WHAT IS PALEO?
The Paleo diet is rooted in the concept that eating according to what was available during the Paleolithic period is more agreeable for our bodies than modern day offerings. According to Dr. Loren Cordain, widely credited for bringing the Paleo diet into the present, “it’s the one and only diet that ideally fits our genetic makeup…” at one point “every human being on Earth ate this way.”
Paleo isn’t novel, it’s old news! In fact, it’s the longest running diet in the history of, well, eating. Refrigeration, the alchemy that is processed food, and an unhealthy emotional attachment to stuffs that eventually turn into poop (yes, I went there), are new. Meat, seafood, veggies, unrefined fats, fruit—these are not new. Paleo may feel novel, but I assure you, it’s sooooo a bazillion years ago.
In a food world where everything is packaged, marketed, studied, refuted, and hash-tagged, it’s a bit counter-culture to suggest that we set labels aside and mindfully eat according to what was available before the dawn of the drive-thru. Not to say that it wouldn’t be awesome to see a Paleo drive-thru opened up or anything, but you get my point.
What makes our food now so much worse? For most of us the foods that are readily available or are considered modern staples, (I’m looking at you pizza, pasta, convenient packaged foods, cereal, muffins, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes) are riddled with ingredients that trigger rampant inflammation in our bodies, are nutritionally vacant, and wreak havoc on our digestive health, read: modern foods are compromising our health.
Paleo meals are based on foods that tame inflammation, avoid distress on our digestive system, and are inherently nutrient-dense. All of this translates to supporting, versus compromising, whole health. Meals are a balance of meat, eggs, seafood, fruit, nuts, healthy fats and a whole lot of vegetables.
Remember the goal of Paleo is to eat the foods that agree with our bodies and supports our personal overall health needs. With that in mind, the foods avoided are those containing refined sugars, legumes, soy, gluten, most grains and dairy. Oh and, for the most part, processed food. There’s a caveat here. Many companies are getting better and better at producing above-standard snacks, condiments, and the like that do not follow the traditional problematic processing methods and additives—yay for us!
There are some gray areas that fall into personal discretion based on how well the items are tolerated too. Grains like white rice and high-quality dairy such as organic heavy cream and butter tend to fall under personal discretion since they’re often tolerated without trouble. How do you know if that’s true for you? Well, it’s a good idea to use a program like Whole30, which takes an elimination approach to investigating how your body really ticks.
WHAT WE EAT
Let’s get down to brass tax. There are clear guidelines when first transitioning to Paleo in order to clean out your system and start with a clean slate. In a nutshell (which is totally Paleo), here’s what to eat and what to avoid:
- animal-based protein such as meat, seafood, eggs
- vegetables, including root vegetables
- healthy, unrefined fats including oils like avocado, coconut and olive, as well as animal-based fats from organic, pastured environments such as beef tallow, lard, and clarified butter (ghee).
Over time as your health is restored and you gain a deeper awareness of whether or not a reaction is triggered by various foods, start to tweak guidelines to reflect what you learn. As I write in The Frugal Paleo Cookbook, we ought to expect that our plates be slightly different than our neighbor’s if we are truly doing this right. At some point, we should know what our personal template is for taking a Paleo approach to the foods we eat (and the foods we typically avoid).
For example, I learned that I have a negative reaction to tomatoes. AN ITALIAN WHO REACTS TO TOMATOES. My grandmother is rolling over in her grave… My point: Are tomatoes still Paleo? Yep. Are they right for me? Not really. So—through a few tears—I avoid them. But that doesn’t mean you have to.
WHEN PALEO IS A GOOD IDEA
Spoiler alert: Paleo is always a good idea. Nutrient-dense foods that fortify the digestive system, calm the immune system, and pave the way for regulated hormones while providing essential nutrients without expensive supplements or drink mixes? Yes, we could all use a bit more of that.
Common symptoms that many have simply resigned to enduring as their new normal, chalking it up to age or fatigue or stress or justifying indulgences cause #WorthIt, do not need to be a part of our daily lives. I mean, it’s bad enough that we have to Adult on a regular basis, do we really need to be bloated with brittle hair and bad skin while we do it? Nope. We don’t.
Beyond improving our experience (appearance, clarity of mind, improved sleep, etc.), Paleo has a tendency to positively impact many medical conditions, particularly those with inflammatory roots. (For a list of common inflammation-related medical conditions, click here).
Since inflammation is associated with the 80-100 known autoimmune conditions that affect between 23.5M and 50M Americans (depending on who’s counting), this is something that should perk each of our attention.
Paleo isn’t just available to address concerns after the fact, but can be so valuable in setting yourself (or young kiddos!) up for a healthier future.
WHAT PALEO DOES
Paleo enables us to take control of how we feed ourselves away from industry and returns it back over to our good judgement. It frees us from diet dogma. It removes the pressure to lose weight fast or chase abs by sacrificing genuine health (say it with me: “my hormones have value, my hormones have value”).
Paleo breaks our chains to extreme portion-controlled, processed “food” that costs and arm and a leg and tastes terrible—or tastes disproportionately AMAZINGADDICTINGDELICIOUS. No carrot in the world is going to compare to food that’s been chemically engineered to ignite your brain and surge your pulse. We’ve been set up to fail, guys. And that doesn’t sit well with me.
One of my personal favorite aspects of a Paleo lifestyle is the power of choice. We do not lose points, fall out of a zone, or fail in any degree when we choose to eat something outside of the diet as prescribed. Though it has a narrow and focused “yes” list, it’s that narrow platform that shows us which foods agree with our bodies—and which do not—so that we can make educated decisions about how to take care of ourselves. It’s incredibly empowering.
Even as exciting as that sounds, there’s obviously a reason why so many of us have fallen into the habits we have or struggle to stay the course, despite desire or need. We’re busier than ever, under a tremendous amount of stress and simply lack time and energy to put in the effort that eating well requires.
We want the benefits, but how on earth do we make the seemingly impossible possible? Well, that’s likely why you’re still reading. There are ways to merge an old way of eating with the new way of living–and I’m here to show you how. In other words, Popular Paleo is where real food meets real life.
WHEN PALEO IS A BAD IDEA
I think it’s only fair to level with you, the Paleo diet has downsides. Namely, if you have an ethical or medical aversion to eating meat, if you genuinely do not have time to cook… like at all, and if you’re not prepared to do your homework. Or if you’re in the market for a short-cut to fast weight loss. This is definitely not for you.
After doing this Paleo thing for several years now, I can say that there are genuine deal-breakers for people. Life isn’t always smooth, this we know. We’ve all stared at the frozen foods case, debating with ourselves exactly how bad it would be to just grab the bag-of-whatever for dinner that night more than twice.
The Paleo diet really does require time in the kitchen. It’s typically more sustainable when individuals take the time to determine what foods are right for them in order to make educated decisions about their gray areas and no-fly zones. Animal-based proteins are inherent to the diet, it’s what makes Paleo Paleo. And though many people experience weight loss, Paleo prioritizes health over whatever the scale says (or whatever you hope it might say).
Paleo is not a program you do on auto-pilot—despite how many people may try to sling them. Consider Paleo as a tool kit. And just like a hammer won’t pound a nail into a board on it’s own, Paleo takes a skilled craftsman to bring the full benefits of the lifestyle to fruition.
WHEN TO START
Don’t have the time or the mental space or the energy? Relax. We’re not going anywhere. Take the time you need to get yourself to a place where you can:
- make meal prep happen a couple times a week
- grocery shop twice a week
- buy a couple good cookbooks
- tolerate eating foods you might not be used to
- resist cravings
- successfully navigate parties, restaurants, and whatever else life’s gonna throw at you while you take a radically different approach to what gets loaded on your plate.
When you’re ready, I have two and four week meal plans you’ll find helpful, plus a few cookbook recommendations. The Frugal Paleo Cookbook is one you might consider ordering in advance. It’ll help get yourself psyched to eat well without sacrificing your budget or sanity!
You’ll be glad you gave yourself the space to prepare for this transition, especially if you have a family to feed. Pizza night is about to go sideways… Trust me, you’ll need to muster up all of your strength to serve that almond flour crust with pride and conviction!
MY CORE VALUES FOR MEETING REAL FOOD WITH REAL LIFE
If you’re looking for recipes that lean on novelty ingredients or in 22 steps yield you the perfect chicken nugget, this isn’t the resource for you. The food served here and at my home use ingredients from regular grocery stores, neighborhood farmer’s markets, and occasionally cool online shops like Barefoot Provisions and Amazon (I’m a Prime junkie. There. I said it.) Some meals are better for weekend meal prep, but most can get the job done any day of the week.
I love leftovers. I believe almost anything can be repurposed with eggs or a sweet potato. I love to cook, but have a hard time following recipes. Paleo or otherwise, life’s too short for bad food.
Popular Paleo is where real food meets real life. Here we believe:
- Persistence is more important than perfection.
- The 80/20 rule guarantees us only that we’ll set aside 1/5 of our food to work against our bodies every day.
- We all should be eating more vegetables…straight up.
- Diets don’t work in a vacuum; we need sleep, sunshine, face-to-face interactions, sufficient calories (and carbohydrates!) and supportive exercise to restore and maintain overall health.
- We are personally responsible for figuring out what foods are right for us, how much sleep we need, which exercises are most effective, and who Negan took a bat to in the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead. (Seriously, WE’VE BEEN WAITING LONG ENOUGH, AMC!)
Both this blog, and The Frugal Paleo Cookbook, dwell in the real world of how to feed our families, save money, use our time wisely and do it all without losing our sanity along the way.
We can do this! And on the days we don’t feel like we can, remember that wine is totally Paleo.