People are often surprised when I talk to them about the don'ts of eating Paleo. The moment they hear that I avoid grains, dairy, and legumes, it's almost as if there are no more food sources left to sustain life... "What do you eat?" is always the first question.
They already completely forgot the beginning of the conversation where I talked about a core "Paleo Recipe" consisting of picking a protein source (usually grass-fed meat/organs for me), add plenty of veggies (I always triple the veggie quantity compared to meat), introduce a source of healthy fat (usually coconut or olive oil for us; cold pressed of course), and add some spices/seasoning to amp it up. Of course fruits are added in there, but I generally try to eat more veggies than fruit in order to control how glycemic my eating is... I can get carried away with too many fruits, and I don't want to be loaded with fructose for any "bad pathogens" I may have skulking around my intestines to feed on.
Once I've brought them back around to the idea that there are still plenty of food options out there to eat very well with, the second question (I'm assuming in an effort to keep the notions of those other foods alive) is always... "But why no grains, dairy, or legumes?" The short answer for me is to avoid/heal from autoimmune conditions.
For the deeper answer, I'm going to rely on information I've collected from reading Sarah Ballantyne's The Paleo Approach book. All the next information you are about to read is my arrangement of snippets from her book; I would honestly encourage you to buy the book to if you find this information inspiring and want to know more.
There is no one thing that causes autoimmune disease. Instead, a combination of factors conspire to create an environment conducive to the development of autoimmune disease; genetics, environmental triggers, and a leaky gut caused by diet and lifestyle factors. The trick is to change the environment so that so that it no longer favors disease, but instead favors health.
- Genetic susceptibility... a variety of genes that collectively increase risk.
- Environmental triggers... previous/persistent infections, exposure to toxins, & hormonal conditions in the body.
- Diet & lifestyle
Many of the triggers are factors you cannot change. You can change the environment of your gut by changing what you eat and how you live. You can give your body the nutrition it needs to heal.
Leaky gut or gut dysbiosis is necessary for autoimmune disease to develop. Meaning that if you have a healthy gut barrier and healthy gut microflora, other environmental triggers and genetics are irrelevant. The key is to avoid foods that are known to irritate and damage the gut and foods that are known to contribute to gut dysbiosis.
Grains (corn, wheat, oats, rice, etc...), pseudo-grains (quinoa, chia, etc...), legumes (alfalfa, chickpeas, peanuts, beans, soybeans, etc...), and dairy products all contribute to a leaky gut and gut dysbiosis. These foods are also the most nutritionally poor foods in the Western diet. Grains contain less (often far less) nutrients of every vitamin and almost every mineral compared with vegetables. Dairy products are high in only a handful of nutrients, all of which are also readily available in meat and vegetables, which contain a far greater density and variety of other nutrients as well. Legumes, which are often recommended as a meat alternative, do not offer anywhere near the same nutritional punch as animal proteins. Grains and legumes are also high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, contributing to the gross imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet. When grains, legumes, and dairy products are consumed daily, our diets become less nutritionally dense, which results in nutrient deficiencies. Worse, these foods also damage the gut and support overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the small intestine.
Grains, psuedo-grains, legumes, dairy, nuts, seeds, and nightshades all contain substances that either directly increase the permeability of the gut (either by damaging the enterocytes or by opening the tight junctions between them) or indirectly increase the permeability of the gut (by feeding overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the small intestine). These harmful substances include lectins (specifically prolamins and agglutinins), digestive-enzyme inhibitors, saponins (especially glycoalkaloids), and pythic acid.
Thankfully, we all can chose what to feed our bodies, right?