If you’re new to Paleo or a more general “real food” way of eating, it can be a monumental task to switch over from a diet of processed, nutrient-poor junk food to one that’s healthier. Building a foundation on meat and eggs, veggies and fruit and healthy fats is one that’ll take you far in your quest, but often, even the best of intentions can get us in trouble.
You see, some foods, even though they fit a Paleo template, are easily over-consumed. Granted, it’s easy to eat too much of anything, and slipping up from time to time won’t really make or break you in the long term. What I notice, though, are some real, Paleo foods that become problematic for folks even though they’re supposed to be “okay” to eat.
With what frequency and in what quantity will consuming these foods be an issue? It’s impossible to say for everybody, but if you notice you aren’t feeling or looking your best, it may be time to examine your eating patterns. Awareness, together with knowledge, is a powerful thing.
Real Food #1 You May Be Overeating: Nuts
Crunchy, fatty and satisfying…nuts are a common Paleo-friendly food that’s over-consumed. Paleo’s definitely not a low fat approach to nutrition, but nuts are a dense source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and calories. Together with the fact that they’re portable, mindlessly munchable (or mindlessly spoonable out of a jar) and readily available, you can see why they could be an issue.
What else about nuts makes them something to not crack out on? They contain phytic acid (one of the same reasons beans / legumes are avoided in Paleo) which prevents some of the minerals in the nuts from being available to us upon digestion. Another issue? Certain types of nuts – particularly those with high PUFA content such as walnuts – are prone to going rancid because these fatty acids are structurally more unstable.
I’m not telling you to never eat nuts ever again (I usually eat them once a day), but look for other healthy fat sources, like coconut products, animal fats and olives, to incorporate into your diet. You can also soak nuts to reduce their phytic acid content (click here for a tutorial from Whole Lifestyle Nutrition). One of my favorite ways to use nuts is as a condiment for sprinkling on top of a dish for some crunch and texture.
Real Food #2 You May Be Overeating: Dried Fruit
Fruit is one of those real foods that gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s generally got more sugar than veggies and if you’re particularly sugar-sensitive you may want to limit it to 1-2 servings a day, but it’s hardly the same as putting 3 spoonfuls of sugar in your coffee in the morning. Where fruit becomes more of an issue is when it’s dried.
Removing the water from fruit makes the sugar highly concentrated, and since the fruit’s volume is reduced, it’s easy to keep popping it in your mouth. If you’re sugar addicted (like I was), you may do best to limit or avoid dried fruit. If and when I do eat it, it’s usually as a natural sweetener (say, in my cranberry sauce). I used to sit down to a bag of Trader Joe’s dried mango slices (some of you know exactly what I’m talking about) and kill the whole thing in 5 minutes. Now, I’m happy with half a sliced apple on top of my salad.
Real Food #3 You May Be Overeating: Kombucha
Jackie (The Paleo Mama), Vanessa (Healthy Living How To) and I were recently discussing the rise of cavities among heavy kombucha drinkers, and we all came to the same conclusion: kombucha is supposed to be a tonic, not a soda replacement.
Kombucha is awesome (read more about kombucha health benefits), and I love making it (heck, I even have a tutorial and an e-class for it) but it’s one of those real foods that can be overdone. Why? It does have sugar – even though that’s drastically reduced by the fermentation process – and it is acidic. While consuming acidic foods isn’t fundamentally bad, drinking a lot of kombucha can be just as hard on the enamel of your teeth as soda (which is acidic due to its carbonation). Yes, it’s still a great source of probiotics, but if you’re drinking several cups a day, it might be time to cut back.
Real Food #4 You May Be Overeating: “Natural” Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners suck (they’re hyper sweet and offer zero nutrition) but what about natural sweeteners that pop up in real food / Paleo recipes like honey, coconut sugar and maple syrup? They’re still going to affect blood glucose and cause an insulin response, just like refined sugars. While you may argue that natural sweeteners have nutritional advantages over their refined counterparts and are therefore “better choices”, one thing’s clear: continuing to eat high amounts of sugary-sweet substances in your diet isn’t ideal.
Again, if you’re battling a sugar addiction, this one’s particularly relevant, but even for people who aren’t, pouring natural sweeteners in your food or drink daily can turn into a problem. Your goals and context will dictate how much you can tolerate – from a physical and psychological perspective – but just know that just because a sweetener is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it should be eaten with abandon. For more on sugar, check out this article.