Beyond Paleo: moving from a “paleo diet” to a “paleo template”

June 17, 2011 in Food & Nutrition | 76 comments

paleo diet at a crossroadsOver the last couple of years, as the popularity of the Paleo diet has expanded, a lot of controversy has emerged over exactly what a Paleo diet is.

Part of the problem is that there are now a number of authors and bloggers – from Mark Sisson to Kurt Harris to Robb Wolf to Paul Jaminet to myself – that advocate what might generally be called a Paleo diet, but with slight variations in each case. This has unfortunately led to some confusion for people new to the “Paleo diet”.

It has also spawned new terminology in an effort by each author/blogger to clarify the differences in their approach, such as Mark Sisson’s “Primal diet”, Paul Jaminet’s “Perfect Health Diet”, and Kurt Harris’ former “PaNu or Paleo 2.0″ and current “Archevore” concepts.

So what’s the controversy or confusion all about? It usually revolves around the following questions:

  • Is the Paleo diet low-carb or low-fat? Is saturated fat permitted? If so, how much?
  • How much protein should someone eat on a Paleo diet?
  • Does the Paleo diet include dairy products – or not? Which kinds of dairy?
  • Are any grains at all permitted?

In the early days, following Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet: Lose Weight and Get Healthy by Eating the Food You Were Designed to Eat, the Paleo diet was considered to be moderate in carbohydrate and low in saturated fat (though monounsaturated fat wasn’t restricted).

Then, as low-carb diets rose in popularity and many low-carbers switched over to Paleo, it seemed that the lines between low-carb and Paleo began to blur. For these folks, the Paleo diet is high in fat – especially saturated fat – and low in carbohydrates, with a moderate amount of protein.

More recently, some authors/bloggers have advocated a diet based roughly on Paleo principles but that also may include dairy products and even certain grains like white rice and buckwheat, depending on individual tolerance. Still others have suggested that a high carb, lower fat diet – provided the carbs come from starchy vegetables and not grains – may be optimal.

So what is a Paleo diet? Is it low-carb? Low-fat? Does it include dairy? Grains?

We’re not robots: variation amongst groups and individuals

The answer to that question depends on several factors. First, are we asking what our Paleolithic ancestors ate, or are we asking what an optimal diet for modern humans is? While hard-core Paleo adherents will argue that there’s no difference, others (including me) would suggest that the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial. Dairy products are a good example.

Second, as recent studies have revealed, we can’t really know what our ancestors ate with 100% certainty, and there is undoubtedly a huge variation amongst different populations. For example, we have the traditional Inuit and the Masai who ate a diet high in fat (60-70% of calories for the Masai and up to 90% of calories for the Inuit), but we also have traditional peoples like the Okinawans and Kitavans that obtained a majority (60-70% or more) of their calories from carbohydrate. So it’s impossible to say that the diet of our ancestors was either “low-carb” or “low-fat”, without specifying which ancestors we’re talking about.

Third, if we are indeed asking what the optimal diet is for modern humans (rather than simply speculating about what our Paleolithic ancestors ate), there’s no way to answer that question definitively. Why? Because just as there is tremendous variation amongst populations with diet, there is also tremendous individual variation. Some people clearly do better with no dairy products. Yet others seem to thrive on them. Some feel better with a low-carb approach, while others feel better eating more carbohydrate. Some seem to require a higher protein intake (up to 20-25% of calories), but others do well when they eat a smaller amount (10-15%).

The Paleo diet vs. the Paleo template

I suggest we stop trying to define the “Paleo diet” and start thinking about it instead as a “Paleo template”.

What’s the difference? A Paleo diet implies a particular approach with clearly defined parameters that all people should follow. There’s little room for individual variation or experimentation.

A Paleo template implies a more flexible and individualized approach. A template contains a basic format or set of general guidelines that can then be customized based on the unique needs and experience of each person.

But here’s the key difference between a Paleo diet and a Paleo template: following a diet doesn’t encourage the participant to think, experiment or consider his or her specific circumstances, while following a template does.

In my 9 Steps to Perfect Health series, I attempted to define the general dietary guidelines that constitute the Paleo template:

  • Don’t eat toxins: avoid industrial seed oils, improperly prepared cereal grains and legumes and excess sugar (especially fructose)
  • Nourish your body: emphasize saturated and monounsaturated fat while reducing intake of polyunsaturated fat, favor glucose/starch over fructose, and favor ruminant animal protein and seafood over poultry
  • Eat real food: eat grass-fed, organic meat and wild fish, and local, organic produce when possible. Avoid processed, refined and packaged food.

Within these guidelines, however, there’s a lot of room for individual differences. When people ask me whether dairy products are healthy, I always say “it depends”. I give the same answer when I’m asked about nightshades, caffeine, alcohol and carbohydrate intake.

The only way to figure out what an optimal diet is for you is to experiment and observe. The best way to do that is to remove the “grey area” foods you suspect you might have trouble with, like dairy, nightshades, eggs, etc. for a period of time (usually 30 days is sufficient), and add them back in one at a time and observe your reactions. This “30-day challenge” or elimination diet is what folks like Robb Wolf have recommended for a long time.

As human beings we’re both similar and different. We share the same basic physiology, which is why a Paleo template makes sense. There are certain foods that, because of their chemical structure, adversely affect all of us regardless of our individual differences. These are the foods I mentioned in my “Don’t Eat Toxins” article.

On the other hand, each of us is unique. We grew up in different families, with different dietary habits, life experiences, exposures to environmental toxins and lifestyles. Many of our genes are the same, but some are different and the way those genes have been triggered or expressed can also differ.

For someone with an autoimmune disease, dairy products, nightshades and eggs may be problematic. Yet for others, these foods are often well-tolerated. This variation merely underscores the importance of discovering your own optimal diet rather than blindly following someone else’s prescription.

I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to argue about what a Paleo diet is, because the question is essentially unanswerable. The more important question is, what is your optimal diet?

{ 76 comments… read them below or add one }

Monte Diaz June 17, 2011 at 10:13 am

Exactly! “Paleo” is a time period, not a diet. The template idea fits. People ate every macro ratio under the sun during this time period (and afterward). What’s more is that individuals would be forced to change their macros many times throughout the year because of seasonal variables and travel. In fact, taking into account individual tolerances for specific foods, I think everyone should mix up their ratios a few times a year just to stress (exercise) the bodies metabolism. I bet this is why Cyclic diets work so well.


Ben Atlas June 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

I was waiting for someone to write this post. There is one problem though. We are limited in our ability to *read” the result of the experiments. And some of the consequences of the toxic foods are only long term. Often it takes more that a generation(s) for our species to figure things out. We also tend to make grave mistakes even in our controlled, “scientific” observations. For example I have been eating bread all my life and and I had no idea it was bad for me. How can you try something and then tell with certainty after a very short period of time if it is bad or good unless you have an extreme reaction. I will be devouring Napoleons then…

So the boundaries indeed blur, it becomes very hard to explain it to the newbies and even the veterans. In our day and age you need an elevator speech while the ride gets longer and longer.


Chris Kresser June 17, 2011 at 10:44 am

Ben: as I mentioned in the article, there are certain foods (like wheat bread) that we should probably all avoid because of their potential to cause harm. This is the basis of the “template”.

Beyond those foods, experimentation usually reveals what we can and can’t tolerate. As you point out, there is rarely any “certainty” in those experiments. But is it necessary to be certain? What matters is whether we can find a diet that nourishes and sustains us, and increases our chances of living a long, healthy life. There are no guarantees, even with a “perfect” diet.


Ben Atlas June 17, 2011 at 11:40 am

Chris, I agree completely with the premise of the post and the reply to my comment. Although one has to underline the core human dilemma, being cursed by the eternal unknown. And let’s, be clear about the methodology, we are blind to what is good or bad for us unless there is a catastrophic response. Coincidentally this is how we only learn from the extreme events, i.e. stock market crashes, revolutions, sickness, .etc. Indeed there an illustration of this in your own story or Robb’s story, etc. The proverbial “life and death” experience.

In facing with this predicament the dictators throughout history decided that they will spare the mortals the pain of confusion and uncertainty and juts tell them “what to do”, all “for their own good”. The *Orthorexia* inevitably follows.


Ben Atlas June 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm

P.S. BTW, I think a better name is “Paleo Method” it denotes a progression, possibility of change. While “Template” means a static scheme, literally a mold to copy things exactly as they are.

Template: “a shaped piece of metal, wood, card, plastic, or other material used as a pattern…”

You want to break the pattern instead…


Craig June 21, 2011 at 7:11 am

I’ve always liked to use the ‘Paleo framework’ …


Primal Toad June 21, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I like Primal. Primitive. Caveman.


Steph June 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

Not much to add but: yup.

I hate even referring to what I eat as a “diet”. It suggests a temporary fix. It isn’t. It would take extremely compelling personal evidence (i.e., crazy-bad blood tests or a sudden, dramatic downturn in health) for me to stop eating this way.

You’ll always have the zealots who insist YOU MUST EAT THIS WAY, and they probably need that structure (and they probably have the scars to prove it). But I suspect for most people a moderate, sensible approach is the best.


Mario June 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

Great article Chris!

For me, my optimal diet must not include fish. My thyroid autoantibodies stopped decreasing when I was eating fish twice a week, probably due mercury and other contaminants.

I know that your position is that a fish has more selenium than mercury it is safe, but this is something I’m not so sure and worries me when I see some paleo bloggers moving from eating lots of meat to primarly eating fish…

Lithium and Other Elements in Scalp Hair of Residents of Tokyo Prefecture as Investigational Predictors of Suicide Risk (

“Although the analytical results suggested that the Se status of the subjects was generally adequate, as seafood was a major dietary source of Se, much of it was actually sequestered by mercury and only a fraction was bio-available.”


Chris Sturdy June 17, 2011 at 10:35 am

Great article and perfect timing.


Maryann June 17, 2011 at 10:36 am

Thanks for this blog post, Chris. I truly believe this is an experiment of one, and we all need to find out what works the best for us, as long as we are avoiding the things we clearly should not eat.


Andrew June 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

Good post! People get so hung up on following a certain paradigm and it leads to dogmatic beliefs about macro-nutrient ratios and the condemnation of fats or carbs or both. If you are getting a diet with proper mineral and vitamin content, you can probably metabolize almost any macronutrient combo.


Chris Kresser June 17, 2011 at 10:38 am

Monte: I agree that cycling between various macronutrient ratios based on geography, season and constitutional factors is a good idea. This is what the ancient sages of Chinese medicine have recommended for thousands of years.

I find myself eating more fruit in the summer, more dense, starchy carbs in the winter, and more protein when I’m training harder. Sometimes I eat a lot of raw dairy, sometimes I avoid it almost entirely.

I think the key is to learn to tune into our own ever-changing needs, and respond appropriately. It requires awareness and an open mind, and the willingness to experiment and question one’s beliefs. Those qualities can’t be learned from a book – they need to be cultivated. This is why black & white diets will always be more popular than “templates” that require people to think for themselves.


Daniel Sanelli June 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

Bravo Chris! Thank you for spelling this out. Biochemical individuality cannot be ignored.


Lisa @ Real Food Digest June 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

I come from a WAP/Real Food perspective but have learned a tremendous amount about what is best for me from the paleo world including Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf.

I love your “Paleo Template” approach of striving for an optimal diet based on individual circumstances using the guidelines you described.

My favorite line; “…the absence of a food during the Paleolithic era does not necessarily mean that it’s not nutritious or beneficial.”

Thanks again for yet another outstanding post!

(Great interview with Robb Wolf- I would love to see a post on the presence of selenium in fish protecting against mercury and other toxins. I’ve never read that before and would like to be able to link to something in writing to help others make better choices instead of avoiding fish).


Sara B June 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

Thank you! The voice of reason at last. I think it’s easy, but dangerous, to get sucked into dogma with regards to the Paleo diet. I’m guilty of it myself– exposure to even small amounts of dairy lands me in the hospital with anaphylactic shock. Because of that fact, I feel my blood pressure rise every time someone says “Oh, yeah, I’m following a strict Paleo diet– I had scrambled eggs and cheese sauteed in butter for breakfast this morning.”

It’s a real struggle not to scream “DAIRY IS NOT PALEO AAARGH DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT STUFF WILL KILL YOU!?!”. But that’s not accurate. Well… it’s not *completely* accurate. I still maintain that calling dairy “Paleo” is completely ridiculous (Want to change my mind? Send me a video of yourself catching and milking a wild deer, elk, moose, or bison. Then I’ll shut up about it.). But it would be more truthful to say “don’t you realize that stuff would kill me, and some other people I know who are allergic to dairy or lactose intolerant”.

In conclusion, while calling this diet the Paleo diet was a good marketing decision originally, I wonder if it’s fragmenting and harming the movement more than helping it, these days.


Paul June 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm

The BBC recently showed an excellent documentary series called Human Planet. It included footage from Mongolia of wild horses being rounded up and milked – the milk was then partly fermented and enjoyed.


Dana June 17, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Traditional Maasai were pretty much Paleo. They were herders. Worked out great for them too, they were quite healthy and well-formed.

I think herding is, or can be, a transitional thing between hunting and gathering, and going into horticulture or agriculture (not quite the same thing). Actually you could still be a forager if you’re pastoral, because the animals can move with you as plant food availability changes.

I don’t think trying to apply a label to a concept is a bad thing and I don’t think calling this Paleo was the central problem. I think the central problem is that we grow up and live under the spell of cultural universality. It is one thing to be loyal to your tribe and to believe that that’s the best way for you to live; quite another to believe everyone ought to live in one way and to try to force that to come about through coerced conversion to your way of life. This is not unique to any of the major religions; it is the very essence of civilization (human domestication). A critical look at what we call Paleo style eating would reveal that “Paleo” peoples had a wide range of diets. We just have a hard time shaking the notion that there’s one right way for the whole world’s population of human beings to live. It’s not enough to say “what would your ancestors eat”–we’ve got to take it one step farther and decide, “everybody’s ancestors ate beef and squash and salads and avoided dairy,” and never mind the experiences of the Inuit or the Maasai.

It’s like the Borg, only it’s people. We think too much like machines now, and we want everything to work together like one giant well-oiled efficient machine, everything nice and neat and uniform. And living beings do not operate that way.

Note I said “we.” I catch myself doing this too. Just about all the time. Tough habit to break.


Chris Kresser June 17, 2011 at 11:07 am
menohuman June 17, 2011 at 11:15 am

Farewell To “Paleo”


Dana June 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm

He’s not just rejecting the name, he’s rejecting the whole notion. His problem, not mine.


Jack Kronk June 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Don’s article is ridiculous. I’m sorry to hear of his nagging health challenges. I wouldn’t wish those horrendous issues on very many people. But regardless of his own experiences with his diet, blaming all his proclaimed health issues on fat consumption and “Paleo” is so unbelievably off base that it’s, well… unbelieveable. His ‘exit’ is not classy or respectful to his “once fellow Paleo folk” in any way. If he seeks to gain trust as a result of some twisted attempt at ‘exposing the truth’, he produced the opposite result with me personally.


Ben Atlas June 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Your attack on Don is off base. I just read the post and found it interesting, you need as much of the contrarian argument as you can. The paleo echo chamber like all internet induced echo chambers adds no value to the conversation.


Jack Kronk June 21, 2011 at 8:30 am

I am not attacking Don. I am saying that I don’t trust his writings anymore. He can do whatever he wants. It’s his site. But I can do whatever I want too, and I don’t buy into his “Farewell to Paleo” message. I think it oozes rotten thought at the core and I have a problem with that.


Ben Atlas June 21, 2011 at 8:39 am

Jack, the man honestly put forward some of the issues he had with paleo, perhaps even triggered this very post here.


Jack Kronk June 21, 2011 at 8:53 am

I’m sorry Ben but I disagree. If I steal your car, which leads to you receiving an insurance check, which allows you to buy a better car, does that make me stealing your car an acceptable thing to do? Just because something begat something doesn’t mean it’s good. Winners respond to situations like winners. Perhaps ‘that’ is what triggered this very post here.


Ben Atlas June 21, 2011 at 9:34 am

My moron meter failed me again.

Andrew June 22, 2011 at 11:32 am

Don saying farewell to the notion the high fat, low carb, hypercaloric diets are the end all be all. He defines these diets as paleo. They very much aren’t. Many people who eat paleo do eat diets that are all those things but the paleo diets can be different than that as well. The classic is the examples are the kitivans or you can follow me around for a day to find out I eat a high-ish carb paleo diet.

Jennifer July 1, 2011 at 9:50 am

It’s not the conclusions he came to, necessarily, it’s the way he conveyed those conclusions. If you have a following and you change horses in mid-stream, you should do it with a little more tack and circumspective language. I’m perfectly open with someone changing their mind: If your health isn’t improving you try different things. But if you have been preaching one thing for a long time you don’t change by kicking the followers in the teeth. He came across as rather arrogant and frankly, disrespectful. I can take the arrogance, but the disrespect, uh, no.


Jay June 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

Great post Chris. Sums up what I’ve been telling people who question me about the paleo concept. Some things are universally applicable while many others are very individually dependent. Experiment, observe, apply what you learn.


kitty June 17, 2011 at 11:25 am

well said. I pretty much just tell people that starches make my stomach hurt … if they ask me about my diet. otherwise, I don’t bring it up. It’s not worth it, 90% of the time.


Ray June 17, 2011 at 11:42 am

Some sanity. Thank you thank you thank you. Don Matesz needs to read this a couple times.


Jeff June 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Great article Chris, and good timing given I just sent you an email inquiring as to why stuff like white rice can be ‘ok’. There is definitely a balance that needs to be struck between our anthropological knowledge and our modern nutritional knowledge combined with the unique blueprint of each persons genetics and upbringing. I personally eat high protein paleo+lots of full fat dairy-nuts (I’m a math guy, can you tell?). I find that dairy feels better on my gut than nuts do and have a better nutritional profile to boot (nuts have so many PUFAs and their course nature can’t be good on your gut lining). And thanks to the new found information I got from you I’ll probably add small amounts of white rice back into my diet. I’m excited to make some homemade rice pudding using white rice and raw cream!


jamie June 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Excellent post. Thank you. I have seen this to be true of myself and my husband. Through trial and error, and elimination diets and just being observant and in tune with our bodies, we both follow a paleo-ish diet with some differences. For instance, I do not tolerate eggs at all, unless they are pastured. I can tolerate high amounts of fat with less protein, hubby needs more protein and less fat. Neither of us tolerate tomatoes well, but I tolerate white potatoes. I cannot tolerate milk, cheese or even yogurt or kefir even if lactose free- however husband seems to do will with yogurt, and we both enjoy goat protein and goat colostrum in smoothies. I can tolerate white rice- husband cannot. We both enjoy buckwheat and chick peas. There is no such thing as a one size fits all diet. It’s good to remember that when talking to friends or making recommendations.


Jez June 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Thanks for this post; I think you are spot on! I have recently backed away from the “all the fat you can eat” approach to the Paleo diet as well. After being diagnosed with Celiac about five years ago, I removed all gluten-grains, ate non-gluten grains in moderation, and removed sugar and processed food from my diet. I felt amazing within 6 months after years of fatigue and stomach pain! About 2 years ago, I discovered Paleo eating. It was so similar to how I was already eating that I decided to give it a try. I gave up all grains and yogurt, reduced fruit intake, started eating grass-fed fatty meat (before I avoided mammal meat), and upped my fat intake signficantly. Well, my health has definitely taken a nose dive in the last year. I have developed inflammatory conditions: RSI/joint pain and endometriosis.

Recently, I have cut way back on my fat intake, especially saturated fat, I have increased my fiber intake (which means more carbs, fruit even!) and I am already noticing a positive difference. Just because we’re all the same species doesn’t necessarily mean that the same exact diet is optimal for all of us. Maybe someone who is not prone to inflammation (ie. endometriosis-free) will do fine with all of the bacon and beef, but I certainly wasn’t able to (unfortunately…it was very tasty).


Dana June 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I did read up on arachidonic acid and it seems that while it is supposed to be anti-inflammatory in healthy people, it can cause inflammation in someone with other underlying problems. I think that’s actually one of Matesz’s and his wife’s issues, to tell you the truth.


Julie June 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Great article — it matches what I have been thinking and doing about my approach to primal/paleo eating.


Rikke June 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Brilliant, Chris!

This very much reminds me of Richard Nikoley’s post where he mentions that you should have your body keep guessing (I think he got it from Art de Vany?). Until recently, I was slightly “carbophobic”, but have just started to re-introduce starches and I’ll see how it goes, but I have a feeling they’re here to stay – especially PWO.

Again, great post!

Reply June 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Very insightful and reasonable Chris! I hope this current “controversy” makes the paleo community stronger instead of tearing it apart…

Ultimately very little is known about optimal human nutrition, and the only thing we can say conclusively is that we lack sufficient evidence to form concrete scientific guidelines a la “the food pyramid.” I think the paleo community would be better off trying to agree on what we don’t know, and then continue to work together to find new ideas and information. I think this line of thinking and collaboration has great potential to eventually yield a new revolution in human health but it’s not ready to do so yet.

Ultimately the “paleo” or “evolutionary medicine” concept is nothing more than an epidemiological correlation… one which needs more research to rigorously establish and understand the relationship between disease and specific foods.

Instead of arguing our different hypotheses, let’s work to test them. This is why my current efforts towards furthering the “paleo” movement center around working towards a PhD in bioengineering.


Ritu riyat June 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Great post! I Think the paleo diet has taken on a life of it’s own and become somewhat of a fad. Just as people previously followed atkins or southbeach they are mindlessly following paleo. I agree that a template is a better approach. Food is very personal and should be eaten based on our individual and unique needs which constantly vary. Observation is key.

Thanks for spreading the word!


Cathryn June 17, 2011 at 7:38 pm

After struggling for decades to achieve gut health, eight years ago a naturopath suggested an elimination diet for me based on blood tests that indicated sensitivities to a number of foods. What? No more pasta and bread? And all this fat and meat? But I did it and had such tremendous improvement in less than a week that I stuck with it and the pounds melted off with my normal exercise routine. I wasn’t concerned about weight loss, just wanted to not have a stomach ache and headache nearly every day. I have found that I like being 20+ lbs. lighter. I used Sally Fallon’s, Nourishing Traditions as my guide. I did not know I was on a “paleo” diet until I ran across Robb Wolf’s website a few months ago. I had started last Feb. eating some foods that I had not eaten in years, like oatmeal and yogurt (although I had used butter and heavy cream nearly every day with no problem), kale and cabbage. I was also taking some probiotics and continue to take one every day which I think has helped tremendously and made me brave about adding back some foods that posed problems before. I felt great eating all the new foods, everything seemed to improve, except my skin. I started getting some huge zits and my skin did not feel good. I have a tendency toward rosacea but it had been under control. Reluctantly, I gave up the oatmeal. No skin improvement. Next goodbye yogurt. Still no improvement. I figured they were the most likely culprits. I tried some other things for skin like extra Vit A for 3 weeks, Milk Thistle. Didn’t help. Then I decided to go on the 30 day elimination diet (as per Robb Wolf), which is quite strict for me because I have Rheumatoid Arthritis. I also started taking some evening primrose oil with 50 mg of GLA, one daily. I’m on day 9 of the diet and my skin is lots better, a very noticeable improvement. I take a medication that controls the RA very well, but it is toxic so I thought I’d be crazy not to at least try the diet, to see if it improves the minor symptoms I have. Also to see if something I was eating was the zit culprit or if the GLA fixed that problem.

I need to fess up about one thing. I’ve been eating chocolate every day for 3 weeks straight. I had not had any in EIGHT YEARS and never was a chocoholic. I eat only 90% and 99% and nibs, not too much. I eat no other forms of fructose except a small amount of fruit and whatever is in vegetables. The dark cacao does not seem to affect me adversely at all, quite the contrary, and had nothing to do with the zits since they started way before that. I know this is probably not part of a 30 day elimination, but I’ll take that chance unless Chris gives me a really good reason not to eat it. I am 5’3″ and weigh 105 lbs., very lean and well-muscled. I’m 60 yrs.old, if that means anything to anyone.

It does take effort to figure out one’s own particular balance and will-power to not tell everyone they should do it your way. I have a neighbor who is 98 yrs. old, pretty sharp, mentally and gets around quite well. Lives alone, cooks for herself. She eats a lot of soy and not much meat. Thinks dairy is bad. Follows the blood type diet because she thinks that’s what our soldiers do and I cannot convince her otherwise. I have to laugh at myself when I continue to try. I guess we’d all have to concede that what she’s doing is working, including the daily glop of yogurt seeds and nuts and prunes! Of course they gotta have their prunes!


Jeff June 20, 2011 at 10:40 am

I personally always struggled with acne, and it disappeared almost immediately when I started supplementing my diet with grass fed butter and fermented cod liver oil a couple times a day. However, it did start to creep back in eventually and I personally did identify the culprit to be chocolate. I eliminated the chocolate and my acne cleared up immediately and my skin has been beautiful ever since. I wouldn’t give chocolate a free pass because it didn’t seem to cause it in the first place, my guess would be that it is the culprit and is at least deserving of being a suspect and excluded in the beginning of an elimination diet.


Cathryn June 20, 2011 at 1:12 pm

You could be right, Jeff, but it’s puzzling that the acne started almost a year before I had any chocolate (which I only started having a little over 3 weeks ago after nearly a decade) and my skin actually improved while eating it every day. As I said above, it could be better because of something I eliminated or from something I added, specifically the GLA in the form of Primrose oil. Maybe it was actually the chocolate that made it better – wouldn’t that be heaven! I did not have chocolate today (a challenge) and I plan to have it less frequently and in very small amounts, not because I think it causes skin problems (I don’t), but because it I think it might be better not to eat any food too frequently.

Congratulations on your beautiful skin!


Jammies June 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Fantastic post. This is the most rational, sane, and comprehensive article on paleo eating I have seen yet. Thank you!


Pete Fry June 18, 2011 at 1:36 am

Great article. I’ve had much success using the paleo diet with my Personal Training clients and “Experiment and Observe” is exactly right!


Primalmovers June 18, 2011 at 1:58 am

Thanks for spelling things out in simplified ways Chris. It all boils down to awareness, and whatever ‘paleo’ comes to stand for must not be usurped by a minority battling over the Internet as to whether or not we are optimized with or without dairy, rice, high fat etc etc.
The template you suggest can be thought of as a framework for taking charge of not only our food choices, but the very way our health is influenced by our surrounds and the way we allow concepts and science to propogate certain universals that are very much that: general ideas that suit certain people under certain conditions, but are NOT intended to be applied without personal appraisal, seasonal experimentation etc


Andy Jay June 18, 2011 at 2:37 am

Chris, Hello from Australia. A very sensible and well written post. I was introduced to the Paleo “solution” via Robb Wolf, where even he says dairy, rice and corn are OK if you can tolerate them. Your guest spot on his podcast led me to be a subscriber to yours and, consequently, to those of some of your guests. I am now benefiting from a more rounded “education” into nutrition and health. You and others have stated what I try to explain to people about the paleo way of eating – it is more a philosophy than an attempt at reconstructing or emulating the diet of the paleolithic period exactly. Thank-you and keep up the great work.


smgj June 18, 2011 at 3:08 am

I really appreciate the voice of individuality entering this debate. I believe that the notion that one diet should fit all people is just as silly as one-size t-shirts. But I also strongly believe that all the processed food (read refined oils, crackers, sauces etc) and additives are pure evil and that we should aim for real food at least 90% of the meals. Dairy and perhaps also grains are more of an individual issue, and also the tolerance for carbs/fruits.

An elimination diet + candida diet and desiccated thyroid hormones have been my personal saviors. I’ve lost all my hypo weight and a bit more – a total of 13kg (28.5lbs) and feel fine. I’m now 37 and back to my high school body weight and terribly proud of it. 
For the time being I lay off most processed food and all flour and refined sugar. I do try to limit omega-6 and increase omega-3 – perhaps a better ratio may help dampen my thyroid antibodies. So I’d call my diet paelo inspired. I neither limit nor pursue high fat, but I limit carbs by not eating any flour or sugar. I indulge in some fruits & berries and a little potato/rice for one of the daily meals.
During this process I’ve discovered that I don’t tolerate beans or quinoa in any significant amounts. When I tried to cheat with sugar-free chocolate my stomach made an uproar against the manitol.

Cathryn – I get terrible spots and increased zits when eating too much dairy. Butter, cream and cheese in limited amounts (they are naturally low in lactose) are tolerated by my stomach, but will – if eaten for each meal cause spots after 2-3 days. And if I then keep up eating (too much) dairy I’ll get severe diarrhea which it will take me 2-3 days to bring back under control. So I just eat butter regularly and cheese from time to time, but not daily.


George June 18, 2011 at 3:31 am

Exactly. I always thought of nutrition as individually based following the idea that you can use Paleo as the template for better eating but tweaking it to suit your needs. Find the foods that work for you and build a WOE around them.

I also routinely self experiment with food(try new or temporarily eliminate) to gauge how the body responds, throw in some IFing and, of course, exercise.At the end of the day it is all about feeling good and being healthy.


Peter Silverman June 18, 2011 at 6:05 am

You could say the same about smoking. Different people have different health consequences, see for yourself, pay attention to how smoking makes you feel. I think the problem is more that we don’t have long term studies yet, so we just have to guess. Is Ron Krausse right that there are two dietary pathways to heart disease, overdoing carbs and overdoing saturated fat? I wish I knew.


Paula July 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

Hi Peter.
Not true about Krauss being down on saturated fat. Quite the opposite – this is from Dr. Mike Eades blog from a post called “Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: Studies Old and New”:

“In 2009 Ron Krauss came out with a meta-analysis (called Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease) showing no correlation between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease risk. And getting it published in 2009 in the AJCN, probably the world’s most prestigious nutritional journal, no less.”

From Krauss’s paper itself:

“Conclusions: A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.”

Read p. 172 of Taubes’ GCBC on Krauss’s prior research on lipids and why LDL is itself only a marginal predictor of heart attack risk (that’s because apo B and VLDL are the predictors within LDL – so it doesn’t matter what your LDL is; it matters what your apoB and VLDL markers are).


Cathryn June 18, 2011 at 7:41 am

Peter, your comment made me chuckle. Do you work for the tobacco industry? Think I’ll pass on seeing how smoking makes me feel, but I do get your point. And Ben, I agree mostly with what you say, but how are we orthorexics supposed to have any fun if we get philosophical? What will we do if we actually get it figured out? I will admit to being only a little bit orthorexic. You know, like being a little bit pregnant. And yes, probably most of us need an extreme event to teach us how to pay attention to the subtleties, which is where a lot of us seem to be now and what Chris is encouraging, I think, but not to the extreme. It’s tricky. Too much attention = orthrexia, not enough = continued problems.

Thanks, smgj, I did not know about the differences in lactose in the dairy products.


Peter Silverman June 18, 2011 at 10:47 am

Smoking is only bad for people who are tobacco intolerant.


smgj June 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I’m only able to find the information in norwegian – you may try a google translate

Grams lactose per 100grams produce:
lactose reduced milk < 0,2 (norwegian standard)
butter 0,6 (ghee has less)
cottage cheese ~1.5
fresh cheese 0 – 3.0
mature cheese 0 – 4.0 (more mature, less lactose)
full fat cream/sour (full fat) cream ~3 (up to 4.5 for low fat products)
drinking milk 4 – 5 (no difference between full fat or skimmed, a bit less for sour milk as kefir)
youghurt 5 – 7

The norwegian producer states that most lactose intolerants may tolerate 2-7 grams of lactose in a meal. I, personally, don't tink its wise to push it.


Elisa June 18, 2011 at 9:07 am

Thank you! This is a great article and you articulate exactly how I feel about paleo/template/ and room for experimentation. I think so many of the principals behind paleo are brilliant, and after following it for most of this year I have successfully eliminated migraines from my life after a 14 year battle. I too have found my balance, and I still enjoy a little milk in some teas and a little cheese here and there. I won’t ever go back to gluten however as the difference having eliminated it entirely, condiments included is totally worth it. One size does not fit all, but your basic guidelines for healthy eating and living are exactly aligned to mine. Thank you for the post.


Daniel Firestone June 18, 2011 at 11:28 am

Hi Chris,

In the blog post introduction you mention “…and Kurt Harris’ former “PaNu or Paleo 2.0″ and current “Archevore” concepts.”

My understanding is that “Paleo 2.0″ is synonymous with what you’re calling the “paleo template” and that “Archevore” is Dr. Harris’ particular version of a Paleo 2.0/Paleo Template type diet.

Thanks as always for your blogs and podcasts!


Chris Kresser June 18, 2011 at 11:53 am

Yes, Kurt and I are in almost complete agreement on what constitutes a Paleo template.


Mike Ellwood June 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

I believe that Stefansson said somewhere that pastoralism pre-dated agriculture by quite a long way.
Not millions of years, but quite a few thousands of years.

So at least some of our ancestors might have had access to milk and milk products, and perhaps eggs, for a lot longer than we might otherwise have thought.

(Sorry, I can’t give you a reference, although it might be his famous work Not by Bread Alone).


Paul Phill June 18, 2011 at 6:26 pm

To quote from wikipedia – This dietary approach is a controversial topic amongst nutritionists[16][17] and anthropologists,[7][18] and an article on the National Health Service of England Choices website suggests that it may be a fad diet.


Heather June 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm

“You’ll always have the zealots who insist YOU MUST EAT THIS WAY, and they probably need that structure (and they probably have the scars to prove it). But I suspect for most people a moderate, sensible approach is the best.”

The zealots came out of the woodwork when I started documenting my own 30 day paleo trial on my website:

About 10 days into the experiment, I realized that the high fat approach was never going to lead to optimal health for me personally, and I began a new approach: make the diet work for me, not the other way around (an approach that is summarized beautifully in this article).

For me, this means not restricting fruit to little side dishes or snacks and instead using it as a generous foundation of the diet, in place of the excessive amounts of fat that others were insisting was “the only way to do paleo.”

Well, boy oh boy. The hard core low carb believers did not like this, and they let me know, over and over, that my unique template was “not paleo,” even though there is an incredible amount of overlap in our approaches: both grain free, dairy free, legume free, processed food free, junk food free, vegetable oil free, refined sugar free, bread & pasta free diets based around pasture-raised animal products, fruits and vegetables.

A reader tipped me off to this article and I am thrilled to see it. Thank you for joining the chorus of reason: one rigid dietary structure does not fit all, folks. Make the diet work for you, not the other way around.


Tiffany June 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm

This is one of the best things I have read in a long time. Thank you so much.


Pedro June 19, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I think you’re somewhat missing the point. Not every paleo culture was as healthy as the others, and there’s crearly evidence that there’s things we are more adapted to than others. It’s ok to think for oneself, but that can’t just go against sound evidece. What Don MAtez has shown about humans eating a high carb lo fat diet for most of their evolution (africa) is compelling, and so is his other evidence. Why don’t you adress that instead of giving vague responses like “just think for yourself”?


Chris Kresser June 20, 2011 at 8:51 am

What do I need to address? I have never claimed that the Paleo diet is low-carb, so I don’t feel obligated to defend that position. What the evidence clearly suggests is that humans are adapted to eat a wide range of macronutrient ratios when they are healthy with intact metabolic function. The reason Don’s argument is wrong is that he’s now trying to convince everyone that a low-fat diet is optimal (because that’s what he’s doing and having success with), when just a few months ago he was writing about why a low-carb diet is optimal. There is no “optimal” macronutrient ratio for everyone. Don can of course find examples that support his point of view, but I can find just as many that do not. That only proves my point.


Pedro June 20, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I can get what you’re saying, but if truly for most of our time as homo sapiens sapiens we ate a diet that was low in fat, high to moderate in polyunsaturated fat and high in unrefined carboydrates, such evidence is ought to turn some things upside down. Unless, of course, you think it really doesn’t matter and the sparse evidence of some select groups with complex practices (eskimo eating head (thyroid, vitamins; masai eating bitter herbs, etc.) is enough to counter all the weight of such evidence, and all what Don has shown in these last weeks. I can totally get the idea of us being adaptable, but in that same light, you’re are bashing some things (PUFAs, high carb for most people, or for the “metabolically ill”) for which there’s ample evidence (again, from Don and others he has shown) that we equally or even more adapted to than the foods you promote. I personally was a supposed carbohydrate intolerant, per glucometer measurements, but after a month of high carb eating, my readings are much more closer to normal. I wonder if, even if saying ” I have never claimed that the Paleo diet is low-carb”, you are placing fear of whole foods based on your own theories in people who really doesn’t need to avoid it, or could even benefit from it. When you talk about people eating a “moderate carb diet” of 150 to 200 grams of carbs, I can’t help but think that’s low-carb, compared to what most of the world does.


Ben Atlas June 20, 2011 at 9:10 am

The question is methodology. You might chose to believe or not to believe in the “Paleo mythology” but in the end everyone relies of some paper or study. I mean poor Kitavasn never had a chance to make any coin from all the references.

The troubling point is that we are so bad in decoding our own reactions and are cursed with always relying on some outside authority. And that method is less than perfect and always involves some motif of the author.


Ben Atlas June 20, 2011 at 7:01 pm

The orthodox Paleo inevitably refers to Prof. Cordain. It’s a shame that he doesn’t participate actively in the discussion. There is no one really who would represent his “school”. We need the back and forth of the ideas and the conversation.

I noticed that people who have academic careers have a separate set of priorities. Heck, people put their health on the line, there is the tremendous responsibly of the advice. They better back it up or face moral responsibly.


Kevin June 21, 2011 at 2:36 am

I love to eat full fat Greek yogurt and hard cheese, but I always get acne everywhere from them. It always clears up within a week of stopping both. I also get an instantly oily face from eating (raw) cheese. I don’t know why that is…


ben June 21, 2011 at 7:08 am

excellent article. Timely, too. I frequent paleohacks (great site) and there are numerous discussions about this very issue. I always maintain that paleo=avoid grains, legumes, dairy. Done. That any human on earth will improve their health by avoiding these three things more so than otherwise. Beyond that, macro ratios are up to the individual. I eat 40-40-20 protein, carb, fat. I am lambasted by people for being afraid of fat. People ignore the nutrient requirements of different people living different lifestyles. I am extremely active, an amateur powerlifter and need lots of energy a lot of the time. I spend more time than most involved in activities that are directly in the glycolytic pathway. People hear this and simply say, “ah, you’ve never been keto-adapted.”

Rant, sorry. Anyway, you’re spot on, Chris. Smart post.


Primal Toad June 21, 2011 at 1:20 pm

This is a fantastic article and one that everyone in this community needs to read. I have been telling this to my readers and fans for the past few weeks. My “diet” is different then YOUR diet even though we both follow a primal/paleo eating plan.

I found out through my facebook fan page that 90%+ of primal/paleo folks eat dairy on a regular basis. I eat butter on a regular basis but thats it for dairy. I sometimes to raw grassfed cheese because I love it. I may try to add greek yogurt too.

One needs to experiment to find out what is best for him or herself!


Maggie June 22, 2011 at 1:57 pm

@ Cathryn, you might be interested in The Roadback Foundation for your RA.


Cathryn June 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Thanks for the suggestion, Maggie. I heard about this treatment years ago, but since there seemed to be a lot of evidence that antibiotics could have contributed to the disease in the first place, by impinging on gut health and enabling inflammation, it didn’t seem like a good idea. Even with the possible toxic effects of the medicine I take now, I have been able to get my gut in better working order than it has ever been. Granted, I do not know the exact protocol for the treatment of RA, but taking antibiotics just generally doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Chris, what do you think? I’d be very interested in your opinion, which I regard highly.


Joey June 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

This is an excellent post. Well said.


Aedmon July 1, 2011 at 6:52 am

This approach is much more along the lines of what I always felt the spirit of diets such as paleo represented. However, you hint at the issue of what is healthy for modern humans. The fact is, we weren’t “designed” to eat like our paleolithic ancestors b/c we haven’t been those ancestors, biologically speaking, for some time. The 10,000 years since the start of agriculture is a long time evolutionarily. Our bodies have changed to accept foods that our paleolithic ancestors couldn’t eat. Thousands of genes in the human genome have changed since that time, so how could that diet possibly be optimally healthy? We can certainly take some principles from it, but simply copying what early humans ate is probably not ideally healthy.


Jennifer July 1, 2011 at 10:06 am

Excellent post, Chris. Nice to see common sense. Your last two sentences “I think it’s a complete waste of time and energy to argue about what a Paleo diet is, because the question is essentially unanswerable. The more important question is, what is your optimal diet?” say it all.



James August 6, 2011 at 11:03 am

Congrats on the baby chris! When you have people do the GAPS diet, I know the time frame varies, but do you find any of your patients fall into the 6 month category for healing to occur? The time frame Dr McBride mentions is anywhere from 6 months- several years, and I was wondering if you have seen the GAPS diet work in the shorter time frame ever.


Colin August 12, 2011 at 11:19 am

I’m a 23-year old naturally lean, physically and mentally active male who seems to need a lot of protein and fat. I crave pork, sour cream, cheese, and spiciness (I have to pile on full-fat yogurt or sour cream to feel satiated at meals). I love seafood, dates, dark leafy greens, bone broth soups, lentils, stews and curries. I seem to do best with at least a moderate amount of potatoes or white rice. I also really enjoy chocolate and the taste of coconut.


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