Monday, March 26, 2012

Having Problems with Paleo Eating?

Yesterday I was listening to a wonderful presentation about problems that could come up when you first try Paleo eating, and it seemed to me that this was such useful information I really had to write an extra post about it.

Before I start, please note that I am not recommending that you do any of these things, just relaying information that you might find useful.  You alone know your body and health conditions, and if you are at all doubtful, getting medical advice is always what I recommend.

A lot of people start Paleo eating with great intentions, but then find that instead of instantly feeling better they sometimes feel worse.  This is not because Paleo eating doesn't work, but rather because of several possibilities that need to be considered :
  • You have been eating the SAD diet for a long time and your body needs to adjust and get rid of toxins
  • You have food allergies or sensitivities, or health concerns that you are not aware of 
  • The version of Paleo you have chosen is not right for you.  Some versions are more lenient than others and allow dairy, beans, starches and sweeteners that might not work for your particular situation.
General Malaise 

 If you are basically healthy and have now developed some mild symptoms, the first solution is to give it time.  Nobody really wants to hear this, but it is quite common to feel worse before you feel better.

Your body has been storing toxins for a long time and now that you are finally eating healthy foods, it needs to get rid of them.  This can happen in various ways from cold-like symptoms of runny nose and sore throat to skin eruptions to just plain feeling tired.    And even though for most it only lasts a few days, it can last up to a month or longer in extreme cases.
If you are one of those who don't feel better in a couple of days, you should consider that possibly you have food allergies or sensitivities of which you are not aware.  Even though a lot of people get better eating a Paleo diet, for some just going Paleo is not enough.  If you have digestive issues, it's possible that they can be aggravated by eating the wrong foods prepared in the wrong way, and here are a few  of the common complaints and some things you can try.

Please note that these suggestions are for people who are basically healthy and have developed sudden symptoms since changing to Paleo eating. If you have a long term medical condition, you should seek medical advice before making any changes to your diet as you might unknowingly aggravate your condition.


A lot of people who have been eating a large amount of grains find they get constipation when they first go Paleo.  This is because of the sudden decrease in fibre.
One of the best solutions is to increase your fibre with Paleo friendly options instead such as raw vegetables and nuts and seeds, and to wait it out.  If nothing starts moving after a couple of days, try some of the other solutions below.

Another option is to take magnesium before bed which draws water into the colon via osmosis. Start with a small amount and see what happens.  (Dr. Siebecker recommends 1000 mg)  It can take up to a couple of days before you see results so don't increase your dose too quickly.

Problems with fat digestion

This is a very common problem and the symptoms are feeling overly full or nausea after you eat a full fat meal.

The solution is to increase your fats slowly over time (as long as a month is recommended) and to use the lipase enzyme during meals that contain fats.  You will find enzymes at any drugstore.

Also be aware that fat stimulates bowel movements, so if you suffer from diarrhea reducing fat consumption may help.  Alternatively increasing fat consumption can also help if you suffer from constipation.


Most Paleo diets do not include legumes but some such as the slow carb way of eating do allow both beans and starchy vegetables.  Adding these to your diet can cause gas.

If you have trouble with beans and want to continue eating them, the way you prepare them can make a big difference. Always soak the beans overnight at room temperature, then discard the soaking water in the morning and rinse well.
When cooking beans many people recommend cooking long and slow.  This is actually the opposite of what is needed.  The best way is to cook your beans is quickly and at a high heat.

If you try these suggestions and still have problems, possibly eating beans is irritating your system and you should consider eliminating them from your diet.


Vegetables are considered unlimited in most diets and very few disagree with that practice.  However if your system is not used to eating many vegetables, these can cause you problems.  Also, some people do have problems with eating them and can only tolerate certain ones.

This is unfortunately a bit of a trial and error situation.  The best recommendation is to avoid raw vegetables. Instead peel, deseed and cook your vegetables and try them that way.  If it doesn't work you might need to consider that you may be one of those who cannot tolerate many.

I would recommend keeping a food diary where you list what you eat and how you feel each day.   This should help you to find which vegetables are the ones that are causing you problems.  Remember though that sometimes it can take a couple of days to get a reaction, so if this doesn't seem to be helpful seek a nutritional specialist to help you discover what you can and can't eat.

Higher Carb Vegetables

Even though these are not eaten frequently by most Paleo eaters, some starchy vegetables are recommended for people such as athletes and others who have higher caloric needs.  The starchy vegetables that create the most problems are potatoes, sweet potatoes, yam, parsnips and turnips.  If you have problems eating any of these, try switching to rutabagas, beets, carrots, celery and squashes which are better tolerated by most people.


Just as with vegetables there are some people who cannot tolerate a lot of fruit and this can also be a hereditary condition.  Some fruits - stone fruits especially - contain a lot of sugar alcohols which some people cannot tolerate.

Most Paleo plans recommend only a small amount of fruit, and once you only indulge occasionally you might find that solves the problem.  If not, again the solution is to peel, deseed and stew fruits and try them that way.

Nuts and Seeds

Most people who eat Paleo love using coconut flour and coconut oil and you will find these used frequently in recipes.  Unfortunately coconut is very high in fibre and some people just can't tolerate it. 
Here a bit of experimentation is required.  I for instance find that eating a lot of raw nuts just doesn't agree with me, but having a slice of bread made with almond or coconut flour is fine.  Sometimes people who can't tolerate raw nuts are fine once they are cooked.

Another suggestion is to remove the skins before you eat them and to soak nuts and seeds overnight.  Also to make sure you used blanched almond flour for cooking, not just raw ground nuts.


When it comes to sweeteners obviously white sugar and artificial sweeteners are not recommended, but some people can still have problems with natural sweeteners.

The most highly recommended sweetener is honey. Dr Siebecker found that a lot of her patients who had digestion issues actually improved when a bit of honey was added to their diet.

Pure glucose ( sold as Dextrose ) is also usually tolerated, but isn't great for baking.  Maple syrup is often a good option that I have found works well in most recipes where sugar is used.

Some people use Stevia but this can be irritating to some and has an aftertaste that many don't like.  And Agave is very high in fructose and can cause problems for some as well.

Xylitol and Erythritol are difficult to digest and are not recommended.  If you want to use these kinds of sweeteners Arithritol is absorbed the best by the body.

As with all of the above, there really is no option other than to try and see what works best for you.


For a lot of Paleo diets dairy isn't an option, but if you follow the Primal Blueprint as I do then some dairy is permitted.  The key is to find what works for you.

Mark recommends using butter or Ghee and heavy cream and these usually are fine for most people because they are mostly fat and contain a minimum of the problematic lactose.  Also choosing aged cheeses is usually okay since the aging process breaks down the lactose as well.  If you have any problems eating cheese avoid the fresh cheeses such as mozzarella.

Yogurt is considered a great food choice for a variety of health reasons but store bought yogurt can be problematic.  Greek yogurt is recommended as the best choice because it has the least lactose, and there are some brands that are lactose-free.  Making your own is always the best choice (though not always possible) because you can choose your ingredients and use cream instead of milk.

Dr. Siebecker also recommends lactose-free dairy and has found that the majority of her patients can tolerate it and in fact, their health improves when they include it in their diet, so this is something else that you can try.

Quick Summary

According to Dr. Siebecker, if you are having problems with the foods you have added to your diet the main things to try are :
  • avoiding beans
  • avoiding starchy tubers
  • avoiding raw vegetables and fruits
  • adjusting the level of fat that you eat
  • switching to lactose-free dairy products
My recommendation is always to consider your specific situation and if in doubt consult a medical professional.

The actual information I shared with you today came from DR ALLISON SIEBECKER. She is a naturopathic doctor with a masters in Oriental medicine and also a liscenced acupuncturist who specializes in digestive disorders.

If you are interesting in learning more specific recommendations and the reasons why she makes them, Dr. Siebecker has a lecture CD that you can purchase that will go a long way to teaching you everything you wish to know. She also gives online consultations and you can find her at

The credit for getting out all this wonderful information as well as much more goes to SEAN CROXTON who has put together an amazing collection of truly great specialists in his Paleo Summit. I have read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos and I was still blown away by how much I learned, so definitely check out where you can order the whole collection at very reasonable price and listen to it at your leisure.

If you are transitioning to Paleo eating from the low carb diet, as is often the case, you have probably adjusted already to many of the above foods and your not likely to have that many problems.  But if you have been eating the SAD diet with lots of  vegetable oils, sugar, processed foods and "healthy whole grains" it might take a while for you to really feel well.

Your body needs to adjust from years of eating that has unbalanced it, and while it is doing this you will not feel your best.  But hang in there.  Whether it takes you a week, a month or a year, making the change to this healthier way of eating will show you great benefits in the end.  One day you will wake up feeling bright, cheerful, and full of energy and you will finally realize all the benefits as so many have before you.

 “Life isn't about finding yourself.  Life is about creating yourself.”   - George Bernard Shaw

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