One of the best things about the Paleo diet is that it’s not just one diet. There are a lot of ways to be Paleo and, in fact, personalizing your Paleo diet provides the most health benefits, because you’re creating the opportunity to meet your specific needs. No “one size fits all” food plan could really work for everyone, but because Paleo is so customizable, it can truly be a diet framework that fits everyone.
Early humans lived all over the globe in vastly different environments. What they ate depended on geographic location and what the topography, climate, and seasons supported. And let’s not forget that the Paleolithic era is a 2.5 million year time span. The types of foods available to our ancestors no doubt changed continuously over time.
Even today, some contemporary hunter-gatherer societies thrive on mostly plant foods and others on mosty animals. Despite these differences, what seems to hold true is that people who eat their traditional diets have good health. (1) It makes sense then why Paleo can be so successfully individualized.
10 Reasons Why You Should Make the Paleo Diet Your Own
We like to point out in Paleo world that you are a unique snowflake and your personal dietary needs and goals dictate what’s right for you. Tweak the Paleo basics until you feel your best and experience the health benefits you seek. The following are 10 reasons you may want to personalize your Paleo diet to get the best results.
1. You have a Food Allergy, Sensitivity, or Intolerance
If you’re feeling a whole lot better after going Paleo, it might be because the most common foods that cause digestive distress, sensitivity, and allergies are removed from the diet. These include grains (like wheat, which contains gluten), legumes (like peanuts), and dairy.
However, if your gut has been under attack from detrimental diet and lifestyle practices, and is leaky as a result, you may find that you’re intolerant to many foods, including Paleo-friendly foods.
Leaky gut refers to a chronic condition that allows gut contents such as undigested food particles, bacteria, and other toxins to “leak” through the intestinal barrier into the body. The immune system is stimulated by these invaders and in the ongoing efforts to eradicate them, sets off a pattern of chronic inflammation. A more detailed discussion of leaky gut can found in the AIP section below.
The following are just a few signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Joint Pain
- Thyroid Disorders
- Weight Gain
Food sensitivity and intolerance often greatly improve as your gut heals after eating a Paleo diet for a period of time. Many people find that they can add foods back in that previously irritated them.
True food allergies that activate specific antibodies in the immune system generally show up very quickly after eating a particular food. The eater’s immune system can react almost immediately causing inflammatory symptoms such as itchy skin and runny nose. A serious allergic reaction called anaphylaxis is life-threatening.
Foods that cause most allergic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts, almonds, and pecans), shellfish, milk, eggs, soy, coconut, wheat, and sesame. As you can see, some of these foods are avoided on the Paleo diet but not all of them. If an allergy prevents you from enjoying a particular Paleo-friendly food, simply leave it off your Paleo table and don’t assume that dietary changes can heal a true IgE allergy.
Allergies to eggs and nuts are particularly difficult for the Paleo eater because so many recipes contain them. If you’re allergic to eggs, you can still enjoy a rich Paleo diet, and even still bake delicious Paleo goods egg-free.
A great substitute for tree nuts in all types of recipes is sunflower seed butter. SunButter is a sunflower seed butter that is prepared in a peanut-free and tree-nut free facility, making it safe for anyone who has those allergens.
If you have a shellfish allergy, you’ll have to avoid those foods. To make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids, consider working with an allergist to see if there’s a fish oil supplement you can tolerate. Most people with shellfish allergies are not allergic to all fish, and typically salmon can be allergy-friendly. The best way to know what foods you can tolerate is to get professional allergy testing done under the care of a qualified professional.
2. You’re Transitioning to Paleo
Transitioning to Paleo can be a confusing and difficult business for individuals and it can seem overwhelmingly complicated when family members are transitioning along with you. If you and/or your family are in transition to Paleo you’ll have to customize your plan(s) to reflect everyone’s needs and level of adherence.
There are many transition strategies but they generally fall into three categories which all require different levels of customization:
- The “speedy transition”
- The “slow transition”
- The “super slow” transition
In the speedy transition, the pantry is purged of conventional foods and it’s all Paleo moving forward, no looking back.
The “slow transition” occurs over a period of time, and is appropriate for spouses and children who are reasonably agreeable to nutritional change as long as it’s not too sudden and disruptive.
This family might customize by going gluten-free for a couple of months before taking the plunge to grain-free. Perhaps cow’s milk is removed but other forms of dairy remain in the diet for a time and legumes are taken off the menu, but favorites such as hummus make occasional appearances until phased out. Refined seed oils are replaced with coconut oil, olive oil, and other healthy fats, and low quality protein is replaced with higher quality choices. The family works together to find acceptable replacements for much-loved conventional staples and builds a stockpile of new favorite Paleo recipes.
The “super slow” transition is the take it so slowly nobody realizes what’s happening transition. In this scenario, conventional foods continue to play a major role in the family’s diet and Paleo meals and snacks are slowly, or if necessary, clandestinely introduced into the meal rotation. Nobody needs to know that your delicious grass-fed steak and sautéed veggie dinner is Paleo. They just need to think dinner tastes great and makes them feel good so they’ll look forward to more dinners just like it! In this transition, there’s no timetable for your Paleo destination, just a journey towards healthier eating and living. Progress may be painfully slow but even one successful Paleo meal a week is better than none!
It’s important to remember that transitioning to Paleo is a different journey for every family and every step you take no matter how small is a step in the right direction. Personalize your plan as little or as much as will get you to your destination!
3. You Avoid Nightshades
Nightshade fruits and vegetables are part of the Solanaceae family of plants that contain potentially toxic compounds called glycoalkaloids. In nature, glycoalkaloids are a compound that protects plants against predatory insects by poisoning them and dissolving their cell membranes.
In humans, glycoalkaloids can also have toxic effects. They are difficult to digest and can cause damage to the lining of the intestine in several ways including directly killing epithelial cells or creating small holes in these cells. If enough glycoalkaloids leak from the intestine into the bloodstream, they can cause hemolysis by literally dissolving the membranes of red blood cells. They also have the potential to elicit an immune response.
The following is a list of edible nightshades:
- Potatoes and starch from potatoes including “potato starch,” “starch,” and “vegetable starch” (but not sweet potatoes)
- Bell peppers including green, red, orange, yellow, white, and purple
- Banana peppers
- Chili peppers (table pepper and peppercorns; black, white, green, and szechuan are not nightshades)
- Red pepper seasonings and “spices,” “natural flavors” and some curry blends that contain paprika, chili powder, and cayenne
- Goji berries
- Ground cherries, also called cape gooseberries (fruit cherries are not nightshades)
- Garden Huckleberries (huckleberries are not nightshades)
- Ashwagandha, an ayurvedic herb
Interestingly, you can be sensitive to one nightshade and not others because they all contain slightly different alkaloids. Since all nightshade foods are Paleo-friendly, you’ll have to determine which ones to avoid and personalize your diet accordingly.
4. You’re Following a Low FODMAP Diet
FODMAPs are indigestible sugars that linger in the intestinal tract and become food for gut bacteria. In this environment, water is retained, gas is produced, and GI discomfort occurs, ranging from barely noticeable to severe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Common IBS symptoms include bloating, painful abdominal distention, flatulence, as well as constipation and/or diarrhea.
The acronym FODMAPs refers to:
Fermented short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols that include,
Oligosaccharides (fructans and galactans)
Polyols (sugar alcohols)
If you’re Paleo, you’re already avoiding many of the fructans, galactans, lactose and polyols contained in grains, legumes, soy, dairy, and processed food. Therefore, by nature of the diet, you greatly minimize your FODMAP intake. However, if you’re still having symptoms of IBS on Paleo, you may want to personalize your diet to restrict all additional FODMAPs until your symptoms disappear. Then proceed to reintroduce one food per week, and see how you feel.
5. You’re Following the AIP Diet
The autoimmune protocol or the AIP refers to a very strict version of Paleo designed to heal leaky gut and associated autoimmunity.
An imbalance of gut bacteria (dysbiosis), anti-nutrients, and toxic lectins—especially gluten—can trigger the opening of tiny gates between intestinal cells called tight junctions. Normally these gates are very selective and only let in water, fully digested nutrients, and other particles that the body expects and can use. However, with leaky gut, additional “foreign” particles such as bacteria, viruses, antigens, toxins, and partially-digested food escape through the open tight junction gates and into the body. Your body doesn’t recognize these particles and reacts to them as it would to any invader—by attacking. (2)
The majority of the immune system (70-80 percent!) resides in and around the gut and if a leaky situation is allowed to persist, the gut’s immune system will eventually become overwhelmed from the massive influx of invaders. At this point, intestinal contents gain access to the bloodstream and travel all over the body. Your immune system then initiates an inflammatory response wherever they land. Sometimes a second process called molecular mimicry occurs, where the immune system mistakes its own cells for those of the invaders. The destruction that ensues manifests as symptoms of autoimmune disease.
By taking away environmental triggers for leaky gut, you can halt this process in its tracks. To customize your Paleo diet for AIP, you’ll have to eliminate these foods:
- All nuts and seeds
- Anything derived from a nut, seed, grain, or legume (coffee beans, cocoa beans (chocolate), seed-based spices, nut flours, etc.)
- NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, which are also well-documented to wear away at the gut and stomach lining)
- Gluten cross-reacting foods (foods that can trick the body into thinking that you’re eating gluten, such as coffee, fermented foods, yeast-containing foods, chocolate, etc.)
- Sugar, starches, fruits, FODMAPs (best limited or restricted especially at first on the AIP)
As you can see, the AIP diet is very restrictive. It certainly isn’t easy to follow, however, if your regular Paleo diet isn’t working to ease your symptoms and better your health, it can be worth a try. Recently, a study showed that AIP was effective in reversing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. (3)
6. You’re Eating a Ketogenic Diet
The Ketogenic diet is by definition a low carb, moderate protein, high fat diet that often needs to be customized to be very low carb to do its job of burning fat for energy and creating ketones. (4)
Paleolithic people depended on ketosis for survival in times of food scarcity. Conversely, modern humans have harnessed it for weight reduction in an era of food abundance. The ketogenic diet has also been used therapeutically to treat medical conditions such as uncontrolled seizures in children, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. There is increasing interest in the use of ketosis for neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
The carbohydrate threshold for ketosis varies between individuals, but almost everyone has to go below 100 grams of carbs per day and most will need to go below 50 grams. Very carb-sensitive individuals, such as those with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes, will likely require less than 30 grams or even less than 20 grams of carbohydrates to cross the threshold. Protein should be moderate at 10 to 15 percent of intake. Just as ideal carb intake varies, ideal protein intake varies, too. Fat picks up the slack usually at 70-80 percent of daily calories.
In order to customize your Paleo diet to meet your keto threshold, you’ll have to reduce carbohydrate intake, keep protein moderate, and eat a very liberal amount of fat. Many keto dieters add full-fat dairy such as heavy cream and cream cheese to their meals to help meet the high fat requirement. Go for grass-fed, organic dairy for highest quality and the most nutrition if you’re not dairy-sensitive.
7. You’re Practicing Intermittent Fasting
- increased insulin sensitivity
- increased cell regeneration
- hunger and satiety hormone regulation
- increased fat utilization
- weight loss
- improved body composition
Fasting may also reduce the risks for diseases such as cancer and heart disease, as well as promote longevity and brain health. It has been shown to even expand the benefits of exercise by boosting human growth hormone, improving recovery from both endurance and resistance training, and improving glycogen repletion and retention. (6,7,8,9)
With IF, you don’t change the composition of your Paleo diet, you customize your window of eating. The following are a few different methods of IF:
- Alternating fasting days with eating days
- Eating only 20–25% of your energy needs a couple of days a week
- Eating within specific time windows, such as eating within an 8 hour period and fasting for 16 hours
IF can be highly beneficial for some, but not for others, such as those with hypoglycemia, thyroid problems, or who are pregnant.
8. You’re Not Perfectly Paleo
Paleo people have adopted an old saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This means that if there’s a certain imperfection in your Paleo regimen, that’s okay! If a cheat meal here and there or even a few cheats on a regular basis help you stay the Paleo course over time, then your overall health benefits.
Let’s face it, following a perfect Paleo diet in our food environment is hard! For many of us, long term compliance (and therefore the greatest health benefits) comes from following the plan 80-85 percent of the time. What does this look like? If you’re eating three meals a day, seven days a week, and you’re choosing to eat three of those as non-Paleo meals, you are 85% Paleo. With four non-Paleo meals, you’re 80 percent Paleo.
Paleo doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Most of us require some margin of error because as humans we are, well, human. Feel free to personalize your Paleo diet in any way that best works for you. If you’re Paleo 80 percent of the time, you’re still Paleo. Even if you only choose to eat Paleo 50 percent of the time, as long as you’re choosing foods that meet your body’s specific needs, then that’s the right diet for you.
9. You’re an Athlete or Highly Active
With the right customization, the Paleo diet is great for athletes. Athletic goals, level of health and fitness, specific sport, and training duration/intensity are all variables that go into finding the best nutritional strategies for optimizing athletic potential and promoting peak performance.
The Paleo diet provides a great nutritional base for the athlete because it rests on a foundation of high quality protein, anti-inflammatory carbohydrate sources, and healthy fats. All of these work together to create a well-functioning body.
Depending on your sport and your goals, you can customize from a Paleo foundation and find the right macronutrient targets and meal spacing approaches that work for you.
10. You Want/Need Plan Flexibility
As long as you’re eating real food most of the time and making lifestyle choices for optimal health based on Paleo principles, your dietary choices don’t have to fall into a one size fits all box, or be the same all of the time. Dietary choices should evolve with our needs, which do change based on seasons of the year and seasons of life. The food that we eat should nourish and serve us, not the other way around.
Personalizing your Paleo diet is so essential because no single plan will work for everyone. We at PaleoPlan believe that so strongly that we have created a meal planning system that is fully customizable. So while we send out a meal plan each week, every person can fully make it their own by changing features like:
- Serving sizes
- Ingredients (for allergies or preferences)
- Recipes (for taste or preference)
- Shopping lists (all changes you make automatically update your shopping list!)
If you have certain allergies, like you can’t eat eggs or coconut, you can flag ingredients and easily eliminate them from your weekly plan. If you’re cooking for more or less than two people, you can change the settings to automatically update your recipe quantities and the shopping list.
Basically, it’s like having a personal Paleo meal planner at your beck and call, all with a few clicks. We create a weekly plan that serves as a building block for your dietary needs. If you don’t have special dietary needs, or you just want something fully done-for-you, then it shows up in your inbox each week, ready to go. But no one should be limited or trapped by an inflexible plan, so that’s why we’ve created every option you could need. Add more snacks or remove them, add favorite meals that your family enjoys, or skip certain meals if you know you’ll be traveling or eating out. With our plan there is no wasted food or ingredients, which saves you time and money.
We believe in personalizing your Paleo food plan, and we know you’ll love the features we have for you to do just that, so we’re offering two full weeks of the plan for free. Play around with it, cook the recipes, love the convenience of prep notes and swappable ingredients—all with no upfront investment or commitment!