To Grain or Not to Grain…and Which Ones?! Paleo, Reflected.

December 3, 2012

After reading a lot about the “Paleo diet”, I recently shifted my already health-conscious diet to one more similar to our ancestors’ (early man).  Paleo enthusiasts subscribe to eating poultry, meat, and fish that are raised in the wild and not commercially farmed.  Pasture-raised, free range chicken and eggs, full fat organic dairy, wild fish, grass-fed beef, leafy grains and other organic vegetables, grass-fed butter, lard, coconut and olive oil, fruit, nuts, seeds.  Bacon.  No grains (think pre-agricultural era).

While certain things seemed to move in a positive direction for me eating this way, others did not.  I couldn’t understand why?  My diet had never been so clean.  No processed foods, sugar, wheat, or any grains, and I even cut out dairy and caffeine for a significant amount of time.  I was frustrated and upset.  Confused.

I realized finally that if I looked at my own food journal the way I look at my patients’ food journals I would say, “Molly, you tend toward phlegm-dampness with underlying weak spleen and stomach (digestive) systems according to Chinese Medicine, and you are not supporting these patterns with your diet.”

I already knew that.  Yet I read so many scientific articles, journals, blogs, and success stories that I was sure I too would thrive eating such a diet, and that clearly I was doing something wrong if I wasn’t.  Yeah – I wasn’t “minding my constitution.”

According to Chinese Medicine, those with weakened digestive systems and corresponding phlegm and dampness should, among other recommendations, avoid or minimize dairy, oily meals, nuts and nut butters, fatty cuts of meats, and grains should be well-cooked.  Note that the recommendations do not say “avoid grains.”

All people won’t thrive on the same diet because we all have different constitutions, different presenting patterns, and different lifestyles.  Our Paleolithic ancestors had to hunt and gather, fight and flight, to thrive and survive. Maybe today’s survival traits should select for the skill to filter through marketed information and products, the skill to listen to our guts and true needs, and the skill to ascertain which strategies to embrace and which to let go.  In a society with cookie cutter diet plans and advice, processed science experiments disguised as health food, and endless and conflicting nutritional information, I believe they are skills worth honing.

I continue to tweak my regimen to account for the season, weather, physical symptoms, and my stress and activity levels to the best of my ability.  I encourage my patients in a similar fashion to experiment with various ratios of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to determine what feels best.  An optimal diet starts with high quality, nutrient-dense food.  The rest is to be determined.  It’s all a process.  I am still learning (and re-learning), and I encourage you on your own journey.

In an effort to reduce the phlegm and damp-forming foods in my diet, I have (re)-introduced myself to whole grains, including millet.  Time will tell how much and how often I eat it.  Read more here.

You are what you eat.

In good health,



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