So you get the text: Can we go out for burgers (no buns!) tonight instead of pizza? Oh no, is she on this caveman diet everyone’s been raving about too? You don't know whether to be mad or happy for her, but you can't help but wonder why the Paleo diet is getting all this hype. You’re intrigued. We don’t blame you. What is Paleo, anyway? Is it for you? Let’s discuss.
WTF Is Paleo?
A Paleo-friendly diet puts the focus on eating real, natural, whole foods that have gone through little or no processing to get on your plate. Simply put: You eat plants and animals. We’re talking meats, fish, eggs, greens, veggies, fruits, and nuts.
Sounds easy, right? Maybe for cavemen it was… because they weren’t tempted by the thousands of packaged foods we have access to. If they couldn’t hunt it or gather it, they didn’t eat it. Today the only hunting we’re doing is for good deals on food we can gather into our grocery carts. In the cart goes bread, cheese, yogurt, rice, candy bars, milk, chips, cereal, etc.
Paleo experts took note of our modern-day behavior and thought, if obesity and disease rates are rising as quickly as processed foods are flying off shelves, maybe we should go back to our roots and eat like our early ancestors did?
A Modern-Day Caveman
Before you grab a spear to go after tonight’s dinner, simmer down. It’s 2017, and grocery stores and farmer's markets are there to do the work for you. How convenient! (Well, finding parking is a b*tch, but we guess it’s better than fighting a buffalo.)
So your Paleo life can look something like this: Wake up in the morning to scrambled eggs with spinach, chicken sausage, and avocado, and a cup of coffee (yes, coffee is Paleo!) with a splash of almond milk. For lunch it’s all about the spaghetti squash and slow cooker Bolognese you made overnight. And oh, you can’t wait to dig your hands into shrimp stir-fry with cauliflower rice tonight. For dessert, it’s a few pieces of dark chocolate. Sounds good? That’s Paleo for ya. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the seriously good food that’s permitted on the plan.
What You Can Eat
- Chicken. Probably already a staple in your diet.
- Fish. BRB. Gone
fishingto the fish market.
- Red meat. So many meatballs.
- Pork. Slow cooker Paleo pulled pork FTW.
- Eggs. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Vegetables. As if you thought you couldn’t eat these.
- Fruits. The less sugary ones (berries) are best.
- Nuts. Peanuts aren’t allowed, but go nuts on almonds.
- Natural oils. 'Cause ya gotta sauté the veg in something.
- Healthy fats. Because avocados.
- Natural sweeteners. Honey and maple syrup? YAS.
Pro tip: Prioritize organic, grass-fed meats and free-range eggs, and opt for wild-caught seafood and organic vegetables... when you can.
- Processed foods. Yes, even the natural, gluten-free, avocado oil-based chips.
- Refined sugar. Good-bye, Snickers. We’ll be making a Paleo version of you soon.
- Refined carbs. RIP Bagel Fridays.
- Legumes. Silver lining: Maybe you’ll have less gas.
- Dairy. But have you tried banana “ice cream”?
- Grains. Not even brown rice.
- Vegetable oils. Easy at home, tough when eating out.
Pro tip: Just like bad breakups, “out of sight, out of mind” works here too. Get these foods out of the house, and it’ll be easier to say good-bye.
What’s Up for Debate
There are tons of Paleo bloggers and experts out there, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from them, it’s that there’s no such thing as perfect Paleo. Our friend Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo puts it well:
There isn’t just one definitive, monolithic, one-size-fits-all Paleo diet. Some Paleo eaters choose to go super low-carb, while others are happy to munch on a baked potato or a bowl of white rice every now and then. There are Paleo eaters who can’t imagine life without dairy, and more orthodox folks who refuse to touch even a pat of butter with a 10-foot pole.
So, really, there’s no debate. It’s finding the Paleo plan that works best for you. If that means adding a sprinkle of goat cheese to your baked sweet potato every now and then, or going out for ice cream on your birthday, we think that’s OK.
9 (Unofficial) Paleo Commandments
Since there really isn’t a Paleo rule book set in stone (age), we collected guidelines that most experts and bloggers follow. These will help any Paleo newbie understand what to expect when you’re going full (or even halfsie) caveman.
- Eat plenty of whole foods.
We can’t live without sweet potatoes, avocados, and eggs while eating Paleo.
- Eat less processed foods.
Packaged chips, cookies, breads, etc. are a no. While it might seem hard at first, you might find it harder to add them back into your diet once you start feeling better.
- Just because it’s packaged doesn’t make it totally off-limits.
We're definitely stocking our pantry with these Paleo-approved staples. And when we're on the road, we're bringing these travel-friendly snacks.
- Avoid foods that don’t make you feel good.
Even if something is “Paleo approved,” that doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Bolognese recipe calls for red meat but you're not a "red meat" person? Go for lean turkey instead.
- Find what works for you.
Some Paleo peeps eat rice on occasion (gasp!), while some won’t even say the word “rice” without flinching. Be your own caveman and create a plan that will help you succeed at feeling your best.
- Don’t be too strict.
We like to follow the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the time we’ll eat Paleo, but 20 percent of the time we’re not saying no to pizza, rice, cookies, or cheese. The leniency makes it easier to stick to the plan the majority of the time.
- Learn to love cooking.
Since you’re eating less processed foods, you’ll be making more homemade meals. Don’t let it stress you out. Find easy recipes (like all of these), and ones you really love, so it becomes a joy, not a nuisance.
- Don’t entirely say good-bye to your favorite junk foods.
Paleo allows you to still enjoy pancakes, chicken tenders, and chocolate… as long as they’re made with Paleo-approved ingredients. Think coconut flour flapjacks, almond-crusted tenders, and three-ingredient chocolate.
- If ya booze, ya don’t necessarily lose.
Unless you and alcohol go together like oil and water, it’s hard completely giving it up. We’re not saying to drink three daiquiris at brunch, but wine, gluten-free beers, and hard ciders are OK on occasion. Even Paleo guru and author of The Paleo Solution Robb Wolf suggests a combo of soda water, lime, and 100 percent agave tequila for all of us lushes.
Why Go Paleo?
To get a six-pack, amirite? Just kidding. While this plan is popular for helping you whittle your waist and bulge your biceps, it’s so much more than a CrossFitter’s dream diet. Anyone who wants to clean up their eating and lifestyle habits can give it a go. Although further research is still needed, a number of smaller trials have suggested benefits in the weight loss and metabolism departments.
Experts from the Paleo Plan suggest the following results are what Paleo-ers most commonly experience:
- Weight loss
- Feeling pleasantly full for longer
- Less sugar cravings
- Clearer skin
- Increase in energy
- Physically more muscular
- Improved digestion
- Reduced inflammation
- Healthier relationship with food
Is Paleo for Everyone?
If you’ve already found a way of eating that makes you feel your best, then you should probably stick to that. If you're still feeling kinda (or really) crappy on a daily basis, then you may want to give it a try. Going Paleo and taking a break from grains, dairy, and soy might be the stepping stone you need to find out if eating more animal proteins and less processed foods (and the occasional glass of wine; oops we said it) is what your body needs.