Getting Enough Nutrients in Your Paleo Diet?


Screen-shot-2011-08-28-at-8.33.46-PM.pngI’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 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 Loren 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 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 from 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

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

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

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

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

Carrot Banana Muffin


Western Diet for a Day

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

20 potato chips

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

granola bar

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

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%


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.

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.

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