Are you about to embark on a paleo lifestyle? I am by no means and expert, but I have been following paleo guidelines (with varying degrees of strictness) since 2013 and I have some helpful hints for getting started. Whether you are starting a nutrition challenge at a gym or looking for a total nutrition overhaul, I highly recommend these guidelines for success!
Know the Paleo Rules:
Depending on how strict you plan to go, the rules vary. Autoimmune paleo is super strict while “paleo friendly” typically bends the rules. Big things to remember are:
- Eat real food – shop the perimeter of the grocery store for produce, meat, seafood, and eggs. If it is processed, it is going to have ingredients that are “no, nos”.
- Pick your fat – Vegetable oils are on the list of oils to avoid, but olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oils are all acceptable.
- Choose your sweetener – Stevia, raw honey, and coconut sugar are all acceptable. Steer clear of anything that has sugar (sometimes cleverly disguised as cane sugar), corn syrup, or any other sweetener that you can pronounce.
- Avoid dairy – Yep, that delicious cheese, yogurt, and ice cream is off the table. Don’t worry, there are alternatives to some of these which you will discover!
- Avoid grains – That means wheat, oats, rye, barley, and various others. No pasta, bread, rice, or quinoa. Even worse? No beer!
- Avoid legumes – Legumes (gasp, this includes peanut butter!), lentils, beans, soy and soy products. I was shocked to find out that peas and string beans weren’t allowed.
- Keep your carbs nutrient rich. Vegetables and fruits have plenty of carb energy! Avoid white potatoes, but sweet potatoes and squash offer a boost of carbs that also carry nutrition.
Some people prefer to meal prep their week one day and then eat the same thing all week long. I am not one of those people.
Instead of meal “prep”, I meal “plan”. I attempt to do one trip to the grocery store a week which prevents impulse buys and gives me extra time to do much more enjoyable things. I plan six dinners (allowing our family to eat out one night or have the hubby cook) and make extra portions for lunch the following day. When I first started doing this, I would sit down with the supermarket circular and a notebook and actually chart out the meals for the week. With years of experience I can avoid this step and purchase on the spot.
When planning your meals out, pick one protein and one vegetable and then decide how you will prepare it so that you keep things new. Options include stir fry, roasting, grilling and sauteing. One pan? Even better!
Breakfast can be tricky. Who doesn’t want processed carbs for breakfast since they are so quick and easy? I have found the perfect solution to the breakfast dilemma and it is a major time saver every morning. I swear by my green smoothie! Every week, I get a big freezer bag and combine a bag of kale, bag of spinach, and bag of strawberries. In the morning, I fill my blender cup with the mix, add a scoop of vanilla protein (pick one that works for your plan), top it with almond milk and blend until smooth. Having a good blender helps get the right consistency (I love my Ninja). I bring my smoothie to work with me and sip it over the course of the morning. I find that I stay full until lunchtime by delaying my breakfast and (knock on wood) I don’t get sick because I drink a vitamin bomb for breakfast every single day!
Having two snacks a day planned between meals helps curb the impulse to grab a handful of your kid’s goldfish crackers in a moment of weakness. I typically make sure that my snack has protein in it so it is more satisfying. A hard-boiled egg with hot sauce (beware of butter), apple with almond butter (read the label for sneaky sugar), or a handful of nuts (steer clear of peanuts) makes a yummy snack that will tide you over until your next planned meal.
Find Your Staples:
Your kitchen should be stocked with the things that make good food yummier! Always have lots of garlic, olive oil, lemon, herbs, pepper, and quality salt available. I also recommend a trip to a spice store. My town has a local business that sells the most incredible spices and spice blends. Keeping jars on hand help with mixing up your foods.
Adjusting to a paleo lifestyle can be tricky, but finding replacements for some of the “no no” foods is helpful. Here is a list of some of my favorite products that I have come to love as I transitioned my diet.
- Almond milk – I put it in my smoothie everyday. I opt for the sugar free vanilla option.
- Almond coffee creamer – There are many options available, but be sure to check the label for sugar.
- Almond flour – I use it for baking and “breading”. There are many varieties, so find the one that you like best!
- Almond butter – I love a smear of almond butter on my apple slices! I opt for the salted variety, but have accidentally purchased jars with added sugar, so be sure to check the label.
- Coconut sugar – Once again, a great option to bake with. Add it to paleo muffin, cookie, and cake recipes.
- Coconut aminos – Since soy is out, I avoided stir fry all together due to the soy sauce. Once I discovered coconut aminos (my favorite is from Trader Joe’s), I prep a stir fry meal at least once a week!
- Cauliflower rice – This can be purchased fresh, but I prefer keeping the frozen variety on hand. It is great for bulking up meals, serving sautes on top of, and serving in soup instead of pasta or rice.
Drink Your Water:
Keeping yourself hydrated is a good idea no matter what. If you are reaching for a snack, ask yourself if you are hungry or just thirsty. Water is the perfect drink, but let’s face it, it gets boring. In addition to plenty of water, mix in flavored seltzer and decaffeinated tea. Instead of reaching for a bedtime snack, a cup of chamomile tea is a great way to wind down.
Find the things that you love and enjoy them! I have played around with lots of recipes and have perfected a Fig and Walnut Cookie recipe that I LOVE! I make a batch a week and know that I can always grab one without sidetracking my progress! I also find that I miss the crunch factor of carbs when eating paleo. Luckily, there are root chips (think cassava and beet) and dehydrated veggie chips (I just found dehydrated carrot chips at Trader Joe’s and they are fantastic!).
Now that you have a overview of the basics of the paleo diet, it is time to explore! There are many resources out there that have recipes for all palates! Not sure if something is paleo? Google it! The most important tip for success is to think about all the options you are “allowed” to enjoy while eating paleo instead of thinking about what you are avoiding. It may take some time to get excited about a plate full of roasted veggies, but once your body starts to feel great because of the fuel you are providing it, things become easier!