I can’t even count the number of email inquiries I’ve gotten from people who are interested in Paleo but have NO idea where to start, so I’m going to provide you with a helpful how-to guide. Whether you’re just curious or you’re ready to take the plunge, this information should be at least a little helpful.
1) I am NOT an expert. I also cheat sometimes because Carpe Diem (that’s how people born before 1990 say “YOLO”). Cupcakes are my vice.
2) I also am not “Paleo” in the strictest sense of the word because even though we adhere to Paleo most of the time, we continue to consume modest amounts of dairy products (milk, cheese, butter – no yogurt). Some people call that “Primal.” Eric likes that term better because it sounds rugged and manly. I don’t really care, so I use them interchangeably.
3) It is difficult, if not impossible, to be strictly Paleo when you go out to eat. There is no way to ensure that the chicken you’re eating isn’t laced with hormones or that the vegetables you’re being served are pesticide-free and organically grown. Just do your best. And stop eating out so much.
4) Being legalistic about this diet (just like anything else) will set you up for failure. Give yourself some grace.
The basic premise of the Paleo/Primal diet is to only eat things that would have been recognized as foods ancestrally. Our bodies were designed to process certain foods. Over the years (especially the last century or so), we’ve started putting stuff into our bodies that our bodies aren’t capable of processing (or processing well). If a caveman would look at it and call it food, then it’s food. If it has to be modified drastically to be consumed, then it’s not food. With that principle in mind, here’s stuff you should stay away from (and the reasons behind it)...
FOODS TO AVOID
Corn: Sorry, kids. This veggie isn’t really a veggie. It’s a grain. Grains were found only in minimal quantities back in the caveman days, and as such, they weren’t consumed very often. If you enjoy corn, enjoy it very rarely…like a couple of times a year (not once a week). Need another reason to stay away from corn? Monsanto. If Satan decided to be the CEO of a company, Monsanto is the one he would choose. I know that’s harsh, but if you do a little research, you’ll agree with me. They are genetically modifying a lot of our nation’s corn so that explodes the stomachs of insects. If it can explode the stomach of insects, doesn’t that make you wonder what it can do to yours? And your children's?
Potatoes: Potatoes were likely never eaten raw (due to toxins in their raw state), and experts say that they are a relatively modern addition to the human diet. Our family loves to eat sweet potatoes in moderation (once a week or once every other week) as a french-fry-like treat!
Stuff That Comes in a Box: If it comes in a box, I can guarantee with 98% accuracy that you shouldn’t be eating it. I'm lying...I totally just made that statistic up. But it's probably pretty close. The only exception that I can think of is boxed organic beef broth (but even that is better when you make it yourself). Dry goods (boxed, bagged, or packaged-how-you-like) have usually undergone some type of refinement or processing. This means pasta too, friends (sorry!). I can’t picture a caveman cutting noodles and making his own pasta, can you? There is, however, probably some good packaged food out there that I’m not considering, so here’s the safest way to check out if your boxed-thing is good for you: read the ingredients. If it has more than 5, don’t eat it. If any of the 5 are difficult to pronounce, don’t eat it. If it contains any of the forbidden ingredients (sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn, wheat, etc.), don’t eat it. Boxed stuff is man-made. Man-made food is not Paleo.
Grains: For all of the same reasons that you shouldn’t eat corn, you shouldn’t eat grains (this includes rice). Even though you can roast a grain and eat it, how many grains do you think our cavemen were out there roasting and eating? Not many. Since Sadie is not adhering to the Paleo diet like Eric and I are, we buy sprouted bread for her. The nutrients in sprouted bread are more dense, the bread is super tasty, it is made without preservatives, it uses organic ingredients (grown without pesticides and herbicides), and I just feel better about giving her bread that doesn’t have a ton of crap in it.
Some Oils: There are plenty of amazing Paleo/Primal oils (I’ll get to that), but there are also bad oils…ones you should avoid. These include: Corn oil, cottonseed oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil, and wheat germ oil. Lots of off-the-shelf products contain these oils. Pay particular attention to potato chips (even ones that are touted as being really good for you) – make your own chips with sweet potatoes or zucchini. Also pay attention to food found in jars – mayonnaise, ketchup, etc. You should usually make your own condiments. Stop scoffing, it takes 5 minutes (or less).
Dairy Products: These are supposed to be a no-no on the Paleo plan, but we consume them in moderation. If you’re going to do dairy, go for pasture raised, grass-fed, full-fat, lightly pasteurized (or unpasteurized if you can get it from a KNOWN source) milk. Pasteurization takes away nutrients. If you know your farmer (or if you ARE your farmer), then you can get quality milk without the processing. Full fat milk keeps your bones healthy, strengthens immunity, and adds a lot of important vitamins to your diet. If you’re drinking milk, stop drinking skim (please). It’s not good for you…better to drink no milk at all because you're not getting anything beneficial from it. Check out this article about Skim Milk. Same thing goes for cheeses – pasture raised, grass-fed, and whole. Get it as raw as you can get it…like a caveman.
Legumes: Peanuts, peas, beans. “Why not?” Because legumes typically can’t be eaten without extensive preparation. There are a lot of other really good reasons why you shouldn’t eat legumes...you can find most of them here.
Refined Sugars: If you must have a sweetener, please use local honey (local honey has added health benefits!) or grade B maple syrup. You can also use Stevia if you can get your hands on it. None of these things are really technically Paleo, but we do honey in moderation (maybe once a week or once every other week).
Soft drinks: Hello, high fructose corn syrup. No. I am speaking as a former Coke addict (sounds awful, doesn't it?). Just say no. Let the words, "I'll have water, please!" come out of your mouth before your brain has time to think about it. Also, fountain water is free. (Yay for saving money!)
Fruit juices: Juice them in your juicer at home, or don’t drink them at all. Read the ingredients on fruit juices--even organic ones. I bet you’ll be surprised.
PALEO FOR WEIGHT LOSS:
- Adhere to all of the above PLUS the following…
- Limit fruit intake (especially the super-sweet fruits). Blueberries are a really good not-so-sweet fruit if you’re trying to lose weight.
- Try to keep your carbohydrate intake to 50mg per day (I used fitday.com for a few weeks to track this, but now I have a pretty good idea of my carb intake, so I don’t need it).
- Try to get 60% or MORE of your calories from fat. (used fitday.com for this too). EAT FATS. Fat is not bad for you. Fat does not make you fat. That’s a myth. Stop believing the lie. I’ve lost almost 25lbs by eating really good fats ALL DAY LONG.
If you do all three of the above strictly for 21 days, watch what happens. It’s not hard.
But Wait! What Can I Eat?
This is the good part, n’est-ce pas? You can eat ALL KINDS of stuff, and the food you’ll be eating is DELICIOUS because it’s REAL. You’ll discover foods you didn’t even know you liked!
FOODS TO EAT!
Meats: Get the most whole, organic, well-raised meats you can find. Don’t get meats with additives, preservatives, hormones, or other crap. You get a lot of nutritional value from meats that don’t contain extra crap…and the extra crap is why 8 year old girls have boobs. Stop. Give little girls hormone-free meats, please. Girls should start getting boobs when they're 12 and 13...not when they're 8. Buy grass-fed beef. Buy chicken without antibiotics. Think about what you’re putting inside of your body. Hormones, antibiotics, additives, and crappy food were not good for the cows and chickens, and they’re not good for YOU or your family. My great-grandparents were farmers. They lived long, full lives. They pasture-raised their cows and slaughtered their own meat. There’s a lot to be said for that, you know. If you can’t slaughter your own cow, you should buy a farm...just kidding. If you can't slaughter your own cow, at least make sure you can source your meat. Support farmers who aren’t trying to poison your family for profit…
Fruits: If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t eat a ton of fruit. If you’re not trying to lose weight, eat as much as you want! Avocados are an excellent source of good fat.
Veggies: Steam, bake, fry in a good paleo oil…doesn’t matter. Eat veggies. Don’t eat them in moderation, eat them until you think you’re going to turn into a vegetable. Our favorites are mashed cauliflower, steamed broccoli, and baked asparagus.
Nuts: Real ones…not peanuts. Don’t forget, peanuts are a legume. Walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts. I eat a tiny handful of nuts each day (maybe ¼ cup). Please don’t buy the national brands…they are processed with bad oils. Get ‘em raw. I either get mine from a local produce store or from Whole Foods. They’re delicious…you don’t need oils that are not naturally occurring inside the nut.
Eggs: Any way you like them! The "incredible edible egg" is a staple Paleo food. I eat approximately two eggs per day…usually hard boiled, but sometimes scrambled.
Fish: Pay attention to ecological practices, but that aside, eat whatever fish you want. There are some good websites that tell you which fish are safest to consume. This is a good one. We like whatever is fresh-caught and local (and cheap). :)
Fats: Some amazing paleo fats include: lard (yep…I said it), olive oil, nut oils, avocado oil, palm oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, and our family uses butter and full-fat milk as well. You can't get past the word "lard," can you?
Drinks: water (what humans should be mostly drinking anyway), herbal teas, coffee (in moderation), alcohol (go for red wines or local beers – both in moderation), fruit and veggie juices that you juice yourself at home.
Spices: Have fun. Don’t use refined iodized salt, though…use sea salt instead.
Condiments: Make your own. They taste amazing, and you aren’t ingesting crap. It takes me about 3 minutes to make a batch of ketchup…maybe less.
- Artisana Coconut Butter – It has the consistency of peanut butter with a sweet flavor…it doesn’t taste at all like coconut. I eat it by the spoonful, and an expensive ($12.00) jar of the stuff lasts me a little over a month.
- Strong Extra Dark (85%) Chocolate – We eat this by the piece (not by the bar). It takes me about a week to get through a bar of chocolate. Learn to be satisfied with a little taste of something – it’ll rock your world.
- Blueberries – I eat a handful of blueberries sometimes when I have a snack attack. They quell it easily.
- Cheese – If you’re going the non-dairy route, avoid this snack (duh), but if you are willing to budge a little, a nibble of cheese is a good snacky food…I eat it with blueberries. It feels very French. We eat a brand called “Kerrygold.”
- Caveman Cookies – You can get these at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s and probably a myriad of other hippie food stores. Sadie and I like the tropical ones better than the original.
- Way Better brand Sweet Potato Chips – These are NOT Paleo. They are processed with sunflower and/or safflower oil, BUT, my husband loves chips, and these are better than Lays. In other words, don’t let Paleo legalism lock you in chains.
What to Expect When You Start
The grocery bill. It's time to address the #1 reason people don't start something like this: It's too expensive. Put simply: IT'S NOT! We are spending the same amount on whole, natural, unprocessed foods as we were spending on their overly-tampered-with counterparts...how? Even though item-for-item, the food costs more, we're saving money for a few important reasons:
1) We don't eat out as much
2) We don't buy junk food. Junk food adds up quickly.
3) We aren't buying breads, pastas, and other wheat products.
The "growing pains." We were EXHAUSTED for the first couple of weeks. It takes about that long for your body to figure out that it’s getting enough fat for energy and doesn’t need the carbs for energy anymore. One day, it just sort of clicks, and your body says, “oh wait! I don’t need those stupid carbs…look at all this FAT I’m getting!” Then you wake up, and you feel AMAZING.
The results. You’ll wake up refreshed, you’ll have plenty of energy, you’ll never be hungry, you’ll appreciate *real* flavors in food (as opposed to fake ones), you’ll feel good about where your nutrients are coming from, and you’ll pat yourself on the back for being less likely to die from some Standard American Diet driven disease. You’ll be eating the food that your body was designed to digest. And as if being truly healthy isn’t enough, you’ll probably lose some weight and inches.
Paleo is hard to start and easy to continue. I will never look at food the same way again.
Here are some resources that I used for the info above as well as some things you should check out "just because":
And we use this cookbook (and love it!): Make it Paleo