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A Practical Approach to the Paleo Diet, Part 2

by Adam Farrah » on Jun 14, 2011 8

This is Part 2 in a 5 Part Series.  You can view the other parts here:  Part 1Part 3Part 4, and Part 5

In my first post on the Paleo diet here on, I laid out the basics of Paleo. Or, more accurately, I laid out the basics of how I think about Paleo and categorize foods for myself and my clients.

If I’m able to do anything in this article series, my hope is to give you a broad understanding of Paleo or “primitive” eating that moves beyond “this diet” and “that diet” and certainly beyond the idea of Paleo as a fad diet.

Paleo as a concept to guide food choices…

Paleo is a great “handle” to use to grasp the concept of eating the more primitive foods that our digestive and other systems are better adapted to through evolution. The term can become a limitation at times though – particularly when we talk about foods in terms of lists of what’s “Paleo” and what’s “non-Paleo.” When I talk about diet, I use the term Paleo because it’s useful and it’s one we can all agree on for the most part. In the end though, there’s a deeper level to this whole thing.

When I say “Paleo,” what I really mean is…

Here’s where we move out of the realm of a “diet” and into the realm of eating for health in general. When you think about your food choices, think in terms of “old,” “primitive,” or “not processed.” As opposed to thinking “Paleo” or “Not Paleo,” think in terms of how old or minimally processed a food is.

This is the main reason I have a category of foods called “Foods of Early Agriculture” in my version of Paleo. The “Foods of Early Agriculture” are still going to be very old and likely better suited to our bodies than some newer foods – even if those foods are technically Paleo based on one argument or another. The agricultural foods may not be “Paleo” as far as having existed during the Paleolithic Era, but they ARE old and have little in common with their modern day versions.

Understanding foods in terms of being “Old” as opposed to “Paleo…”

So, what do I mean by an “old” food? I mean a food that has existed in its current form for a long time. Here’s an example: Look at Roasted mixed nuts (not peanuts) vs. some organic brown rice. Paleo theory is going to say the nuts are Paleo and the rice isn’t because it’s a grain. The problem is, the nuts are likely roasted in a refined oil – usually something corn or soy based – and have sat around a long time after roasting. By contrast, the brown rice is just brown rice – something that has been around for a while in terms of human history and diet.

Beyond that, think about how you would access nuts in the wild. You’d have to find them, crack the shells and eat them one at a time. You would likely get tired long before you ate too many of them. Contrast that with how you can eat ½ pound of nuts at a sitting pretty easily when they’re in a can or bag in front of you. Nuts may be “technically” Paleo depending on the standard, but the refined oil they’re roasted in and being a concentrated, easy to overeat food makes them – in my opinion – a less healthy choice than an occasional serving of simple brown rice.

Looking at the variations that can be accommodated in a Paleo diet…

When we start thinking about the Paleo diet in terms of foods that are “old” and would have been eaten by hunter-gatherer peoples, we start seeing the incredible variation, practicality and adaptability that the diet can offer.

In the early 1900’s, a dentist and researcher named Weston A. Price traveled the world to study the few remaining isolated hunter-gatherer cultures in the world. He found a WIDE variation in the diets and lifestyles of these peoples depending on their geographic location. As an example, there were Eskimo people eating a diet that was nearly entirely protein from fish and seal in Northern regions. This would be similar to a very low carbohydrate, ketogenic or Atkins-style diet today. He also found tribes in Africa who ate a diet that could be characterized as a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet – lots of fruits and vegetables, eggs and little meat. Each of these diets was based on the availability of foods for these people in their natural environment. I talk about this topic in my blog post “There Are MANY Different Paleo Diets.”


Although it’s less definitive and concrete, my hope is that you can start to see the Paleo style of eating more from a perspective of eating old, healthy foods that are suited to YOUR individual lifestyle, training and physiology. Eating for health using the Paleo model is about using broad, general principles to guide the selection of foods much more than it’s about foods being “Paleo” or “Non-Paleo.”

Next week, I’m going to get into some of the individual fine-tuning you can do to make Paleo really work for YOU.  For now, let us know in the comments what you think so far about Paleo!

You can read part 3 in this article series here.

Submitted Comments

  1. Bill says:

    Is there a site or easy-reference list of ‘old foods’?

  2. Dan says:

    Very interesting and makes a lot of sense. i’ll be honest.. I find myself eating way to many roasted mixed nuts.

    I’ll start thinking “old” more often.

  3. Adam Farrah says:

    Bill, this is in NO WAY a pitch for my book, but… I go into this in great detail in my book LOL

    You can find plenty of references on what’s Paleo and what’s not, but the “old” thing isn’t a well-covered topic. Might be something good for me to write on at some point…


  4. Adam Farrah says:

    Thanks, Dan! Glad it got you thinking!


  5. Attila says:

    From the little i know about it, paleo eating is pretty much the perfect diet. its versatile and easy to accomplish… i can’t honestly say I’ve adopted the paleo lifestyle, but i am interested in learning about it.
    so, less than a year and a half ago, i would eat just about anything. no allergies means all food is fair game. but then i started to consider what it was that i put through my body. my diet started to change. soon after, i was given “the paleo diet” by a crossfitter and after reading only a few pages put it on my shelf. despite not reading much of it, my diet continued to shift towards natural, unprocessed, organic, etc (partly cuz my brother is OCD about the food he eats). modern foods while sometimes unavoidable, are being eased out of my diet.
    now the real difficult part is to try to explain why i’m shifting my eating habits to the lady friend who still eats yucky modern foods all the time. she thinks i’ve become picky… well, yes, but… :-P
    its especially difficult to explain when she’s a 5 hour drive away 99% of the time, but thats a separate issue.

    i really appreciate your detailing this lifestyle change to us paleo noobs. i look forward to your future posts!

  6. Adam Farrah says:

    It really is a great diet, Attila! And I really try to show that it’s a broad, conceptual thing as opposed to a rigid diet.

    My feeling is, this kind of thinking will guide food choices for many more people in the future. I think the ‘evolutionary” concept is that powerful.

    And, don’t get me started on the “lady friend” thing :-) I’ve learned that I can’t date anyone who isn’t seriously into Paleo and health in general…

    Thanks for the comment!


  7. Annette says:

    I have already started shifting my diet (and my husband’s) towards more organic, non-processed food, including (in my case) almond milk instead of regular organic cow’s milk. The one habit I am going to have a hard time breaking, however, is coffee. As often as possible, I have whole bean organic coffee, ground immediately prior to use. I realize I need to give up my creamer, but can I use almond milk as a substitute and still be within the Paleo realm?

  8. Adam Farrah says:


    Almond milk in your coffee should be fine. I’m lucky because I’ve always enjoyed my coffee black!

    You can also try rice milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and a few others out there. Stay away from soy though!

    Truthfully, the amount of almond milk you’d use in coffee is small enough that it’s not a big deal – Paleo or not!


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