BY: Lively Staff

December 4, 2017

What Makes Paleo Special? A Q&A With The Paleo Mom

The Paleo Diet helped Dr. Sarah Ballantyne of The Paleo Mom overcome numerous health issues. She sat down with us to explain what makes Paleo so special.

the paleo mom

Dr. Sarah Ballantyne, aka The Paleo Mom, aka the co-creator of Vital Proteins’ Collagen Veggie Blend, is no stranger to science. As a former medical researcher, she was already interested in the science behind health and nutrition long before she found the Paleo diet. But for her — like many of us — the journey toward vibrant health was a complicated one. We sat down with her to discuss how the Paleo diet helped her, what makes it different, and what the difference is between low-carb, Paleo and Autoimmune Protocol diets.

Tell us how you got started with Paleo and what led you here.

I was morbidly obese as a teenager. Starting in my mid-teens, I started racking up these diagnoses: I started with psoriasis, and then it was allergies, and then it was acid reflux, and adult-onset asthma, and anxiety and depression, and irritable bowel syndrome, and carpal tunnel… and then it was pre-diabetes and borderline hypertension. And still in all of that time, I felt like my problem was that I was fat. And that if I could just figure out how to lose the weight, my life would be miraculous and amazing.

After my first daughter was born, I just had this moment where I realized what my blood sugar was doing. I got very motivated to take control of my diet. So I went on a low-carb diet and lost 100 pounds over about a year.

I got pregnant again and this time had a much healthier pregnancy. But when my second daughter was one and a half, I was sitting in her nursery thinking “I lost all this weight, and l’m still having migraines a couple of times a week.” I was having anxiety attacks. My skin was a mess — I had eczema, psoriasis, and an autoimmune condition called lichen planus, and I was suffering from acne.

I’d lost all this weight — why wasn’t I healthy? And that was the first time I’d thought about health as something different from the weight on the scale. I finally started to think about diet in terms of nutrition.

Because I had eczema and I had heard that eczema could be related to egg allergies, I started looking at the Internet to see that kinds of foods could be related to eczema. And I finally came across an article on ThePaleoDiet.com that was specifically about lichen planus and the Paleo diet. I started reading and I thought it sounded completely crazy, but there was this grain of scientific validity that resonated really well with me because I used to be a medical researcher.

I started eating paleo on August 31, 2011, and within two weeks, I started losing weight that I’d thought I would never be able to lose. My skin cleared up, my GI symptoms went away, I’ve never had a migraine since, my mood was better, I was sleeping better, my joint pain started to disappear… I went off all six prescription medications that I was on at the time within about two weeks.

I’d never been immersed in such a nutrient-focused approach to diet before. I became so enthusiastic about Paleo, I needed an outlet for my enthusiasm. So after being Paleo for a couple of months, I turned to my husband one night and asked him what he thought of me starting a blog.

What is the primary difference between a low-carb diet and a Paleo diet?

Paleo is sometimes branded as low-carb, but it’s not really: It’s moderate carb. It also kind of depends on how you define low-carb. Paleo is much lower-carbohydrate than the standard American diet, and it’s entirely focused on whole food sources of carbohydrates.

We now know that low-carbohydrate diets don’t provide any metabolic advantage for weight loss — and in fact when you lose weight with those templates, you actually lose a little bit more muscle than you would if you maintained a moderate macronutrient ratio. But, what is powerful about low-carb is that it does focus in on the most satiating foods, so we naturally achieve a caloric deficit — we get more full from fewer calories. But the Paleo does that too, without having to focus on macronutrient restriction.

So the Paleo diet has this more balanced approach to macronutrients, and a large focus on micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

the paleo mom

What about “grey-area” foods like dairy or legumes? What do you think is their place in a Paleo diet?

Another great thing about the Paleo diet is that it incorporates bio individuality. It emphasizes taking stock of things like our personal history and individual food tolerances. Where we live is a factor, how much we sleep is a factor, our stress levels are a factor. And all these things are going to change our responses to any middle-ground foods. So it empowers us to experiment with ourselves and figure out what’s the ideal diet for ourselves.

When people experiment with this middle ground, they should be experimenting with micronutrients, not macronutrients… and usually it’s the other way around. They ask themselves “How low can I go in carbohydrates? How much fat can I eat?” But that’s not what self-experimentation is supposed to be about. Self-experimentation should be about monitoring tolerance to suboptimal foods: “Can I eat some white rice? Can I eat some lentis? How do I deal with tomatoes or grass-fed dairy?” And when we can figure that out, those foods can make some great nutritional contributions to our diet.

In my new book Paleo Principles, one of the things I have done is separate all of these middle-ground foods and put them into their own section in the book. Some of those foods are foods that have traditionally been considered Paleo — like tomatoes — actually don’t work for a lot of people. Tomatoes have some great nutrition, but they also have a lot of potentially problematic compounds in them. This section of my book also highlights foods that have traditionally been considered verboten that actually do work for a lot of people, like properly prepared lentils, beans, grass-fed dairy or white rice.

What’s the difference between the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) diet and the Paleo diet?

The autoimmune protocol was designed to create the most therapeutic potential out of the Paleo diet. It is a modification of the standard Paleo diet that has a stronger nutrient focus while also being stricter about foods that might have problematic compounds, like tomatoes.

It goes back to putting everything on a scale and considering the nutrients each food contains versus the problematic compounds, and for people with autoimmune issues, you say “This is a more sensitive population, so we’re going to be stricter about where we make this cutoff in the middle ground.”

So even if a food has some valuable nutrients, we’re going to eliminate it {with AIP} and stick to foods that have great nutrition and very little by way of potentially problematic components.

The Internet has become a place where there’s a lot of contrasting information about health and nutrition. As a former medical researcher, how do you suggest people navigate the science?

I’m trying to break through the noise of all of the misinformation that’s out there. The only way to break through that is with an approach that says “Here’s the science, and here are the references so you can go read about this for yourself.”

There is scientific consensus about a lot of things, but there will always be research that says the opposite too. I get so frustrated with people who see a scientific paper that doesn’t conform to their beliefs and ignore it. You need to be able to look at dissenting evidence and reevaluate where you’re at. Maybe this contrary evidence means that some foods are good for some people and not for others.

And that to me has always been the power of the Paleo diet. It truly is science-based, which is why it can be a little bit fluid. That can be frustrating for people who are new to it, because for example, five years ago potatoes were not Paleo. Now we realize that they do have some very valuable nutrition.

What do you wish everyone knew about the Paleo diet?

What you don’t eat doesn’t make a diet healthy or not healthy — it’s what you DO eat that does. If you gave a basket of Paleo foods to a five-star chef, they’d be ecstatic to cook with them, because they’re all fresh foods. And as soon as you ditch the addictive junk food, you can really taste the difference between all of these different fruits and vegetables — and even different meats! That’s when it becomes not just a doable way to eat, but an enjoyable way to eat.

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