Is it Paleo and Should We Even Care?

We talk about Paleo a lot. We named our company after it, and we think our goods are about as Paleo as can be. (Here’s why, and here’s more FAQ for more). We live a Paleo lifestyle. But here’s the key to our Paleo happiness that too many people forget:

We don’t take ourselves too seriously.

Fortunately, neither do a lot of our friends. And the least fun thing we can think of is dealing with that loaded question we’ve all gotten at one time or another:

Is that Paleo?

Our friend Liz from Cave Girl Eats has a little something to say about that. Read on for more!

Usually the “is that Paleo?” question is more a statement – or a passing of judgment on the butter, tequila, or dark chocolate we choose to enjoy from time to time. As if something that’s not chicken, broccoli, or coconut oil should be out off the diet and off of our minds for good once we adopt that “Paleo” term. As if our life belonged to a Diet book and not ourselves.

At the beginning, we all worry about whether we’re “doing it right.” We wonder what we’re “allowed” to eat. We wonder how we’ll live without bread. We wonder whether a caveman would eat Ben & Jerrys if given the chance. (The answer is: YES.) 

But none of that is fun, and all of it is Diet behavior. It’s obsessing – rather than living and aiming to make the right choices with the body that is OURS and nobody else’s.

Many of us fell into that obsessive, old-school Diet-minded trap at when we went “Paleo.” We immediately sought the rules list that would guide us to miraculous changes in body and health, without necessarily understanding why we were making these new choices. It’s a great start, especially since it means eliminating processed, boxed, bagged or encapsulated Junk Food (yep, even the 40-30-30 kind). But living in that place – in that catalog of “approved” foods –  doesn’t enrich the journey much.

And we find ourselves asking:

Is Butter “Paleo?”
Is Dark Chocolate OK?
If I eat a white potato, will my head fall off?

Unconsciously, maybe we want to be crazy Diet people – because that’s what we know. It’s that toxic “Diet” mentality. And it’s crap. 

There are no hard-and-fast “rules” except the ones you set for yourself. Other people may publish their own rules, but YOU are the one that chooses your path. There is only information and choices. Yes, it’s true that certain foods are nourishing and others simply aren’t. But a list of yes/no rules without an understanding of the “why” means somebody else is still bossing you around. And lack of self-determination is so not “Paleo.” 

This “Paleo” concept is about living well, not being bound by outside judgment and nit-picky rules (violations of which are punished with 40 lashes with a gluten-free noodle). Yes, there are guiding principles, but if you’re really taking control of your own life, you’ll use them as a framework and not prison bars. 

The generally accepted Paleo principles are useful. They’re rules-of-thumb. They’re easy guidelines to help you as you get to know your body on Real Food rather than Fake Fuel.

But hemming and hawing over whether potatoes are Paleo, whether Cavemen ate dark chocolate, or whether hunter-gatherers used ketchup is a total waste of energy. Especially when your eyes are on someone else’s plate rather than your own.

Here’s the thing: many of us look at the “Paleo” lifestyle as if it were a re-enactment of the past. If Cave Men didn’t eat it, we can’t eat it. Unfortunately, there are flaws in that line of thinking; not the least of which is that none of the food we have today is the same as it was thousands of years ago. Then, there’s the tendency to narrow food choices to the stuff we’re already comfortable with (like, say, chicken, broccoli, and coconut oil) rather than looking at the nutrients we now understand were – and continue to be – critical to human health.

(Never mind the fact that Cave Men would’ve eaten anything had it been available. They weren’t concerned with staying “lean” or getting “thin.” Calories meant stored energy to tap in times of shortage and famine. And we have no shortage of supply in the modern world. But that’s a post for another day.)

Guess what? Showers, automobiles, facebook, and even the modern grass-fed cow aren’t “Paleo.” The modern chicken isn’t “Paleo.” The modern carrot isn’t “Paleo.” The modern Mango isn’t “Paleo.” None of those things existed alongside our prehistoric ancestors. So what?

FORGET the historical re-enactment. Use the lessons of the past to inform your choices in the present. That’s what the “Paleo” concept is all about.

What we know of our ancestors – whether we’re talking Cave Men or more recent, healthy native cultures, is that they valued the most nutrient-dense foods above all others. They valued organ meats, bone marrow, fish organs and eggs, and mineral-rich, fat-filled, cholesterol-dense foods because those foods carried the greatest nutrient density. Those foods kept them alive, fertile, and healthy.

These cultures didn’t know why these foods were best. They just knew they were. Another huge difference between us and Paleo Man: we have the ability to figure that stuff out with science as well as instinct. We know where the nutrients are. And thanks to free will, we can choose however we please.

So what about this question:

“I thought Dairy wasn’t ‘Paleo.’ Why are you eating butter?” 

Here’s my answer:

We eat butter because it’s FREAKING DELICIOUS. As luck would have it, it’s also nutrient-dense, so I eat it a little more freely. Did I mention it’s delicious?

Paleo man didn’t eat the same stuff we eat. Paleo man didn’t eat Angus beef, which has a breed history of just a few hundred years. Paleo man didn’t eat beefsteak tomatoes – hell, he didn’t even eat heirloom tomatoes. Their meat was different. Their forage was different. What does that mean to us? It means we gotsta think.

Because, otherwise, we’re stuck eating cockroaches. Because those are pretty much the only things that never change or die and that could’ve been around back in Caveman days when the first version of The Paleo Diet was being etched on cave walls.

No, Cave Men didn’t make butter.  They were likely more preoccupied with staying alive than with domesticating wild animals, milking them, and churning their milk into delicious, creamy, buttery goodness to put atop their roasted sweet potato. So, no – Cavemen didn’t eat dairy as we know it today. But that doesn’t mean that butter can’t be healthy.

How do we connect the dots?

With a perspective beyond the “dos” and “don’ts.” 

Remember what I said before?

What we know of our ancestors, whether we’re talking Cave Men or more recent, healthy, native cultures, is that they valued the most nutrient-dense foods above all others.

Grass-fed, full-fat, raw dairy from animals eating their natural diet is nutrient-dense (thanks, science!) and filled with fat-soluble vitamins (FSVs) like A, D, and K2.

And those nutrients are in the dairy fat (the butter).  Many people swear by butter’s healing properties. Yes, cow’s milk is for baby cows. Yes, milk is cow boob juice. But us top-o’-the-food-chainers have a long history of consuming the various emissions and in-to-out contents of the animals we eat. Just read this book for a whole new perspective on what constitutes “food.”

The Paleo lifestyle is one of deep thought, continued learning, and context. In a way, that sucks – we want an easy, rules-based existence. We want a simple Label with simple Laws. And, in a way, this is simple: Eat the most nutrient-dense, nutrient-available foods possible. Eat a variety of them. And always remember: butter is delicious.

Use the lessons of the past to inform your choices in the present.

Enjoy some chocolate and a tequila shot if you want to.

And stay away from cockroaches.

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