Is it Paleo?

Are Grits and Hominy Paleo or Are Grits Not Paleo Friendly?

Are Grits and Hominy Paleo?

Grits and hominy are the standard American diet’s favorite Southern sidekick, but are Grits not Paleo friendly or are they? They are popular ingredients in the Mexican soup posole and are enjoyed by many. But are they Paleo-friendly indulgences or not-so-Paleo?

Both hominy and grits are made from corn that has been dried and ground, with the germ and hull removed. First the corn is soaked in an alkali solution, then processed to crush and sift out the kernels. In its whole form, it can be eaten as a cereal or side as hominy. The ground version is grits.

The way the corn is processed is know as nixtamalization, which is a fancy-sounding name with old-world origins. In Mesoamerica around 1500 BC, people found that when they soaked the corn in water mixed with lime (calcium hydroxide) or ashes from burnt trees (potassium hydroxide), it became tastier and more digestible.

This process makes niacin from the corn more available to the body, increases protein content, decreases phytic acid (which binds to minerals and can lead to deficiencies) and decreases contamination from mycotoxins, contaminants that can grow on crops and damage human health.

So, is it Paleo?

The bottom line is that corn is a type of grain. Although it is gluten-free, grains are frequently labeled a no-go when defined under the most stringent Paleo standards. Corn contains zein, an irritating and inflammatory protein that can trigger food intolerances. However, more moderate interpretations of a Paleo diet may allow hominy and grits occasionally.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “The bad is that hominy is corn, a grain with questionable health effects. We generally avoid grains, and they are definitely not Primal. The good is that hominy is nixtamalized, which increases the protein availability, breaks down phytic acid, kills off mycotoxins, and increases the calcium content.

I often talk about foods existing on a spectrum of suitability, and corn is no different. If wheat, barley, rye, and other gluten-containing grains are at one (bad) end, and rice is at the other, nixtamalized corn lies somewhere in the middle, perhaps sharing a ride with oats. [It’s] not Primal, but is ‘less bad’ than some other grains.”

Robb Wolf says: [As an occasional post-workout recovery source of carbs] “Grits could be a good option in a pinch.”

Brandon and Meagan Keatley say: “Grits are not paleo, but groots are. Groots are our take on grits, Paleo style. It’s celery root, hence the g-roots, pureed with a little fat and some stock. Oh, how creamy, dreamy it is.”


Not Paleo. Both grits and hominy are certainly not labeled “Paleo-friendly,” as those are traditionally unprocessed and bring with them significant nutritional and/or health benefits. However, according to some experts, grits and hominy are deemed “suitable” for a spectrum of Paleo transgressions. There are places to occasionally sneak them in if not following a strict Paleo regimen. Yet as grain-derived foods, others oppose them and advocate that they should not be used at all. There are easy substitutions you can make if you miss the texture and taste of grits and hominy without falling off the Paleo wagon.

Issue No. 28

Photo by stu_spivack

Are Hemp Hearts Paleo?

Are Hemp Hearts Paleo?

When people hear the word “hemp,” the first thing that usually comes to mind has something to do with smoke and a strong smell, but are hemp hearts paleo friendly?

But don’t worry!

The hemp we’re talking about isn’t the marijuana plant but rather an innocent cousin of hemp and the seeds it produces—hemp hearts, or shelled hemp seeds. So are heamp hearts paleo?

What to Know About Hemp Hearts

The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in interest surrounding hemp, and alongside its medicinal uses, people have started turning to it for oil, seeds, and other products (hemp milk, anyone?). Hemp is a bit of a tricky plant to harvest, as the seeds are indeterminate—that means that when the plant processed after picking, both ripe and immature seeds can be found on the same branch. When the shells around the seeds begin to crack, the hearts are brought in and preserved. After that, the rest is history (or dinner).

The benefits of hemp hearts have been touted far and wide lately, mostly for their impressive protein content (some evaluations put the value at 33% of your daily protein needs per serving). Aside from protein, hemp hearts are also full of fiber, vitamin E complex, and polyunsaturated fatty acids (somewhere around 80%—now that’s a number worth noticing!). These fatty acids do, however, make these seeds prone to going bad quickly.

In addition, while hemp hearts do have a more favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio than other things, it’s still not the preferred 1:1. Because there are both good and bad qualities to hemp hearts, it’s hard to tell where they might fit on the Paleo spectrum. Generally, Paleo experts agree that this case is tougher than others: while nutrients abound (bringing with them multiple health benefits, studies show), we do need to keep some things in mind before covering every meal for the rest of the year in mounds of hemp hearts.

What do other Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “As to whether hemp is Primal or not, I’d put it (like other seeds) in a supporting role. It’s not main Primal fare, but—when eaten in its healthiest (fresh) state—it can complement a good Primal eating plan.”

Cole Bradburn says: “There are concerns, primarily processing and rancidity, but I see no problem with unprocessed hemp seeds and cold-pressed oil. There are legitimate health benefits to its consumption, and unlike many seeds, there’s no need to soak hemp to get rid of phytic acid (win!).”

So are hemp hearts Paleo?

Basically, yes.

The nutritional benefits of hemp hearts far outweigh issues such as spoilage, but be careful to buy quality seeds and avoid processed products (but you knew that already, right?). And don’t worry—because hemp hearts aren’t the same as marijuana hemp, there are no psychoactive effects associated with consuming the seeds.

Issue No. 33

Photo by Seabamirum

Is Hummus Paleo?

Hummus photo
Photo by stu_spivack

Photo by stu_spivack

Is Hummus Paleo? Firstly what is hummus – that old party bowl standby – is a popular Middle Eastern dip made from cooked, mashed garbanzo beans, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), lemon juice, salt, and garlic.

So, is it Paleo?

Its first ingredient should be the big tip-off in whether or not hummus makes the Paleo cut. Garbanzo beans, (or chickpeas), are a legume. Often asked about if they could fit into a Paleo diet because they do contain nutrients, legumes don’t provide the same dense sources of nutrients that fruits or vegetables do. Also, they’re an incomplete protein, unlike other complete protein sources like meat, fish or poultry.

Beans and legumes can also pack quite a dose of carbohydrates which may, in themselves, wreak havoc in keeping blood sugar regulated. This might be a problem for many folks trying to knock off the pounds. Or individuals who have other types of medical or metabolic conditions.

The short-chain types of sugars garbanzo beans contain are also not completely digested. These sugars are absorbed by the intestines, functioning as a food for the bacteria living there. The bacteria ferment the sugars and create just what you don’t want—bloating and gas—along with the potential to bloom into gut dysbiosis, an inflammatory digestive condition.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, research is showing that beans and legumes contain potent anti-nutrient substances called lectins, which can contribute to inflammation in the body, suppress immunity and foster a host of digestive problems.

Ancient cultures found that when they rinsed, soaked or fermented legumes, it partially reduced some of their toxins. However, the effectiveness of this practice in reducing toxicity can vary. Although it’s often recommended today for those who still want to incorporate the food into their diet. Depending on a person’s own level of sensitivity, this method may or may not be effective for everyone.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Is hummus paleo?

 Mark Sisson says: “ It certainly isn’t Primal…but not all hummus is created equal. If you’re going to cheat, I implore you to use the good stuff. If you’re willing to make your own hummus, soak your own garbanzos. Preserve your own lemons, etc., then hummus won’t be too bad. It’ll be free of BPA, low in phytic acid, full of healthy, Primal ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini, and it will taste pretty darn good. Extra points for fermented hummus.

Dallas and Melissa Hartwig say Hummus: No… Traditional hummus is made from garbanzo beans, which are a legume. However, there are some really yummy hummus-like dip recipes out there.

Robb Wolf says: If you peruse some of the gluten-free websites you will notice folks who are still struggling with significant GI problems despite strict adherence to a gluten-free diet. Now, these poor souls embark on a gluten-free lifestyle that includes rice flour and loads of legume products. This is not helping the insulin resistance most of these folks have AND it is exposing them to other lectins which have significant GI problems as well.


The general consensus is hummus is not on the Paleo list. However, some individuals who can tolerate small amounts of legumes if well-soaked or fermented can find a place for them as a small “cheat” when the hummus is homemade. If you want to stay clean and still get your hummus on, look to alternatives to the legume, such as macadamia nuts, cauliflower or cashews.

Issue No. 16

Is Monk Fruit Paleo?

If you’re anything like most people, you’ll read the title and think, “Oh, monk fruit. That’s great! …What’s a monk fruit?”

Monk fruit has been a hot topic in the Paleo community recently, as it may have potential as a new (and possibly Paleo!) sweetener. Monk fruit, also sometimes known as Luo Han Guo, is a unique plant grown only in China. It got its name from the Buddhist Luo Han monks, who were some of the first to cultivate the fruit hundreds of years ago.

But with all of the toxic compounds and negative side effects associated with other artificial sweeteners, can monk fruit really be a part of the Paleo diet? Or is it just another Paleo no-go?

Many people who have tasted monk fruit say that it tastes like chocolate or molasses, and its flavor isn’t the only thing that has people talking. The sweetness in monk fruit comes from a type of glycoside called mogrosides, and these mogrosides are full of antioxidants that help the body function healthily. Additionally, monk fruit helps to reduce oxidative stress on the body, so your body receives the support that it needs to function at full potential.

One study on the effects of monk fruit on the body showed no toxic effects; in fact, the animal subjects were given large amounts of the Luo Han Guo sweetener (3g per kg of their body weight—on a 10lb dog, that’s 30g of sweetener!), yet they showed no ill effects and did not gain weight.
So then, what negative effects does monk fruit have? Aside from the rarity of its habitat (only in Guangxi, China), Paleo experts agree—it’s great!

What do other Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “Legend has it that the monk fruit vine sustains its caretakers by enveloping them and transmitting pure life-force directly into their hearts. And if you have the climate to grow monk fruit, you might try setting up that whole symbiotic relationship/life force exchange thing (perfect for people who telecommute). I’d say it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for a non-caloric, natural sweetener. Verdict: Primal.”

Jane Barthelemy says: “Luo Han Guo is a 100% natural Paleo sweetener. I suggest caution in buying Luo Han Guo as it is often mixed with other ingredients such as cane sugar or dextrose (a corn sugar), [but] I believe it to be a very good concentrated sweetener.”

So is monk fruit Paleo?


Monk fruit is a promising addition to the Paleo diet, offering sweetness and nutrition all in the same package. Be careful when buying in order to avoid monk fruit mixed with artificial sweeteners like corn.

Some Paleo experts suggest Swanson Vitamins as a good supplier of high-quality monk fruit extract, and if you want to powder it yourself, ask any Chinese medicine herbalist for Plum Flower brand Momordica fruit.

Issue No. 32

Is Popcorn Paleo?

Popcorn photoPopcorn is seen by many as a low-calorie way to curb hunger, especially when eaten plain with no salt or butter. And of course, you just can’t watch a movie without grabbing a bag of the stuff, right? However, a lot of questions have been left unanswered—like whether popcorn should be a part of your Paleo lifestyle, or whether it fits into Paleo goals at all.

Popcorn comes from a specific type of maize called, wouldn’t you know it, popping corn. This corn is specifically bred to create kernels that pop, so only popping corn can make that movie theater snack everyone is so excited about. This type of corn is mainly grown in the corn belt of the United States, where most of the world gets its popcorn. Every year, Americans alone consume more than 16 billion quarts of popcorn—that is one major food craving!

So, is it Paleo?

While popcorn is plant-based, low in calories, and contains complex carbs, it’s also packing some not-so-good attributes as well, including toxins. Because Paleo is all about getting the most nutrition with the least amount of toxins, popcorn is going to have to fight hard to find a place in the Paleo diet. Popcorn is a whole grain, and we know that grains (and especially whole grains) tend to inflame the gut and cause unstable blood sugar levels. Inflammation and insulin issues are the last things we’re aiming for in a Paleo diet!

On the other hand, however, popcorn may not be as damaging as people first believed. This study tested the correlation between diverticulitis (an inflammatory intestinal disease) and consumption of popcorn and found that there seems to be no correlation between whether or not inflammation gets worse and whether or not the patient ate popcorn. And some studies (like this one) cite this snack’s polyphenol content, clocking the antioxidants in at more than what you find in fruits and vegetables. That can’t be a bad thing, right?
The thing to keep in mind is that these polyphenols are found in the popcorn’s hull—that hard part that gets stuck in your teeth. That hull is made of insoluble fiber, which means that your body can’t digest it. And if you’re not digesting that hull, are you really getting any of those good polyphenols?

Because popcorn seems to have both some good and some bad bits, there’s not really a consensus as to whether or not it should be included in a Paleo diet. Some experts in the Paleo community say that popcorn is fine only as an occasional treat, but others warn that it’s a no-go.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “Not Primal, but it’s not the worst cheat snack you can have. If you’re buying at a movie theater, make sure they pop it in coconut oil and add real butter (not butter-flavored soy oil). If you’re doing it at home, use a good pot with ghee or coconut oil. And stay away from microwaved popcorn at all costs.”

Diane Sanfilippo says: “Corn is a big one that people have trouble digesting, which is why I know people like to snack on popcorn, but popcorn does not digest. And if you eat anything that doesn’t fully digest, it’s not really optimal.”

So Is Popcorn Paleo?

Not really.

In general, the consensus is to avoid popcorn—it’s a no-no for Paleo eaters. If you slip up once or twice don’t panic, but popcorn’s so-so mix of health benefits and too many whole-grain toxins make it one snack food you should avoid.

Issue No. 29

Is Stevia Paleo?

Stevia photo
Photo by M. Martin Vicente

Is Stevia Paleo?

Stevia has been touted as a low-carb alternative to sugar in our foods and a “natural” way to satisfy a sweet tooth. However, questions still linger about whether it’s a Paleo-friendly food and how it might affect blood sugar- or if it should even be a part of an evolutionary diet.
One of 240 species of herbaceous plants grown in sub-tropical and tropical America, the stevia we use to sweeten comes from the stevia rebaudiana plant and its leaves.  The plant can be grown and used raw and unprocessed as a tea or with tea (also often called “green” stevia). When processed, it’s dried and powdered and looks like many of the familiar sugar substitutes on store shelves, or it’s available in a less-refined liquid extract form.
So, is it Paleo?
While stevia is plant-based, gluten free, and low on the glycemic index, in relation to other sweeteners, it’s not perfect. Some studies have shown that stevioside, the dominant glycoside in stevia, acts directly on pancreatic cells to stimulate insulin output. Since most Paleo advocates warn against unnecessary insulin spikes, it would give cause to potentially stay away from stevia.  However, the findings were not conclusive, because they were done only in a highly-controlled lab environment and did not factor in any data from animals or humans eating the stevia in a natural, organic way.

On the flip side, there’s also growing evidence that stevia is an insulin sensitizer and can assist post-meal glucose tolerance and clearance. Some studies have shown that compared to both sucrose and aspartame eaters, stevia eaters showed much lower insulin levels after meals, plus consumption of the stevia did not stimulate appetite later in the day—a sign that it supported stable blood sugar and satiety.

Other minor benefits that stevia may provide, as evidenced by several small studies, include its possible assistance in the reduction of arterial plaque and potential anti-hypertensive effects at certain doses.

Because the jury isn’t quite out yet on whether stevia is a big Paleo thumbs up (or down), it’s no surprise there’s still variance in how or if it should be eaten.  Some voices in the Paleo community readily accept and support stevia’s use, while others say nay depending on its form and processing. Some even say it’s not ideal and to stay away.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says“We can think about stevia as a Primal sugar alternative with some potentially therapeutic effects. Kind of like cinnamon or turmeric, we don’t consume it for the calories or as literal fuel for our bodies, but for flavor, variety, and, possibly, the health benefits. I’m a fan of the stuff and recommend it as a Primal way to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Diane Sanfilippo says“I don’t recommend any stevia that’s white—the green powder or extract here or there is probably okay.”

Dallas and Melissa Hartwig say“We don’t really say that stevia would be a good choice. We just say that it would be less bad considering it’s plant-based and available without additives or chemical processing. If you have to use one of those, we’d say something like stevia or pure organic honey or maple syrup would be a less bad option. But clearly not ideal and to break those habits and cravings and patterns, you really want to stay away from all of that stuff in our opinion.”


It’s a Paleo maybe – there’s no clear definition about whether stevia is fit for the Paleo palate, but it is plant-based and certainly is a better choice than sucrose and artificial sweeteners. In general, experts say that if you’re going to use it, make it the unprocessed form (or extract) and use it in discretionary amounts when you need to sweeten a food or beverage for variety or flavor.

Issue No. 26

Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

Sweet Potatoes photo
Photo by Stacy Spensley

If there’s one food that can eclipse the western diet’s love of meat, it’s the love of potatoes. Whether it’s French fries, hashbrowns, or mashed potatoes, these vegetables are front and center in many a meal. However, sweet potatoes, which are only distantly related to “regular” potatoes, are markedly different from their relatives and are not as common a dish on the table. But should they be? Or should we avoid another helping of those golden sweet potato fries?

Sweet potatoes have been a staple in many diets around the world for thousands of years. Some evidence shows the oldest confirmed domestication of sweet potato species in Peru, dating back to around 8000 BC. The places in the world that produce the most sweet potatoes now are those locations where it is still a staple food, such as in Uruguay and Papua New Guinea. In America, North Carolina is the leading producer, with around 38% of all American sweet potatoes coming from farms in the state.
Sweet potatoes are most well-known for their healthy dietary fiber content and beta-carotene, which turns the potato its characteristic orange. Some studies show that beta-carotene may be useful in treating and detecting some cancers, such as female reproductive cancer, though the overall benefit in general cancer treatment has not been confirmed. But the more orange in the potato, the better it is for you.
Additionally, sweet potatoes are extremely rich in complex carbohydrates, which help the body burn fat. And baked sweet potatoes are even better, as the heating process changes the chemical structure of the potato, resulting in a 24% increase in vitamin C.
On the other hand, sweet potatoes come in many varieties, and people who make sweet potatoes a large, consistent part of their diet (read: multiple potatoes per day) may find themselves getting too many vitamins, which can cause a range of side effects, from dizziness to changes in the color of the skin. And pregnant women should be especially careful, as some studies show that too much vitamin A can be harmful to the fetus.
Packed full of vitamins and beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are certainly a healthy option. The dangers of sweet potato consumption come primarily from eating too much, as there are very few toxins present otherwise. It seems as though the benefits of sweet potatoes outweigh the potential risks, and Paleo experts agree.

What Do the Paleo Gurus Say?

Amy Kubal says: “The popularity of the sweet spud has sky-rocketed among the Paleo community. It’s commonly associated with the term ‘safe starch’ and is a powerhouse post workout meal when paired with some protein.”
Tim Huntley says: “As far as vegetables go, sweet potatoes are my favorite, and thankfully, they are extremely nutritious. In 1992, the Center for Science in the Public Interest ranked the sweet potato as the number one king of all vegetables in terms of nutritional value.”

So Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

Sweet potatoes are a great, nutritious option for any meal or snack and a perfect option post-workout because of their complex carbs and simple starches. Don’t go crazy and eat more than three or so per day, as you may run the risk of consuming too many vitamins, but this is usually not a problem.

Issue No. 31

Is Tapioca Paleo?

Tapioca photo
Photo by stu_spivack

Is Tapioca Paleo?

Tapioca is an alternative starch that may or may not belong on the Paleo menu. As a matter of classification, let’s start by defining what tapioca is not: it isn’t a grain, legume or potato. It’s the purified starch of the cassava root and is both gluten- and dairy-free. Used in puddings, “flours” and boba tea, tapioca is another way to add carbohydrate to a diet, if it’s needed or required.

So, is it Paleo?

Tapioca is the third-largest source of dietary carbohydrates in the world, functioning as a staple for over half a billion people in the developing world. And while it’s a good source of carbohydrates, cassava is a lousy source of protein. In fact, a diet made up of primarily cassava root can lead to a condition known as protein-energy malnutrition.

Similar to other roots and tubers, cassava contains low levels of anti-nutrients and toxins. It also doesn’t offer much in the way of actual nutrients—one cup contains a modest 2.4 mg of iron and just 2% of the RDI for folate.

However, while tapioca doesn’t offer much more to a diet other than a source of carbs (without a whole lot of other nutrients), because it’s gluten- dairy- and grain-free, some Paleo folks look to it as an alternative to sweet potatoes or squash, albeit one with much less nutrition.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “I wouldn’t go overboard with it, especially if it comes in pudding or boba tea form, but it’s definitely a “safe starch.” The major downside is that it’s just starch. It’s extremely low in anti-nutrients, sure, but it contains almost no nutrients, either. It won’t do you much harm, but it won’t do you much good, unless all you’re after is glucose.

Diane Sanfilippo says: [Sanfillippo ranks cassava high on her recommended list of vegetable sources for Paleo carbs for post-workout glycogen replacement to muscles after CrossFit or HIIT-style training or longer, endurance-based training.]. “For many people, increased carbohydrate intake seems to increase their appetite as well as the physiological response of insulin, our storage hormone for nutrients. This doesn’t generally support a strong weight-loss effort. However, for fueling athletic activities, increased carbohydrate intake is often recommended, and I would like for people to have a resource so that they’re not falling back on processed, refined foods and grain/legume products for their carb sources.”

Neely Quinn says: While tapioca is not technically on some Paleo experts’ lists of acceptable foods for Paleo eaters, it’s not a grain, and it’s not a legume. It’s certainly not dairy or refined sugar, and it’s not a potato, so I’m calling it good. I would be lying to you if I said it offered much in the way of nutrients to your diet besides carbohydrates.


With Paleo’s focus on nutrient-dense foods, tapioca’s weak nutritional profile wouldn’t place it on the ideal list of Paleo foods. However, if you need more carbs and sweet potato or squash just aren’t cutting it, small amounts of tapioca seem to be acceptable additions, say the experts.

Issue No. 18

Are Nuts Paleo?

Nuts photo

Are Nuts Paleo?

Whether it’s trail mix, peanut butter, or chestnuts roasting on an open fire during the chilly time of year, Americans seem to be completely nuts about nuts, however are nuts paleo? They’re delicious, packed with protein, and are super convenient—you can just grab a handful and go! If nuts are really that amazing, it would be great if they were Paleo too. But are they?

In order to find out whether or not nuts have a place on the Paleo plate, there are a few things we have to keep in mind. Nuts can be made in a multitude of ways; one of the most common is to roast them. But as it turns out, roasting nuts changes the structure of their protein composition. One study that explored this found that Americans, who roast their nuts, are much more likely to be allergic to them than, say, Chinese people who boil nuts. It looks like roasted nuts have some problems.

In addition to these allergenic properties, nuts also contain phytic acid. Being Paleo is all about avoiding toxins—especially those found in grains and legumes. Unfortunately, nuts have more phytic acid than grains! That’s a problem because phytic acid binds to minerals in our guts and keeps us from absorbing those nutrients.

On the other hand, the human body is equipped to deal with some phytic acid (a few studies show that it may reduce the incidence of kidney stones), so perhaps the benefits of nuts will outweigh that negatives. (Remember, Paleo is a spectrum.) Many nuts, especially walnuts, contain antioxidants that prevent cellular damage and slow the diseases commonly brought on by aging, like dementia. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which most Americans can always use because of the typical diet’s imbalance in favor of omega-6s. Keeping these fatty acids in proper balance helps in losing weight.

At the same time, some types of nuts like almonds are rich in fiber and vitamin E, and cashews are packed full of iron that will help oxygen get to your brain. People who eat nuts on a regular basis report increased clarity of mind and better brain function. So clearly nuts have a lot of beneficial properties to them as well.

The bottom line is that nuts contain the same toxin—phytic acid—as grain, except that nuts have it in even greater amounts. While there are lots of great nutrients in nuts, our bodies may not be able to absorb them efficiently because of the way that phytic acid binds to minerals in our guts. Still, nuts do carry some benefits, so Paleo experts haven’t completely ruled them out of the Paleo lifestyle.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “If… you guys are indeed eating large quantities of phytate-rich nuts every day, don’t do that. Keep it to about a handful (which is between one and two ounces, depending on the hand) per day. Relegate your nut consumption only to the odd handful of raw nuts.”

Chris Kresser says: “Nut consumption should be limited or moderated. That being said, in the context of a diet that is low in phytic acid overall, and high in micronutrients like iron and calcium, a handful of nuts that have been properly prepared each day should not be a problem for most people.”

So are nuts Paleo?

Yes, but be careful.

Nuts can be a great source of nutrients, but they also contain toxins that we should be trying to avoid. So don’t go nuts over nuts—instead, restrict yourself to a handful here and there. Moderation is key if you want to reap the health benefits and delicious taste of nuts without cluttering your body with toxins. Because phytic acid binds to minerals, it may be helpful to try eating nuts separately from meals so that the phytic acid does not have as many minerals to bind to.

Issue No. 30

Are Pork Rinds Paleo?

Pork Rinds photo
Photo by Chasqui (Luis Tamayo)


Are Pork Rinds Paleo?

You’ll find pork rinds (also called chicharrones or cracklings) most often in the snacks section of the store, cozily nestled somewhere between the decidedly non-Paleo pretzels and potato chips. Their packaging and their shelving might lead you to wonder about their Paleo palatability. But let’s take a closer look for a crisper idea on where they fall on the Paleo spectrum.

Pork rinds are made from pork skin fried in its own fat as it renders out. Rendering is the process of cooking the skins with added salt, which acts as a preservative. This removes much of the fat and a hardened piece of the skin is what remains. To transform it into the packaged puffy crunch we get from the bag, the skin is then fried in lard (or another type of oil) to increase its size and crispiness. Most producers then add seasoning of some type, which could be salt and/or MSG.

So, are they Paleo?

While they do offer crunch and flavor, pork rinds don’t deliver a whole lot of nutritional bang for the buck. If made with just the skins, salt and their own fat, they serve as a compliant ingredient and can be used as a breading for meat recipes. Snacking intensively on bagfuls is not recommended, as Paleo experts generally agree.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says: “If you’re worried about seed oils being used as the frying medium, just check the label. You want “pork skin” and “salt,” ideally. If oils were used, they’ll be listed in the ingredients. This is pretty rare, though, as frying a piece of fatty skin in exogenous fat, instead of using the fat inherent to the skin, only costs the producer more money. MSG is often added, too, so watch out for that if you’re sensitive and wish to avoid it.

Some people crush them up and use them as breading for fried meat dishes. You probably don’t want to make this a regular thing, but it’s a nice alternative to standard breading. (They’re) Primal, as long as they’re cooked in their own fat.”

Sébastien Noël says: “Most people think of them as unhealthy indulgence, but we know very well that there is nothing wrong in eating fatty pork skin. However, making it yourself is probably the only way to go because you can control the amount of salt you use and you’ll know there won’t be any other nasty ingredients.”

Loren Cordain says: Pork rinds don’t pass muster, due to their high salt content and the processing they undergo. They appear on his “Non-Paleo Foods Checklist” from “The Paleo Diet Cookbook” as no-nos.


Read the label carefully or make your own chicharrones to ensure that you’re not consuming harmful ingredients along with the pork skin. As an added ingredient or occasional snack, most Paleo voices agree they’re acceptable, but make sure you know what’s in them before you start crunching away.

Issue No. 24

Photo by Chasqui (Luis Tamayo)

Is Vinegar Paleo?

Vinegar photo

Vinegar has been filling bottles since the Babylonians crafted it from fruits in 5,000 B.C. and have been used as both a flavoring and a preservative ever since.

This versatile liquid is created by using a bacterial “starter” which converts ethanol into acetic acid (the primary ingredient). It is the acetic acid, which gives its unique characteristics.

Anything that contains ethanol can be used to make vinegar, including, wine, champagne, cider, or even beer. In addition to its characteristic acetic acid, other components in vinegar include vitamins and minerals and a variety of distinct flavor compounds.

In addition to making our food tasty, however, vinegar also offers a few health benefits.

There are two types, in particular, apple cider and balsamic may offer some notable health benefits. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been shown in some studies to enhance digestion and support immunity because of its antibacterial and antiseptic characteristics. ACV also has demonstrated an ability to lower blood glucose and insulin levels after a carb-laden meal. Raw ACV is most often recommended as the best choice because it contains the “mother culture”— the bacterial culture used to ferment the ethanol and thought to offer the greatest concentrations of immune-boosting compounds.

Balsamic vinegar, made from the ethanol in grapes, is a good source of minerals, containing moderate amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and manganese. Studies show it may inhibit atherosclerosis and it also contains polyphenols, compounds that have been shown to have anti-cancer properties.

There are two main types of balsamic vinegar. The first is made adhering to traditional practices and standards. It involves reducing grape juice (from grapes produced in particular regions in Italy) to 30% of volume to form what is known as a must. The must is then fermented over a period of 12 years in wooden barrels. While in the barrels, the vinegar develops its distinct flavor and produces a variety of bioactive compounds. While this is “the good stuff” and sells for upwards of a few hundred dollars a bottle, it’s known as traditional balsamic or Aceto Balsamico Tradiziona

Issue No. 15

Is Psyllium Paleo?

Psyllium photo
Photo by Peyman Zehtab Fard

Is Paleo?

Maybe you’ve come across some recipes that call for psyllium. There’s all this talk about its fiber benefit and you might find yourself questioning its Paleo acceptability. Let’s talk about what it is, first.
Psyllium is a plant-based fiber derived from the seeds of the Plantago ovata, a plant species native to India and Pakistan. Available in two different forms, each type of psyllium functions differently in the GI tract.
Psyllium seed powder is mostly soluble fiber that is helpful as a prebiotic, fermentable fiber source. This type of fiber can help support gut flora and contribute to the production of helpful fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate has been shown to suppress gut inflammation and increase resistance to metabolic and physical stress.
Psyllium husk, in contrast, is the exterior of the psyllium seed and is primarily insoluble fiber. You’ll see this type of psyllium most commonly in supplements. While it can bulk up the stool and keep constipation at bay, it does little for digestive bacteria and gut health.

So, is it Paleo?

In moderation, many seeds in their natural form are permissible on a Paleo regimen. However, when it comes to psyllium, its form determines its Paleo desirability. There are differences in how the insoluble fiber in the husk form and the soluble fiber from the seed powder effect the body. There are clear opinions in the Paleo world about how psyllium can best be used (and if it should be used at all).

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Mark Sisson says:  “I mean, sure, you don’t want to be stopped up and unable to go when you want to, but there’s nothing inherently good or beneficial about padding your bowel stats and rending your bowel walls with insoluble fiber. Soluble, prebiotic fiber? Via the production of short-chain fatty acids, that stuff can actually help reduce colonic inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity, protect against obesity, serve as an energy source for the colon, and possibly even protect against colon cancer. Thus, a case for psyllium seed fiber supplementation can certainly be made. [It’s] Cautiously Primal, so long as you’re using the seed powder. But I’d rather you get your fermentable fiber in whole food form. Psyllium husk? Not Primal.”
Stacy Toth and Matthew McCarry (the Paleo Parents) say: ”For the record, we do NOT recommend eating whole psyllium husk. It’s the new “in” thing in gluten-free baking because it offers that stretch not otherwise found in gluten. Fair warning: the husk is the part of the grain that causes the most gut irritation! Psyllium seed husks are indigestible and are a source of insoluble dietary fiber. STAY AWAY.”
Chris Kresser says: “Although I recommend that most people get fiber from whole foods, there are some people that may benefit from soluble fiber supplementation – including those that aren’t able to eat fruit or starch due to blood sugar issues or weight regulation, and those with severely compromised gut flora or gut dysbiosis. In these cases, I’ve found soluble fiber and/or prebiotic supplements to be helpful.”


Paleo-friendly foods are whole, unprocessed and generally provide the body with optimal nutritional and/or health benefits. While psyllium seed powder appears to have some beneficial prebiotic properties as a soluble fiber source and deserves a Paleo nod, the husk form, beyond providing bulk offers little else in the way of benefits, earning a Paleo pass. Look to whole, real foods when possible if looking to pack in the fiber, but psyllium seed powder can augment a Paleo plan as an additional source of soluble fiber.

Issue No. 24

Photo by Peyman Zehtab Fard

Is Soy Paleo?

Soy photo

One of the first important things to remember about soy is that it actually needs some form of preparation before it is safe to eat. For Paleo dieters who base their food-safety standards on whether a food would have been consumed naturally, soy definitely has some problems. This also leads to the tendency of soybeans nowadays to be genetically modified, and GMOs are something that our bodies just don’t know what to do with.
On the other hand, some research suggests that a soy organic compound isoflavone called genistein may contribute to heart health and reduce inflammation by increasing the flexibility of blood vessels. On top of that, these isoflavones act very similarly to synthetic estrogen compounds like tamoxifen, which may improve bone density and prevent osteoporosis, according to some studies.
However, I’d encourage you to read the previous sentence again. “Synthetic” and “estrogen” are two things that shouldn’t be appearing in anyone’s food, Paleo or otherwise. There are large amounts of phytoestrogens, which can throw off the hormones in your body. Even long, slow fermentation practices that reduce or eliminate soy’s other toxins cannot get rid of the phytoestrogens. And some scientific studies challenge the findings that soy isoflavones are beneficial to you; one report links soy with an increased incidence of hypothyroidism.
If that is the case, then it seems that maybe the negatives outweigh its benefits.

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

Mark Sisson says: “It’s potentially phytoestrogenic, mildly carcinogenic, mineral-binding, and goitrogenic. Its oil is in everything nowadays, and most of our animals are a third soybean meal. Bad stuff all around. Not Primal.”
Chris Kresser says: “Although widely promoted as a health food, hundreds of studies link modern processed soy to malnutrition, digestive problems, thyroid dysfunction, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, immune system breakdown, and even heart disease and cancer. How could soy be linked to all this disease? Because the soybean contains many naturally occurring toxins. All legumes contain toxins but the problem with soy is that the toxins are found in very high levels and are resistant to the traditional ways of getting rid of them.”

So is Soy Paleo?

You should do your best to avoid when possible. If you simply must consume it, opt for organic that has undergone a long fermentation process, such as natto. The toxins in soy, especially its phytoestrogens, far outweigh its potential (though disputed) health benefits.

Issue No. 31

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