If you’ve heard recent chatter about “eating like a caveman,” it was most likely regarding the Paleo Diet. This way of eating was first introduced by Loren Cordain, founder of The Paleo Diet Movement and author of the N.Y. Times bestseller, “The Paleo Diet.”
The goal of this diet is to mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors, in an attempt to lose weight, optimize your overall health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Considering a paleo lifestyle? Here’s what you need to know before getting started.
In general, a paleo diet is low in carbohydrates and high in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, with moderate levels of fats, specifically polyunsaturated fats, and a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats.
All of that boils down to a pretty specific set of foods you should and shouldn’t eat.
Foods on the “do not eat” list include:
- Cereal grains ( wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley and rye)
- Legumes (includes peanuts)
- Refined sugar
- Processed foods
- Refined vegetable oils
- Salt (in some cases)
With the restrictions out of the way, it’s time to focus on what you can eat. This list includes:
- Grass-fed meat
- Fish and seafood
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, avocado and coconut oils)
Paleo Diet Challenges
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges with following this diet is the potential cost of food. While grass-fed meat provides us with a variety of health benefits (lower in total fat, higher in vitamin E and higher in omega-3s), it’s often more expensive than non-grass fed. Not to mention, most grass-fed meats are also organic, adding to the price hike.
Eating paleo will also require more preparation time: with refined sugars, grains and dairy out the window, you can’t rely on processed snacks like yogurt, crackers and cheese, or toast with peanut butter.
Finally, going out to eat with friends, or attending events, will present its own set of challenges as well, thanks to excess sodium and sugar, and a lack of grass-fed meat options.
6 Tips for Transitioning to a Paleo Diet
1. Despite the challenges, achieving a paleo diet isn’t impossible. Here are a few tips to make it work for you:
2. Make it a lifestyle change, rather than a temporary diet or weight-loss option. This mental shift turns everything into a learning opportunity, figuring out how to make it work for your life.
3. Get into a rhythm of prepping food and bringing paleo-friendly options to potlucks. You’ll feel more empowered and quickly become the person who “always has the best food at every party.”
4. Keep a running note of what restaurants you can eat at, and which you should avoid. If friends want to go out to eat, suggest a place that offers paleo-friendly dining.
5. Experiment as much as possible. Try different combinations of foods and styles of cooking (roasting versus sautéing versus steaming). Plan to try or create one new recipe each week to broaden your options.
6. Make more than you need for dinner so you can always bring leftovers for lunch, which can be the hardest meal to prep for. With minimal resources for cooking at work, you have to leave the house prepared.
3-Day Paleo Meal Plan
Here’s an easy-to-follow 3-day meal plan to jumpstart your first foray into paleo eating.
Breakfast: Scrambled free-range eggs with bell peppers and onions, cooked in olive oil.
Lunch: Walnut-crusted baked salmon (or nut of choice), cooked with coconut oil, and a side of steamed broccoli and zucchini.
Dinner: Sweet Potato Toast with Avocado. Feel free to dress it up with dark chili powder and whatever other produce you have on hand.
Breakfast: Blueberry Avocado Power Smoothie. Garnish with fresh mint and blueberries if desired.
Lunch: Sweet Potato Hash with Kale and Prosciutto. This recipe serves two as a main course so be sure to divide it before serving and save the remainder.
Dinner: Grass-fed ground turkey burger with a side of lemon garlic cabbage salad.
Breakfast: Paleo Egg Muffins and side of fresh fruit.
Lunch: Grilled, grass-fed chicken on a bed of mixed greens, shredded carrots and cherry tomatoes, topped with Oh-My-Umami dressing
Dinner: Cauliflower Egg Fried Rice. Get creative here and add your favorite veggies like peas and carrots!
Hopefully these tips and meal ideas will prove to be effective, and show you that you don’t have to eat boring foods to stick to a paleo diet. If you experiment to find what you love, give yourself optimal prep time, and keep a list of restaurants that are paleo-friendly, you may just find that you feel healthier and happier.