If you have gone Paleo with your diet, you will want to learn more about how you can optimize your diet by making good decisions regarding the type, amount, and preparation method of your protein sources. In reading a variety of Paleo/Primal books, I have come across a lot of authors who seem to condone unlimited protein intakes. I think this is a big mistake based on the science as well as my own personal experience.
If you are an athlete who trains heavily, then perhaps a higher amount of protein would be appropriate. However, if you are like the rest of us, excessive protein intakes can be detrimental. The body must convert protein in excess of your body’s daily needs into energy first and then into fat if it is not utilized. This process can result in excess glucose production even if your diet is low in carbohydrates. For those who don’t have sensitive blood sugar, this may not be a huge deal. But if you are like many Americans who have turned to Paleo to prevent insulin spikes, eating excess protein can present problems for you.
In my case, once I lowered my protein intake, it made a big difference in my appetite. I was able to control my eating behavior much better. By lowering my protein intake into the range of 45-60 grams per day, rather than the 80 grams my naturopath MD suggested I should eat, I was able to get a grip on my eating and lose 20 lbs that I struggled with for years.
In her book, Primal Body Primal Mind, Nora Gedgaudas, explains further the reasons why eating excess protein is not wise. It is surprisingly easy to overdo protein consumption. The nice thing about tracking your protein intake and keeping it within the range of .8 gm / kg to 1 gm / kg is that it is a huge money saver. Once I started eating less protein, I had enough money to consistently afford only grass fed and free range or organic/wild sources of protein.
This brings me to my next point. There is a trend for mainstream supermarkets to sell meat, poultry, and seafood that has been raised without hormones or antibiotics. They raise the price and give this special labeling. Let me be clear here. Hormone use is not allowed in the production of any meat, chicken, or seafood that is produced in the US. So really the only difference between the “regular” products and the products being sold at a premium, is the antibiotics. In the case of seafood, both varieties are still farm raised rather than wild. In the case of poultry, these animals are still being given GMO soy and corn. Same with the beef.
So what can we do? I have found my answer in a local health food store. Even there, I still have to be very careful to read labels. Alternately, I make an order for only $75-100 per month to US Wellness Meats. For the price of 1 lb of filet mignon at my local supermarket, I can get a whole week’s supply of protein that is grass fed, pasture raised, or wild from the sea.
OK, now on to the 3rd mistake that Paleo eaters can make when it comes to protein. This one has to do with cooking temps. Proteins that are overcooked, burnt, or very well done can be extremely hazardous to your health. Regular barbequing has been linked to cancer and should be avoided. Also, pan frying with extra virgin olive oil or any oil other than coconut can cause free radical oxidation due to the lower smoke point of most oils.
I am not necessarily advocating eating raw meat due to the questionable bacteria in our food supply. However, if you can cook your meat minimally, this is much better. Use common sense. You want to cook your protein foods enough to kill harmful bacteria, but no so much as to cause the denaturation of the meat.
So to recap:
1. Eat less protein if you have been in the habit of eating an excess amount. Replace with more low carb veggies and/or a variety of fats from avocados, coconut oil, cacao butter, lard (yes lard – but only the kind made from grass fed meat as it is high in Omega 3s.)
2. Don’t be fooled by supermarket hype and wind up with antibiotic free products. Instead, seek out truly grass fed meats, wild seafood, and pasture raised poultry. Paying a bit extra will fit into your budget nicely once you lower your protein consumption.
3. Don’t overcook your proteins. In the early Paleo days, our primal ancestors didn’t even have fire. This means we are genetically capable of eating raw meat. While I don’t advocate this for everyone due to the bacterial risks, if you can limit or avoid barbeque (I know it is tasty) or opt for cooking methods that are more gentle and use a lower temperature, this is best.
About the Author: Wendy J. Schwartz is a graduate of New York University and holds a BS and an MS Degree in Food and Nutrition. During her early career, she worked at both Mt. Sinai Hospital and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Wendy is currently a member of the Nutritional Therapy Association. She is the author of the upcoming Paleo Shopping Survival Guide and is currently creating a large, free online US resource for Paleo consumers. Her blog, Go Paleo!, can be visited at http://www.gopaleo.com.