As you know, I am a strong advocate of the Paleo diet. However, it’s important to be aware that there is not a one size fits all even within these guidelines. We are all unique and what works for one person may not work for another. Each of us should take the basic Paleo principles and fine-tune and customize them for our own individual biochemistry.
Your diet plan should also be personalized for the particular health condition you are facing and the goals you are trying to achieve.
I call this designing your Individualized Paleo Plan or IPP for short. The way you design your IPP is through experimentation, monitoring how you respond, and adjusting accordingly. Here is an overview of the factors that should be taken into consideration.The basic Paleo principles should be fine-tuned and customized for our own individual biochemistry. Click To Tweet
The first area of focus for individualizing your Paleo diet is to determine the ratio of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbs) you should consume. Don’t get hung up on numbers that you may read about. Nothing is set in stone. Generally speaking, your plate should be covered primarily with animal protein, then fat and a slightly lesser amount of low-starch vegetables. Unless you are eating ketogenic, then it would be fat, protein and carb in that order.
However, one person may need more fat than another, while another person needs more protein and yet someone else may require a little more carbs than most. The macronutrient ratio that works best for you is influenced by many different factors like your age, health conditions you are facing, the phase of life, stress levels, genes, activity levels, and the goal you are trying to achieve.
You’ll know when have found the macronutrient ratio that works best for you by the following primary factors:
- you don’t gain weight
- you don’t have cravings for sugar, carbs, or fat
- you don’t have wild mood swings
- you’re satiated with your meals
- your meals don’t trigger a lot of symptoms like anxiety, depression, and fatigue
- you don’t get hungry in between meals.
If you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned, then you need to play around with the ratios until you a find balance that works better. Not enough fat or animal protein will leave you hungry. However, do keep in mind that it does take time for the brain and body to stabilize once you start the Paleo diet, so you may not achieve complete comfort immediately.
You must also take into consideration whether you are trying to lose weight, have Candida overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, depression, SIBO, an anxiety disorder, an autoimmune condition, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, food addiction, sugar and carb addiction, compulsive overeating, or drug or alcohol addiction. Each of these conditions typically demands lower than average carbohydrate intake. While someone who is an athlete or pregnant may need more carbohydrates.
More on Animal Protein and Fat
The majority of food on the plate should consist of animal protein, (unless going ketogenic discussed below). Each meal should contain a minimum of four ounces of animal protein and as much as eight ounces, depending on what is satiating for you. Eat as much animal protein needed to feel satisfied.
Take a look at the following pages for more guidance on animal protein intake.
Fat should be mostly saturated (e,g, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, coconut) and complimented with monounsaturated (e.g. olive, macadamia, avocado). Most of your fat should come from animal sources, which means it should be attached to whatever cut of meat you are eating. Good sources of fat include meat, fish, and eggs (some forms of dairy, if it is permitted and discussed further below). Eat as much fat in combination with animal protein to feel satiated. The lower your carb intake, the greater your need for fat.
The ratio of fat and protein is very important, as not enough in either direction will leave you feeling hungry. For example, in my own life, if I don’t eat enough protein, I will feel like I haven’t eaten at all and my blood sugar will not stay stable, regardless of how much fat I have eaten. On the other hand, I will also feel like I haven’t eaten and have problems with blood sugar regulation if there is not enough fat present in the meal as well. But, too much fat will make me feel nauseous. It’s important to find the right balance between the two. The correct balance is central to keeping blood sugar and energy levels stable and preventing cravings for sugar and carbs.
Please and read more about fat for guidance in this area.
More on Ketogenic
A ketogenic diet is high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carb (typically less than 50 grams per day). Many conditions like obesity or excess weight gain, adrenal fatigue, sympathetic nervous system dominance, sugar and carb addiction, compulsive overeating, binging, depression, and anything related to high glutamate (autism, seizures, OCD, anxiety,) respond best to this macronutrient ratio. If you don’t find the reduction in symptoms you desire with a standard low-carb Paleo regimen, then you may want to consider going keto.
Read the following pages for more info on the topic of ketosis.
Carbohydrates are a non-essential nutrient because your body can make all the glucose it needs from protein and fat through a process called gluconeogenesis. Too many carbs in the diet contribute to microbial overgrowth (Candida, SIBO and parasites), low blood sugar, cravings for sugar and carbs, compulsive overeating, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, obesity, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, sugar and carb addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety disorders, adrenal fatigue, sympathetic nervous system dominance and much more.
In most cases, (and especially for all the aforementioned conditions) carb intake should not be higher than 60 to 70 grams per day. Many of these conditions respond better to less than 50 grams of carbs per day. But, you should experiment to find your carbohydrate threshold or, in other words, your level of carbohydrate intolerance. The more intolerant you are, the less you will consume.
Your carb intake should be gauged by the amount and severity of symptoms and cravings that are produced when carbs are eaten. If you are still experiencing cravings for sugar or carbs and/or a lot of symptoms (anxiety, headaches, crashing later, itching, depression, irritability, impaired cognitive functions, etc.) with the carbs you are eating, then you are still eating too many. The desire for carbs simply disappears when you stop consuming them and symptoms will diminish.
Your goal is to lower your intake of carbs below the threshold that produces symptoms and cravings. This can vary widely from individual to individual, (25 grams for one, 50 for another, or 70 for another or anything in between) so you have to find what is right for your body.
If you need help overcoming your cravings for sugar and carbs, you can find the support you need in my toolkit for breaking sugar and carb addiction, which can be downloaded instantly.
Additionally, your threshold can change throughout your lifetime in response to other factors like age, stage of life, stress levels, exposure to toxins, the degree of metabolic damage, level of physical activity, other health conditions that may exist, and where you are in the healing process, so it frequently needs adjusting. The following page can provide more information for determining your carb intake.
Next, you will need to determine which foods you should consume to acquire your macronutrients. This too will be shaped by a wide variety of circumstances that varies from person to person.
Bare Bones Paleo
We all begin with the bare bones Paleo guidelines and then refine them to meet our unique individual needs. The following foods are the basic food groups that constitute the Paleo diet.
- Animal protein (beef, bison, poultry, wild game)
- Fish and seafood
- Low-starch vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Low-sugar fruit
- Acceptable oils (e.g. coconut, olive, avocado, macadamia, sesame, high-oleic sunflower)
- Paleo approved high-carb foods only on occasion (e.g. sweet potatoes, winter squash, taro, chestnuts)
Foods Eliminated on the Paleo Diet
If you’re new to the Paleo diet, here is a list of foods that are eliminated
- all grains (note that corn is a grain, not a vegetables
- legumes (note that peas and peanuts are legumes, not a vegetable or a nut)
- dairy (but some forms may be included, as discussed further below)
- sugar (all forms including agave and other so-called healthier sweeteners)
- artificial sweeteners
- alternative grains
Please note that pork is an acceptable form of animal protein according to Paleo principles, but I don’t recommend including it in the diet, because it comes with a high risk of parasite infection. This is a risk that people with gut disorders are better off avoiding.
However, not everyone will function most optimally by including each of the foods in the acceptable food groups in their diet. The following factors also need to be assessed.
Although honey is permitted on the Paleo diet, please note that in most cases it should be avoided. Honey is a sugar that will impact the brain and body like any other sugar and can still contribute to type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, sugar and carb addiction, binge eating, compulsive overeating, Candid overgrowth, adrenal fatigue, anxiety disorders, etc. The same is true for maple syrup, which is considered acceptable by some Paleo folks.
Yes, our ancestors did eat honey, but it was only on special occasions. Honey was hard to come by, as it wasn’t available in great supply and it was guarded heavily by bees.
The nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, potato, paprika, and cayenne), as well as eggs, nuts, and seeds, contain a variety of naturally occurring substances that can contribute to inflammation, leaky gut, arthritis, irritable bowel, autoimmune disorders, and more in certain people. Each of these foods should be tested to determine how your body responds.
Some fruits and vegetables that are an inherent component of the Paleo diet (e.g. onion, garlic, avocados, cabbage, broccoli, coconut, apples, peaches, cherries, and more) contain other compounds called FODMAPs that can be difficult for some people to digest and contribute to irritable bowel, SIBO and other digestive disturbances, as well as depression, OCD, anxiety, brain fog and other mental health symptoms.
If you have Candida, irritable bowel, SIBO, or other gastrointestinal issues, you’ll want to explore the FODMAPs page to determine whether this issue applies to you and moderate consumption of these foods accordingly.
High Glutamate Foods
Some foods that are acceptable on the Paleo diet may also be high in glutamate, which can lead to problems for the individual who already has high levels of glutamate. Some common symptoms of high glutamate include anxiety disorders, panic attacks, high levels of unexplained fear, paranoia, restlessness, insomnia or sleep disturbances, OCD, seizures, and autism. People with Candida overgrowth and/or SIBO are commonly high in glutamate. If glutamate levels are elevated, then moderating intake of high glutamate foods will be necessary.
Please take a look a the GABA and glutamate page for more guidance on foods in this topic.
High Histamine Foods
A wide variety of foods that are commonly eaten on the Paleolithic diet are high in histamine or incite histamine release, which can be problematic for the individual who has elevated levels of histamine. Again, people with Candida and SIBO frequently have high levels of histamine or it may also be caused by B6 deficiencies, genetic polymorphisms, etc.
Elevated levels of histamine can result in a vast array of symptoms like gastrointestinal distress, motion sickness, headaches and migraines, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, brain racing, anxiety disorders, itching, hives, and more. If one is experiencing high histamine, then it will be necessary to moderate the high histamine foods accordingly.
Read the low down on histamine for more information on this topic.
High Oxalate Foods
Oxalates are a naturally occurring substance in a number of foods that can lead to a variety of health issues like kidney stones, eye pain, osteoporosis, anemia, and immunosuppression, when in excess. People with Candida often have high levels of oxalates, because certain forms of fungi and molds create them as well. Other factors that can contribute to high oxalate levels include genetic polymorphisms, insufficient levels of B6, fructose, and leaky gut. If oxalate levels are elevated, then minimizing consumption of high oxalate foods will be necessary.
Learn more about oxalates here and how they affect your health.
If there is an autoimmune condition present, then eggs, nightshades, nuts and seeds, and possibly coconut may need to be eliminated, because each of these has the potential for prompting an immune response. Individual food sensitivities should be explored as well with autoimmune issues.
Although bone broth is commonly promoted in the Paleo community, it can be highly counterproductive for people with high histamine, high glutamate or SIBO. In some cases, bone broth can lead to severe deterioration in health.
Please read more about bone broth to determine if it is a good choice for you.
In most cases, coconut is a beloved food in the Primal world. It’s low in sugar, a good source of fat, and can provide an instant source of energy. However, coconut does fall under the FODMAPs category discussed above, so certain forms like butter, flakes, and milk can feed bacteria, and it does contain a variety of anti-nutrients that can contribute to inflammation in the gut and autoimmune conditions.
Please read more about coconut to determine its place in your diet.
Yes, fruit is an intrinsic component in the Paleo diet. However, our ancestors did not have access to fruit very often, and when they did, it was much lower in sugar than modern day fruit. Fruit should be eaten in moderation. In some cases (Candida, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, sugar and carb addiction, trying to lose weight, type 2 diabetes, anxiety disorders, depression), people will do best if fruit is completely eliminated or consumed very minimally.
Visit the following pages to learn more about the impact of fruit on your health.
Nuts and Seeds
In all cases, nuts and seeds should be eaten in moderation. All nuts and seeds, with the exception of macadamias and chestnuts, are higher in omega-6 than omega-3, which can contribute to an imbalance in the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio if eaten excessively, leading to inflammation and all the associated consequences.
Additionally, both Candida and bacteria feed on nuts and seeds. The carb content of nuts and seeds can also contribute to cravings for sugar and carbs if not moderated.
Read more about nuts and seeds for help in this area.
When we eat low carb we eliminate salt more efficiently, so we have a greater need for salt in the diet. Insufficient salt in the diet can result in fatigue, weakness, constipation, lightheadedness, headaches, and energy loss. Additionally, salt is critical for supporting the healing of the adrenal glands and other associated conditions.
It’s important to take a look at the salt page to make sure one is consuming adequate levels of salt.
Additionally, one may have a sensitivity to any particular food that is typically healthy like chicken, beef, turkey, berries, zucchinis or other. In this case, these foods would contribute to poor health for this individual. The ALCAT test can be used to help with this area.
Trying to Lose Weight
If you are obese or overweight, then you will likely see the most benefits by going very low carb or ketogenic. This is particularly true if you are a post-menopausal woman. Learn how I lost 34 pounds staying under 50 grams of carbs per day.
High-Carb Paleo Foods
In most cases, the high carb Paleo foods are going to be strictly limited or reserved for a special treat. A carb is still a carb, even when Paleo approved. These foods will still feed microbes, spike insulin and lead to a wide array of symptoms like cravings for more sugar and carbs, anxiety, depression, low blood sugar, insulin resistance, sympathetic dominance, adrenal fatigue and weight gain in susceptible people. Again this will depend on each person’s level of carbohydrate intolerance, as discussed above.
Get familiar with the carb content of vegetables to help gauge your intake.
To Dairy or Not to Dairy
Dairy is not an inherent component of the Paleo diet. There are great controversy and disagreement in the community on whether it should be consumed or not.
It appears that dairy can be a supreme source of nutrition for some people and yet a form of poison or a psychotropic drug for others. So, it is vital to identify how it affects you. If you are not intolerant of dairy for one reason or another, then butter, ghee, and heavy cream are excellent sources of fat and will not have a negative impact on Candida, SIBO, anxiety, depression, adrenal fatigue, sympathetic dominance, sugar and carb addiction, and other mental health issues. Cream cheese may be acceptable on occasion.
However, forms of dairy that are high in lactose like milk and soft cheese should be avoided or greatly limited. When dairy is consumed it should always be “full-fat” and not low-fat.
Please read the dairy page to determine if it should be included in your diet.
Although buckwheat, quinoa, and wild rice are not true grains, they are still not true Paleo as they contain a variety of anti-nutrients that can contribute to nutrient deficiency, leaky gut, inflammation, and autoimmunity. Additionally, they are high-carb foods which will feed microbes like candida, contribute to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, sugar and carb addiction, anxiety, depression, sympathetic nervous system dominance, neurotransmitter imbalances etc. Spelt, Kamut, teff, and millet are actual gains, so they should be eliminated for this reason.
Many folks in the Paleo-sphere recommend liberal consumption of foods high in resistant starch, but this is not always a good idea.
If you have Candida, or especially SIBO, and any of the many conditions associated with these conditions like IBS, acid reflux, GERD, or autoimmunity, intentionally increasing your consumption of resistant starch can be downright harmful and lead to a significant decline in health that is not easy to turn around.
Please educate yourself about resistant starch before considering this action.
Fermented or Cultured Foods
Again, the consumption of high amounts of fermented or cultured foods is commonly promoted within the Paleo community, but this too can be greatly counterproductive for certain people.
All fermented and cultured foods are excessively high in glutamate and histamine, which will elevate those levels even more in the person who already has high glutamate or histamine.
Additionally, the microbes present in these foods can also contribute to SIBO and excess D-lactate in individuals who have overgrowth that involves healthy bacteria and D-lactate producing organisms.
Furthermore, there is a substantial amount of alcohol in fermented or cultured food that makes some people feel drunk and can lead to cravings for alcohol or sugar and carbs in some people.
Individuals with Candida often have reactions due to ferments because of their similarity to yeast organisms.
Take a look here for more info on fermented and cultured foods and whether they should be included in your diet.
Coffee and Chocolate
Coffee and chocolate are not part of the Paleo. However, you will most likely see that most of the community considers these to be sensible indulgences and often encourage their consumption. It’s hard to find a Paleo cookbook that doesn’t promote the consumption of chocolate.
Chocolate and coffee are addictive, mind-altering drugs that impair brain chemistry and the endocrine system. Although a healthy individual may be able to indulge in these substances from time to time with no severe consequences, that is not the case for most people.
If you are dealing with adrenal fatigue, anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, hyperactivity, ADHD, cognitive dysfunction, sugar and carb addiction, drug or alcohol addiction, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, any gut disorder, any mental health disorder, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, carb cravings, compulsive overeating, binge eating, food addiction, OCD, chemical sensitivity, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, excess glutamate or histamine, mold sensitivity, any neurotransmitter imbalance, or sympathetic nervous system dominance, then chocolate and coffee are NOT sensible indulgences. Consumption of chocolate and coffee will contribute to or perpetuate all of these conditions.
Please read the following pages for more info on coffee and chocolate and their impact on your mental and physical health.
Raw vs Cooked
It is a myth that a raw food diet is healthier than cooked. Yes, some foods like nuts and seeds are healthier in their raw form, and some vegetables like lettuce and avocados are best raw, but many foods get a boost in nutrient content when they are cooked. Cooking also reduces anti-nutrients, oxalates, and goitrogens that can be destructive to health. In an evolutionary context, cooking our food is what enabled human beings to develop bigger and better brains and advance as a species.
Additionally some conditions like adrenal fatigue, IBS and SIBO do best when food is cooked soft. Raw food takes more energy to digest, so it is more demanding on the adrenal glands. And, raw food provides more fuel for the microbes involved with IBS and SIBO.
Please learn more about cooking vs raw rood when designing your diet.
I know, I know, most of the Paleo cookbooks are packed with pastries and other sweet baked goods. Again, a carb is a carb. Junk food is still junk food. In most cases, combining Paleo ingredients to make a pastry still leads to an end product that is high in carbohydrates and adds little nutrient value to the meal.
Yes, it is okay to make yourself a Paleo birthday cake on your birthday, or a pie on Thanksgiving or cookies at Christmas, if it doesn’t totally destroy your health or trigger you to engage in a carb fest or binge eating bonanza, but these types of products should be reserved for these special occasions only, not consumed on a daily or even monthly basis.
Frequency of Eating
It is vital for people with Candida, SIBO, adrenal fatigue, sympathetic nervous system dominance, anxiety disorders, depression, sugar and carb addiction, compulsive overeating, drug and alcohol addiction, blood sugar regulation issues, and anyone trying to replenish neurotransmitter levels, to keep blood sugar stable. This is done by eating animal and protein, greatly minimizing carbs and eating meals at a consistent time.
In order to keep blood sugar stable, avoid sympathetic stress and give the brain the nutrients it needs for adequate production and transmission of neurotransmitters, meals should be eaten three times a day, about five hours apart. Going longer than five hours may lead to low blood sugar, which is hard on the adrenals. Eating too often prevents the migrating motor complex in the gut from working adequately, which can contribute to bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine.
Yes, once you have been on the Paleo diet for a period of time there may come a day when you don’t need to eat like clockwork to maintain optimal functioning, but that is not always the case for people with any of the aforementioned conditions. Under these circumstances, there most likely will be a continued need to eat the three meals daily consistently.
Intermittent fasting is very popular in the Paleo community, but please be aware that it is not right for everyone. Intermittent fasting is highly counterproductive for the person with adrenal fatigue and the many associated conditions like blood sugar regulation impairment, sympathetic nervous system dominance, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, sugar and carb addiction, or anyone in the process of trying to replenish neurotransmitter levels associated with anxiety, depression, addiction, insomnia, eating disorders, or other mental health or cognitive conditions.
Yes, it is true that intermittent fasting was a natural part of our ancestor’s life, but our ancestors weren’t living with adrenal fatigue, disrupted brain chemistry and impairment of the endocrine system, as much of society is today. The adrenal glands must be strong to handle the hormonal and metabolic changes that take place during intermittent fasting.
After you have been on the Paleo diet for a while, your need for snacks will disappear, if you are eating the right ratio of protein/fat/carbs. When you consume proper amounts of animal protein and fat with each meal, hunger does not occur in between meals. If you have a need to snack, this is an indication that you are not eating enough animal protein or fat, or you are consuming too many carbohydrates.
However, in the beginning, when you are first transitioning from a standard American diet to a Paleo diet, then you may have a need for a snack until the transition is complete and some healing has taken place in brain chemistry and the endocrine system. If a snack is needed, it should consist of animal protein and fat. It “should not” consist of nuts, seeds, fruit, yogurt or Paleo based pastries. Good snacks include sugar-free beef jerky, a chicken leg, sirloin tips, cold meatloaf, or hard-boiled egg with avocado slices.
Acceptable Breakfast Foods
Your Paleo breakfast should look just like your lunch and dinner. It should consist of animal protein, fat and low-starch vegetables. You should have breakfast within an hour of getting up when replenishing neurotransmitters, supporting adrenal glands, dealing with low blood sugar issues and all the other conditions we have discussed on this page.
Take a look at this Paleo breakfast discussion for ideas to get you started.
Be Mindful of Your Food and Eating
Another basic principle when designing your Individualized Paleo Plan is the act of mindfulness. It begins with being mindful of the food that you choose to put into your body and it should be incorporated into shopping, preparation, cooking, the very act of eating itself and how your body responds to the foods have consumed.
Being more mindful during the act of eating can decrease appetite and cravings for carbs, enhance digestion and absorption of nutrients, make your meals more satisfying and increase feelings of well-being and inner peace.
Take a look at 10 ways to become more mindful when eating to learn more about why and how to put this into action.
Miscellaneous Factors when Designing Your IPP
Other aspects can come into play with your diet as well as the frequency or quantity of the food that is eaten. One person might be able to eat nightshades, nuts, seeds, eggs or FODMAPs with no problem at all, while another person may find they can eat them once a week or once a month, while another person can’t touch them at all. Alternatively, maybe an individual can eat a small serving of one of these foods with no issues, but a large serving creates problems.
It can also be a matter of whether the food is cooked or raw and what form it takes. For example, you may not tolerate a variety of fruits and vegetables raw, but they are just fine when cooked; or nuts and seeds in their whole state or in a ground meal may cause inflammation of the GI tract, but nut butters are okay. Yogurt and cheese may be off-limits for some people, but they may have no problem with butter or ghee.
Experimenting with these factors may expand your choices.
Individualizing Your Paleo Diet is a Lifelong Process
It’s also crucial to be aware that your dietary needs can change over time and even sometimes from day to day, again depending on things like age, what you’re going through, level of activity and stress, the phase of recovery for a health condition, etc. For example, after you’ve been following your Individualized Paleo Plan for a period of time, then your brain chemistry, endocrine system, and gut may begin to heal and you may be able to eat some foods that were previously off limits.
You will have different needs when you are 18 than you will have when you are 50 or once you have gone through menopause or if you’re trying to gain weight or lose weight. Or, you may simply have fluctuations based on how active you are on a particular day, whether you’re grieving a loss, fighting a flu bug, facing a big workload or deadline to meet, etc. So your dietary needs are dynamic, not stationary.
Choosing the foods that are best for you is a lifelong process of learning to consistently tune into your body, listen to what it tells you and adjust accordingly on a daily basis. It also requires commitment and focus on the path. Read these tips to help you stay on track and moving forward.
And don’t allow yourself to make excuses. Your diet should be the number one priority of your healing journey.
All of the aforementioned factors should be taken into consideration when planning your menu. If you suspect a food is causing some type of issue, remove it for 30 days and monitor your symptoms, then resume eating the food and observe whether symptoms return.Individualizing your Paleo diet is a life-long process. Click To Tweet
As you can see, even if we have 50 different people following the Paleo diet, the menu that will promote optimal health for each of these people could look very different depending on their individual needs.
Then because eating Paleo is about much more than our diet, not only do we want to mimic the foods our ancestors ate, but we also want to mimic their lifestyle. Your Individualized Paleo Plan should be accompanied by other elements like getting regular physical activity and exposure to sunshine, communing with nature, green living, managing your stress, and getting adequate sleep for optimal results. Again, each of these factors needs to be individualized for your unique needs.