So you want to know more about the Paleo diet? First, you have to understand that the Paleo diet is not a diet in the traditional sense of the word. It is not simply a means to lose weight. Instead, it is a lifestyle, a diet that you eat all the time, for the rest of your life. The problem with dieting is that once you stop and begin eating all of the bad foods that you used to eat again, you gain all of the weight back, defeating the purpose of ever starting in the first place. In contrast, eating the Paleo way is something that you never stop doing and you never stop reaping the benefits. Well, you can stop, but why would you want to?
Some people are scared to try eating Paleo for the same reasons that I was. When you first look at it, it seems so limiting. It’s hard to see how many food choices that you do have when there is a long list staring you in the face of foods that you can’t have. But once you decide to give it a try, you will see that there are tons of things that you can eat, many that you have probably never even tried before. I have tried so many new things recently and I am loving them! Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and cashews are just a few of my new favorite foods. I’m not even recognizing myself these days; I get genuinely excited to eat things like kale chips and cucumbers dipped in my favorite dressing. Before, I used to get excited about eating chocolate chip cookies. The difference is that now I can eat these things, and eat as much as I want, and not feel guilty about it afterward. It feels so good to know that I am putting such great things into my body and that in turn makes me want to make more healthy choices.
So what exactly can you eat?
Meat: All meat is ok. Want to eat some bacon? That’s fine. Yes, even though it is greasy and fatty and you’ve gone your whole life thinking that eating fat makes you fat (it doesn’t), it’s ok. Eat some bacon. Not every day of course, but all meat is fair game. If you can afford local grass-fed beef, then that is a great choice to make. We rarely buy beef since we have so much deer meat, and deer is great for you. It’s free-range, organic, and a great source of protein and healthy fats. Beef jerky is a great snack but most of it is made with sugar, so be sure to read labels or buy a dehydrator and make your own. I eat a lot of lunch meat for snacks. The brand that i buy is Hormel Naturals – it comes in a brown box. It is nitrate and nitrite free, as are the hot dogs that i buy. To me, there really isn’t much point in eating this way if the foods that I’m eating are full of chemicals. So whether you choose chicken, turkey, fish, pork, or seafood, it’s all good and depending on how active you are, 40-55% of your daily calories should come from meat.
Eggs: Buy local, free-range eggs from a local farm or at your local farmer’s market if you can. And don’t just eat the whites, eat the yolks too! Eggs provide the good cholesterol that our bodies need, as well as folate, which many women don’t get enough of and is vital during pregnancy.
Vegetables: Look up the dirty dozen fruits and veggies (those with the most pesticides) and buy those organic when you can. Statesboro has an awesome farmer’s market so if you are local and haven’t checked it out, you definitely should! With vegetables, not everything that you might think is a vegetable is actually a vegetable. Corn? No. Potatoes? No. Beans and peas? No. Beans and peas are actually legumes and should not be eaten (more on this later), with the exception of green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas. Everything else is ok to have, even sweet potatoes, and try to eat as many different colors of veggies as you can each day.
Fruits: They are great in moderation, but fruit is so sweet for a reason, and that is because it is full of sugar. Some fruits are better than others, and most berries and melons are really low in fructose and are good choices for eating every day. Things like apples, bananas, and grapes have more fructose and should be eaten less, maybe a few times a week. The chart at the bottom of this page lists fruits in order of least to greatest amounts of fructose.
Nuts & seeds: Full of good fats, but it does not take many at all to meet your daily requirement so these should be eaten in moderation.
And of course herbs, vinegars, and cooking oils such as olive oil and coconut oil are allowed.
Now, here is what you can NOT eat and why:
Dairy: Cavemen did not milk cows. Nor goats, or any other mammals. Those animals were not domesticated at that time and it would have been nearly impossible, not to mention dangerous, for them to try to milk a wild animal. Other than breastmilk in infancy, Paleolithic people did not consume any dairy products. Although some people argue that since dairy comes from animals and we eat animals, dairy is ok. But there are several problems with this assumption. First, our bodies were not made to digest milk from any other mammals, which is why so many people today are lactose-intolerant. Even though most of us have evolved to be able to digest it, that still doesn’t make it ok. Second, no other mammals drink milk from other species’ so why should we? Third, milk contains lactose, as I’ve already touched on, and lactose is a form of sugar. Drinking milk causes your insulin levels to spike, which signal your cells to store the sugar as fat, which is not at all what we want, unless we are bodybuilders who are trying to add body mass. Also, milk in grocery stores today (as well as butter and cheese) comes from cows that have most likely been fed with corn or other grains, confined in tight spaces, and treated with hormones. That does not make for healthy milk. If you cannot go without milk, try to get raw milk, or try a substitute such as almond milk or coconut milk. Unless you can find cheese made from raw milk, it is also going to be just as bad for you as conventional milk. But surprise! Butter is ok as long as you buy organic from grass-fed cows. You can easily clarify it, turning it into ghee, which is basically just fat from which the lactose has been removed. Same thing goes for heavy cream and also sour cream, so these things can be eaten occasionally if you want. (There is a diet which is very similar to the Paleo diet, known as the Primal diet, and one of the main differences is that it allows dairy.)
Sugar: Do I really even need to discuss why sugar is off limits? When sugar enters our bodies, our pancreas secretes insulin, and sugar is then stored as energy and fat. While storing energy for future use is good, our bodies can only store so much of it. The leftovers get stored as fat and there are no limits as to how much fat our bodies can store. If our fat cells get full, our bodies just make more. Not good. Plus, when we do exercise, our bodies pull from our energy stores first and only begin to burn fat when those energy stores are depleted. The more fat that you have stored in your body, the longer it takes to lose (obviously). Having excess fat is not the only problem though. When you are regularly eating sugar (or any food that turns into sugar) your body constantly has higher levels of insulin present than it needs. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and to combat that, your body will just produce more and more insulin, and we all know what that leads to – diabetes.
Legumes: Beans, peas, soy and soy products, and peanuts are all part of the legume family and all should be avoided. I personally always thought that beans and peas were vegetables and that peanuts were nuts but that is not the case. Beans and peas are actually seeds, and their goal in life is to spread and grow. To be successful, they have to have some kind of defense mechanism that prevents them from being eaten, and it’s called lectin. To be able to eat legumes, you must cook them; eating them raw will make you sick immediately. But eating them cooked can also make you sick, you just might not notice it right away. The lectins inside of legumes can actually cause your body to go into attack mode against itself, causing diseases such as vitiligo (which is something that I have. It’s a patch of skin on my stomach that is pure white due to loss of pigmentation. I cannot wait to see if it will reverse itself this summer with some exposure to the sun), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and even multiple sclerosis. Not only that (as if that isn’t bad enough), but legumes also contain anti-nutrients which prevent our bodies from absorbing vital nutrients that we need, such as calcium, copper, iron, vitamin B, and zinc.
*Green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas are an exception since they are “more green than bean” and do not contain enough lectin to be harmful. It’s your choice whether you eat them or not, but I don’t have a problem with them.
Grains: Simply put, grains contain harmful lectins, anti-nutrients, and other harmful proteins, (the most common being gluten) which wreak havoc on our bodies. When we eat grains or foods made from grains, (rice, wheat, oats, corn, rye, bread, pasta, etc.) our bodies turn those foods into sugar, and we already know what happens next. Sugar -> insulin spike -> fat storage. Even the so-called healthy whole grains do much more harm than good. Sure, we do get some nutrients from grains, but our bodies were not designed to ingest nor digest grains (nor were cows, yet most on them live on nothing but corn). Modern agriculture and the cultivation of grains has only been around for 10,000 years or so. Humans have been around for much, much longer and grains were not a part of our diet for 97% of our existence. If we, as a race, made it for that long without them, surely we can do so again now.
On the Paleo diet, you can choose to be as strict or as lenient with it as you like. Some people allow themselves one non-Paleo meal each week, and some are very strict and rarely or never cheat. I personally do allow myself cheese on some of my salads. And I haven’t yet made a Paleo pizza, but when I do, there will be cheese on it. If I go to a birthday party, I’ll have cake. It’s not all or nothing for me although I do try to eat Paleo 100% of the time on a typical day and reserve non-Paleo foods for special occasions.