Paleo, Primal, 30 Day Challenges, and Dairy

Glass and Bottle of Milk

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30 Day Paleo Challenges, 21 Day Sugar Detoxes, and Whole30’s, oh my!  T’is the season, I guess.  New year, let’s start over, rid ourselves of the 5, 10, or 15 pounds we gained (or think we gained) over the annual 5-week long Holiday Gluttonfest.  So, clearly the answer must be to swing to the opposite extreme and completely deny ourselves of anything enjoyable in life and just to make it unbearable, we join a new gym and beat ourselves to death on treadmills, ellipticals, and other treatment various human rights groups would stage world-wide protests over, were it not voluntary.

Here in the Paleosphere, we’re not all that different than “the mainstream SAD people”, are we?  If we were, then January 1st would be “just another day” following “just another month” from a dietary perspective, right?  But noooooo. We’re all over this 30 Day Challenge and Detox thing. Just look around you.  Every Crossfit box worth their kettlebells is running a Paleo Challenge of some kind or other.  Facebook groups like 30 Days in the Cave (Culinary Cave Dad’s and my own FB group (pssst, still time to join if you want to!)) are popping up as well. And my good friend Diane Sanfilippo is holding the “Largest ever 21 Day Sugar Detox group”.

We’ve lost our way…

But it seems that something has been lost in the original intent behind the Paleo Challenge, and this seems to have led to a lot of confusion over dairy and it’s role in the diet with respect to Paleo.  Does Paleo allow dairy?  Or is that what’s called “Primal”.  If it’s “Primal”, then why does Robb Wolfe admit to consuming dairy and even go so far as to say that Paleo plus dairy is a “potently anti-inflammatory diet […] loaded with nutrient quality.” ?  [ The Paleo Solution Podcast Episode  92 ]

Let’s take a step back and realize what exactly “The Paleo Diet” really is.  First and foremost, it’s the name of a book by Loren Cordain, whom many credit with being the “Father of Paleo”.  The term “The Paleo Diet” is in fact a trademark owned by Cordain.  As a result, when Mark Sisson wanted to write a similar book, using the term “Paleo” would both add confusion and possibly infringe upon that trademark. Hence, “The Primal Blueprint”!

Controversy over dairy in the science…

Cordain does in fact recommend against consuming dairy, claiming that it’s more harmful than not.  But there is plenty of controversy over this claim. And Chris Kresser has done an excellent job discussing  the science which both backs up and contradicts his assertions.  The irony here is that Robb Wolf, who recommends eliminating dairy in his book, actually admits to consuming dairy, and Mark Sisson, who’s books claim dairy is okay, actually does not tolerate it, and therefore does not consume diary (I can’t find a reference to this claim, but I’m 99.999% positive I’ve heard Mark state this on some podcast or other).  So, we have the current leader of the Paleo movement (Robb) ostensibly saying one thing and doing the opposite, and the leader of the Primal movement (Mark) preaching it’s okay, but completely avoiding it?  How does this make sense?

The original intent behind 30 Day Challenges…

Coffee with Cream

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Then there is the age old question of, “What can I possibly put in my coffee if I can’t have dairy?!”.  There are some who say, “Man up and drink it black like the gods intended!”, and there are other apologists out there who claim that coconut milk really isn’t an evil abomination when combined with the Elixir of Life and personal insult to those very same coffee gods!”  So what do we do?

Again, let’s take a step back and think about what is going on with dairy, and why is it considered off-limits, especially on a 30 Day Paleo Challenge.  When Robb first proposed what he now calls “Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation”, his intent was for one to undertake what, in the medical world, is referred to as a “standard elimination diet”.  There was, and is, absolutely nothing magical about what Robb was proposing.  Every doctor and allergist in the world has at some time likely recommended a similar approach whether or not they understood the concept of “Paleo” nutrition.  The basic premise is to eliminate those foods which are most irritating and known to cause problems for the human body.  It’s the old Marx Brothers routine,

Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this!”
Doctor: “So, don’t do that!”

Robb’s approach, and Mark’s, is to eliminate the most basic causes of inflammation in the digestive tract. Everyone hears the “Eliminate these things from your diet..”:

  • Grains
  • Legumes
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Alcohol

But almost everyone seems to forget the end of that sentence which states, “…for 30 days.” And the next one which states, “And re-introduce it as you see fit.”  He in fact goes on to explain exactly HOW to re-introduce each of these foods in order to determine if you do have any kind of sensitivities or aversions to them.

Now, most people in the Paleosphere seem to agree that cutting out most grains is a good idea.  And there’s not a lot of debate about legumes in general.  Everyone also pretty much agrees that the clear, non-grain based alcohols are fine on occasion, and that sugar is something best left out entirely (there’s a whole separate discussion lurking here about gradients and spectrums which I plan to dive into at a later date).  But dairy seems to raise the ire in some people.  One side claiming there’s no good reason ever to consume it, the other claiming it’s perfectly fine as long as you stick to grass-fed, pastured products, ideally in their most natural, raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized state.

Can I have dairy or not?

So where does this leave us?  Right back to the ever unpopular “It depends”.  My take on it is this. If you’ve done a 30 Day Paleo Challenge; Robb’s, The Whole 30, the “Squeaky Clean Paleo” protocol or Auto-Immune Protocol from Practical Paleo, etc., have properly re-introduced dairy back into your life, and subsequently determined that you have no issues with dairy, then have at it and enjoy it.  On the other hand, if you have issues with dairy, then it’s probably obvious and wise that you should avoid it. This shouldn’t be rocket science or brain surgery folks.  If you test something and determine it doesn’t bother you, then why intentionally avoid it?  Just because some person on the interwebs said so?  You’ve already determined it doesn’t bother you!

A grass-fed cow

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But what about when doing a repeat 30 Day Challenge?  Should you exclude dairy during these repeat performances?  I guess it again “depends”.  What is the purpose of doing another 30 Day Challenge?  And is dairy a trigger food for you?  Do you perhaps have cheese more often than you should?  Again, my take on it is very individualistic.  I’ve done many 30 Day Challenges, most of them with a complete avoidance of all dairy.  However, I’ve determined through so much experimentation that I have absolutely no issues with dairy of any kind in any amount.  And for me, coffee is not worth drinking without a little bit of grass-fed heavy cream or butter in it.  Just enough to take the bitter edge off, but not so much that the coffee becomes a milkshake. We’re talking 1-2 tablespoons at most per cup.  I’ll have 2 cups/day, so at most 4 TBSPs of cream or butter.  Not unreasonable at all, and given my particular, individualized situation, certainly not enough to cause me problems.

Again, though, we need to look at why are you doing this 30 Day Challenge?  What are you challenging? Robb’s intent is for it to be an initial transition to Paleo, that “people do a really stout buy-in in the first 30 days then reintroduce foods to kind of see how things go.” [ The Paleo Solution Podcast Episode 92 ].  The 30 Day Challenge state is NOT meant to be the state that most people live in year round.  Nor is the 30 Day Challenge state something he expected people do frequently.  It is intentionally very strict because it is designed as a means of removing inflammatory and antagonistic substances from the diet in order to provide the body a calm and soothing environment in which to heal itself.  It can’t do that if it’s getting attacked on all sides by the dietary equivalent of a pack of hyenas.  So, remove the hyenas from the picture, let the body heal, re-introduce possible problematic items methodically and see how the body reacts.  THAT is the intent behind the challenge. Therefore, as I’ve said, if you’ve already tested and discovered dairy is not problematic, then relax and enjoy it. Otherwise you’re avoiding something just because a specific elimination diet protocol tells you to do so. This, despite the fact that you are now using that protocol for purposes other than the one it’s designed for!  That seems kinda silly.

A new dietary plan to replace Paleo!

So, if you’re doing a Paleo Challenge and treating it like a detox, perhaps you need to re-think your average daily approach to eating.  Perhaps your problem is that you’ve allowed too many hyenas into your body.  And if that’s the case, then a 30 Day Challenge isn’t going to help you in the long term.  It’s how you eat MOST OF THE TIME that matters, not how many 30 Day challenges you complete over the year starting January 1st.  By the time you’ve gotten to your 3rd 30 day challenge, you probably shouldn’t even notice that you’re doing anything different!

So, with that in mind, I introduce to you to the new dietary concept of “Pauleo“!

Pauleo™ is the concept of eating real, fresh, nutrient-dense whole foods and avoiding all man-made, highly processed, nutrient-deficient, industrialized food products whilst thoroughly enjoying those food which you have determined “work for you” through a stringent and strict 30 Day Elimination Diet Challenge and methodically re-introduced according to the proper protocol.

Pauleo™, for example, fully allows one to have grass-fed, pastured, minimally-processed heavy cream or butter in one’s coffee, if one tolerates dairy.  Pauleo™ completely and totally forbids dairy for any individual who has not first proven that they tolerate dairy as described previously.  In fact, Pauleo™ completely prohibits anyone from attempting this nutritional lifestyle without first having completed at least one 30-Day Paleo Challenge and properly re-introducing all removed foods according to the prescribed protocol. Pauleo™ is also open to only those individuals named Paul or those individuals willing to answer to the name Paul for the duration of time they plan on following the PauleoPlan. (Paulas and Paulettes may be acceptable as well, we’re waiting to hear back from our legal department.)

Now, back to dairy. Be aware it does contain a lot of fat.  And it can be a trigger food for many.  If your goal is to lose weight and dairy is quietly contributing a bunch of calories to your daily intake that you’re not also burning off with some form of activity, it might well be the culprit that prevents you from reaching your goals.  If this is your first 30 Day Challenge, you’re better off sucking it up and avoiding the dairy completely like I did.  Partly to determine whether or not you are sensitive to it, and partly to realize what you’re capable of accomplishing in 30 days.  You might surprise yourself and discover you like your coffee black, or that coconut milk does work for you, or that you don’t even want the coffee anymore.

So, who’s up for a Pauleo™ 30 Day Challenge?  It comes with a side a bacon!

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3 comments to Paleo, Primal, 30 Day Challenges, and Dairy

  • My only exception is that distilled spirits, despite their origins (grain or not) are generally free of any problematic molecule found in the offending grain. These molecules are far to heavy to be carried overhead in the distillation process. The alcohol itself is still problematic and is a poison to our bodies but the essence of the grain is no longer there unless added post distillation as some gins may do when they add almonds as an example. As to the poison comment, Mark of Mark’s Daily Apple backs this up but also says I take my poison in the form of red wine. So in moderation, fine (just not if you are doing a Whole30, Pauleo 30 or 21 Day Detox).

  • Great post. I first stated this lifestyle in Sept 2010 with one of Mark’s 30 day challenges (I know he’s since changed it to only 21 days). I was a real mess back then, all sorts of health problems and digestive issues — so I had to stick to basically 21DSD/Whole30 eating for quite a long time — basically for a whole year, plus lots of supplements, bone broth, gelatin, etc. to heal my gut. I reacted to nearly EVERYTHING when I tried to reintroduce it. Regarding dairy, I did try reintroducing it early on and learned that I do best with raw goat or sheep milk, but raw cow milk is OK, I just feel like it’s a bit harder to digest than the others. Cheese is fine, too, and I aim for grass-fed and raw as much as possible.

    I am currently doing a “challenge” this month because I ate too many “paleo” treats in December and just feel like I need to eat a bunch of steak and salad to get back to normal, but I totally agree with your sentiments — at this point, I know better than to eat paleo pancakes for breakfast and paleo cookies for dessert every week. And I also know that dairy is not a problem for me, so I am not cutting it out 100%. So, whatever, the Whole30 police can shoot me. They’d already be upset with me for continuing to eat my bacon that was cured with sugar, but has 0g sugar in the final product. I think that’s the most ridiculous rule of theirs (don’t they realize the cure gets washed off?? sorry – tangent)

    I like the idea of “Pauleo”, and that’s basically what I’m doing. For me, it means avoiding stuff made from any type of flour — yes, even the paleo ones. But it does NOT mean leaving the butter out of my coffee or off of broccoli or skipping out on baked sweet potatoes, because they “work for me” as you say 🙂

    • Amanda,

      Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it! You are exactly the type of person I had in mind while writing this. You’ve clearly done a tremendous amount of work to determine what does and does not work for you and you can now eat according to YOUR Personal Paleo template! Chris Kresser’s new book, Personal Paleo Code, is also about this very thing.

      Paleo is a very personalized thing. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me, and vice versa. I’m glad you understood the deeper message behind this post 🙂

      Good luck with your most recent challenge! And please let us know how you’re doing from time to time over on the FB page 🙂

      –TCD