You have decided you want to start a paleo lifestyle with nutrient dense whole foods, but where to start? Well you will be happy to know that there are plenty of foods out there that you can eat. Are there restrictions? Sure but trust me once you get going you will not miss them nearly as much as you think you will.
First we are going to focus on what you can have. Paleo allows for; meat/seafood and eggs, lots of fresh colorful vegetables, fruit, nuts/seeds and healthy fats. Healthy fats include; avocado, coconut oil, olive oil and some nut oils. It is preferred that you use pastured/naturally raised animal products with no hormones, chemicals or additives and also that your produce is organic and locally raised. However I am going to touch on that some more in a minute. So does this mean you can have bacon? Absolutely it does. Some fresh berries for a snack? Of course, berries are a great source of antioxidants as well as other nutrients. Are you going to get bored eating these foods? Not if you are creative in the kitchen. If you aren’t then chances are you already find yourself in a rut when it comes to planning meals regardless of your diet. There are several good paleo cookbooks that have currently come onto the market as well as blogs, web sites and a facebook page started just for those of us at CrossFit Acadia that are on a paleo journey. Utilize them!
Now let’s talk about what you should eliminate from your diet. I’m going to start with the big one, grains. That’s right no grains. So wheat, corn, rice, oatmeal, etc. …anything made out of a grain is gone! (Don’t panic there are some really good substitutes that can help your transition or when you really need that cookie or bread.) After grains comes dairy, legumes (this includes peanuts and peanut products) and bad fats like canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil and definitely anything hydrogenated. You will also need to get rid of processed sugars and artificial sweeteners. Honey, palm sugar and real maple syrup are ok.
And then there is the grey area. Yep, not everyone agrees on exactly what is paleo and what isn’t. If you google foods allowed on the paleo diet, you will get several different answers. Here are a few of the foods in question. Potatoes are a big one. Sweet potatoes are absolutely fine, especially if you are athletic, active or a kid. White potatoes are a little more controversial with some adamant that they are absolutely not allowed and others who will say they are ok if you don’t eat the peal…I say this one is your call. If you can eat white potatoes and they don’t bother you in any way, fine. If you can’t, well then don’t. Green Beans are another food that has people in disagreement. Some say that because they are more pod than bean that they are ok, others will just say no. So again make your own call. Finally, processed meats are an area where you need to make smart decisions. If you must eat processed lunch meats, hotdogs or the like try to buy the least processed most natural versions available. You want to avoid as many additives, colorings and preservatives as possible. Ideally processed lunch meats should be eaten in limited amounts.
Finally let’s talk about THE PALEO POLICE! Yeah, there aren’t any. So if you are buying meats that aren’t grass fed, your eggs don’t come from the neighbor’s chickens or, gasp, you made paleo friendly cookies…nobody is going to come busting down your door and haul you away. This also does not mean that you are not following a paleo lifestyle. What it does mean is that you are buying the highest quality foods that fall into the paleo guidelines that your budget allows. There is a growing trend of people in the paleo blogosphere condemning others for their choices. I’m here to tell you that one of the best things about the paleo lifestyle is that it adapts to the needs of you and your family. Do not let this attitude discourage you! I recently went on one of my favorite websites and looked at their 30 day paleo start-up menu. It had lamb chops, lamb burgers, bison, crab cakes…sorry, but I don’t know of too many families who can afford these items on a weekly basis. Talk about making people feel like a healthy lifestyle is out of their reach. Don’t get me wrong, I like these items and have made them in the past but on occasion if I can find the products on sale. If you can afford them, great! Enjoy…they are very tasty. But many of us with or without families have tight grocery budgets right now so we need to be a little more realistic of what our menus are going to look like. You will also hear that you shouldn’t try and remake your favorite foods with paleo friendly ingredients. What they are talking about are breads, cookies, brownies or other items deemed junk food. Yet you’ll notice others are recreating their favorite foods, like lasagna, bbq sauce, crab cakes, orange chicken, etc…out of paleo friendly ingredients. What’s the difference, especially when many of these items contain sweeteners like honey or palm sugar too? We know that treats aren’t to be eaten every day and that too much sugar, even if it is from a natural source, is not a good thing. But if I want a brownie and I know I can make them and not eat the entire pan, it is really no one’s business but my own. So, if like us, you like to make paleo treats (cookies, breads and desserts) out of paleo friendly ingredients then go right ahead. Just be aware of how often you are eating them and if by eating them you find yourself craving more sweets or find yourself letting non-paleo foods back into your diet. If you find you are out of control with them then, sorry, but you are going to have to cut them out of your diet.
The bottom line is be smart about your choices and find people out there who are supportive offering ideas of how paleo can work for you and your situation. The paleo guidelines are within everyone’s reach. Just make sure to set yourself up for success. If you have plenty of paleo friendly foods and snacks on hand, the less likely you will be to go back to old habits. Plus there are plenty of great recipes out there so get a little adventurous in the kitchen and try something new. Don’t look for excuses on why you can’t do it because what it all comes down to is that YOU are the reason you should do it.