Whilst the basic Paleo diet has some good simple rules at it’s core when you dig deeper and start to personalise the diet to suit your individual needs then things can become a little complicated. Whether you are looking to do an elimination diet to test for problems that may be contributing to a leaky gut and impacting an autoimmune disease or whether you just want to reintroduce some other more Primal style foods like good quality dairy then there is one other aspect that is oft overlooked – food quality.
What is Food Quality?
Right here, this is where it gets complicated and this is where the simple black and white of no grains, legumes or dairy falls flat on it’s lean, muscular paleo behind. Food quality is where we find that even within individual foods items and types there are many different shades of quality – some going from awful to okay to great.
Lets take milk for example. Now, milk does not suit me or my wife but if you tollerate it and can find a good source of high quality milk then it may be something you can reintroduce. But, just what constitutes quality when we are talking about milk? What makes some milks bad, others okay and others pretty impressive if you can tollerate them?
A Qualitative Assessment of Dairy Products
Milk, in it’s raw and natural form is loaded with good bacteria, probiotics and lots of healthy fats. Unfortunately, by the time it hits your table it has been pasteurised to extend shelf life which kills all the bacteria. These bacteria also do another job which is to produce lactase which helps digest lactose which is one common problem people have with milk. It has probably also had the quality fat removed or some of it at least and is likely stored in plastic bottles. It does not stop there though and the milk you may be giving to your children probably comes from grain fed cattle which is far, far from their natural diet of grass and subsequently has an impact on the quality of the milk itself.
At the other end of the spectrum we have full fat raw milk – a healthy (for those that can tollerate it), high fat product loaded with beneficial gut bacteria.
Good? Bad? Don’t know?
Well, obviously, we start with the golden rules of Paleo which is to go grain, legumes and dairy free and we do this for at least a month. If you are just starting out it makes sense to make this a low carb affair and stick with just lean meats, vegetables and healthy fats (extra virgin olive oil, fat from grass fed meat & virgin organic coconut oil). If you have a leaky gut or an autoimmune issue you should look to modify things further and remove nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and any derivatives like chilli spices) along with nuts, seeds and eggs.
Then, when you have got this all dialled in for a few months, we can start to look at the quality of the food we eat. Can you tollerate butter? Yeah? Great, but make sure it is organic and from grass fed animals (check out Yeo Valley products in the UK). Are you eating lean cuts of supermarket meat? Well, can you afford any truly organic grass fed meat? Cheaper cuts maybe? Well, work them in as well.
Are you eating fish? Supermarket salmon is all farmed and is not the best but supermarket frozen salmon is usually half the price and is wild caught so has less overall fat and more of the good fats due to it’s natural diet (and did not live in some awful infested pit with about a million other salmon and all their byproducts (poop).
Like eggs? Are your eggs from grain fed battery hens or from true organic, free range animals that are free to eat a more natural diet and possibly supplemented to increase the omega 3 content of the eggs?
Believe it or not, the health of the animal that either made or became your food has a huge bearing on the health of the food itself and all these foods can be unhealthy and healthy all depending on the status of the animal itself before it gave up or became your food.
Optimise your food
Chances are you could make improvements across the board and fortunately, to simplify this process, for UK folks at least there is a great site called Natural Food Finder. This site has a list of all of the different grades of foods in a given category, check out the dairy page for starters and that has an avoid, average, good and best category for all products along with actual brands and suppliers so you can use this as real actionable information to improve your shopping.
The site is not paleo, so use with caution but the information it does have on meat, dairy and even fermented foods along with what you can get and where you can get it from is invaluable. They even have maps for local organic farms so you can see what is available in your local area and pop down to the local farm shop and see what it is you will be getting.
So, take a look, would love to hear your thoughts and let me know how you get on in the comments and if you know anyone who probably is not eating as well as they could or who would benefit from this information, please share the article and if you can click the big red Google+1 button it gets us some love from Google and helps us get the word out.