How to Cheat (Sort Of) on the Paleo Diet

Roquefort cheese - a forbidden food? (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

One of the main reasons I prefer to think of the paleo approach as a “lifestyle” rather than a “diet” is that the word diet often implies its opposite: cheating!

Of course, the beauty of the paleo diet is that it’s deeply satisfying, so breaking the diet becomes much less of a temptation.  However, many paleo devotees do find themselves with a hankering for foods that aren’t strictly paleo (dairy products, for example), or not even vaguely paleo (grains). Some strict paleo diet adherents also include a “carb refeeding” day in their regime once a week, and so actively decide that they will load up on non-paleo foods.

Whilst many of us never look back once we’ve found the paleo diet track, others can tolerate these variations without ill effect, and would still say that they were – in general – following the precepts of the paleo diet.

How can this be?

It could be that – as organic chemist Mathieu Lalonde pointed out in his recent Ancestral Health Symposium lecture –whilst the human species may share some general genetic adaptations, when it comes to food and the balance of macronutrients, there can be significant variances amongst individuals.  In other words, no diet can claim to be the single size that fits all.

Even Mark Sisson of Primal Blueprint fame recently felt compelled to experiment with eating oats due to the sheer volume of requests from his audience of mainly paleo-supporting readers.

I can understand their interest.  At this point in my life, I feel no urge to give a kernel of wheat or a grain of rice a second glance – but as an ex-patriate Scotsman, oats still hold me in their thrall.  I don’t eat them often – less that once a week – and when I do, I ensure they are properly prepared (see below); nor do I feel guilty when I have them.  I eat, I enjoy, and I pay attention to how my body reacts.

So – if you’ve been tempted to cheat on the paleo diet, here are some tips to help you do so in ways which will maximise nutrition and enjoyment, whilst minimising intestinal grief.

Oats (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

1. Prepare Your Grains Properly

Grains are designed by nature to remain unharmed until they can germinate and reproduce.  Consequently, they contain anti-nutrients: potent chemicals such as phytic acid, designed to keep the beneficial compounds inside the grain.  Think of them as natural pesticides, and of us (or any creature trying to eat the grain) as the pest.  As pointed out by Dr. Weston A. Price, traditional societies knew how to work round these chemicals and liberate at least some of the nutrients, by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting the grains.  That this works is by no means an agreed conclusion.  The Weston A. Price Foundation say yes, and shows you how to do it.  Nora Gedgaudas disagrees, and cautions avoidance.  Mark Sisson says the effect isn’t pronounced enough to be worth the effort.  Read, educate, and make up your own mind.

2. Eat Unprocessed Dairy Products

Dairy fits into a somewhat limbo category for many people interested in the paleo diet.  Not strictly a paleo food, there’s no doubt that dairy is a foodstuff in its raw, unprocessed state.  However, we can’t get away from the fact that it is a foodstuff designed for infant creatures.  The conclusion?  Yes, dairy is nourishing, but it’s also designed to promote growth.  For some, it has been known to completely stall weight loss.  Others have real concerns that consumption of dairy beyond infancy can contribute to cancer.  The solution?  There isn’t an obvious one, but a good rule of thumb would be to say: if you’re going to eat dairy, eat dairy the way nature intended – unprocessed, unpasteurized, unhomogenized – and with all its attendant natural fats.  Read more on the subject here from the Weston A Price Foundation and from Mark Sisson.  And pass the blue cheese!

3. Get The Balance Of Macronutrients Right For You

Going back to that bowl of oats for a moment (you see –they’re never far from my mind).  I’ve discovered that if I eat them as I did in my old low-fat days – i.e. cooked in plain water and served with skimmed milk – I’m soon doubled over with stomach cramps desperately trying to contain the volcanic rumblings I can feel threatening to erupt from my horrified stomach.  The way I eat them now?  Delicious – a very small quantity, soaked in an acidic medium overnight (as per traditional wisdom), cooked with filtered water and Celtic Sea Salt, and served with lots of melted organic butter and/or double cream.  Not strictly paleo, but nutritious nonetheless, and much kinder to my stomach.  If you’re tempted, here’s the recipe.

Dr. Weston A. Price

4. Whatever You Eat, Eat Real Food

If you are going to “carb refeed”, don’t fall into the trap of throwing all nutritional caution to the wind.  Why would you, when it’s possible to eat lavishly and deliciously without ever once having to touch tongue to a factory-produced non-food product?  On your carb refeeding days, continue to eat good quality paleo-approved foods, and – if you have a mind to – take this as your opportunity to “cheat” with properly prepared grains, and high-quality dairy products, and perhaps a higher proportion of fruit than you might normally eat.  When you stay away from processed rubbish, you’ll find that the switch back to a more traditionally paleo way of eating will be no hardship at all.

Whatever your paleo proclivities when it comes to eating – bon appétit!




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Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach and advocate of a real foods diet. His home on the web is where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme

You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr



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2 Responses to How to Cheat (Sort Of) on the Paleo Diet

  1. Phil K. James August 19, 2011 at 10:24 am

    Great post!

    I’ve been Paleo for a little over a year now, and I’ve “cheated” dozens of times. I guess what it comes down to for me is that when I do “cheat,” I make sure to eat foods that I know aren’t processed, and as close to “living” as possible. This means when I eat ice cream, I eat the non-processed stuff with no “ingredient guessing.”

    I strive for a 95% Paleo day, which for me has been successful and easily maintained.

  2. Brian Cormack Carr August 19, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Glad you enjoyed it, Phil.

    I like your approach. 95% paleo + 5% “cheating with real foods” = 100% success!