Paleo Plan

Getting Enough Nutrients in Your Paleo Diet?

I’m not really sure when people started believing that dairy and grains were the end-all-be-all of nutrient density. Maybe it’s the obvious, vibrant, antioxidant-rich color of wheat flour. And in dairy’s case, its calcium levels trump all other foods’ nutrient content, right? More on calcium here and here in case you can’t sense the sarcasm.

When you tell people the basics of your Paleo diet, one out of 5 people inevitably asks, “But what do you eat? Do you get enough of everything you need? What about CALcium?!” Maybe you’ve wondered for yourself. I mean, you’re always told that this way of eating is more nutrient dense, but how much more? I’d seen Cordain’s study on the nutrient density differences, so I knew that he found the diet to be more nutritious, but I needed to see for myself. So I did an analysis comparing the nutrients in the Paleo diet and the typical Western diet and came up with some pretty awe-inspiring results.

I used www.nutritiondata.com to get my data. A while back I turned my nose up to this site when I found out they warn that breast milk is “highly inflammatory”, along with any other high fat food. However, the site does provide a LOT of data on all the different nutrients you get from food. More than any other free diet tracking site out there.

Below is the data, and it speaks for itself. Both diets are exactly 2004 calories (don’t ask how I did that). The %DV refers to the FDA’s recommended daily values, and it pertains to a 2,000-calorie diet. So for instance, if vitamin C is above 100%, that’s a good thing. If it’s below 100%, it means we’re not even meeting the FDA’s paltry standards.

As a side note, getting a typical Western diet down to 2,000 calories was nearly impossible without making my sample person look anorexic. Who actually eats 1 cup of cereal for breakfast? Nobody I know. When I asked around, people told me they ate anywhere form 2 cups to an entire box for breakfast. When I was a cereal eater, I paid no attention whatsoever to the serving size on the box (usually 1 cup). Serving sizes were for calorie counting ninnies and I didn’t need that tedium (in retrospect, yes, I did).

Anyhoo, without further ado, here are the diets and their respective nutrient stats.

Paleo Diet for a Day

Breakfast
Roasted Pepper & Sausage Omelet
1/2 cup sweet potatoes sauteed in coconut oil

Lunch
4 oz Cilantro Turkey Burger & 1/2 Avocado
2 cups spinach
1 cup cantaloupe

Snack
2 oz homemade beef jerky
10 strawberries
1/2 cup blueberries

Dinner
4 oz Chez Lorraine’s Baked Salmon
1 cup Cauliflower Rice
1 1/2 cups steamed broccoli

Dessert
Carrot Banana Muffin

_______________________________________________________

Western Diet for a Day

Breakfast
1 cup Frosted Flakes cereal
3/4 cup skim milk
2 cups coffee with sugar

Snack
20 potato chips

Lunch
McDonald’s cheeseburger
McDonald’s small fry
12 oz Coke

Snack
granola bar

Dinner
1 cup spaghetti noodles
3/4 cup marinara
3 oz chicken

Dessert
ice cream sandwich

_______________________________________________________

Nutrient                          Paleo             %Calories          Western             %Calories

Calories                               2004                                                 2004
Carbohydrates                   119 g                  24%                        294 g                      59%
Fiber                                     42 g                                                     16 g
(25 g recommended)
Sugar                                    67 g                                                  105 g
Glycemic Load                    47                                                     148
(target 100/day or less)
Fat                                        109 g                 50%                          57 g                      26%
Protein                                133 g                 27%                           75 g                       15%

Vitamins                         Paleo               %DV                    Western            %DV

Vitamin A                           48876 IU           978%                     3072 IU                 61%
Vitamin C                                597 mg          995%                          36 mg                60%
Vitamin D                                 30 IU                8%                        124 IU                  31%
Vitamin E                                  27 mg           135%                           5.3 mg               27%
Vitamin K                              1610 mcg       2012%                          34 mcg              42%
Thiamin (Vit B1)                        1.5 mg         103%                            1.5 mg            103%
Riboflavin (Vit B2)                   2.6 mg         150%                            1.6 mg              92%
Niacin (Vit B3)                       32.9 mg         164%                          33.9 mg             169%
Vitamin B6                                3.8 mg         191%                             2.5 mg             124%
Folate*                                    752 mcg         188%                         338 mcg                85%
Vitamin B12                            6.7 mcg          112%                             4.2 mcg             70%
Pantothenic Acid (Vit B5)    8.9 mg             89%                            2 mg                   20%

Minerals

Calcium                                   614 mg             61%                         711 mg                   71%
Iron                                            21.2 mg        118%                           19.4 mg             108%
Magnesium                            496 mg           124%                         185 mg                  46%
Phosphorus                          1547 mg            155%                         731 mg                  73%
Potassium                            5205 mg            149%                       1751 mg                  50%
Sodium                                 2709 mg            113%                      2866 mg                120%
Zinc                                           14.1 mg            94%                            4.5 mg               30%
Copper                                        2.3 mg          114%                              .8 mg               41%
Manganese                                 4.9 mg         246%                             .9 mg               46%
Selenium                                 134 mcg           191%                         78.2 mcg            112%

                                  
Fatty Acid Profile           Paleo                         Western

Saturated                                   28%                           36%
Monounsaturated                    45%                            15%
Polyunsaturated                       19%                            12%
Omega 3                                 4700 mg                     232 mg
Omega 6                              17,300 mg                   6354 mg
Omega 6:Omega 3                    3.7:1                             27:1
(goal 4:1 or lower)
Trans Fat                                    0 g                              0 g

* 104 mcg of the “folate” in the Western diet comes from food, while 234 mcg comes from enriched wheat products, which contain folic acid instead of natural folate. Research is now coming out suggesting that folic acid is associated with several types of cancer, and that its ubiquitous presence in the food system may not have been such a great idea after all…

Important Points

We should touch on some details within this overwhelming DOMINATION on Paleo’s part. Did you notice the drastic difference in the vitamin A (well, beta carotene, etc.) levels?! And manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, etc. etc.? In fact, the only places Paleo was not the clear ass kicker was with vitamin D, calcium and sodium.

Vitamin D
The vitamin D in the Western diet mostly comes from the synthetic vitamin D in fortified milk products. I’m hoping you guys all regularly get out in the sun sans sunblock to get your vitamin D.

Calcium
The calcium, as we see in the articles I linked you to in the first paragraph, is not necessarily a “more is better” kind of thing. Plus, it turns out that Paleo eaters don’t even get much less than a typical dairy-consuming Western eater.

Fatty Acids
You guys know how I feel about saturated fat by now. I hope. If not, here and here are some articles to shed some light on that. In a nutshell, it’s not bad. The only reason I even included the percentages of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids was to show you that even with all that meat eating, you’re not getting any more saturated fat than the standard American eater. It’s one of the flawed arguments against Paleo, and as you can see, Western eaters typically eat more saturated fat than we do.

Omega Ratio
The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is astounding. Remember that omega 3′s are anti-inflammatory and omega 6′s are inflammatory, hence the profusion of inflammatory conditions like heart disease, diabetes, etc. This sample diet actually had the lowest (at 27:1) of all the Western diets I’ve been messing with lately. One Western diet day rang in at 45:1…

There you have it. It really is better.

Remember that Paleo Plan is a meal planning service. If you still haven’t committed to the diet because you need help with meal planning and grocery shopping, we’re here to help.

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14 Comments

  1. Heather

    This is an incredible post and I LOVE the graphic. Thanks!

  2. kenzer013

    Great article, all of my in-laws are always dieting and they keep telling me its not healthy to cut out dairy. Now I have proof it is! Thanks for the excellent data!

  3. Love the article, I was just curious how the cholesterol stacked up. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • @Hal – Great question. Not sure why I didn’t include that. In the Western diet it was 134 mg at 45% DV. Paleo cholesterol was 593 mg at 198% DV. Don’t freak out! Dietary cholesterol has little, or perhaps nothing to do with the risk of heart disease. Here’s some wisdom from the cholesterol/heart disease king, Chris Masterjohn.

  4. The comment about the breast milk is intriguing. I guess whatever diet goes into it, be it Western or Paleo, is what your baby gets out of it. That would be another interesting comparison study…

  5. Anonymous

    No way the Paleo diet shown was 2,000 calories. It’s not possible to get enough calories on this diet. I need 2500 to 3000. And I’m a female, forties, 5 ft 6 106 lbs. Starving.

  6. I read a study that said that there was no conclusive evidence that the paleo diet was very good and only gave it two stars out of five. I’d like to share my story. A little over a year ago, a Sacramento news station had a doctor try the paleo diet as a test to see if it worked. It was touted as a way to reduce cholesterol, tryglcerides, and blood pressure while losing weight. The doctor’s results were impressive after only eating paleo for 10 days. Since I had high blood pressure and was on atenolol for it, and had high cholesterol and trygleride levels, I figured I had nothing to lose by trying it. I started it on Dec 1, 2011 and tested on Dec 16, 2011. It reduced my cholesterol from the 300 plus range down to the mid 200s. My tryglerides when down below 199 from what had always exceeded 300 plus and sometimes went as high as 600, and my blood pressure went down. I have maintained a paleo diet ever since and am now off of blood pressure meds. I did not go on this diet to lose weight, but an added benefit was that I went from 144 lbs. (I’m 5′ 3″) to 122 lbs. I eat as much as I want but limit the types of foods I eat. I do eat beans on a limited basis, and I also eat small amounts of dark chocolate as a treat. One day a week, I eat whatever I want. This makes it possible for me to maintain paleo eating the rest of the week. After I was eating paleo for about 4 months, my husband decided to try it to lose weight. He went from 220 lbs to 175 lbs.

    This is proof enough for me that paleo eating is much better for a person’s health than the recommended diet that includes a lot of grain and dairy.

    The only thing I would say is that if you are older like we are (60 yrs. old) it is a good idea to supplement with Vitamin D because even if you aren’t eating paleo it becomes more difficult for your body to get it from the sun as you age. So either eat quite a bit of fatty fish, or take a Vitamin D supplement.

    I don’t ever see myself going back to my old eating habits of high grain and dairy intake.

  7. Karen

    I went to a Dr. through Body Logic, MD group. Due to a Hypothyroid that wouldn’t stay put with one dosage. Every three months my meds were changed. My triglycerides were high, low vitamin D, Adrenal Fatigue, low testosterone and Hoshimoto thyroiditis. His comment, “Karen your looking a little messy…..lol”. With a change of diet, vitamins and exercise these things are very manageable. He suggested I start the Paleo Diet Plan. In Jan 2013 I removed gluten and dairy from my diet. So I thought this should be a breeze. Until I came across an article about foods that you shouldn’t eat IF you have a Hypothyroid. I do. Soy is a big NO NO. To name a few broccoli, turnips, brussel sprouts, kale. Did I miss any? If you have any more to say on this subject that would be wonderful.
    For 19 yrs I’ve been battling the doctors and swearing up side down “I do take my medicine when, and how I’m suppose to”. Come to find out that these foods suppress the thyroid. I’m 53 and desiring a fog free mind. I’m starting the meal plans today so here we go.

  8. That was interesting! However the example “Western Diet” is really, really unhealthy – I mean, come on, McDonalds an coke for lunch? That’s not a standard Western Diet (like in the left graphic above), that’s just plain bad. I would totally love to see how a good Paleo Diet compares to a good vegan Diet (meaning: not just junk with soy, but a regular, healthy vegan diet) nutritionwise. I think both ways of life have pros and cons but seeing them together in an example day would be great! :-)

    • Neely Quinn

      Isa – I’d love to do the comparison. If you can write out a “good” vegan diet menu for a day, I’ll do the comparison.

  9. Where do you get that carb count from on the Paleo side? 119 grams seems very high for the food listed! I say this because I am a type 1 diabetic and I carb count every day to figure out my insulin levels. I eat Paleo and it’s a stretch for me to go over 75 carbs in a day…

  10. Hi, I’m a dietitian and whilst I don’t agree with the paleo diet in terms of cutting out grains and dairy, I do think it is a great way to cut out crappy sugar, salt, additive and preservative laden products! And that’s what I attribute the weight loss and health benefits to rather than cutting out those food groups.
    I really don’t think you have provided a good comparison here. Of course the paleo diet is going to come out on top compared to that awful diet. How about you do a comparison between the paleo diet and a healthy balanced diet that does include dairy and grains?
    I’m not trying to be negative nancy or put down your way of eating, I would prefer people eat paleo than eat the way they currently do. But a better comparison would find similar results between the two diets.

  11. Bronwyn

    Just wondering about Paleo and Pescatarian eating. I am reading The Paleo Answer at the moment and have been on the diet for 3 weeks except I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish and seafood. Can I still get all the nutrients I need?

    • Bronwyn – You might want to find a source of vitamin B12 – maybe take a Vitamin B complex from a health food store. Make sure it says “natural folates” on it instead of “folic acid” though. That’s how you know it’s high quality.

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