The Paleo Diet mimics the food groups of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. And our ancestors consumed anywhere from 19-35% of their calories from meat, seafood and animal products.
Not surprisingly, protein, specifically grass-fed animal protein, is a staple of The Paleo Diet. Today’s humans, in comparison, get about 15% of their dietary calories from protein.
Yes, protein is great for you – IF your body can digest it and assimilate its nutrients. Protein must first be broken down into amino acids to be bioavailable. So it is important Paleo dieters recognize that animal protein is considerably more difficult for our bodies to digest when compared to plant protein.
We sat down with our own Julia Fuller, Nutritional Counselor & CNHP at Pure on Main in Greenville, SC, to learn more about the resulting health risks and ways to support your body’s digestive processes.
People who eat meat several times a day typically have undigested protein in their bloodstream.
“It’s common that I will see undigested protein come back in a blood test for meat eaters,” says Fuller, who offers blood cell analysis as a service at Pure on Main. This is because of the sheer amount of energy it takes for our bodies to digest animal protein, combined with the fact that most people today (due to hyper-processed foods and the fact that we are born with a defined amount of enzyme potential that we use up over time) have some degree of enzyme deficiency.
This buildup of improperly digested protein molecules in the blood can cause blood cells to become “sticky” leading to blood clots, high triglycerides and other cardiovascular complications and disease. It also reduces circulation in the bloodstream, which can result in lethargy and headaches. These undigested proteins may also form uric acid crystals, which can collect in the joints and cause pain.
Additionally, the digestive process itself is only one of the pancreas’ part-time jobs, the other being insulin production. Eating large amounts of animal products causes the pancreas to work harder and spend more time on enzyme production. This is the reason that some studies have linked diabetes to eating meat.
Hunter-gatherers had access to meat and vegetables. What they didn’t have were today’s food processes that remove naturally occurring enzymes in their food.
Raw, organic, fruits and vegetables are nature’s perfect enzyme package – they contain all of the enzymes that the body needs for their digestion.
Organic is key here. When most people think “organic” their thoughts turn to respecting the land, humane treatment of animals and no pesticides. But there is another reason that organic food is important – it retains the key enzymes that we need for the proper digestion of food. “Did you know that the little stickers on your apples mean something?” remarked Fuller. “If the code on your sticker starts with a 9, that means no irradiation or other processes have been performed on your produce: it’s organic.”
Unfortunately, many fruits and vegetables, to meet the demands of consumers who expect fruit to appear unbruised and perfectly shaped, undergo a process called irradiation.
Irradiation is the application of ionizing radiation to food. It extends the shelf life of foods by reducing insects and microorganisms. But the process also depletes needed enzymes that naturally occur in the food – enzymes that we need to digest the food.
If you are currently on, or are planning to go on The Paleo Diet, there are easy ways to offset and minimize the risk of poor digestion due to the potential increase of meat in your diet. Here are three simple ways to improve digestion and fully enjoy the health benefits you seek from going Paleo.