Getting Started: What Can I Eat?

The main point of eating paleo is to eat only natural, whole foods that have not been processed or genetically modified in any way.  Paleo also cuts out foods that can cause allergies and other similar issues, even though they are a whole food.  For more information on this, check out Beginners Guide to the Paleo Diet.  The paleo diet is based off of what humans living in the paleolithic era would have been able to eat.  They were hunter/gatherer cavemen, and literally lived off of the land.  They could only eat natural foods.  So basically, if you could grow or hunt it, you can eat it.

So, what can you eat?

Meat & Poultry: all meat is fair game, as far as I have seen.  Grass-fed meat is the best choice if you have the option.

Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, venison, bison, duck, etc.

Seafood: all fish and seafood are excellent as well.  We try to buy wild caught rather than farm raised fish, but that is not always an option.  Catching it ourselves is our favorite, though not always practical.

Shrimp, lobster, scallops, crab, salmon, tilapia, bass, flounder, swai, grouper, catfish, clams, oysters, etc.

Eggs

Breakfast Meats: Sausage and bacon.  Look for brands that do not contain any nitrates, nitrites, sugars, MSG, or chemicals.  The ingredients list should only include meat, spices, and water, and you should know what everything is.  If there are ingredients you haven’t heard of, it is likely not paleo.  This is very hard to do, and I end up cheating here.  I do not buy anything with nitrates/ites or chemicals in it, but I do buy bacon and sausage with sugar in it – as long as it is plain sugar and not corn syrup or another chemically altered sugar.  Ideally I would be making all of our sausage from scratch with ground pork, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

Vegetables: These are very important, and best if included in every meal.

Lettuce, romaine, spinach, cabbage, kale, bok choy, watercress, greens, peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, green beans, zucchini, carrots, avocados, eggplant, squash, brussel sprouts, asparagus, sweet potato, sugar snap peas, snow peas, water chestnuts, turnips, beets, celery, etc.

Fruit: All fruit is paleo, but it is high in sugar, so limit how much you eat if you are trying to lose weight.  Berries are lowest in sugar content.

Nuts: Nuts are very versatile and can be used to make many things.  They are high in calories, so eat them in moderation.

Almonds, almond milk, almond butter, pistachios, coconut (unsweetened), coconut milk, cashews, etc.

Oils: Natural oils are great, healthy sources of fat.

Coconut oil, olive oil, bacon grease, avocado oil, sesame oil, etc.

Natural Sweeteners: Eat in moderation.

Pure maple syrup, honey (local & unpasteurized is best), agave nectar, molasses

Other: Flavorings.  I use these in every meal!  Instead of table salt, switch to sea salt and use it sparingly.  Too much salt can lead to health problems.

spices, herbs, roots, garlic, lemon, lime, vinegar, pure extracts (such as vanilla), cocoa, etc.  Fresh herbs and roots are in the produce section (ginger, horseradish, parsley, basil, etc.), while dried roots and herbs are in the baking aisle with the other spices.  Be careful to check ingredient lists of anything packaged.  Make sure seasoning mixes do not include anything besides spices, and extracts are pure.  You don’t want any additives like sugar, corn syrup, or mono-sodium glutamate.

What Can’t You Eat?

Grains:  No grains are allowed on the paleo diet.

Dairy: No dairy, though some people eat whole, all natural dairy like butter that has not been processed or pasteurized.

Legumes: Because these can cause food allergies, they are excluded.  Peas or beans that come in a pod like snow peas and green beans are more pod than legume, so some (like me) say that they are okay.  For more information on legumes, check out what Ultimate Paleo Guide has to say here.

peanuts, peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, etc.  Anything made from these, then, is also not paleo.

Unnatural oils: All refined oils.  Soybean oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, etc.

Unnatural sweeteners: sugar, cane sugar, palm sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, etc.

Other: potatoes

Avoid processed foods.  If you need to buy something that comes in a package, always read the ingredients list before buying.

Give yourself time to adjust into eating paleo.  It will take a while to figure out which stores carry the different items you will be eating regularly.  A natural food store or a grocery that offers a bulk option may be the best place to go to buy nuts.

Nutritionator offers a great food list here.

Getting on Track: Figuring Out Proper Nutrition

We’ve all heard that in order to lose weight, calories in must be less than calories out.  We also know that not all calories are the same.  Once I decided to try to get healthy (in other words, lose weight as quickly as I could for my wedding), I started thinking about what foods are the best for weight loss.  My main approach was to pay attention to how many calories were in every single thing I consumed, including drinks and condiments.  My new plan was to eat whole grains, fruit, veggies, meat, beans, and nuts, and watch how many calories I consumed a day from dairy products, condiments and beverages.  I also did my best to only eat grains with breakfast, so I would have the whole day to burn them off before bed.  This did not usually happen, although I did my best to count calories and only have one serving of grains per meal after breakfast. (This meant measuring my pasta, having one burrito and a salad instead of two, etc.) I usually had half a serving of leftovers for lunch with a salad, greek yogurt, and/or fruit.  I ate protein like cheese and peanut butter or an energy bar as snacks to help keep me full.  I also tried to only drink alcohol sparingly.  It was hard not to cheat when I did not pack a lunch and was tired of fast food salad, when I did not feel like cooking dinner, or when my significant other wanted a meal that I knew wouldn’t help me lose the pounds.  How could I resist?  The pizza and mac’n’cheese smelled amazing, I was hungry, and I was tired. I really didn’t want to cook an entirely separate meal just for me. So yes, I cheated, but I did succeed in losing a good deal of weight.  When I went to try on my wedding dress a month before the wedding, I found that it was too big and ended up getting it altered last minute.

The entire time I was dieting this way, it was a struggle.  I was never entirely sure about what I should and shouldn’t eat to best lose weight.  I figured eating healthy was the best way to go, but more often than not I wasn’t sure what “eat healthy” really meant.  So I tried to eat no more than one serving of “normal” food and fill the rest of my stomach with salad or vegetables, and then snack on fruit and “healthy” proteins like cheese, peanut butter, greek yogurt, and hummus.  It seemed like a lot of work, and I was hungry all the time.

I stopped dieting after our wedding.  I still made an effort to eat healthy, but I stopped counting calories and allowed myself pizza or a burger and fries every now and then.  As I mentioned earlier, my husband decided to get fit and healthy since our move to California.  Of course I was ready!  He spoke with a personal trainer at the gym about his new goals, and she recommended cutting out all carbs.  He did some research, and came across the Paleo diet.  He thought it sounded like just the diet he was looking for, so he told me about it.  I looked into it further, and decided that this diet made a whole lot of sense.  I had been searching for an explanation of healthy eating, and this diet offered one that was logical to me. If you are thinking about going Paleo, I would recommend doing some research on the diet first.  Here are some articles I found helpful: Beginners Guide to the Paleo Diet; Ultimate Paleo Guide.  There is also something called the “Whole 30.”  The Whole 30 is spending 30 days eating clean, whole, non-processed foods, 100% of the time – no cheating allowed.  This is meant to flush your system of any toxins and to cut out any foods your body could be allergic to.

Here are some links to great Paleo Recipe Blogs to help you get started: Stupid Easy Paleo, PaleOMG, and Paleo Plan.  You can also check out the recipes I have saved on Pinterest here.  I haven’t made all of them yet, but I will be posting the recipes I have made – and my changes to them – in the near future!

I am not going to lie to you – starting a new diet is a lot of work.  I spent  lot of time figuring out what we could eat, finding recipes, grocery shopping, and cooking during the first few weeks.  The first grocery trips were a lot of work because I didn’t know what many of the items really were on my list.  Almond butter – that’s in the butter aisle, right? Nope, it is with peanut butter.  I have yet to find a Paleo almond butter in a store, but it is very simple to make.  Eating all natural foods means cooking every meal yourself, which is not as easy as ordering a pizza or sticking a frozen lasagna in the oven when you are too tired to cook.  You can cook enough to produce leftovers though, and you can freeze things like chili for a quick and easy dinner.