I’ve seen many questions posed around the web about paleo and the paleo diet. Namely, people want to try to draw parallels with what they know. For most people the media has sadly dictated what that actually is, and today I’m going to attempt to redesign the food pyramid to paleo’s standards. This will probably mean realigning some food orders and removing/adding food groups such as grains, legumes and certain fruits etc. While the food pyramid is meant to be broad and general, I think that because it’s general, it’s not a great guide for proper food selection, eating regime and diet building.
Conventional Food Pyramid
Woah, check out all those grains. And the fact that they are mentioned in the “Eat Most” area. This is not good advice!
As we’ve previously discussed, grains are not good for the body for a multitude of reasons. As you can imagine, when people who don’t know much about nutrition hear that grains are evil, they are often shocked are just think you are lying to them.
“That makes no sense, the whole world eats bread!”
“But whole grains are great for you!”
Those are just two of the most common responses I’ve heard. Not cool realy, because both of those assumptions are made based on the media’s incorrect advice.
Anyway, onward with the purpose of this article, to build or find an effective paleo pyramid. This task should be relatively simple, I hope.
So what should be included in the paleo food pyramid? Well, obviously all the big nutritional contributors such as meats, vegetables and fat sources. And as with most of my paleo food choice recommendation of excluding foods from the paleo diet rather than including them, it’s probably best to build the pyramid upon that principle.
What foods are exluded from the paleo food pyramid?
The most commonly excluded foods are grains, legumes and sugars. One could argue that dairy products such as milk and yoghurt should be in this group too. However, dairy has some important health benefits such as high calcium content etc. Potatoes, or rather most starch based vegetables are also tossed into the excluded bin, however eating of some starch is totally optional. These paleo diet ok foods are things like sweet potatoes. Normal potatoes are not allowed due to their incredibly high glycemic index.
What foods are included in the paleo food pyramid?
The beauty of the paleo diet for me is in it’s total simplicity. There really isn’t a whole lot of decision making you need to make once you understand which foods are okay to be eaten, how much of those foods you should be including in your meals, and which foods you need to avoid.
Foods which are pushed as being on a foundational level are good fats, such as coconut, olive and avocado, both as whole foods and oils. Olive oil isn’t the preferred cooking oil though; the paleo diet leaning more towards animal fats and butter. I suspect this is because of olive oils low burning point, which means it is a potential carcinegen. Coconut, butter and bacon fat are the preferred oils for cooking at high temperatures.
Next on the paleo food pyramid OKAY list are vegetables. Here you have a lot of room to move around in, as pretty much all vegetables are allowed and encouraged. Due to the paleo diet’s low carbohydrate intake preferences, large amounts of vegetables are needed to provide energy and nutrients for the body. I frequently eat around 400 grams of mixed vegetables at every meal, and the more I eat the better I feel. I love vegetables, especially roasted and boiled ones. Vegetables which aren’t okay are very starchy ones, such as potatoes. In fact avoiding potatoes almost gets you in the paleo vegetable green zone entirely. All that is required is that you have a solid understanding of what actually makes a food a vegetable, and not a root, legume or seed. A perfect example of this is how corn and green beans are often considered vegetables when in fact they are a grain and legume respectively.
So how does fruit feature in the paleo diet, and where does it feature on the paleo diet food pyramid?
Good question. Fruits are good for paleo and for your body, but not in as high a quantity of consumption as “normal” or conventional diet advice may make you believe. Fruits are high in, you guessed it, fructose. Fructose is not good for the body in more than moderate amounts, as it is an incredibly simple sugar which is near-immediately used by the body and pushed into the blood stream. This contributes to a reduced level of insulin sensitivity, as well as an almost immediate response in fat production.
That’s not to say not to eat fruits, just be conservative in the amount and frequency of which you eat them. The paleo diet leans towards berries as their preferred fruit, so try and comply with that rule as much as you can.
Last, but not least are the glorious meats of the paleo diet. This is perhaps the largest area of controversy within the paleo diet, as many fail to draw a line or polarise between the paleo diet and protein heavy examples such as the atkins diet. Meats are not the enemy, in fact our bodies are more carnivore than omnivore, with sports nutritionist and professor Tim Noakes recently spoke about. Check out this blog post I recently dedicated to the man.
Meat selection wise, the paleo diet food pyramid is pretty accommodating. The only limitation here really is that the meats are as naturally produced as possible. All I mean here is that meats should not be over processed like polony (which is pretty damn disgusting anyway), vienna sausages or spam. Grass fed, non-stressed beef is the head space you need to be in. Finding these high quality, paleo meats are fairly difficult to find, so checking out your local farmer’s markets would probably be your best best. You want to avoid battery chickens and eggs too, as they often contain nasty chemicals. On that note, eggs should be considered an “eat whenever possible” food, because they are really like little nutrient bombs waiting to explode inside your stomach.
That basically covers what makes up an effective, healthy food pyramid. Find an image of Mark Sisson’s (marksdailyapple.com) food pyramid.
Click the image for a bigger version!
Paleo Diet Food Pyramid Takeaways
There you have a fairly comprehensive look at what foods are included in the paleo diet food pyramid. As I’m sure you’ve come to realise, the paleo food pyramid is a little different to the “norm”, and this is with good reason. If you are interested in reading more about what constitutes paleo okay foods, keep reading some of the other posts here on PaleoMunch.com, and while you’re at it, why not subscribe to receive a 7 step guide on how you can action the paleo diet in your own life today. The guide is free of course!
Thanks for reading,
Keep maintaining your caveman!