A fundamental principle of the Paleo diet and the reason why it works so well for weight loss and improved health is that it aims to eliminate all sources of toxins from the diet. There are various sources of potential toxins in our diet; some from an imbalance of macronutrients, some from additives in processed food, and even those in foods considered by many to be perfectly healthy.
Toxins in food cause havoc within the body but many people will not even realise that their health is under attack. Being overweight is not particularly pleasant, and most of us understand that it causes us to be unfit and at risk of certain diseases, but how many of us really understand the extent of the actual and potential damage caused by active fat tissue.
If you are overweight, obese, or simply carrying a little excess abdominal fat, then it is likely that you ARE suffering from a biochemical imbalance. Please see How can Paleo help me lose weight where other diets have failed? to understand the impact of biochemical imbalances on your weight loss efforts.
The foods of the Paleo diet are designed to keep the toxic load as light as possible by eliminating those foods that are shown to be harmful. We have set out below a short overview of the foods which have a toxic effect on the body and why the Paleo diet recommends that they are removed from your diet.
Out of all the foods that create havoc within the body, wheat is one of the worst. Modern wheat is a long way genetically from ancient wheat (for ancient read before 50 years ago – that’s how quickly our food supply has deteriorated) and contains many different proteins which have to be processed into our system. Once broken down within our system particles of these proteins have been shown to cause serious damage to the body. Modern wheat also has far fewer nutrients than its forefathers. Avoid it; always.
A few facts about modern wheat...
It contains highly inflammatory proteins that cross the gut membrane
It contains highly addictive substances that increase appetite
It plays havoc with insulin levels and is at the root of hormonal imbalances
Another key toxin, right up there with wheat and even part of the same story, sugar comes in many forms. Dietary sugar and starch are classified together as carbohydrates and to the human body they are more or less ALL THE SAME. We discuss the wider impact of increased body sugar and the impact of insulin further in How can Paleo help me to lose weight where other diets have failed? and the issue is covered comprehensively in our eBooks Introduction to Paleo and Paleo: 12 Weeks to Change Your Life.
A few facts about Sugar...
It causes the insulin surges that create insulin resistance and hormonal imbalance
It activates the reward systems that lead to overeating in search of a pleasure response – in other words feeding an addiction
It fails to activate the fullness signal to the brain which means your body continues to overeat
Excess sugar is stored as fat and has very little nutrient value
Minimising sugar intake to reverse insulin resistance will ensure that your hunger signals are functioning efficiently
This includes all grains other than wheat. Not all grains are gluten free, so treat those with the same caution as you would wheat. All grains (including wheat) contain certain irritants and anti-nutrients; as well as a predominantly carbohydrate nutrient profile and all of its associated issues. This can cause damage and inflammation to the lining of the gut.
A damaged gut does not always present obvious symptoms and is a major contributor to ill health. Damage to the gut lining means unwanted particles can pass through into the bloodstream and also tampers with nutrient intake. The balance of good bacteria to bad will fall in favour of bad.
A few facts about grains...
Lectins found in grains are damaging to the guy lining and cause inflammatory issues as well as bacterial imbalances
Phytic acid is found in grains and will bind itself to certain essential minerals and carry them out of our body. Unfortunately, we lack the ability to be able to digest phytic acid
As well as a source of dietary carbohydrate, legumes also contain lectins and phytic acid (as above) and are also a cause of irritation to the gut. Legumes also contain saponins that are found in all plant foods but are abundant and harmful in some more than others. Such as legumes.
A few facts about Legumes...
Saponins in Legumes (which are also contained in soap) create holes in the cells of the gut lining and increase permeability
They also cross the gut barrier and create an inflammatory response
Soy and Peanuts
These are the assassins of the legume world, despite soya now being one of the most commonplace dairy substitutions of the world. Both soy and peanuts (which is not actually a nut but a legume) make common appearances on the ingredients lists of manufactured foods and peanut oil is widely used as cheap processed oil.
Peanuts can be harbouring growth of aflatoxins. A group of mycotoxins, aflatoxins are a known carcinogenic. As well as a possible contamination of peanuts, they are also known to be present on corn, especially tortillas and other masa products.
We find it only prudent to mention the potential issues with dairy produce, although the jury is out even within the Paleo community. The recommended approach is to eliminate to begin with and reintroduce it gradually to identify any intolerance, a subject that we address within our eBooks.
Raw dairy is different from processed conventional dairy products. It comes from grass fed animals, not those on grain, so is higher in nutrients and beneficial substances. Raw dairy contains lactase, the enzyme needed to process the sugars in milk, whilst pasteurisation kills it off.
There are Paleo alternatives to milk that can be incorporated into your diet. A good alternative is almond milk which is versatile and can be used in cooking as well as in hot drinks and smoothies. Another popular alternative is coconut milk, this can be a bit too rich for some but can be good for those who are used to using full fat milk or cream.
A few facts about Dairy...
Milk contains potentially allergenic substances, the most well known is Casein. If you react to gluten then it is also very likely that you will react to Casein
Lactose is the sugar that is contained within milk. Intolerance to Lactose comes in two forms and you can react to one or the other or both. An allergy to Lactose can be a major cause of painful wind and bloating
The body needs Lactase to digest milk sugars but most of us do not produce this enzyme
What’s the problem with processed food?
You would be far closer to the mark if you asked the question “what isn’t the problem with processed food?” The reach of the industrial food industry is far and wide, with implications for agriculture, environmental health, human health, and food policy, to name but a few. In short, there is barely a part of our world that is not affected by the power of Big Food.
One of the major issues with processed food, whatever part of the market sector it comes from, is that it requires a growing list of additives to make it shelf stable. All of the toxins mentioned previously find their way into food in the form as fillers, enhancers, flavourings and the like; they may not even come by names you recognised. Barely a factory in the world does not process wheat, so many foods are gluten contaminated by default.
Then there are the other additives; all of the other forms of chemical enhancements that comes with food from a packet. Many are benign, with processing and labelling far stricter than before, but they certainly could not be viewed as necessary. These foods have no place in the real food kitchen, although the odd safe shortcut here and there is just part of surviving the modern world; most of these foods are not food at all but simply poor imitations of the real thing.
Beware of processed foods...
If it needs a label you are already a step removed from real food
Read food labels with care; the longer the list of ingredients, especially those you cannot pronounce, the less wise a purchase it becomes
Don’t be fooled by seemingly unprocessed products. For example; conventional meat comes from intensively farmed animals that are fed highly processed feed that affects the content and quality of the meat they produce