Extremism in Nutrition

August 24, 2011

Yesterday, a question was posed on a paleo diet forum that I visit.

This person said she had just started to eat paleo-style, and was really hungry, but felt like she was eating too many nuts so was trying to cut down on them.

Many hard-core paleo types chimed in:

“Yes, stay away from nuts! Just eat big meals and don’t snack, that’s what I do!”

“Eat real foods! Stay away from nuts!”

“Eat more vegetables!”

I’m getting the feeling that some people are starting to get a little extreme on their devotion to all things paleo. First of all, “strict paleo” is a myth. You will never be able to eat true paleo, because it’s impossible- unless you are going to go out and kill the animals yourself, and eat the organs and all!

People wanted to advise this woman to stay away from nuts. Tom me, this idea of staying away from nuts is….nuts! The latest trend seems to be that nuts have too many omega-6 fatty acids and therefore, would throw off the sacred omega6:3 ratio which I hear should be around 3:1 or so.

I have issues with that. First of all, who came up with this ultimate ratio? It seems no different to me than going back to the Zone ratios of 40/30/30, and pretty soon we’re going back to calorie counting obsession!

Of course we do want to get plenty of omega 3 fats in our diets, as they are anti-inflammatory in nature. However, eliminating nuts is not necessarily the pinnacle of health. As Mark Sisson pointed out in his article on Nuts and Omega-6s, “Isolating Omega-6 fatty acids and then exposing them to air or heat is bad dietary policy.”.

So isolating omega-6 fats, rather than eating whole nuts, is the problem.

Now, am I suggesting we all go hog-wild on nuts? No!! It’s better to get your fats from wild caught fish and grass fed beef, and avocados, and a bunch of other things.

But let’s get back to the original question, if someone is hungry all the time, should they be looking to avoid nuts?

This is mostly an individual call. Bigger meals may help here. More veggies may help, so might adding fats like olive oil or coconut oil to meals.

But let’s say you eat lunch around noon most days, and let’s say that you like to exercise around 6pm. For me, I could not go 5.5 hours and still have enough energy to work out without consuming some food beforehand. Can you skip the nuts? Sure, but they are a convenient, filling snack. I also mix in avocadoes, fruit, and even a packaged energy bar here and there. (I can here the screaming now, “OH NO YOU’RE NOT PALEO!!!!”). This works for me. I typically will eat 4-5 times a day. If I eat less, I will usually be hungry.

The point is there is no paleo prescription, there is no perfect macronutrient ratio, or exact times you should or should not be eating.

Once obesity levels are no longer an issue, I say we have an all-out knock-down drag out caveman brawl about the minutia. Until then, by all means go paleo, but keep it in the realm of something that you can do, not something to get all nutty over.

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8 comments on “Extremism in Nutrition

  1. Nice post Kevin- I think the Omega 6:3 balance is important, but some nut butter or a handful of almonds? Not a big deal. Just eat some wild salmon later!

  2. Thanks Chuck. Agreed, or take some high quality fish oil caps if you don’t have access to the fish. :)

  3. I just downed the last handfull of my mixed nuts can at my desk. I did so knowing it’s not entirely Paelo but more than that, I felt guilty for the can only lasting 3 days at my desk. I bought them for the rare occasions I get hungry between meals. I am 80%-95% paleo and usually only eat 3x/day because I buy nutrient dense, quality food that keeps me from getting hungry. I’m swearing off nuts not because they are rich in omega-6 but because they are too damn convenient. The salty goodness is more than my will power can take at this point.

    I’d also like to react to a line in your post:

    “But let’s say you eat lunch around noon most days, and let’s say that you like to exercise around 6pm.”

    My response is that you shouldn’t arrange your schedule such that are in this situation. If you routinely have to supplement your busy schedule with snacks so that you are able to wedge in a workout, I’d say you are too stressed. Choosing to be overly stressed makes no difference on the deliterious effects it will have on your health. What’s more, eating more frequently has not panned out as an effective way to boost metabolism and goes against the Ayurvedic and TCM guidelines for propper eating. Stress I feel is not minutia and deserves equal attention to diet in this battle against obesity.

  4. Great article! Thanks for the level headed thinking. I was pleased when the “Paleo” movement took off but now I’m getting a little frustrated with the fanaticism surrounding it all. I am glad people are seeing great results but there is a growing population of extreme paleo folks that are making me rethink my association with promoting Paleo (similar to what I have heard from Kurt Harris and Chris Kresser). We need more articles like this one to reinforce keeping some perspective on the whole thing. Thanks again. Keep up the great work!

  5. I generally eat once a day, with no snacks. Once in a while I’ll be hungrier and eat some more. Works for me.

    Dogmatism doesn’t help.

  6. Bobby,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m unsure why arranging a schedule like that is stressful in itself. I prefer to exercise late in the day. Some days I may eat lunch around noon (not every day), and can’t get away until 6 to exercise. I’m not stressed out about it, it just is. In that case I see nothing wrong with grabbing a snack sometime in between, to have enough energy for a workout.


  7. Thanks Kyle! Just trying to keep it real here. :)

  8. Michael, that’s awesome that you can eat once a day! I wish I could do that. I wake up hungry every day, and even 4 eggs and 3 pieces of bacon only keeps me full for 5 hours or so. Anyway, I think it’s great we don’t have to all be the same!

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