Q&A: Canola Oil, Goat Yogurt, Pita Bread, Popcorn, Green Beans, and Condiments

These very good questions came in a recent email from a Paleo Plan reader. Here are her initial comments and her questions follow with my answers below them in italics.

questionsThank you for helping those of us who have questions on allowed Paleo foods. I read thru the list of Q&A’s and didn’t find my specific questions addressed. I started eating healthier today after reading The Paleo Answer this weekend. I finally understand the science behind not eating beans and grains.

1) Is Canola oil allowed?

Canola oil’s fatty acid composition is high in omega 3’s & 6’s, and low in saturated fat. To be precise, it’s 7% saturated, 63% monounsaturated, 19% omega 6 and 9% omega 3. For comparison, coconut oil is 92% saturated, 6% monounsaturated, and 2% omega 6. On the other end of that comparison is corn oil, which is 13% saturated, 28% monounsaturated, 54% omega 6 and 1% omega 3. 

That means that, first of all, canola isn’t the most stable oil to be processing with heat and then cooking with. All those omegas are susceptible to rancidity from heat, while the saturated fats, and somewhat the monounsaturated fats, are much more stable for cooking. The oils and fats higher in saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids like coconut oil, lard, tallow, and even olive oil, can “take the heat” and not become rancid as quickly as oils like canola, corn, etc.

There are other problems with canola, though: it’s often highly processed, and it contains erucic acid, which has been found to have an allergenic effect on people.

Having said that, I eat canola oil in the form of mayo on occasion and sometimes in Whole Foods’ pre-made foods (like once every three weeks). I think there are definitely worse things you could eat than canola oil every now and then :)

2) Condiments such as dill pickles and mustard?

Dill pickles and mustard are fine. Just make sure you get the pickles with no weird preservatives in them. Manufacturers are sneaky about that. Almost all mustard is just mustard seed, vinegar, and spices, and those are all fine on Paleo.  

Ketchup is another story, though, as well as mayo. Ketchup, unless it’s of the organic type, is always made with high fructose corn syrup. If it’s organic it’s made with sugar. I don’t have a problem with occasional sugar in my diet, and I don’t think anyone should be so afraid of it that they won’t have a little organic ketchup sometimes. No reason to be militant about Paleo (unless of course you’re diabetic and ketchup legitimately spikes your blood sugar).

Conventional mayo is always made with soy, corn, and other seed oils, so stay away from that. You can buy olive oil mayo instead. The “light” mayos always contain corn starch, so be careful of that. 


3) Goat cheese

Goat cheese is dairy – anything that comes from an animal’s teat is dairy. My suggestion is always to stay away from dairy for the first month that you’re Paleo/Primal. Then if you feel like it, add some back in and see how you do with it. If you have any symptoms at all – itchy skin, rash, digestive problems, acne, fatigue, headache, you name it – consider that it was from the dairy and try it again at a different time just to make sure. Or if you’re absolutely sure it was from the dairy, consider removing it from your diet altogether.


4) Pita bread (I eat half of a piece cause I love it and it has a lot of fiber)

Broccoli and raspberries also have a lot of fiber in them :) You don’t need to get your fiber from bread anymore – you can get all you need and more from regular consumption of fruits and vegetables. I know you love it, but if you have half a piece of it every day, you’ll never know if grains are affecting you. I suggest giving it up for the first month, along with all other grains. Then try it again after that first month and see how you feel. Some people really don’t have issues with a little bit of grains here and there, and you might be one of them. Your diet will be a constant, evolving learning process from here on out.


5) Non-fat plain yogurt (my flora does better with natural probiotics that are in yogurt).

Again, yogurt is dairy, so I suggest you remove it for the first month. Sometimes dairy in itself affects your gut flora and your natural bowel movements, causing constipation and/or diarrhea (ironic, huh?). If you need probiotics, get Inner Eco from Whole Foods or another health food store in your area. It’s a natural, fermented drink made from young coconut water, and one tablespoon of it FAR exceeds the amount of probiotics you’ll find in a yogurt. And it tastes good, too. 

If you do end up eating yogurt in the future, eat the full fat kind. No reason to skimp on the fat, as it’s full of good nutrients, especially if it comes from grass-fed cows or other animals. It’s also more satiating so you won’t be hungry 30 minutes after you eat that yogurt.


6) Green beans?

While green beans are legumes, they’re not the old, dried out legumes like pinto beans, black beans, and lentils that we’re trying to avoid on Paleo. Those older beans and seeds have more anti-nutrients in them, so go ahead and eat your young, green, green beans, snap peas, etc. I had some today in my soup for lunch.


7) Air popped popcorn

Popcorn is made from corn, so it’s not technically on the diet. However, we’re trying to stay away from corn and other grains as daily staples in our diets, while we’re ok with eating seeds and nuts in moderation (like almonds and sunflower seeds, etc.) on Paleo. So because popcorn is made of the seeds of the corn plant and you won’t be eating them as an everyday bulk item (or will you?), I’d say go ahead and eat it sometimes.

Having said that, I would take it out of your diet for the first month, as so many people are sensitive to corn and don’t even know it. See how you feel after that first month and then figure out if you want to start adding things like popcorn and dairy back in on occasion. Another thing, make sure your popcorn is organic; otherwise, you’ll almost definitely be eating genetically modified corn. 


8) It’s ok to grill foods medium rare on a BBQ, right?



  1. So since sweet potatoes are kosher with paleo (in moderation of course) where do purple potatoes stand? High in anti oxidants and deliciousness, I hope the answer is “they’re a-ok!”

    1. Jenn O – Totally fine on a normal Paleo diet. If you’re getting into the “autoimmune protocol”, you’d want to steer clear of nightshades for a while, which includes potatoes. But for a normal Paleo diet for a normally functioning person (no diabetes), they’re totally fine.

  2. I would watch out for canola oil. Canola oil is genetically modified form of the rapeseed plant, developed in Canada for a lower eurcic acid content. The word canola comes from *CAN*adian *O*il *L*ow *A*cid. Because canola is a highly processed oil, it must undergo a deoderizing process, which damages the omega-3 fats, and can potentially turn them into trans fats. Not all that appetizing, especially compared with things like coconut oil and butter ….

  3. I would like to point out some factual errors in this article:

    1. There is no erucic acid in canola oil. Erucic Acid exists in rapeseed but not in canola.

    2. Canola was not created by genetic modification. It was created by agricultural cross-breeding in the 60s. Scientists cross-bred rapeseed until they achieved a “new” hybrid variety that had no erucic acid.

    1. VN Dalmia – rapeseed and canola are the same thing. And I never said anything about the genetically modified nature of canola because I know that what you said is correct.

  4. I have omitted potatoes. This purple thing makes me wonder as I replaced potatoes with almost daily yams, a favorite. Can there really be too many yams/sweet potatoes?

  5. Thanks Neely for such an Informative blog..I read all your emails with enthusiasm and am continually learning new concepts and reasons for the Paleo…I believe the subconscious mind if surrounded by daily positive influences and information will inevitably influence our daily actions in a more positive manner….eg I used to eat lollies, dried fruit, sugar ice blocks on my Saturday arvos as a treat…since following your blog my body seems to crave paleo treats and I feel sick from knowing what I’m eating is harming my body more than the taste is worth ..

  6. I last heard (definitively, I hope) from Dr. Cordain that cashews ARE NOT Paleo, yet they keep popping up in “Paleo” and “Primal” recipe after recipe as cashew butter. Has something changed? Dr. Cordain says since we can’t eat cashews right off the tree due to poisonous toxins, then cashews are not Paleo.

    I believe Mark Sisson holds the same opinion for the Primal diet.

    Yes, cashew butter makes life easier for a lot of foods and re-made foods, but IT ISN’T PALEO or PRIMAL…is it?

    1. Wenchypoo – I’m not sure where you read that from Cordain – I’d love to see the citation. We also can’t eat tapioca starch immediately because it’s full of cyanide, but it’s still primal/paleo and has been consumed by hunter gatherers for ages. Same goes with nuts and seeds – we really shouldn’t be eating them raw because they’re full of anti-nutrients. And if we didn’t cook our meat, a lot of us would get sick. See where I’m going with this? Food is food, whether you have to process the toxins out of it or not. We evolved to cook our food, and that’s what we have to do with cashews, too. Mark Sisson believes cashews are Paleo. Here’s the article: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-it-primal-8-foods-scrutinized/#axzz2LkYRvpSb

  7. Organic corn can still be GMO. Organic has to do with the way it’s grown. Unless it’s an heirloom seed it’s probably GMO.

  8. Thanks, Neely. Rapeseed and Canola are technically not the same thing even as they belong to the same Brassica family. Canola has virtually no erucic acid while rapeseed can contain as much as 47%. In Europe, canola is also known as LEAR-Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed. Less commonly, it is also known as Double 00 Rapeseed for Zero Erucic Acid and Zero Glucosinolates.

    1. VN DALMIA – Point taken. Rapeseed oil and canola oil are not the same thing. However, it’s a moot point because rapeseed oil is banned for human consumption, at least in the US, because of its unpalatable nature and its high erucic acid content (http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/soybeans-oil-crops/canola.aspx). The studies that have been done on “low erucic” canola oil have confirmed that it does, in fact, contain erucic acid at levels between .5-1% – here are two articles about it for your reading pleasure: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/gras_notices/GRN000327.pdf and http://thepaleodiet.com/vegetable-oil-fatty-acid-composition/ And here’s a good source of canola oil (if that’s not an oxymoron) and some more info on it: http://www.spectrumorganics.com/?id=240 I’d love to see your sources.

  9. First of all, THANK YOU for answering all these paleo questions in such a thoughtful way! I have two I’ve been wondering about — What about wild rice? Someone told me it’s actually a grass, and not the same kind of plant that cultivated rice is. Is wild rice A-OK on paleo?

    Also, a chef friend told me that olive oil is best for low-heat cooking or for top dressing. She said for high-heat cooking, to use walnut oil, because olive oil breaks down into a less healthy form under high heat, and walnut oil takes much longer time and higher heat before it alters. True or false?

    1. Karen Strickholm – Here’s a really good post that Mark Sisson wrote about wild rice: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-rice-unhealthy/#axzz2LwWTPTES

      All grains are grasses, actually, so wild rice is really no different in that respect. It’s a grain.

      I definitely wouldn’t use walnut oil for higher heat in place of olive oil. It has a much higher level of omegas, which are the fatty acids most easily damaged by heat. It’s lower in mono-unsaturated fat, which is the reason olive oil can be used with low heat cooking (because it contains so much mono-unsaturated fat and that kind of fat is more tolerant of heat than the omegas). Anyway, no, I’d use lard, tallow, or coconut oil for higher-heat cooking. I wrote a guide to fats and oils that might help explain all that a little bit more here: http://assets.paleoplan.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Paleo-Plan-Guide-to-Oils-and-Fats.pdf

  10. But Neely, I agree with everything you’ve said this time. I was just making the point that rapeseed and canola differ essentially because of the erucic acid content. Wikipedia has a good article on canola oil:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canola. Some other good ones:
    http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/canola-oil.html, http://goaskalice.columbia.edu/canola-oil-dangerous-or-another-urban-legend.

    I know rapeseed is banned for edible human consumption in the US as is mustard oil (same family).

Leave a Reply