Is it Paleo?

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. 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 has 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 in vinegar). It is the acetic acid, which gives vinegar 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.

Two types of vinegar 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 apple cider vinegar is most often recommended as the vinegar of 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 vinegar, 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 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 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 in 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. Soy contains 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 soy’s 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 soy when possible. If you simply must consume it, opt for organic soy 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

Are Sprouts Paleo?

Sprouts can come from a variety of foods, including legumes, veggies, grains or nuts. This can be confusing when questioning their Paleo-friendliness, since a “sprout” can basically come from anything that has a seed.

So, is it Paleo?

Before you sprinkle those tasty salad toppers, carefully consider the source. Sprouts from most vegetable sources are considered Paleo. When grains are sprouted, the seed germinates and a chute comes out of the seed. This chute becomes the sprout that is cut off and consumed, as opposed to eating the seed (in contrast to whole grains and wheat flours that incorporate the seed proteins and starches into the milling process). Once the seed is sprouted, the concentration of lectin (the substance that protects the plant but can be harmful to the body) is decreased within several days, and in several weeks, levels drop to almost none.

One of the effects of sprouting is that it can convert a portion of the sugar in the seed to vitamin C (which functions as an antioxidant). As we do not manufacture our own vitamin C, this can be beneficial.

Sprouting also tends to lower a food’s phytic acid content — also a good thing.

Certain types of sprouts may have particularly healthy effects. Sunflower sprouts have a high cynarin content, a compound known to have antioxidant properties. Broccoli sprouts have also been shown to reduce insulin resistance, decrease triglycerides and reduce oxidative stress in type 2 diabetics.

What do the Paleo gurus say?

Loren Cordain says: “We can consume grain sprouts without fear of anti-nutrients. However, legume sprouts still appear to contain considerable concentrations of saponins – the secondary compounds responsible for increasing gut permeability. Alfalfa sprouts (which are actually in the pea family) have an especially high concentration.

Mark Sisson says: “Primal, depending on the starter seed . I see no reason why sprouted celery seeds, broccoli seeds, radish seeds, or lettuce seeds wouldn’t be perfectly Primal. Lentil, oat, or bean sprouts? Probably not technically.


Consider their parent and decide. Sprouts are surely Paleo if the seed they came from is a Paleo food, such as a vegetable. If the sprout source is a legume or grain, sprouts are a no-go for Paleo. However, depending on individual comfort levels with incorporating non-Paleo foods, there could be room for some other types of sprouts in the diet.

Issue No. 17Sprouts photo

Is Oatmeal Paleo? 

Oatmeal photo

Don’t take away all of my breakfast foods!

Most of us have sampled some sort of oatmeal creation in our lifetime, whether it’s cookies, oatmeal in the morning, or a family recipe for baked oatmeal squares.

In fact, many people tout oatmeal as one of the best breakfast foods for you. Should we follow along and grab a bowl of oats every day, or should we be a bit more cautious about adding oatmeal to our daily Paleo lifestyle?

What Is Oatmeal?

When you think of oats, you probably don’t think of true oats. You likely envision something called “rolled oats,” which are the most common variety.

In their original form, the cereal grain oat is called a groat, and you’re most likely to find it in horse feed (though sometimes people still eat it for breakfast). It’s still got the bran—that husk part of the plant—and it’s largely untouched between harvest and consumption.

Rolled oats, on the other hand, are groats that have been steamed and rolled out, with the bran removed.
This is the kind you’d eat in oatmeal; they look like little ovals with a straight line down the middle.

Is Oatmeal Healthy?

Oatmeal definitely has some desirable qualities. Rolled oats are high in manganese, which helps the blood to clot and regulates metabolism, and you can also find a good helping of phosphorus, which plays a part in keeping our bones strong and healthy.

Because of the fiber levels, many folks also encourage consumption of oatmeal because they say it reduces serum cholesterol levels.

However, in the end, oatmeal still isn’t very nutritious in the grand scheme. When compared to most classes of Paleo foods (seafood, meats, veggies, nuts, etc.), grains fare very poorly, just like all other grains. That’s not a reason never to eat a food, but it’s a good reason not to make it a staple of the diet that you eat every day.

In addition, like most other grains, if you have any sort of gut issues (leaky gut, dysbiosis of microorganisms, IBS, bloating, etc.), then oats tend to exacerbate those problems and prevent full healing. There are a variety of possible reasons for this. Among other things, oatmeal is also being studied as a dietary contributor to inflammation.

In addition, the phytates contained in oats partially inhibit the absorption of minerals through the intestinal tract. What that means for you is that your body can’t absorb many of the nutrients in oats because they’re bound to phytic acid.

In the end, oats are not the worst thing you can eat by any means, and if you’re quite healthy, then you may tolerate oatmeal perfectly well. But it’s not an ideal food.

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

Amy Kubal says: “If you are asking [if a food is Paleo] because the food is something that you ‘want’ someone to tell you is okay to have even when in your mind you know it’s not paleo – don’t ask. This often applies to…oatmeal.”

Mark Sisson says: “Oatmeal is a perfect example of the essentially tasteless, but oddly comforting food that’s difficult to give up (judging from all the emails I get). It’s tough to explain, because it’s not like oatmeal is particularly delicious. It’s bland, unless you really dress it up. Better than wheat, worse (and more work to improve) than rice. There are numerous other food options that are superior to oats.”

Is Oatmeal Paleo?


However, oats are not as bad as wheat, and eating them every once in a while isn’t going to cause much harm for most people.

But why bother? There are a lot of other, better options you could be eating instead of oatmeal (try sweet potatoes if you want starch!).

Issue No. 40

Is Ghee Paleo?

More specifically, why ghee is amazing.

I didn’t grow up exposed to a lot of foods that you might consider to be traditionally non-American. (Whatever that means, but you get the idea.)

Ghee is certainly such a food.

In fact, when I first read about it, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. Gee? Jee?

I had no idea, except the vague understanding that people seem to spread it on things.

What Is Ghee?

Turns out that ghee is, in some sense, butter. But it’s not butter in the way most Americans are used to it.

Ghee is a type of clarified butter. That means that ghee is what you get when you take butter, evaporate the water out of it, and then filter (or “clarify”) it to remove the milk solids. (For ghee—as opposed to other clarified butter—the milk solids are also simmered with the fat to create a caramel and nutty flavor.)

The result is a nuttier, clearer-looking version of butter that is very stable at room temperature. Ghee has been around for a long time—in India, it’s commonly used for cooking and also medicinally, and it has been used for thousands of years.

Is Ghee Healthy?

Recent studies into ghee are still few in number, but they’re growing by the day. What scientists have discovered so far is that ghee does decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease; antioxidants present in the ghee are a big part of this healing effect, as they help protect the body against oxidative stresses. In fact, scientists are beginning to discover an inverse correlation between this type of butter and heart disease—those who eat more ghee tend to be less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. On top of that, consumption of ghee does not alter your body’s serum levels. Because of this, researchers have claimed that ghee is a beneficial addition to the diet.

However, many people are worried about the saturated fat content present in ghee, and they say it should only be consumed in moderation because it does not contain many of the nutrients present in actual butter. Paleo experts can sometimes be torn on whether or not to use ghee, but there does seem to be an overall consensus.

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

The Whole9 Team says: “The only way we can recommend eating butter is if it comes from a humanely raised, grass-fed, organic source, and you take the time to clarify it. There are no major down sides to butter produced in such a manner, and we can happily recommend you use your clarified butter or ghee as one of your (varied) added fat sources. (Just so you know, ghee and clarified butter are similar but not identical; ghee is heated longer, until the milk solids brown. That imparts a richer, smokier flavor into the butterfat.)”

Mark Sisson says: “Animal fat has been unjustly demonized and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Make sure the ghee you buy comes from pure butter, and butter alone; some brands combine vegetable oil with butter to make their ghee.”

So Is Ghee Paleo?


Ghee is a great thing to add to a Paleo lifestyle. Try tossing your veggies in it! As Paleo experts have warned, though, be careful to get your ghee from a reputable source to ensure that it isn’t mixed with vegetable oil. You want nothing but pure butter in there! Making ghee at home is a great way to save some money, too.

Issue No. 40

Is Corn Paleo? 

Corn photo

If there’s one near-irresistible temptation when watching a movie, it’s to go and grab some popcorn. In the warm months of summer, who can resist the call of corn on the cob at the barbecue? Or perhaps your Thanksgiving meal just can’t go on without a big scoop of creamed corn. Regardless of how it’s eaten, there’s no doubt that corn is a big part of the standard American diet. If there’s so many different ways that people eat corn, there’s got to be some sort of health benefit in the little yellow kernels, right? Or should we be trying to push corn off the Paleo plate?

I remember that when I was growing up, my life was dictated by corn. In fact, our household timeline revolved around corn, because I was raised in a largely Amish community. Early in the year, “Is the corn planted?” and later, “How’s the corn going?” That was our timeline in that tiny town. Biking down the street took me past acres and acres of cornfields, and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise—corn has been a staple in American society since the colonial days.

Is Corn Healthy?

Some of the most well known health benefits of corn include its fiber and its levels of phosphorus and vitamin B3, which assists in the DNA repair process. As a water-soluble vitamin, B3 (also called niacin) is a valuable ingredient for our bodies, and we use it to convert food into energy. That’s important, right?

But on the other hand, corn’s also sporting some not-so-good features. Many people don’t realize it, but corn is NOT a veggie! Somewhere along the line it started being called such, but we need to acknowledge it for what it is—a grain. Paleo has had a history of rejecting grain-based food, and corn has many of the same toxic properties that prompted this reaction from the Paleo standpoint. A single ear of corn could have upwards of 15 grams of sugar, and corn contains a storage of phytates worth noting.

Phytates are toxins that affect how bioavailable nutrients are after you eat them. In other words, when you eat, you’ve got lots of nutrients hanging around in your intestines waiting to get absorbed so they can do their awesome things. But if you consume phytates like those present in corn, the phytates will bind to those nutrients, keeping them from being absorbed. That’s no fun for anybody.

Are the health benefits of corn enough to outweigh the grain-based toxins?

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

Mark Sisson says: “We’ve told you countless times but we’ll tell you again. CORN IS NOT A VEGETABLE IT’S A GRAIN!! Our advice? Treat this GRAIN like any other GRAIN in your diet and bump it to the bottom of your shopping list!”

The Whole9 Team says: “Based on the science as we understand it today, and our vast clinical experience with the tens of thousands of people who have completed our Whole30 program, we make some general recommendations as to which food groups may make you less healthy—including grains….Don’t include grains of any kind. This includes…corn.”

So IS Corn Paleo?


There are no health benefits in corn great enough to exceed the damage to your body by consuming this grain, and any nutrients remaining are in danger of binding to the phytates, preventing them from being absorbed. There are lots of great places to get nutrients in the Paleo lifestyle, so choose something else and leave no space on your plate for corn!

Issue No. 41

Is Dark Chocolate Paleo? 

Dark Chocolate photo

For years, people have touted the benefits of dark chocolate as a great reason to indulge one’s sweet tooth. And who doesn’t love an excuse to take a few extra squares of the sweet treat? With chocolate being such a pervasive (and delicious) part of modern society, it would be great if it was good for us too! Does dark chocolate have some worthwhile health benefits, or does it sport enough toxins to convince us to keep it out of our Paleo lifestyle?

What Is Dark Chocolate?

It’s important to make a distinction between dark chocolate and its close relative, milk chocolate. What makes dark chocolate “dark” isn’t that it’s a different color, and it’s not that it somehow has more chocolate in it. Dark chocolate is dark because it contains more cocoa solids than other chocolates and also has no added milk. Oftentimes little to no sugar is added to dark chocolate (depending on what kind you get), as compared to the large amount of sugars found in standard milk chocolate.

Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

What does all that mean for you? Well, it means that paying attention to what’s inside the cocoa solids in dark chocolate is going to tell you a lot about whether or not this sweet is a Paleo player or a no-go. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that dark chocolate causes migraines, and scientists tend to link that to the caffeine content of the solids. However, studies looking into this have shown no correlation between dark chocolate and headaches. On top of that, cocoa content varies between pieces of chocolate, regardless of what the label says—this is a natural consequence of more natural foods.
On the other hand, dark chocolate has quite a few nutrients we should be paying attention to, like:

  • Flavanols, which have been shown in multiple studies to reduce oxidative stress caused by glucose. In other words, flavanols (and especially epicatechin, found in dark chocolate) keep your cells functioning the way they should, stopping deterioration and significantly lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Soluble fiber, or fiber that slows digestion by turning to a gel-like substance, is abundant in dark chocolate. Studies show that cocoa’s soluble fiber in particular is a powerful tool for reducing blood pressure.
  • Cocoa polyphenols, which have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, this study showed an inverse association—that is, chocolate consumption goes up, heart disease risk goes down.

It seems like dark chocolate could do a lot of great things for us, but there’s also concern regarding the reports of chocolate-induced migraines. So how do we come down on this delectable treat?

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

Mark Sisson says: “Dark chocolate’s great, the perfect storm of flavor, flavonoids, and fat. It tastes really good, comes loaded with polyphenols, and cocoa butter is a great source of saturated and monounsaturated fat. And the truth is that you should probably be eating dark chocolate on a semi-regular basis because the stuff is pretty dang good for you.”

Chris Kresser says: “There’s nothing wrong with dark chocolate (with greater than 75% cacao content); in fact, it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods available.”

So Is Dark Chocolate Paleo?


Dark chocolate is a great addition to the Paleo lifestyle, but be sure you know what you’re buying. Aim for at least 75% cacao content, but get as close to 100% as you can tolerate. You can actually get 100% cacao, which is called chocolate liquor, though it’s (obviously) not very sweet. Organic is a great way to go when considering your dark chocolate as well.

Issue No. 41

Is Juice Paleo?

Juice photo

Juice was a staple of my childhood. Now, with bills and loans and life in general, I long for the time when my toughest choice during the day was whether to take a purple juice box or an orange one. As I grew older, I switched from juice boxes to bottled juice like V-8, trying to read the labels and see if juice was a good choice for me. It can all be kind of confusing—this one says it has no added sugar! So then maybe it’s good for me, right? Should I omit juice altogether, or can I encourage everyone to incorporate it into a healthy, even Paleo, lifestyle?

The first thing to realize is that the word “juice” is a rather vague term. It can be the liquid from a squashed-up orange, or it could be a liquid in a box that we don’t really know where it came from. You’ve got grape juice in cartons, vegetable juice in bottles, and juice you can squeeze yourself at home. So already, we’re seeing lots of variety that we’ve got to take into consideration.

Is Juice Healthy?

You can probably guess that heavily packaged juice, like the kind that comes in little boxes, isn’t going to be the best for us—it’s got lots of toxic ingredients, including corn syrup. But what about juices you make yourself?

Let’s take a look at an apple. We’ve got a great source of vitamin C here, and of course fiber is another good benefit. Then we’ve also got an antioxidant called quercetin, which has been shown to act as an anti-inflammatory and cancer preventing agent. These are some nice, healthy nutrients that apples can provide, so bottom’s up with the apple juice!

But hold on a second. It turns out that most of these nutrients have vanished somewhere between the apple and the juice. Why? They’re in the skin. When you juice, you’re often extracting the sugariest, least nutrient-dense part of the fruit for consumption. The fiber is gone, because you don’t have the actual fibers of fruit any more, and anything in the skin doesn’t make it into your drink. And if you’re not getting that fiber, all the sugar (fructose) from the fruit isn’t being slowed down as it goes through digestion.

Looks like you haven’t really escaped the curse of too-sugary juices after all. But still, there are all these great health benefits in these fruits! So do you drink juice to get some of the nutrients, or do you avoid juice even though it’s made from real fruit?

What Do Other Paleo Experts Say?

Chris Kresser says: “Fructose-sweetened beverages like…juice cause metabolic problems when calories are in excess, and studies have shown that people are not likely to compensate for the additional calories they get from such beverages. [However] I don’t think there’s any basis for avoiding whole fruit simply because it contains fructose.”

Mark Sisson says: “Juice is ultimately a higher sugar, lower nutrient version of its produce sources. Calorie for calorie, for example, you’ll take in more sugar drinking apple juice than you would eating the apple itself. Juice…is just not an adequate substitute for the real/whole source.”

So Is Juice Paleo?


Juice may seem like a great source of nutrients, but because of the high sugar content and because many of the nutrients remain in parts of the fruit that don’t make it into juice, you’re better off just eating whatever product you were going to make juice out of. Beats cleaning the juicer anyway, right?

Issue No. 42

1 2 3 4