know that it’s not necessary.
When I dealt with Graves’ disease I ate a good amount of meat, but I also didn’t eat as many vegetables as I do today. These days I eat plenty of vegetables (many as part of a smoothie), and I eat a small amount of meat on most days.
Does a Paleo Diet Negatively Affect The Gut Microbiome?
In my ketogenic diet blog post I discussed a few studies which showed the effects of this diet on the gut microbiome. I concluded that more research needs to be done, and those who follow a ketogenic diet might want to consider supplementing with prebiotics, just to be on the safe side. I came across a couple of studies on the effects of a Paleo diet on the gut microbiome (1) (2).
One of these studies showed that long-term adherence to the Paleo diet is associated with a different gut microbiota, and that a variety of fiber components, including whole grain sources may be required to maintain gut and cardiovascular health (1). The other study concluded that “the consumption of Microbiota-Accessible Carbohydrates from plant-based foods–but not grains–at the expense of refined sugars, and the minimization of the intake of processed foods, both hallmarks of the Paleo diet, could indeed act synergistically in maintaining a eubiotic level of gut microbiome diversity.”(2). However, they do advise that caution be taken in adhering to this diet in the long term.
How Long Should One Follow a Paleo Diet For?
Since getting into remission from Graves’ disease this is the diet that I follow most of the time, although I can’t say that I follow it strictly 100% of the time. Occasionally I do eat dairy and grains. And so I guess you can say that I follow a “modified” Paleo diet. After presenting the research above related to the impact of the Paleo diet on the gut microbiome, some might be concerned about strictly following this diet on a long term basis. I think if someone eats plenty of high fiber vegetables then there is minimal risk of following this diet for many months or years, as we don’t need to eat grains and legumes (or dairy) to thrive and survive. That being said, if you’re concerned you can certainly try to eat some of these foods on an occasional basis, which is what I do.
Have YOU Followed a Paleo Diet?
If you have followed a Paleo diet, or are currently following one now, I’d love to hear from you! How did you feel when following such a diet? Did you notice any positive changes in your thyroid panel results, or any other markers? If you happened to have had a negative experience with the Paleo diet of course please let me know as well, as the goal is to try to get both perspectives.