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The Ultimate Guide to the Paleo Diet for Beginners
Imagine going back in time and eating whole, unprocessed foods, ridding your body of preservatives, artificial sweeteners and other unhealthy ingredients. With the paleolithic diet — also known as the paleo diet or caveman diet — you can. The paleo diet could be the perfect choice for health-conscious individuals who want to cut out processed foods and focus only on what can be hunted or gathered.
Whether you're interested in slowly adopting healthier foods into your diet or you want to make a complete switch, we've put together a complete guide on what paleo is, its pros and cons and how you can fit it into your daily routine.
What Is the Paleo Diet?
The paleo diet involves eating foods humans ate in the Paleolithic era, about 2.5 million years ago. The hunter-gatherers of these times are said to have eaten whole foods and lived active lives. The theory is they had to contend with no lifestyle-related illnesses. The paleo diet replicates these eating habits, eliminating high-fat, processed foods and chemical alternatives.
There are several variations of the paleo diet. If you follow a pure paleo diet, you only eat the food humans ate 2.5 million years ago, which means even foods like legumes and grains are out. Variations allow grass-fed butter and grains like rice, depending on your nutritional needs and preferences. Overall, the goal is to mostly stick to eating foods that would have been available to you 2.5 million years ago.
5 Benefits of the Paleo Diet
Eliminating high-fat and processed foods from your diet is generally good for you, as is upping your fruit and vegetable intake. The paleo diet allows you to focus on consuming whole foods with high nutritional value and healthy fats. It advocates healthy eating, which makes it an option even doctors can get behind, depending on the circumstances.
The benefits of following a paleo diet include the following:
1. Decreased Gluten
The paleo diet doesn't allow wheat products, so you're not decreasing your gluten intake — you're cutting it out altogether. Gluten can be a problem for your digestive system, leading to weight gain and slow digestion if you're gluten intolerant. Removing it from your diet could lead to health benefits like higher energy levels.
2. Enhanced Weight Loss
Although the paleo diet wasn't designed as a weight loss plan, the foods you eat will keep you feeling full for longer, and your body gets nutritious calories to convert into energy. It's a healthy way of eating that can help you jumpstart weight loss without being too restrictive.
3. Increased Energy Levels
Avoiding refined sugar helps to normalize your glucose levels, removing sugar crashes and the accompanying fatigue. Paleo-friendly food contains nutrient-rich calories, which are excellent for keeping your energy levels consistent.
4. Better Sleep
Modern foods with many additives can override the body's ability to produce melatonin — a hormone that tells our bodies to sleep at night. By cutting them out, your body becomes tired naturally, and the additives won't cancel out the signals to sleep.
5. Increased Simplicity
There's no calorie counting or extensive food tracking in the paleo diet. It's simple and easy to follow, and there aren’t many rules outside of avoiding processed foods. You can eat what you want when you want within the diet.
Potential Drawbacks of the Paleo Diet
Like any diet, the paleo diet has pros and cons. No diet is for everyone, and there may be more suitable choices depending on your situation. While the paleo diet has many benefits, keep the following drawbacks in mind when deciding whether to give it a try:
- Long-term complications: It can be hard to keep up the paleo diet for long periods, which can lead to periodic dieting and other health concerns.
- Considerable restrictions: The paleo diet is restrictive, especially in its pure form. Cutting out dairy, legumes and wheat products can be a challenge to stick to in the long term.
- Increased expenses and time commitment: Whole foods and organic, grass-fed meats can get expensive. Meal prepping can also be time-consuming, and you may feel that it's tougher to eat out at restaurants because their menu offerings might not align with paleo.
- Eliminated food groups: Beans, whole grains and dairy products are important sources of protein, nutrients and fiber. Vegetarians may struggle to get these vital food elements, as legumes are an essential protein source.
- Limited calcium: Many of us get our calcium from dairy products, and a lack of calcium can cause health issues such as osteoporosis and bone fractures. People on the paleo diet may have to consider a calcium supplement to maintain their calcium levels.
What Can You Eat on the Paleo Diet?
Paleo diets may differ slightly depending on the source and your individual needs. Remember the cardinal rule for paleo diet foods — if it wasn't around 2.5 million years ago, don't eat it. If you're shopping to stock up your fridge with paleo-friendly foods, consider the following list as an excellent way to start.
Meat, Fish and Protein
Grass-fed, organic and free-range meats are all good paleo options, including:
- Lean cuts of beef, pork and poultry
- Game, such as venison and quail
- Fish and shellfish
- Free range eggs
Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are always a good option for paleo, including:
- Vegetables low in starch, such as asparagus, mushrooms and peppers
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive, flaxseed and walnut oil
What Foods Should You Avoid on a Paleo Diet?
The most important rule for paleo followers is to avoid processed foods. For a good idea of whether you’re allowed to eat it, ask yourself whether it would have been available to paleolithic humans and you’ll have your answer.
Although the pure paleo diet is relatively strict about what is and isn’t allowed, there are more permissive versions of the diet. Some do allow legumes and dairy. If you want to give paleo a try, stay away from the following foods:
All dairy products are best avoided on the paleo diet, including milk, cheese, yogurt and butter.
Avoid legumes like beans and peas and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn.
Cereal grains are also out of the question, so keep wheat, rice, barley and rye out of your shopping cart.
Processed foods are the most critical group to avoid if you try paleo. Take a look at this list for a better idea of what to avoid:
- Sweets and candy
- Soft drinks
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed and cured meats like bacon, hot dogs and deli meats
- Refined added sugar
- Snack mixes
Easy Paleo Recipes to Try
Paleo diet plans can become quite complex and time-consuming. Whenever you can, meal prep in advance to make the preparation and cooking process as easy as possible.
Set aside two to four hours a week to cook and prepare your food. It may seem like a large chunk of time initially, but it saves you time for the rest of the week. Be strict about this cooking time and incorporate it into your weekly routine.
Another challenge to overcome is keeping paleo interesting. It may sound restrictive, but with some creativity, you won't even remember you're on a diet. Look at these fun, straightforward recipes for three meals a day.
1. Breakfast — Green Smoothie Bowl
This paleo-friendly breakfast recipe is all you need to get your day going. It's simple to make and full of nutrients. This recipe makes two smoothie bowls, so you can share one with a friend or save the second for later.
- Three bananas
- 1 cup frozen mango or papaya
- 1/4 ripe avocado
- Two handfuls of baby spinach
- 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 cup flaxseeds
- Raspberries and shredded coconut for the toppings
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Pour into two bowls and sprinkle on your toppings. Enjoy!
2. Lunch — Paleo Turkey Burgers
There's nothing like a good burger, and you can pull this lunch option together in under 30 minutes. You'll need:
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cilantro
- Two chopped green onions
- One sliced tomato
- One sliced avocado
- 2 cups of fresh spinach
- A pinch of cayenne pepper
Mix the turkey and spices in a large mixing bowl, along with the green onions. Once mixed, form into burger patties and grill them for five to six minutes until cooked through. Serve with the spinach, onion and tomato as toppings.
3. Dinner — Szechuan Coconut Pork Stew
If you want a dinner you can set aside to cook, this stew is perfect for you. Grab the following ingredients:
- 1 1/2 pounds of boneless pork
- One large eggplant
- One onion, finely chopped
- One bell pepper, finely chopped
- Two pressed garlic cloves
- 1 inch of ginger, finely chopped
- One can of coconut milk
- One bundle of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- Two star anise pods
- Two cinnamon sticks
- One thinly sliced orange peel
- 2 teaspoons of Szechuan peppercorns
Add all your ingredients — aside from the parsley and orange peel — into a large pot, cover with water and bring the water to a boil. Add the orange peel, then simmer the stew for two to three hours. Add the parsley and serve!
8 Key Tips for Paleo Success
Embarking on any diet can be a challenge, and you want to be sure you set yourself up for success before you start. Despite the health benefits, the paleo diet can be challenging. Keep the following tips in mind to get the most out of your new diet.
1. Do Your Research
Take the time to do your homework and prepare before you jump in. This is likely a significant change from your regular diet, and you want to know everything you can before you start. Consult your doctor if you have any underlying medical conditions that might make a dietary change risky.
2. Plan Ahead
There are many paleo programs to choose from, but jumping from one to the other could derail your progress. Select one plan that suits your needs best and try to stick with it. Plan your meals and snacks so you always have something paleo to eat and snack on.
Below is a sample meal plan for inspiration. If you don't want to make something new every day, choose a few ideas from the list below and prepare them for several meals throughout the week to save time.
Set yourself up for success and start your week off strong with these Monday meals:
- Breakfast: Philly steak breakfast bowl with sweet potato, peppers and onion
- Lunch: Roasted cauliflower and arugula salad
- Dinner: Argentine steak with chimichurri and mashed plantains
Keep the momentum going with some quick, easy meal options on Tuesday:
- Breakfast: Crispy pumpkin spice waffles
- Lunch: Arizona grilled chicken with broccoli and plantain
- Dinner: Sage, mushroom and egg burgers
Get your greens in on Wednesday morning and follow through with some delicious main meals:
- Breakfast: Green smoothie bowl
- Lunch: Grilled bison mushroom burger with sweet potato fries and Russian dressing
- Dinner: Butter chicken and cauliflower rice
Whip your slow cooker out on Thursday and spice up your menu:
- Breakfast: Blueberry french toast with turkey sausage
- Lunch: Spicy salmon with avocado and sweet potatoes
- Dinner: Slow-cooked pork carnitas with yucca, cabbage and tomatoes
End your work week on a high note with this meal plan:
- Breakfast: Homemade bison breakfast sausages and eggs
- Lunch: Citrus herb chicken with sweet potato and broccoli
- Dinner: Szechuan coconut pork stew
You made it to the weekend, so enjoy some freshly prepared treats to celebrate:
- Breakfast: Sweet potato hash with sausage and kale
- Lunch: Paleo buddha bowl with avocado lime dressing
- Dinner: Honey pecan-crusted chicken with green beans and sweet potato
End the weekend on a high note with these nutritious options:
- Breakfast: Steak and eggs
- Lunch: Kale, broccolini, asparagus and egg salad
- Dinner: Cuban turkey burger with yucca, spinach and tomatoes
3. Shop Smartly
Much of your success starts with shopping. Paleo can be expensive, so look for deals and food you can buy in bulk and freeze. As much as it might be tempting to grab a non-paleo snack in the shops, stay strong. The less temptation you have in your home, the better you'll stick to your diet plan.
4. Take Advantage of Meal Prep
Looking for a meal when you're hungry can be risky, as you may resort to quick options that aren't paleo-friendly. Paleo meals take a little longer to prepare, so it's easy to fall into the processed food trap when you need a quick dinner and don't feel like cooking. Setting aside time to meal prep means you have all the meals you need ready to eat in your refrigerator.
5. Remember Snacks
When a craving hits, it can be tempting to reach for a processed, sugary treat. Have plenty of paleo-friendly snacks handy, such as seeds and dried fruit, if you're a snacker.
6. Eat Enough
If you're hungry or craving non-paleo snacks, consider whether you're eating enough to cover your day-to-day energy requirements. You shouldn't feel hungry throughout the day. Make sure you have access to simple paleo snacks and build out a menu of satisfying, filling meals every week.
7. Be Creative
Beware of boredom when you meal prep, as nothing can make you stray from a diet faster. Try new things and keep your meals fresh and exciting.
8. Get Assistance
Meal kits are an excellent tool to help you stick to your goals and can make sticking to a diet much easier. Ensure you choose the paleo option, and you're good to go.
Make It Easy With Paleo Meal Kits From Fresh Meal Plan
Fresh Meal Plan is here to make creating your health journey easier. Our delicious and versatile meal kits are prepared by professional chefs and come in a variety of diet options, including paleo. Our products are high-quality and handmade, the closest you can come to a home-cooked meal without cooking it yourself.
Fresh Meal Plan meal kits are perfect for the paleo diet. Our farm-to-table ingredients allow you to eat paleo the right way. Ready to transform your diet? Get started with a meal kit plan today!