What Is The Paleo Diet?
Eat like a caveman and shed pounds. That’s the theory behind the Paleo Diet.
The Paleo diet is the healthiest way you can eat because it is the ONLY nutritional approach that works with your genetics to help you stay lean, strong and energetic! Research in biology, biochemistry, Ophthalmology, Dermatology and many other disciplines indicate it is our modern diet, full of refined foods, trans fats and sugar, that is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility.
Health Benefits of a Paleo Diet
For most people the fact the Paleo diet delivers the best results is all they need. Improved blood lipids, weight loss, and reduced pain from autoimmunity is proof enough. Many people however are not satisfied with blindly following any recommendations, be they nutrition or exercise related. Some folks like to know WHY they are doing something. Fortunately, the Paleo diet has stood not only the test of time, but also the rigors of scientific scrutiny.
With a very simple shift we not only remove the foods that are at odds with our health (grains, legumes, and dairy) but we also increase our intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Here is a great paper from Professor Loren Cordain exploring how to build a modern Paleo diet: The nutritional characteristics of a contemporary diet based upon Paleolithic food groups. This paper also offers significant insight as to the amounts and ratios of protein, carbohydrate and fat in the ancestral diet.
Why The Paleo Diet?
Well, first of all, we’re not a fan of “diets” around here. Paleo isn’t really a diet so much as it’s a completely different way of looking at food.
Most of the processed food that we consume nowadays has only been around for the last one hundred years or so. Agriculture has only been around for 10,000 years or so. We’d rather not get into the specifics of what exactly cavemen actually ate, but suffice it to say that it was a lot more natural than what most people eat on the Standard American Diet (SAD).
With that in mind, paleo focuses on eating whole, nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods that your body can digest easily and use to perform optimally.
What To Eat
The great thing about eating a Paleo Diet is that you get to eat a variety of so many amazing and delicious foods. Below is a list of the main categories of foods that are recommended to eat.
Beef, Bison, Chicken, Turkey, Pork…. You name it, you can have it! Look for grass-fed, pasture-raised meats whenever possible. If you are having trouble finding grass-fed meats locally, Tropical Traditions and US Wellness Meats are both great online resources.
Fish, Shrimp, Crab, Lobster, Mussels, Clams….again, you name it, you can have it! Look for wild-caught seafood whenever possible.
Pastured eggs are your best option, because they come from chickens that are allowed to roam freely and eat a natural diet. These are also available through Tropical Traditions if you are having trouble locating them near you.
Vegetables are going to make up a good deal of your daily food intake and will provide you with fiber and nutrients. Some people limit starchy vegetables such potatoes if trying to lose weight, but you will quickly find what works best for you and your body.
All fruits are allowed on the Paleo Diet, but the best options are berries such as blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, etc. Some people like to limit fruit intake if trying to lose weight, but see what works best for your body.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a great way to add protein and fat to your diet (in moderation). This includes things like almond flour, almond butter, macadamia nut butter, etc.
Lard, tallow and duck fat provide you with saturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, and are great for high heat cooking and are a much better option than processed and chemical filled oils. US Wellness Meats offers a variety of quality fats to choose from if you cannot find a distributor near you.
Virgin coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, sesame seed oil and macadamia nut oil are all minimally processed oils that provide healthy fats that your body needs to function properly. These are great for making sauces and dressings. I order most of my oils through Tropical Traditions.
What NOT to Eat
What you will find about eating a Paleo Diet is that many of the foods that are avoided are also foods that many people have allergic reactions to. This makes sense because the premise of the Paleo Diet is that our bodies were never designed to consume those foods in the first place! Below is an overview of what foods are generally avoided:
Wheat flour, breads, pastas, corn, rice, oatmeal, tortillas, etc. contain both lectins and gluten, which causes inflammatory issues and digestive problems for many people.
Things like lentils, beans, peas and peanuts all contain phytates and lectins which can cause inflammation for some people. Peanuts are actually considered a legume and not a nut, so you may want to avoid them if you are trying to heal your gut.
Many individuals have trouble digesting the main sugar, lactose, in milk and milk products. Lactose can wreak havoc on their stomachs. Some people can tolerate ghee, which is clarified butter with all of the milk solids removed. There are some people who have no trouble at all with dairy, and they choose grass-fed dairy products whenever possible.
Sugar is nutrient deficient and can cause all sorts of problems such as weight gain, tooth decay, digestive problems and disease. It takes up room in your body that could be used for healthy, nutrient-dense options such as proteins and vegetables, so throw out that bag of sugar!
Beer or any alcohol that contains gluten should be avoided. If you are going to have an occasional alcoholic beverage, your best options usually are tequila, wine or a gluten-free cider. Alcohol in any form is hard on your liver and usually contains some form of sugar.
This means all soda, candy, packaged snacks and chemical-filled foods. If it has an ingredient that you cannot pronounce, chances are you shouldn’t be putting it in your body.
Any highly refined and processed fats such as vegetable oil, canola oil sunflower oil, margarine, along with others, should be avoided.
Soda and Energy Drinks
Don’t fill up on chemical-filled liquids that contain empty calories (that means even diet soda is out!). Focus on drinking water as your primary drink of choice.
12 Tips For Starting The Paleo Diet
These rules will make your transition to the trendy way of eating stress-free and successful.
1. Clean Out Your Kitchen
Throw everything that’s not Paleo away. That means you should grab the trash can and toss: refined sugars, all grains (including rice and corn), starchy tubers, legumes (beans), some meats (anything processed with nitrites and additives like hot dogs), “vegetable” oils (corn, peanut, soybean, cottonseed, and iodized salt (Himalayan is fine)..
But if you prefer to baby-step your way, that works too. Perhaps you cut out dairy the first week, eliminate refined grains during week two, skip all grains the next week, and so on until you’re following a Paleo diet. Either way, be sure to restock your kitchen with whole foods so you have plenty to eat.
2. Pinpoint Your Motivation
Many people turn to Paleo in an attempt to help with medical issues, such as GI problems, autoimmune conditions, and allergies. Some simply want to feel better day-to-day or believe that it’s the healthiest way to eat. Your reason will help determine the guidelines you follow and what you want to be meticulous about, Sanfilippo says. And be strict about your personal rules for the first 30 days, Stephenson recommends. “This is enough time to start noticing all the health benefits.”
3. Don’t Think of This As A Diet
This is a lifestyle and it requires that you modify many parts of your life to make it work. If paleo doesn’t work for you 100%, adjust it so that it does. If you feel deprived and are not happy then this will not work. My husband and I will have a “cheat” meal every couple weeks, and we enjoy a glass of red wine every now and then. Find the plan that works for you and your family.
Because Paleo is based off of whole, fresh foods, it’s easier to whip up meals at home rather than a restaurant where it’s harder to control what ingredients are used. Take this opportunity to experiment with new foods—maybe even challenge yourself to buy the weirdest-looking vegetable at the farmer’s market and ask the seller for advice on how best to prepare it. You can also search online or invest in some Paleo cookbooks for inspiration so your meals stay flavorful and aren’t just plain seared chicken breast with plain kale and carrots.
5. It’s OK To Be Hungry Sometimes
It’s perfectly natural to get hungry, be satiated for awhile, and then get hungry again. Don’t fear being hungry, it’s good to have a strong appetite before your meals. Your hunger level always tells you something about what’s going on with your body, so listen to it.
6. Don’t Do It Alone
Cavemen lived in tight knit communities, hunting and gathering in groups and migrating together to find better resources. It’s best to do Paleo with another person, and at the very least you’ll want to get the support of your family and friends.
7. Sleep Better
Sleep is so important to your general wellbeing that you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough of it at the right time. Get into the circadian rhythm of life and schedule your wake up and sleep times according to the natural rhythms your body goes through.
8. Listen To Your Body
When you are thirsty, drink water. When you are full, stop eating. When you are hungry, eat. When something makes your body tired or your stomach hurt shortly afterwards, then don’t eat it anymore. This may sounds obvious, but most of us do not listen to what our body is trying to tell us. We get so used to feeling bad that we forget what feeling good really feels like. Your body will tell you what it needs.
9. Eat Meat
“Many people have restricted meat from their diet because they believe it is harmful to their health. You can eat meat—just make sure it’s high quality,” says Paleo expert Loren Cordain, Ph.D., a professor at Colorado State University and author of The Paleo Diet. So say goodbye to processed meats such as bologna, salami, and hot dogs. Wild meats like bison, elk, and boar are the ideal choice, followed by pasture-fed meats and poultry, and lean grain-fed meat should be your last pick. For seafood, opt for wild-caught as often as possible, and sustainable, low-mercury choices are best. Find good options via the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
10. Fool Your Sweet Tooth
Giving up sugar is a major hurdle for many people at first. If you love to have a treat after dinner, swap the cookies or fro-yo for a piece of fresh fruit. (For major sugar cravings, Sanfilippo says a Paleo secret is a little bit of dried mango.) With time, your taste buds will adjust—and that Oreo you loved so much before might become too sweet now, Sanfilippo adds. Seriously!
11. Educate Yourself
Read all of the material you can about paleo. You will find a lot of conflicting ideas and information about what is and is not paleo (dairy…alcohol…white potatoes…vinegar), but ultimately the foundation is all the same. Understanding and believing that this lifestyle is better for you and your family will help ensure that you are successful at following it.
And, perhaps the most important one:
12. JUST DO IT!