By now, you have probably heard plenty of family and friends talking about the Paleo diet. Bloggers and nutrition gurus have come up with plenty of recipes and diet plans over the years to encourage people to transition to a different kind of dietary lifestyle. Which is great and all – but why Paleo? What’s so noteworthy about it?
What is the Paleo diet? The goal of the Paleo diet is to eat foods that early humans are believed to have eaten, which include protein sources, vegetables and fruits. Grains and dairy, for the most part, are not included in the Paleo diet for reasons we will break down below. Many adopt the Paleo diet to lose weight, but it can also be viewed as a lifestyle change that focuses on eating healthier and fresher foods.
Another key feature of the Paleo diet is that it aims to eliminate the consumption of processed foods. Humans, nowaday, eat far too many foods containing added sugars and preservatives. This is possibly one of the diet’s most appealing and widely accepted elements among nutrition professionals.
Paleo Diet Plan Basics and Rules
An important point to know, before you decide to transition into a Paleo dietary lifestyle, is that you do not have to go from eating grains, dairy and processed food on Saturday to eating none of the foods you are used to eating on Sunday. It can be a gradual transition.
Also, many Paleo recommendations suggest trying out the diet for about 30 days before making a full commitment to see how your body reacts to the dietary shifts.
Here is a quick breakdown of which foods and food groups you will and won’t eat while following the Paleo diet. For more in-depth coverage of the ins and outs of Paleo, check out any of the many websites dedicated to the diet.
On the Paleo diet, protein will automatically make up a large percentage of what you eat on a daily basis. The reason this diet is often praised is because eating more protein not only helps build muscle, but keeps you full as well.
If you are someone used to eating a lot of grains, it will take some time to adjust to a diet without them. Replacing grains with healthy sources of protein will help you ease into this big change slowly.
How much protein do you need?
You need about 6 ounces, or 3 servings of quality protein daily. Try to limit your red meat consumption to about three servings per week if possible
Fruits do contain sugar, but far less sugar than breads and pastas. This is why they make the cut in terms of qualifying for the Paleo diet. If you can get creative with adding more fruit into your diet, you won’t run out of sweet things to munch on when cravings kick in
While fruit does, indeed, fall in the Paleo category as far as being nature-made, its sugar content creates kind of a gray area. The natural sugars that occur in fruits are still sugars and your body treats them as such. If you’re switching to Paleo in hopes of losing weight, you’ll want to limit your consumption of fruit and concentrate more on veggie intake. If you’re following a specific Paleo plan, such as Autoimmune Paleo or Whole 30, just know the rules before you stock up in the produce aisle.
How much fruit do you need?
You should aim to eat one to three cups of fruit daily, or three servings of different types of fruit.
Eating more vegetables will keep you fuller longer because of their high fiber content. Because there is such a wide variety of veggies to choose from, you will be able to get creative with incorporating them into your favorite Paleo dishes.
Keep in mind, there are a few starchy veggies you’ll want to eat only in moderation, especially if you’re working toward a smaller waistline. These include squash, yam, sweet potatoes and beets.
How many vegetables do you need
Adults need about 2½ cups of vegetables every day, which averages out to about three servings
Why does the Paleo diet not include grains? The main reason why the Paleo diet eliminates grains is because of their high simple carbohydrate count. Foods that contain simple carbohydrates break down into sugar more quickly than complex carbohydrates. Basically, the more time your body spends breaking down that sugar, the less energy it puts into burning fat.
The other issue with eating large amounts of simple carbs is the high blood sugar risk. As mentioned above, simple sugars are broken down quickly by the body, and immediately enter the bloodstream. Chronically high levels of blood sugar can lead to blood sugar regulation problems, which often lead to diabetes.
Common dairy sources, like milk, aren’t as good for you as you may have been led to believe. Though the USDA says dairy is essential, what they’re really saying is there are certain nutrients within dairy products that are good for our health.
- Dairy contains growth-promoting properties. Babies drink milk because it helps them grow. This is isn’t necessary for a fully grown adult.
- Some proteins in dairy products cause a spike in insulin.
- Many people simply lack the enzymes necessary to break down lactose.
In general, Paleo experts advise staying away from dairy. Many adults around the world are lactose intolerant, and some might even be sensitive to eating dairy and not even realize it. If you are going to go Paleo, you might even consider first cutting out dairy completely for a few weeks and then trying it again to see how it makes you feel. If you feel better without eating dairy, it’s okay to leave it out of your diet.
The truth about healthy fats
If you don’t think you can get enough calories without bread, pasta, pizza and muffins, add sources of healthy fat to your meals. This can range from a little bit of avocado to a handful of nuts to some extra olives in your salad at lunch. Fish such as tuna, salmon and herring also contain healthy doses of good fats.
What about coffee and chocolate?
Do you have to give those up?
You do NOT have to give up your morning cup of coffee or your nightly dark chocolate square(s). Coffee, dark chocolate and gluten-free alcohol are all considered Paleo … in moderation, of course. However, because caffeine has negative effects on the body, Dr. Cordain (founder of the Paleo diet movement) recommends skipping coffee all together to get the most out of your Paleo lifestyle. Alcohol, even the gluten-free variety, should also be limited, if not entirely cut out, to excel on the Paleo diet.
Menu and Meal Planning
Based on the rules discussed above, here is a sample menu for a typical day eating on the Paleo diet. You will also find suggestions for Paleo-friendly foods to add to your grocery list.
- 2 eggs, scrambled (2 ounces/1 serving protein)
- 1 cup berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries etc) (1 serving fruit)
- 1 sweet potato waffle (1 serving vegetable)
- Fruit salad (2 servings fruit) or a Veggie salad with olive oil if you’re keeping sugars to a minimum
- Turkey and bacon lettuce wrap (½ serving vegetables, 1 serving protein)
- Grilled salmon (1 serving protein)
- 1 cup broccoli (1 serving vegetables)
- ½ of an avocado (1 serving fruit)
Grocery Shopping List
Below are suggestions for what you can add to your grocery shopping list to get you ready to eat more of a Paleo-based diet. Suggestions are broken down by food group, so you should try to purchase at least a few items from each category to make sure you are eating all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.
Paleo sources of protein
- Red meat (steak, pork, beef, bison) – in moderation (several times per week)
- Wild Game
- Eggs (both white and yolk)
All meat consumed on the Paleo diet must be grass-fed/free range.
Paleo sources of fruit
- Citrus fruits
Paleo sources of vegetables
- Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale and broccoli
- Root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes)
- Green onions
Similar to fruits, try to eat your vegetables fresh, though it is okay to buy frozen if that makes food preparation and storage easier for you.
Does the Paleo Diet Work?
One question you might have after reading all this is: does this diet actually work?
Reviews and Weight Loss Results
“I have been eating paleo on and off since last year, but more faithfully since February. I go by the 80/20 rule and follow that way of eating 80% of the time.
So far I am down 27 pounds. A healthier person would most likely have lost much more but with PCOS and low thyroid this is really good for me so far 🙂 I used to have to “diet” to not gain weight at one point because I was putting on weight so quickly and had started the process of getting gastric surgery. This was until I finally starting losing weight on my own by eating real food which mostly eliminated grains, dairy and sugar.
The most difficult part of this diet, or as I like to call, lifestyle, was breaking up with processed carbs. That was not easing growing up Italian with bread and pasta. But eventually, it got easier and once in awhile I enjoy ‘cheat meals’. I enjoy quinoa and sweet potatoes almost every day instead.
The easiest part of eating paleo is how quickly you see results, which makes you want to keep going. And the fact that you can eat steak and occasionally bacon without feeling guilty!
The only thing I’d like to share about this way of eating is that if I can do it, anyone can. I also suffer from fibromyalgia and this is also a great anti-inflammatory diet. In addition to the weight loss, It has given me more energy, cleared up my skin and made it glow, And I have resumed a regular menstrual cycle after being very irregular. It seriously improved every aspect of my life and I can’t wait to continue seeing more progress in my journey to better health. The picture I posted is a 25lb difference. Thanks for letting me share my story!”
Before and After Success Stories
“I moved to a paleo lifestyle in March 2015. I started a weight loss journey about 4 years ago now after becoming overweight and unhealthy and weighing in at 102kg. After 2 years my weight loss became harder and harder. I also started suffering from IBS when consuming gluten. After a bit of research I decided to try paleo. Within a week I started feeling less bloated, less IBS and also felt fresher and clearer in my mind and body. To date I have lost over 20kgs since the start of my weight loss journey. Ten kilograms plus of that weight was all from paleo living. When I go off the wagon and eat normally again within a day I bloat up and feel foggy.
There is a lot of difficult parts of paleo. Giving up bread was a hard one. Even though it’s one of the main foods that makes me sick, I still love fresh bread. Also giving up all the types of drinks such as diet soda, juices, etc.
The hardest thing I would say is when you are going to a friend’s place for lunch or dinner. Everyone expects you to eat and drink everything what’s on offer, and if you don’t people can take offense to it
It’s amazing how fresh, clean food makes you feel so amazing and strong. In a crazy world of busy lifestyles, stress, anxiety and depression trying to attack any chance it gets, having control over your diet can be such a powerful weapon against these demons.”
“I’ve been on the paleo diet on/off since about 2010. I would start it then stop for whatever reason – family/work/time restraints. I have been on it “full time” since March 2016 and I have lost a total of 60 lbs. I only weigh once a month on the same day each month.
The most difficult part was sticking with the change. That’s always been the most difficult part for me. It’s easy to start something but I have problems with following-through. But, I made a promise to myself and my husband that I would stick with it because my health, life and overall well-being depended on it.
The easiest part was eating! As peculiar as that sounds. I love food and I love to eat. Vegetables are my favorite thing to eat and there are plenty of paleo-friendly veggies out there. I love that I can use oils and spices to impart flavor. I love using organic/local products. Not only am I helping myself, but I’m helping my local farmers and community.
My advice on someone wanting to become paleo? Don’t be afraid or intimidated. Paleo is very “trendy” right now and, in my honest opinion, a bit “cult-y.” It can be very daunting and overwhelming for someone new to the whole world of “eating right.” Do your own thing, go at your own pace. Some Paleo people eat dairy – others don’t. Some people eat natural sugar – others don’t. Find your own way. There’s no right or wrong way to be paleo. You just have to find something that works for you and that you can stick with!”
“I have been on the Paleo diet for 3 years now. My story is different to those who diet to lose weight – I started this Paleo journey to strengthen my body and my mind. In the past I was skinny, weak, unhealthy and always ill. I was fed up of having no energy, suffering from anxiety and low self esteem; I was very unconfident. Fast forward 3 years and I am the complete opposite of who I used to be – I put on 10kg (of muscle), I have incredible energy, and I even travelled to the other side of the world to pursue my career in the health (Paleo) industry (the old me would never even venture to my local town centre on my own). I haven’t been ill for over 2 years now (not even a cold), I have stronger nails, healthier, thicker hair and I’m about to enter the fitness modelling industry. I also run a 6 week online course to help other people reach their health goals through my website paleocastle.com (run by me and my partner who also joined this Paleo lifestyle with me 3 years ago).
The easiest and best part about the diet is the fact that it is based around natural foods. No starving yourself, no taking weird shakes and pills, you get to eat real, whole foods. This gives your body the nutrients and strength it needs to do it’s job properly; whether that’s fighting off illnesses, diseases, building muscle or burning fat – eating naturally solves all of these problems.
The most difficult aspect of this diet is getting over conventional wisdom – that grains are good for us and red meat will kill you. I now understand that this isn’t the case. I learned to distinguish between scientific research that was accurate and reliable, and that which wasn’t. I can now see where a lot of flawed dietary advice comes from, but at the beginning, it was very difficult to know which sources to trust. It’s getting easier and easier for people these days though, as accurate dietary recommendations are becoming more widespread.
For new people trying the diet, I would recommend taking one step at a time. Instead of suddenly cutting grains, sugar and processed foods out of your diet all at once, try doing it week by week. Or commit to a 30 day challenge – for example, do a 30 day challenge to switch from fizzy pop to water. After that, create another challenge for yourself. In my experience with clients, this is what ultimately makes real, long-term changes. We actually host communal 30 day challenges each month through Facebook – where everybody in the group commits to a challenge specific to them, whilst giving and receiving encouragement for the next 30 days. I think it’s important to have some kind of accountability like this in order to make any changes stick (anyone is welcome in the group, which can be found on our Facebook page).”
Transitioning into a Paleo lifestyle is a big step toward healthier eating, but if you are determined to make it happen, take it slow and be patient with yourself. If it is something you really want to do, you will find the energy and motivation to stick with it.
Eating fewer processed foods and consuming more fruits and vegetables is a dietary choice hard to argue with. As long as you are eating the right amount of food and balancing out healthy options, your body is sure to benefit.