Now that you’ve read How Paleo Can You Go?, here is a guide to make your transition as smooth as possible.
First and foremost, meat is the centerpiece of the primal diet. Load up on the highest quality meat you can find. Go local, go grass-fed, go pasture-raised. Do whatever you can to avoid processed meats pumped with flavor enhancers, preservatives and hormones. It’s actually been kinda fun to seek out the folks who provide these things and believe me, they sure appreciate the business. If you find a good place offering organic chickens, be sure to grab a couple dozen eggs. I go through at least a dozen eggs a week. Most weeks I go through two to three, especially if I make a dessert. Also look for premium sources of fish, shrimp, clams and other seafood favorites.
Bacon is encouraged following the same guidelines for buying quality meat. That is all.
The next critical category of supplies is vegetables. You simply MUST think beyond salad. Vegetables can be roasted with herbs, sautéed with butter, pureed as a creamy side dish or casserole topping, substituted for a traditional starch base, and of course, sliced up raw for easy snacks and dippers. I’m counting mushrooms as a vegetable. We love mushrooms and I’m surprised at how easily they substitute for pasta.
Here’s my challenge to you. Each week pick one vegetable you’ve never prepared (or that you rarely eat) and seek out a new recipe. This week I bought some turnips, next week I’m hoping to try eggplant. Variety is key to keeping yourself on track. And it goes without saying that organic is best, if you are able. Avoid GMO produce.
When it comes to fruit, select those with the lowest glycemic load and the highest nutritional qualities. Fruit is fine as long as it is kept on a leash. Running away with these vessels of natural sugars will essentially net out as eating a piece of white bread. Not good. The best fruits are berries, cherries, prunes, peaches, apricots, apples, bananas, figs, grapefruit, kiwi, pears and pomegranates. Dried fruits are fine in moderation. It’s great if you can dry them yourself since most prepared dried fruits contain added sugar.
Ironically a peaNUT is not a nut, it’s a legume. When I say load up on nuts, peanuts are not on that list. Macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans and almonds are my favorites. Walnuts and pecans blended with dates make for an excellent pie crust and you would not believe what you can do with almond flour! Find a good place to buy these raw and in bulk. Be careful to avoid anything with added sugar. As for the flours, they can get pricey. I recently came across a way to make almond flour at home and it has saved us a few bucks. I hope to feature this on my blog soon.
When it comes to fats, the ideal primal fats are olive oil, coconut oil and butter, bacon grease, ghee and organic, grass-fed butter. Say goodbye to all canola and vegetable oils, including those convenient cooking sprays.
Now that your cupboards are stocked, let’s talk about how to use it. Mastering substitutions and alternatives is one of the key learning curves in making your transition a successful and painless one.
Here are the most popular Paleo substitutions for Standard American Diet staples on our “no” list:
Bread/Flour – use almond and coconut flours to make your own bread, tortillas and muffins. Also consider using lettuce leaves in place of bread or tortillas for easy and healthy wraps. Great way to get your protein and veggies without all the bloating and carb crashes!
Bread crumbs – almond meal or flour is preferred since coconut flour tends to have less tolerance for high cooking temps. I also get away with using flaxseed meal as a filler such as in my Meatballs with Bacon Ties. I’m gonna give it a shot in a crab cake too.
Pasta – mushrooms and eggplant make excellent alternatives when baking, while spaghetti squash and julienned zucchini “noodles” take sauces well for an easy side dish. Surprisingly, I’ve found that green beans make a decent substitute for pasta with a meaty bolognese. I cook up some green beans and smother it in hearty tomato sauce loaded with slow-cooked fatty meats. Almost nothing better! There is also a very cool product called Shirataki noodles, which are made from an Asian yam-like root. I haven’t tried them in an Italian-style dish yet, but it makes a fabulous Paleo-friendly pho or Asian noodle bowl.
Rice – The best substitute for rice is cauliflower that’s been grated or pulsed a bit in a food processor. When sautéed with onions and garlic, it has such great flavor that I actually prefer it to regular rice! I used it recently as a base for a burrito bowl when I was having a craving for Mexican food… Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice totally hits the spot!
Tortillas – Large portobello mushroom caps work well for building tostada-style dishes. I hope to post a recipe for this in the next couple days. There are several recipes available to make tortillas using egg whites and coconut flour. I’ll shoot straight with you, it’s nothing like the real thing but it does hold together a fish taco.
Soy sauce – Dig around in your health food store for something called Coconut Aminos. It should be next to the Liquid Aminos alternative to soy. Don’t shake it though–it’s a little carbonated from the fermentation process. It’s also much lighter than soy sauce, so plan to use more than usual.
Peanut butter – Almond butter and SunButter (made from sunflower seeds) are awesome! In fact, if you lurk around in the natural food section or stores you will likely come across a grinder that makes instant, fresh and sugar-free nut butter. This and an apple are one of my favorite go-to snacks for mid-afternoon munchies or if I’m on the run… or just got done with a run.
Milk – If you choose to continue to drink cow’s milk, choose organic full fat. If you would like to limit or eliminate dairy, almond and coconut milks are the ideal alternatives. Remember that primal eaters do not eat rice or soy products, so those are out. Be sure to carefully read labels so that you don’t choose a product containing cane sugar. Vanilla flavored is totally fine as long as it is sugar-free. Canned coconut milk when chilled makes amazing whipped cream! There are many fantastic uses for almond and coconut milks, I honestly do not miss the real thing.
Cheese – Many Paleo eaters continue to nibble on quality cheese. I avoid cow’s cheese and typically favor goat cheese or feta here and there. However, if you would like to totally ix-nay it, take a page from a vegan’s book and dig around for some nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast has a creamy nutty flavor, is rich in amino acids and B vitamins–it is just all around good for ya (hence the name). I use this in my Meatballs with Bacon Ties to showcase its versatility.
Sugar – This is a biggie. After all, Paleo eaters gotta have dessert too. The best alternatives to sugar are honey, dates and Stevia (and by best I mean the most accessible and affordable). My favorite is pure coconut sap (or palm) sugar. It has incredible nutritional value and a lower Glycemic Index rating than honey! In general, do everything you can do avoid eating foods with added sugars so that you can keep close tabs on exactly how much you’re taking in. I don’t have exact stats for you, but from my experience if I’m seeing a stall in weight loss I can usually trace it back to either an excess of nuts or sugars.
Potatoes – Sweet potatoes (meaning yams) can substitute for russets on almost any occasion. However, if you want to step out a little bit, I encourage you to try mashing cauliflower. It’s a very simple preparation and brings big flavor. Mashed cauliflower goes great as a side dish and a Shepherd’s Pie topping, but it also makes a fantastic creamy base for soup! This chowder used up some of our Thanksgiving leftovers–delicious!
If you have any questions, comments or other ideas that we would benefit from, please post a message below! Thank you and happy foraging!