Tools for obtaining health don't always have to be the kind that cut.

When you think about tools you probably imagine things like hammers and screwdrivers. They’re physical implements for getting a job done, usually more efficiently than if done by hand.

The intelligence necessary to make and utilize such tools is one of the attributes that makes being human so special. While other animals have been known to make use of tools in some way (chimpanzees for instance) humans have quite obviously made tool-using an instrumental part of daily life.

Andrew at has written an interesting article where he stipulates that “everything is paleo” based on the idea that tool use was a key component of paleolithic human life. By extension our modern use of tools represents “paleo activity”. I think this is an intriguing idea, and would turn it on its head by suggesting that the paleo diet for hunter-gatherers has now itself become a tool for modern humans.

A tool is essentially something that makes accomplishing a task easier than if it was attempted without the tool.

How is the paleo diet a tool? It is a tool in that it can help modern humans to determine what foods they cannot tolerate. Based on the supposition that the paleo diet is the nutritional model of which the largest percentage of people are most well adapted to, it stands to reason that humans in general will suffer very little food intolerance from this diet. This is your dietary baseline.

Your baseline diet is all of the food that you might eat and experience no ill effects, and excludes foods which you don’t really need or might cause issues. This diet would also have to be able to sufficiently promote an active lifestyle and sustain high levels of lean body mass.

So while one might be able to eat a diet chiefly composed of vegetables and potatoes without suffering ill effects, their ability to sustain lean muscle mass without animal protein sources would be compromised. You could also call this the “minimum effective diet”, since it would consist of a minimal amount of food variety while still promoting a robust and healthy body, and exclude unnecessary or problematic foods.

Once you have an idea of what a person can eat and still sustain good health, one merely has to reintroduce restricted food types in a controlled manner and observe any changes in health.

Adding back food types in a controlled manner means only changing one variable at a time. You keep everything else constant and controlled. So for example, you have been eating your baseline diet for thirty days and now want to start looking for food types which might be responsible for your chronic bouts of indigestion. A good first step might be to reintroduce dairy foods.

You won’t want to reintroduce dairy and gluten at the same time, because if you do experience indigestion you won’t know which of the variable foot types was the actual cause. This is ultimately the scientific method applied to dietary experimentation, and is basically the easiest way you can determine food allergies by yourself at home. The key is to remove potentially problematic food types until you feel good, and only reintroduce one food type at a time into you start feeling bad again.

What if you find that you start to feel ill very soon after reintroducing some of your favorite foods?

If you were shocked that you felt ill after adding back some foods that you use to eat all the time (and loved) don’t be. Just as your body has ways of masking the pain of acute physical injuries, so does it have a way of blunting the micro trauma of subjecting your gut to the varieties of allergenic foods that we have available to eat. You should take this as a sign that your favorite foods might not have been as good for you as you thought, and that excluding them from your diet permanently might be a good idea.

With the food supply continuously deviating from our natural evolutionary state, the amount of people who suffer from some form of food allergy also increases. However, you don’t have to wonder if you are lactose intolerant or unable to handle gluten. Use the paleo diet as a tool to determine what your baseline diet is, and start your own little experiment.

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15 Responses to The Paleo Diet as a Tool for Dietary Intolerance Testing

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Paleo Blogs and David Csonka. David Csonka said: #Paleo people! What's the most surprising thing you discovered after going paleo or trying paleo for a month? [...]

  2. Nicole says:

    Yep. Wrote a blog entry about it myself, actually, back in October.

  3. I always considered Paleo to be an elimination diet, where you get rid of everything bad at once, then you can add things back one at a time in order to see what works and what doesn’t. This is essentially what I did to determine that nightshades, wheat, and legumes affected me. (Dairy doesn’t, thanks to some Northern European ancestry. Still stay away from it, though.)

    Once someone asked me if I ever did a detox diet. They probably were thinking of a juice fast or something, but I had start from the beginning about what ‘tox’ meant in the word ‘detox’. Great article.

  4. I thought that this was called a food elimination diet too! Huh! Our son has had terrible eczema caused by food intolerances as well as severe allergies and we had to do this to find out what was causing what with him. I have to say – it long and hard. He seemed to react to everything! Thankfully, once we started giving him his Vidazorb chewable probiotic, his skin started to clear up and we were then able to successfully reintroduce more foods! He does still have a few actual allergens and we avoid those foods and carry his Epi Pen!

    • David Csonka says:

      GreenMom, do you mind if I ask what types of foods were causing the eczema?

      • Carla says:

        My husband has discovered that he cannot eat dairy of any kind. Raw or not.

        He has had eczema for most of his life (almost 40) and has managed to have a clear skin as long as he keeps away from dairy.

        • David Csonka says:

          I’ve actually been experimenting with gluten and dairy exclusion to see the effects on my skin. I suspect that dairy plays a role in some of the breakouts I get on my back occasionally. Other than that, I don’t seem to have any other significant issues with limited dairy consumption.

  5. gilliebean says:

    I love this perspective of the paleo diet. Nice work. :)

  6. Carla says:

    I have been 100% paleo for a while now. While on holidays I ingested without knowing some food that caused me serious stomach pain for 4 days. A few days later the cook (a family member) told me he hoped I did not mind he had added ” a little bit” of wheat to the chicken. The upsetting thing is he knows I do not eat those foods! So did I mind! of course I did! My poor stomach!!

    I also cannot tolerate dairy. The ” normal” bloating disappeared as soon as quit the dairy. It was hard. I grew up drinking it.

    I also grew up with skin problems. Pimples galore as a teenager! It didn’t help with the self-esteem. It was that bad :( ( wait… did I say teenager?! I had acne until 2 year ago! I am going to be 35 in a few months.

    I guess eating pure foods (organic) and no additives, no dairy, legumes or grains has helped my body see the light.

    So glad I did.

    My mother has embraced the paleo diet. Not only has she lost an insane amount of weight, she has not had an asthma attack in months. I guess her inflammation has gone way down. :) )

    My household eats paleo. Dogs included. :) )

  7. Unknown Dietary Intolerances… | nurturedbliss says:

    [...] contraindications as scientists learn more. The best thing you can do for yourself is dedicate 30 days to discovering which foods are fueling you and which are causing you unnecessary challenges. [...]

  8. A few years ago, I started developing some health issues that I couldn’t find a cause for. After stumbling across a book on food issues, I tried an elimination diet that identified some allergies (dairy, gluten, commercial yeast, etc.) – subsequently confirming them with a blood test.

    While I didn’t start out with Paleo in mind (I read more about it later), I find that I feel the healthiest when I avoid foods that I’m intolerant of, which also happen to be inconsistent with the paleo way of eating. GF/DF baking is even problematic. While I haven’t completely transitioned to a paleo way of eating, I’m about 80% there (I love legumes and do occasionally crave sweets and salt). I have more energy, fewer headaches, limited food reactions, and better physical activity capabilities when I eat this way.

    • David Csonka says:

      Stormy, do you employ any special preparation methods like soaking for your legumes?

      • Yes – I prefer to sprout/soak them when I can (i.e., I think about it ahead of time). Frankly, I think that leaving them out of my diet would not be good. I just finished Cordain’s The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and as great as the results sound, including legumes in my diet helps balance the fact that I don’t like to eat meat at every meal or even every day.