If you’ve found this site, I’m guessing you have an idea of what the paleo diet is, but for those of you just starting out or anyone who needs a quick reference, here are the nuts and bolts of the paleo diet:
What is Paleo?
The paleo diet, or paleolithic diet, is a way of eating that is based on the foods that scientists believe our ancient ancestors would have eaten, such as meat, nuts and berries. Any foods that scientists believe were not yet available or simply not consumed during the paleolithic times, are excluded from the diet. The diet is based on the premise that paleolithic humans developed nutritional needs specific to the foods available at that time, and that the nutritional needs of humans today are still best adapted to this same diet. Proponents of the paleo diet believe that this is because modern human metabolism has not been able to adapt to the “frankenfoods” that so many of us eat nowadays. The wheat that is grown today is not the same as the wheat that was grown 500 years ago. The cows that give most of the milk we consume are not foraging on grass as God designed them to, but are fed corn and other grains. The bottom line is that most of the commercially available foods today are not good for us. Our bodies are not designed to digest these modern engineered foods. They have been altered from their original states to make production faster, cheaper and more profitable, not healthier for us. That is an important point to understand.
What you can eat on the paleo diet:
- meat and eggs, preferably from grass-fed, free range animals never given hormones or antibiotics
- fats from healthy animals, such as lard, beef tallow, bacon fat or duck fat, coconut oil, avocado oil, olive oil, and nut oils
- natural sweeteners such as raw honey, real maple syrup and stevia leaf extract
What you cannot eat on the paleo diet:
- grains, this includes corn
- legumes, including peanuts (I know, big, big bummer!)
- refined, non-nutritive sweeteners (white sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, etc.)
- processed oils (canola, sunflower, safflower, corn, etc.)
- dairy from grass-fed cows
If people are going to fudge the rules, it tends to be with these controversial foods more than any other. However, in my opinion, this is not cheating per se. Why someone starts the paleo diet is a very personal decision, be it to lose weight, lower blood pressure, reverse diabetes, help control autoimmune disease or simply to feel better. The paleo diet that works for you is going to look different from the paleo diet that works for your neighbor and different from the one that works for me. A lot of paleo eating plans recommend a version of an elimination diet, which will help you figure out how strict you need to be or how lenient you can be in order to reach and maintain your optimal level of health. This can be a bit tricky and frustrating to navigate and I think it’s important to seek some sort of help. I have found working with a functional medicine doctor to be invaluable. The only downside to this is that they may not be covered by insurance so you will be paying out of pocket. The upsides can far outweigh the costs though so it’s something I recommend you at least investigate.
Another option is research! There are so many books that can serve as a great guide for your paleo journey. Here are the ones that I have read and can highly recommend. You will find some of the same information in all of these, but they all have their own emphasis. There are many more that I have not read which may be great, but I can’t honestly recommend them.
The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain
Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo
The Paleo Cure (formerly Your Personal Paleo Code) by Chris Kresser
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne
The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf
Figuring out which foods work for you and which ones don’t is not always clear, so this process takes some patience. I just ate some lentil soup at the recommendation of my functional medicine doctor and I felt horrible afterward. So I can conclude that lentils don’t work for me. I got my answer. But it doesn’t always happen like that. Sometimes a reaction is delayed. When I first went paleo, I would still eat gluten occasionally and I thought it didn’t really affect me. Two weeks later, when I would start experiencing GI symptoms, sometimes just “not feeling quite right,” I would have long forgotten that gluten exposure two weeks prior. I was struggling to figure out what was affecting me negatively and what was ok.
A friend suggested that I pray for insight. I had never thought to pray about this, but I did at her suggestion and I do think that God has been making it clear which foods I can include and which I cannot. So if you’re a praying person, I’d definitely pray for insight through this journey. God is faithful and if you are faithful to ask, He will answer. This has certainly been my experience. It is not pleasant to find a food that doesn’t work for you, but it is always good to know.
If you’re interested in the autoimmune-paleo diet or anti-inflammatory diet, see this article for details.