Last week we talked about reasons to cut ourselves some slack when tracking isn't quite going according to plan. This week, we'll keep tracking our awesome Paleo foods, and I'll give you a few more tools to help hit those macros with greater consistency.
Meat is primarily a source of protein, but can be a significant source of fat as well. Skinless chicken, turkey and some fish are the lowest in fat, pork and beef have the most fat, and lamb, venison, some fish (like salmon and mackerel) and other game meats are in the middle. Whole eggs are about half fat and half protein. Meat and eggs also contain essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals like B12, Choline, Heme-Iron, and K2 which are not present, or not very easy for your body to absorb in plant form. Animals that eat animal Paleo (grass-fed for cattle, pastured i.e. bugs for chickens, etc.) versus grains are much more nutritious as food. Fish have been maligned recently due to concerns about mercury content - finding sources of wild, mercury tested, BPA-free fish (like Blue Planet if you're ok with canned) is one option, or if you're persuaded by this article by Chris Kresser arguing that as long as a fish contains more selenium than mercury you don't have to worry about it, you might choose to just avoid shark and swordfish.
Vegetables are primarily a source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some, like sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut and acorn squash also contain a meaningful amount of carbs, and most contain a little bit of protein which does add up when you eat a lot of veggies. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are quite nutrient dense, but may need to be cooked (preferably roasted or steamed to preserve micronutrients) in order to be well tolerated by some. Nightshades (aka FODMAPs) like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers cause issues in some people, so pay attention to your response if you're noticing an increase in digestive distress corresponding with increases in foods from that category. In order to make vegetables more palatable while eating Paleo (i.e. sans Ranch, cheese, and butter), you may want to try roasting them at low temperature with lemon and olive oil or coconut oil (see nuts and seeds below), and then tossing them in a salad with arugula or spinach. Incorporating a variety of fresh/seasonal, local produce will help to improve your exposure to a corresponding variety of vitamins and minerals.
Nuts and seeds are primarily a source of fat, although they do contain a little bit of protein. They also contain vitamins and minerals that are difficult to obtain from other sources - eating avocados, coconut, sunflower seeds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and others from this category in moderation can expose you to a wider variety of things your body needs. Oils are also in this category, but avoid processed seed oils like grapeseed, canola, etc, choosing whole foods when possible, and EVOO, avocado, coconut oil when required. If an oil is smoking/burning it can become carcinogenic - generally use EVOO only when you aren't cooking, or are baking at low temperature, and use coconut oil (or grass-fed butter/ghee if consuming some dairy) for higher temperature cooking. A final thought here - nuts and seeds are typically high in Omega 6 fats (pro-inflammatory) versus Omega 3 fats (anti-inflammatory), and keeping the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio low (close to 2:1) is ideal for optimal health.
This category is the main source of carbs and some fiber on a Paleo diet, and it's a critical category for supporting energy levels during exercise. Carbs in general are assessed on the basis of speed of digestion, something called the Glycemic Index (GI). This index is based on pure glucose, representing a (pretty fast) measure of 100. Things with lower GI digest more slowly, leaving you feeling full longer, and things with higher GI digest more quickly, spiking insulin and making you hungry sooner. Low GI carbs are good choices when you're trying to lose weight, or know it'll be a long time between meals. High GI carbs are good choices immediately pre- or post-workout, especially when you're primarily focused on performance versus body composition. Another factor here is Glycemic Load (GL) which is found by multiplying the Glycemic Index by the amount of carbs in grams, then dividing by 100. The GL is relevant when considering a whole meal or snack, i.e. eating carbs with protein or fat (rather than carbs alone) can also lower the effect carbs have on blood sugar levels and insulin response.
These are the non-Paleos. Dairy is a well-rounded source of carbs, protein and fat, and if you choose to incorporate it, grass-fed is preferred due to a more beneficial nutrient profile (higher omega 3). That said, it's not well digested in a large percentage of adults, and can contribute to skin or hormonal issues as well. Grains and legumes (beans, soy, peanuts) contain some protein, but are primarily a source of carbs. They are not Paleo due to the presence of "antinutrients" which can block the absorption of nutrients, and may also contribute to "leaky gut," a theory about systemic inflammation stemming from a disrupted digestive system. If you're interested in assessing whether you should be avoiding or incorporating these foods for optimal health, you can speak with your doctor, or consult Chris Kresser's The Paleo Cure for more information.