Will the Paleo Diet cause nutrient deficiencies?

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I apologise in advance for the rant, and profanities, that may ensue in this post.Lately there has been a massive uproar in response to Pete Evans promoting the Paleo Diet in quite a big way to his many, many followers. Health professionals aren’t happy, going so far as to call Pete “clueless” and even this:

“Mr Evans’ claims are a threat to public health. He should be arrested”

Wow!

I have also seen, around the inter webs, people resorting to name-calling, suggesting that Paleo followers are ignorant and ill-informed.

I take issue with this in a big way. As I am a proponent of the Paleo diet (as an awesome template – I think it can be tweaked to suit the individual), these individuals are implying that I am ignorant. The worst thing you can call me is an idiot. Because I know I’m not. Now I am not trying to be a show-off, but I take pride in being well-informed and somewhat of a nutrition nerd. I graduated from my Bachelor of Nutrition & Dietetics with 1st class honours. I made the Dean’s Merit list 3 years in a row. Hardly the results of an ignoramus, right?

On top of this, do you really think I would willingly encourage people to follow something that is dangerous? Do you really think Pete would, either? This is the way his kids eat – do you really think he would want to put them at risk?

So I decided to sit down and figure out if we could achieve the RDI (recommended dietary intake) or AI (adequate intake – used when RDIs are not available) on a Paleo Diet? Or would we perish from multiple nutrient deficiencies? Let’s take a look (the list of foods is not exhaustive)….

Omega 3 fatty acids – AI = 0.8g

  • 140g salmon – 0.86g
  • 100g sardines, with bones – 2.6g
  • 30g flaxseeds – 6.6g

 Dietary fibre – 25g/day

  • 1 large boiled white potato – 8.3g
  • 1 cup broccoli – 5.1g
  • 1 cup kale – 2.6g
  • ½ cup red capsicum – 1.56g
  • 1 kiwi fruit – 2.1g
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 3.1g
  • 1 medium apple – 4.4g
  • ½ cup shredded coconut – 6.5g
  • ½ cup sweet potato – 4.2g
  • 30g almonds – 3.7g

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – RDI =1.1mg

  • 100g pork fillet – 1.5mg
  • 100g bacon – 0.7mg
  • 50g sunflower seeds – 0.85mg

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – RDI =1.1mg

  • 50g beef liver – 2.45mg
  • 2 boiled eggs – 0.51mg
  • 100g mushrooms – 0.37mg

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – RDI =14mg (niacin equivalents)

  • 140g salmon – 11.2mg
  • 50g beef liver – 6.3mg
  • ½ cup mushrooms – 3.5mg
  • 85g chicken breast – 16.8mg
  • 85g canned tuna – 15.2mg
  • 30g sunflower seeds – 3.2mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 4.6mg

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – RDI =1.3mg

  • 140g salmon – 0.86mg
  • 50g beef liver – 0.51mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 1.02mg
  • 1 medium banana – 0.43mg
  • 85g chicken breast – 0.5mg

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) – RDI = 2.4ug

  • 50g beef liver – 35.3ug
  • 2 boiled eggs – 1.11ug
  • 140g salmon – 5.8ug

Folate – RDI = 400ug

  • 50g beef liver – 126ug
  • 1 cup broccoli – 168.5ug
  • ½ cup asparagus, chopped – 134.1ug
  • 30g sunflower seeds – 65ug
  • 2 boiled eggs – 44ug

Pantothenic Acid – AI = 4mg

  • 140g salmon – 1.44mg
  • 2 boiled eggs – 1.35mg
  • 100g kangaroo – 0.58mg
  • 50g beef liver – 3.6mg
  • 1 cup broccoli – 0.96mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 1.77mg

Biotin – AI = 25ug

  • 2 boiled eggs – 17ug
  • 100g pork chop – 7.5ug
  • 30g almonds – 18ug

Vitamin C – RDI = 45mg

  • 1 cup broccoli – 101.2mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 41.6mg
  • 1 cup kale – 53.3mg
  • ½ cup red capsicum – 95.1mg
  • 1 kiwi fruit – 64mg

Choline – AI = 425mg

  • 50g beef liver – 213mg
  • 2 boiled eggs – 1007mg

Vitamin A (retinol equivalents) – RDI = 700ug

  • 50g beef liver – LOADS (85g has more than 1000ug)
  • ½ cup sweet potato – 950ug
  • ½ cup shredded carrots, raw – 330ug

Vitamin D – AI = 5ug

  • SUNLIGHT!!!
  • 2 boiled eggs – 21.77ug
  • 140g salmon – 15.22ug
  • 100g sardines – 4.6ug

Vitamin E (a-tocopherol equivalents) – AI = 7mg

  • 2 boiled eggs – 1.03mg
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 12.7mg
  • 30g almonds – 7.9mg

Vitamin K – AI = 60ug

  • 1 cup broccoli – 220ug
  • ½ cup asparagus, chopped – 45.5ug
  • 1 cup kale – 1062ug
  • 1 kiwi fruit – 27.8ug

Calcium – RDI = 1000mg

  • 1 cup broccoli – 62.4mg
  • 1 cup kale – 93.6mg
  • 85g sardines, with bones – 420mg
  • 30g almonds – 30g

Phosphorus – RDI = 1000mg

  • 140g salmon – 365.4mg
  • 50g beef liver – 248.5mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 267.2mg
  • 2 boiled eggs – 172mg
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 237.6mg

Sodium – AI = 460-920mg

Most sodium is found in significant quantities in packaged and processed foods. As the paleo diet is devoid of these, a little sea salt added to meals is often beneficial in maintaining electrolyte balance

Potassium – AI = 2800mg

  • 1 large boiled white potato – 1957mg
  • 1 medium banana – 422.4mg
  • 140g salmon – 512.4mg
  • 1 artichoke – 400mg

Magnesium – RDI = 255mg

  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 117mg
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds – 191mg
  • 2 squares dark chocolate – 190mg

Iodine – RDI = 150ug

  • 2 boiled eggs – 47.3ug
  • 100g mussels – 267.8ug
  • A sprinkle of kelp or wakame – LOADS

Selenium – RDI = 60ug

  • 2 boiled eggs – 30.8ug
  • 150g salmon – 44ug
  • 1 Brazil nut – 90.6ug

Molybdenum – RDI = 45ug

  • 2 boiled eggs – 5.5ug
  • 1 medium banana – 4.3ug
  • 100g strawberries – 8.6ug
  • 50g dessicated coconut – 11.1ug
  • 50g almonds – 12ug
  • 50g parseley – 20ug
  • 100g spinach – 17.5ug

 Copper – AI = 1.2mg

  • 1 large boiled white potato – 0.58mg
  • ½ cup asparagus, chopped – 0.15mg
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 0.65mg
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds – 0.43mg
  • 85g oysters – 1.34mg

Chromium – AI = 25ug

  • 1 cup broccoli – 18.5ug
  • 1 large royal gala apple – 14ug
  • 100g chicken breast – 7.8ug
  • 100g potato (red skin) – 28.7ug

Manganese – AI = 5mg

  • 1 large boiled white potato – 0.97mg
  • 1 cup kale – 0.54mg
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 0.7mg
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds – 1.47mg
  • 30g hazlenuts – 1.6mg
  • 4 leaves of swiss chard – 0.7mg
  • 85g mussels – 5.8mg

Iron – RDI = 18mg

  • 1 large boiled white potato – 5.7mg
  • 100g grass-fed beef steak – 1.85mg
  • 50g beef liver – 3.6mg
  • 100g spinach – 3.2mg
  • 85g clams, canned – LOADS (more than 18mg)

Zinc – AI = 8mg

  • 85g oysters – LOADS (about 14.1mg)
  • 50g beef liver – 2.6mg
  • 1 large boiled white potato – 2.8mg
  • 2 boiled eggs – 1.05mg
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds – 1.8mg
  • ¼ cup pumpkin seeds – 2.5mg
  • 100g grass-fed beef steak – 3.6mg

* The nutrient reference values are based on those for a healthy, 30 year old women (i,e, ME!). RDIs etc are different for people with chronic (or even acute) health conditions. 

It would seem that the only nutrient reference value that might be a struggle to meet is calcium. Given that dairy is a main source of calcium, this would put Paleo-folk in the same camp as vegans, some vegetarians, and the millions of people who are allergic to, or cannot tolerate dairy. If you’re like me, you might not be able to tolerate soy either (it gives me a nice face rash). So what would you say to these people in regards to their calcium intake? Would you call them ignorant? Would you tell them to stop following their “fad diet”? Would you scoff at their choices? I would hope not. Some Paleo-people actually choose to include dairy, which would make this a moot point. And while we’re at it, most people have the calcium-loaded dairy with cereals, breads, crackers, coffee – all of which have components that bind up the calcium, making it less bioavailable. What say you now?

Also of note – beef liver really is a rock-star food, and just 50g of it packs a nutritional punch. In fact, just 50g of liver meets 38% of our nutritional requirements for day! AND it is cheap. AND it is sustainable, respectful and minimises waste. Many health pratitioners would turn their nose up at the idea of eating beef liver, describing it as “disgusting” and “who would eat that?”. That is not for us to decide. Our job is to inform people of the best sources of nutrients. It is not our job to impose our beliefs and our tastes on others. And who would eat liver? Pretty sure our grandparents loved the stuff. Most of South America still do! So get over yourself!

Our job is also not to decide what is too expensive for people without knowing them. Our job is to help them prioritise their health, giving strategies based on their current budget and lifestyle, so they can live life to the fullest. So they don’t have to spend money on unnecessary drugs for diet-related illness. So they can be productive at work and make the money they need to pay the bills.

In the end, we all want to improve the health of others, right? And we can probably do that better by working together on things we agree on, rather than blowing our differences out of proportion and calling each other names. Correct?

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