9

votes

80/20 versus 100%?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 14, 2010 at 11:40 PM

Is there a significant difference in the metabolic effect (or weight loss success or blood work improvement) between following the paleo eating plan at 80% versus following the paleo eating plan at 100%? I would suspect that zero-carb fans would argue yes. What I'm looking for is links to any academic research (if some has been done) or anecdotal evidence. I understand that theoretically there is a difference; but I'm wondering if the difference is statistically significant.

To clarify, I mean 20% to be one non-paleo meal (or day) per week that would likely include whole fermented grains, fruits and very little refined sugar. I'm not talking about eating a whole cake and fettucini alfredo. For example, should I allow myself a few "cattle" foods now and again or should I go completely hard core because if you're not 100% you're not actually paleo...?

Or let me ask a different question: if I'm going to "cheat" anyway, should I cheat big once a month, or just a little each day? Again, for example, what if I, once or twice a week, sneak a little teaspoon of rice or a bite of potato that I make for my non-paleo husband (when I'm having veggies and a broiled tuna steak), have I ruined my whole day?

Will a teaspoon of starches immediately cause me to switch back to burning sugar for fuel? Even though the rest of the day has been awesomely paleo?

Af939911afa817f79a4625d4f503c735

(552)

on March 10, 2012
at 10:25 AM

I agree with this, and how much "cheating" is acceptable will vary from person to person.

D5cc472aa1ca624e9553c8e31d7843eb

on December 02, 2011
at 03:25 AM

i still wonder why regular potatoes are so villified and sweet is not. although, my hubby and i don't consider sweet potatoes a cheat, but a regular white potato a cheat. Is it all the extra starch? wouldn't people in a primal world have eaten both types of potatoes?

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 25, 2011
at 09:13 PM

my 20% (probably 10% or even less lately) would probably be the gluten-free frankenfoods, corn products (tacos lengua are very hard for me to resist when done well), and yes, I consider cheese/cream in there too... as my body comp goals have always been slowed by dairy, regardless of carb content.

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on June 25, 2011
at 07:42 PM

I wrote this question when many paleo people were still avoiding potatoes - 18 months ago!

Ffc7e0ecad8e8831b528c5d4921377cc

(942)

on June 25, 2011
at 03:20 AM

Suzan, most everything we eat has some "poison" in it. I think the poison in wheat significantly outweighs it's benefits (nutrients.) In the case of potatoes, like Harris I think the benefits outweigh the poison.

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on June 19, 2010
at 09:19 PM

You and I must have similar genes. Grains don't do well in my body and chocolate does okay but is certainly addictive!

7df8f3cc7f1475c3ecbbd4a4feb87d04

(514)

on June 19, 2010
at 08:38 PM

It would only be stored as fat if you didn't burn it off during the course of the rest of that day.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9

on March 12, 2010
at 04:02 PM

A healthy metabolism (extreme example: Kitavans getting over half their calories from potatoes) can handle carbohydrates without automatically storing fat.

Be4b60059db3511771303de1613ecb67

(1137)

on March 12, 2010
at 01:11 PM

I think what Mark was aiming at with the 80/20 rule was to allow yourself some wiggle room when/if you needed it, not to live 80/20 all the time. This is just my opinion: if you are doing 80/20, err on the side of too many carbs from veggies/fruits, rather than grains/sugars. Even you indulge in those anti-nutrients only one day a week, you might end up paying for that in the long run. Wheat and sugar are really poisons. Do you want to only have a little arsenic, once a week? Something to consider. Just my opinion. :-)

01cb59e52ccd12110de78e5068c6e4e1

(260)

on February 19, 2010
at 02:58 AM

Noted. Thanks!

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on February 19, 2010
at 01:37 AM

Agree with your answer, schwabbeau. Your last sentence is a run-on. I recommend breaking it up somehow. Cheers,

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on February 18, 2010
at 01:16 AM

Fermented grains are ok in some non-orthodox versions of paleo. Give yourself another 20%, Melissa! Cheers,

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 17, 2010
at 02:55 AM

@Skyler As I said, I think we agree more than we disagree -- however, dogmatic means something entirely different than doctrinal or orthodox. And I see you meant one of the latter two, not the former.

A27774151362c5e398adbe70e5de657d

(288)

on February 17, 2010
at 02:52 AM

Since you clarified, from my experience with both blood panels and composition tests, you're not going to notice a significant difference. If you're 90% compliant (90% of the meals you eat of roughly similar size), you'll be good to go.To quote Aragon: "Stop splitting hairs over the rules. The beauty of food is that, unlike drugs, its physiological effects have neither the acuteness nor the magnitude to warrant extreme micro-management, especially when it comes to nutrient timing relative to training."

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on February 17, 2010
at 01:21 AM

Methuselah, has some thoughts. http://paynowlivelater.blogspot.com/2010/01/hymn-to-lifestyle-part-2-pseudo-paleo.html http://paynowlivelater.blogspot.com/2010/01/hymn-to-lifestyle-part-1-paleo-at-its.html

A27774151362c5e398adbe70e5de657d

(288)

on February 15, 2010
at 06:20 PM

Patrik I could have used "doctrinal paleo" and it would have meant the same thing. This is to differentiate from those who fall under WAP's suggestions or look at the dietary habits of current HG's/longevity groups. All would fall under the spectrum of paleo, though they're certainly not the same thing.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 15, 2010
at 08:53 AM

While I agree with the gist of Skyler's comment, Skyler is incorrect in stating: "If you're of the dogmatic paleo persuasion, you frown at legumes, dairy, and grains." Because one frowns at legumes, dairy and/or grains - in it and of itself - does not make one dogmatic. It simply means that one doesn't think those are healthy foods that fit into the Paleo framework well.

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16 Answers

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5
118c80acf27cc770098c489e98de17a1

(118)

on February 15, 2010
at 03:13 AM

I suspect that it has more to do with how you define 20%.

20% carbs in an otherwise fat-heavy paleo meal? The carbs will drive insulin production, and end up storing a lot of that meal as fat.

One non-paleo meal/day a week? Probably not as impactful. Plenty of people see health improvements from doing intermittent fasting without adjusting their macronutrient intake, and IF and Paleo low-carb have similar effects on insulin.

I also suspect it's easier to regulate an off-day than an off-percentage. I can see 20% creeping up pretty easily.

Eae21abfabb19c4617b2630386994fd9

on March 12, 2010
at 04:02 PM

A healthy metabolism (extreme example: Kitavans getting over half their calories from potatoes) can handle carbohydrates without automatically storing fat.

7df8f3cc7f1475c3ecbbd4a4feb87d04

(514)

on June 19, 2010
at 08:38 PM

It would only be stored as fat if you didn't burn it off during the course of the rest of that day.

21
Fa47fe5368e66325865f60a928609145

(961)

on February 15, 2010
at 11:20 AM

As far as I'm aware there are no biological or physical benefits to 'cheating' on your paleo diet. So physically 100% is best. The 80/20 principal, or 90/10 is for your mental health. For fitting into society, taking a break, treating yourself.

Af939911afa817f79a4625d4f503c735

(552)

on March 10, 2012
at 10:25 AM

I agree with this, and how much "cheating" is acceptable will vary from person to person.

8
01cb59e52ccd12110de78e5068c6e4e1

on February 19, 2010
at 01:08 AM

Perhaps the real question is: Can you handle being 100% paleo? In this day and age with all the marketing and inundation of carb'd options, traveling and hectic work schedules, can you feasibly be 100% paleo. If Mark Sisson has planted the 80/20 in your mind, realize that his point is not to plan to be 80% paleo. Rather that you should cut yourself some slack if life's inevitable hand keeps you from being able to eat paleo you won't punish yourself with guilt.

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on February 19, 2010
at 01:37 AM

Agree with your answer, schwabbeau. Your last sentence is a run-on. I recommend breaking it up somehow. Cheers,

01cb59e52ccd12110de78e5068c6e4e1

(260)

on February 19, 2010
at 02:58 AM

Noted. Thanks!

Be4b60059db3511771303de1613ecb67

(1137)

on March 12, 2010
at 01:11 PM

I think what Mark was aiming at with the 80/20 rule was to allow yourself some wiggle room when/if you needed it, not to live 80/20 all the time. This is just my opinion: if you are doing 80/20, err on the side of too many carbs from veggies/fruits, rather than grains/sugars. Even you indulge in those anti-nutrients only one day a week, you might end up paying for that in the long run. Wheat and sugar are really poisons. Do you want to only have a little arsenic, once a week? Something to consider. Just my opinion. :-)

Ffc7e0ecad8e8831b528c5d4921377cc

(942)

on June 25, 2011
at 03:20 AM

Suzan, most everything we eat has some "poison" in it. I think the poison in wheat significantly outweighs it's benefits (nutrients.) In the case of potatoes, like Harris I think the benefits outweigh the poison.

6
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on February 17, 2010
at 02:40 AM

It depends on what is in that 20%. Back when I started my 20% was things like candy...and of course that made me feel crappy. Luckily, since I was eating mostly paleo, I was able to recognize that feeling crappy really was caused by junk.

These days my 20% is properly fermented non-gluten grains and legumes- dosas, traditional grits, miso, buckwheat pasta, etc. These are traditional foods of healthy agrarian societies. They aren't as good as grass fed beef or wild salmon, but I sincerely doubt that they cause real problems.

6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on February 18, 2010
at 01:16 AM

Fermented grains are ok in some non-orthodox versions of paleo. Give yourself another 20%, Melissa! Cheers,

246ebf68e35743f62e5e187891b9cba0

(21430)

on June 25, 2011
at 09:13 PM

my 20% (probably 10% or even less lately) would probably be the gluten-free frankenfoods, corn products (tacos lengua are very hard for me to resist when done well), and yes, I consider cheese/cream in there too... as my body comp goals have always been slowed by dairy, regardless of carb content.

4
6426d61a13689f8f651164b10f121d64

(11478)

on February 15, 2010
at 03:58 PM

I feel that in going from 80% paleo to 100% you may face the "law of diminishing returns." The effort required to get to 100% paleo may yield less than a corresponding 20% health benefit. This is similar to what Kurt Harris describes in his PaNu 12 steps (see http://www.paleonu.com/get-started/ ). And of course the basis of the question comes from the "80/20 rule" of Mark Sisson. I've found that "bearing down" on my workouts or further refining my diet can sometimes get me over a plateau in my health or fitness goals, but I have a ways to go before I'm 100% paleo.

3
Af842c68e3d07fa0e35b4274f3acaeec

on June 19, 2010
at 08:08 PM

One thing you may need to watch out for in that 20% is that you really still need to avoid gluten and legumes as much as possible. These have long lasting(weeks) negative effects on gut permeability. Antibodies to gluten have been shown to persist for weeks after exposures, and some say it can affect you for up to a year. Dairy, white rice, and corn seem to be less detrimental cheats, so you are going to go for that cheat meal, those are better choices than bread and other grain products.

3
E35e3d76547b18096a59c90029e7e107

(15613)

on February 15, 2010
at 09:07 AM

If you're talking about being 20% less paleo then yes, in abstraction you'll get 20% less of the benefits.

On the 20% more carb rather than, say, zero carb question, there are lots of arguments that cutting out that last bit of (non-paleo) carb could have positive effects. There are some arguments that there's a threshold effect, such that you need to lower carb a certain amount before you see any real benefits. (This is why a lot of scientific studies on "high fat" diets are rubbished- because they contain 20% sucrose!)

How much causes problems will vary. For most, a single cookie on a paleo diet won't make much difference, other people swear they stop losing weight if they so much as look at an apple. It will depend on your activity levels, whether your metabolism is broken etc.

Of course it goes without saying that although you frame this as 80:20 vs ZC, a lot of the downsides will come from the grains themselves, not the carb, making it impossible to quantify. If you're gluten intolerant then a surprisingly small amount of grain might be important.

2
Ffc7e0ecad8e8831b528c5d4921377cc

(942)

on June 25, 2011
at 03:30 AM

By my definition, I cheat very little. However, I do not consider wine, dark chocolate, potatoes, limited white rice, some corn, dairy nor traditionally prepared beans to be cheats. BTW, I don't call myself Paleo, Primal nor Archevore but I am closest to Primal.

I want very much for Paleo/Primal/Archevore to change conventional wisdom. That could have enormous benefits to society. IMHO, only a looser, 80/20 approach could ever take hold in society at large.

D5cc472aa1ca624e9553c8e31d7843eb

on December 02, 2011
at 03:25 AM

i still wonder why regular potatoes are so villified and sweet is not. although, my hubby and i don't consider sweet potatoes a cheat, but a regular white potato a cheat. Is it all the extra starch? wouldn't people in a primal world have eaten both types of potatoes?

2
89e238284ccb95b439edcff9e123671e

(10299)

on March 12, 2010
at 03:53 PM

Aim for the 100%, but don't obsess if you 'fail' (what a bad word-choice). If you notice that one particular fail/cheat causes a bad reaction, try to avoid it in the future.

I have repeatedly noticed that a slight amount of grains causes my psoriasis to get worse, so I really try to avoid it.

On the other hand, eating real dark chocolate in greater amounts doesn't give me the physical signs, but makes it harder to stay away from sweets and carbs in general the entire week afterwards. That's tough mentally ;-)

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on June 19, 2010
at 09:19 PM

You and I must have similar genes. Grains don't do well in my body and chocolate does okay but is certainly addictive!

1
667f6c030b0245d71d8ef50c72b097dc

(15976)

on June 19, 2010
at 09:14 PM

My own two cents would be that it prolly depends more on your current state of health. I mean, if youre already fit and lean im sure you can rock that 80/20 with dark chocolate, alcohol, grains, etc with no visible downside. I say visible. I happen to believe that those cheats will indeed affect your insides TO SOME EXTENT. I dont think youre going to get cancer, or that they would even show up on some bloodwork (like the OP mentioned), but i do believe that whatever you putin your mouth/body is going to affect the body to some extent. For the most part its dosedependent id say though so again, prolly not a big deal.

However, if youre coming at paleoprimalgrok-whatever from an overweight outofshape position than i think the 8020 is going to make it that extra 20% (or however much it actually ended up being) harder. I tend to be on the side of "be 100% disciplined in getting the fundamental basis that youre aiming to establish done. Once thats in place, you can play around; ie have some grains, have some yogurt, blahblah"

1
93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 15, 2010
at 08:54 AM

Ultimately, it depends on you and how your body reacts to that "20%".

1
A27774151362c5e398adbe70e5de657d

(288)

on February 15, 2010
at 01:24 AM

You're not going to find any academic research in this regard, if only because so little research has been done on paleo and none of it comparing controlled caloric intake of paleo vs. any other diet. Second, what does the other 20% consist of? If you're of the dogmatic paleo persuasion, you frown at legumes, dairy, and grains. However, the longest lived civilizations all include these in their diet so I'm not one to poo-poo complex/whole versions of these foods. That's a long way of saying: if you're 80% there, miring in minutia isn't going to (likely) make much of a difference.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 15, 2010
at 08:53 AM

While I agree with the gist of Skyler's comment, Skyler is incorrect in stating: "If you're of the dogmatic paleo persuasion, you frown at legumes, dairy, and grains." Because one frowns at legumes, dairy and/or grains - in it and of itself - does not make one dogmatic. It simply means that one doesn't think those are healthy foods that fit into the Paleo framework well.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13

(10502)

on February 17, 2010
at 02:55 AM

@Skyler As I said, I think we agree more than we disagree -- however, dogmatic means something entirely different than doctrinal or orthodox. And I see you meant one of the latter two, not the former.

A27774151362c5e398adbe70e5de657d

(288)

on February 15, 2010
at 06:20 PM

Patrik I could have used "doctrinal paleo" and it would have meant the same thing. This is to differentiate from those who fall under WAP's suggestions or look at the dietary habits of current HG's/longevity groups. All would fall under the spectrum of paleo, though they're certainly not the same thing.

0
01adafcb4dd4147c6af543f61eee60a8

on March 10, 2012
at 08:15 AM

I didnt think potatoes were paleo

0
810fb56af8c46da19432d48ba77d5fac

on March 10, 2012
at 06:35 AM

Nice facts/opinions by all. What intrigues me is the face that many people I talk to explain themselves as being 100% paleo therefore indulging in 0 carb intake which is very inaccurate to say the least. Naturally carbs are in many vegetables and green leaf that we take in every day. I feel that we are trying to construct the "perfect" diet. Your diet needs to be very specific to what you are trying to do, for example; before you post your opinion, explain where it is coming from. Are you a crossfitter? Body Builder? Marathon Runner? Or the every day average fitness guru. It will help the people asking the questions learn more from your insight. I perform many different types of cardio from fat burn, sustained long distance running, to performance base cardio such as sprints or crossfit WOD's. Depending on the focus for that week or that month I will base my diet, deciding that week if I'm going to be 80/20, 90/10 or 100%. You guys are awesome and you your motivation on this subject is amazing!! Motivated, Dedicated, rocfit

0
E5c7f14800c5992831f5c70fa746dc5c

(12857)

on June 25, 2011
at 07:03 PM

Potatoes are paleo! not a cheat food.

Eating glucose doesn't put you in glucose burning mode!!!!! You'll only burn off extra glucose you ate but the majority will be stored in glycogen reserves. No one is ever burning pure glucose or burn fat it is always a ratio. The ratio can't be changed by what you eat!

A89f9751a97c3082802dc0bcbe4e9208

(13978)

on June 25, 2011
at 07:42 PM

I wrote this question when many paleo people were still avoiding potatoes - 18 months ago!

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on June 24, 2011
at 11:29 PM

good answer. I wish so bad I could cheat sometimes and not suffer, but I feel so much worse when I cheat.

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