Foods like kale, grassfed beef, wild caught fish and others, some foods still go unrecognized. Though I don’t agree with the term “superfood”, the Paleo community has definitely overlooked some excellent dietary choices. Now, perhaps I am biased, but I don’t see many people eating oysters on a regular basis. Nor do I see chicken hearts eaten regularly. Though some people may consume them, I don’t see them touted about with the regularity of essentials such as eggs (great for their choline content, a precursor to the organic molecule acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter used by many cells).
It is important to note, however, that foods that are very high in certain nutrients, like Brazil nuts, which are extremely high in selenium, a trace mineral, should only be eaten sparingly, not every day. Often times my clients will try to start eating these foods daily, which can lead to many problems. One example of this would be an overabundance of the aforementioned selenium. This study points out that selenium levels must be kept in check, too much or too little can be detrimental.
Another example would be magnesium. Too much magnesium can lead to an actual deficiency in magnesium, technically known as hypomagnesemia. This study reports that too much magnesium hydroxide, which can be given as an antacid, sometimes results in magnesium loss. Since there is a laxative effect of magnesium, especially in excess, this can sometimes be self-regulating. However, if one is adverse to eating some of these foods, and would like to supplement with individual nutrients, it is important to remember these guidelines.
All that being said, the following are some overlooked foods and nutrients, even within the paleo community.
Though mollusks are particularly recommended in the paleo community, the oyster remains very forgotten. At 1 serving, which is a meager 41 calories (calorie being a dirty word in the paleo community) oysters provide 133% of the RDA for vitamin B12, 55% of the RDA for zinc, 55% of the RDA for the very important trace mineral selenium, and 39% of the RDA for the trace mineral copper. This is in addition to the 5g of protein, in again, a meager 41 calorie serving.
Both Dr. Paul Jaminet and Dr. Stephan Guyenet have written on the dangers of copper deficiency. Dr. Jaminet wrote about the dangers of lack of copper and elevated LDL. Dr. Guyenet wrote about copper and cardiovascular disease. Selenium is vital to health, though this fact wasn’t discovered for humans until 1979. Selenomethionine, a methionine derivative, and selenocysteine contain most of the bodies’ selenium. The biologically active form is selenocysteine. Selenium is important for antioxidant use and thyroid function. Glutathione peroxidases are also dependent on selenium. Glutathione peroxidases eliminate free radicals from the body.
Another interesting element of oysters, that is almost always overlooked, is arsenic. While poisonous at higher levels, rats deprived of arsenic have abnormal reproduction and poor growth, proving that some is essential. Oysters provide the best source of arsenic in the diet. If you’re looking for great oyster recipes, the paleo fried oyster chowder recipe listed here is fantastic, as is Mark Sisson’s oysters casino.
If you’re trying to introduce someone to the Paleo diet, heart is not the first food you should start with. Hearts are, however, a FANTASTIC source of the following nutrients:
- Pantothenic Acid
Hard to argue with that list! It is also important to note that many cultures have been dining on heart for thousands of years. Chris Kresser points out that CoQ10 is also found in large amounts, in beef heart. Coenzyme Q10 is a very overlooked element in the diet as well. It is found in almost every cell, and a potent antioxidant. Some studies have even shown benefits on lowering blood pressure. Chris Masterjohn points out that brain levels of coenzyme Q10 begin declining at the age of 20, and are lowest in the victims of stroke and neurodegenerative diseases. Heart provides over 110 mcg/g of Coenzyme Q10, more than double the amount provided by sardines, which would be the next highest paleo-friendly food on the list!
If one wanted to expand their repertoire of foods, other organ meats, such as liver, are also high in similar nutrients. Then there is tongue, which is still actually muscle meat. All of these are high in many nutrients, and overlooked in many healthy diets. But back to heart specifically. Surprisingly, there are a decent amount of recipes out there, for how to prepare beef or chicken heart. Here is a recipe for sauteed chicken hearts. Then there is this recipe for grilled beef heart. Robb Wolf has a great recipe for beef heart chili on his website. Dig in!
Brazil nuts are somewhat overlooked in the Paleo community, but not nearly as much as in the general population, most of whom don’t even know what they are. I was curious to see if this was the case for textbooks as well, so I queried through a nutrition textbook and found only ONE mention of Brazil nuts! Known for their high amount of selenium (1 serving contains 1000% of the RDA for selenium) Brazil nuts also contain good amounts of copper, magnesium and phosphorous.
Since magnesium deficiency presents with heart arrhythmias, impaired glucose homeostasis, and altered cholesterol, it is best to be taking in enough. One note on Brazil nuts, is that, due to their extremely high amounts of selenium, and their omega 6 to 3 ratio being 513:1, you will want to eat them in small quantities. They have however, been linked to benefits in rheumatoid arthritis. There are also interesting studies showing that a mere intake of one Brazil nut per day can improve anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses.
Besides being a great source of protein, lobster is also high in selenium and copper. It’s also just plain delicious! Wild caught seafood has many benefits. These include but are not limited to:
- High in omega-3
- Less contaminated than farmed fish
- Better taste
- Better color
Lobster will also provide some iodine, which is typically a bit low on a Paleo diet. Over on Nom Nom Paleo, a great recipe for lobster soup can be found from Russ Crandall, who usually writes for his website The Domestic Man. There is also this great boiled lobster tail recipe. Or steam your own lobster over at the Ancestral Chef. Since seafood allergies can be common, you may want to look at this study, which identifies the lobster protein tropomyosin as a potential allergen, in those susceptible.
As listed previously, magnesium is a very overlooked nutrient, not only in the Paleo community but in general as well. Besides water, air, and food, magnesium is the most important item for our body. But I bet almost everyone reading had no idea of that fact. In fact, most laboratories don’t even include blood work for magnesium levels in their routine tests. Along with vitamin D, most Americans are deficient in magnesium. Though real foods are always best, the supplementation of magnesium can be beneficial. Whether this is through the supplement Natural Calm or through a zinc-magnesium-calcium combination, more magnesium will likely help your health.
Another big part of magnesium deficiency is the fact that thirst has been linked to lack of electrolytes. Since magnesium is more vital than sodium, potassium or calcium, it is imperative to eat a diet rich in magnesium.
The best dietary sources of magnesium are as follows:
- chocolate (many craving chocolate are actually craving magnesium)
Since magnesium participates in over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, it is absolutely essential to make sure you’re getting enough. Magnesium is a vital part of DNA and protein synthesis. As written in this study, magnesium deficiency is involved in MANY diseases and conditions. Here is a short list: “hypertension (cardiovascular disease, kidney and liver damage, etc.), peroxynitrite damage (migraine, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.), recurrent bacterial infection due to low levels of nitric oxide in the cavities (sinuses, vagina, middle ear, lungs, throat, etc.), fungal infections due to a depressed immune system, thiamine deactivation (low gastric acid, behavioral disorders, etc.), premenstrual syndrome, Ca deficiency (osteoporosis, hypertension, mood swings, etc.), tooth cavities, hearing loss, diabetes type II, cramps, muscle weakness, impotence (lack of NO), aggression (lack of NO), fibromas, K deficiency (arrhythmia, hypertension, some forms of cancer), Fe accumulation”.
If one wants to go the route of a vegetarian diet, it is still possible to obtain adequate magnesium, as evidenced in this study. If you are a postmenopausal woman and you want to avoid chronic diseases, magnesium intake is a huge part of this, as evidenced by this study. This study points out that magnesium deficiency can induce heart arrhythmias, impair glucose homeostasis, and alter cholesterol and oxidative metabolism. Hopefully that drives home the importance of magnesium, a very overlooked element in the diet!
So, what foods are missing in your diet? What do you need to eat more of? What nutrients did you not know about before? Let us know in the comments!