The Truth About The Paleo Diet with Nell Stephenson


Jonathan: Hey, everybody, Jonathan Bailor, back, with another SANE show, and one of the SANest show veterans ever. She has been on the show many times, for good reasons. We have done some recordings in my house. She is just an all-star. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, she is the only person I have ever received meat in the mail with. I know that might not make any sense, but you have to go on YouTube and search for Nell Stephenson and Jonathan Bailor, Meat in the Mail, and you will see what I’m talking about, and I’ve given away the farm, here. Our guest is the wonderful Paleoista, Nell Stephenson. What’s up, Nell?

Nell: Hey, Jonathan, how are you doing?

Jonathan: I’m doing well. I’m not as good as that day when we got Meat in the Mail, that big box of meat in the mail, but I’m doing pretty good.

Nell: Just not well because you didn’t actually get your daily dose of meat yet?

Jonathan: At least not in the mail.

Nell: Yeah, there’s something special about that. That’s true. It’s hard to top that.

Jonathan: Well, you know, the holiday season is around the corner, and I am wondering if there is anyone in the Paleo community who is going to have any sort of meat-based treats in their stocking. I can imagine that would lead to a very surprising Christmas morning.

Nell: Especially if you have pets, because that surprise might not be there, because they will have eaten it overnight.

Jonathan: A funny anecdote, and then we will actually talk about the meat of the show (laughs). Sorry, puns are just flowing. That is, speaking of dogs, animals, and holidays, I remember when I was growing up I had a wonderful dog named Silver. He was my best friend growing up, and Silver had a tendency to eat the Christmas presents, so my mom discovered that if she put tobasco sauce on our Christmas presents under the tree, Silver would not chew them up, so this, of course, prevented us from getting our presents chewed, but caused us to have a very interesting gift unwrapping experience on Christmas day.

Nell: Oh, I can only imagine what might have gone wrong. It sounds good on one hand, and maybe dangerous on the other.

Jonathan: Absolutely. Well, speaking of good on one hand and dangerous on the other that is a great, great segue. I wanted to bring you on the show because since folks have heard from you over the past couple of years on the SANE show, you have often been thought of. You have worked directly with Dr. Cordain, one of the real pioneers in the Paleo space, and you have really carried on his legacy in terms of defining what Paleo is and what Paleo isn’t. Can you refresh our listeners about what is, let’s call it, text book Paleo, and how that is evolving over time?

Nell: Sure. Textbook Paleo is, basically, focusing on what our ancestors ate, mimicking their food groups with foods that are readily available to us today in our back yards, in our farmer’s markets, and even in our grocery stores. The idea does not have to be that we all have to do our own hunting and gathering. Certainly you can, if you live in an area where you can go hunting and fishing and that type of thing, but if you are in an urban area, or wherever you live, the idea is to have a diet focused primarily on local fresh produce, mostly vegetables, with some fruit, wild natural proteins and healthy fats, and to avoid foods that make us sick, fat, and inflamed, foods that are high in sugar, processed, refined carbohydrates, packaged items, that type of thing. It is actually a very common sense approach to eating, and I still do stand behind that methodology.

The one thing that might have changed is, the way that I try to deliver it, admittedly, I probably came across very dogmatic many times, and it is only because I am very passionate about this, and passionate about empowering people to educate themselves on how to properly eat in order to heal themselves from anything from a mild, to very debilitating, state of illness. That is where I am coming from, just my goal to educate people.

And the varying degrees of Paleo, if you have somebody who is coming from a background where they are eating a very poor quality diet and they are never eating any vegetables, and they are eating a lot of sugar and a lot of dairy and a lot of gluten, if you get that person just shifting in the right direction and having some vegetables each day, maybe replacing some of their soda with water, maybe cutting down on some of the dairy, that still shifts in the right direction. So, I think that is probably the only thing that has changed, the way I am trying to deliver the message, because I really want to reach people and get the message to them, rather than having them turn a blind eye because it sounds too restrictive.

Jonathan: There are two questions I would love to get your insight on, and we can address them in any order you want. The first is, how some people characterize Paleo as the opposite of being a vegetarian, and that is an interesting thing to talk about. The second is, inspired by the eating which was available to our ancestors, sometimes questions come up around things like honey, and white potatoes, and a lot of food that was available to our ancestors, and the question of whether or not that would be healthful for a diabetic person or pre-diabetic person to eat. Which one of those questions would you like to tackle first?

Nell: Let’s go in order. Yes, being vegetarian is not the opposite of being Paleo. For anybody who maybe has not read my story, I was vegan myself for two years. Actually, there is a huge correlation between a proper vegan approach and a true Paleo approach, which is that the crux of the diet is primarily based on a lot of produce and good fats. Both diets, when executed properly, have a large focus on a huge range of local, hopefully organic, seasonal vegetables, mostly vegetables, with some fruit, and healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, olive oil.

Obviously, the main difference between the two approaches is where the protein is coming from. For me, it is not the opposite because I was vegan for health reasons. Part of my journey was to figure out why I was so sick all the time, as well as ethical reasons, as I believed at the time that it was wrong for us to eat animals. However, with time and education I learned that if I were to actually boycott all animal products and group the small ranchers and local farmers who are trying to raise animals in the right way with those big bad Monsantos of the world and categorize them all the same and boycott all of it, it is not going to really leave any room for progress, because if there is no need for the small local ranchers’ and farmers’ products, and everybody is defaulting to Monsanto, there is not going to be a change.

So, it is actually a counter, and again, I say this as a former vegan, if you are avoiding all of it for ethical reasons I just suggest rethinking it a little bit. Again, it is a very delicate issue, it is not something you can force. Certainly, when I was vegan, I would not have listened to somebody who was trying to force me to eat meat or anything like that, but for me, my own journey was to begin to integrate some wild fish into my diet and that felt comfortable for me at the time as I transitioned to what, over a period of a couple of years, became the Paleo approach. So, again, to reiterate, being Paleo does not mean you no longer support animal rights, or that you are not interested in animal welfare, quite the opposite.

In fact, I just did an interview yesterday with a woman with a local radio show and she coined me as a conscious Paleo person. I thought that was a pretty cool way to put it because that also delineates a little bit between some of the confusion within Paleo that the idea is that we are supposed to be eating bacon every day. Bacon is a good example. If you are getting pastured pork bacon and it is uncured, and you want to have that once in a while, it is not a big deal, but to group that with the same category as wild salmon and grass-fed meat, that is not the same thing, it is not interchangeable. That is pretty important.

Jonathan: That is a great segue into the second question now. Let’s say the underlying premise of a Paleo lifestyle is eating foods that were available to our ancestors. Now, imagine there was a mythical island called Baconland, our ancestors lived there, and the only foods available to them were bacon, white potatoes, and honey. That’s all they ate, it is what our ancestors ate, they are all found directly in nature, and we see a lot of Paleo recipes, we see a lot of Paleo treats. In order to ensure optimal health, do we have to take a second step beyond to, “Was this available to our ancestors?”

Nell: I think the Paleo treats is so tricky, and my position is this. If you take a recipe that is typical of the standard American diet, the recipe for brownies, for example, if you google Paleo brownies you will find a million recipes for Paleo brownies, and they are using a nut flour instead of all purpose flour. Some people are using ghee because there is this interesting surge of the idea that dairy is somehow Paleo if it is grass-fed dairy, which isn’t the case. So, they are kind of revamping these recipes with foods that are Paleo-ish, including honey, and replacing them as part of a staple of their diet.

That’s not the idea, but if you do that as a once in a while type of thing, say, for example, you want to keep the family Paleo, and your child has a birthday and you want to bake a cake and you use honey and coconut oil and coconut flour and [?? s/l rockocal], for the special occasion, that makes sense. I think where the issue comes about is when people tend to rely far too heavily on these things which are still refined, they are still processed, they are still very high in sugar, which predisposes us to become more sensitive to insulin, and with a whole host of other health issues, so that is not the idea. The idea is to balance it all out.

And what I really want people to take away as the message is, it is what our ancestors ate? Yes, they probably did come across honey once in a while, and I read in something that I think Dr. Cordain had written, how often would they have come across honey? I don’t know, but say, for example, they came across it very rarely. Yes, they probably would have gorged, and then they probably wouldn’t have come across it and gorged for another long period of time. I think we can use that as a model in terms of how long we are supposed to be eating treats and sweets.

People often say, “I crave this, I need a sweet after dinner.” Any time I hear, “I need,” or “I crave,” usually that is a sign to me that that is a blood sugar crash happening, and we have to troubleshoot and go back with the client and find out what did they eat earlier in the day? Was it balanced? Did they eat enough calories, first of all, and did they eat enough fat and enough protein, because most of the time people have the opposite regime where they wake up and it’s almost like they are eating in an upside down triangle where they are waking up still full from last night because they ate too much because they got home starving – too much, too close to bed, they wake up still full, and then they tag their behaviors as, “I’m going to be good and not eat too many calories,” or I’m going to save them for later.”

So, you start out the day, basically, on empty, and then you set the stage for a series of blood sugar crashes, and peaks and valleys throughout the day, which is horrible for your energy. It does a great job at making you gain weight, or prevent you from losing weight, but it is not the way to go. So, the idea is, in the sense of what our ancestors ate, if we look at hunter/gatherer societies that still exist today, we see that they don’t have the health issues that we have here, things that we take for granted as just being normal, like teenagers having acne. “Oh, that’s normal.” No it’s not, because the people that are eating healthfully in the hunter-gatherer manner that still are in existence today, don’t have acne, just as one example.

So, the bottom line is, when we eat foods that we are not supposed to be eating, we make ourselves inflamed, and fat, and sick, and that is the starting point. It’s a lot more complicated because we have all these different behaviors associated with it, but really, at the end of the day, it is all about eating real, fresh food, and moving, and not eating things that aren’t really food.

Jonathan: You put it very well there when you said eating things we’re not supposed to be eating, and maybe one of the sources of confusion for the mainstream is that what we are supposed to eating, often is defined, let’s say, interestingly. For example, dairy is its own food group. I’m going to release Jonathan’s Magic Beans and I’m going to petition the USDA for that to get its own food group because we all have to have our daily dose of Jonathan’s Magic Beans. That said, though the dairy food group has talked about how you have to do this to get your calcium, you’ve got to eat your whole grains to get your minerals. So, if we are not going to be eating these non-ancestral food groups, where do we get our calcium from, and where do we get our fiber from?

Nell: The calcium is very easy to get from leafy green vegetables, and although, yes, dairy is a good source of calcium, it also has a net negative acidic impact on our body. So, over the period of a day, we have to look at the net acid load, and because it is so acidic, our bodies actually have to leach calcium out of our bones in order to buffer our pH back to alkalinity, so at the end of the day you are negative. That leads to osteopenia and osteoporosis. However, if we go with leafy green vegetables, we are getting a little bit less calcium per cup than we would for a cup of milk; however, they are alkaline, so we don’t have that calcium-leaching, bone-weakening effect.

As far as minerals and fiber and that sort of thing, vegetables have about seven to eleven times the amount of fiber than we get in fortified bread. It is such a great question because I was told the same thing when I was on my journey and sick with stomach issues all the time, going to GI specialists, and being told, “Well, since you don’t have celiac disease, if you cut gluten out of your diet you will be making a mistake, because there is no way you will be able to get enough fiber in your diet, or B vitamins, if you don’t eat the fortified grain products, because they’re the best source, which is nonsense because again, vegetables have about seven to eleven times the amount that fortified cereal grains do.

Jonathan: That was one of the most telling graphs I think I ever saw in one of Dr. Cordain’s research papers. He actually did this, he took the 20 most common fruits and vegetables and plotted the fiber-per-calorie. Calling grains a good source of fiber is a little bit like calling carrot cake a good source of vegetables. Yes, it has vegetables in it, but…

Nell: Remember when spinach pasta came out and people were saying, “I got my greens because I got my green spinach pasta.” No. Exactly. That goes right back to the point. Dr. Cordain has done years of research, and before him Dr. [?? 14:07], and those are books and the work that I think people really need to dig into. Sometimes people will say how dogmatic I am, or I am the Paleo police, or I’m a stickler, or it’s my way or the highway. Believe me, I wish it was my way, I wish I had invented this. Can you imagine? I wish Dr. Cordain had the patent on Paleo and could just stamp what is or is not Paleo. But what will be, will be.

It is very confusing, because people are jumping on the Paleo bandwagon and now you are seeing Paleo tagged everywhere, just like what we did when the gluten-free craze came out. Now you can go into Whole Foods and there is an entire aisle of gluten-free things that are almost all packaged, refined. And again, yes, there could be a time and a place for it, but the idea of that becoming the mainstay of our diet is not the message, because it is still high in inflammatory foods, primarily nut flours, and those are not something that we want to be relying on as the thing that we are eating every day.

Jonathan: A lot of the challenge I hear other people talk about, both with the Paleo lifestyle, or even a SANE lifestyle, which are very similar, is challenges around convenience, challenges around cost, challenges around resources, and I know, actually, both you and I, but this show is about you, are working on some really interesting stuff in that arena, and that you just had a pretty big breakthrough on the business side of things. Can you tell us a little bit about what you are offering now?

Nell: Yes, this is super exciting. I am actually talking to you from my brand new studio, calling it kind of like a beta position. It is kind of like everything that I offer on my website, but in person. I have opened in Los Angeles, and if all goes according to plan, I will be able to open other facilities throughout the U.S. But here I’m doing nutritional counseling, both on a one-on-one individual basis, as well as group classes, and I am also offering the free lectures. People can come in, learn about what a healthy approach to living is, and get their specific needs met.

I also have an app which launched recently, that comes with a free meal plan, and a nationwide food delivery service, so if your issue is not having enough time to prepare your healthy Paleo foods, that is met as well. There has been a lot happening at the same time. My new book comes out in January. So, lots going on, lots to offer, and I am hoping that this studio idea flies and it can be a nationwide franchise.

Jonathan: I love it. Let’s get some specific names here. Let’s get the name of the new book, let’s get the name of the website where we can learn more about this, and let’s get the name of the app.

Nell: Yes. The app is Paleoista.

Jonathan: Nice.

Nell: The studio is Paleoista Lifestyle Studio. And the new book is out from Harlequin. It is a series of three e-books focusing on what to eat for breakfast, what to eat for snacks, and what to eat around workout, because I have found, historically, those are the three issues that clients have the most difficulty with. They understand that lunch might be a salad with salmon and avocado, and dinner might be sautéed garlic broccoli and rib eye, or something like that, but then when it comes to breakfast or snacks, it gets confusing, so I have really addressed those three areas of eating in the upcoming book.

Jonathan: Very exciting. I appreciate all this work that you are doing. I love that you are doing it on a local, one-on-one level, and then also trying to go national and digital and help change the world. You have been at this for a long time and I appreciate your continued passion because this is a really important mission, and you are certainly doing a lot to help heal the world.

Nell: Thank you so much. I just want people to get that it is so simple that you can actually really heal yourself just by looking at what you are putting in your body and how you are moving, so what I always say is, “Eat food and move.”

Jonathan: I love it. Well, Nell Stephenson, thank you again for joining us today.

Nell: Thanks Jonathan, it’s great to see you.

Jonathan: Great to see you, as well. And listeners and viewers, again, our wonderful guest today is a SANE show friend and veteran, Nell Stephenson, otherwise known as the Paleoista. Be sure to go onto Google, or Bing, or whatever your search engine of choice is, type in Paleoista, learn more about her, her new book, her new app, her new meal delivery service, and soon, her new kingdom. (laughs) She’s got a lot going on, so be sure to check it out, and remember, stay SANE.

Nell: Thanks, Jonathan.