Penpals and the Paleo Diet

by Sara on March 31, 2012

**Today I’m talking about a semi-controversial topic. Even though I’m studying to become a nutritionist, I am not yet certified, and therefore my opinions shouldn’t be considered a prescription to follow a particular diet or way of eating.**

Hi there! This is a pretty lengthy post, so no hard feelings if you skip to the end to see the awesome goodies my foodie pen pal sent and then scadaddle away. :)

If you’re a healthy living blogger, or enjoy reading healthy living blogs, you’ve probably stumbled upon references to the Paleo Diet. Initially, I thought “going Paleo” was a crazy fad, but the more I read, the more I was intrigued.


Could eating a diet similar to what our ancestors ate—primarily meat, vegetables, fruits and nuts—really be the optimal diet?

Roasted salmon and warm kale salad

I wanted to find out what all the hype was about, so I chose to write a paper on the topic for my Sports Nutrition class. To make  my research more interesting, I embarked on a semi-Paleo eating plan myself.

Paleo Chocolate Coconut Cake Brownie In a bowl combine: 1/4 cup pumpkin, 2 T. coconut flour, 2 packets stevia, 2 egg whites and 1/2 t. baking soda. Microwave for 2 minutes. This is the best mug brownie I've tried!

 Before I go into the details of what I ate, I want to provide a little background information about the diet for those of you who are unfamiliar with it.

The Paleo Diet, as its name suggests, is a eating regimen based on the presumed diet consumed during the Paleolithic era, a 2.5 million year period that ended around 10,000 years ago. As the theory goes, humans once ate exclusively wild plants and animals; however with the development of agriculture, they began turning to farmed foods, such as grains (particularly wheat, rice and corn). As eating patterns shifted and became more grain-heavy, human health worsened.

The modern Paleo Diet is an eating style that’s comprised of up meat (organic and wild, as much as possible) vegetables, fruits, and nuts, but excludes grains, legumes, dairy, salt, sugar, and any processed foods.

Support for the Paleo Diet

The argument for the Paleo diet stems from the theory that humans began experiencing “diseases of civilization,” such as heart disease and cancer, when we began producing food of their own. Supporters of the diet propose that humans aren’t adapted to handle the food that was introduced in the agricultural era, namely grains, processed food and starchy foods.

Avoiding these diseases is a primary justification for the diet, but Paleo-style eating is also very popular in the body building and weight loss communities because of the emphasis on high protein consumption, low glycemic foods and relatively low carb consumption.

Controversy Surrounding the Paleo Diet

The theory behind the contemporary Paleo diet is not bullet-proof. There is debate about the diet of Paleolithic humans since skeletal remains from that era have been found with grains in their teeth. Furthermore, even if the non-grain diet theory is accurate, Paleolithic humans only lived to 25-30 years on average, so they weren’t likely to live long enough to contract diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

My Take

I think there is a lot of merit behind the Paleo Diet, however I would advise most people to steer clear of an exclusively strict eating regimen.

That said, there are a million good reasons to avoid processed foods, and by eliminating grains, there’s more room on the plate for nutrient-dense, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.

Paleo Zucchini Alfredo (recipe coming soon)

Furthermore, grains are a problem for people who have gluten sensitivity and those susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, so removing them from the diet is beneficial. Grains and legumes also contain lectins, phylates and phytates, which may inhibit the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and manganese. Pyridoxine glucosides, which may prevent vitamin B6 absorption, are also found in grains.

However, eliminating grains and legumes from the diet could be detrimental to those who require higher amounts of carbohydrates—-especially endurance athletes. The Paleo Diet does allow for sweet potatoes, which are a fantastic source of slow-digesting carbs.

Baked sweet potato fries--my favorite!

However a person can only eat so many. 😉 (Actually, I could them all day, but I think I’m the exception, not the rule!)

For vegans and vegetarians, removing grains and legumes would be somewhat problematic because it would reduce the opportunity to mix foods to attain complete protein consumption requirements. Vegetarians could get around this by eating Paleo-friendly eggs…and more eggs…and more eggs! 😉

As far as meat goes: We are certainly omnivores in that we are capable of consuming animal and plant based foods, and in my personal opinion, we should be. I’ve found that my body functions best when I’m eating meat, poultry, fish and eggs, as well as an abundance of vegetables and fruits. However, those who follow the Paleo diet and choose to consume primarily high fat cuts of meat (read: lots of saturated fat) the majority of the time, may be putting themselves at risk for heart and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, if a person can’t afford to buy organic, and grass-fed, and instead choose commercially raised meat, they will be exposing their bodies to antibiotics, steroids, chemicals and other toxins.

My “Paleo” Plan

As I mentioned above, I decided to eat “Paleo-esque” while I researched, to see if made a difference in the way I felt.

Strawberry, avocado, almond and spinach salad

So how did it go?

Gambas de Ajillo: Shrimp in olive oil from Jaleo

I loved it.  😀 In fact, I’ve felt better these past few weeks than I have in years! My digestion has “harmonized,” and I feel more satisfied and satiated after eating.

However I’m not sure that I would have loved it had I not made a number of modifications.

What I changed:

  •  Even though I don’t eat a lot of beans, I could NEVER EVER give up my beloved peanut butter!
  • The inclusion of some dairy. I love cheese, so I continued adding small amounts to my meals for flavor. However I chose to cut back on my consumption of yogurt and cottage cheese (not eliminate it), as these have been problematic for my digestion in the past.
  • The inclusion of whey protein after strength workouts. Cutting into a huge steak after a sweaty workout is not appealing, in my opinion!
  • The inclusion of stevia, which is not technically Paleo, but still used by a lot of Paleo followers.

Eating “Paleo” has  forced me to confront some of my fears about fat, and I’ve realized that consuming full fat coconut milk, some full fat meat, and increased amounts of avocado and olive oil has reduced my cravings for sugar and processed foods.

There’s SO much more I could say, but this post has become a novel. I’m planning on continuing this experiment, and I’ll definitely let you know how it goes!

Plan on seeing many Paleo-style recipes in future posts!

One more thing before I go:


I just realized that I was supposed to post this yesterday! Ooopsies. Better late than never, right?

I’d like to share the amazing treats I received from my foodie pen pal, Lisa! This was my first time participating in Foodie Pen Pals, and I’m so glad that I did! Lisa sure treated me well. :)

The package she sent contained:

  • Raw clover honey (yum!)
  • Bragg’s Organic cider vinegar
  • Box of dates
  • Raspberries in Dark Chocolate bar
  • Homemade cinnamon roast almonds
  • Chia seeds

The chia seeds aren’t pictured because, well, when I opened the package, this is what I found:

Chia explosion!

Of course, this is what the box looked like after I’d removed all the goodies. Fortunately I was able to salvage most of the chia seeds. I’ve already used them to make another batch of Chocolate Chia Protein Pudding. :-)

Thank you so much, Lisa!!

And thanks to Lindsay, for organizing Foodie Pen Pals! If you’d like to join the fun (and I highly recommend that you do), click here. :)

Have a FANTASTIC weekend!!


What are your thoughts about the Paleo diet? 

Do you think eliminating grains, processed foods and dairy from the diet is a good idea/beneficial to our health?

How would you feel about consuming more full fat products like coconut milk, meat and oil?

If you’re a foodie pen pal, what was the best thing you received this month?

  • Jenn

    This is a fantastic evaluation of the Paleo diet. Looking forward to hearing more and seeing some recipes!

    • Sara Stewart

      Thanks, Jenn! I had fun writing about it, and can’t wait to share recipes with you all! I’ve been eating better than I have in years. :)

  • lindsay cotter

    we do more primal based foods. I couldn’t give up some GF grains with a husband doing endurance training, ya know? But it is about eating wholesome and GOD given food. We try to use more bananas as carbs and definitely not giving up our PB. Just focus more on the other nut butters. Life’s too short to give up some things, ya know? Especially if they are not bad for us, just might not be the best first choice. does that make sense?

    • Sara Stewart

      I agree with you 100%! Life is too short to deprive yourself of the foods you love, especially if those foods are unprocessed and natural. I don’t see any problem with consuming legumes and grains, and truly believe that people react differently to various eating styles. I think my body really likes the paleo/primal foods, but I could see how consuming a higher proportion of animal products might be problematic for some. It’s all about personal preference! The most important thing is that we’re eating for health and wellbeing! <3

  • Gothextramileblog

    Very interesting! I could never never give up peanut butter or greek yogurt/cottage cheese. F that!!! lol I’d be fine giving up grains but those two, no thanks 😉

    • Sara Stewart

      I can’t completely give up cottage cheese either! It’s my bedtime routine and gosh darnit, it’s going to stay that way until I can’t stomach it any longer (IF that ever happens) Haha

  • Tara @ Sweat like a Pig

    I guess I followed paleo before it was cool…haha! My body does not react well to grains, so I tend to steer clear anywhere. I’ve been eating more rice lately, but that’s about as much as I can handle. There was a period of time where I had sweet potatoes four times a day, for four months!! I actually didn’t get sick of them, and I loved the difference I felt on the inside. Although I would never truly be paleo because I need my peanut butter and protein powder!

    • Sara Stewart

      Haha, you’re ahead of the trend! I’m exactly the same way…I feel really bloated when I eat grains, and find that my digestion is a million times better when they’re not in my diet. Sweet potatoes are a godsend, aren’t they? 😉 And I couldn’t give up my protein powder or peanut butter either. I eat both every day!

  • Sally

    I learned so much from this post! How great that you’re feeling better on your modified version of ‘Paleo eating’. I couldn’t give up dairy…morning lattes??!! No way! Your mention of sweet potatoes reminds me that I need to buy a bunch to cook up! :)

    • Sara Stewart

      Mom, you could try making your morning latte with almond milk or coconut milk! Try it sometime. 😉 But no, I agree–there are some things we love too much to give them up, and that’s perfectly okay! xoxo

  • Caroline

    Loved this post – I keep hearing about Paleo but don’t know too much about it. I’m not sure I could eliminate grains and dairy (even for a week). I have been looking more into the benefits of eating regular milk vs. 1% and stuff. Everything gets so confusing with all the different research on different diets out there!

    Also, I’m very intrigued by that Paleo Zucchini Alfredo…

    • Sara Stewart

      I know, it really does get confusing! Every day it seems like there’s a new study touting the benefits of a certain food or certain style of eating. I think it’s best to ignore what people are saying and do what makes YOUR body feel its best. That might mean experimenting with different eating patterns, but nixing them if they’re not right for you.

  • Julie

    LOVE this post, Sara! I’ve seen a lot of bloggers are eating more Paleo-style, and I’ve been meaning to look into it myself, but just haven’t had the time. I’m not sure I could give up oatmeal in the morning, but other than that, I don’t think I eat a lot of grains. Peanut butter is an entirely different story though! There’s no way I could kiss it goodbye! Are other nuts allowed on the diet?

    Your salmon and zucchini pasta look SO good! Can’t wait for the recipes! And love your Foodie Pen Pal gifts! <3

    • Sara Stewart

      The Paleo plan “allows” for most nuts, just not peanuts because they’re technically a legume. A lot of people modify the diet to fit their personal preferences though. Many eat dairy, especially small amounts of cheese. :)

  • Jillian @

    The people that I’ve talked to who have tried paleo said that it is good to try to slowly incorporate it and see what works for you. I think it’s great that you tried it and made some substitutions. It doesn’t make sense to follow a diet that you can’t sustain forever, so adding the peanut butter, some cheese, and protein powder is definitely a good thing! I am still intrigued and want to try it soon!

  • Debbie (Accidently Delish)

    loved this post, i have seen people go paleo crazy and was interested in knowing more. i am a vegetarian, so not something i am particularly interested in doing myself, but interested in learning about, so i am excited for any follow up posts you do!

    i think all diets (vegetarian/vegan included) are sometimes sadly fads. one person does it, and if they happen to have a popular blog it seems to explode everywhere. i think what is important though is to listen to your body, if it works well for you awesome. if not. change it. i love how you still included foods you enjoyed and work well with your body. i agree that meat is actually needed and i feel better when i eat it too, so yes i will occasionally eat fish because i feel its what my body needs. i’m also glad you have come to realize fat is not the enemy. so many people think all fats are bad, but our body NEEDS them.

    so overall, glad you have been enjoying your experience!! keep us posted!

  • STUFT mama

    Your eats are making me want to try the Paleo diet! If I could eat as well as you, I’d be on board. 😉 Especially that alfredo “pasta.” Yum!! Do I spy bacon? 😉 Not sure if I could eliminate oats from my diet (I eat them literally every morning and think I’d feel deprived without them), but other than that, I might do okay. I’d love consuming more fat…especially coconut milk!

  • Yaara Leve

    Hey Sara!
    I’ve been wanting to do the Paleo diet for a while now–it’s not too different than the way I already eat–as my diet consists mainly of lots of veggies, lean proteins like tuna, egg whites, cod, salmon–but I am also a greek yogurt and cottage cheese lover and would have trouble giving that up. I don’t each much grains–so that would not be a problem. However–I’m addicted to hummus! I imagine you enjoy hummus as well–did you give that up or did you still incorporate that as well? But–I think incorporating healthy fats is so important–I’ve definitely been one to fear the fat-but shouldn’t–olive oil, fish oil–it’s so good for you!


    • Sara Stewart

      Hey girl! Love this comment. :) I LOVE hummus (especially Trader Joe’s Triple Layer Hummus–so good!), and would never give it up. Like peanut butter, it’s a healthy food that (I believe) has a rightful place in any balanced diet. There are so many nutrients in beans and legumes, (unlike grains) so I think it’s a bit silly to ban them, *especially* if they’re something you enjoy! And cheers to healthy fats! Not only are they good for us, they also taste good too! <3

  • Julie

    I could def get down with some parts of the paleo diet! Except idk how much I would want to give up my oats in the morning even if it is just a wee bit. But it sounds like it worked well for you! I’ve been loving coconut oil on everryyyything lately in place of fats and avos always make a appearance in my life! Greg post lady xoxo

    • Sara Stewart

      I loooove coconut oil and avocados too. And I hear ya on the oats…Oatmeal devotees would definitely have a tough time closely following this plan! (But that’s what modifications are for!) :-)

  • Kristen @ Swanky Dietitian

    Great post about the paleo diet. I am somewhat torn about it. I do like that you are taking out refined foods and eating whole foods. But like you said, no peanut butter. :( That was be soo difficult!
    Love your foodie pen pal gift!

  • JC

    Like you, I agree with avoiding an exclusively strict diet. This is why I started following a Paleo template this year (as opposed to strictly Paleo) –best decision I’ve ever made when it comes to eating! Glad to read that you’ve enjoyed making the switch as well. Can’t wait to see your future Paleo-esque posts!

  • Lisa

    love love love this post! Especially since you researched it for school and are not biased on the subject! I think parts of paleo are very beneficial, like you said with cutting out processed foods and eating less grains, more fats. And I heart sweet potatoes and could eat them all day long too :) I don’t think I could give up my beloved oat bran though, if they could make a paleo alternative to that maybe I’d be down. And I also don’t like red meat so that’s out! I think for me eating more fats would be very good because of my lack of period (tmi?) I love coconut everythinggg so that would be awesome! Have a great sunday lady xoxo

  • Lisa@Dailyrundown

    awwww I can’t believe the chia seeds spilled! At least the ACV didn’t break!

  • Emily @ Glitz Glam Granola

    This was such a great post, as always! I really enjoyed hearing about all the sides of Paleo and your take on it! I think there are some really good aspects to it and some negative ones. I do think it’s good to focus on other foods besides grains but I don’t like the fact that meats and fish are such a focus. As a non-egg and fish eater and a rare meat eater, I can’t do paleo. But I do love paleo recipes because they are GF! Can’t wait to try that brownie above and that zucchini pasta looks awesome! Looking forward to the recipe! And yay for Foodie Penpals! I loved everything in my box but esp the Popcorners!

  • Sara Couch

    Sara, Such and interesting, informative, and well written post! thanks for the info!!

  • Rach

    This was such a well balanced look at the Paleo diet! I have a friend who lives by it and has for several years. I like a lot of what she says, but I really do feel like there should be more balance. Anyway, really appreciate this post! :)

  • Life’s a Bowl

    It seems like the Paleo Diet is the latest and greatest rage for anyone, not just those with allergies such as a gluten-intolerance- what sparked it? It kinda reminds me of when everyone started doing the Atkins diet… I was in high school and girls would literally eat bacon for breakfast and bring steaks and cheese for lunch!

    I love grains and legumes and dairy too much to give them all up totally. I know there are tons of great alternatives but I agree with you that a super restrictive diet is never good IMO…

    P.S. I am joined Pen Pals too, April will be my first month :)

  • Becca

    Loved your opinion on the Paleo Diet, you had some great information. My husband actually followed it for a while and loved it. Like you he felt great and had more energy.
    I am not sure I could do it as I would find it hard to follow such a strict diet :)

  • Emily

    I think the Paleo diet is pretty interesting and I think that it does make some valid points. I think it works really well for some people and obviously not for others – but I do love that it really focuses on real foods.

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  • Andrea Hilbert

    Hey Sara- we went to AU together, I graduated last May- I really enjoy your blog! I, too, follow a Paleo-esque lifestyle and I’m totally interested in this foodie pen-pal thing! Glad to see you’re doing well! Keep the blogs coming!

    • Sara Stewart

      Hey Andrea! Thanks for saying hi! The Paleo lifestyle is really great, isn’t it? I’m actually not a strict adherent, in fact I just started a new meal plan today (to coincide with my strength-training program) that includes oats and a few whole grains, but I’d recommend Paleo to almost anyone! What are you up to these days? :-)

  • Bobby Lindner

    Hi I’m The student who Ms. Stewart was telling you about I understand You are a nutritionist or training at least and I am interesting in investigating the paleo diet seeing how it improves my athletic ability. I had some questions for you though, How did you keep it interesting. The first few days I can see being all enthusiastic about a ribeye but the fourth night wouldn’t you feel like “more ribeye ugh boring” Thanks

    • Sara Stewart

      Hi Bobby! I’m going to email you later with a more detailed response, but in answer your question, Paleo-style eating allows for many different foods! If a person chooses to “eat Paleo,” they’re not just limited to steaks. 😉

  • Jrgaffey

    I’m a 58 year-old who found her fasting sugar rate was too high. Tried vegetarian and felt awful. Read some materials on Paleo and gave it a try starting Nov. 2011. I’ve lost 25 pounds, fasting sugar rates are great and my health is greatly improved. I don’t know anyone who is doing this but me -everyone thinks it is “too hard” and seems to be willing to take all the medications their lifestyles have brought them to.

    I and am looking for others who want to keep in touch on all things paleo.
    Saw this post and decided to respond.

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