The purpose of this article is to give a beginner or someone interested in trying the Paleo diet a straightforward introduction to its benefits, the premise that supports it, and a rough guideline of how to try it for yourself. I am not here to convince you that it's the best diet. You can ask the 1-3 million raving fans who have healed themselves of degenerative and autoimmune disease, lost massive amounts of weight, squelched inflammation, gained energy and vitality, balanced hormones, healed digestive issues, gotten off prescription medication, and banished a host of other minor and major health conditions.
In some cases, like my own, this happened with such alarming speed that we had no choice but to pay attention. So while there's a growing body of research-based studies being done across the country, the most compelling “evidence” for the efficacy of eating Paleo comes from the people who have experienced the miracle for themselves. In this case, the proof is in the coconut chia seed pudding.
Homo sapiens have been eating meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds for 99.5 percent of our time on the planet. For the remaining .5 percent (since the agricultural revolution), we’ve been eating grains and legumes. Our bodies are not well-adapted to eat such foods, let alone the processed and refined versions that lines the shelves of our supermarkets today.
This radical change in diet is at the root of degenerative diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, depression and infertility. With a very simple shift back to eating in a way more closely aligned to our ancestors, we not only remove the foods that are at odds with our health, but we also increase our intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
How to customize your Paleo diet:
Depending on current health challenges, imbalances, food allergies and intolerances, your fitness level and goals, and your unique genetic makeup, you will need to tweak the kinds of Paleo-friendly foods you eat as well as the macronutrient ratios (fat, protein, carbs). For example, many people with autoimmune and inflammatory conditions do best to avoid vegetables in the nightshade family (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes).
If you have an underactive thyroid, its best to limit your intake of cruciferous veggies (kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc.), especially when eaten raw. If you are an avid athlete or have adrenal fatigue, you may need more carbohydrates than someone trying to lose weight.
Always listen to your body for what is working for you and be willing to make changes accordingly. If you are dealing with health imbalances, working with a naturopathic doctor or nutritionist would provide tremendous benefit.
Follow these general guidelines for what to eat.
- Nutrient-dense, whole foods: from as clean and local a source as you can find. Buy organic, local, grass-fed, sustainably-raised as much as possible without driving yourself crazy.
- Healthy fats: coconut oil, ghee (butter with dairy proteins removed), lard, beef tallow, avocado and olive oil. Contrary to popular belief, opting for saturated and monounsaturated fat is best, as is increasing your intake of omega-3 fats and dramatically reducing the inflammatory omega-6 fats like canola, grapeseed, safflower, and vegetable oils.
- High-quality animal protein: grass-fed beef, lamb, venison, salmon, sardines, anchovies, chicken, turkey, and eggs. Eat more clean seafood (check mercury content) and red meat, eat less poultry as its higher in omega-6 fats.
- Veggies and fruit: when you are just starting out, cutting sugar cravings, or balancing blood-sugar, you will want to limit your fruit intake. Opting for less sweet fruits like green apples and berries is helpful, too. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash and plantains are a great addition for those who want more carbs in their diet.
- Nuts and seeds: try not to eat too many of these as most have omega-6 fats, and its preferred to eat them soaked to remove enzyme inhibitors. Raw is preferable to roasted as the roasting process damages the fat in the nuts.
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchee and kombucha play a vital role in populating the digestive tract with healthy probiotic bacteria, and it's a great habit to eat them everyday.
Remember the foods to avoid.
All processed and refined foods, grains (especially gluten), legumes, and sugar. Dairy is tolerable by some, and if you do choose to eat dairy, its highly recommended that it be raw and organic. I personally eat white potatoes on occasion without issue, but they are not terribly nutritionally dense.
Use this sample menu for inspiration!
Breakfast ideas: egg scramble with lots of greens and veggies, organic breakfast sausage, bacon, avocado and salsa. Add some roasted sweet potatoes for extra carbs or swap them for the eggs. Muffins or pancakes made with a base of nut flour, coconut flour, pumpkin and/or plantains to substitute for grain-based flours.
Lunch and dinner ideas: a big salad with some seared wild salmon, grilled veggies with a grass-fed burger, chicken and veggie stir-fry, coconut curry soup, other meat and veggie combos with homemade ethnic sauces.
Special treats: dark chocolate bark loaded with nuts and dried fruit, a grain and dairy-free dessert sweetened with dates, stevia, fruit, or a little honey.
My very best advice for anyone considering the Paleo diet is to simply try it for yourself. You may begin to feel better immediately like I did, or it may take you a couple days or weeks for your body to detox and adjust before you feel its benefits, but nearly everyone I know who sticks it out for 30 days never goes back.
If you would like some support in making your transition, I’d love to give you a great free guide to get you started. It will show you exactly how to stock your pantry, essential kitchen tools, and some simple tips on how to make your everyday Paleo meals taste great.
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