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Paleo Diet: The Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet

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What do celebrities, athletes, and stay at home moms have in common?

They can’t stop talking about the Paleo diet!

People who follow the Paleo diet claim to have dramatic weight loss, increased energy, and experience less illness.

Your journey to being healthy doesn’t have to be complicated.

Some people would have you believe that you need fancy meals made from exotic ingredients (acai berry bowls – I’m looking at you!).

Or that you need ingredients and foods that are just far out of your budget.

Or that you need to count every single macro for every single gram of food you put in your mouth.

If your goal is simply to eat healthily and lose some weight, then these things are not true.

The Paleo diet is simple. It is based on eating foods that are easy to find. And most importantly – you are eating for your body.

But what is this seemingly magical Paleo diet? And is it a good choice for you?

What Is The Paleo Diet?

The Paleo diet is a diet based on foods that may have been eaten during the Paleolithic era. (The Paleolithic era was approximately 2.6 million to 12 thousand years ago.) These are foods that would have been ‘hunted and gathered’.

The idea behind the Paleo diet is that the human body is not designed for – or has not adapted to – foods that became available once farming was commonplace.

Dairy, grains, and legumes became staples in the human diet due to farming practices. It is hypothesized that this late (and relatively rapid) change in diet was too fast for our bodies to adapt. And this inability for our bodies to adapt to these new foods then leads to diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

This is a contentious issue, with many people on either side of the debate.

Researchers have argued that this ‘paleolithic foods’ approach is an oversimplification of how humans ate.

But you cannot argue that cutting out processed foods and grains at the very least, can certainly lead to better health and increased weight loss. And that cutting out grains and dairy can help deal with the symptoms of food intolerances or allergies.

Picture Your Day on Paleo

I mentioned earlier about how Paleo was about ‘eating for your body’. But what does this mean?

Think about what your average days look like now. Wake up early, go to work, get home in time to prepare dinner and take care of the kids, do some chores, and then do it all over the next day.

It can be rewarding – but also very tiring. You need your morning coffee to start the day, that mid-afternoon pick-me-up to keep you going, and more often than you’d like – takeout for lunch and dinner. You’re tired and feel drained all the time and rely on caffeine and sugar to pep you up.

Now – imagine waking up ready to start your day. Making your way through your workday with plenty of energy to spare to play with the kids and do chores. And preparing dinner is a breeze because Paleo makes it so easy to put together a healthy meal.

You are eating healthy whole foods that sustain your energy levels for the whole day. With plenty of vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy long term.

You are eating for your body.

How Does The Paleo Diet Work?

The diet is largely comprised of fruits and vegetables which will fill you up, and also provide you with vitamins, minerals, and plenty of fiber.

The diet eliminates high fat and processed foods and includes lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and steak.

Paleo is all about eating foods that can be found in nature and avoiding the foods that are processed in any way. The Paleo diet puts emphasis on real, natural, whole foods. Basically, foods that our ancestors would have hunted and gathered.

Ok, but how does this look like in real life?

Instead of eating an egg sandwich in the morning, you can eat Paleo egg muffins. Instead of adding milk to your coffee, you can add almond milk. Or just drink it black. And instead of a burger for lunch, ask for it bunless, and wrap it in lettuce.

Basically, when you are eating a Paleo diet or Paleo foods, you eliminate processed foods, sugars, grains, and most dairy. This makes it easy to know what to eat on a daily basis.

Eliminating these foods does not mean that you will be unsatisfied, or that you will go hungry. Far from it – the fiber-rich vegetables and lean protein will keep you fuller for longer.

How To Make The Switch To The Paleo Diet?

Making the switch to the Paleo diet doesn’t require any fancy new gadgets or a pile of new recipe books.

Eating a Paleo diet is not complicated or tricky. It fits into your life very easily.

It will require that you get rid of certain foods from your fridge or pantry, however. It’s going to be difficult – but just picture how different you will look and feel in a few weeks.

Here is a short list of foods to get rid of:

  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Milk (in all forms)
  • Yogurt
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Processed foods (including bread, crackers, pasta, etc)

It may feel a little intimidating, and you may worry that it doesn’t leave you with much to eat. But once you start eating the Paleo way, you will discover that your whole world is going to change.

Will I Lose Weight On The Paleo Diet?

While the paleo diet was not designed to lose weight, you will probably find that you end up losing weight anyway.

Any diet that involves cutting out entire food groups will almost certainly lead to weight loss. And focusing on eating lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables instead of processed, calorie-rich foods can contribute to weight loss – especially if you are taking care to not eat more calories than you need.

Which brings me to an important point. Paleo can help with weight loss – if you eat fewer calories than you burn every day. But that can be said for any diet, really.

But do you want to lose weight while still being healthy? Then Paleo will definitely help if you are consistent with it.

Paleo makes it easy to be healthy and lose weight – while not going hungry.

For example – a plate of broccoli will fill you up far more than half a candy bar, but they can be the same number of calories.

Now I’m not saying you need to eat an entire plate of broccoli, but what I am saying is that you get to eat foods that will fill you up, but contain fewer calories than what you were eating before. Which ultimately leads to weight loss.

Health Benefits Of The Paleo Diet

There are many health benefits you will experience if you eat the Paleo way. (*)

Increased Insulin Sensitivity

Most paleo foods are relatively low-carb. Eating foods that are mostly lower in carbs means that there is a lower demand on your pancreas to produce insulin.

A decrease in insulin secretion means the insulin in your body is more effective. This, in turn, reduces insulin resistance – which is the driving force of Type 2 diabetes.

Not only does this mean that you are less likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes, but for those who already have it, they may end up actually reducing their medication.

Reduced Inflammation

Dairy and gluten intolerances and allergies are very common. And one of the biggest side effects of intolerance is inflammation in the body.

By removing these two food types, you are removing the cause of the inflammation. And by adding in plenty of healthy vegetables, you are further helping fight inflammation in the body.

More Energy

Eating high GI and sugary foods normally lead to a drop in energy levels shorting after eating.

As Paleo mostly eliminates these foods, you end up eating mostly low GI foods as part of your meals. This will lead to more energy and more sustained energy throughout the day.

Here are a few more benefits that followers of the Paleo diet have reported:

  • Improved sleep
  • Clearer skin and healthier hair
  • Improved mood
  • Less bloating and gas
  • Reduced allergies
  • Muscle growth
  • Higher immune function, and generally feeling better all-round

…and more!

Paleo vs Keto: Are They The Same?

There are many similarities between Keto and Paleo, and quite a few differences.

The biggest similarity – and difference – between the two is the actual reason for the diet being developed.

I know that seemed contradictory – but hear me out.

Neither of these diets were designed for weight loss.

Both Paleo and Keto were developed for their health benefits, rather than as a way to lose weight. Losing weight is just a bonus that comes along with following either of the diets.

The Keto diet was created as a way to get our bodies to burn ketones for fuel instead of sugar.

If you want to learn more about the Keto diet, I created a detailed guide for you here.

It was initially developed to treat children who suffered from Epilepsy, as a way to prevent seizures. It worked really well, and doctors discovered that it had many more health benefits in addition.

The core of the Keto diet is to restrict your carbs to 20g per day. You’ll eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy, healthy fats, and low-carb veggies.

Where Paleo allows fruits and starchy veggies, Keto does not. And where Keto allows dairy, Paleo does not.

Keto is strictly low-carb, and that is a big focus of the diet.

In comparison, Paleo is lower in carbs than a standard diet but has a focus on natural, whole foods.

Paleo Food List: What Can You Eat On The Paleo Diet?

In order to follow the paleo diet correctly, these are the foods you should be eating.

  • Lean meats: Grass-fed if possible, this includes beef, veal, venison, lamb, bison
  • Organs: Liver, heart, kidneys
  • Marrow
  • Fowl: Chicken, turkey, duck, etc
  • Fish: Salmon, tilapia, bass, cod, tuna, etc
  • Eggs: Cage-free if possible, and enriched with Omega-3s
  • Plant-based oils: Coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil
  • Animal-based fats: Lard, ghee
  • Vegetables: Any and all vegetables, organic if possible
  • Tubers: Yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes
  • Fruits: Any and all fruits, organic if possible
  • Nuts: Whole and in the form of nut butter. (Note – peanuts are not paleo as the classified as a legume)

What Can’t You Eat On The Paleo Diet?

The following foods are not Paleo-approved. It’s quite a shortlist, which makes it easy to remember.

  • Grains: Pasta, rice, bread, etc
  • Dairy: Milk, cheese, yogurt, etc
  • Processed foods: This includes anything processed such as candy, ice cream, soda, etc.
  • Legumes and Beans: Peanuts, chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans, etc

Can Children Eat The Paleo Diet?

By now you know what the Paleo diet is all about, what it involves, and even the many benefits it brings.

You might even be thinking that the Paleo diet will work for you, and you want to get started. But what about your children?

When starting any new diet, the biggest challenge (after making the decision yourself), is your family.

Even if they are very supportive, the difficulty comes in when you are eating different foods to the rest of the family.

Not only does your food budget go up, but you also end up having to prepare two meals instead of one at the end of a long day at the office.

That alone would be enough to put off many women!

But this is what makes Paleo so great. Remember – I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t a weight loss diet specifically. It actually shouldn’t be called a diet at all.

The Paleo diet is about eating healthy, whole foods. It is a way of eating that gives you health and energy.

It is a diet that is suitable for the whole family. And it doesn’t require big changes to get there.

It is very likely that your family is already eating meat, vegetables, and fruits, as part of your daily meals. This makes Paleo a way of eating that easy to get used to – both for yourself and for your children.

In fact – it is easy to see why Paleo is so popular among parents – because it allows and encourages their children to eat foods as they were intended – whole, from nature.

How To Create A Paleo Meal

One of the best things about a Paleo diet is just how easy it is. No carb-counting (or point-counting), no going hungry, no need to spend hours in the kitchen preparing meals.

Many diets require a major transition, but Paleo is simple and easy to get started with.

The basic rule with eating Paleo is to make sure that each meal has protein, healthy fat, and good carbs.

Examples of paleo meals are:

  • Stir-fried chicken (protein) using sesame oil (healthy fats), served on zucchini noodles (good carbs)
  • Sheet pan chicken (protein) and veg (good carbs), drizzled with olive oil (healthy fats)
  • Oven-baked salmon (protein, healthy fats), served with sautéed leeks, broccoli and swiss chard (good carbs)

See how easy that was?

When you are first making the switch to Paleo, I recommend you stick to simple meals first. Then once you are comfortable with your new way of eating, you can try out the more adventurous recipes.

Sample Paleo 1-Day Meal Plan

So, I gave you a few ideas above on how to to put together a simple Paleo meal, but I am sure you are wondering what a full day of eating Paleo looks like?

Here is a 1-day meal plan using paleo-approved foods.

  • Breakfast: A smoothie made with coconut milk, mixed berries, and spinach.
  • Lunch: A mixed salad with tuna and boiled eggs, topped with seeds and an olive oil dressing.
  • Dinner: Baked chicken served with broccoli.

How To Eat Paleo On A Budget

I know that something you’ve been thinking of while reading this post is “Ok, so Paleo is healthy and simple, but it sounds so expensive.

When you are a working mom, taking care of a family and having to manage the food budget, the cost is going to be top of mind.

Luckily – there are ways to follow the Paleo diet while still keeping your budget intact!

Plan Ahead

Look at what you are currently spending on food, and plan both your budget and your meals.

If you are going to be switching your whole family over to Paleo then that will make the planning process easier.

Look at what you are currently spending on processed foods – you won’t be buying those foods anymore so that money can be put towards your grass-fed meats.

Also, plan in your budget when you will be going out to eat. It is important that this is a separate line-item, otherwise, you may forget to keep the amount separate.

Plan out your meals for the week. Look for meals or recipes that share ingredients, to cut down on how many different things you will be buying.

Planning out your meals also means that you will be less tempted to reach for the takeout menu when you get home from work – which can really eat into the budget. (Pun intended!)

Visit Your Local Farmers Market

This is a great place to get your fresh fruits and vegetables. And you will also be able to find organic food at much better prices than at the store.

There may be times, however, when it is actually cheaper getting your organic fruits and veggies at the store – for example, if they are having a sale.

What I suggest is to take notes of the regular prices in store, and then also when you go to the market, so you can compare easily.

Make Use Of Your Freezer

Your freezer is your friend when it comes to eating Paleo on a budget.

You can use your freezer to save money in a few ways.

Buy in bulk
When you see really good specials for meat, poultry, frozen veg – anything that can easily be frozen – buy in bulk and store the excess in your freezer.

Prep and freeze
Meal prep is my number one way to save time and money when it comes to my food budget. How it works is you set aside some time (Sundays work well for this), and batch cook your meals for the week.

You can cook full meals and freeze them ready-to-eat, or cook the ‘main ingredients’ – for example a big batch of ground beef, or chopped and fried onions. This is also a great way to ensure that no veggies are sitting your fridge, waiting to be eaten, and going to waste.

Either way, it is a simple way to stretch your food budget.

Make extra and freeze

This is similar to meal prepping but on a slightly smaller scale.

When you are making dinner, you’ve already gone through the effort of chopping, dicing, sauteing. Why not just double up on the ingredients, then you have enough meals for two nights for the same amount of effort? You can freeze the extra for a night when you are short on time (or just don’t feel like cooking).

Instead of getting takeout, you’ve got a healthy meal ready and waiting for you.

Buy in Bulk

We spoke about buying in bulk earlier, to store extra meat and frozen veggies in your freezer.

You can also buy things like oils, flour, and nuts in bulk. These items can be stored safely in your pantry (if sealed) for months without going bad.

As you’ve seen it is possible to do Paleo on any budget – especially because there is such a big focus on vegetables. Planning ahead is your friend!

How To Eat Paleo At Restaurants

Ok, so now you know what kinds of foods are Paleo-approved, and how to put together a Paleo meal.

But what happens when you want to go out to eat?

Being on the Paleo diet doesn’t mean you have to be a hermit. It is possible to still eat Paleo at restaurants.

Firstly – look up the menu online, so you know what you are working with. Almost any restaurant will have options for you, even if you have to make a few adjustments.

Remember, your basic Paleo meal is made up of a lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats.

You could have a steak with a side of broccoli and sweet potato. Or grilled salmon and asparagus. Or even a simple chicken salad. (Skip the restaurant’s dressings and bring your own in a small, leak-proof bottle.)

For starters, go with a salad. This way you can fill up on vegetables before your main course.

And for dessert – your options will be more limited here, but most restaurants will have fruit in some form. (Just make sure it isn’t sitting in a sugary syrup!)

If there isn’t a dessert option, skip it or have a coffee. (And then make sure you have a Paleo-approved treat waiting for you when you get home.)

Making The Paleo Switch

Remember – getting healthy is a marathon, not a sprint. You want to build a foundation of healthy eating that will last you a lifetime.

Additionally – you didn’t get to eating the way you do currently in a day – it took years.

When you make the switch to eating a Paleo diet, take your time and ease into it.

If you’re not seeing changes right away, don’t get upset with your body. Know that you making the right choices for now and in the future. 

Don’t forget to pin this post for later!

woman eating a salad

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