The funny thing about The Paleo Diet is that it has so many interpretations, not to mention all the paleo hybrids with celebrity endorsements that have bounced off in a hundred different directions.
I first found out about Paleo when I dipped my toes into the waters of clean eating. I knew I wanted to cut the processed crap out of my diet; I just didn't know how. A hunter-gatherer diet (otherwise known as the Paleolithic diet) that focused on what the cavemen ate — fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, lean proteins and nuts and seeds — made the most sense to me, and it's the basic diet framework I stick to today.
I'm not the only one. With extensive research to back it and more than a few celeb nods from the likes of Matthew McConaughey and Megan Fox, Paleo has gotten popular. Like any good game of telephone, The Paleo Diet has gotten more and more convoluted as it has been passed around the internet.
Paleo isn't hard if you know the basic principles of the diet. Swapping your old favorite foods for Paleo-friendly foods is even easier when you use a few helpful tricks. Here's how to go Paleo without even trying:
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and this couldn't ring truer than when starting a new diet. If you want any hope of sticking to your clean eating plan all day long, you're going to need a delicious, high-protein power boost in the morning. Pancakes are off the table, and a Paleo-approved protein shake is on the menu.
Jenna Zoe was happy to share her delicious Paleo breakfast shake recipe from her latest book, Plant-Based Paleo:
Mocha shake recipe
"Start by putting the almond milk in a blender with all the ingredients except the ice and xanthan gum. Blend to combine, then add the ice and xanthan gum. Blend again, and watch the texture transform while the liquid goes around. You'll end up with a thick and delicious protein shake that can be served in a glass or poured into a flask to take with you on the move," says Zoe.
This is the cornerstone of The Paleo Diet, and for good reason: Refined sugar is terrible for you. Mary Creel, registered dietitian for eMeals.com, recommends choosing unrefined sugar instead to limit your sugar intake when eating Paleo. "Choose raw honey and pure maple syrup over white, granulated sugar, which is always a no-no," says Creel.
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Next stop on the Paleo train is your kitchen pantry: You can still bake with the best of them on The Paleo Diet, as long as you make the right substitutions. Zoe advises, "Replace all-purpose flour with nut flour in baked goods so you don't feel deprived of your favorite breakfasts or snacks."
This is where it may get a little sticky for the carb junkies like me, so hold on to your seats. Kinsey Jackson, LMP, MS, CNS, Paleo Plan nutritionist, advises, "Grains contain harmful anti-nutrients that can trigger chronic inflammation in the body via a leaky gut. Instead of regular rice, why not try making cauliflower 'rice' instead?"
Bad news: Pasta is another refined carbohydrate that is converted into sugar by your body, making it another big Paleo no-no. But the brilliance of an ever-popular diet like Paleo is that there's always room for a creative substitution. Creel says, "One of the best substitutes is using veggies like zucchini and spaghetti squash for pasta. A spiral slicer turns soft-rind summer squash into tender strands of spaghetti-like pasta. A quick, 10-minute cook in the microwave turns carotene-rich spaghetti squash into noodles with an easy scrape of a fork."
Take a deep breath if you can't imagine giving up your dairy — Paleo Diet success is all about baby steps. Dairy products aren't Paleo-friendly, since they can trigger inflammation in the body, and many people argue that adult humans shouldn't be drinking milk anyway. Jackson advises cutting out dairy for at least a month when starting Paleo, considering the fact that most adults exhibit some kind of allergy or intolerance toward the proteins and carbohydrates in dairy. Tracy Memoli, founder of Suite & Savory, adds, "This may be hard at first, but start by replacing milk with almond milk or coconut milk. You'll find that it tastes a lot better too."
Finally, some good news for those of us who are going the Paleo way: Try to forget everything you've heard about fat being evil in the '80s, and embrace the fact that your body needs lots of healthy fat to survive. "The reality is that our bodies need saturated fat to function and thrive! The war on saturated fat is finally coming to an end, and Paleo peeps are celebrating with an extra dollop of lard, tallow and coconut oil," explains Jackson.
Here's the moment that's going to make or break your diet: You're hungry, you're stuck at work, and you lock eyes with the vending machine in the corner. Before you give in to the binge, consider your options. Memoli says smart snacking is the key to her Paleo success. She advises, "When snacking… reach for nuts. When hunger strikes, it's important to reach for healthy options — it will trick your brain to crave these foods in the future."
By now you've probably caught on that Paleo is all about eating from the earth, making anything you can "forage" for in the produce section A-OK. You can save money by shopping in season at a farmers market or by buying in bulk at a wholesale store, especially if you plan to freeze and save for later. Creel explains her top money-saving Paleo hack: "Take advantage of fresh berries when they are on sale, buy in bulk, wash them, pat them dry, lay them out on a cookie sheet, and then freeze them. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a freezer bag."
This one is so easy a caveman could do it (yes, I had to go there), and it's also considered the Paleo golden rule. "Get in the pattern of passing on processed foods," says Memoli. The simplest way to steer clear of junk foods that may contain dairy, sugar and refined carbs is by keeping fresh, healthy, portable snacks on hand. Remember, the whole purpose of eating Paleo is to eat fresh like our ancestors did. Memoli adds, "Your body will thank you."
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