These easy insider tips will make your transition to the trendy way of eating stress-free and successful
The Paleo diet has been reported to eliminate bloating, clear up acne, eradicate seasonal allergies, free you from migraines, and even help you shed a few pounds. While none of this is guaranteed, cleaning up your diet and focusing on whole, fresh foods is definitely a good idea. “Real foods in the right portions help you feel more satisfied because they help keep blood sugar levels even and your hunger hormones balanced,” says Diane Sanfilippo, a holistic nutritionist and author of Practical Paleo.
The basic guidelines—skip grains (both refined and whole), legumes, packaged snacks, dairy, and sugar in favor of vegetables, fruit, meat, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, fats, and oils—seem easy, but to successfully go cavewoman takes some savvy. Follow these 11 rules to get started.
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Gather all the “no” foods—grains, cereal, vegetable oils, beans, yogurt, cheese, milk, packaged foods, you get it—and toss them in the trash. Doing it all at once has an advantage. “It’s easier to avoid temptation if it’s not there,” says Nell Stephenson, author of Paleoista, Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat.
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.
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.”
After the first month, many experts recommend the 85/15 approach, meaning 85 percent of the time you’re strictly Paleo, leaving 15 percent for non-Paleo stuff, whether that’s a granola bar, a hamburger (bun and all) at a cookout, or cocktails with the girls. Pay attention to how you feel after reintroducing things into your diet, Sanfilippo says. For example, if you have a scoop of ice cream and wake up bloated the next day, you may decide that future discomfort isn’t worth it.
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.
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“It’s totally normal to go Paleo and slip back into your normal eating habits,” Sanfilippo says. “But don’t feel like a failure. It’s a learning process.” Find likeminded people following the diet through local groups, blogs, forums, and Facebook, and connect with them to help steer you back on track—and keep you there.
You know to skip doughnuts, cookies, and crackers, but some foods are surprisingly not Paleo: peanut butter (it’s a legume); nut butters or dried fruit with added sugars; and soy sauce, malt vinegar, lunchmeats, and many marinades and sauces (some contain soy, gluten, preservatives, and sugar). So be sure to read the ingredients list closely when buying anything in a package.
You’ve been taught to reserve half your plate for veggies, a quarter for lean protein, and the remaining quarter for whole grains. When you change to Paleo, stop holding a place for grains: A balanced plate consists of a palm-sized portion of protein, a dollop of fat, and veggies, veggies, veggies (fill the rest of your plate with them).
Instead of reaching for canola, corn, or soybean oil for sautéing, use coconut oil or lard. Really. These high-quality saturated fats are healthy to cook with because they are more stable and won’t oxidize when heated (oxidation releases damaging free radicals). And when it comes to lard, “animal fats—if from grass-fed cows—pack more omega 3s, as well as a type of fat called conjugated linoleic acid, which some studies suggest may help burn fat,” Sanfilippo says. Some experts also recommend butter from grass-fed cows, but many restrict dairy of any kind. (The choice is yours.) For cold applications, use olive oil, avocado oil, and walnut oil.
“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.
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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!
A business dinner or brunch with your best friend is still doable on the Paleo diet. All it takes is a little ingredient sleuthing, Stephenson says. First look at the menu ahead of time and pick one or two options that you can Paleo-ize. That might be wild salmon with broccoli. (Request double the veggies in place of the rice pilaf.) At the restaurant, don’t be shy to ask questions about how things are prepared and request changes, if necessary.